CHAPTER 5 – MANCHESTER

Rayne’s lips were still tingling from the ferocity of Xavier’s farewell kiss when the cab turned up to take him to the airport. They had spent the morning and most of the night before tangled passionately in his bed and on the futon and the floor of the lounge and finally in the shower as he got ready to leave. Now, as he strapped himself in and prepared for take-off on the Heathrow to Manchester shuttle service, he just wanted to get things over and done with as quickly as possible so that he could get back to London and be in Xavier’s arms again.

And that in itself felt like a betrayal. So much had come back to him since they returned to London. Biting Matty and then Clint had restored memories to him that he was barely able to conceive possible. But it had been talking to Dominic that restored the elements which led him North. He knew that there were still missing pieces and he would only find them there. But the shards he held in his hands were bad enough, they already coloured his nightmares. And there hadbeen nightmares, some dreadful ones too.

Since Paris he had dreamed repeatedly of a man standing over him with a long pike in his hand, laughing as he plunged the pointed head into his breast. At least three nights a week he woke in a cold sweat as the blade pierced his heart. But lately his dreams had been muddled. Sometimes he was hiding, sensing that the danger was drawing closer, the bogeyman was coming to get him and drag him out of the closet. He saw his mother lying dead on the living room floor at their old house in Dymchurch, which made no sense. He had never seen his mother’s body and she died in the garage of Brian’s house in New Romney anyway.

The worst dreams were the ones where he was holding Kevan in his arms, begging him to wake up, screaming at him to fight, to try and stay alive for just a little while longer. Sometimes in those dreams he was tangled in a long piece of material like a shroud or a bridal train and it wrapped his feet, tripping him, refusing to let him reach Kev’s side. He lay weeping hysterically in a tumble of pale, blood-stained cloth as his mate slowly spilled his life force into the pastel carpet. In the background he could always hear bitter laughter, as if the gods were mocking him for daring to believe his life could be anything other than tormented. It was this last dream that still plagued him as he stared at the open magazine in his lap without seeing it and tried not to think of the thousands of feet opening up between himself and the ground.

He was not as bad as Dom when it came to flying, but he had never liked it. The sense of claustrophobia was always stronger when he was trapped on a plane. And these days he could not even have a quick drink or a snort of coke to alleviate the anxiety. Instead he slipped his hand into his short black jacket and retrieved the little velvet pouch, which was slightly worn now from being tucked away in pockets and bags but still went everywhere with him, as it had since he retrieved it from the box in his piano. His fingers loosened the drawstrings at the neck and he tipped it from the bottom so that the single item it contained slipped coolly into the palm of his right hand.

The nine tiny diamonds set into the matte, platinum outer circle of the chunky little ring were as bright as the day when he had first let Kevan put it on his finger. The inner circle was white gold so that it looked, from above, like a curious eclipse. There was an inscription on the inside, which he had not noticed initially; only discovering it after Kevan was dead. It read; “RJW my heart is always yours KMJD”. Typically, for Kevan, it was sentimental nonsense but Rayne had considered giving up the ring until he found those words. Now he could not countenance it. It would be one more betrayal and he had apparently deserted Kevan too often over the past year. It was time to make amends now.

Time to say goodbye.

The cab took him to a boutique hotel in Piccadilly where he checked in under an assumed identity. He had credit cards in the name of James Raymonde, which he used periodically when he did not want attention. Since Whipsnade began their career hiatus he had also written songs for other SOLD artists as Jay Raymonde so it was an easy alias to pick up and put down. Once he was safely tucked away in the comfortable suite, five floors up above the busy Mancunian streets, he hung up the few clothes he had brought with him and took a shower, then lay down on the bed trying to decide what to do. The ring was in his hand again and he slid it onto his third finger now, startled by it’s cool weight, perfect fit and the familiar feel of having it there, even after all this time. It was like being an actor, sliding back into a role he had not played in years.

The past few weeks had been a heady dream and he had been happier than he had dared to feel in months with Xavier but this place had been his real life for three years and he had spent almost twelve months of those three years with Kev Delaney. If Kevan had listened to him on that fateful night almost a year ago, maybe that life would have carried on and he would still be here; he would never have met Xavier Gavrilov and his existence would have been very different.

“Shit!” he exhaled, shaking his head slowly. “This is hard, Kevan. Please bear with me. I never meant for things to work out like this but please try to be happy for me, yeah? I still miss you so much.”

He curled up on his side then and drew his left hand to his lips, kissing the cool surface of the ring and closing his eyes to hold back the tears that threatened to spill from them once more. Over the past few days he had been ridiculously emotional and it just had to stop. Kev had always had this effect on him though. Xavier gave him balance and stability but Kev had unlocked the door to his feelings and allowed them to spill out unchecked. Rayne still didn’t understand how he had managed it, but what was done was done. There was no putting the genie back in the bottle. He just had to finish things properly now, in order that his life, such as it was, could go on.

Rayne lay naked on the bed, enjoying the feel of the cool, clean linen against his skin and the comforting smell of it. He stayed there for the next three or four hours until it began to get dark, simply thinking things over, remembering times he had spent here and things that he and Kevan had done together. Then he pushed himself to his feet and pulled on his snug black jeans and a dark blue silk shirt. He ran his fingers through his hair and wriggled his feet into black silk socks and his faithful Chelsea boots, then tugged on his jacket, snared his keys and wallet and went for a walk.

He had not intended to go to his old hangouts tonight but his feet led him from the hotel down Auburn Street, overshadowed by new apartment blocks now, and into the Gay Village which had been his home during the time that he lived up here in Manchester. It seemed stupid to walk within metres of his old abode and not stop to see if it was okay. He stood outside the misleadingly shabby white block, staring forlornly at the green glass bricks that framed the double-doored entrance to the building. There was nothing to stop him going inside. He had the key and the entry codes were in his head somewhere. When he touched his fingers to the number pad they would come back to him like magic, just like the pin for his credit cards did and just as he knew how to locate people in his phonebook. He could not make his feet move closer though. Not tonight.

Instead he walked down Canal Street through the early evening crowds, still a light-hearted mixture of city types and tourists among the more bohemian locals. It was too early for the hardened ravers yet but they would come, he knew it, just as magpies were drawn to any shiny object. His feet took him to the Rembrandt where he first met Kevan and Dave and this time he crossed the threshold and went inside. There were no familiar faces, people he would have fenced words with, to his relief and he ordered a shot of Stolichnaya for old times’ sake and knocked it back easily. The bar tender topped him up without a word and Rayne smiled and indicated with a gesture for the young man to have one himself.

It had been just before Xmas, a little over eighteen months ago that he first teamed up with two police detectives, Kevan Delaney and Dave Ramsay, here in this very same pub. Together they managed to put a stop to the murderous activities of a Vampire who had earned the nickname of The Canal Street Ripper. Although he had allowed both men to fuck him afterwards, he did not really get together with Kevan until a few months later when the guy asked him out for a drink. He had considered saying no. Kev really wasn’t his type and he hadn’t been looking for company, but curiosity got the better of him. After talking for about three hours, over a couple of bottles of Barolo, they went back to Rayne’s apartment around the corner and spent the remainder of the evening and most of the night screwing like animals

Kevan was married, but separated from his wife. Dave, his work partner, was gay and had introduced his buddy to the pleasures of the Gay Village after growing tired of listening to Kev complain that he never got laid on the straight circuit. As a result, Kevan had quickly acquired a taste for young male prostitutes. He had a prodigious sexual appetite, something that Rayne readily appreciated.

As he’d admitted to Dominic, Rayne had never considered himself to be exclusively gay. Pressed to define his own appetites he would grudgingly admit that he swung both ways but it was interesting for him to meet a man who also considered himself to be essentially straight but who liked to fuck other guys too. It worked for them both. Their relationship hung on a strong physical bond though, emotionally and intellectually they were hardly compatible at all. Even Kev, who quickly became besotted with his vampire lover, had to admit that they had precious little in common beyond the fact that they always had amazing sex. Initially, Rayne reflected now, he had been incredibly cruel to Kevan but the big man always came back for more. It was as if he expected the abuse and tolerated it patiently in order to get what he wanted. He began to go to the gym regularly because Rayne told him he made the apartment look untidy and the results were quite eye-catching. Even women Kevan worked with, who had never previously given him the time of day suddenly began to pay attention when he walked into a room. Rayne advised his lover on clothes and grooming and actually took a quiet pride in the handsome man that began to emerge from the chrysalis of the slob Kev had been when they first met.

All of this spilled through his consciousness as he sat at the bar. The memories were so real to him that he almost expected to see Kev come lumbering through the pub door and call out to the bartender for a bottle of Becks. He downed the second shot of vodka, pushed a twenty across the counter and walked back up Canal Street towards his hotel.

“Hiya, you going somewhere?” a voice asked from just behind him and he turned to see a good looking kid in a black tee shirt and white jeans grinning at him hopefully. His blond hair was spiked up a little on top and reminded Rayne painfully of Xavier, though his eyes were a greenish brown colour.

“I’m going to crash, I’ve been travelling all day,” he said with a lopsided smile that never reached his eyes.

“Want some company?” the boy persisted, reaching out to stroke his fingertips over the sleeve of Rayne’s jacket.

“I’m kind of tired,” Rayne lied, though he did not move away, deliberating that it would not hurt him to feed from the blond boy.

“I’m legal, and I’m clean,” the lad said persuasively. He held his hand out. “My name’s Jack, what’s yours?”

“Jay,” Rayne told him, briefly and firmly shaking the proffered hand. “I like to be on top, Jack.”

“That’s okay, I don’t mind subbing,” Jack grinned at him. “You look well good in those tight kecks.”

He moved closer now and when Rayne did not increase the space between them automatically he tilted his head and touched his mouth to the vampire’s cold, soft lips. At the same time the hand Rayne had just shaken reached between his legs and boldly groped his dick and balls through the tight denim.

“Fuck, you’ve got big knackers,” Jack panted into his mouth. “Bet they make a lot of cum, Jay. I love eating cum. Have you got somewhere we can go, or do you want to go down by the canal?”

“You talk a lot, don’t you?” Rayne said with a tired smile. He was contemplating taking the lad back to the apartment, which was nearer than his hotel, but the canal bank, under the bridge, would do. He might have to compete for space with other mating couples but the night was still young and it was only Tuesday, not a busy evening on the club circuit.

In the end he led Jack a little way up the canal bank to the next bridge where the sound from the clubs and bars was just a distant buzz. The boy crouched down there, popping the buttons of his fly, and sucked Rayne’s dick without needing to be told. His warm hand gently worked the vampire’s clean-shaven balls as he nodded and slurped. Rayne leaned back against the arch of the bridge and laced his fingers behind the boy’s head, wishing it was Xavier on his knees in front of him. Jack wasn’t anywhere near Xav’s cock sucking skills but Rayne still pressed his head down until he could feel Jack nuzzling his mound, then fucked his throat rapidly.

“Uhhh… Jesus!” he panted as he shot his load in the blond’s mouth and pulled out quickly, letting the gasping boy scramble up into his arms to kiss him; tasting his own salty spill on the blond’s tongue and lips.

He was still half-hard and his nuts and the head of his prick were tingling pleasingly as he went down on one knee and started to suck Jack off. His fingers pulled the boy’s white jeans down to mid thigh, exposing a nice thick seven incher and smooth waxed crotch. Rayne licked up and down his penis and sucked Jack’s firm young balls. The sound of the busy city over their heads was almost inconsequential. They were about thirty feet below street level here and sheltered by the dark curve of the bridge and right now the only sounds that were important to Rayne Wylde were the pre-orgasmic moans of his young mate. Jack growled softly in his chest as he was taken deep into Rayne’s throat and the pretty, dark-haired Londoner pressed two searching fingers up his arse, frigging him urgently.

“Man! You suck like a fuckin’ bitch!” Jack yelped delightedly. He cried out harder as he began to thrust and cum in Rayne’s mouth, the fingertips inside him touching just the right spot.

Rayne swallowed his thick, teen crème greedily. There was nothing to beat the feel of a young man’s prodigious flow of cum on his tongue and it tasted heavenly. He stroked his cock as he suckled the last drops from Jack’s throbbing knob-end.

“Turn around,” he crooned, stroking the blond’s naked thighs now. “Lean on the fuckin’ wall. I’m gonna shag you til you can’t stand up on your own.”

“Ahhh… fuck, yeah!” Jack moaned happily as he rested his splayed hands against the dark brickwork and pushed his bare backside into Rayne’s face.

The vampire’s cool hands parted his cheeks and a wet, studded tongue explored Jack’s crack vigorously for several minutes, making the blond wriggle and utter little cooing noises. When Rayne moved to his feet and bent over him, Jack’s face turned back to meet him and they kissed for a while. Rayne eased his cock head into Jack slowly and began to buck his hard length into the blond’s hot, wet rectum, his fingers gripping the boy’s bare hips.

“Ohhh… man! Are you doing me bare?” Jack groaned, bucking like a wild mare as he felt his randy, black-haired stallion mount him.

“You don’t mind, do you?” Rayne soothed, kissing his neck and feeling the rapid eager pulse just beneath the skin. “I’m clean, Jack. It’s okay, really.”

“I… uhhhhhh… I don’t mind, Jay. I like it. I never had a guy go in me bare before though,” Jack panted. “It feels fuckin’ great. I wanna feel your cum up my arse.”

Rayne pushed himself balls deep inside the blond then pulled back until just his head was inside. He did this a couple of times, feeling Jack whimper and writhe under him as he teased the kid. Then he began to thrust hard, shoving Jack against the wall with the force of his deceptively slender body. They were well matched for height, which he guessed Jack must have calculated when he was cruising for a mate. The blond was nice and tight around him although it did not take very long for Rayne’s thrusting cock to open him up and get him hot, wet and slippery inside.

“Ahhhh… yeah!” Rayne groaned as he leaned into the blond and pounded his arsehole fast and deep. The firm muscles of Jack’s rectum pulled and sucked on him until he was ready to burst again. “You are so fuckin’ hot, Jacky boy. That is amazing.”

“Uhhh… don’t stop!” Jack whimpered. “Man! That feels so fuckin’ good!”

“I’d like to get a little kinky, if you don’t mind. I bite,” Rayne panted in his ear.

“Oh fuck, yeah… anything!” the boy gasped as his mate surged deeper. “Whatever you fuckin’ want. I am this close!”

He held up his smallest finger. Rayne’s arms snaked about him tightly and he buried his face in the warm crook of Jack’s neck and shoulder, sinking his extended fangs deep. He bucked fiercely into the blond, shutting out his emotions, just riding the tide of sexual pleasure and sinking into the coppery heat of his blood. He fed long and hard and the first shut off point did not come until he felt Jack shudder with the force of his own orgasm and sink to his knees. Rayne went down with him, coming hard into the boy as he held Jack close, kissing and licking his slender neck.

“Oh man! What did you do? I never felt like that with a guy?” Jack groaned huskily.

“You’ll be okay,” Rayne promised him, his heart still pounding. He had not taken so much from a feeder in ages and he was buzzing from it, feeling invincible. Usually he left them able to fend for themselves, but he worried that Jack would not even make it back up to the street.

Rayne moved to his feet and fastened his pants then made the boy decent. Jack was sprawled at his feet, still huffing rapidly. His face was very pale. Rayne touched him and fretted again that he was too cold. Rayne could feel the low level buzz in his veins that told him the boy had been speeding. The combination of amphetamines and blood loss was not a good one.

“Do you live locally?” he asked, coming to a crouch by the lad’s side.

“Ardwick,” Jack said faintly.

“Is there someone at home right now?” The vampire slapped his face gently to keep him focused.

“Uhh… maybe my mum… dunno,” Jack slurred.

“Crap!” Rayne slid his arms under Jack’s shoulders and eased him to his feet. It took him a little while to walk the boy back up to the street. And then there was no sign of a taxi anywhere.

Automatically he headed back towards the apartment. Rayne had not planned to go there so soon but he could not take Jack back to the hotel and he would not abandon him on the street in this state. It was less than a quarter of a mile to his old home.

Rayne swallowed his reservations and whispered. “Come on. Let me take you somewhere you can rest and get better.”

The entry code for the apartment came back to him just as he had hoped it would as he set his fingers on the keypad. Rayne practically had to carry the blond boy up the stairs to his front door but Jack was barely any weight at all and he got the lad inside without being overseen. Once they were in, Rayne took him upstairs and laid him on the bed. The room had been left as it was when he last used it, the dark silk of the sheets was drawn back and rumpled, and ever so slightly dusty. Rayne checked that the power was still on then turned on the bathroom light and ran a hot bath. He managed to get Jack undressed and into the hot water then called out on his mobile for a takeaway.

Once the kid was warm and Rayne had coaxed food into him, he put Jack back to bed and wrapped the duvet around him, leaving his exhausted guest to sleep it off. Feeling numb, Rayne went back down to the lounge and curled up on the supple suede cushions of the long sofa. He chewed on the large knuckle at the base of his thumb, lost in thought, but he did not succumb to sleep. It would not do to have Jack wake in the night and come looking for him only to find him ‘dead’ on the settee.

Rayne spent the night in darkness, alone on the couch. He was not ready to sleep upstairs, not yet. And certainly not with another man. The darkness was full of ghosts, full of memories, and he was unable to shut them out. He rolled onto his back and closed his eyes but whenever he did that he could feel Kevan’s hands on his body, sliding under his clothes; Kev’s hungry mouth on his neck and those strong fingers stripping him, groping him, parting his legs…

With a little gasp of anguish he pushed himself to his feet again, pacing the room restlessly, refusing to sleep.

“Leave me alone,” he whispered disconsolately. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! But please… please let me be!”

Finally, he reached into the inner pocket of his jacket, retrieving the little velvet bag and the ring it contained. He tipped it out into his hand again and slid it onto his finger. Like a charm it stilled the unquiet spirits in his head. Pressing the third finger of his left hand to his lips, Rayne returned to the sofa and curled up there once more.

He did not sleep but his thoughts were more restful and the memories that came to him were not of blood and vengeance but softer and more consoling. He contented himself with the recollection of strong arms around his shoulders and warm, steady breath on the nape of his neck. More than once he considered calling Xavier. He needed to hear a fond, familiar voice and more than that he needed to be in a comforting embrace. Rayne was used to feeling lonely, the desolation had been a part of him for most of his life, but this was like a nightmare. The need that kept driving him was eating his spirit. For a little while that night he understood why people believed vampires to be soul-less. In order to survive it was necessary to shut out any sense of humanity. But he still craved it. Without it, what kind of a creature would he become?

He already knew the answer to that question. Without it he was a cold, blind, ruthless killer. Stripped of his humanity he could go back up those stairs like a silent ghost and drain the sleeping boy in his bed until he was little more than a breathless husk. He could go out onto those teeming streets peopled with mindless hedonists and rip out their throats until the police sent a SWAT team over to pump bullets into him and blow him to oblivion.

Miserably he drew his knees up to his chest and hugged them there staring into the darkness. He was the darkness made corporeal, the worst of nightmares in a human form. And here he waited, back in the place that forced him to confront it more than almost any other. Time and time again he reached for his phone and turned it over in his hands, playing up and down over Xavier’s number. So easy; it would be so easy to just call and listen to his sleepy voice; to tell Xav how precious he had been, one last time.

And then he would do it. He would go out there and show them what a monster he could really be.

Rayne turned off his mobile and threw it across the room, then he wrapped his head in his arms and wept silently until daylight began to seep like blood into the room.

Jack was mildly embarrassed in the morning, bereft of the confidence the speed had given him, but Rayne played it cool. He made coffee and called the kid a cab to take him home. As they were waiting, Jack grinned shyly and whispered; “I like the toys in your bedside cabinet, Jay. Maybe we can come back here again some time and you can tie me up and use them on me, huh?”

Rayne studied him for a moment. Once upon a time he would have capitalised on a remark like that but today he was too sorrowful and far too tired.

“I don’t think so, sweetheart,” he said gravely. “Last night was enough. Take care, Jack.”

When the boy was finally gone, he pulled off the bedclothes then stripped himself and took a long, hot shower. The scalding water focussed his thoughts as always and he shut out everything unnecessary as it drilled down on his head and simmered through his lank hair, enfolding his body in liquid heat.

Then he set about the preparations he had come here to make.

For most of the morning he was on the phone to various estate agents, arranging for the valuation of his property and the clearing of his personal effects. Some of this he sorted out himself during the remainder of the morning. There were things here that he did not want to leave to the hands of outsiders.

The restraints and sex toys he packed into the lid of the small case he had brought with him. Each one conjured a memory and he was not ready to explore those memories yet.

Rayne opened the sliding glass door of the wardrobe next and flicked through the clothing within. Most of it could go. He had been a peacock in his younger days but now he tended to stick to a certain look and style. Sleek and simple, suited his spare frame. The little black silk dress that Kevan had bought him when they first began to play more exotic games still hung in its wrapper and he took it out and laid it on the bed.

Over the next hour or so he emptied the drawers and the wardrobe and divided the contents into two piles, a small ‘keepers’ pile and a much larger ‘charitable’ heap. There was a third, brief selection on the bed but he packed the larger mound of items into carrier bags and put them aside and packed the ‘keepers’ in his case too before addressing those. Of the pile that remained, most of the things were undergarments and he had neither the desire to keep them nor the wish that they should fall into the hands of others. In the end he took them down to the basement where the caretaker had a small incinerator and he fed them, piece by piece into the flames; each item conjuring up a separate memory, one that would never leave him. He lingered until he could be sure that everything was fully committed to the fire and then he turned away, returning to the apartment with crimson tears glazing his eyes.

XAVIER ALONE

As Xavier went through his morning routine he realised that it had been a month since their arrival by train in London. Rayne had left for Manchester in the small hours this morning and now Xavier found himself… bored. Dominic had things to do, Rayne was heading north, and Xavier didn’t really know anyone here. He and Rayne had spent most of the time since they got to London wrapped up in each other and hadn’t even gone out much, which Xav did not regret in the least, but now it felt a little odd to be alone, even for just a few hours. Maybe it was knowing that Ray wouldn’t be back by lunchtime that made it feel different to the other days when he’d just popped out for ciggies or a bite to drink.

Still, life had to be lived, and this morning Xavier had decided he’d had enough of cold cereal for breakfast. By the time he was dressed he was picturing bacon and eggs. Of course, if he wanted them edible they weren’t going to be cooked by him!

With nothing more than breakfast in mind he headed out the front door, locking up behind him. He got no further though before he spotted a hunched figure on the top step, dressed almost the same as he’d been the first time Xav had seen him.

The kid looked, if possible, even thinner and scruffier than he had on the day of Xavier’s arrival in London. There was a tiredness in his eyes and dark circles around them like Rayne sometimes got when he was hungry or hurting. Though his hair was obviously dyed, a strip of some tawny shade showing through now close to his scalp, he seemed to have made a conscious effort to actually look a little bit like the singer. The slight upward tilt of his nose was almost identical and the way his full, colourless lips hovered between a smile and a sneer was very self-consciously Rayne.

His dark hood was pulled up over the back of his head and unruly hair poked out around his face like the mane of a small, starved, emo lion. It was a cool morning and he was already shivering a little as he pulled on a roll-up between the thin white fingers protruding from his cut-off gloves.

“Didn’t Rayne chase you off once already?” Xavier asked mildly.

“I need to talk to ‘im,” the boy said, rising at once when Xavier turned to face him. “It’s important.”

Xavier’s eyes settled on him, though it was hard to tell if his expression was sympathetic or just resigned. “You’re not supposed to be here, you know.”

“It’s important!” the boy repeated stubbornly.

Xavier shook his head once. “He’s gone. He had some business to take care of.”

“When will he be back?” The boy was nothing if not persistent. He shivered again though, shifting from one sneakered foot to the other as if both gave him pain. From the look of his battered Converse hi-tops there was not much sole left in either of them. He stared at Xavier with big, unblinking eyes, defensive and fascinated, like a little fox that had found something inexplicable waiting in the mouth of its den.

Xavier cocked his head slightly, considering the boy in front of him just as curiously.

“I’m not sure. Could be awhile,” he finally answered. “You could tell me what it is, and I might be able to get a message to him,” he offered, curious to see what the kid thought was so important, or what he figured Rayne would think was important.

The boy continued to study him with that wary expression on his face. His nose twitched as if he was scenting out the truth but then he just sat back down on the steps and wrapped his arms around his skinny knees. “I’ll wait for him.”

“Guess it’s not that important then,” Xav said and turned to head down to the street.

“What would you know?” the kid muttered under his breath, sinking his chin onto his folded arms and shivering again.

Xavier stopped and turned slowly, one eyebrow arched almost delicately. He bent from the waist so that he could look the boy in the eye. Holding one hand up in front of the scruffy kid he ticked off a count, touching his first three fingers to his thumb on each point.

“I know where he is. I know how to get him a message. And I know bullshit when I see it!” Xav said, and then straightened. “If it was really something worthwhile, and if you were smart, you’d use me to get a message to him. He’s gone, probably won’t be back for a week, maybe two. And I’m sick of being polite to a brat. If you’re here when I get back I’m calling the cops and I’ll have them move your ass.”

“Don’t…” It was a half-strangled noise in his throat but the look on the boy’s face said it was an effort to make the plea. “Don’t call the bizzies. I know hethreatened it but he wouldn’t call them, not really. He knows it’d get me in a lot of trouble. Will he really be gone for that long?”

The look in his hazel eyes was suddenly lost and a bit desperate.

Xavier studied him carefully, not immune to that desperation. He knew what it was to be afraid of the cops too, and he hadn’t really meant the threat either. Of course, the kid didn’t need to know that.

“Tell me what’s so important and maybe I won’t call them,” Xavier said.

The emo kid bristled for a few seconds but he was too tired and cold for such a battle and probably hungry too. Shoulders slumped as he tugged his hood forward over his face but he muttered; “Need him to talk to my grandad again. I need some money, they won’t let me have any more. They said I have to go home if I want it. But this is my home. I just need what’s mine.”

This, understandably, didn’t make any sense to Xavier. Why would Rayne talk to this kid’s grandfather? And why would the kid think he would? Unless he was just nuts… but Xavier didn’t think so. Rather than satisfy his curiosity the answer brought up more questions.

“All right…I’ll ask him for you,” Xav said cautiously, then on a whim added, “…if you come to breakfast with me.”

The kid just stared at him and Xavier gave a little shrug. “I don’t like to eat alone. Come on, I’ll buy.” The boy didn’t move and Xavier sighed, turning his back again. “Or you can sit there freezing your ass off and starve. Like I fuckin’ care!”

The boy on the doorstep gave this all of fifteen seconds thought. Xavier was just wandering back towards Portobello Road when he bounced to his feet like Tigger and ran after him, catching up before the turn. He held himself very straight in an attempt to match Xav for height (which just about failed) then glanced sidelong at him almost shyly, muttering; “Don’t suppose I can come in and have a shower or something after, can I?”

“Maybe,” Xavier murmured, deliberately not sniffing in the kid’s direction. “What’s your name?”

There was a moment’s hesitation and then, a little shyly, he answered; “Clint. Don’t laugh, it was my mum’s idea. She called me Clinton James, I’m not named after Clint Eastwood!”

“I’m not laughing,” Xav said, although he was smiling a little at the way he answered. “My name’s Xavier. How old are you, Clint?”

“Seventeen,” the boy flashed back immediately, a defensive look in his tawny eyes.

Xav snorted softly. “Don’t fuckin’ lie to me, okay? I peg you at thirteen maybe, fourteen tops.”

Clint bristled a bit at this but reluctantly conceded; “I’ll be sixteen soon!”

Xav nodded, that was more like the truth. Clinton had been living on the street for a while too, Xav gauged by the look of him, but at least he’d had someone to call for money. Seemed grandad’s wallet had dried up though. Xav wondered why. It could be a lot of things. Maybe whatever family member had been playing the sucker had finally had enough of funding his habit. Xavier didn’t see any obvious signs though. The kid was tired and dark eyed, but he wasn’t twitchy, itchy, and bitchy. Well, not beyond normal bitchy anyway and Xav thought that was mostly self-preservative bitchiness. Still, Xavier knew full well that looks could be very deceiving.

He wanted to ask why Clint didn’t just go home but he kept his mouth shut. Sometimes home really was worse than the street. It wasn’t his business, and besides any suggestion like that would just make Clint go on the defensive again. He also didn’t ask how come Grandad wasn’t coughing up cash any more. If he wasn’t cutting the kid off because of drugs he figured it was because he was trying to bribe him to come home. He did however have one question.

“How come you want Rayne to ask your grandad about the money?”

Clint looked at him with a knowing smile. “Get me breakfast, and I’ll tell you. I should have figured he wouldn’t talk to you about it.”

Xavier narrowed his eyes suspiciously, thinking maybe the kid was just playing some kind of game, being all mysterious because he wanted attention. He managed to keep his tongue still only because Clint maybe had a point, Rayne did make habit of not telling him things, that was for sure. Since he’d already offered to buy him breakfast anyway it wouldn’t hurt to wait until they were settled to hear what Clint had to say.

“Okay,” he conceded, with a shrug and took Clint to his favourite cafe. They had a little seated area out the front where customers could sit in the watery autumn sunshine, though when they got there Clint preferred to stay indoors, so Xav collared a double table by the window where they could at least see the daylight.

“What are you having?” the genial Irish waitress asked and Clint looked a question at Xavier who just waved at the menu.

“Whatever you want.”

In the end Clint ordered most of the breakfast menu; sausages, bacon, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, baked beans, black pudding, fried bread (extra slices) and three poached eggs. Even Xavier, who could eat for his country, blinked at the size of the plate. Clint beamed his thanks at the girl who brought it to their table and emptied it in under three minutes. He ate like he feared someone would steal the food from under his nose and mopped it up with the extra slices of buttered bread. He knocked back the mug of milky tea and grinned at Xavier enthusiastically.

“You’re right, it’s fantastic here. Can I have another poached egg? And some more sausages? And that fried bread was ace, just nice and crispy.”

“As long as you don’t puke or expect me to carry you outta here you can have whatever you want,” Xavier said airily, and then added; “Except beans! I don’t know what is up with putting beans all over a perfectly good breakfast. That’s just… wrong!” His expression clearly said he thought it was disgusting. He kept his opinion about the milky tea to himself though. Ugh!

The waitress came again and took Clint’s order and Xav got a refill on his coffee. “While we’re waiting on your seconds, you wanna answer my question now?”

The boy stretched like a well-fed cat and said; “You sure you really wanna know?”

Xavier narrowed a look on him that could have refried his beans.

“Okay… you asked,” Clint licked his lips and leaned across the table. “I’ve got a secret that puts me closer to him than you’ll ever be.”

“Look, don’t try and play cute.” Xav said, a bit of a sharper edge cutting into his voice. “Just spit it out.” He was starting to lose patience.

Clint looked taken aback, very briefly, as if he hadn’t expected Xavier to be quite so sharp with him. He retreated behind his mug for a moment then when he saw that the cute approach seriously wasn’t going to do him any favours, he put it down.

“Xavier, you’re a nice bloke. I didn’t come here to piss you off,” he said carefully. “You wanna know what you’re getting into though. He’s used to getting what he wants. But I know what I’m worth, all right? And I think you do too, so don’t get mad at me when I tell you this.”

“Just fucking tell me, okay. I’m getting very tired of all this,” Xav warned him, still conscious of a little bubble of anxiety that was welling up inside him as Clint fixed him with those solemn, unblinking eyes.

“You want it,” Clint muttered, holding out his hands helplessly. “Okay, Xavier. He’s my dad. Is that straight enough for you? He fucked my mum, she had me, he’s my daddy. Cool?”

Xavier looked at the none-too-clean boy across from him and his mind automatically kicked the words back at him and told him the kid he was lying. Hehad to be lying. Rayne wouldn’t let his own son live on the street. Would he? If Clint was really his kid Rayne would have told him. He would have told him something like that! Wouldn’t he?

He stared hard at the boy and he actually felt the word ‘liar’ form on his tongue but it didn’t quite make it out of his mouth. He saw now what he’d been seeing all along but hadn’t put together. Clint’s eyes weren’t the vivid green of Rayne’s but they were the same shape, and placed in a face that had the same fine bone structure. His nose had the same jaunty tilt at the tip and his mouth had that cherubic softness that could twist into a slightly mocking, not-quite-smile at the drop of an ‘h’. His colouring was different, and his face was a tad longer and leaner, but the resemblance was so close that Xavier couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it before, and now that he had he couldn’t un-see it.

The anger rose up in him so swift and hot it was nearly choking him, and he wasn’t even sure what he was so angry about, but he knew he had to leave.Now! He pulled his wallet out and dropped the money to pay for the meal on the table, standing as he did so.

“I’ve got to go,” he muttered through clenched teeth.

Whatever Clint had been expecting it clearly wasn’t that for he jumped to his feet at once and tried to catch Xavier’s hand as he put the money down.

“Wait… don’t go. You believe me, don’t you? I can tell. I can see it on your face, you believe me. Please don’t go, I really need to talk to him. It’s not just about money.”

“Let go of me,” Xav warned, shaking him off fiercely. “I don’t owe you anything. I don’t care who you are.”

He got as far as the sidewalk outside the cafe before Clint caught up with him. He didn’t try to grab him this time, maybe sensing that it wouldn’t be well received but he got in the way at every opportunity.

“Xavier, listen to me. You know there’s something weird about him, you’ve been living in his fucking house. You know that he’s not…” He bit down on his lips and shook his head. When Xavier tried to push past him he dodged in front again and held his hands up, barring the way. “He isn’t like us, Xavier.”

Xavier glared at him, grabbing his shoulders and physically moving him to one side.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He said each word very clearly. He had to concentrate hard now because anxiety was rolling off the kid in waves and Xavier was soaking it up like a sponge. If he didn’t get away from him it felt like he was going to have a panic attack right there on the sidewalk.

He started walking again and Clint called after him, his tone gone from pleading to sneering.

“That’s fuckin’ right. Force me to tell you and then get pissed off at me. I should have fuckin’ known you couldn’t handle it!”

Xavier stopped, feeling his face flush hot with barely contained anger. Yeah, that was exactly what he’d done too, wasn’t it? He wasn’t really angry at Clint though, it wasn’t his fault. He counted down from five and heaved a sigh, then half-turned back, shaking his head.

“I’m not pissed at you,” he said, then paused and sighed again, wiping a hand over his eyes and wondering if he’d lost his mind, but thinking that if he stormed off now he’d probably never get the answers he wanted. “You still want to come have a shower?”

Clint caught back up to him, although now he was wary again. He opened his mouth to say something but Xavier held up his hand. “Don’t say anything. Just…give me a few minutes until we get back, then we can talk.”

He needed the time, less to cool down than to focus. He hadn’t had so many problems with picking up too much on people’s emotional crap since Rayne had done… whatever it was he’d done to him at Aldo’s. Of course, Rayne hadn’t left his side until now either. He needed to get a handle on all this shit that was bombarding him at the moment or he really was going to go crazy.

By the time they got back to the house Xav’s hands were shaking as he opened the door with his key, letting Clint follow him inside. He closed the door again and locked it, leaning there for a moment and feeling the physical barrier help shut out the background noise a bit and dampen down his empathy with every bastard on the street. Taking a deep breath and letting it out he beckoning to Clint and waved towards the hall where the bathroom was.

“Go have a shower first, then we’ll talk. Don’t break anything, and don’t steal anything. Got it?”

“I’m skint, not desperate,” Clint said airily. “Besides, I’ve been here before.”

And he strode down the corridor to the bathroom and slammed the door. Moments later Xavier heard the water running and off-key singing echoing down the passageway. He just shook his head and moved wearily into the lounge. Xav was not the best at handling kids. He had no patience and although he was not so old that he couldn’t relate, he had grown up too fast and too hard to put up with much shit.

He sat down in the centre of the futon and folded his legs into the lotus position. Dominic had been admonishing him for weeks now to meditate and do the exercises he’d shown him, but Xav was sporadic at best. Now he wished he’d done what Dom had told him. Better late than never he supposed.

He listened to the shower, the tiny little pings and ticks of the house, the low hum of traffic outside. He started to shut the little noises out one at a time, relaxing and breathing as Dominic had taught him, until the world went away and he was calmer inside.

Clint was in the bathroom for an indecent length of time. Rayne could soak for an age but the boy had to have been in there for nearly an hour. Xavier resisted the urge to find out what he was up to. There was virtually nothing he could take and no way out except for the small, semi-circular ventilation window in the wall. It was just a matter of waiting him out.

When he finally emerged into the kitchen he was swathed in towels like a Bedouin chieftain. His pale skin had a bit of a rosy blush to it from the hot water but his eyes were still tired.

“Can I stick my stuff through the wash?” he asked, rather less pushily. “I know where everything is. I’ll fuck off as soon as it’s dry, yeah?”

Xavier waved a resigned hand. “Go ahead.”

He listened to the boy puttering with the washer and Clint returned a short while later looking wary, perhaps conscious of the fact that he was alone in the house with a stranger, and wearing nothing but a pair of bath towels. Xav was more relaxed now and he’d had time to think about things. His initial reaction had been based on Rayne letting him stumble into something blindly, again. It wasn’t right to take it out on Clint though.

“I’m sorry I got so pissed. It wasn’t directed at you,” Xav explained as the boy walked back into the lounge.

“I figured.” Clint flopped down on the edge of the futon and sank back on it with a little huff of breath. “I’m kind of used to it by now. He doesn’t mean to be a fuck-up but I guess he’s kind of embarrassed about it. I mean, it’s not the kind of thing you tell someone you want to impress into bed, I guess. ‘Hey, and this is my kid, I knocked his mum up about sixteen years back and had to pay her family off and guess what, he still comes round here hassling me about it!'”

The boy shoved a hand into the towel around his wet hair and scratched his head restlessly. He added, incuriously; “You’re American?”

“Yeah,” Xavier answered. “From California.”

“Far out,” Clint remarked with a little yawn. He turned onto his side and curled up, hugging himself, still bundled in the damp towels. “He’s deffo going more for guys than girls now, yeah? Can’t make his mind up. Fuck, I’m shattered Xavier. Dunno when I last slept properly. Some fuck’s always waking you up when you’re sleeping rough. Ball ache! You seem cool though, better than that tall, skinny fuck that’s always yapping at me, he loves giving me grief that one.”

Xav had no doubt the ‘tall, skinny fuck’ Clint meant was Matty Greening. He felt a touch of solidarity despite his reservations.

“Don’t feel bad, you’re not the only one he likes to give shit to. Natural born talent I think!” Xavier said blandly, looking at Clint speculatively now. “So let me get this straight. Rayne’s still paying your family for your upkeep, but you’d rather be in the gutter here than with them?” Xav shook his head and muttered, “That’s gotta piss him off.” Conversely though it made Xavier feel better that Rayne hadn’t totally abandoned the kid. He was still paying for him. It wasn’t his fault if the kid wouldn’t stay where the cash was.

“Rayne can’t make them give you the money, you know. If he tried, the court’s more likely to just make you go home.” He tilted his head slightly. “But you know that, right? So what did you really come after him for?”

“He put money in a trust for me but I can’t get at it legally ’til I’m 18,” Clint mumbled sleepily. “Record company pays my Grandad maintenance but my gran and gramps moved to fuckin’ Devon about 3 years ago, took me with ’em. I don’t like it down there though, fuck all ever happens. I miss my mates. Rather be here, even sleeping rough.”

He rolled onto his back and tugged the towels closer around him as he turned his head to look at Xavier curiously. “Just lately I feel like I need to be here, I can’t explain it’s like an itch, I just need to scratch it. I feel better when I’m here, near him. It’s been a ball-ache having him away. He’s been gone so much lately, y’know. But even when he’s being a cunt, it feels better in my head when I know where he is.” He hesitated almost shyly then asked; “Xavier, has he ever…? Shit… this is a really fucked up question, but did he ever try and bite you?”

“Why would you ask that?” Xavier said cautiously.

Those large hazel eyes looked back at him unblinkingly.

“You know why,” Clint finally said, reading more into his silence than his words.

Xavier debated privately with himself. Odds were pretty good the kid wasn’t just asking on a hunch. He’d seen something, or maybe he felt something. If he really was Rayne’s son, and Xav already wasn’t doubting that, maybe there was some kind of bond there, like he had with Rayne. What would that be like, to feel so oddly connected to someone and not know why? But that was quite a leap to go from feeling some odd connection to thinking his dad was a vampire. It could have been Clint had followed Ray one night and saw him with some feeder…Xav couldn’t say for sure and he couldn’t exactly ask without giving away anything. If that had happened he guessed that had to have freaked the kid out a bit.

Xavier let out a small sigh. “Clint…you can’t talk to anyone about this. They would just think you’re nuts anyway, right? So…so let it be. Okay?”

“So he has tried something with you? I’m not imagining it?” Clint was suddenly more wide-awake. He pushed himself up, dislodging the towel wrapped loosely around his damp hair but ignoring it. “There is something very, very weird going on, Xavier. I just wanna know what it is. He doesn’t feel like other people. At first I thought it was just because I knew he was my dad, but now I’m not so sure. That skinny one, the one with the gob on him, he feels the same. It’s like my skin tries to crawl off my bones when he’s around me. And I know I’m not related tohim. At least… I ‘ope to Christ I’m not!”

Xavier felt like he was being backed into a corner. He didn’t know what he should tell Clint. The kid knew something was up, he was describing exactly how Xav felt when there was a vampire around, and Xav also knew how it felt when no one would tell him what was going on… yet, he also had other concerns. Like, the more Clint knew the more bother he could be, and Rayne probably wouldn’t thank him for discussing this with his kid since it was obvious he hadn’t told him anything. On the other hand, if he said nothing Clint might just get himself in trouble trying to figure things out on his own. He could get seriously hurt if he started asking questions like that to the wrong people.

He didn’t owe this kid a damn thing, but he was not so hard hearted that he could just turf him out now and let him wander, and maybe go seeking out some other toothy fucker that gave him that same strange feeling he was picking up off of Rayne and Matty.

Xavier could vividly imagine what a vamp like Elian Iannopolous would do with a tender young boy like Clint poking around, asking to see his fangs.

“Fuck…” Xav hissed under his breath, running an agitated hand through his hair. “You’re going to get in trouble with this… you’re going to get me in trouble with this!” he grumbled, and then capitulated.

“They’re…different, you’re not wrong,” he began slowly, and then hurriedly added, “but if you go telling anyone else they’ll laugh at you or put you in a nut house, so just keep it to yourself, all right?” He looked Clint straight in the eye, leaning a little closer, his eyes very serious now. “And, Clint, if you ever get that feeling around someone else… you know, that little itch inside like you get when one of them is close…” Xavier licked his lips nervously. “Play it cool, like you didn’t notice anything, and then get the fuck away from them as fast as you can. You hearin’ me? It ain’t no fucking game. Ending up dead would be the least of your worries.”

Xavier’s eyes were haunted enough that Clint knew he wasn’t just trying to scare him. Then Xavier suddenly looked away and wrapped his arms around himself like he was cold.

Clint hesitated, caught between reaching out towards him and letting him be. He decided it would probably be best not to tell Xavier that he got a kind of weird feeling around him too, but not in the same way. His dad’s blond boyfriend could be a little spiky but he was a nice enough bloke, in so far as Clint could tell. Not many groupies would have bought him breakfast or let him hang out like this, or even told him half of what Xavier had hinted at. That scored him some brownie points in Clint’s book.

“Are you okay?” the lad asked at last. “You don’t look too good. Can I get you anything?”

Xavier shook his head.

“No, I’m fine,” he answered, and looked at Clint thoughtfully. “Listen, I really don’t know when Rayne is coming back. It could be as long as I said or sooner. I know I said I’d call him for you but… well, he’s got a lot on his mind right now, and probably wouldn’t be real receptive to making calls or anything anyway. If I give you some cash to carry you through can you just wait until he gets back?”

“I s’pose,” Clint said with a little shrug.

“All right. You can get some sleep if you want to. You look like you could use it,” Xavier said, sliding off the end of the futon.

The boy eyed him suspiciously for a moment and Xavier asked; “What?”

“Are you gonna slip me your dick while I’m asleep?” Clint wanted to know.

“What sort of fuckin’ question is that?” Xav’s eyes widened with disbelief. “And if I was, would I tell you about it first?”

Clint shrugged again. “Guess not.”

Xavier shook his head incredulously and went off to the bedroom. After a couple minutes he returned with a light blanket and pillow and dropped them next to Clint, then wandered off again to go play with the laptop until his mood improved.

Xavier checked in on Clint a few times over the next couple of hours but he seemed fine and slept pretty much the whole day away. He finally woke in the evening and Xav took him out to dinner because he was hungry by then too. After that it just didn’t seem right to toss him back out, so Xav let him sleep on the futon again. In the morning it seemed even weirder to ask Clint to leave, knowing he was Rayne’s kid, and knowing he didn’t have anywhere to go. So Xav let him stay, and a hesitant friendship began to develop.

The kid seemed to have endless questions about him, his life, what he did, where he’d lived. It annoyed the shit out of Xav at first, but he soon realised his curiosity was driven at least partly by a desire for attention. He just wanted someone to talk to, and since Xavier didn’t have anyone else to hang out with anyway he didn’t mind so much, although he did try and edit a lot of what he told him.

Clint seemed happy to get his feet under the table. He persuaded Xavier to touch up his roots for him, then he disappeared for a few hours and returned in the afternoon with a bag of weather-beaten clothes which he also took the liberty of putting through Rayne’s washing machine and tumble-dryer. He was not beyond chancing his arm either, and Xav came out of the bathroom later that same evening to find him no longer engrossed in the computer game he had been playing a couple of minutes ago. He tracked the youngster to the bedroom where Clint was investigating the contents of his father’s wardrobe.

“He ain’t ‘alf got some fancy gear, ‘as he?” he laughed at Xavier’s slightly impatient expression. “You reckon this would suit me?”

He held up a sheer, sleeveless black top with a slashed neck and little silver safety pins hanging from it, preening in front of the mirror inside the wardrobe door.

“No,” Xavier said, taking it out of his hands. “Not unless you’re on a stage, or working a corner,” he added as he put it back on its hanger and returned it to where it belonged.

“You’re no fun, you know,” Clint told him seriously. Then he grinned and blew Xav a kiss.

In the muted light of the bedroom and with his hair newly dyed, for a moment he looked so like Rayne that it made Xavier’s heart jump.

“It’s self-preservation. Rayne is fussy about his stuff,” Xavier said. “Which you shouldn’t be snooping through!” he added, thinking about a couple of drawers of sex toys in particular that he didn’t want to think about Clint looking into. And where were those pictures of him? After their argument Rayne had retrieved the ones he thrown in the trash bin and scooped up the rest and Xav hadn’t seen them since. He turned and made a little shooing gesture as he walked toward the door since Clint was blocking the doorway now.

“Yes mum,” Clint grinned at him. “Bet he’d do his nut if he knew you’d been letting me live here, rent free while he was off doing his thing. Serves him right for not ringing though, yeah?” before Xavier had time to comment on that last remark, or even feel stung by it, Clint was rambling on again. “Tell you what, you should come and see where I hang out usually. I’ll give you a proper tour, city of London and all that. Introduce you to some of the lads I mix with. Just to say thanks for helping me out. Would that be cool?”

It was on the tip of Xavier’s tongue to tell him no. He could not really foresee anything but trouble if he got introduced around to Clint’s friends. However, he didn’t think the casual invitation was quite as casual as Clint made it seem. He supposed there weren’t too many people that were nice to Clint, and this was sort of a way for the kid to say thanks. Besides, what else did he have to do?

“Sure.” Xav said with a little shrug.

“Cool!” Clint beamed at him. “We’ll do it tomorrow, yeah?”

He bounced back into the lounge and settled in front of his dad’s laptop again, queuing up another game.

The next morning dawned bright and clear, one of those rare autumn days when it was both sunny and not too cold. Even the city looked quite bright and pleased with itself in the sunshine and Xav took Clint to their regular café for breakfast before they set off on their travels. The boy even consented to sit outside with him, even though he muttered under his breath that it was a poncey thing to do in England.

“Only tourists and students sit out on the pavement,” he said in answer to Xavier’s quizzical look. “Fuckin mental, innit, when you’re paying in your cover charge for a roof over your head and central heating.”

When they had eaten and emptied the large coffee percolator (Clint had acquired a taste for coffee under Xavier’s tutelage but still couldn’t be coaxed to drink orange juice!) the boy led him off towards Kilburn where he had grown up. On his usual wanderings Xavier had somehow always gravitated down towards the river but Clint led him away from the Thames, walking for about a mile and a half, into a land fringed with tower-blocks and three or four storey, balconied courtyards that were always loud with chatter or the yelps of children. The walls of shops and garages were bright with zig-zags of graffiti here and more litter tumbled through the streets than in the area he was beginning to think of, just a little bit, as home.

He could see it in the people too, they were more casually dressed on the whole. Any suits he spotted generally belonged to harassed looking office workers and were cheaper and more crumpled than the business attire of the city bankers. The general uniform of worn denims and tee shirts or hoodies and track bottoms was the norm here. Xav was slightly conscious of being a bit over-dressed.

“He used to live here, you know,” Clint told him conversationally as they wandered up Kilburn High Road and Xavier took in the melting pot of colours and cultures that clashed on every street corner.

There were take-aways and delis of every persuasion, from every corner of the world. Mouthwatering aromas filled his nostrils at every turn. Indian haberdasheries sold bright swathes of coloured and hand embroidered silk. There were cabinet makers from Eastern Europe and a plumber and bathroom fitter on one corner whose name had far too many ‘z’s and ‘j’s and far too few vowels in it for Xavier to decipher.

“Rayne, you mean?” Xavier asked, slightly surprised by this. He had thought that his lover lived by the sea before coming to London.

“He lived in a squat just up the road,” Clint said, with the assurance of a tour guide. “My mum told me about it. They were always squatting places, none of them ‘ad proper jobs so they just moved into a place and kind of took over ’til somebody caught on and they got kicked out.”

That raised another question that had been bugging him since Clint kind of moved in. He ventured to ask it now.

“Where’s your Mom now? You’ve said a lot about your grandparents but why isn’t she looking out for you?”

Clint looked at him with that slightly shut down gaze that he knew well because he’d seen it on Rayne’s face so many times.

“She died,” the boy said at last and turned the conversation back to the various flats that Rayne had allegedly and illegally inhabited along the High Road.

Xavier looked shocked. He wanted to ask more but he was also conscious that this might lead to questions in turn about his own mother and as he considered his reluctance to get drawn on that he realised that maybe he had more in common with Clint than he’d thought. He was also quite shocked by the boy’s allegations though; not so much that Rayne would do something as illicit as breaking and entering but that he hadn’t been thrown in jail for it. Which led to a short discussion about the finer differences of squatting.

“Where I come from you wouldn’t dare try that without a lease first. You don’t pay the rent they get the court to come pry you out after a while. But if you just moved into some empty place, that’s called breaking an’ entering and will land you some jail time,” Xav said. “Which is partly why there’s so many large homeless populations across the country, I guess.”

Clint scoffed at that.

“It depends who owns the place, over here,” he said, with a little shrug. “Some of them are right bastards and they might make a case of it if they caught you. Some never come near a place though. There’s some nice, big old buildings that never get looked at. Companies buy ’em and they’re meant to develop ’em but they run out of money so the buildings just sit empty. Seems a shame not to make use of ’em when there’s kids sleeping rough, yeah? If the bizzies turn up you just grab as much of your stuff as possible and leg it out the back window!” He grinned at Xavier. “C’mon, I’ll show you what I mean.”

A little way further up the main road, he turned off into an alleyway behind a tall, weary looking art deco building with a high white turreted frontage that towered over the rest of the block. It looked like someone had picked it up from a street in New York and plonked it down here without checking that it would fit. Clint led Xavier through a couple of battered gateways into a long goods yard that backed onto the rear courtyards of a terraced row of buildings behind the main road. This area was both a little more grubby, and in some ways more colourful, almost garishly so. Out of the corner of his eye Xav picked up that their progress was not unobserved. Some of the seemingly empty buildings were not so empty. It occurred to Xav to ask, “You stay ’round here sometimes?”

“It’s a bit of a drop-in centre,” Clint said casually. “The old flicks got bought by some bunch of God-Botherers and they’re meant to be turning it into a church but they ‘aven’t done nothin’ to it for ages. We got in through the back where the builders’d been working. It’s far out inside, Xav.”

There were a few young blacks and a scrawny white youth in trainers and caps playing with a basketball in the yard behind the old cinema and they paused to check out the newcomers then went back to their game. From the state of the fence around the yard, whoever owned the property had given up on repairing it. It had been patched in numerous places then just left alone.

Clint pried a section of metal cladding away from the grimy red-brick wall and revealed a doorway. He nodded towards it. “Go on, get in before someone sees us.”

This was not exactly how he’d envisioned spending his day, but Xav didn’t hesitate to slip through and Clint came in right behind him just as quickly. It was a little weird, Xavier felt a curious time slip, like he regressed a few years in Clint’s presence. He laughed at himself inwardly, and he had to wonder if the situation was reversed and they were on his home turf would he have been as easy going with Clint? Probably not. When he had been living hand to mouth on the mean streets everyone was either baggage or competition.

It was much darker inside, most of the natural light cut off, but there was enough to see the walls in the hallway they were in were painted in Day-Glo colours that swirled from floor to ceiling in shifting patterns. He imagined it would be an interesting spot at night under black lights.

As his eyes adjusted he could see that he was in a passageway leading to a lofty space where there was some light and noise filtering back down towards them. At the end of the graffitied passage a set of double doors were wedged partly open and Clint led him fearlessly through into a larger space where he could clearly hear the sound of music, a driving, pounding beat that reverberated in his chest as he walked.

Temporary lighting rigs had been slung up along the walls, hanging from rusting iron gantries overhead and in front of him was a huge curtain wall and a sequence of ropes and pulleys hanging down from it. The sound seemed to be coming from somewhere deeper in the building although there were two young men trying to fix a motorbike in the middle of the empty chamber. One of them lifted his head as Clint and Xavier came in but just waved a hand as he recognised the younger lad and went back to his bike. The other never even looked up.

“Saul and Trance,” Clint explained with a grin. “Saul broke us in here. He’s the fixer. Anything we need he can sort it. Light, water, heating, you name it. Gotta keep the lighting and noise out back here though so no one sees from the road, yeah?”

Xavier nodded bemusedly, following along and taking things in. It looked like parts of the old theatre had been gutted, parts refurbished and then partially re-gutted, and parts that still looked whole and intact from the day of its opening. Most of that was closer to the front lobby and although in shabby disrepair now you could still see through to its grander Art Deco heyday.

Besides the building itself they passed a few people sleeping (or perhaps passed out) in some of the halls, and a few rooms that were obviously being used as shelter with blankets and bags staking out territory. These rooms had at least one person keeping watch on things.

The little hidden world was familiar, and not, to Xavier. He’d known of a few places sort of like this back home, but nothing reaching this scale. This had taken effort, and co-operation. It was dirty but not completely trashed and filthy, it may not be a safe place but it was somewhat guarded. It was quite a bit more then a flop pad for tweeked out huffers and junkies, and Xav realised right away without even having talked to anyone that there was a sort of community here.

They walked through to where the auditorium was; the stage and some of the seating still intact although the screen was long gone. Here there were more people, a few sitting or hanging out in clusters, an arid smell of cigarettes, cannabis, and spilled beer perfuming the air.

This was where the music was coming from. Xav’s attention was drawn up to the stage where about twenty or thirty kids, ranging in age from maybe a little younger than Clint to a few years older than himself were formed in a loose circle in the centre of which one or two took turns dancing.

Xav watched the dancers as they approached the group, since Clint had spotted someone he knew and was headed in that direction anyway. He introduced Xav to a couple guys, who gave Xav the distinct impression that he would not have been allowed to just walk in here like this without Clint. That was okay with Xav though, he understood the way it was. Clint chatted with them a bit while Xavier paid half attention, mostly watching what was going on in the centre.

They had been standing there about a half-hour when Clint leaned over to him, indicating the guy currently doing some windmills in the centre while the gathering ooo-ed and cheered him on. “That’s Spence. He’s really fuckin’ good, yeah?”

“He’s got some tricks, yeah,” Xavier said in a mellow undertone.

Clint snorted at him incredulously. “He’s the best. He does these flips and all kinds of shit.”

“Mm-hm,” Xavier responded neutrally, edging a little closer to the front.

“What’re you doing?” Clint tone was suddenly wary.

“Taking a turn.” Xav said, taking his jacket off and trying not to grin at Clint’s worried expression. He knew the kid thought he was about to embarrass the hell out of him in front of his friends.

Xavier waited until a break came between dancers and made his move out from the edge with a slick little glide and float that was pretty standard but lookedreally impressive. He did some fancy footwork, switching up some of his choreography with a more freeform street style to get warmed up and when the bridge in the music came up he flipped into some aerials and flares.

The tricks weren’t really a whole lot different from what some of the others had been doing, but there was a marked difference in the way Xavier moved. He didn’t just jump out there and bust a couple flips or spins. Every movement was planned, each trick flowed smoothly into another, linking them together to make it an actual dance that fitted with the music, rather than just a handful of acrobatics or cool moves done with the music as a backdrop.

Even toning it down Xavier moved like water, an easy grace about him that made it seem like gravity just didn’t hold onto him the same way. What he did wasn’t easy but he made it look like it was easy, graceful, beautiful.

Spence settled on the lip of the stage area beside Clint whilst Xavier was working the auditorium. He nudged the younger lad and grinned.

“Where you find that one, then? Him no street?”

“Could be,” Clint grinned back. “He’s smart enough, yeah?”

“Him threads don’ say street,” Spence laughed, shaking his head. “Him too young to be yo sugar daddy, man.”

“I didn’t say he was,” Clint retorted defensively. “He’s a mate of my dad’s.”

“Yo mythic father, na?” Spencer nudged him and chuckled again. “Easter, yo don’ need to spin me no tales. We all know yo got no daddy. Yor grandaddy brung yo up right though. What yo doin’ for the pretty dancin’ boy that he takin’ care of yo so good?” He twitched the hood of Clint’s zip-up top between his fingers and pressed it to his nose, sniffing appreciatively. “Yo smell nice, baby!”

“Fuck off! He’s just a mate. I’m not doing anything for him.” Clint shoved him back and scowled at the older lad.

He hunched his shoulders and watched Xav dance in silent admiration of the way the lithe, blond American moved, so engrossed in the performance that he didn’t notice the skinny kid who was going through the pockets of Xavier’s leather over by the back of the stage. A couple of the boys who had been pulling shapes earlier now joined Xav and tried to copy his moves.

Xav paused for a bit, watching, then came back in. He was actually having fun. He knew better than to show off straight away, and he came across just right. Good, but not so good anyone was gonna get bent outta shape about it. Once the ice was broken though he could do a bit more, bring out some more impressive things like a handstand that turned into a one-armed hop and that rolled right into some air flares that were really difficult. They were like a regular flare but instead of planting the arms and rolling the legs around them you inverted at one point in the rotation and left contact with the floor entirely. That neat little manoeuvre won him some admirers, and a few got brave enough to ask him to show how he did it.

Xavier was willing enough to spend a few minutes slowing it down to demonstrate off to the side from the main group. Both tricks took a lot of upper body strength, balance, and practice but Xav showed them how to start out slow and build up to it so they didn’t face-plant or break their neck.

He danced some more then, firstly by himself and then pulling a girl that had been watching avidly in with him, others joined in and things started to take on a more relaxed party atmosphere. Xav moved between the bodies, dancing with several partners, laughing and flirting mildly, chilling out. He lost track of time, and it felt good to sort of cut loose, but when he started feeling restless he broke off to find Clint and see if he was ready to head out yet.

By this time Clint had hooked up with a couple of guys he used to go to school with and they were sharing a bottle of White Lightning and laughing like little kids about something too arcane to even explain. Clint tried to pull Xav down with them, mumbling something about maybe staying the night here.

“You get on with the lads all right, yeah?” he suggested with a grin that said industrial strength cider was not the only thing he’d ingested since they arrived. “It’ll be a laugh.”

Xavier gave him a crooked grin just shy of a smirk. “I got a warm bed waiting for me, kid. You wanna stay here and party you go ahead but I’m going home.”

He gave the boy’s hair a playful tussle and tried not to worry too much about him as he grabbed his jacket and meandered his way back out. Clint had obviously been taking care of himself for a while, and he was with people he knew. He would be all right… and when the fuck had he started acting like such a mother hen? Jesus!

He shook his head at himself and started walking, surprised to find that it was already well after dark outside. It hadn’t seemed like they’d been there that long but he guessed they must have. His thoughts drifted to Rayne and he wondered how he was doing. He hadn’t rung, and Xavier had thought about calling him but he hadn’t wanted to seem like he was checking up on him, or prying, especially since Rayne had said he wanted to be on his own. He knew Rayne needed this time, but a small selfish part had hoped he would have called by now. Xav missed him, he wanted to reach out to him…and yet he held back, respecting his lover’s need for space and privacy. It was not an easy thing to do and made him feel melancholy and lonely. He shook his head and firmly told himself to stop being ridiculous.

He huddled further into his jacket, the warm day had turned into a decidedly cold night and he was glad for the warmth of the leather coat as he walked.

About three blocks from the theatre Xavier noticed he was being tailed. He kept calm as he looked up the street for some place that was open that he could slip into. Unfortunately all the windows looked dark. Cursing silently for not paying better attention to his surroundings he started to walk a little faster. He crossed the street and turned down another quickly. There were three young men following him, and now they knew he was aware of them. They picked up their pace as well.

Xavier didn’t waste any more time, he broke into a run. There had been several times in his life that he’d run from potentially dangerous encounters. He’d frequented some seriously bad neighbourhoods and had had to duck and run more than once. He was pretty damn fast, and he’d known all the streets and had usually escaped harm. Unfortunately he was not familiar with the streets here. He ran blind, dashing down what he thought was a side street that turned out to be an alley with a fence at the other end.

“Fuck!” he snarled, although his feet didn’t stop moving. He made a jump for it, the forward momentum propelling him upward as he scrambled for the top. He had one sneakered foot at the ridge of the fence and he probably would have made it over and got clean away if the men chasing him had been a little bit slower or he’d had more of a lead.

The three chasing him hit the fence a second after he did though and rough hands grabbed the back of his jacket, yanking him back down.

“Where you think you’re going, huh?”

Xavier was spun around and shoved against the fence. He held up his arms defensively.

“What do you want?” he demanded, trying not to sound panicky.

“Whatever you got. Empty your pockets.”

Xavier was almost relieved. When he’d lived on the streets he’d gotten mugged before. If you handed over whatever you had it was usually quick and painless. He pulled out his wallet and gave it to the thief.

“We’ll ‘ave that leather too,” one of the other guys said.

Xavier slipped it off, a little more reluctantly. It was fuckin’ cold out!

“Twenty quid? That all you got?” the first one complained, peering into the wallet Xav had handed over. “You’re not holdin’ out on us now?”

He wasn’t, he hadn’t taken much cash with him because he didn’t think he’d need it and he didn’t have any cards here yet, now he wished he had because these guys were looking disappointed and Xav smelled imminent danger. He was dressed nice; after shopping with Aldo he didn’t own anything but ‘nice’. The Armani jeans and silk shirt looked expensive because they were. He suddenly felt a lot more uneasy and made a quick decision. He threw the jacket at the one closest to him and ran at them at the same time, trying to get back to the street.

He ducked under an arm and almost got past but they were fast too and hard hands grabbed him again.

“Let me fuckin’ go!” he yelled. “I don’t got nothin’ else!”

“Shut your fuckin’ gob!” the one that had a hold of him growled and threw him roughly up against the side of the building.

The back of his head hit the bricks and a burst of pain shot through his skull as his teeth clicked together. “That’s all I got, I swear!” he panted.

He wasn’t lying either. He didn’t have a ring or watch or even a chain on him. Nothing to appease them as they searched him quickly with rough hands. He really, really wished he had something because he could feel their frustration and anger growing. It was a sick sort of stomach dropping feeling, or maybe he’d hit his head harder than he’d thought, either way the vibe he was getting off these three was making him start to shake. He looked like money to them, and he’d wasted their time. The only thing they found was the key in his pocket, which they dropped on the ground.

He had a sinking feeling they were going to take that out on him, and he was not wrong.

Xav saw the fist coming and ducked, trying to rush by them again in desperation. It missed his head but drove into his shoulder like a hammer blow, throwing him off balance.

“Hold on to the fairy fuck!” the meanest looking one of the group shouted, the one that Xav could feel the rage boiling off of like blasts of heat from an oven.

Xav’s arms were swiftly grabbed and he was yanked backwards. He squirmed and pulled trying to get away and in the struggle he didn’t see the blow coming until it exploded across the side of his face in a bright red flare of pain. He sagged for a moment but survival instinct made him continue to struggle, trying to get his arms free, to throw his weight this way and that to break their hold, but they were stronger and just gripped him harder, forcing him upright.

The ridged knuckles of a fist impacted with the left side of his face again, rocking his head back on his shoulders, and then jabbed again, slamming into the corner of his mouth and mashing his lips against his teeth. His head spun, he was dazed and tasted blood in his mouth and then another punch drove like a hammer blow into his stomach. Air whooshed out of Xavier and his lungs seized, his muscles turned to water but still he struggled to break free, if not to get away than at least to protect himself from the heavy fists that felt like rocks pummeling his abdomen and ribs now, striking again and again.

The taste of violence had sparked something in the thug beating him, Xav could feel and almost taste it on his tongue like the salty iron tang of his own blood in his mouth. To call it animalistic was wrong, it was far more cruel and mindless than an animal. This was a purely human emotion, the desire not just to hurt him, not just to punish him, but pound his frustrated rage into Xavier’s body until bones broke and blood sprayed and maybe until there was nothing left to pound but a lifeless pile of meat.

The blows raining down on his body took their toll, sapped all of the energy right out of him until he was less being held in place by the hands gripping him than he was being held up by them. Just when Xav was starting to feel numb, just when he was wavering on the edge of blacking out, a knee came up between his thighs, driving into his groin and Xav bent double, coughing, dropping to his knees on the pavement and clutching his balls as the two arseholes holding him finally let go of him. They were laughing maliciously and calling him filthy names, congratulating themselves of fucking up his pretty face, but Xavier only heard them distantly. The pain was roaring in his ears, throbbing with the beat of his heart.

The fucker that had been using Xav as a punching bag kicked out at him where he crouched on his knees, catching him in the side and driving him down to the pavement. Xavier curled into a defensive ball as another vicious kick landed on his midsection. He rolled, trying to get away, his ears still roaring with the pain but mixed now with the harsh curses and seething hate fueled rage coming from up above him somewhere as the hard toe of a boot found the base of his spine, the softer unprotected flesh of his kidney, the edge of his ribcage, his shoulder. There was nothing methodical to the stomping, it was a mindless beating, like an enraged toddler throwing the mother of all tantrums, only this toddler was six feet tall and two hundred pounds of muscle and the toy he was breaking was living flesh and blood. Xav curled tighter and he had time to wonder if the heel of that boot would come down on his head next. If it would smash his skull open and leave his brains smeared on the bricks of this dirty alley. Before he found out he finally, mercifully, blacked out.

The two thugs that had kept Xavier from fleeing or defending himself seemed to sense the same thing, that perhaps their friend was going a step too far, and just as he drew back his leg to kick the back of the blond kid’s head they grabbed him and pulled him back, not willing to take the step over into being an accessory to murder. The three of them stood there, breathing hard, fists still clenched, adrenaline surging. In that short pause the trio all looked down at the still, battered, unconscious form curled on the ground. None could even tell if he still breathed. The adrenaline rush began to shift from self-righteous fury into fearful self-preservation.

“Let’s get the fuck outta ‘ere,” the one now wearing Xavier’s jacket suggested hoarsely, and the other two quickly agreed. All three moved swiftly back to the street, not even looking back once at their victim who lay in a crumpled, bruised and bloodied heap next to the wall like a piece of refuse that had blown and caught there.

CHAPTER 6 –

Rayne’s eyes flickered over the face of his mobile phone as he sat down at the dresser, preoccupied by the realisation that he hadn’t spoken to Xavier since he got up here. At first he had thought it would be easier to do this if he was able to keep the two parts of his life completely separate but now he worried that his silence might be misinterpreted as a lack of concern. He stared at the mirror gloomily and studied his ashen face. Kevan always worried that he was too pale. There was time enough before he had to make his appointment. Rayne opened the top drawer and selected pots and bottles methodically before applying the make up just as his former lover had always liked it. The lip gloss was too red, the eyeshadow too defined for his tastes but Kevan loved it like that.

He painted his nails a deep aubergine shade that was almost black and his eyes watched from the mirror, liquid green against the smokey purple of the eyeshadow that ringed them, whilst the polish dried. Finally he rose and went to the bed where he had laid out a few simple items, things that his mate had loved to see him in; loved to fuck him in.

He managed the short basque top on his own this time. On the first occasion he had worn one of these for his lover it had taken him almost an hour to notfasten all the hooks and eyes properly. With the stays pulled in it cinched his waist and gave him a slight curve. It was also fucking uncomfortable but he tolerated it today. The wisp of silk that comprised the suspender belt was next and he rolled on the sheer black stockings before adding the purple and black silk thong briefs that completed the ensemble because Kev liked him to do it that way around. It was a ritual, a part of their game, and he had to do it right today because it would be the last time.

The silk cupped and caressed his limp cock and hairless balls like the fingers of a yearning ghost. Rayne closed his eyes tightly because tears would ruin the eye make up and he did not want to have to begin again.

The black dress slid on smoothly over the insubstantial undergarments and he turned in front of the mirror, careful to ensure that there were no tucks or ridges to spoil the line. Once he would have consulted someone over the effect but he knew it well enough now to judge for himself.

Black, over the knee boots in supple leather completed the look. The heels were just high enough to bring him to Kev’s shoulder. They could almost make eye and lip contact without stretching when he wore them. Rayne was reaching for his three-quarter length black coat, keys and phone when the buzzer from the front hall sounded and he uttered a little huff of incredulous impatience.

Not now! Please… not now!

It took him a minute to glide down the stairs and press the intercom button that allowed him to check who was outside, by which time the buzzer had sounded again, twice. He opened his mouth to speak when he saw the familiar face looking up at the camera but no words would come.

“Ray?” Dave Ramsay said urgently, into the grille. “The caretaker rang me. I asked him to let me know if anyone came to the apartment. He told me this morning that you were back. Are you there, Ray?”

He was wearing a sober black suit and a long dark coat, that made him look paler and more serious. His light brown hair was slicked back from his face and his expression was drawn between solemn and anxious. When he saw that look, Rayne knew that he could not do this alone. Dave was his guardian angel and it would be churlish to turn him away.

He kept his finger on the button and forced his voice to steady as he said; “You’d better come up. Don’t you dare laugh, or I’ll kill you.”

The green button opened the main door and he saw Dave pass out of range of the camera. Moments later he was tapping on the door to the apartment and Rayne turned the catch and let him in.

“Ray, thank go… Jesus!” Dave blinked at him, looking him up and down. It was not the first time he’d seen his old partner’s lover dressed this way but clearly it took him by surprise.

Rayne levelled a warning glare at him. “It’s getting late. I was just about to go out.”

“Dres…” Dave stopped himself again. He did a quick mental recalculation and said; “You’re going to the cemetery?”

Rayne nodded once. “I wanted to… I didn’t… I mean, last year I couldn’t…”

He looked away, fighting the lump in his chest again. Damn it to hell!

“I need to call a cab,” he said, deflecting the explanation.

“Let me take you,” Dave offered, his tone mellowing. “My car’s just around the corner.”

Rayne looked up at him almost resentfully.

“You knew I would come, didn’t you?”

“I sort of figured you might,” Dave said with an awkward smile. “I wasn’t expecting this though.” He waved a hand that managed to encompass the whole of Rayne’s attire in a simple gesture.

“You think it’s funny?” Rayne accused. “If you feel like that I’ll go on my own thanks!”

“I don’t think it’s funny,” Dave interrupted at once. “Actually, I think… I think it’s kind of touching. Kev would have loved it. I’m sure you’ve put a smile on his face, Ray.”

Rayne felt his lips tremble and he turned away at once, heading back into the lounge so that Dave would not see him cry.

“I need to fix my hair, I won’t be long,” he said in a tight little voice.

LONDON

Clint was just relaxing into the vibe for the night. Tosh had brought some fairly excellent weed down and he was enjoying a good hit from the smoke when Xavier slid over and said something about going home. He wasn’t heavy about it, but Clint was kind of sorry he’d decided to rush off like that. He’d hoped Rayne’s new boyfriend would stay for a bit and enjoy the party, but maybe it just wasn’t his kind of scene after all and Clint had him pegged totally wrong. In any case he was polite enough about it and after he’d gone a couple of the guys mentioned that he seemed okay. They were impressed enough with his dance moves and Clint enjoyed a bit of kudos by association.

Then he spotted Maverick pissing about with a new toy. Mav was just a kid, really, barely fourteen. He lived with his auntie in the tower block behind the State but spent most of his time shadowing the street kids because he thought they were cool. Clint knew he didn’t have a mobile because he’d been bleating about it just the other week, so what the fuck was he playing with? As he leaned over for a closer look the little gadget in the other boy’s hand played a trilling little tune that he recognised right away. He’d heard Xavier’s phone play that ringtone a couple of times whilst he was staying at the house. And actually that looked a heck of a lot like Xav’s mobile…

“Where’d you get that?” he demanded, making a move on the scrawny schoolboy who backed into a corner at once, trying to hide the phone. This only franked Clint’s suspicions and he made a grab for Maverick.

The pair of them rolled on the ground, kicking and punching until one of the older men separated them. Right away, Clint laid out his grievance. The guys who hung out here were not above a bit of casual pilfering but there was an unwritten rule that you didn’t nick stuff from your own. And Xavier had come here as his guest. Clint was mortified.

Spence and Taz made Maverick hand the phone back right away and the boy was dispatched, still snivelling from a clip round the ear from the former, home to his auntie’s flat. Clint, meanwhile, hauled himself to his feet. If he put a bit of a sprint on he might catch up with Xavier before he got too far. A part of him felt a bit guilty letting the other man walk home alone in any case. It was a long way and although it wasn’t all through areas that were too rough, if he took a wrong turn he could have wound up on some bad estates. Mind you if he did that then Clint might never find him.

For a moment he deliberated waiting until the morning and popping round with the phone then. He could always say it had fallen out of Xavier’s pocket and someone found it after he’d gone. That would save him and the State boys some face. He was just about to roll with that idea when the phone began to play a different jingle, one he vaguely knew as the refrain from Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love’.

When he squinted at the display he read one word; ‘Rayne’ and his resolve melted. He pressed the call-receive button and put the phone to his ear.

“Hi.”

“Xavier?” His father’s voice sounded a little slurred and slightly husky, not as sharp and precise as usual. Maybe he’d been hitting the weed as well?

“Uh… he’s gone to bed. He wasn’t feeling so good,” Clint lied awkwardly, suddenly figuring that it had been a very bad idea to answer the call. He was not a good liar and even though he ached to hear Rayne speak to him, he could tell that he wasn’t all that happy.

“Who’s that?” Rayne wanted to know. “Why have you got Xavier’s phone?”

“He… um… he left it with me,” Clint said, biting his lips anxiously. “I should get it back to him. Um… can I get him to ring you?”

At the same time he was beginning to feel a little burn of humiliation. His own father, right here on the phone, and Rayne didn’t even know who he was. Well, fuck him!

“Can’t you wake him?” Rayne was asking suspiciously. “Look… who the fuck is this?”

“I’ve got to go,” Clint said coldly and pressed ‘disconnect’. Then he turned off the phone and rammed it in his pocket. His happy mood had disintegrated so he made his farewells and trudged off into the night.

He had not gone much more than half a mile down the nearly deserted High Road when he saw the three young men saunter out of a side street, laughing and running at one another. They were play fighting, aiming kicks at each other and didn’t see the slight, willowy youth slide into the shadows of a shop doorway up ahead. Clint wasn’t afraid of a bit of rough-housing but there was something about the attitude these lads were giving out that he didn’t want even a little piece of.

He laid low, pressed back against the side of the alcove until they had gone by. Only then did his brain calculate that the one in the middle was wearing a short leather jacket that looked very much like Xavier’s. It was a classy jacket, quite distinctive actually. Clint felt his heartbeat speed up and he counted to ten to let them get out of earshot then ducked out of the doorway behind them and tore back up the road the way they had just come. His sneakered feet made hardly a sound on the pavement but it still sounded loud to his ears, as did his choking breath. He skidded into the side road they had come out of and ground to a halt.

It was a dead end. Nothing in the road ahead but debris, discarded shopping bags blowing on the wind, a pile of cardboard boxes by someone’s front gate, a long, pale shape sprawled on the ground by the boxes like a piece of carpet someone had rolled up and thrown out. Except it was wearing shoes; quite decent shoes, not the kind of thing that lasted long on your average dosser.

Clint raced towards the boxes and dropped to his knees beside Xavier. The blond was draped in a lifeless, boneless heap on the ground, bleeding badly from his head. His arms were hugged defensively around his lean torso and he looked very dead.

“Oh shit!” Clint groaned. “Shit! Shit! No!”

He put a hand on the blond man’s throat but wasn’t sure if he could feel Xavier’s pulse there or just his own, throbbing wildly in his fingertips. Xav was cold but it was a cool night and he had probably been lying here for quite a few minutes. Clint stroked his hair anxiously.

“Xav, wake up. Please…” he begged.

Xavier didn’t move, still giving no real sign of life and that scared Clint enough to risk rolling him over onto his back. He gasped softly at the sight of the young man’s face, so battered and bloody. The skin around his left eye was swollen and purple all the way from the socket to his temple and even the outline of his cheekbone was obscured by the bruise. Blood trickled from his nose and the corner of his mouth, the soft, plush looking bottom lip split and bleeding as well. Beneath the bruises and blood his fair skin had taken on an ashen gray tone that Clint could make out even in the darkened alley. He could feel his own heart slamming against his ribs now, sure he was looking at a dead man.

“Oh no, oh shit!” Clint moaned, sliding his hand under Xavier’s neck, although he wasn’t sure what he was meant to do.

Xavier’s arm slipped down from his chest and his head lolled slightly. The movement and the pain it caused must have been enough to rouse him because his eyelids fluttered slightly and a soft groaning exhalation came from his swollen lips. Clint’s relief was immediate but at the same time he was still so scared he could feel his stomach rolling and flipping like he was going to be sick at any minute.

“Xav? Xavier?” he murmured, wanting to shake him fully awake, but too afraid.

Xav’s eyes opened, the left one only managing to crack a tiny slit. He blinked at Clint without recognition for a moment, and then the world came crashing back on Xavier hard. He drew a sharp breath that came out an agonized groan.

“Ooooh… fuck,” Xav slurred through swollen lips. His whole body throbbed with pain. “Shit!” he hissed, swallowing convulsively as he tried not to throw up or pass out again.

He blinked several more times as Clint started to babble at him in a voice that was scared, relieved and guilty all at once. He didn’t hear a word the kid said, it was all just a buzz in his ears as he lay there and tried to decide if he had the will to get up. Cold was seeping into him but not enough to numb the agony of every screaming bruise, only enough to add its own layer of misery. His head was swimming dizzily again and he knew he was going to have to either get up now or tell Clint to get help. His mind ticked that over. The idea of having an ambulance come caused near panic in him, for no rational reason, but it was there nonetheless.

“Shhh, Clint…” he murmured muzzily as he lay there for a moment or two more, steeling himself against what he knew was coming, then he swallowed hard. “Help me get up,” he said in a ragged voice.

Clint was shaking his head. “Xavier you look pretty messed up. Maybe you need an ambulance or something,” he protested, chewing his bottom lip worriedly.

His face blurred in front of Xavier’s eyes for a moment but he looked so like Rayne when he did that.

“No!” Xav said more determinedly, and then had to wait a minute to speak again, panting as spots began to dance in front of his eyes. He willed himself to stay conscious. If he passed out again he knew Clint would call 999, and he would end up in a hospital somewhere, tubes in his arms, pumped full of morphine. “No…” he repeated more softly. “Not if I can get up, okay? If I can’t then… Just help me get the fuck up,” he said, sounding suddenly desperate.

Taking deep even breaths and with Clint helping, Xavier forced himself up on one arm until he was half sprawling, half sitting. He rolled onto one hip, and had to stop. Oh, Jesus Fuck, he hurt everywhere. Clint was babbling again and Xavier shushed him. When he got his breath back and the spots receded from his vision once more he slowly, with the kid’s help, got to his knees, then up on his feet and stood, weaving unsteadily.

“Xavier, please. Let me call for…”

“No! I’ll be okay.” Xav cut him off, not at all sure he would be. He was clinging to the brick wall next to him with one hand and Clint’s arm with the other so he didn’t go down again. He looked at Clint’s anxious face. “I’ll be fine,” he repeated, trying to sound more convincing. “Just help me get home, okay?”

“That’s a long walk,” Clint tried to point out reasonably.

“Yeah, I know,” Xavier said, sounding terribly, terribly resigned.

It was more than a long walk, it was a tortuously interminable nightmare in which Xavier stumbled along like a zombie, swaying like a drunk, on the verge of passing out. Clint half dragged him at times, intermittently pleading with Xavier that they should stop and get him seen to properly. Xavier adamantly refused each time he suggested getting medical attention and only when they were actually, physically on the stone steps in front of Chepstow Villas, and Xav reached into his pocket only to come up with nothing as he remembered how the key had been taken from him and tossed onto the tarmac, did he finally break down. A small sob of pain and angry frustration rose from his throat as he slid down to sit on the step, cradling his aching ribs and stubbornly refusing to let any more emotion out.

He hurt. He hurt so badly. He had only wanted to get here, to get inside where he could crawl into bed, where he could safely nurse his wounds in peace.

“Will you let me call now?” Clint asked, pulling Xavier’s cell phone from his pocket.

Xavier looked at the phone in his hand for a moment as if he didn’t recognise it, then hope blossomed as if the boy had produced a bright shining beacon of salvation. He was so giddy with gratitude he forgot to even question how Clint had come to have it in his possession.

“Thank fuckin’ god!” he breathed as he took the phone and switched it on. Once he had it in his hand though he stopped for a second, thinking. It was really late now. No, it was early actually, closer to morning than to night. It had taken three times as long to walk back as it had when they were headed out. Dominic would probably answer anyway, but Xav didn’t know if he had a key. If he had been thinking right he would have realised before they began to walk that Dom would come and get him, but his head was fogged. The tunnel vision of determination had given him one single-minded goal of getting here so he could curl up safe and sleep. He only wanted to be inside and he knew one person close by that had a key. Rayne had given him his number before he left just in case of some emergency.

Well this was probably as much of an emergency as he could remember since he arrived in London. Xavier opened his phone and called Matty Greening.

It rang four times before going to voicemail. Xavier hung up without leaving a message and pressed the send button again, with the same results. He waited all of thirty seconds and called again. This time he got an answer, from a very pissed off sounding vampire.

“Do you know what fuckin’ time it is?” Matt’s sharp voice cut across Xavier’s ears but all he could do was breathe a sigh of relief.

“Not exactly,” Xav answered in a strained husk of his normal voice. “I’m sorry… listen, I lost my key… I’m freezing my ass off on the step. Can you come let me in?” Xavier’s throat clicked slightly as he tried to swallow. “Please…”

“Am I your mother now?” Matt sighed on the other end of the line. Xav heard rustling as he wriggled out of bed and pulled some clothing on, one-handed, still hanging onto the phone with the other. “Oy weh! What the fuck have I done in my past lives to deserve this, eh? I should make you sleep on the fuckin’ doorstep, tomcat! How would that be, eh? How’d you like that, loverboy?”

Xavier did not smile because it would have hurt too much, but he knew by the surly tone that Matt would come and let him in. “Thanks, Matt. I owe you,” he said, and hung up before Matty started in on just how much he was going to owe. He looked over at Clint. “Thanks for getting me home.” He tapped his finger on the phone. “I’m thinking you didn’t take this if you were bringing it back to me,” he said, his brain starting to shift into forward gear again.

Clint nodded, looking apologetic as he started to explain but Xav held up a hand. “Don’t worry about it. I was stupid, should have been watching better.” He sighed; “Listen, Matt’s more likely than not to be a total prick when he gets here. You don’t have to hang around to get a load of shit from him if you’d rather take off.”

“I’m not leaving you here on the fuckin’ doorstep on your own,” the boy warned him seriously. “You could keel over. That lanky streak of piss might decide to go back to bed and not bother. Then what?”

That seemed to settle it, and in the end Xavier was grateful. Matt took his sweet time getting there but he was drifting in and out for most of the wait anyway. Clint kept on shaking him and talking to him to keep him conscious. Even so he was in a light doze on the step, the pain throbbing dully as he huddled up to the boy, when Matt finally did arrive.

MANCHESTER

It felt strange to be sitting in the comfortable warmth of Dave’s Mondeo, watching familiar streets flash by; like he had never been away, almost. He could forget that he was dressed in a way that would certainly get him attention, whether people recognised him or not. He could even, if he tried hard enough, convince himself that the last eighteen months had never happened; he’d never been to America, never experienced the claustrophobia of a seven foot square, windowless cell, or watched as a teenage boy, no older than Clinton, raised a semi-automatic and put two terminal bullets in the man he was making love to on their bed.

Rayne blinked and pulled his thoughts away from that. He would not think about any of it; whichever way he looked at it the feelings were disloyal, either to Kevan or to Xavier and he could not handle the guilt trip today, of all days.

“You okay?” Dave asked him, solicitous though he knew that the answer would be in the negative.

Rayne just shook his head, unable to speak for the pressure in his chest that was forcing an iron fist slowly up his tightening gullet into his throat. He felt sick and lost, his head so full of pressure that he could believe it might explode.

“Bernie sends his love,” the other man said, to fill the silence. “He had to work today but he said to tell you he’s thinking of you every step of the way. We both miss you, Ray.”

“He’s a sweetheart,” Rayne said huskily, his voice still too tight. “You too, Dave. You didn’t have to do this.”

“And you reckon you could have done it on your own?” his friend asked with a wry smile.

“Eventually.” Rayne glanced his way and forced a smile he didn’t feel. “Can’t keep putting it off, can I? I’ve got to say goodb… I’ve got to say it, in the end.”

He swallowed again, because the word had almost unmanned him, as if he was not unmanned enough in this ridiculous get-up. He took a short, hard breath, and another. Dave’s hand left the steering wheel and landed briefly on his arm and for once he did not push it away.

Manchester’s Southern cemetery was a huge sprawling necropolis, with lawns and headstones in every shape and size imaginable reaching out as far as the eye could see. He was glad, on seeing it, that Dave had chosen to come with him. Finding Kev alone in here would be the challenge.

His escort, ever the gentleman, offered his arm and Rayne took it, figuring they might draw less attention that way. Kevan always told him that he was every inch the lady in his sleek drag attire but he felt conspicuous; too masculine for the delicate heels and silk stockings and the slick, tight feel of too much Maybelline smothering his trembling lips. He put a hand to his hair, trying in vain to smooth it and fighting a losing battle against the persistent Mancunian breeze. It was a grey day with low cloud, threatening the city’s virtually omnipresent rain. The weather seemed suited to their purpose though. And Dave had thought to bring a large umbrella from the car.

“What was it like?” he asked as they walked, Dave shortening his stride to match Rayne’s stilettoed steps without needing to be pulled back. “The funeral? Were there…? Did many people turn up?”

“It was a sell-out,” Dave admitted with a grim smile. “Family, friends, colleagues; they all came out the woodwork. And the fucking press of course. Murdered Copper Laid To Rest! You could see the fucking headlines before they even stopped snapping us.”

Rayne’s head turned, eyes wide enough to tell Dave without words that he’d not seen any of it, that there was still a gap as big as Manchester in his memories of that time. For a moment Dave was brittle then he mellowed.

“You weren’t around. I guess I keep forgetting that there’s a lot you missed in that shithole.” He had the decency to look embarrassed. “We… I did everything I could to get you out of there, Ray. It wasn’t easy, there was a lot of circumstantial evidence. Your mate the Earl had a lot to do with them letting you walk, I reckon.”

“I owe Dom for a lot of stuff,” Rayne said neutrally, but his mind was already spilling ahead to that meeting with the grave and as they drew nearer he was getting that sharp pain in his chest again.

The plot, when they found it, took him by surprise. The stone was small and simple, a single piece of polished, onyx-coloured granite, chamfered at the edges and with a slight sparkle of mica. It was set at the head of a slab of paler, unadorned stone framed by a three sided rill filled with small, smooth, white pebbles. An inscription etched in gold, in a clear, square script, proclaimed the sole occupant.

Kevan Michael Joseph Delaney, husband and beloved father, 1970-2017. That was all, eight words and eight numbers to mark the brief existence of a man who had loved with a passion that still seared his soul.

“Can you give us a minute?” Rayne asked, feeling the words rise up to choke him.

Dave nodded solemnly. In silence he offered his umbrella but Rayne just shook his head. The threatened precipitation had been little more than a shower of fine drizzle which was easing off now. Gusts of wind rolled around the open aspect of the huge necropolis though, tousling his carefully styled and pinned hair until it hung around his pale face like a shroud of torn, black silk. He was glad in a sense because it gave him something to hide behind.

As the sound of Dave Ramsey’s boots crunching on the gravel receded, Rayne took the last few steps that would make all of this deeply, horribly real. He crouched now, remembering to keep his knees together as lisping Paul, his femme stylist from Amberley’s Bizarre, had once drilled him. It was not easy in heels but he managed to duck low enough to clear a few dead stems from the small, black marble vase with its gilded pepper-pot top that sat on the narrow plinth at the foot of the headstone.

Carefully now he set his single carmine rose in place in one of the small holes. It stood out like a splash of blood against the polished charcoal shade of the granite. Rayne closed his eyes, still struggling with his emotions. It was a surreal experience. He had expected to feel traumatised, overwhelmed by a sense of horror that was at least equal to the shock he had known as his memories began to return. Somehow those feelings remained dormant in him here though. Instead he knew only detachment. It felt slightly unreal. He wasn’t able to associate his memories of Kevan with this innocuous dark grey stone.

It seemed inconceivable that Kev could be lying beneath the slab under his shiny, Manolo Blahnik heels. Somehow Kev – at least the Kev of his limited memories – seemed too big, too bold, altogether too jovial for such a cold, sombre resting place.

He touched the stone, seeking some kind of solace, as if he expected to feel Kevan’s spirit reach out in the same way that Xavier’s did. In his heart he knew it was folly; he’d lost enough people in his life to be reasonably sure that – barring a vampire bite – they did not come back.

“I’m sorry sweetheart,” he said, huskily now, just in case Kev could somehow hear him, or feel the genuine sorrow in his heart. “I wanted to come sooner.”

He felt bad, because that too was a lie. He’d barely known his own name when they released him from the hospital, and as soon as he was halfway well again he’d gone tearing off across the Atlantic in search of an escape from the memories.

“I didn’t deserve you really, did I?” he murmured now. “I kept on trying to tell you that, but you never listened. In the end I couldn’t even save you, could I? Fat lot of good I was!”

He caressed the cold, polished stone with his fingers, even though he knew it was a futile gesture. Kev would not feel it where he had gone. In fact, he would probably never feel anything ever again.

“I hope you can forgive me,” he said now, regardless of this, just because he needed to say it; he had to get the words out before they strangled him. “I need you to forgive me, ’cause… ’cause I’ve met someone else, babes. And… you’d like him, I’m sure. He’s blond, and he’s cute as a kitten and he likes being tied up. All that kinky shit really pushes his buttons. And I’d like to think we’d got your blessing, right? Because I love him so much it hurts, and the thought of losing him like this… it rips me apart. And I reckon I understand now, I know what you were feeling like inside, and all the stuff you were trying to tell me that I was just too thick skinned, or just too plain thick to get while you were here…”

He closed his mouth, reaching for the band around the third finger on his left hand and twisting it distractedly as the wind lifted his hair and blew it in tattered flags across his ashen face. He felt the emotion well back up in him again, brooding like the storm clouds above the avenue of trees beyond this silent line of gravestones.

“I guess what I’ve come… what I’ve come to say is… well, goodbye I s’pose. I… I’m not good at this kind of thing. You know I’m not, but… well, I won’t… I probably won’t come here again. I’ve got to carry on you see. And there’s people that need me now. I mean… I know you needed me too, but they’re… they’re here and alive… and…”

Rayne stopped again because he felt a single carmine tear run down his face, and then another. He reached up to rub them away but one still splashed down, wet and red on the damp stone. It was that single tear that opened up the floodgates and he was suddenly on his hands and knees, touching the cold, wet stone, sobbing his heart out because it was so unfair; so very horrible and cruel and desperately unfair to have to leave Kevan here in this cold, grim, awful place beneath a plain, insignificant piece of stone that didn’t even begin to tell the world at large what a good, warm-hearted, loving man he had been.

He had meant to leave the ring, to push it into the soil or just leave it sitting on the gravestone and walk away. He had wanted to give it back, so that he did not have to think about what it represented, but now that he was here he found that he could not do it. And as Dave so wisely said, afterwards, when he had scooped Rayne up off the ground and wiped the scarlet streaks from his pale, pretty face; Kev would have wanted him to keep it.

“He gave it to you,” the other man said gently, when they were back in the warmth of the car. “You don’t have to wear it forever, but don’t throw it back in his face now. He doesn’t deserve that.”

He had wanted Rayne to come back to the house, to stay with him and Bernie until he had to go home, but Rayne declined politely. He was effusive in his thanks for the other man’s kindness to him today but tonight, of all nights, he was not looking for company.

Though, actually that was not true. He wanted Xavier; more than anything else he wanted to be back on a plane, flying home to be in his lover’s arms. Being there beside that lonely grave today had shown him what was important, he supposed.

It was getting late by the time he got back to the apartment though, and by the time he had showered and changed and finished packing up the things that he did not want the removal company even seeing, let alone having to deal with, it was too late to get a flight back to London. So he curled up with a couple of bottles of vodka and wrapped himself in the soft, warm throw from the back of the sofa, trying in vain to drink himself into oblivion.

And that was when he began to get the shivers; the warning pangs that something was very, very wrong. He got up again and paced restlessly, then gave in to the need to call, to find out what was happening. Even if he was being completely stupid and he’d woken Xavier up on a mad whim, he would feel better.

At first no one answered and he settled back down again, nursing the phone to his breast, trying to tell himself that Xav was fine; he was sleeping. It wasn’t so late though that he’d be sound asleep, surely? Rayne tried to push the warning feelings down, to make them be still but they just surged up more ferociously in his chest, making his heart beat hard of its own volition. He felt sick and scared, like he’d never felt in his life, not even when Carlsen stood over him with that spike and plunged it into his chest.

In the end he called again and this time a voice answered and he knew a second of relief before realising that it wasn’t Xavier. It wasn’t Xavier! Someone had his phone. Why the fuck would someone else have Xavier’s phone? It didn’t make sense.

He demanded to talk to his boyfriend and a very young sounding voice, slightly uncertain, told him that Xav couldn’t speak to him right now. And then, as he lost his temper, the speaker hung up on him and turned off the phone. When he tried to call back it just went to voicemail.

Rayne dropped his mobile and pulled his clothes on then threw the last few things into bags and called for a cab. He didn’t know what was going on but he understood one thing, he was no use to Xavier up here. He might not have been able to save Kevan but he was damned if he would sit on his arse feeling helpless whilst Xavier needed him. By the time the taxi turned up he was on the phone again, trying to get booked on the first available flight back to London.

LONDON

“Oh fuck!” the tall, blond dreadlocked vamp growled as he stumbled out of a taxi and took in the scene. “What the fuck happened to you? And what’s that doing here?” He pointed an accusing finger at Clint who merely glowered at him, a look that was painfully reminiscent of his father. Matty, used to dealing with the older version by now, took it in his lengthy stride. “Don’t look at me like that, you little fuck! I thought we’d been through this, heh? Did you not hear a fuckin’ word that nice judge was saying to you? Stay Away From The Fucking House!Capiche?”

“Rayne isn’t here,” Clint retorted, sullenly, showing no inclination to move. “And if it ‘adn’t been for me, he’d be dead by now.”

He pointed at Xavier, then gave him another little shake. “C’mon, stay with us.”

That was perhaps a slight exaggeration, then again maybe not. Besides, Xavier doubted Matt would care or even have wanted the kid to make sure he found his way back in relatively one piece. His eyes cracked open and a groan of protest rose from him at being jostled again. Matty’s face swam in front of him. Their bickering grated along his skinned nerves and he wished he had the strength to tell them both to shut the fuck up, but he was relieved Matt had actually come. He was icy cold now and he wasn’t even sure he could make himself get up a second time tonight.

“Leave him alone, he’s all right,” Xavier mumbled softly in a weak attempt to diffuse any further harassment from Matt.

“You don’t know the half of it, lover,” the vampire sighed under his breath, but he rolled his eyes and bent to scoop Xavier up in his arms.

Matt Greening was stronger than he looked because he lifted Xav effortlessly and managed to juggle both him and the key pad as he opened the front door to the apartments and carried him through into Rayne’s quiet, familiar lair. Clint hovered in the doorway for a moment, as if uncertain of his welcome, then Matt looked over one bony shoulder, dark eyes narrowed impatiently.

“Well… if you’re coming in, do it, but whatever you’re up to, shut the fucking door, all right?” he huffed at last, turning back towards the bedroom. “And try not to nick anything!” he called back vehemently.

Xavier heard the door click softly shut a few moments later, but it was the last thing he heard because he slipped back into the dark again as Matty laid him gently on the bed. When he regained consciousness, he slowly realised two things. Firstly that he was naked, and secondly, with a little ripple of anxiety, that Matt Greening, his lover’s vampire ex was bent over him, licking his face like a puppy.

“mmph, wha’are you doin’?” he murmured groggily, although he sort of knew what he was doing given the way that his tongue drew slowly over the split in his lip. “Don’t…” Xav whispered, knowing he wouldn’t be able to keep him from looking in his head via the flow of his blood. It was a bit late for protests though. Xavier moved a fraction of an inch and groaned miserably. His poor face probably looked bad enough but his torso and back were covered in deep bruises that made him appear as if he’d been hit by a bus; it felt like it too. Fucking bastards!

Matty confirmed it for him, leaning back on his elbow with a little fanged smile and a lift of one studded eyebrow. Xavier was slightly startled to realise that the young vampire was also stark naked. And more than a little bit happy to see him! The studs and rings in his semi-erect cock glistened softly in the lamplight.

“It’s too late for false modesty now, honey,” he drawled, shaking his gold and silver dreads ruefully. “At least you didn’t get knocked about turning tricks. Ray would have just loved finding out about that, wouldn’t he! Where’d you think you are, loverboy?” Matt wagged a finger at him now. “London’s nothin’ like Mary-fuckin’-Poppins, you know? And you wanna watch your back if you’re gonna start running around with little cunts like Stalkerboy. You can bet your bottom shekel he’s got something to do with it, so don’t get taken in by that bleedin’ heart act he puts on.”

Xavier was not in a receptive frame of mind for a lecture and his baleful expression said as much, but at the moment he was pretty much at Matt’s mercy, which was a scary enough thought in itself!

“Clint didn’t set me up,” he argued. “He wanted me to stay. And I’m not fuckin’ stupid. I know how to look out for myself…usually.” His mouth closed and then he let out a sorry sigh. “I wasn’t paying attention, it was stupid. I know.” Xav tried to roll away from Matt and gasped, immediately wishing he hadn’t moved. The pain that shot through him made him want to cry but he’d bite his own tongue off before he’d shed a tear in front of Matty Greening. “And I’m not a whore, you know!” he retorted hotly, grasping for anger to keep the tears at bay.

For a moment Matty’s expression was completely unreadable, but he shook his head at last and the look on his face mellowed as he touched the backs of his long, cold fingers to Xavier’s swollen cheek, ever so gently.

“I was licking you to heal the cuts on your face. I took my clothes off because I like my clothes and don’t want your gore all over them. I know you’re not a whore, Xavier Gavrilov. And I didn’t do anything to you while you were out of it, all right? I’m not a rapist or a child molester,” he said methodically, ticking off the points on his fingers as he spoke. “Now, I could bite you and share blood with you, which would help you heal. But I know Ray’s already done that once at least. It doesn’t stop me trying, but if he’s marked you twice then I could actually Turn you by biting you like that. Help me out here, lover?”

Xavier blinked at him, his dark blue eyes gone wide. Well, one of them anyway. The other was a little too swollen for that.

“He’s bit me twice, like that,” Xavier said slowly. “I don’t want to be Turned, Matt.” His heart was beating a hard tattoo on the inside of his chest, though whether it was fear or something else was hard to tell. Even in as much pain as he was, the temptation was there. The craving to be bitten throbbed like a slow burn in the twin points on his neck and flowed through him like molten lava. It had been a while since Ray had taken anything more than a drop or two of his blood and he felt that acutely now.

Matt licked his lips slowly. His dark eyes were flecked with gold like hot little stars in a dark chocolate sky.

“Shame, that,” he purred at last, shaking his head. “But if you’re twice marked then you’ll heal faster than any ordinary sucker. Maybe you ought to think about seeing a doctor though. The kid was pretty adamant that you didn’t want to, but he’ll say anything, to be honest with you.” He held up a hand to forestall the inevitable attempt to defend Clint’s honour. “Listen to me for a minute, lover. I know you’ve taken a shine to the little bastard, but he’s trouble. Ray’s done what he can, but he can’t afford to get involved too much with Clint. The boy’s not right in the head. He’s cost us a fuckin’ fortune, and he’s never fuckin’ satisfied. Ray tried to get to know him a bit better a few years ago, but it all went pear shaped. We didn’t take out a restraining order just because he was being a bit of a pain in the arse. The kid threw a wobbler about something, accused Ray of trying to molest him, then tried to burn the fuckin’ house down when that didn’t work out for him.”

Xavier stared at Matt for a moment but he knew, without asking how, that the vampire wasn’t making it up or blowing it out of proportion. He was surprised by the disappointment that touched him and he nodded carefully to let Matt see he wasn’t ignoring what he was saying.

“I’ll be careful with him,” Xavier said. “I couldn’t just let him starve though, you know? He’s Rayne’s kid…” He trailed off for a moment, thinking. He knew what he’d felt about Clint; the kid might be troubled but he wasn’t evil. “He’s just pissed off, wants attention,” he said absently and then looked up at Matt again before he went off on one. “I know it doesn’t excuse trying to burn the fuckin’ house down, I’m just saying…”

He let it go with another little sigh. Then he thought of something else. “Matt…don’t go calling Rayne about this, all right? He’s got enough to deal with right now.”

Matty sighed gustily but he nodded his head. “If you’ll let me call a doctor just to make sure you’re not bleedin’ out somewhere we can’t see, I promise not to say anything to him, yet. ‘Kay? Don’t want you dying on us. Ray would rip my nuts off if I let that happen.” He paused, with a sad little smile. “His bleedin’ phone’s switched off anyway, the awkward cunt!”

“You already tried to call him?” Xav asked, alarmed. “Please don’t tell him. I’m okay, honest. I don’t need a doctor.” Xavier spoke with more animation than he’d shown the whole time, his anxiety noticeable. He really had a fear of doctors, Matt figured shrewdly.

“I didn’t ring him about this, it’s okay,” Matty reassured him. “But I’d rather you saw somebody professional. I’m not a medic, lover. If you start to slide the only thing I can do for you is to give you that third bite. Do you understand? I’m not gonna sit here and hold your hand while you die on me then have to explain to Raymonde what fuckin’ happened when he gets back.” The blond vampire looked genuinely worried now.

Xav was seriously worried now too, although for different reasons. He couldn’t explain why he was so scared of doctors, there were a lot of mixed up reasons in his head about it. He suddenly hit on an idea though. “How ’bout if I call Dom? He knows about healing and stuff… if he says I have to go to the hospital I’ll go, okay?”

He had been out of action for a little while when Matty first put him to bed so it was almost morning by this time. Matt handed him his phone and Xav switched it on to ring Lord Warren. The display told him he had five missed calls. They had all come in during the small hours and were all from the same number.

Rayne had been trying for most of the night to call him. Finally he had sent a text message that read. What’s going on, Xav? If u don’t ring me back by 6am I am coming str8 home. *worried*

“Shit!” Xav hissed under his breath. “He doesn’t fucking call me for three fucking days and decides now he’s worried.”

Matty was looking at him with a semi-amused expression but for once he had nothing to say. Xavier stared at the phone for a few moments, not knowing what to do. He hadn’t wanted Rayne to find out about him getting jumped because he hadn’t wanted him stressed out. Now that was kind of moot. With a small sigh he flipped the phone open and called Rayne back. The call was answered almost immediately, which ordinarily would have made Xav smile but the tone he got was not what he was expecting.

“Xavier?” Rayne’s voice was sharp and suspicious.

“Hey, babe. It’s me…” he said, trying to sound cheerful and reassuring and sounding forced even to his own ears. “I’m fine… didn’t mean to worry you. I had the phone turned off.”

“So who the fuck answered it the first time I rang last night?” his lover asked him, sounding dangerously fraught. “I know it’s a bit off for me to disappear for a bit and leave you on your own and I don’t mind you having company, for fuck’s sake but…” He caught his breath. “Getting your date to hang up on me then shutting your phone off is a bit low, don’t you think?”

“My…what? What are you talking about…?” Xavier was still thinking a little slowly but he was trying to put the pieces together now. Someone had answered his phone last night and hung up on Rayne? It had to be Clint. Now he had two things to worry about explaining.

“Oh…no, it wasn’t like that, Ray. I didn’t have him hang up on you… wait, I mean, no, I didn’t even know he answered, and that wasn’t a date that was…um…fuck… look, Clint came here looking for you. You remember him, right? He was hungry and I fed him and then I couldn’t just tell him to fuck off cos, well I couldn’t, and then he hung out for a bit, and he wanted to show me some places and then some fuck took my phone when I wasn’t paying attention, and Clint was just bringing it back to me so he must have been the one who answered when you called.”

Xav stopped his ramble suddenly and even he didn’t know if anything he’d just said made the least bit of sense. He was pretty sure he had a concussion and it was making him a bit confused. All he knew was he was hurting pretty badly again and things were getting sort of grey around the edges.

Rayne did not say anything for several seconds. He made a small noise that sounded a little bit like he was being strangled, then, almost atonally he murmured; “Okay, that’s it. I’m at Ringway and I’m getting the first flight back down.” He hesitated and his tone softened slightly as he added; “Are you okay? I was getting some weird vibes from you last night when I was trying to ring you. You sound a bit…”

He didn’t finish the sentence though, so Xavier could not be sure exactly how he sounded. Probably none too good though.

“You don’t have to do that Ray, don’t worry about me, I-I’m sorry…I didn’t want you to get freaked out. I’m fine.” Only, he wasn’t fine, and he wasn’t able to hold it together any longer because that grey fuzz around the edge of his vision was closing in and he knew he was going to pass out. He twisted himself a bit, hoping the sharpness of pain would clear his head, either that or it was going to black him out entirely, but it worked. Instantly it felt like shards of glass were moving around inside and it brought him up into full consciousness real quick. Only he wasn’t able to suppress the gasp it brought to his lips, and now Matty was shaking his head at him and took the phone out of his hand.

“Scrap that, lover! He got the living shite kicked out of him last night and the little mare’s playing tough guy this morning. Tell him to go and see a fuckin’ doctor will you? He might listen to you.” Matty smiled into the phone for a second and chuckled. “Love you too!” he said sarcastically and handed the mobile back to Xavier.

Xav gave him a scathing look for snitching on him, but he cupped the phone to his ear.

“Sweetheart, what happened?” Rayne demanded. “Who attacked you? I want you to call the cops, okay? Report this, it’s totally out of order. I will be back ASAP but please, please let someone check you out.” An edge of anxiety had crept into his voice as he said this last part.

Xav was still looking daggers at Matty but he spoke calmly into the phone, his voice quavering only a little. “I…I don’t…Rayne, please don’t make me do this,” he breathed, closing his eyes so he wouldn’t see Matt’s face while he pleaded like a kid that was afraid of the dark.

There was quiet on the other end of the phone for a long moment or two, then Rayne said; “I’m asking you to see a doc, Xav, not to pack your bags. For me, please? I’m worried about you.”

Xavier made a small sound like a whimper, only it wasn’t pain driven this time. He would do anything for Rayne but he was completely terrified of hospitals and anything to do with them.

“Okay,” he finally forced himself to say and it came out in a very small voice.

“They’re not gonna hurt you,” his lover soothed. “It’s just a precaution, yeah? I’ll be there, really soon, and Matthew will stay with you ’til I get there. I just want you to be all right.”

“Okay,” Xavier said again. It seemed all he was capable of at the moment. He whispered goodbye and stopped himself from saying any more than that, although it hurt him more than all the bruises on his body not to tell Rayne what he really wanted to say. And then he handed the phone back to Matt when Rayne asked him to. Xav faded after that. He let Matt take over because he was drifting in and out of consciousness during the next few frantic phone calls and while being bundled onto a gurney and transported by ambulance to the nearest hospital.

The paramedic who stayed with him all the way from the apartment to the A&E unit was cute and funny, though Xav was in no state to appreciate him. He was being fairly cooperative, at least right up until they wanted to put an IV drip in him as a precaution.

“No! No fuckin’ way!” He startled the nurse with his vehement refusal. When the poor woman tried to calm him down and explain it was just procedure in case they needed to give him medicine or they found anything seriously wrong, Xavier nearly climbed up the wall behind his bed trying to get away.

Matty was looking at him like he was cracked in the head but Xavier didn’t even see him. His fear was so focused he didn’t notice much of anything. “No! No IV! You’re not putting anything in me! I don’t need any drugs!”

The nurse eventually calmed him down with reassurances they wouldn’t give anything to him that he didn’t agree to. Xavier’s expression clearly said he doubted every word she said, but he did reluctantly let them do their tests, even when another nurse came in and wanted to draw blood. He watched her every move, not looking away like most people did when the needle slid into his vein; not even when his blood started to fill the little tube.

He submitted to the examinations, x-rays, and ultrasounds, answered questions while lights were shone in his eyes and he tracked a moving finger.

Hours later, or so it seemed, he was given the verdict. He had a concussion, two hairline fractures in his ribs on the left side, multiple cuts and abrasions and too many contusions to count. The doc was especially worried about his kidneys and spleen. While they did not show signs of rupture or internal bleeding the bruising on his back and sides over those organs were deep and the swelling could still cause him problems.

They wanted to keep him for further observation and Xavier put his foot down again. They’d already been there half the morning, he was not staying overnight unless Matty could stay with him, he protested. That wasn’t allowed, so Xavier adamantly wasn’t staying. He started to get panicky again when they tried to talk him into it, worse than he’d been about the IV. He looked like a cornered animal, as if he just might try jumping out the third-storey window if they pushed the issue with him. They did not push.

Finally Xav was released, rather reluctantly, with the admonishment that he was to rest and take the prescription for pain medication he was given. Rather more firmly he was instructed that he was to come back immediately if he had any new symptoms or if the pain increased, especially in the abdominal area.

Xavier agreed to anything just to get out and he looked harried, completely stressed, and on the verge of a panic attack until they were actually clear of the building. He was sweating, shaking, pale as milk, and generally looked like an alcoholic on a three day dry spell as they finally got in the cab for the trip back.

Matt was shaking his head at him in the car “Did you really think they wouldn’t let you out again?”

Xavier nodded solemnly, his eyes still huge and frightened. He reached in his pocket for his cell and called Rayne, immediately feeling better as soon as he heard his lover’s voice.

“I did it.” he said hoarsely “I’m okay, nothing too serious. They let me go…” This last was said with such profound relief and surprise that it was truly bizarre.

“Like they can afford to keep you!” Rayne teased mildly. “I’m glad you’re okay though. Look, I’m in a cab, just leaving Heathrow now. I’ll be with you in under an hour and you can tell me about it.”

He sounded tired but good-humoured. Matty on the other hand was still studying Xavier as if he was a new and interesting species of bug.

Xavier did not satisfy his curiosity, he was too exhausted for one thing. He slumped down in the seat as soon as he was off the phone. Xav felt no compunction about using Matty’s shoulder for a pillow and stayed huddled up close to him like a pup that had found a comforter for the short cab ride. Although Matt perhaps didn’t realise it, his staying with Xav throughout the hospital ordeal without leaving him once had scored him some major points.

By the time Matt got him back in bed he was hollow eyed and so worn out he couldn’t have stayed awake no matter how hard he fought it. He was asleep within moments, having not even opened the bottle of meds the hospital had given him. Matt Greening tucked the boy under the duvet and left him to sleep. It had been an exhausting morning and they had spent most of it waiting at the bloody hospital, not his favourite environment, and from the way Xavier acted whilst they were there, definitely not the kid’s idea of a good day out. He was already beginning to wonder about that. Rayne too could be freaky about doctors and it went back to a time before he was Turned so it wasn’t just that he was worried about them finding out he wasn’t human.

Matty knew enough about Ray’s childhood to guess that he’d been poked about by medical people and shrinks a fair bit in his teens, hence his dislike of them now. He wondered what Xavier’s story was. The boy was certainly petrified of the men in white coats and his stark refusal to let them put him under, or even sedate him, was a worry.

Whilst Xavier was asleep and his lover was still in the back of a black cab fighting its way through the east London traffic, Matt took the opportunity to have a dig for information. He went first through the drawers that he knew from experience were left empty for visitors. Xavier certainly had good taste, there were quite a few high end designer labels in there. Little wonder he’d presented such an appealing target for muggers. Under the wisps of scanty underwear he found a plain brown envelope with a reinforced back and, casting a glance at the boy to make sure he was asleep, he pulled it free of the drawer.

It was addressed to Xavier here, so it was a recent arrival, probably not much use as a clue to his past, but Matty opened the top and peered in.

Now that was much better, there were photographs in there. Very interesting.

The young vampire slipped out into the hall and closed the bedroom door quietly behind him. Once he was back in the lounge he flopped down on the futon and tipped the photographs out of their sheath. Flicking through them, Matthew Greening whistled appreciatively, reassessing his initial opinion of Xavier Gavrilov as some bit of clubby eye-candy Rayne had picked up for a quicky. The boy was incredibly photogenic. He wasn’t really tall enough to be a catwalk model but he could certainly work the lens of a camera. And the style of the pictures told Matty straight away that he was looking at the work of a decent photographer, not just any old snapper with a fancy camera.

He turned over one of the pictures where Xav was bound and virtually naked, and whistled again at the studio details stamped on the back of the image. Now that was a name to conjure with! No wonder some of these shots were a bit risqué.

Matty was just getting to the private collection, the images of Xavier nude and masturbating, when he heard the key turn in the door.

“Shit!” He snatched up the shots and stuffed them back into the envelope, then adjusted the hang of his rapidly hardening cock in his tight jeans. When the front door banged shut, he picked up a pillow and slapped the envelope underneath it, rolling to his feet as Rayne came into the room, looking tired and worried, but interestingly quite well fed.

“Babes!” Matt crooned, throwing his arms around the older, smaller man affectionately. “I missed you so much!”

“Fuck off!” Rayne laughed huskily. “Idiot!”

He did reach up to plant a little kiss on Matty’s lips though. His Fledgling was inordinately pleased. The verbal abuse he had learned to live with but physical tenderness from Rayne always lifted his spirits. He did squint more closely at his former lover now they were nose to nose though.

“Have you been wearing make-up, babe? There’s still a bit of shimmer in the corners of your eyes.” He grinned at the look of alarm on his ex’s face. “Bad boy! You were out partying last night weren’t you?”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Rayne said evasively, pushing him back out of his personal space. He wasn’t rough, but deliberate enough that Matty didn’t force the issue.

“How’s Xav?” Rayne asked.

“The child is sleeping,” Matty said loftily. “Doctors were a bit worried about him, wanted him to stay for a few days but he wasn’t having any. They don’t think there’s any internal bleeding but they’ve told him to keep an eye out for any abnormal swellings.”

He winked playfully at his ex and returned to the futon with a little smile.

“Thanks for staying with him,” Rayne said in a softer voice. “I appreciate it, sweetheart. Really I do.”

“Aww shucks, it was nothin’!” Matty put on a mock mid-west accent and waved a dismissive hand at him. “The chicken and I are getting on famously, lover. He’s quite a sweetie when he’s not sulking at me or giving me grief.”

He leaned back, hands braced behind him on the bed, feet apart, looking up at his deliciously rumpled ex with a suggestive smile. “While he’s out of action, d’you want to have a little fun, huh?”

“I’m a bit fucked, to tell the truth,” Rayne said, though he did come to sit beside Matt on the futon. “Tell me what happened?”

The younger vampire sketched out the details of the attack in so far as he’d managed to prise them from Xavier and the reluctant Clint, and Rayne’s features darkened perceptibly as he listened to the list of his lover’s injuries. He was angry but not sure who to direct that anger against.

“You think Clint set him up?” he asked now, brooding quietly.

“Xavier’s adamant that he didn’t have nuthin’ to do with it,” Matty replied. “I’m not so sure though. He’s been hanging around here, apparently. The chicken took pity on him, let him stay here a couple of nights.”

“Jesus!” Rayne put a hand to his forehead and lowered it to rub his eyes. “That’s all I need! He let him in the fuckin’ apartment?”

Matt nodded gravely. Rayne looked frustrated.

“I’m gonna have to get the wards boosted, it’s no good. If he can come and go as he likes, anyone could use him to get at us,” he complained bitterly. “Clint’s a loose cannon, Matty. I can’t afford to have him inside my protection. I need to talk to Dominic, see if there isn’t a better way to keep him out.”

He moved to his feet, shaking his head unhappily, one hand still cupped over his mouth as he considered the far reaching impact of having a boy who could sense and – potentially – kill vampires hanging around in the place he thought of as sanctuary. Clint was still just a kid, probably he didn’t even realise what it was that he could do, yet. But he would find out. There were unscrupulous people out there who would find out too, and who might not draw the line in using him to fight and destroy the Undead.

He did not need to remind Matty of that, but he was going to have to talk to Xavier about it. And that was not all they were going to have to talk about.

“Does Xav know he’s my kid?” he asked, half turning to look anxiously at Matt.

The blond bit down on both lips and the apologetic look he gave his Sire was answer enough.

“Shit!” Rayne hissed vehemently, feeling the fear rise up in him again; the fear of losing Xavier over this. Every time he thought of being without the boy it hurt a little more and compounded the confusion he had been feeling in Manchester. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”

~*~

Xavier slept most of the rest of the day away, curled into a foetal ball in the centre of Rayne’s spacious bed. He did not hear Rayne’s arrival, nor did he wake when the vampire had slipped silently into the room to check on him.

Once Matty had left and Rayne had gone around the apartment three times making sure that the place was secure and nothing important was missing, he returned to the bedroom and gently checked on Xav again to make sure that he was breathing and not in any obvious discomfort. The lad was still sound asleep and his lover winced at the sight of the bruising on his otherwise peaceful face. Had he not been so reluctant to leave Xavier alone, he would have gone right out and tried to track down the bastards that did this to him. But right now he just wanted to be with his lover.

He toed off his boots and snuggled down on the bed next to the boy, putting his arms around Xavier gently and wriggling up to his back so they were spooned comfortably with the duvet between them keeping Xav warm. Rayne nuzzled the back of his neck, breathing in the familiar, vanilla and almond scent of his delicious body. It hadn’t been his intention but he felt so comfortable, for the first time in days, that he nodded quickly and let himself drift into a light sleep.

Xavier’s dreams were filled with dark confusion. In them he ran down unfamiliar streets, but he wasn’t chased by the three thugs that had beaten him, it was only one guy. He was stocky and faceless but Xav knew he was the same man he’d had a nightmare about before, on the first night in Rayne’s flat, and he was just as terrified of him in this dream as well. He ran down a blind alley and saw Clint standing at the end, his eyes wide and frightened. His wrists were tied together and held above his head, secured by a long rope that went up and up and disappeared into the night sky. Xavier ran to him in a panic, feeling the unknown foe closing in behind him.

His heart slamming against his ribs, Xav reached for the rope tying Clint’s wrists. The boy’s eyes were wide, white rimmed with terror.

“Get me out of ‘ere! Please!” Clint panted, struggling to get free.

“Hang on, I’m trying…” Xav told him, yanking desperately at the knots.

A hand fell on his shoulder, gripping him painfully. As Xav turned he felt the pin prick of a needle in his arm, looked down to see the plunger of the syringe being depressed.

“No! No… don’t… I can’t…” Xav cried disconsolately. He turned his head to look at the man but all he saw of him was shadows, then pain lanced down his side and he gasped, groaning as he was yanked up from sleep.

When Xavier contorted in his arms it was enough to wake Rayne. The little rill of fear coursed through his blood and he sat up at once, his hand reaching for Xavier’s cheek to sooth him but stopping shy of touching in case the bruises were still too painful.

“Shhh… it’s okay. Just a dream,” he said, his voice sounding too thick and sleepy still.

Xavier’s eyes cleared slowly as he blinked awake. Rayne’s visage came into focus and he reached for him, wanting to melt into his embrace, the relief evident in his expression even through the bruises. He caught his breath with an agonized groan as pain ripped into him and he remembered that he shouldn’t move so fast. Swallowing hard he waited for a second or two, then managed a weak smile.

“Hey baby,” he murmured, his voice still husky with sleep and the disturbing dream. He reached for Rayne’s hovering hand more carefully and brought his fingertips to his lips, kissing them softly. “I missed you. Sorry I look a wreck for your homecoming.”

The look in his lover’s pale eyes danced between concern and bemusement.

“What in fuck’s name have you been doing to yourself?” he asked but his tone was more beneficent than belligerent.

He stroked the backs of his fingers gently over the less damaged side of Xavier’s face.

Xavier turned his face into Rayne’s palm, nuzzling there sleepily. “Guess I’ve gotten a little slow,” he said. “And I forgot to dress down for the occasion. It was stupid. Matt’s saved you the trouble of making that abundantly clear if you’d rather skip pointing it out?” Xav sighed in a tone that was half chagrin, half hopeful that Rayne wasn’t in the mood to lecture.

“Matthew’s very good at pointing out other people’s mistakes,” Rayne said, his voice hard to read. “He tends to forget that he’s already made most of them himself, pretty spectacularly in some cases!”

Xavier lifted his hand to trace his fingers lightly over the curve of Rayne’s cheek, looking apologetic. “I didn’t mean to pull you straight back here, I didn’t want you worried about me while you had things to do. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well, given the choice between sorting out business and babysitting a cute little fucker that can’t put up much of a fight right now…” He broke off at the look on Xavier’s face and winked at him. “I’m kidding, yeah? I was practically done up there anyway. Just wallowing in a bit of self-pity, I guess. Your timing was okay.”

He moved to cuddle down beside him and Xavier would have liked nothing better than to stay right where he was and go back to sleep with Rayne wrapped around him, but his bladder was demanding he get up first, and he was dreading making the trip.

“I’ll be right back,” he told Rayne as he pushed the duvet back and slowly, gingerly, rolled to one side trying to push himself upright.

“Woah, are you sure you should be getting up?” Rayne was around the other side of the bed faster than he could think; ready to catch him if he went crashing down.

Xavier nodded but he felt incredibly feeble and slow. It was so strange not to just bound out of bed like normal, to actually feel every bruised place protesting his movement. His back was just as bruised as his front and he suddenly got a little flash of being dropped to the pavement and curling defensively while hard boots kicked him. Fucking bastards!

“I’m okay,” he lied, gasping through gritted teeth and holding his aching side as he took shallow breaths. When the wave of dizziness mostly passed, he took a deeper breath and got up out of bed. Rayne looked a bit like a new father waiting to catch him, holding out his arms and hovering as Xav hobbled across the room and into the adjoining bathroom.

He was alarmingly out of breath and dizzy again by the time he reached the toilet and he had to put one hand on the wall behind the tank to steady himself while he pissed. He noticed his stream was dark and he knew it meant there was blood in his urine. Frightening as that was he’d expected it and he wasn’t too freaked out. He’d taken a hard blow to the kidney once before and had pissed blood for a few days then too. He was sure it would clear in a day or two.

He finished peeing, flushed the toilet, and then made his way back to bedroom. Every step sent up a throb of pain in seemingly random places. By the time he got back to the bed he felt sick and the thought of the bottle of painkillers on the bedside table crossed his mind, but he didn’t reach for them.

Ray was watching him with a look in his eyes that said he would have rather carried Xavier there and back but knew how stubborn and independent his lover could be. He knew too that he’d have been just as much of a pain in the arse if it was him lying injured on that bed. More so, even!

“Can I get you anything?” he asked now, easing Xav back down onto the pillows and adjusting the duvet around him tenderly. “Did they give you anything for the pain?”

“I can’t take them,” Xavier said simply.

“If they make you feel sick you could eat something first,” Rayne suggested.

“No…” Xavier said quietly. “It’s not that. They’re opiate based. I just…I don’t do good with pills.”

Rayne settled on the bed beside him, his face betraying some understanding of what his lover was telling him. The initial alarm in his eyes mellowed almost instantly to a more solicitous concern and he stroked one hand tenderly up and down Xavier’s arm, whilst the other slid around his shoulders pulling him a little closer.

“Matt said that you freaked when they tried to knock you out in the hospital,” he said carefully. “Is that related to your problem with the painkillers, maybe?”

A few long moments ticked by before Xavier answered. “Sort of.”

It seemed like that was all he was going to say about it, then he licked his swollen lips lightly and continued.

“When I first wanted to get clean I tried going through ‘the program’, you know…? But I couldn’t hack it. I kept fucking up, not doing what they told me to, sliding back. I wanted to quit using, but I was scared, and I just couldn’t get away from it, and then I found that certain prescription drugs would take the edge off.” Xav paused and took a little breath. This was still hard for him to admit. He had felt so weak then, so worthless, and he didn’t want to appear weak or worthless to Rayne.

He swallowed and went on. “I thought…you know, cos they came in a little bottle from the pharmacy they were safer, but I was just trading one addiction for another. Then the guy I was getting the pills from got busted and I couldn’t get anymore, so I went back to using heroin, and I OD’ed… I was pretty sure I was gonna die.” He took another little breath and went on. “After that I knew I had to quit, I had to stop or I really was going to die, and I didn’t want to die. The only way I could do it, the only way I could get my shit together and get clean was to just go cold. I detoxed on my own, no little pills to make it easier, and that nearly killed me too. Or, at least it felt like I was gonna die… I almostwanted to die at that point.”

Xavier stopped himself before he bit his lower lip, instead just running his tongue over the swelling, although it seemed Matty’s licking had healed up the split at least.

“The only way I could get some control was to give up everything, and I mean like, everything.” Xav continued hoarsely. “For a long time I wouldn’t even take aspirin or drink a beer.

“Then, after a while of being clean and sober, I lightened up a little. I was better. I thought I could handle myself okay, and for the most part I could. I could drink, even get drunk, without sliding back into old habits. But it wasn’t a replacement, you know? It was the same with coke. I could go out, get a buzz on, have fun, and it was no big deal. As long as I stayed away from the smack, as long as I didn’t take anything that was related to any kind of opiate, I was okay. Then, I got a hold of some pills again, and…I don’t know, I just thought that it would be okay, that I could handle it, because I could handle everything else. So, I took them, and then I took some more, and then I was scoring them kind of regular, and one night I forgot how many I’d taken and I took some on top of what I’d already taken and I ended up OD’ing again.” He paused here and finally looked at Rayne.

Rayne held his eyes now. He had been watching intently as Xavier told him all of this and did not avert his gaze when his lover turned to look at him.

“Ahhh sweetheart,” he groaned softly, pulling Xavier as close as he dared under the circumstances. “I should have come back. I had the shutters down and I didn’t even pick up on the vibes until later when I tried to call you. I ought to have been here for you but I was too… Fuck it!”

He rested his forehead against Xavier’s temple, careful still of the bruises on his face. “I should never have left you. Matty’s precious, and he wouldn’t have walked away, but he doesn’t understand what it feels like. Matt’s one of those people who can take anything and step away from it. He doesn’t get hooked, or if he does, it never seems to fuck with his head so he doesn’t understand what it’s like when you lose control of it. When you’re hanging onto the tiger’s tail and it slides through your fingers…”

He looked up, his forehead still very close to Xavier’s, their eyes practically level. Gentle hands raked lightly through sweat-damp golden curls

Xavier got quiet for a few moments as he took this in. He was debating how much more to say, but he’d gone this far so he might as well tell the rest. “It was an accident, Rayne. A total fuckin’ accident. I was stupid, not suicidal… but, just my luck I got some psycho bitch at the hospital I was at who had something to prove I guess. Her evaluation said I was suicidal. They put me up in the loony toon ward.

“I didn’t handle it well,” he said flatly, which was like the understatement of the year. He had pretty much flipped out for real when they locked him up. “I got really pissed off, and they got tough with me, and I spent some time tied down to a bed shot up with who fuckin’ knows what for I don’t even know how long. They decided I was a danger and I needed to be kept longer. No matter what I said no one was listening. I screamed and I raged and I told them I wasn’t nuts.” Xav gave a bitter little laugh here. “When that didn’t help my case I cooled off, and I got a bit smarter about it. I starting playing along. I said what I was supposed to say, and I took whatever they wanted me to take, until they finally let me go.

“I was in there for weeks before they cut me loose, with no money, nowhere to go, and a bottle of some anti-psychotics. They let me go and were all smug about it, like, ‘See? We made you all better! Take this shit that’ll turn you into a zombie and get the fuck out.’ That’s why I hate them so much. I can’t stand doctors or hospitals!”

“I’m so sorry… I made you go in there, because I was worried. And I didn’t know. I didn’t realise how bad it would be for you. I’m sorry,” Rayne whispered, kissing Xavier’s nose softly. “I wish I could make it go away for you.”

Of all the responses Xav had thought Rayne might give him, this was not it. The tender concern washed over him like a balm and he snuggled closer to his lover, kissing his lips carefully. He was so grateful for his understanding he was nearly overcome by it and was totally taken by surprise at the amount of emotion that welled up inside him and spilled over with a relief of pressure he hadn’t even known was there.

He usually fought tears, and if he could help it he wouldn’t let anyone see him cry, but he couldn’t stop the hot stinging tears that ran down his cheeks now, and he clung to Rayne like a lifeline. He really had been absolutely terrified of going to the hospital, had only done so because Rayne asked it of him, and now he was relieved beyond words that his lover actually understood where he was coming from. It was probably the first time he’d ever shared anything so personal and had someone really get it. Rayne held him and soothed him and when the torrent of tears finally died down he felt lighter inside, and a sense of the ridiculous struck him; although he hadn’t the energy for more than a chuckle.

“Since you left all I’ve been thinking about is how I wanted to jump your bones when you got home, and instead I’m bawling all over you.”

“Ahh… what I wouldn’t give to be balling all over you,” Rayne whispered cheekily, unwilling to let Xavier wallow in the sadness that had clearly been eating him up. The tears had left him lost for words. In the short time that he had known Xavier he had already figured that the younger man fought shy of showing his emotions too readily. He was drawn to that, it was something else that they shared. After the traumatic rollercoaster ride of the past few days he was stunned by his lover’s emotional release but also relieved that for once this week it was someone else crying on his shoulder and not the other way around. “Mmmm… sweetheart,” he murmured, snuggling around Xav protectively. “If I ever find out who did this to you, I promise you I will feed them their own fuckin’ balls.”

His tone was light enough but Xavier didn’t think that he was joking.

He nodded his head on Rayne’s shoulder, not feeling in the least bit generous toward his attackers. If Rayne did ever happen to find them…well, they deserved whatever they got.

They lay together quietly for a while after that, but Xavier was having a hard time getting comfortable. Having slept hard for several hours already he couldn’t drop off easily and every ache seemed to be throbbing. Finally Rayne talked him into taking one of the painkillers, reasoning with him that one pill, when he was in this much pain, didn’t mean he was backsliding. Xavier took the pill, but he also made Rayne take the bottle away. He felt bad about that, like he should be strong enough now, trustworthy enough to take his own medication without abusing it, but he also felt safer with Rayne in control of that little bottle.

When the drug started working it did take the edge off his pain and allowed Xav to relax and start to drift. He slipped into a dream, only this time it was a much nicer dream, filled with the touch of Rayne’s cool fingers stroking lightly along his skin and the softness of his lips brushing here and there. It was not an intense dream, but the sensations were stirring and erotic.

When he woke again a few hours later he was still pleasantly floating, happy to feel the curve of Rayne’s naked body fitted to his backside. The dream, coupled with a few days’ abstinence, had him horny as hell despite his banged up condition. Still somewhere between awake and asleep he slid his hand over Rayne’s where it was resting on his hip and moved it down into the well of his groin and over the stiff swell of his cock, sighing happily.

Rayne had been drowsing comfortably again, at ease enough to sleep for the first time in days, but when Xavier’s hot hand guided his fingers over the warm, restless bulge in his pants he exhaled a little moan of pleasure.

“Bad lad! You’re supposed to be taking it easy!”

He wriggled down, manoeuvring Xavier onto his back and pushed up his t-shirt to kiss the unbruised parts of his chest and belly (which were difficult to find under the circumstances) then touched his lips softly to the growing pulse beneath the silky material of his lover’s underwear. Rayne breathed in the hot, sensual scent of Xavier’s rising cock and kissed the swollen head more greedily, wrapping his lips around the shrouded dome and holding it in his mouth as he tenderly nuzzled his mate’s crotch.

Xav exhaled a soft moan, of pleasure this time. His head was still kind of fuzzy from the narcotic in his system but it was a pleasant kind of fuzzy. He told himself not to move, though it was hard to simply relax. His fingers tangled lightly into Rayne’s silky hair and he caressed along his scalp, a little purr rising in his throat.

Rayne lifted his head and looked up at him searchingly. “You sure about this?” he wanted to know. “I don’t want you hurtin’ yourself. You don’t need to do this if you’re not ready, sweetheart.”

He touched his lips to the wet silk shrouding Xavier’s straining cock head, letting his breath stream like a warm caress over the sensitive bulb of flesh. His hands were gentle on his lover’s slim thighs, slowly stroking his fingers up and down over Xavier’s lean hips.

“I’m sure…” Xav chuckled a little breathlessly. His expression softened at the look Rayne gave him. “As long as we don’t get too carried away I’ll be fine,” he assured his mate.

Rayne’s smile said more than words. He nuzzled Xavier’s groin almost delicately, breathing in the heat and need of his lover’s body. Then, carefully, he eased back the silken envelope of Xavier’s tiny briefs and slid his hands within, inching them slowly down his thighs and releasing him. Cool, soft lips caressed the velvety sleekness of Xavier’s stiffening cock and Rayne’s tongue deftly laved the warmth of his eagerly throbbing shaft. He licked upward with swift little strokes towards the exposed crown and worked around it, as if it was melting ice-cream and he wanted to catch every dribble in his mouth.

“Ooooohhhh, ba-aby…” Xavier breathed. “That feels so nice.” He let his thighs fall farther apart and already he was having to fight the urge to roll his hips. It was going to be hard to stay still, but he wanted this so much.

Rayne moved between his splayed thighs, resting his weight carefully on his elbows as he nodded down over Xav to take the boy’s cock gently in his mouth. He turned his head slowly, stroking the tip of his nose back and forth across Xavier’s belly whilst he swallowed his lover deeper. Dark fronds of hair brushed Xavier’s skin at the same time, making his breath come a little faster and more raggedly.

The way Rayne moved on him was slow and sweet and careful but Xavier was so keyed up with wanting that it wasn’t going to take a whole lot to make him come anyway. The caress of his lover’s lips and tongue up and down his shaft sent little sparks, one after another, flaring though him. After a while though it grew harder and harder to remain passive while Rayne sucked him. His thighs and buttocks began to flex with the rhythm of Rayne’s nodding head, his erection pressing stone hard between those soft lips, and his breath quickening into little gasps.

He was so close, teetering on the edge. Soft moans of pleasure and encouragement came whispering from his lips. He was just hitting the point where he couldn’t stop when he realised it was going to hurt when he came. His abdominal muscles contracted involuntarily at the same time the fission sparked in his balls, slamming the flood of pleasure headlong into a sharp twist of pain that just about short circuited his brain with confusion.

“Uhh!…uhh!…oh fuck, mmm-uhh that fuckin hurts… so good…!” He panted and shuddered, nearly incoherent with the clashing sensations.

Rayne came up and off him with a little hiss and Xavier could tell right away that his fangs were out. His tongue flickered around his lips, drawing in the last drops of his lover’s hot eruption of cum but the look in his eyes and the quiver that ran through him from his shoulders to his slim hips indicated that he felt in his blood just how hard it had been for Xavier not to scream as he came.

“Oh god! I wish I could do something to make the pain go away,” he groaned, low in his throat. He moved over Xav, tenderly lipping at his neck now, grazing the marks he had left. Xavier did not have to be so close to know what he was thinking. One more bite and he would not have to suffer so much pain.

“Rayne…?” Xavier got out his name between gulps for breath and he swallowed hard. “Y-you don’t want to Turn me,” he whispered. “I’d rather suffer through the pain than lose you.”

Rayne closed his eyes. For a moment he drew away, then he shook his head slowly. “I don’t know what to do any more,” he whispered huskily. “Seeing you hurting like this… It just brings back too many bad memories, I guess. I don’t want you to get hurt, Xavier. I wish I could protect you, but I can’t. And… I’m so scared that I’m gonna lose you the way I… I…”

He could not finish the sentence. Instead he pushed himself up from the bed and walked out into the hall where he slumped against the wall and sank down to sit on the floor with his head in his arms. The recent trip was still too fresh in his mind, the memories of Kevan’s death still too raw. He curled into a ball and wept soundlessly, unable to contain the emotion any more.

Xavier let him go because he didn’t have much of a choice. He lay there for a few minutes and although he did not hear Rayne weeping he felt it, felt his sadness and confusion as badly as his own pain and after a few tries he struggled up from the bed and followed him out.

He knew without asking exactly what was bothering him so much, a combination of worries and memories. He didn’t want Rayne to hurt any more than Rayne wanted to see him in such pain, and worse he felt he was the cause of it. His own stupidity and his own weakness put Rayne in this position of fear and uncertainty.

That guilt only compounded his other guilt about not being there for Rayne while he was finally dealing with the loss of his previous lover, never mind that he hadn’t wanted him there. He carefully slid down to the floor next to Rayne and reached out to comfort him, steadfastly ignoring how much it physically cost him to do it.

“Sweetheart, I’m so sorry,” he whispered huskily.

For a moment Rayne remained huddled on the floor, shivering constantly, though he barely made a sound that was audible to human ears. Then he unfolded and his arms moved around Xavier, holding him and clinging to him, needing to be held in return. He cried quietly, but Xavier felt each sob and his t-shirt absorbed every bloody teardrop from his lover’s eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Rayne breathed huskily, at last, when he could not cry anymore; could barely talk at all. “I should be looking after you but I can’t even take care of myself. I have no right to tell you what you can and can’t do, Xavier but I never meant to get so involved with you. I don’t mean that to sound cruel. I… I just wasn’t looking for another relationship. It was all too soon. You took me by surprise.”

Xavier swallowed the hard lump in his throat. “I know, Rayne. I know,” he said with a sad sigh. “I wasn’t looking for… I didn’t mean for this to happen either.” He stopped, then tentatively asked, “Do you regret it?”

Rayne’s head came up and red-rimmed eyes met his. The vampire looked slightly shocked by the question and it took him a moment to formulate an answer. At last though, he shook his head.

“No. I… I feel a lot of things, but not regret,” he croaked, forcing a tremulous smile. “I’m scared though. Scared of it happening again. So scared of losing you.”

Xavier’s lips parted slightly as if he would say something but no words came. There wasn’t much he could say to something like that. He couldn’t promise Rayne he wouldn’t die on him. How could he promise that? At the same time what Rayne was really saying sunk in and it made him a little dizzy and flushed him with warmth and helped heal something inside that was still raw.

He knew Rayne cared about him. On a surface level Xav knew he wouldn’t be here with him right now if Rayne didn’t want him, no matter how much Ray might have needed his blood to pull himself back together and put the pieces back in place. Still, there was a very wounded part of him that didn’t believe he quite measured up, that any minute the bottom would drop out of his world and Rayne would tell him to leave.

To know that Rayne was actually afraid of losing him, that he was as afraid of losing him as Xav was of losing Rayne…well, it was enlightening to say the least. Xavier leaned in to kiss him, soft lips clinging tenderly to his lover’s.

“You won’t lose me,” he murmured into his mouth. “I love you.”

He whispered those words so quietly it was almost just a breath, but he had to say them. Even though he was still very afraid of Rayne’s reaction, considering the last time he dared utter those small fateful words. Even if Rayne couldn’t or wouldn’t say them back, he just had to say it this once. His heart was going to break if he couldn’t tell him how he felt this one time.

Rayne’s lips moved softly against his own for a moment. Then he drew back, examining Xavier’s too pale features seriously. Gentle fingers brushed his cheek and the vampire murmured; “I’d better put you back to bed then, hadn’t I? If I can’t make you better, then at least I can make sure you don’t get worse.”

He slid out of Xavier’s embrace and pushed himself to his feet, then picked up the younger man as easily as if he were a child and carried him back to the bedroom, ignoring Xavier’s indignant protests that he could walk on his own.

CHAPTER 7 –

Xavier hadn’t thought he’d be able to sleep again, but he was wrong. He’d slipped down easily into sleep with Rayne wrapped lightly around him and hadn’t woken again until the sun was well up. When he did open his eyes it was close on thirty six hours since he’d been chased into that alley and beaten. Given a day and a half for the real aches to set in he’d expected to feel even worse. The deep bruising was still very painful and he wasn’t going to jump out of bed and start dancing any time soon but he wasn’t nearly as badly off as he had feared. He was very sore, but moving considerably better than he had been the day before.

The very next thing he noticed was how hungry he was. He either hadn’t had the opportunity or the inclination to eat since breakfast two days ago with Clint and now he was just about ready to devour the pillow under his head.

He woke alone but the sound of conversation was a low buzz in the background. Rayne was talking to someone in the living room. Once his eyes had adjusted to the brightness he struggled into a shirt and pants and managed to limp through to the other room to find out what was going on.To his relief their visitor was Lord Warren, not Matt Greening. In spite of Matty’s kindness in looking out for him after he was attacked, Xavier was still uncomfortable with Rayne’s ex boyfriend hanging around the apartment.

Dominic was sitting on the edge of the futon talking to Rayne who stood by the window looking out. They both turned when he came into the room though. Rayne looked concerned but Dom’s expression was one of mingled shock and horror.

“Bright Lady!” he exclaimed, springing to his feet and coming to Xavier at once. “You should still be in the bedroom, young man. You’re black and blue, you poor thing!”

Xavier brought his arms up in an unconscious warding gesture, afraid Dominic was actually going to hug him, which would have been fine under ordinary circumstances but would be very bad for him right now. He relaxed though when Dominic stopped short of actually pulling him into his worried embrace.

“I would be, but there isn’t any food in there,” Xavier pointed out with with a small rueful smile that looked particularly pathetic given his current battered state.

“There isn’t any food out here either,” Rayne said, not entirely helpfully.

Dominic looked from one to the other like they were naughty children and shook his head. “Goddess! What am I to do with the pair of you? Ray, the boy needs nourishment if he’s to get better. Haven’t you even made him soup?”

“He was asleep,” the little vampire sulked, clearly put out at being cast as the villain.

“Well he isn’t sleeping now,” Lord Warren declared sternly. He turned to Xavier with a proprietary smile; “What would you like for breakfast, darling?”

“Anything sounds good right now. I’m starved,” Xavier said. “There really isn’t anything to eat here though… Rayne just got back,” he added by way of a slight defence for his mate. “… and I’ve just been eating out ’cause, you know, I can pretty much fuck up anything that needs to be cooked. There’s a place not too far from here I’ve been goin’ to for breakfast,” he explained casually.

Dominic looked at him like he’d suggested something utterly ridiculous. “Tell me you weren’t planning on hobbling down there this morning.”

Xav shrugged, and then winced slightly, stopping mid motion. Dominic made a tsk-ing sound and motioned him to sit.

“Why didn’t you call me?”

Xav looked up at him at little abashed, because he should have but he hadn’t been thinking clearly. “It was like, 3 in the morning when I finally made it to the apartment… I knew Matty had a key and I wasn’t sure if you did so I ‘phoned him. I’ve been either at the hospital or sleeping and haven’t had a chance to call you…or eat anything, since.”

“Oh you poor darling,” Dominic sighed again, shaking his head. “It’s a wonder you haven’t faded away to nothing.”

He stroked Xavier’s hair tenderly then reached into a pocket of his short coat for a small pad and an expensive looking pen. He scribbled a list and passed it to Rayne almost dismissively.

“There’s a herbalist on Ladbroke Grove, near the library and a delicatessen called Snickett’s about halfway down Portobello Road, they should be able to sell you most of that,” he said sternly. “Shouldn’t take you more than a half hour to get there and back. I’m going to run this poor lad a nice hot chamomile bath and let him soak those bruises properly. Honestly! You’re supposed to be taking care of him, Rayne.”

The little vampire studied the list rather sullenly but he did not argue and when Dominic gave him another of those ‘looks’ he reached for his coat and bent to give Xavier a gentle kiss.

“She’s worse than my Nan,” he breathed, touching his lips to his lover’s mouth again.

Xavier returned the kiss with a hint of desperation. He’d much rather have been the one going out than the one left behind to be fussed over. Rayne’s lips were twitching with a bit more humour as he pulled away and Xavier shot him a look that said thanks for that! before the vampire hurried out the door, leaving him in Lord Warren’s tender care.

Quickly Xavier realised the pointlessness of resisting and he hadn’t the energy to put up much of a protest anyway. He gave in and let Dominic minister to needs he didn’t even know he had.

The huge green-glass soak tub in Rayne’s bathroom was already filled with steaming water and various flowers and what looked like bark and twigs when he ambled in there. At least it smelled good. He stripped off his clothes while his friend was humming over the water adding a drop of this or a dash of that. Dom’s little gasp made Xav turn around and then he looked away from the horrified and worried look on his friend’s face. He supposed he did look pretty bad under the tee shirt, the dark purple of the bruises in full bloom over his torso probably wouldn’t even begin to fade for a few days yet.

Xav didn’t say a word while the older man alternately oozed sympathy and cursed the men that did this to him. He got into the tub at Dominic’s direction, hissing and wincing as he tried to ease down into the hot water.

“For fuck’s sake Dom, are you trying to boil me or what?” he whined a bit.

“Don’t be such a baby,” the older man chuckled, shaking his head. “The hot water will draw the bruising, darling. The comfrey tincture that I added to it will help to reduce the swelling, chamomile is always soothing, thyme and rosemary are good for your skin in any case. Don’t scrub, just soak for a little while. I’ll make some rosehip tea when Ray gets back, that should boost your immune system, help you get well from within.”

He beamed at Xavier like a beneficent angel then left the young man to simmer for a while in the deep, green-glass bowl of aromatic stew. The rippling water reflecting on the cool green and white tiles was oddly soothing and it was quiet and peaceful in the bathroom once he was on his own.

In fairly short order Xavier got used to the temperature and relaxed bit by bit, his head resting on the back lip of the tub, the water reaching almost up to his neck. The hot scented water was soothing and felt silky on his skin. As he let his mind start to drift, not actually falling asleep but just floating a bit below total consciousness, he thought he felt a little shimmer of something flow over him. Nothing unpleasant, it was almost like a caress under the heat of the water. He guessed the low tingle along his skin to be the feel of Dominic’s magic.

He stayed where he was, just drifting and feeling that tingle spread slowly through him until the water began to cool and he judged himself sufficiently prune-like. At last he got out, feeling as though he’d just steeped himself in a giant bowl of herbal tea… which essentially was true. He was not miraculously cured of all his aches and bruises, but the raw ache of his damaged muscles was less as he patted himself dry and wrapped himself in one of Rayne’s robes. He didn’t feel like crawling back into bed yet, despite knowing Dominic would probably chastise him for wandering around rather than resting. After the hot bath he felt pretty much rested anyway.

His stomach gurgled contentedly in advance appreciation of the hot bacon rolls his rebellious lover had fetched back with the shopping, knowing that he would not want to wait whilst food was cooking. In view of the fact that he knew the smell of bacon left Rayne nauseated, it was a touching gesture.

He could hear voices coming from the kitchen again and guessed Dominic was in there with Rayne. He wasn’t trying to eavesdrop but as he approached he couldn’t help overhearing what they were talking about. Dominic was asking questions and Rayne was sketching out the details of what had happened as far as he knew; received in a third hand account. They were discussing the possibility or probability of Clint’s involvement in the attack. Xav didn’t get upset, but he did look quite serious as he floated into the kitchen and helped himself to a bacon bap whilst Dom was busy cooking up a pot of something that smelled equally heavenly on the stovetop.

“Clint didn’t set me up,” Xavier injected into the conversation with his mouth full, although he wasn’t trying to be rude about it. “I know he didn’t.”

Dominic glanced up anxiously from the pot he was stirring and Rayne, who was leaning on the counter beside him shook his head gravely.

“I don’t want you to mix with him any more,” he said. It wasn’t a direct order but it had that tone to it that added, if he was defied, he would not be happy about it. “Maybe he didn’t mean for this to happen to you, but he hangs around with the kind of people that…”

Rayne broke off because Dominic gave him a look that Xavier didn’t see. He could guess from Rayne’s defensive reaction that Lord Warren didn’t always approve of Rayne’s choice of companions either.

“Xavier’s a grown up, Ray,” was all Lord Warren murmured. “And Clint is nearly an adult too, you can’t police them all your life. What happened was unfortunate, but this is London. You can’t wrap the boy in cotton wool, darling.”

Xav put down the roll, feeling the delicious food turn to ashes in his mouth and slid onto one of the barstools by the kitchen island. He was bristling ever so slightly at Rayne’s high handed tone, but he was not altogether surprised by it.

“Are you more angry that I let him hang out here, or that I found out he’s your kid?” he asked mildly. He didn’t really want to get Rayne wound up but there were some things that needed saying between them, and he’d be damned if he was gonna take all this sniping about Clint and not say a word in his own defence.

Now Rayne’s hackles were up too and Xav could tell Dominic was thinking he might be in the middle of yet another row. Xav held Rayne’s hostile gaze though, treated him to a tired, slightly lopsided smile and waved a dismissive hand. “I’m not trying to give you shit about it Ray, I just want you to be fair, that’s all. If you don’t want to let me in on things like, ‘oh, by the way, the little emo brat on my front step is my kid…’, then don’t get pissed off at me cos I stumbled into it.”

Rayne opened his mouth and Xav hurried on. “By the way, he’s not a bad kid… and I’m pretty sure he knows you’re a vampire. I did the best I could to keep him from tripping out until you got back and decided what you wanted to do about it.”

Rayne’s teeth clicked together softly as he closed his mouth on whatever it was he had been about to say. Dominic moved the pan he had been stirring off the heat and turned to look from Xavier to the little vampire with a chuckle.

“He’s a smart one, say what you like!” he remarked with some amusement and Xav wondered if Dominic was talking about him or Clinton.

Rayne shook his head incredulously. “He told you I was a vampire? The little fuck!”

Xavier put his chin carefully on the palm of one hand, resting his elbow on the counter.

“No…not exactly. He tried to get me to tell him you were a vampire though. He was asking some pretty pointed questions. I didn’t confirm or deny anything, exactly, but he’s not stupid Ray. He’s…he’s feeling something. He told me he was drawn here, to you. I think he can feel the difference around vampires like I can…” He trailed off for a second and then looked back up at Rayne. “I had to tell him something, at least. I didn’t want him trying to dig up info on his own, I was worried he’d get into more trouble than he could handle. So, I told him if he got that feeling around anyone else to stay away from them.”

Dominic sucked a short breath through his teeth and Rayne looked irritably at him.

“It’s happening,” the older man said with a small shrug. “You knew there was no way of stopping it. He is coming into his inheritance, Rayne. The child of a union between a vampire and a mortal woman will grow to become Dhamphirii. Better that he does so as your ally than your opponent, darling.”

“I think Clint’s drawn his own battle lines,” Rayne said darkly. “If he comes near Xav again, I will wipe the fuckin’ floor with him. But if he thinks he scares me, he’s got a nasty shock coming.”

The vampire looked unsettled though. It was clear enough from his mood that he felt he was being forced to take a stance he’d rather not have adopted. Xavier had touched on a sore spot, Clint was his son, for good or ill and his track record as a father was already a less than shining example.

“Rayne…” Xavier waited until his lover looked at him. There was both concern and confusion in his sky blue eyes, his face expressive despite the discolouration of bruises. “He’s not such a bad kid, really. I’ll stay away from him if you want but if he comes around I’m not going to treat him like shit. He didn’t do anything wrong.”

“You don’t know him half as well as you think you do, Xavier,” Rayne warned.

“Matt told me about what he did. About him accusing you of stuff and then trying to burn the place down. I’m not saying there’s any excuse for that, I’m not saying he’s not messed up, but I think it’s all coming from just wanting attention.”

Rayne gave him an incredulous look. “Yeah? This last time I caught up with him he stabbed me in the arm.”

Xavier finally looked shocked. “You’re kidding…”

The vampire looked seriously at him. “I don’t have the scars to prove it, fortunately, but my jacket’s still hanging in the hall, there’s a nice little tear in the sleeve now that’ll be a bitch to mend. Thing is, I don’t actually think he was going for my arm, if you know what I mean.”

Dominic also looked shocked by this and visibly upset.

“That’s beyond attention seeking, you should call the police, my darling,” he said. “What if he hurts someone else? Someone who’ll bleed more?”

Xavier didn’t thank Lord Warren for pointing that out to Rayne, especially since he was being so protective as it was. He was still quite shocked that Clint would actually stab Rayne and he felt disappointment settle on him keenly. Could he have been that wrong about the kid? Were his instincts that far off? He sat there quietly staring a hole through the worktop in front of him and wondering if he had actually misjudged Clint. Maybe the boy had set him up, after all. It wasn’t impossible. Actually, it would have been very easy.

But then, why had he asked him to stay at the theatre? Why had he come along and helped him? Why stay with him and drag his ass all the way home? But on the other hand, wasn’t it just a little convenient the way Clint had found him in that alley? What if the kid had taken his phone on purpose to give himself a reason to come after him in order to cover his own tracks? Maybe he was playing some game, trying to make himself look good, get close to Xavier to hurt Rayne?

If Clint really did have something to do with the mugging, Xav thought… well, disappointment didn’t begin to cover how that made him feel. He should be pissed, and somewhere inside he was, but he was also wounded. He’d gotten to kind of like Clint. He’d been good to the kid for more reasons than just because he was Rayne’s son. Now he felt he’d been stupidly naïve and he couldn’t meet Rayne’s eyes.

Maybe Rayne saw a little of the confusion in his face because he moved closer, so smoothly and silently that Xav was hardly aware of him until he felt his lover’s hand on the back of his neck. It was a gesture designed to be both soothing and a little possessive.

“We don’t need to get the police involved,” the vampire said atonally. “I’ll deal with Clinton. Right now our priority is Xavier. He needs to get well, and then we need to figure out how to build his defences up so that something like this can’t happen to him again.” Rayne kissed his lover’s blond curls, tenderly whispering; “Don’t worry. None of this is your fault, sweetheart.”

Xavier leaned into Rayne, letting himself be comforted, but still feeling rather disconsolate.

“I’ve been thinking about that very thing actually.” Dominic said while he poked around in the pans on the hob. “I’ve just about taken care of all the most pressing business here and I’m overdue a trip back home.” He turned around, smiling at them both. “Why don’t you both come with me? Get out of the city for a while and Xavier can recuperate in peace.”

Rayne exchanged a look with Xavier and murmured; “You’re inviting us to hang out at Flowery Twats? We must look a mess!”

Xavier looked quizzically at him, but Rayne was grinning now so he figured it was some sort of a long standing joke between them.

“It’s not the first time I’ve let you stay there, darling,” Dominic did not look up from his pans but a smile quirked his lips too. “And yes, I think you are both in a bit of a state. Maybe the chance to get over your respective traumas somewhere neutral will help you both to recover. And I can work on building your protection with you from day to day. It will speed the whole process up.”

“In that case,” Rayne said sarcastically, “you’re on!”

Dominic finished making dinner and then made sure that Xav ate everything on his plate, and had second helpings. He had some political business to attend to at the House before he travelled up to Cheshire and so he bade them farewell, letting them know he’d be driving north on the following day and would meet them at the airport, since it would be quicker and more comfortable for Rayne and Xav to fly up when they were ready.

After Dominic had gone Rayne helped Xavier to pack, and opened the case he had brought back from Manchester to empty it and throw in some fresh clothing. The handful of garments that came out of the case were shoved hastily into the laundry basket but not before they caught Xav’s sharp eyes. He said nothing at the time but whilst Rayne was on the phone to Matty later, he slipped into the bathroom and investigated in more detail.

It felt a little bit wrong to be doing this but he was curious about what he’d thought he’d seen, and also the weirdly surreptitious way Rayne had tried to smuggle the clothing into the basket and out of sight.

Shoved down under the dark jeans and crumpled shirt Rayne had travelled up in, was a pair of sheer black stockings and a black silk, bias-cut dress that draped over his hands like something living. Xavier’s heart almost stopped as he retrieved them, then found lying beneath the dress a small, black and green lace basque top and thong.

He blinked, not sure what he was looking at. What did it mean? Did Rayne have a girlfriend on the side? Were these her things? And why bring them back with him? It made no sense.

Xavier was just about to slip the dress back into the hamper, which he almost didn’t want to do just because it seemed like a crime to crumple the delicate fabric like that, when he heard Rayne’s chill voice behind him.

“What are you doing?”

Xavier jumped, then winced and turned to see his lover standing in the doorway, his expression just about as flinty as his voice had been. Well, there was no use lying when you were caught bang to rights, was there?

“Um…snooping?” Xavier answered with a sheepish look and a little shrug. “Sorry…” He looked down helplessly, embarrassed at being caught. “You have a girlfriend?” he asked softly, fingering the silky fabric of the dress lightly.

Rayne opened his mouth and closed it again, taking a quick breath and a moment to collect his thoughts. He had no idea how Xavier would react to the truth, but was it better or worse than the idea of him seeing another woman? That was impossible to call. Xav knew he fucked other men and didn’t have a problem with it. Why not women?

It was, however, enough of a hesitation to make Xavier question any answer he might come up with. Rayne was caught between the proverbial rock and a very hard place.

“You got me,” he sighed, holding up his hands in surrender. “I guess I can’t hide anything from you, huh?”

Xavier gave him an impossible to read look, and then he let the soft material slip from his fingers back into the hamper. He tilted his head slightly, eyes narrowing on his lover. “Does she know about me?”

“You didn’t come up,” Rayne responded a bit too quickly, then bit his lip as if conscious of how that sounded.

“Uh-huh. Figures,” Xavier said, his voice still deceptively soft.

“I don’t see what you’re getting upset about.” His mate was a little bit defensive now.

Xavier chuckled humourlessly. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you lied about what you were going to Manchester for, or at least lied about why you wanted to go alone. Maybe because I’ve been someone’s dirty little secret before and I didn’t much like it then either.”

Rayne’s pale eyes moved to the hamper briefly and he licked his lips, clearly nervous with the situation but he leaned in the doorway and forced a shake of his head.

“I didn’t lie about why I had to go to Manchester,” he said in a firmer tone. “That was the truth. I didn’t go up there deliberately to see someone else. And I’ve had other guys whilst we’ve been together, you didn’t give me the whole Inquisition about Matt, or Aldo. I don’t see why this is such a problem, Xavier.”

Xavier set him with a hard stare. “Come on, Rayne. Fucking is just fucking. You never rubbed my nose in it, which I appreciate, but you never tried to hide when you were fucking someone else either. This…” He pointed an angry finger down at the clothes basket. “…you were trying to hide. Which makes me wonder why. I don’t care if you want the occasional piece of pussy, but if you’re hiding it maybe she’s more than just a casual fuck, huh?”

“I’m not hiding anything, Xav!” Rayne protested, pushing away from the doorway and coming to him at once, his hands held out in supplication. “I swear to you, it was a mistake. I was in a rush to get back here to you, I must have picked up her stuff and shoved it in the bag with mine. That’s all. I’ll get it cleaned and send it back.”

He bit down on that too late. It opened too many extra cans of worms. Unlife made you stronger in many respects but if you couldn’t lie for shit to start off with, it wasn’t going to make you any better at it.

“So, she’s not just a random hook up? You know where she lives?” Xavier said atonally. He was trying not to lose his temper but he was getting angrier by the moment thinking of the way he’d so complacently let Rayne go to Manchester alone, because he’d said he needed the space, and how badly he’d just wanted to comfort him. Seemed Rayne had found all the comfort he needed in some woman’s arms.

“Well… yeah.” Rayne dropped his hands to his sides and turned away, wondering how he could possibly have made this worse. He could not look Xavier in the eye and lie to him like this. But he had no idea how to tell him the truth without feeling utterly ridiculous.

The evasive gesture and reluctance emanating from Rayne only made Xavier more suspicious. After having just found out Rayne had a teenage son he hadn’t bothered to tell him about he couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps there was a secret wife he was hiding too. Xav reached out and cupped Rayne’s chin gently in his hand, turning his face toward him and leaning close enough to almost kiss him. “You’re lying, babe…I don’t know why, or exactly what about, but you’re lying about something. I’m not stupid.”

He let him go and let his hand drop heavily then moved around him, floating by in that graceful way he had, even though his ribs were aching again badly now and it was hard to breath around the lump in his throat. His brain was working a million miles a minute putting all sorts of painful scenarios in front him. Maybe this was the real reason Rayne had left him in Italy. Maybe he had forgotten about her when he lost his memory and that was the only reason he’d invited Xav to come home with him. Maybe this was why Rayne couldn’t say he loved him, because he loved someone else.

That last thought was like a hot knife twisting in his heart. Could he do this again? Could he be the third, lesser part of a triad? Could he hold his heart out in his hand and accept a pat on the head in return?

Rayne turned to watch him as he slipped by like a sleek little boat putting out to sea. His heart sank and he closed his eyes for a moment, resting his hands against the cool, smooth glass of the tub, wishing it was ripped and jagged so that he could draw his wrists along the edges and watch the blood well up and slide down those cold, green flanks. ‘Idiot! Idiot! Fucking.Stupid. Fucking Idiot!’ He forced his head back up, made himself say something before Xavier walked out of the door.

“You know… you do know, don’t you? That you’re the most important person in my life right now?” he said, feeling his pulse quicken almost painfully at that admission. It felt… needy, too raw, too exposed. And, on the heels of such a monumental lie, so blatantly false! Even though it was the truest thing he’d said in years.

Xavier had reached the doorway and he paused there as Rayne spoke. He was still angry, and if he was honest he was also very hurt. Was he hurt enough to walk out on Rayne though? Over a suspicion? His mind was preying on some of his worst fears, and even though Xav knew Rayne was lying about something to do with that dress, he didn’t know if any of those suspicions were true.

Of all the things Rayne could have said at that moment, for once he got very lucky. He didn’t know it but he couldn’t have chosen words that would have made more of an impact on Xavier. That was really all he’d ever wanted, to be important to Rayne. He didn’t need to have Rayne’s exclusive attention, he didn’t need flowery declarations, but knowing that at the end of the day (or fling!) that his lover wanted to be with him more than anyone else was the one thing that meant a great deal to him.

Xav looked back over his shoulder now hesitantly. “I am?” he asked in such a small quietly surprised voice it was almost childlike.

Rayne half turned almost mirroring his gesture, feeling a mixture of relief and surprise at that question and the tone of it. He truly did not deserve this boy but he wanted to be able to hold Xavier in his arms so badly right now.

“Yeah,” he said quietly, no embroidery this time. Nothing that would mess things up. “Yeah, you are. And I’m a fuckwit, and I don’t know why you’re still here, but… I’m glad. Okay?”

Xavier turned fully around and came back to him slowly. He slid his arms around Rayne’s waist and pressed his lips to his in a sweet kiss that grew in length and heat, his hands creeping up Rayne’s back until they were pressed between his shoulder blades, holding tight, and their tongues were passionately entwined. When they finally broke the lip lock Xav was a little breathless and his eyes were dark with desire.

“Don’t lie to me again, sweetheart. You suck at it,” he advised and kissed him again.

Rayne’s tongue slid seductively across Xavier’s lower lip, trailing into the corner of his lover’s mouth as he broke the kiss.

“I’ll suck at anything you want me to right now,” he promised huskily.

Xavier’s smile was full of promise as well as he pulled Rayne by the hand through into the bedroom. Clothes were quickly shed and they settled down onto the bed together, although once Xavier was naked it was a reminder he was still injured and they had to take it easy.

His dick didn’t seem to be in anyway considerate of the rest of his body, he was already hard and hot for his lover.

Rayne moved over him tenderly, clearly appreciative of just how much energy Dominic’s pampering had given his young lover. He was relieved on many levels that the argument had not spilled over into a full scale confessional though. Xavier was not well enough for a fight, for a start, but in truth Rayne did not want to fight with him. He had genuinely forgotten about the black dress in his luggage until he came to unpack. And that brought back the deep and abiding sadness of the last forty eight hours he spent in Manchester.

He was glad that Dave had turned up at the apartment, even though he had been ungrateful at the time. It had been a comfort to know that he was not alone, and also that his former lover’s partner had been thinking of him. Dave and his boyfriend Bernard had been good to Rayne in the past and it was a consolation to know that they were still looking out for him.

Xavier knew and understood, without being told, that sometimes Ray needed to be sexually submissive. It had taken Rayne far longer to come to terms with that himself than it took Xavier to comprehend it. But he was not sure how the younger man would react to the kind of relationship he had explored with Kevan. With Kev he had delved deeper into his psyche than at any time since his early twenties. There was too much of that year in Manchester that he was not ready to talk about yet.

Easier to lose himself in his lover’s arms and enjoy the moment. Even if that had been how he hid himself from the truth for so long.

Rayne took his time, kissing Xavier all over, letting his lips stroke tenderly over the bright blooms on his mate’s normally glowing, golden skin and delving more passionately into the unbruised regions. His fingers curled around Xavier’s straining shaft and worked him almost delicately. He knew from painful experience how bad a serious kick in the groin could feel, even a few days after the event. But Xav was hard and more than just willing.

Crazy kid! Rayne thought with a smile.

Xavier rolled his hips lightly into Rayne’s touch, enjoying the feel of his cool fingers wrapped around his shaft slipping smoothly up and down his skin. His own hands wandered restlessly over Rayne’s body and down to his sex, slipping around him in tandem with his strokes. He kissed into the crook of Rayne’s throat and sucked there gently.

Rayne knelt over him, careful not to put too much weight onto Xavier’s battered body but letting the blond lip and stroke him because it felt impossibly good. He rested his upper body weight on his right hand and worked Xavier’s hard on deftly with the left whilst kneeling astride his mate’s thighs.

“Jesus, I wanna fuck you!” he exhaled, his voice heavy with longing.

“I want you to fuck me too,” Xavier whispered back. He was trying to figure out how would be the most comfortable way. Since lifting his legs up around Rayne’s waist was going make him work his abdominals too much he decided turning over would be best and he rolled carefully between Rayne’s thighs, at least the smooth curves of his peachy cheeks were unbruised.

“Ahhh, my fuckin’ angel,” Rayne breathed, ever so lightly moving his nude body against Xavier’s back so that he could kneel astride his lover’s slender hips, stroking his needy cock between those sleek, ripe peaches.

He levered himself down slowly on his elbows and kissed Xavier’s shoulders and the back of his neck hungrily. The boy’s slim back was mottled with angry bruises too. The bastards must have rolled him to the ground then taken turns kicking him from all angles and Rayne seethed at the thought of it. Tonight when Xavier was sleeping, he decided, he was going to go and pay his illegitimate son a little visit. If Clint wouldn’t tell him voluntarily who had done this, he was going to extract the information forcibly. A beating like this could not be allowed to go unpunished.

Rayne was trying to shield the anger he was feeling from Xavier though, and kept his kisses light and tender all the way down the younger man’s spine until he could skate the tip of his tongue seductively around the tight little button of Xavier’s gorgeous arse.

Xavier pulled in a shuddering breath as he felt Rayne’s tongue lap at his sensitive ring. He never realized how difficult it was to keep still in the midst of a passionate romp. Even when he was restrained he moved within the bonds. As long as he kept his movement slow and not too exaggerated though he wasn’t in too much pain, not enough to want to stop anyway. He squirmed slightly, pushing his hard cock into the mattress under him as Rayne kissed and licked him, making him moan with pleasure.

“Mmmmhhh, you taste so good, sweetheart,” Rayne purred, blowing softly on the wetness of his lover’s twitching ring and watching it jump and pulse eagerly, a little smile pulling at his lips. “Need to make you a little bit wetter though if I’m not gonna hurt you too much.”

He knelt up and pulled a couple of pillows over, easing Xavier back on his knees just enough to layer the lovely, soft, plump pillows beneath his crotch and the work of modern art that was currently his belly. Letting Xav settle back down on them with a soft moan of pleasure, Rayne leaned over to the side of the bed and retrieved a little jar of aromatic lubricant from the drawer of his bedside cabinet.

Dipping two fingers into the scented salve, he got them good and slippery before rubbing the gel slowly over Xavier’s cute little pucker. Pressing his middle finger down firmly, he held his hand in place until it sank inside him easily.

“Mmm-uh…” Xav purred under the deft stroke of his lover’s fingers inside him. The slippery lube was cool against his skin at first but just about the time he detected the faint scent of mint his skin began to heat. The warmth spread everywhere Rayne touched, setting his sensitive nerve endings alight. “Uhhh…oh fuck…” he whimpered, circling his hips to push back on those invading digits as Rayne stretched and lubed him. “Uh, that’s…that’s…uhhh…” Xav groaned wordlessly. He wasn’t thinking about his bruises at all any more.

“That’s the way,” Rayne crooned huskily, driving slow gentle fingers into him over and over as he stroked the seductively scented lubricant up and down his shaft with his free hand, loving the tingle that it sowed beneath the fine, silken skin of his erect phallus.

Keeping up the slow pulsing rhythm, he deftly eased his cock head against Xavier’s flexing entrance and exchanged fingers for dick so smoothly that his softly moaning lover barely flinched. It felt so good to sink the urgently pulsing head into him though.

Xavier sighed silkily and lifted his hips higher, arching into Rayne’s slow thrust. He spread his thighs a little more, widening Rayne’s as well since he was riding astride him still. His fingers curled into the sheets as he rocked slightly, his tight sheath gripping the thick member sliding slowly into him. “God, that feels so good…” he murmured enthusiastically.

A low, lusty groan escaped Rayne’s throat as he prowled forward, bracing his hands in the bedclothes to either side of Xavier’s shoulders and rocking himself back and forth above his eager lover. Each movement of his body propelled him a little deeper into Xavier and he caught his breath as he felt the hot, wet sheath of his mate’s body grip him and pull him fiercely in.

The urge to just sink down on Xav, holding him and bucking against him the way they normally coupled, was frustrating and at the same time exciting. They were both holding back but it still felt amazing just being inside Xavier after days of abstinence.

The soft hollow of Rayne’s pelvis fitted perfectly against the curve of Xavier’s backside, pushing into the firm mounds of his ass as they moved together. They often started out slow and built in speed and intensity but this time, out of necessity, they kept to the slower more careful pace. It didn’t matter to Xavier, the slow and steady thrust of Rayne’s cock inside him and the feel of the vampire’s cool thighs caressing his were sensually erotic. Any way was good when Rayne was involved.

Slipping a hand beneath him he caressed along his own rock hard shaft, moving in slow undulations that impaled him on Rayne’s dick on the backstroke and into pushed him into that curled fist as he thrust forward again. He kept his grip light though, and his strokes easy, and that had nothing at all to do with having gotten kicked in the balls. Rayne often made him wait for it, especially when he was hungry and wanted to swallow his cum. Xav never felt deprived though, quite the opposite, it was a major turn on to get to the edge and have to hold back.

“Mmmhhh…” Rayne exhaled along the line of his nape as he rocked himself slowly in and out, balanced on his knees and the heels of his hands. “You feel fantastic, sweetheart. So smooth and so fuckin’ hot! That is just… a-fuckin’-mazing!”

It was too. Xavier’s body was snug against his own, his firm buttocks rubbing and swaying a little more urgently in the smooth hollows of his sensitive groin, their lean thighs creating a seductive frottage as he eased back and forth above the sexy blond. Every little grip and twitch of Xavier’s hot, slippery channel shivered up the shaft of his cock like sonar to his balls, bringing him steadily closer and closer. He could feel his head throbbing with need deep inside the boy, releasing a slow stream of precum that only served to make Xavier feel wetter and sexier.

“Uhhhh… Jesus fuckin’ Christ! I love this!” the vampire growled eagerly.

Xavier’s breathing had deepened, a light sheen of moisture on his skin. He purred his agreement with Rayne. “Yeah…oh, fuck yeah…so fuckin good…” His own cock was hot and slippery in his hand as they surged together and he was getting there now, the low tightening buzz building in him with each stroke of Rayne’s long, fleshy bone deep inside.

A soft urgent keen rose from his throat, but this time Rayne didn’t whisper for him to try and hold it, instead he nuzzled into the crook of his throat and lipped at the marks on his neck, humming there encouragingly. That was all the push Xav needed and his body flexed and shivered under Rayne once, and then once more before his breath hitched in his throat and the coil inside sprung free to release an ecstatic orgasm.

“Uuuuhhh!! Uuhhh! Ohmifuckingod!” he moaned as he spilled into the soft pillows cradling him below.

“Ohyeah! Ohyeahyeahyeah!” Rayne sighed against his neck, letting the quickening pulse and clench around his eager sex milk him hard. It took every ounce of will that he had not to sink down on top of Xavier as the climax built and built and finally burst out of him.

Biting down on the two little marks, he used the taste of Xavier’s hot blood to focus him as he shuddered above the younger man, enjoying the pleasure of his lover’s orgasm from within and without. He was sharing Xavier’s pleasure through the blood even as he filled the beautiful young man with his own love and lust, coming down onto his elbows and knees, bracing himself over Xavier’s cruelly battered body.

He did not feed. As soon as he could control his own breathing he lapped tenderly at the bites, healing them as he rocked himself slowly out of Xav’s delicious passage.

Panting and nearly dizzy with pleasure Xav still whimpered longingly as Rayne withdrew both his teeth and his cock. He felt both incredibly contented and at the same time wished Rayne wouldn’t have stopped so soon. It had been far too long since Rayne had feed deeply from him, and although Xavier understood why, he longed for that sinking drowning intimate connection. He also knew that if he hadn’t been in such bad shape Rayne probably would have fed from him longer. Ah well, patience never had been his strong point.

He rolled to his back carefully as Rayne shifted off him, a drowsy contented smile on his face. He just lay there peacefully, not feeling like moving. It wasn’t long though before the aches of his exertions settled into a dull throbbing in every muscle. With less reluctance this time he took one of the painkillers and let Rayne tuck the duvet around him, curling up blissfully with his lover until sleep tugged him down.

Rayne lay snuggled against him for a long time afterwards. He felt such a heavy sense of contentment lying here with his arms around Xavier, listening to him breathing and inhaling the sweet, hot, sensual aroma of his naked body.

I wish I could tell you, he thought dejectedly. I wish to god I could tell you the truth, but I don’t always get it myself. You’ve been so good to me, Xavier. And good FOR me as well. And I know you’ve been through some shit and you’ve seen just about everything… I wish I could tell you and know that you wouldn’t laugh at me. Everything would be okay then. I could let it all go.

He cuddled up close until he was sure that Xavier was sound asleep, then tenderly kissed the mussed golden nest of his hair and tucked him in a little tighter.

Rayne showered and dressed, pulling on neutral, tight, dark jeans and a fitted top then sliding a lightweight hooded cardigan over it and a mid-length jacket. There were pockets in the jacket for money and his phone and a knife, even though he did not need weapons. Sometimes the currency of a blade was more valid than the baring of teeth.

He bent over Xav and kissed the boy’s hair again, smiling as his lover wriggled and moaned sleepily in response then settled into a deeper layer of dreams. He would be safe behind the wards that protected the apartment and Rayne felt only the reluctance of a thwarted lover as he slipped silently out into the night in search of his prey.

It was cold outside, the sharper edges of autumn crisping the nighttime air and drawing little clouds of breath from passers by. Rayne ignored them, he was focussed and quiet inside as he walked the darkened streets, enjoying the relative stillness of London at night. He felt his way, but followed the information he had been given as well. Xavier had talked to him of the day he spent with Clint before he was attacked and related what he remembered, that Clint had taken him to places where Rayne had once lived.

It took about three quarters of an hour to walk up to Kilburn and he wandered the old familiar streets there for about an hour more before he sensed it. He had been walking in circles deliberately and the traces were definitely following his own. The boy was stalking him, for sure.

Rayne doubled back and pulled into a deeply recessed doorway, lighting a cigarette and waiting. He was far enough off the street to be invisible and sure enough a dark shadow hurried past moments later, then came back more slowly, less certainly than before. The vampire pinched out his smoke and pushed away from the wall, making himself still and silent as Clint moved into the shadows, briefly blocking out the street beyond.

He moved fast then, a hand reaching for the boy’s throat, slamming him back against the reinforced glass of the shop window. The whole unit shuddered and Clint made a strangled, frightened sound as he thrashed and kicked, trying to get free. Rayne’s fingers loosened and he let the boy down to his feet but didn’t release him.

“You and me, we need to have a little talk,” he said huskily.

“I didn’t hurt him!” Clint protested at once. “I dunno what that lanky shite, Matt’s been telling you but I never touched him, on my life! I went back to look for him and I found him like that, on the floor. He’d have died if I hadn’t gone back for him.”

“And why did you go back for him then? Conscience pinching you was it?” Rayne gripped him fiercely under the chin and shook him like a dog shaking a rat.

“Nnnnn…” Clint threw his head from side to side desperately. “Please…! Lemme go… please! Don’t kill me. Xav told me… he told me to be careful. I know now… I know what you are.”

The vampire let go of him as if he was suddenly too hot and Clint staggered back against the glass wall, putting a hand to his throat and gasping for breath. He did not try to run though. Perhaps it was beyond him, but Rayne did not think so.

“What did he tell you?” he asked in a dangerously quiet voice.

“He…” Clint swallowed. “He told me that if I met anyone else that felt the way you did, I was s’posed to run like fuck. Just get the fuck away.”

Rayne blinked at him, trying to see past the plain facts of that admission. He kept his tone neutral as he asked; “What am I then, kiddo? C’mon, you’re the fuckin’ expert here. What is it you’re meant to be running away from?”

Clint was still panting rapidly but he breathed deep enough to whisper; “You’re a Vampire. You drank my blood. You let me stab you but there’s no scar on you. You’re not human.”

Now Rayne sank back against the opposite window, just staring at his living shadow as he weighed up his options. Dominic had once warned him that it might come to this. His half-vampire son would inevitably work out the truth; would come to understand what it was that drew him to his father like a magnet draws a pin. He had hoped that it would take Clint longer, that’s all.

“So what does that make you, huh?” he asked softly, shaking his head.

“I…” Clint swallowed again, looking suddenly very small, very young. “I dunno.”

“Why did you go after Xavier the other night?” Rayne quizzed him, still leaning back against the window, a paler shade in the deep shadows. “Why not leave him if you just wanted to punish me?”

“I didn’t set him up! I swear on my life,” Clint protested, more vehemently. “I likehim, Ray. He’s all right.”

“Why go after him then?” The vampire was still curious.

“He… he left his phone,” Clint said warily, perhaps sensing that it wouldn’t do him any good to tell the whole truth. “I found it after he’d gone and ran after him to give it back. Ask him. He’ll tell you it’s true. I was following his traces the way I follow you. I can feel him in my head the same way, but he’s not like you. I don’t know how, but I can just feel him. And I could feel that he was in trouble. I started to run but I couldn’t find him at first. Then I saw these guys walk out of a side street, one of them was wearing his jacket. I didn’t take them on, they’d ‘ave pasted me. But when they’d gone I went up the street and I found him. I helped him to get home and I waited til Matt came with the key then I cleared off. I know that gobshite doesn’t like me.”

“You’ve not exactly given him any reason to like you, Clint,” Rayne reminded him tersely.

“He’s like you. He’s one of them,” the boy announced, narrowing his eyes.

Rayne contemplated his next response.

“Yeah,” he sighed at last. “He’s a vampire. I made him that way.”

“But I’m not and Xavier’s not,” Clint reasoned.

“No. It doesn’t work like that.” Rayne pushed himself upright and Clint backed self-consciously towards the street, putting distance between them. “I’m not going to touch you. I probably couldn’t Turn you, but you’ve got some of my DNA so you’re half vamp already. You’ve probably figured you’re hard to hurt and you know that you see and feel stuff other guys can’t. That’s because of what you are.”

“What about Xav?” Clint wanted to know. “He’s not your kid. But he heals good. I’ve seen blokes die after getting a kicking like that. He made me walk him home. I wanted him to let me ring for an ambulance but he wouldn’t.”

Rayne felt a little spike of pain inside at the thought of Xavier struggling against the pain, still probably bleeding inside, but desperate to get back to the apartment and just rest; too scared to go to hospital. He bent his head letting his long, dark forelock hide the expression on his face for a moment. When he looked up Clint was watching him warily.

“No, he’s not a vampire either,” he said huskily. “It’s something to do with the bites I’ve given him. It makes him… stronger I guess.”

“And he can feel other vamps, like I do,” Clint said seriously. He hesitated. “You believe me, don’t you? I wouldn’t hurt him. I never meant him to get hurt. I figured he’d stay the night up at the State with us but he wanted to get back.”

“You’re squatting at the old picture house?” Rayne asked, his lips quirking slightly at the thought of it.

“Yeah.” Clint nodded, slightly wary now. He’d not meant to give away his location but it was done now. “Is he okay? Xavier, I mean?”

“Took you long enough to ask,” Rayne said a little bit sharply, but when Clint’s eyes widened he sighed and nodded his head. “He’s going to be okay, yeah. He’s pretty sore right now, but he’ll live. I suppose I ought to thank you for that.”

Clint’s face almost cracked a smile so he quickly added; “Of course, if he’d not been trailed all the way up to bloody Kilburn and left to walk home on his own in the dark he’d not be black and blue and living on fuckin’ painkillers.”

“I’m sorry,” the boy choked at once. “I’m really, really sorry. Tell him… please. Tell him I was asking about him. Some of the guys from the State want to know when he’s gonna come back and show them more dance moves.”

Rayne shook his head slowly. In spite of his anger and his concern, the thought of Xavier mixing it with a bunch of dossers who wanted to know how he worked the moves he did on stage amused him.

“Would you recognise the blokes that you saw come out of the street afterwards if you saw them again?” he asked, determined not to lose sight of the reasons for coming out here tonight.

“I dunno, it was dark,” Clint said awkwardly. “I sort of remember how they felt though. I think I’d know the one that took his jacket, he had a kind of shark-face. I didn’t like the vibe he was giving off much.”

Rayne moved smoothly towards him, coming level with his son as they reached the street. Clint still backed away, his eyes nervous and mistrustful. He touched his throat again, defensively.

“If you see them again, ring me, or come and find me,” Rayne told him. “You know how to get hold of me?”

“I can come to the house?” Clint asked speculatively.

“Don’t push your luck.” Rayne laughed, his tone slightly harsher. “Do you need anything?”

Clint shrugged, a universal gesture of teenage dismissal. He shoved his hands into the deep pockets of his baggy coat. Rayne hesitated for a second then dipped into his breast pocket and pulled out a couple of fairly high denomination notes. He held them out and Clint looked at them as if he’d served the boy an eviction notice.

“Well… if you don’t need it…” the vampire sighed, making a move to put them back.

Clint’s hand flashed from his coat and snatched the money before it disappeared again. He rammed it back down into his own pocket determinedly, his cheeks slightly flushed.

“You’re welcome!” Rayne said sarcastically, when it was clear that no form of appreciation was going to be forthcoming. He turned on his heel and walked back down the High Road the way he had come.

Clint watched him until he was out of sight then sat down heavily on the pavement outside the shop doorway, his limbs still shaking furiously for a long while after Rayne Wylde had disappeared.

~*~

The painkillers had him doped pretty good and Xavier slept deeply and thankfully without any nightmares. He only stirred slightly when Rayne’s cool body slipped back into bed beside him and he settled back down without waking. He radiated heat like a little furnace with his lover wrapped lightly around him.

When he woke up the next morning he stretched sleepily and noticed he was slightly less stiff and sore then he had been the day before. Although ‘slightly less’ than terrible pain meant he still ached from head to toe and was not moving too fast.

Rayne wasn’t in bed with him so he got up and went to take a shower, stopping to look in the mirror on the way. The bruises were still a dark purple-black in the centres but when he studied them closely he saw the very edges were beginning to get a feathery lighter look to them. That was pretty amazing really. It’d only been two days and Xav knew from experience that bruises like these usually got worse for a few days before they started getting any better. These looked like he’d maybe been wearing them a week already!

Dominic’s herbs must have really worked, he thought. His ribs still ached like a bitch though and he carefully got into the shower.

When he got back out he wrapped a towel around his waist and wandered toward the heavenly smell of fresh brewed coffee drifting through the apartment. His lover was in the kitchen when Xavier found him, as was Matty Greening, but the younger vampire was mutedly polite this morning. He wore as serious an expression as Xav had ever seen on his sharp, piercing modified features. Matt was inhaling the steam from a mug of black coffee and Rayne poured another for Xavier without being asked. He was perched on the edge of the kitchen counter like a teenager, bare feet swinging lightly.

“You look better than the last time I clocked you,” Matty commented, flashing a fanged grin at Xav.

Xav took the mug from Rayne gratefully, kissing his cheek lightly before going for the cream and sugar. He gave Matty a slightly lopsided grin as he slid onto a bar stool. The last time he’d wandered into the kitchen in nothing but a towel to find Matt Greening in there, Rayne’s ex hadn’t been nearly as pleasant. Xav sipped almost delicately at the coffee before he answered, “I feel a bit better.”

Actually he still felt like he’d been hit by a truck and was a little fuzzy headed from the trace of narcotic still in his system.

“What time is it? When do we have to go?” Xav asked, taking a deeper sip of coffee.

“There’s no rush, we can go whenever you’re comfortable. If we fly up today I need to confirm the seats by mid-day though,” Rayne said levelly, stroking his hair.

“So how long are you gonna be up there?” Matty wanted to know.

His Sire shrugged one shoulder casually. “Not sure, until Lady W gets sick of us I guess. When he was trying to teach me to use protection spells I was up and down from there all the time.”

“We were on tour as well, though,” Matt reminded him, as much for Xavier’s benefit. He winked at the young mortal. “Imagine that? On the fuckin’ road for three months with a neurotic baby vampire! How much fuckin’ fun was that!”

Matty laughed and shook his ragged blond dreads incredulously at the memory.

Xavier did try and imagine it and had to shake his own head. Thinking of how it felt when he was being bombarded by everyone else’s emotions and then thinking what it would be like to then be dropped into a concert setting, not only that but having to be on stage and perform? Holy shit, he didn’t think he could’ve done it. He would’ve gone totally batshit.

Staring contemplatively into his mug he was reminded keenly of his own problems right now with control and keeping people out of his head, whether they were trying to get in or not. Dominic had suspected that if there was distance between him and Rayne that he might have more trouble, and he’d been right. While Rayne had been in Manchester Xav could hardly walk down the street without his mood shifting with each person he passed. He couldn’t always be tied to Rayne’s side (as appealing as that sounded) and unless he wanted to become a recluse he needed to get a handle on this.

“I think we should go today.” Xavier said, a hint of determination in his tone. “Picking up everyone else’s emotional shit every time I go out the door is making me crazy. I mean, it’s gotten better since Italy… but when you were gone it was a lot harder to block things out. I wanna figure out why and Dom seems pretty sure he can help.”

“He’s a good teacher,” Matty said cheerfully. “Nice house as well. Mental as anything, but he’s fairly harmless.”

“It’s his taste in sidekicks that I always question,” Rayne commented in a rather more sour tone.

“Awrr…” Matt chuckled at him and winked at Xavier over his mug. “Gabe’s a pussycat! He’s gorgeous, Ray’s just jealous.”

“All I’m saying is, if you’re gonna have your host’s lapdog try to hump your fuckin’ leg you don’t want him to be six foot plus with fangs that could rip the throat out of a rhino!” Rayne argued.

“He’s cute though,” Matty said, still grinning at Rayne’s obvious agitation. “And he understands the wizardy stuff. Sometimes he explains it better too.”

“He’s got a magic wand to die for!” Rayne mimicked Matty’s coy tone nastily and made kissy faces at him.

Matt calmly flicked him the bird in response. “Like I said; jealous!”

Xavier long lashes were at half mast as he looked from one to the other off them. Privately he thought Matty was being foolish if he thought Dominic washarmless, but he wasn’t going to enlighten him. Besides, something more important had grabbed his attention. “What’re you talking about?”

Both Rayne and Matt looked at him but it was Matt that finally spoke up. “Didn’t anyone tell you DW’s lover is a werewolf?”

Xav blinked slowly at him. “A… like, a real werewolf?” Xav asked slowly, not sure if they were teasing him.

“Would there be any point in pretending to be a werewolf?” Rayne asked, almost rhetorically.

“What other kind of werewolf is there?” Matty grinned. “Course he’s real, sugar tits. Are you scared now?”

Xav gave him a narrow look. “No, I’m not scared,” he answered flatly.

Rayne stretched out one foot and gave his Fledge a little shove that almost knocked him off the chair. “Okay, stop fucking about with him now.”

Matt sulked for a millisecond, then looked slyly at Xavier. “He’s hung like a werebull!”

“I said, stop it!” Rayne threw a teaspoon at him which clipped the side of Matt’s head and made him yelp.

Xav couldn’t help the little smile that curled his lips but he hid it behind his mug as he took another sip of his coffee. He supposed he should be irritated that yet again he’d been left in the dark about something kind of important, but at least he’d found out this time before he’d really stepped in it so he wasn’t too worked up. He glanced at Rayne speculatively now though, and it didn’t take much to guess with all the innuendo and Rayne’s desire to shut Matty up that he’d probably fucked this guy…er, werewolf.

Xavier didn’t need to ask. The look he gave Rayne said he knew, now Rayne looked uncomfortable but Xav softened his expression into a smile. His cup empty he got up to rinse it in the sink. His towel had slipped down a bit so that it was clinging rather precariously to his narrow hips, the barest touch threatening to drop it entirely, and giving his boyfriend and Matt a tantalising view of his sleek backside despite the discolouration of the bruises there.

“So, is there anything else I should know?” Xav asked while he washed the cup. “Is there werewolf etiquette like vampire etiquette? You know, like no jokes about crotch sniffing, or something?”

“He’s a mutt,” Rayne said darkly. “They don’t have etiquette. Throw him a fuckin’ stick and he’ll be happy.”

“Sit on his fuckin’ stick and he’ll be happier!” Matty giggled.

This time Rayne gave him no warning but he did kick the chair out from under the younger vampire as he hopped down from the counter to fetch his mobile and ring the airport. He leaned up against Xavier whilst he was waiting for the call to connect, gently divesting the boy of his towel and stroking a cool hand up and down his belly, into his groin. The touch was light but made painful muscles dance involuntarily under his fingers.

Xavier swayed back into Rayne, a soft moan on his lips as his fingers caressed him. He turned in his lover’s embrace, snaking his own arms around him and nipping lightly at the side of his throat. Xav’s eyes glinted playfully at Rayne as the call connected and he started to talk. Xav skated his hand down his boyfriend’s belly and crotch, grinning slightly as he fondled him through his jeans. He didn’t think whoever was on the other end would be as appreciative as Dominic had been of Rayne’s distraction on the phone though.

Rayne closed his eyes, biting his lips over a low moan as he listened to the operator and managed to answer her questions as neutrally as possible. Just occasionally his words trailed off into a little sigh as he and Xavier caressed one another. Even Matty was chuckling softly into his hand as he watched the performance.

Xav licked the curve of Rayne’s ear as he eased down his zipper and slid his hand inside. He grinned impishly as Rayne stumbled over a word and closed his eyes. Curling his fingers very lightly around his shaft Xav slowly jacked him until Rayne was stiff and throbbing in his hand. Rayne seemed to be listening to something that the operator was saying on the other end of the line for he made small, affirmative noises in between moving the phone away from his face to breathe a little harder.

“Uhuhh… Mmmm… yeah… thr-three-thirty… fine… yeah… j-just two… uhuhhhh… that’s right… right… yeah… mmmhhh, that’s good…”

His eyes opened and he looked straight at Xavier as he said this last part, licking his lips hungrily. His eyes glittered with mischief and no small amount of lust.

“Ohh yeah, that’s really good!” he panted appreciatively.

Matty, who was still sitting on the floor was killing himself all over again trying not to laugh out loud.

Still grinning Xavier leaned closer as if he were going to kiss Rayne but detoured at the last moment to nibble along his jaw. A moment later he had the button on Rayne’s jeans popped and was slipping carefully down to his knees, tugging them halfway down his thighs as he went. He gave Rayne’s hips a little push, backing him against the cupboard before he wrapped his hand more firmly around his cock and took him into the heat of his mouth.

“Uhhh…” Rayne’s voice quivered on the edge of a response and he put his hand over the phone and groaned desperately. His fingers tapped Xavier’s shoulder, then pointed down in the direction his jeans had already gone. “Wuhh… wallet!” he panted.

Xav ran a hand down his leg without even lifting up off him and retrieved the requested item from his pocket, passing it back up with a grin that stretched his lips teasingly around Rayne’s shaft. Matt was snorting into his hand as he rolled around on the floor watching this, his skinny sides shaking furiously.

With the phone propped between his cheek and his shoulder, Rayne juggled his credit card out of the wallet deftly and squinted at the number. It took him three attempts to read it out. Xavier’s mouth felt so good around his cock by now that he was tempted to just pretend he’d lost his connection.

Xavier continued his oral assault, skilfully working his lips wetly over Rayne’s straining shaft while his lover tried to get all the information out over the phone. He had no idea whether he managed to get everything sorted or not by the time he hung up and he didn’t care, Xav was too busy gently sucking first one smooth nut and then the other while he stroked up and down on his shaft.

Rayne dropped the phone and his wallet lightly onto the counter beside him and forced the fingers of both hands through Xavier’s blond curls.

“You are evil!” he exhaled huskily, gazing down at him with eyes gone dark with lust. “You will pay for that!”

His fingers laced at the nape of Xavier’s neck and he guided his lover’s lips to the head of his straining erection and began to thrust slow and hard between them, pushing against the roof of his mouth.

Xavier looked up at him, batting his eyelashes coyly as he wriggled his tongue on the underside of Rayne’s cock head. His eyes slipped closed as he opened wider and relaxed his jaw. Rayne pushed deeper and Xav moaned a soft hum of pleasure around him, tightening his lips around his shaft.

“That’s more like it,” Rayne crooned happily. “Ohhhh yeah! Suck that for me, sweetheart. Suck me off, you little fuckin’ tease!”

His eyes moved beyond the top of his lover’s head towards Matt, who was still sprawled on the floor against the cupboard doors. His Fledge had one hand down the front of his pants, tugging eagerly on his cock as he watched the naked mortal kneel and take Rayne in his mouth so sweetly. Rayne’s eyes widened but the smile on his lips was almost feral as he glanced down to where Xavier’s firm, golden cheeks swayed restlessly from side to side. Even on his knees, giving head, he could not sit still.

Matty’s grin had fangs as he knelt up and unbuttoned his fly, releasing his long, curving, multiple-pierced cock. He crawled slowly towards them now, his dark, hungry gaze fixed on Xavier’s pert arse.

Xav was so focused he didn’t notice Matt moving until he felt cool hands caress lightly over his hips. He didn’t exactly pause what he was doing but there was a small hesitation on his forward glide. He didn’t make any protest though. He was not exactly in the best of shape for an energetic threesome, but his hard cock didn’t seem aware of this.

Matt bent his head, spitting on the pulsing crown of his cut dick and stroking the wetness slowly between Xav’s cheeks. His lips wandered slowly over the younger man’s neck, grazing his skin ever so gently with his sharp little fangs.

Rayne leaned against the counter, arching his back and thrusting faster in his lover’s mouth but he growled; “Easy, Matthew! Don’t ‘urt him or I will make you suffer, babe.”

“Promises, promises!” Matty crooned, spooning up against Xav from behind and rubbing himself eagerly between the blond youth’s slender thighs. The studded ring in the head of his prick nudged Xavier’s balls urgently and he licked the blond’s naked back as his long, honey-coloured dreadlocks tickled Xavier’s shoulders and arms.

Xav might have given the vampire a warning to take it easy as well but Rayne had his mouth a bit too occupied for that and the fingers laced behind his head did not want to let him come up. That was all right with him though, giving head always got him so hot. Especially like this, where it was easy for him to take his lover right down to the base, which he did now with a purr of pleasure in his throat.

Xav’s smaller frame fit nicely into the arch of Matt’s body, the feel the vampire’s lips and soft hair tickling along his skin made Xav shiver and he swayed his pert little ass seductively against his crotch.

If there was one thing Matty understood, it was pain; how to cause it and how to avoid it too. From a personal point of view, he loved a little bit of hurt with the hotness, but Xavier really was beat up and it was only the fact that he could feelRayne’s recent session with the boy that assured him it would be okay. His tongue lapped sweetly down Xavier’s naked back making him wriggle as hard as he dared to. Gently he kissed and licked at the tight pucker of flesh between the mortal’s cheeks. Such a sexy little bud, it was! Matty licked his finger and eased it in, pumping the boy’s hole slowly and spitting a slow river of drool over the flexing ring until he felt that Rayne’s adorable mate was ready for a second finger.

Rayne was looking intently into Xavier’s eyes as the blond sucked and gagged on him, determined not to let up unless he absolutely had to breathe. Matt’s fangs were out and his hunger was contagious but Rayne kept it under control, moving slower in his lover’s mouth as he watched Matty stroking a handful of saliva and pre-cum up and down his slick, studded shaft. He was ready to come but knew that Xavier would probably beat him to it, especially when that long, curving, studded tool slipped into him and began to stroke his prostate hard.

If he could not take his lover’s blood he at least wanted to have his lips around Xavier’s cock when that moment arrived, and if that meant holding off on his own climax for a few minutes it would be worth the wait.

Xavier slowed down on Rayne as he felt his lover ease back some. He didn’t let him go entirely though, still caressing him with his mouth slowly as Matty stretched and readied him. He wriggled a little more eagerly, desire warring with the need to go slow and easy. His mouth watered with the salty taste of his mate’s precum on his tongue and his fingers flexed where they held on lightly to Rayne’s thighs.

The soft little hums and purrs of pleasure he gave grew deeper as he felt the pierced head of Matt’s cock push against his ring and pop inside. His eyes closed and his thighs spread further almost automatically. His own erection curved lightly up his flat belly, clear drops of precum glistening at his slit and sliding down slowly. Matt sunk in a bit deeper and Xav’s groan reverberated through Rayne’s shaft as he hungrily went down on him.

Matty rocked forward, crouching astride Xavier as Rayne whispered; “Bring him up for me, sweetheart.”

He needed no further instruction. For years Matty had been closely attuned to his Sire’s needs, even before he was Turned he had always done his best to give Rayne what he most deeply desired and now it was almost second nature for him. His arms folded possessively around Xavier’s body, not pulling him tight but enfolding him closely so that when he began to rise from a crouch, with his cock buried inside the delicious young man, Xavier had to come with him.

It would have hurt to try and stay on his knees. It hurt a little to rise but he was supported all the way by Matt’s arms and his deceptively slender body. The blond maned vampire was stronger than he looked. His hand slid up Xavier’s chest to his neck and throat, pulling the young mortal back into his arms as he slowly stood upright, with Xav still impaled on his erect dick.

Rayne’s fingers released Xavier’s hair and in spite of his best attempts to keep sucking, Xav was gently pulled off his lover’s cock. At the same time Rayne sank to his knees and it all made sense. Ray nuzzled softly into Xavier’s crotch and kissed the mottled skin there, his lips no more than a whisper against the silky flesh. Behind Xavier, Matt began to thrust steadily, letting him feel each slow, invasive stroke of his pierced cock shaft.

The whole manoeuvre was achieved smoothly, gracefully, almost effortlessly, which Xavier could well appreciate in his battered state. The arm that slid around him and up his chest remained firmly in place, as did the long fingers circling his throat. Although Matty didn’t apply much pressure, that hold sent ripples of excitement shuddering through Xav in ways he wouldn’t have cared to explain, but it was clear enough to both vampires how turned on he was. He was panting slightly and his eyes were huge and dark with desire as he wriggled between them.

Xav leaned forward, bracing his hands on the counter for balance and rolling his hips fluidly to impale himself harder on Matt’s thrusting cock. The little metal balls of his ladder were doing incredible things to his sensitive ring and, inch by inch, to the quivering cum button deep inside him.

“Uhhh! Yes-s-s-s…” he breathed. “Just like that…” He squeezed the muscles inside on the backstroke, milking Matty’s long member as he tumbled deeper into the pleasure zone.

Matt uttered a low, gasping, growling sound that was something less than human. He rolled with the motion of Xavier’s hips, pushing smoothly into him as Xavier came back to meet him. His breath was as cool as a draught from the grave on the blond man’s neck and his fangs scraped the skin there once more but did not bite.

Rayne’s tongue caressed the underbelly of Xavier’s prominent shaft, lashing intimately up and down the throbbing vein that ran from his lover’s aching balls to the swollen, leaking head of his delicious prick. He kissed his lover’s cock with a passion to match Xav’s own, working the tip of his wriggling tongue upward slowly until it was teasing the slit in the plump, purple glans and lapping up the salty spill that wept from the single eye.

“Reach up,” he breathed huskily. “Put your hands at the back of Matt’s head and keep them there. Give yourself to us. Let us do whatever we want with you.”

Xavier’s head suddenly swam with a dizzy rush at his lover’s words and his moan was more like a whimper of need. He did as Rayne told him, reaching up slowly and stretching himself carefully to lace his fingers behind Matt’s neck. His body arced lightly, curved against Matt’s front. He may have been badly bruised and sore but his lean dancer’s body was still strong and fluidly graceful. His head turned to one side, rubbing his cheek almost cat like on the taller man shoulder and unconsciously elongating the slender column of his throat right under the vampire’s nose.

“Fuckin’ fang-teaser!” Matty panted, driving into him slow and hard.

Rayne chuckled softly, with his mouth full, cupping Xavier in one cool, long-fingered hand and caressing his balls very carefully.

Xavier’s thighs quivered as the low vibration coupled with the smooth caress of Rayne’s tongue stud on the sensitive underside of his cock head drove him up a few notches. He balanced between the two men easily as they moved together, Matty sinking into him over and over and Rayne getting down to serious business sucking his throbbing cock. He let the flow of their rhythm take over, crooning his pleasure in soft little mewls as they fucked him with a slow simmering passion. He pulsed between Rayne’s soft lips and Matty’s throbbing tool, his breath quickening as he climbed higher and higher.

“Ohhhh…uhh, I’m gonna cum!” he got out breathlessly a second before the explosion rocked him.

Rayne nodded down on him, swallowing his enthusiastic ejaculation deep. His breath was fast and needy in Xavier’s bucking crotch as he lifted his head, a fierce smile parting his cum-glossed lips. Their eyes met for a moment, all alive with passion and pleasure.

“Uhhh… yessss!” Matty hissed ecstatically as he fucked a few good blasts of his own into the tight vacuum of Xavier’s twitching chute.

As he pulled his leaking prick slowly out of the blond boy’s arse, Rayne pounced on the other vampire and put him on the floor. Xavier only had a moment to wonder if he felt slighted before he understood his lover’s reasoning. Rayne was fired up and normally that wouldn’t be a problem between them but today he was still concerned about hurting Xav. And so it was Matty who bore the brunt of his savage hunger.

Rayne had him pinned down in a flash and was up him almost immediately. Matt screamed like a drama queen as his Sire hammered him fast and deep, his eyes closed tightly as he bucked the last of his frustration into Matt’s more than willing arsehole. The groan Rayne’s climax tore from his throat was low and animalistic as he sank against Matt’s arching back, but it was Xavier that he pulled in for a long slow kiss once he could breathe again.

A confusing wash of emotions swirled around inside Xav as he returned Rayne’s sweet kisses with a tender fire. Although he understood the reason, he was still envious of the unrestrained passion Rayne just spent in Matty and at the same time it had felt a bit ‘off’ watching them and knowing that Rayne was using his ex as a fill in for himself right now. Xav knew Matt liked the rough handling but he didn’t seem to mind being used like that either. The vampire definitely had a happy, sated, glow about him which only made it seem weirder to Xav and he had an inkling now of why Rayne and Matty weren’t together anymore.

Rayne broke off the kiss, gently bumping their noses together for a moment or two before leaning back with a satisfied sigh. Xavier impulsively leaned toward Matt and took his chin in his hand, giving him a sweet and hot kiss, if briefer than the one he’d shared with Rayne. After all, he’d sucked Matty off, been bitten by him, and let him fuck him, but in all that he hadn’t yet kissed him.

“Awww, you all right, Lover?” the lanky blond vampire purred happily at him. “That was a blast, by the way.”

“Don’t get used to it,” Rayne warned him, levering himself to his feet and buttoning his fly. His fingers tugged on Matty’s dreadlocks and the younger vamp looked up at him with a fanged grin.

“Killjoy!”

“That’s me,” Rayne nodded, reaching down to help Xavier to his feet. “Now fuck off. We’ve got a plane to catch or hadn’t you noticed?”

Matt bounced to his feet and made himself decent with a little sigh.

“Have fun with the big bad wolf,” he teased, winking at Xav.

Xavier just shook his head, a small grin tugging at one corner of his mouth. The other man just didn’t know when to quit! Picking up the towel he’d been briefly wearing he dropped it over his shoulder and headed back out of the kitchen. “See you later,” he said before disappearing to get cleaned up and maybe lay back down for a little while before they had to leave.

When Xavier came out of the en suite, his mate had already cleaned up in the other bathroom and changed into a pair of dark, fitted suit pants and a tailored, dark green shirt. He was sitting on the chest at the foot of the bed, his dark hair slicked back from his face, playing with one of his rings. Xavier had noticed it before but at the time it hadn’t registered as anything significant. The platinum band had a lot of very tiny, very twinkly little stones set in a line around it. His instincts said diamonds, which made it a special piece of bling already. The position on the third finger of his left hand already had his mind working overtime, especially in light of his discovery of the dress yesterday.

Rayne took it off when he came out of the bathroom but he slipped it over the index finger of the other hand and carried on playing with it distractedly.

“Taxi’s coming in three quarters of an hour,” the vampire said, looking up at him with a fond little smile.

Xavier nodded and quietly went about getting dressed, aiming for comfort. He’d already thrown the necessaries for the trip into a bag and now he pulled on a pair of dark trousers in a soft clingy material and a loose silk shirt in dark red. Then he sat down next to Rayne and kissed his cheek.

“That’s really nice.” He commented neutrally on the ring, trying his hardest to keep his emotions clamped down and not do anything stupid, like demand to know if he was actually married to the mysterious woman in Manchester.

His lover leaned against him, holding up the finger with the ring perched just above his middle knuckle, studying it for a moment. He turned his head and touched his lips to Xavier’s mouth softly then, just rubbing noses with him, looking at him with such bewilderment that Xav briefly worried his memory had gone again.

Then the shutters were down. Not like he had been in Italy, not screening Xavier out completely, but he turned back with a businesslike, unhappy smile and closed his fingers, moving to his feet, pushing things into bags and pockets. When he straightened from his task again, the ring was no longer on his finger and the matter had been dismissed, just like that.

“You look gorgeous in that,” he said tenderly. “Are you ready? The cab will be here soon.”

“Yeah, I’m ready.” Xav answered quietly. He managed a smile for Rayne but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. He had hoped Rayne might open up to him a little bit, but he supposed he wasn’t ready. Xav was good about knowing when he should and shouldn’t push, now wasn’t the time to push, so he let it be.

CHAPTER 8

The cab ride to the airport and shuffling through the boarding process was a bit of a hassle and took far longer than either Rayne or Xavier had patience for. Xav had dug out a pair of sunglasses before they left the apartment that didn’t really do much to hide his battered condition. Rayne too kept his shades on throughout the checking procedure but the three young women on the desk still briefly huddled and exchanged whispers after he had shown them his boarding card, and they attracted more than a few passing glances as they made their way down to the gate.

Although the flight itself was little more than half an hour, by the time they were on the ground again Xavier was already tired and hurting and they still needed to push through the Manchester evening rush hour. Rayne was solicitous of his lover, refusing to let Xavier carry any but the lightest of bags as he hurtled their baggage trolley through the EU channel and out into the arrivals hall. He kept an arm around Xavier’s shoulders though and asked him frequently if he was okay.

Outside the air was cooler but no less smoggy than London and Rayne parked Xav on a bench with the bags and kissed him on the forehead before zipping off to find the cab he had booked back in the Capital. Which was also an excuse to grab a cigarette and calm his own frayed nerves. Rayne was better on planes than Dominic Warren but he still did not enjoy the process.

The pick-up area was drab and dirty, and totally chaotic. Xavier had never really felt anxious in London, apart from the night when he was attacked, but the atmosphere here was high in tension. A few businessmen shoved their way irritably through a throng of harried looking travellers, many with screaming children in tow. There were young men lounging around, drinking from cans of cut-price pilsner, throwing empty fast food cartons at one another and shouting. A huge party of large and definitely under-dressed women with pink, sore-looking arms and legs, jostled for a minibus and an argument broke out between two of them and the driver who accused them of being drunk and refused to let them on board.

Maybe it was just their way and not intended to be threatening but Xavier felt uncomfortable. Coupled with that, he was hurting so badly now that he was only taking short, shallow breaths to keep from letting his ribs expand too much, and his head ached too. He wanted a drink, and to lie down for a while in the quiet darkness and was massively relieved when Rayne came jogging back to him, crooking his finger and grabbing the handle of the cart.

“Fucking mental!” he shouted, to be heard over the sudden rumble of a souped up exhaust system on a beaten up looking VW Golf. “C’mon! Let’s get out of here, yeah?”

A dark saloon car had pulled up on the inside of the turning circle, unable to get into the taxi rank for the bawling women and the rhythmically pulsating Golf. A lean, indo-gangetic man with a slim moustache jumped out of the car and helped to throw their bags into the boot as if he had no desire to stay here longer than necessary.

Xavier couldn’t blame him.

And then they were cocooned in the back of the car and pulling away, the noise and the smell of engine fuel and dodgy take-aways left behind. Rayne snuggled up to him and pulled him close, kissing his hair.

“You all right, sweetheart?” he asked again, voice husky from the nicotine smoke. “Not far to go now.”

“I’m ok,” Xavier answered woodenly, as if it were a rehearsed line. He was holding his side though, and he’d lost all colour in his face as he continued to breathe shallowly and not move too much.

Before they even got out of the city the cab ride was turning into an ordeal for him. Every stop, every minor lurch, made him wince. It wasn’t long before he was gritting his teeth, a focused stare on his face, and his thoughts were almost wholly on the pain pills in his bag.

I should have taken a couple before we left… No, I can live without them.

Back and forth went the inner argument.

“Xav…”

“What!” Xavier snapped.

His expression crumpled as soon as the sharp word was out of his mouth and he was immediately contrite in the face of his lover’s startled look. Rayne was only worried about him, he knew, even through the hurting.

“I’m sorry…” he said with a little sigh and bit his bottom lip. “I’m sorry.”

Between the shooting pains and the bedlam going on in his head from soaking up all the random chaos of emotions at the airport he was holding his shit together by only a thin thread. Rayne looked at him with eyes gone almost black, the green melted dark like moonlit leaves, edged with frost. His expression was the only thing which softened the impact of that gaze. There was nothing but love and concern in those shadowy eyes.

“If you say the word, I’m turning this cab around and taking you to A&E, sweetheart. You do not look well, and you do not feel well,” he said quietly. “If you didn’t reckon you were up to this you should have said something this morning. It would have been okay. We could have stalled for a few days. I’m just… I don’t want you backsliding on me now, Xav. Not here.” There was the edge of a plea in his voice but he swallowed it down. “It’s not so far now to Dominic’s place. Gabe’s a Healer and a good one, whatever else he might be. He can help, but if you want a proper Doctor, I get that too. I know you don’t like hospitals but I don’t want you to be in more pain than you need be.”

“I can make it. I’ll be okay,” Xavier said more softly, his voice a little breathy as he tried to get a handle on the pain. There was underlying steel in those softly spoken words that rarely showed in the easy going young man. He slipped his hand into Rayne’s though, curling trembling fingers lightly around his.

“I felt better this morning. I didn’t realise how much the trip would take out of me,” Xav explained, still in that soft voice. “It’s just pain, it’ll go away.”

Rayne did not exactly look happy but he said no more. Xavier did his best to try and get comfortable, first leaning back, then putting his head on Rayne’s shoulder and finally he ended up curling up on the seat using Rayne’s thigh for a pillow. He didn’t sleep, but he closed his eyes and concentrated on just taking one slow breath at a time. Rayne’s cool fingers stroked through his hair gently and that more than anything helped.

He must have dozed a little because the next thing he knew he was blinking his eyes open as they were winding up a crunching gravel drive. It was starting to get dark outside the car.

“Where are we?” he asked in a husky voice.

“We’re nearly there, sweetheart.” Rayne bent over him and whispered the words tenderly into his ear.

The taxi driver was complaining in an undertone; “Ruddy hell, mate. How long is your pal’s driveway anyhow?”

Then the car peeled out of the shadows of the tree lined avenue and turned a corner, coming over a low rise. Xavier sat up in time to see that below them, set against the last light of the day and bathed in luminescence by strategically poised spotlights, was a building that could only really be described as a castle. The word, ‘house’ didn’t do it justice. It had a turret for starters, and the stonework was golden in the lamplight. More light glowed warmly from the arched windows that would not have looked out of place in a country church.

It took Xavier a moment to connect that what he was seeing was indeed their destination, “Are you kidding me? Dom really lives in a castle?”

As they pulled up on a wide, gravelled turning circle, in front of a short flight of steps, leading up to the broad, arched front door, even the cabbie sounded impressed. He murmured; “Now that’s worth the trip out here!”

As they climbed out of the car and he got their bags from the back, Rayne made sure that the trip out there had definitely been worth his while, giving him enough of a tip to put a smile back on his face for the rest of the night. As their driver got back into the car and started the engine, the front door slid open, silhouetting a tall figure darkly against the golden light from the hallway beyond.

The vampire hesitated for a moment, looking up at the man standing in the doorway. He was even taller than Dominic, and lean in spite of his broad shoulders, with a cascade of long, black hair that tumbled down his back, past his waist. Dark eyes surveyed them quietly out of an angular, handsome face that split suddenly in a smile that – even if Xavier hadn’t been listening to Matty’s talk earlier – he would have thought of as ‘wolfish’.

“Dom told you we were coming, yeah?” Rayne said to him uncertainly.

“‘s right,” the fellow on the doorstep nodded, looking from the vampire to his companion at once. “The chavvi’s hurting. You wanna get ‘im inside, ‘fore he falls down.”

It wasn’t a question.

Xavier, despite the considerable pain he was in, had been unobtrusively checking him out. He was curious for several reasons. One, this was Dominic’s live-in and that was interesting enough by itself, two he was a werewolf and that was even more interesting, and three he was gorgeous.

He followed Rayne slowly up the steps, feeling a hundred years old but determinedly walking on his own. Even though their host seemed friendly enough Xav felt an odd mix of defensive anxiety churning inside him as he looked at the other man. It took him a second to realize it wasn’t his own emotion, he was picking up on it from Rayne, but that didn’t clear his confusion. Until he hit on an idea. He knew vampires were extraordinarily strong from personal experience but, were werewolves stronger? It would maybe explain both Rayne’s hint of anxiety and Matty’s apparent enthusiasm. He filed the idea away, meaning to ask Rayne about it later.

As they approached the threshold Rayne entered without pause, confirming that he had indeed been a guest here before, but Xavier hesitated just under the arched doorway. He looked to one side and slowly up as if simply admiring the shape of the archway as he walked through it, but he had actually caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. It was a bit of shimmering just on the periphery of his vision, like a migraine without the nausea, and he felt an odd, not-quite-physical tingle along his skin as he entered. He dismissed it almost without a thought as some of Dominic’s ‘hocus-pocus’ stuff. What he didn’t realise was how unusual it was for a mortal, especially an untrained mortal, to have noticed the ward at all. He also didn’t realise that, had he had any bad intentions toward those inside, his passage through that doorway would have been far less pleasant.

Even if he had realised any of those things he was not in any condition to overly contemplate them. His vision was starting to get a little grey around the edges and it had nothing to do with anything magical. He looked as pale as ashes and had to reach out and grab for Rayne’s arm when he just about tripped over his own feet.

The vampire turned but their host was faster. He was to the left and slightly behind Xavier having stopped to secure the door after they came through. As the young man’s knees turned to water he ducked and swept Xav up in his arms as easily as lifting a rolled duvet.

“Gotcha babes,” he said in a mellow tone, exuding quiet confidence that wrapped Xavier like a warm blanket. “Don’t you worry. Everything’s gonna be fine now.”

A little colour crept into Xavier’s cheeks other than the dark purple on the one side. He’d managed to hold it together all the way out here, only to walk through the door and nearly fall on his face.

” ‘m okay…” he murmured. “Sorry. You can put me down. I can walk.” He protested in vain , all of his contentions were blithely ignored.

“Tell you whatnot,” the tall, handsome, sun-bronzed fellow suggested, looking him boldly in the eye as he carried him through the hall like a new bride. “Why don’t I just take you through to the library and pop you down somewhere a bit more comfortable than the hall runner? Then you can get your land legs back nice an’ slow, like.”

His gaze, up close, was the colour of wet slate; a dark, shimmering grey, just a little lighter than his pupils. There were flecks of silver and gold in the irises, like a dog’s eyes. Gold loop earrings glinted all down the curves of his ears through the coal black fall of his hair. Two symmetrical white streaks ran through the ebony from his temples. His broad, generous mouth smiled easily but like Matty’s smile, it had elongated canines that glistened wetly in the muted golden glow of the hall lights.

He wore a white shirt of some heavy cloth, open to the sternum, exposing a multitude of chains and pendants on cords around his neck. It also exposed the thick black hair of his chest, which was straight and smooth like a hound’s pelt, right up to his collarbones. The hair looked soft enough to stroke.

“Yeah,” Rayne interjected, recovering some of his equilibrium. He had looked slightly stunned when Xav nearly went down but now he was reassured that his lover was still conscious and stubbornly refusing to admit he was sick, he was able to be sarcastic. “Cos Gabe likes to curl up on the mat by the door of an evening. You don’t wanna cramp his style, sweetheart.”

Xavier, still embarrassed at nearly passing out in the foyer and having to be carried like some fainting débutante, shut his mouth and just looked at Rayne, not knowing what to say to that comment. Apparently no answer was required of him either as Gabe was already moving towards an internal doorway off the main hall with an insouciance that suggested it was not the first time he had been on the receiving end of Rayne’s tongue.

Xav was set down carefully on one of a pair of long, sleek leather loungers set either side of a low rectangular table topped with a sheet of smoky glass. Even huddled up inside the pain Xavier couldn’t help looking around with wide eyes. The room was like a cross between a modern art gallery and a late Victorian library. Pale maple cabinets and bookshelves lined the walls from the parquet floor, twenty feet up to the elaborate ceilings. Two tall candles stood in shielded sconces on the mantelpiece of a stone hearth that looked big enough to cook a cow. A whole one! More candles burned in the hollow of the fireplace, to either side of which stood a white marble statuette of three lily flowers.

There was a reading table under a lamp shaped like a bell-flower, the pale wood sloping upward and an adjustable chair set before it. Like the shelves it was delicately carved in curling patterns and letters. In one corner near the foot of a winding spiral staircase leading up to a balcony with more shelves, up above the windows, a lectern, such as one might find in a church, held a heavy volume bound in purple velvet and marked with a jewelled band of emerald satin. Nothing in the room seemed out of place though.

Xavier felt a bit like he’d been transported to a movie set.

Although there was no fire, the room was comfortably warm. The tall windows beyond the staircase were screened with internal wooden shutters and all the light came from the lamps and the candles.

“I take it her ladyship’s been held up?” Rayne said, heading for one of the cabinets, which unfolded to reveal a mirror-backed bar.

“She’s on her way, you’ve probably beat her by a few hours.” Gabriel sat down on the opposite sofa to the one Xavier was lying on. Though he answered Rayne’s question his eyes never moved from Xav.

Rayne poured himself a shot of vodka and looked over at his lover more solicitously. “Do you want a drink?”

“I’d rather have a couple pain pills,” Xavier answered hoarsely, which told Rayne exactly how badly off he was right now, if he was asking for the painkillers rather than trying to tough it out.

Gabriel moved over to the edge of the lounger beside him with a lupine grin.

“I’ll get you something better than that,” he promised, cupping Xavier’s face gently in a warm hand.

Xavier did not pull away, just looked at him with a slightly unfocused and wary stare. He was not sure what the other man was offering but his mind immediately jumped on what it wanted most. The thing he knew would erase all pain and let him fall into a blissful sleep. He hardly ever had those thoughts anymore, but when they hit it was like a wave that could bring him to his knees crying and nothing but a will of pure steel could bring him back from giving in to the seductive lure.

His mouth went suddenly dry and he swallowed as those odd slate gray eyes looked back into his own. He could not force words out of his mouth because he was afraid what he would hear himself saying.

Gabriel must have saw that hint of fear because his grin softened and became more reassuring. “You know I’m a healer, yeah? I can help you feel better, if you’ll let me.”

A small quiver went through Xavier but he wasn’t sure if it was relief or disappointment as he realised Gabriel was not offering any sort of illicit drugs to ease the pain.

“Now, the energy I’m gonna give you will go where it’s needed, but it works best if I know where you’re hurtin’ the most.” Gabriel said, still holding Xavier’s chin gently and looking into those big blue eyes filled with pain and fear.

Through that gentle touch, Xavier realised he was sharing some of his host’s feelings and emotions, the way he did with Rayne through the bond. Gabriel must have a powerful aura because the senses Xav was reading in him were so clear. Even battered and bruised Gabe could see he was proper pretty under the purplish swelling on his cheek and jaw. Xavier almost blushed again at the realisation that the wolf was discreetly checking him out.

He looked very vulnerable and the wolf could have slotted him into the category of easy prey, but Gabriel was not a mindless beast and neither was his wolf. Gabriel the man often took his time to make up his mind about a person, but Gabe the wolf usually made up his mind much faster, and his wolf was already feeling protective of the boy, despite the smell of blood and death on him. All of this Xavier picked up in a flash from just a few seconds’ contact with his skin. When Gabriel moved his hand away he felt empty and light headed for a moment.

“I-I just want…want to be able to breathe for a few minutes without it feeling like there’s a knife in my side,” he answered now, as candidly as possible.

“Take your shirt off,” Gabriel said without a pause.

There was not a hint of suggestiveness in that command. When Xavier faltered all the same, he tempered that instruction; “I just wanna see how bad the damage is. Someone gave you a good thrashin’, hmm?”

Xavier needed to sit up to take the shirt off, which he did while pulling the small buttons free. The dark red silk slipped off his shoulders and pooled around his hips and he moved his arm back a bit so the vivid black and purple bruises that were heavier on his right side were exposed. He’d gotten used to the appearance of the injuries but they still looked bad.

“I got jumped,” Xavier explained distractedly. “I wasn’t about to take on all three of them but I got chased down a blind alley. I almost made it over the fence but I wasn’t fast enough.”

“Cowardly bastards!” Gabe remarked grimly. His eyes wandered over the patchwork of bruises critically. Then he knelt by the lounger and glanced up at Xavier. “Do you mind if I touch? I’ll try not to hurt you, mate.”

Xav was surprised he asked first, and he didn’t miss the fact that he said only that he would try not to hurt him. He realised he must have his defences way up and he tried to relax a little, giving Gabe a small nod to go ahead. Rayne gave the other man a look that said if he did hurt Xav he was going to get his head ripped off. Gabriel cheerfully ignored it.

His long, sun-browned fingers were very warm after the cool vampiric touch Xavier was used to feeling on his skin. Gabriel closed his eyes as he pressed lightly on his patient’s flat stomach and the swell of his ribcage. Then he laid his hand there flat. Xavier could feel a tingling warmth spread through his skin from the places where Gabe’s hands moved over him.

After several minutes Xav relaxed even more, sagging back on the couch as the tension eased. It was not like movie magic, where all of a sudden he was all better, but he did feel something. The pain was lessening and he could draw breath a little easier now. Gabriel’s hand on his skin felt so warm it was like having a heating pad held there. The tall stranger opened his eyes at last and a smile tugged at his mouth as he looked at Xavier very directly.

“Take your pants off,” he said, without any hesitation.

Xavier moved his hand toward the button on his trousers.

Rayne was on his feet at once, eyes blazing. “Stop that!”

Xavier started, a little stunned to realise he’d been doing as he was told automatically. He was also surprised that it took a bit of effort for him to tear his eyes away from Gabriel’s. He blinked in confusion, thinking for a moment that Gabe had used some kind of mind tricks, like vampires used, but almost as quickly dismissed the idea. It hadn’t felt the same as when a vampire got into his head. No, this was something else, something he was far more familiar with actually. Dominance, plain and simple. Gabriel expected to be obeyed when he issued a command, and Xav had followed it without even thinking.

Looking back up at Gabriel he arched one slim brow, lightly teasing him; “I’m here five whole minutes and already you wanna get in my pants?”

Gabe winked at him as he eased up to sit on the edge of the lounger, his hand wandering to Rayne’s arm, stroking soothingly up and down from the vampire’s skinny wrist, though he did not take his eyes off Xavier. Rayne shook him off with a little snort of disgust and folded his arms across his chest.

“Now, you’re the one that intro-dee-uced that idea,” Gabriel remarked playfully. “I was just wonderin’ how far down those bruises went and if you’re still peein’ red?”

Xav dropped his eyes again, wondering how Gabe knew about that. He was also wondering why Rayne was suddenly so hostile. He didn’t think Gabriel was seriously flirting, and he did feel a little better but his lover had been on the defensive since they arrived here.

“Um, I guess, yeah.” Xavier answered reluctantly. He didn’t like admitting how hurt he really was. That was stupid though, they had come here in part for Gabe to help heal him, and he probably needed to know how badly he was injured if he was going to be able to do that.

Gabriel glanced once at Rayne, who was still bristling and hovering protectively over his mate, then looked back at Xavier.

“I take it the doc you saw wasn’t worried about your kidney?” he asked in a tone that suggested he thought just the opposite.

Xav’s shoulders lifted slightly in a little shrug. “Yeah, I guess he was. They didn’t want to let me leave the hospital but I didn’t want to stay.”

All three were silent for a moment. Rayne looked like he was going through some sort of inner war in which he wanted to protect his mate from the very same person that could help him. Gabe’s face remained serene except for the slight downward draw of his brows which gave away his worry. At last Xav came to a decision and with a small sigh he popped the button of his fly and carefully shifted so he could slide the snug fitting trousers down, letting Gabriel see that the bruises did indeed travel past the waistband. He rolled onto his less injured side when Gabe made a little motion with his hand, facing the back of the couch and exposing his backside and the concentration of mottled bruising in the small of his back where he’d been punched and kicked repeatedly.

Gabriel’s hands moved gently over him once more. Ignoring the way Rayne glowered at him he laid one hand low on Xavier’s back and eased the other down between his thighs. Under other circumstances it might have been a sensual experience but here it was simply fraught with tension. Even so, Xavier felt that sizzle of energy more purposefully as Gabriel cupped his balls, handling him like he was a piece of fine china.

Despite the tension in the room Gabriel’s hands were just as soothing as they had been on his ribs and Xavier felt his muscles start to relax under the spreading warmth that emanated from them. He closed his eyes, moaning softly. It was not an entirely erotic sensation, it wasn’t pleasure he was feeling, but relief. The stabbing pain of his ribs had seemed more immediate than the deep ache lower down but now that the ache in his loins was easing off it was almost enough to make him weep.

“Should ‘ave brought him ‘ere sooner,” Gabriel said quietly.

Xav glanced over his shoulder to see that Gabriel’s eyes had shifted to Rayne’s tense, angry face. His lover bristled with defensive rage.

“He was too fuckin’ ill to move sooner,” Rayne said testily.

Xavier wasn’t sure why Rayne was so pissed off, but it obviously had something to do with Gabriel. The man hadn’t hurt him, his soothing hands actually felt good, so Xav was confused by Rayne’s reaction.

“I was, I could hardly get out of bed yesterday,” he added in Rayne’s defence. “I thought I was better this morning, but the trip took more out of me than I thought it would.” He paused, looking over at Rayne and noticing he was struggling not to bare his fangs in a little snarl. He still wasn’t sure what had his lover so wound up but it was making him anxious.

“I think I’ll be okay now,” he said gently disengaging Gabriel’s hands from him, then gingerly straightening and pulling his clothes back on. “Thanks, I don’t think I even need a pill.”

Rayne could feel Xavier’s rising confusion and anxiety. Even though he knew the healing Gabriel was doing would be good for Xavier he couldn’t suppress the possessive desire to get his mate away from the mutt and he felt clouded, as he always did coming here. The magic was a part of it but Gabriel Arden made his hackles rise and though he tried to shield it down he could not help the automatic hostility that surged in him whenever he was near to the wolf. He found himself bristling like a little cat, forced to defend his territory. Which was ridiculous because Gabe was a great big teddy bear of a guy most of the time. Just, when the moon waxed full, he let his wolf have its head and then there was no stopping him, vampire or not.

Rayne’s lips drew back from a fanged snarl now and Gabriel backed off at once, although there was no fear in his eyes just a steady, calculating look.

“Easy, tiger,” he said quietly, holding his hands up. “No need to get stroppy, mate.”

“I’m not your mate,” Rayne told him in a voice that felt short of air. “I’m gonna take Xav up and get him in a hot bath and put him to bed, yeah?”

“Whatever you think, Dead Boy.” Gabe’s smile was a little tight as he rose to his feet. “It’s nice to be meeting you, Xavier. Hope you sleep well.”

“Thanks,” Xavier murmured. His eyes kept darting towards Rayne as if he wanted to ask what was wrong with him but he didn’t say another word.

Xav got up, noticing as he did that he was moving and breathing a little easier now. He had a feeling he’d be moving a lot better if he’d let Gabriel finish what he’d been doing. Rayne helped him up the stairs and only then did Xavier ask in a low voice; “Are you alright?”

Rayne’s mouth found his and kissed him hungrily.

“I am now,” he said, with a bitter little smile. “I don’t get off on him groping you like that when you only just fell through the door.” He looked down with a sudden boyish stubbornness that made his lover think of Clint. “And I didn’t like the way you looked at him, either.”

Xavier just stared at him incredulously for a moment. Rayne had shared him over coffee with his ex-boyfriend this morning and he was jealous now? Over a curious look?

“You are a total nut case, you know that?” he said affectionately and returned his kiss. “I wasn’t looking at him,” he said. “I mean, yeah I looked at him but not like a look-look, just a look.”

Rayne eyed him speculatively but didn’t argue the point. He took Xavier’s hand and led him into the comfortable bedroom just off the imposing staircase from the hall, which was where he normally crashed when he stayed with Dominic. The colour-scheme was neutral; soft creams and shades of green with lots of older bedroom furniture in dark, polished wood. A big, sash window, with dark verdant velvet drapes that hung to the sage coloured carpet, looked out over the woodlands and gardens. It had a low, deep, cushion-strewn window seat.

The wooden-framed bed was big enough for three, with lots of plump pillows and a kingsize duvet in soft, crisp, egyptian cotton. A small door to the left led into a little en-suite bathroom, tiled from floor to ceiling in the same cool, mint green as the bedcovers.

Rayne sat his lover down gently on the edge of the bed and sat beside him, taking both of his hands possessively.

“I know what Matty said this morning,” he murmured softly. “And I know Dominic loves the crazy mutt, but he’s… it’s difficult, Xavier. He is not like us. Vampires, yeah, we’re technically passed and dead and gone but we used to be human. Most of us remember what that was like. Gabriel was never human, Xav. He was born half animal, and he’ll die that way. And it freaks me out a little bit. I’m sorry if that upsets you but I can’t help the way he makes me feel. Maybe I shouldn’t have dragged you up here, we could have found a healer in London if you didn’t want the white coats fussing over you.”

Xavier’s thumb caressed softly over the back of Rayne’s hand circling over the top of each knuckle in turn. “He didn’t hurt me, Rayne, and I do actually feel a bit better now. I mean, I don’t blame you for being a little freaked out, if that’s how you feel about him then…well, that’s just how you feel. It doesn’t upset me.” He kissed him lightly, touching the tip of his nose to Rayne’s. “Just relax, babe. I’ll be okay. Didn’t you say something about a bath?” he asked, changing the subject. “Want to climb in with me?”

The little vampire smiled rather more easily at that invitation. It did not take them long to spill out of their travelling clothes and into the deep, hot, foaming water. Some thoughtful soul had left herbs and bath salts on the lip of the tub which filled their nostrils with delicious scent and also soothed some of the pain from Xavier’s bruised muscles.

Rayne sank down beneath the surface with Xavier astride him, then came back up again, shaking the water from his inky hair like a dog. His hands curled gently around Xavier’s slim hips, caressing him with a care for his injuries. The hot water felt wonderful after the tension of their journey.

“God, this makes it all worthwhile,” the vampire groaned contentedly.

Xavier smiled at him and turned slowly so he was sitting between Rayne’s spread legs and leaning back against him. He felt drowsy now that the fraught atmosphere of the day had been dispersed and the heat of the water and Rayne’s limbs were wrapped around him. He was happy to just lay here and float, gently stroking his hands up and down his lover’s splayed thighs.

Rayne kissed his wet hair and slipped a gentle hand beneath his chin to keep his head above water as they soaked in peaceful silence. He was aroused, as he always got in such close proximity to his naked lover, but conscious of Xavier’s exhaustion, rubbing himself slowly and steadily between his mate’s hot, wet cheeks.

“You are so beautiful,” he whispered huskily. “I’m sorry I’ve behaved like a complete wanker the last few days. It’s not your fault.”

Xav turned his head so he could kiss Rayne’s lips. Ray returned the kiss tenderly, making him smile as their lips parted.

“What do you mean? You’ve been fine,” he said, a sleepy timbre to his voice. He lifted one hand to stroke Rayne’s cheek and smiled at him. “I’m the one that’s sorry, for making you worry and putting you through all this trouble.”

“You’re no trouble,” Rayne assured him in a mellow tone. “Okay, if you are, you always make up for it.”

He kissed Xavier on the nose and cuddled close to him. Even with the proximity of Gabriel Arden, there was something about Dominic’s house that made him relax and he was suddenly happier that they had decided to come here. The distance from London gave him some peace of mind, that they were not going to be disturbed. This far from home they could put the worries of the real world aside for a few days. It was what they both needed right now, even if a resident werewolf was the price they had to pay for that freedom.

Xavier’s hand slid down his cheek to cup his chin lightly and he kissed him again, long and slow this time. He was still sore and his eyes were heavy but he felt himself stir anyway, his perpetually horny body having not yet caught on to the idea that it would probably be better to rest.

“Mmmm… you are very fuckable, right now,” Rayne whispered teasingly into his mouth as they broke the kiss again. “Very inconsiderate of you to get crocked so that I can’t make you scream with pleasure all night.”

“I don’t scream,” Xav protested with a lopsided grin.

“I beg to differ,” Rayne chuckled in his ear. He rubbed himself lazily against Xavier, loving the way that the water and his lover’s hot, naked body caressed his sensitive cock in different ways. “Even when it’s not hurting, you can make me half deaf by the time you’ve come. But you are hurt, and tired… though you’re still totally gorgeous for all that.”

He licked Xavier’s neck and nibbled seductively at his earlobe whilst his fingers pinched and teased his mate’s erect nipples. Xavier gave a small sigh, his skin tightening and tingling wherever Rayne touched him. He wriggled his hips, his squirming body teasing Rayne’s cock where it lay along the crease of his sexy arse. The edge of his teeth skimmed over Xavier’s sleek, wet skin and he tweaked his nipple more tightly. Xav arched into his touch with a little gasp that inflamed his loins.

“Mmm… you are turning me on like crazy…” Xav exhaled.

“You don’t know how happy that makes me,” Rayne purred, nuzzling him seductively. His hand slid between Xavier’s thighs, caressing the stiffening cock that was rising along his belly. “Do you want to stay in the water and turn into a screwed prune or should we go to bed, do you think?”

Xav’s amusement at the ‘screwed prune’ comment sounded suspiciously like a giggle. That made him even hotter.

“C’mon, lets get out.”

Xav stood carefully, the water sheeting down his body as he rose, and grabbed the fluffy towels on the bar, handing one to Rayne. They dried off as they headed toward the bed. The clean herbal scent of the bath water clung faintly to their skin and mingled with the crisp clean cotton of the sheets as they pulled back the duvet and fell into the firm yet yielding embrace of the mattress together. Neither was in a hurry, a comfortable languid sensuality enveloping them both as their lips met and they caressed and stroked one another.The vampire sprawled on his back and Xavier’s fingers slid into Rayne’s damp hair as he leaned over him, kissing slowly, with a simmering passion.

“You are so hot, you know that?” he murmured as his lips trailed along his lover’s jaw. “I’m so glad you found me.”

Rayne breathed in the delicious, sweet, slightly herbal scent of him, face buried in Xavier’s tousled curls.

“No regrets then?” he whispered, running his fingers gradually up and down his lover’s naked back as they lay, sandwiched together in their comfortable nest, like a proper pair of lovebirds.

Xavier’s low chuckle tickled along the side of Rayne’s throat where he nuzzled him.

“Lots of them, but not a single one about you.”

Rayne’s hand had crept up his back and over his shoulder to trace along his jawline and Xav caught one finger as it came close to his lips and drew it into his mouth. Closing his eyes he swirled his tongue around and sucked on the digit suggestively. Rayne rolled him over gently onto his back and worked his fingers in and out of Xavier’s mouth as he kissed and licked a slow, wet trail down his lover’s chest, swiping his tongue in a smooth line over one pert nipple then flicking the tip against the stiff little bud with a grin. Xav was so warm and he smelled so scrumptious, a sultry mixture of bathtub herbs and spices blending with his natural vanilla pheromones.

“I am so glad,” he purred. “You’re making my mouth water, sweetheart. I wanna swallow you whole.”

Rayne realised with an odd little aftershock that he meant it, too. Years of seduction made the right words trip easily off his tongue but they were rarely accompanied by genuine, lasting feelings. Xavier had been with him now, on and off, for over two months. And it still felt great.

‘Must be getting soft in your old age!’ his conscience niggled.

Xavier pulled slowly off Rayne’s fingers before the vampire got too much farther down his body.

“Swing around so I can have a taste of you too,” he invited and smiled when Rayne shifted obligingly.

Xav nuzzled into Rayne’s hip and had just licked a wet line inward toward his goal when there was a light knock on the bedroom door. He stopped rather reluctantly, his weary sigh a balmy breeze over Rayne’s balls that made his lover squirm with frustration.

“Fuck off, we don’t need any!” Rayne exhaled forcefully, resting his head against Xavier’s warm, silky thigh with a groan of need.

“What do you think I am, room service?” a familiar, amused and rather cultured voice remarked and the door opened a crack. “Are you decent?”

“Take a guess!” the vampire suggested irritably.

Xavier lifted his head enough to prop his chin on Rayne’s hip, looking over the top of him. He had to grin at the way that Rayne’s answer did not deter Dominic from poking his head around the door anyway. Warm light spilled in from the hallway beyond their friend and bathed the two nude entwined bodies on the bed in shades of gold and amber.

“Hi Dom,” Xav greeted him, a mite less surlier than Rayne had. He felt too mellow to get irritated right now, still a little buzzed from whatever it was that Gabriel had done to him, and a nice warm bath, and the slow seductive heat Rayne had been building in him.

“Hello darling,” Dominic said warmly, ever the genial host; “Did you eat yet?”

Xavier’s small smile turned rather more lecherous. “I was about to.”

Dominic held his hands up but he was smiling as he murmured; “I see you’ve made yourselves at home. I’ll leave you to it. Gabe is making supper though, so when you’ve eaten, if you’d still like to eat…?”

“I thought you weren’t coming back until late,” Rayne sighed, rolling to face the door, one hand still caressing Xavier’s lean flank.

“I decided it was intolerable of me to invite you to my house then be an absent host. What can I say?” Lord Warren leaned in the doorway beaming at them. “You do look so pretty curled up there like naughty kittens.”

“I love you, but… fuck off, Dom,” the vampire said amiably.

“You’re such a charmer!”

“I mean it now.” Rayne curled back around Xavier and began to kiss and lick his naked belly.

The door closed on Dominic’s chuckle and Xavier happily sank back down, his fingers wasting no time in curling around Rayne’s cock and stroking him gently while his lips and tongue teased over the plump crown. His long pink tongue licked a circle around him and flicked back and forth over the slit. His own cock hadn’t wilted a bit from their interruption.

Rayne whined with pleasure and a long shudder of hunger coursed through him as he took Xavier’s hot, firm nuts in his mouth, sucking slow and hard on his sac, his breath a small inferno in his lover’s slowly thrusting groin. The wet fingers that had been sliding in and out of Xavier’s mouth moments ago now rubbed in determined circles around his fluttering ring.

“Jesus, I want to fuck you so hard!” Rayne panted, with his mouth full.

Xavier responded with a low groan and slid his top leg up so his knee was bent and pointing at the ceiling to give Rayne better access. His warm wet mouth plunged down on Rayne’s prick as he fondled his lover’s heavy balls. Slowly his hips rolled as Rayne pressed gentle fingers more firmly against him and he shivered and groaned again as they pushed past the resistance of his ring, easing inside. His lean hips rocked with those thrusting fingers, the tight sheath of his anus sucking at them greedily.

As Rayne’s tongue skated up the column of his hard cock, he pressed his fingers in further, feeling for that sweet spot deep inside his mate. Many men would have felt embarrassed at the idea of fucking so wantonly in a friend’s house but he was not so easily cowed. Xavier looked and smelled and felt so beautiful this evening that he could not think of anything else but being close to him, rubbing and touching him, sinking deep inside him.

And he knew Dominic would not mind. The horny old goat was probably getting off on the idea of it!

In fact, the husky, tenor cry that came echoing back to them minutes later from somewhere else in the cavernous house, told him that Lord Warren was more than happy to have his two young companions screwing like crazy under his roof. And that consequently he had wasted no time getting his randy, horse-hung boyfriend naked and inside him.

Rayne groaned with delight and swallowed Xavier’s cock head, nodding down on it slow and enjoying the plump, meaty mouthful before he let it stroke against the roof of his mouth, pressing deeper into him. Fiercely he pumped his fingers in and out of Xavier’s searingly moist channel. Thrusting eagerly between the blond boy’s lips he edged higher, aided by the lusty screams and grunts coming from somewhere below them – clearly their hosts hadn’t even bothered to come up to bed – as Gabe Arden fucked the living daylights out of his recently absent mate.

He was not sure whether he pitied Lord Warren or envied him. It was about three days off the full moon and Gabriel was always bigger and more muscular in every respect when it was his time of the month. Insatiable too; Rayne did not have to wonder how it would feel. He shivered at the memory of Gabe’s long, thick bone inside him, pumping him savagely.

Xav wasn’t sure if it was the shiver or something else but he sensed the shift in Rayne’s mood. Since they had slipped into the bath together they had been rather relaxed and languid but now he felt the sexual tension was suddenly heightened. Rayne’s cock seemed to stiffen even more between his lips and Xav nodded down on him eagerly, alternating between long smooth strokes and shorter intense sucking motions that made his lover groan and sent pleasant shivers down his own hard shaft.

A little growl of need bubbled up in Rayne’s throat and he pulled off Xavier’s cock. He grinned at the way Xav moaned with longing as he disengaged. His lover’s big blue eyes looked dark with desire, his lips slick with spit and precum, and still parted and gasping like he was angry with Rayne for taking away his lolly.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’m gonna give you what you want,” he promised as he nested the pillows and eased his beautiful lover down firmly but gently on them, belly first, his buttocks raised temptingly, so that Rayne could mount the younger man.

Xav did not resist, rolling over onto his stomach carefully, his hips already squirming and wriggling against the soft pillows whilst Rayne reached over to the bedside table.

There was lube in the side drawer, and sex toys, Rayne noted with a smile. Trust Dominic to know his guests wouldn’t be offended by finding them there. Selecting a bottle he poured a good glug of scented oil between his mate’s perky cheeks, rubbing it slowly into that seductive dimple with his fingers then slicking it eagerly over his proud swollen dick.

Xavier hollowed his back, lifting his hips and pushing down onto Rayne’s invading fingers invitingly. He stretched his arms out above his head, still moving slowly and carefully, although he wasn’t in any pain. Whether it was Gabriel’s healing touch or his own release of sexual endorphins he was actually feeling good, and very, very horny.

“Mmmmm-uuhhh, I want you so much,” he murmured huskily. Rayne was only too happy to oblige and moments later Xav felt the slippery head of his cock rubbing against his ring. He spread his legs wider, pushing back impatiently, wanting him inside.

In deference to his injuries they had been taking it slow and easy and, while that had been sweeter than words could say, Xavier had caught some of his lover’s swiftly rising passion and wanted to get fucked hard now, wanted it as much as Rayne wanted to give it to him. He rolled back slightly on his knees as Rayne slid forward, pushing into the tight constriction of his passage.

“Uhhhh! Yeah… oh baby that feels s-o-o-o good!” Xav crooned as he was breached and he felt Rayne’s hands slide over his hips and flanks.

Rayne coiled around him, burying his face in the sweet, damp softness of Xavier’s hair as he bucked his hips slow and steady, the lubricant easing him in smoothly with every thrust. He ran his hands down his lover’s thighs, as they were less bruised than his torso and midriff, rocking his body against Xavier’s back and buttocks whilst he punched deeper.

“Tell me if I’m hurting you,” he growled, aware of how tightly Xav had been shielding against him since he had been beaten. Sometimes the defences slipped and he got a blast of the unbearable pain and self-deprecation that his beautiful mate had been struggling with. The last thing he wanted was to inadvertently make things worse.

“You’re not hurting me,” Xav assured him a little breathlessly as they moved together. Xavier could have been in agony and he wouldn’t have uttered a peep that might have made Rayne stop. He’d waited too long and he’d wanted him like this too much to let a little thing like pain get in the way. Ray was not hurting him though, not in a serious way, there was so much pleasure coursing through him that it offset any discomfort. All he was thinking about was the way Rayne was bucking into him, the caress of the hands that stroked his hips and thighs, the sweet vibration of his low growl at the nape of his neck.

“It feels fucking fantastic!” he moaned. He wanted to get his knees under him more but the posture probably would have hurt. Right now, with his head turned to one side and his shoulders down, hips lifted and supported by the pillows he was quite comfortable. Although, comfort wasn’t exactly his top priority at the moment.

“Uuuuuhhhh, babe, that’s it…that feels sooo…mmm-uhhh…do me harder!”

Rayne was still hesitant but he had not missed the look in Xavier’s baby blue eyes this morning when he peeled off and fucked Matt instead. Rayne could tell him all he liked that he’d have preferred to have been riding Xav but… yeah, actions spoke louder than words in that instance. And Xavier had hated it.

“Christ, you are so fucking good,” he rumbled hungrily, quickening his stroke. His hands slid to Xavier’s restless hips and he gripped as tightly as he dared, driving into his mate hard and fast, giving in to his own need. “Ohh-hhhh… yessss! Fuck, yes!”

“Mmm, yeah! Fuck me Ray!” Xav agreed breathlessly, pushing back to meet those eager thrusts. He looked back over his shoulder, his lips parted and his eyes glazed with heat. “Uhhhh, yeah! I love…uhh, when you…uhh, fuck me… like this!” he panted , groaning with each hard downstroke inside him.

Rayne was loving it too. His soul thrilled to the animal instinct Xavier’s body woke in him. The eyes that stared back at Xav were a fierce, hot, lemon and lime fire, thickly framed with black lashes, the pupils huge and dark with lust. His lips parted around a fanged gasp of ecstasy and he bent his head, touching his mouth to the nape of Xavier’s neck as they surged together like a rolling wave meeting the golden sands of the shore. Rayne’s body coursed and broke on him, over and over, pushing deeper and faster. The groans that spilled from his throat were low and earthy though.

“OhhhhfuckOhhhhfuckOhhhhhhfuckin’hellineedyou!”

Xav’s hands fisted tightly in the sheets, his body moving with Rayne’s in perfect rhythm, his slightly higher-pitched keening cries of pleasure a counterpoint to Rayne’s low husky groans. The feel of his lover’s cock sawing in and out, over and over, like a mechanical piston drove all thought of anything else completely from his head. The way his thighs slapped up against him with each powerful thrust of that hard tool made his head spin with lust.

They pulled apart and slammed together in a frenzy of unleashed desire and that kind of unrestrained coupling, after a period of enforced abstinence, always provoked the deepest most satisfying responses from Xavier. His lithe body was buzzing from the core of him outward, ready to burst any second. He could feel that Rayne, pressed so close to him, curling tightly around him as if he could burrow into Xavier’s skin and be one with him that way, was equally close. His lover was beyond words now, just uttering soft, breathless sounds that rushed and echoed in his ear like the crash of a peaking wave in a deserted cavern, moaning in time with his thrusts, and then Xavier was suddenly there and he couldn’t hold back the jets of pearly cum that spurted from him or the throaty ecstatic cries that rolled up from his chest.

Rayne was with him, barely seconds behind, erupting into the impossible tightness of his body with a yelp of pure astonishment. The sound ripped out of him like a high note torn from the page of a symphony and he slumped, panting furiously, against Xavier’s hot, sweat soaked, nakedness. His cock was twitching and leaking inside his lover’s hot passage as if it had a life of its own.

A floor below them, Dominic screamed, with either an empathic moment of intense lust or the pain of having his body ripped apart by Gabriel’s cock. It was hard to tell. Only the long, low satisfied moans of his partner suggested that it might be the former and not the latter.

“Uhhhh, fuck!” Rayne panted, curling around Xav on the bed, when stillness and silence finally reclaimed the house, holding him close. “That… ahhh Jesus! You are so precious!”

He kissed his mate gratefully and tenderly on the shoulders and neck.

Xav had collapsed onto the mounded pillows and he smiled now although his eyes stayed closed. He didn’t think he could make himself move if the house were on fire. He felt every sore place acutely, but it was a good kind of sore, a satisfied, just-got-my-brains-fucked-out kind of sore. He lay, with Rayne nuzzling at him, and sighed contentedly.

Rayne was still in him and they wriggled and thrust together in small lazy circling motions that sent little aftershocks of pleasure through them both. Xav finally opened his eyes and twisted a bit to kiss Rayne but a twinge in his side warned him not to bend like that just yet. Rayne stopped moving at once, as if he’d sensed that little stab of pain.

“Let me roll over.” Xav whispered, pushing down the frustration with his own limitations right now. Rayne eased off, slipping out reluctantly and Xav turned, but he didn’t let Rayne get far, pulling him back over on top of him and kissing him hungrily.

Rayne responded enthusiastically, balanced on his elbows and knees so that he could still rub up against Xavier’s sweat-slick nakedness and stroke his hands possessively over that delicious body as they kissed, but without the fear of crushing or hurting him. His hungry mouth possessed Xavier’s, covering his soft lips so that he could force his searching tongue between them, feeling the wetness of his lover’s tongue responding in the same fashion. His cock rose bolt upright in reaction to this sensual re-engagement, eager to wriggle back into the warm, cum soaked cavern it had just been forced to vacate.

As if reading all this through the medium of their conjoined lips, Xavier very kindly reached down with one cooperative hand and guided that primed, fleshy missile to its target between his open thighs. Rayne groaned with muffled pleasure as he felt his lover’s eager fingers on his equally lusty cock, and the groan became a growl as he was steered unerringly back to the site of his recent ecstatic release and the tight collar of Xavier’s sphincter slid welcomingly over the head of his throbbing bone, sucking him willingly back into that lush, hot sheath of living flesh.

Although he knew it had only been a few days since they were last able to fuck like this, it still felt almost like a lifetime. He had not realised just how much he would miss their regular, urgent couplings until Xav’s injury deprived them of that sweet, rough method of mutual release. This delicious friction was pure heaven for him after the sorrow, stress and anxiety of the last few days.

“Uhhhh… shit! Yessss!” he exhaled between his boyfriend’s soft, spit-wet lips as he obligingly thrust himself deeper into Xavier’s sweltering , satisfying body. In this position he could look into Xavier’s wide, trusting eyes, gone twilight blue with passion, as he was entering him and watch the emotion write itself across his expressive face whilst he bucked his hips and buried his pulsing prick to the hilt inside him. “That feels so fuckin ‘good. I love fucking you hard this way!”

Xav smiled against his lips, kissing him again as he caressed slowly up and down Rayne’s flexing back. The fingers of one hand combed through the silk of his inky hair and the other slid down to knead one pert cheek, liking the feel of the muscle there bunching under his hand each time Rayne drove into him.

He wondered briefly if Rayne realised this little quirk he had… but dismissed it as probably an unconscious thing. While he was always a passionate lover it seemed like whenever Xav cast an interested eye in another man’s direction Rayne had to fuck him so thoroughly it was hard to move the next day. Not that Xavier was complaining! He wondered though if it was jealousy, or if it turned his lover on, and then decided he didn’t care.

Going slowly Xavier lifted his legs, and when that didn’t cause any twinges of pain he wrapped them around the backs of Rayne’s thighs, flexing and grinding his hips down to meet his thrusts. He closed his eyes then, just letting the rhythm take him and getting caught up in the pleasure, his arms and his body tightening around Rayne.

“Mmmm-uhhh, so good!” He agreed as Rayne’s lips skated down his cheek and the sensitive skin of his throat. He tipped his head back on the pillow as a powerful surge went through him, a little gasp leaving his lips and his hips circling harder in response.

Rayne felt the bob of his Adam’s apple as Xavier gasped then swallowed hard beneath the caress of his lips. He was trying not to bite but his fangs were so fiercely extended now that it was hard to kiss him without risking a little nick to his soft skin. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on the feel of having Xavier moving like that underneath him again, on the feeling of his cock, sliding like it was made of oiled silk, in and out of the lush, temperate caress of Xavier’s beautiful body. When did he get this lucky? How the hell had it happened that he was with this gorgeous, wonderful creature, that seemed to want to be with him just as much. He couldn’t quite believe his good fortune.

As Xav writhed and surged on him, driving him half crazy with desire, he let his hands slide up his lover’s back, hooking his fingers over his narrow shoulders and using the leverage to pull himself in deeper and harder. He just wanted to satisfy Xavier, to have him feel as good as Rayne was feeling right at this moment.

“Mmmhhh… tell me if it hurts,” he panted, still cautious, even though his mind was fogged with lust now.

Xav’s arms and legs tightened around him as if he was afraid Rayne would slow or stop out of fear of hurting him.

“N-uh…no, you’re not,” Xav panted back. “Don’t stop!”

A slow spear of heat drove up through Rayne’s gut at that breathless entreaty. He gripped harder and began a steady circling, grinding motion with his lean hips that buried him in Xavier until their bodies were touching from their thighs right up to the place where his lips were pressed to Xav’s throat. He could feel the thrumming of his mate’s rapid heartbeat on his tongue and wrapped around his thrusting cock. It was pure bliss.

On occasion Xav could come without even touching his cock, but on the second or third go round it usually took a little more for him to get off. Right now though the way Rayne’s hard dick was butting against his sweet spot repeatedly and the gentle friction of the silky skin of his belly brushing the underside of his shaft was going to be enough. Way more than enough actually.

He squeezed his eyes shut and stopped breathing in the few seconds before it hit him, and then it was like all his joints came unhinged and he was filled up with liquid warmth all at the same time. While no orgasm was a bad orgasm in his opinion, certain ones felt just on a whole other level, and this was one of those times. It robbed him of his strength and all but a few breathless gasps as he spurted hard between their shifting bodies.

Rayne felt Xav tighten up hard around him as he began to come and he stilled inside his mate with an effort at making him hold off for just a little longer, but when that failed and his stomach and chest were slithering, slick with Xavier’s spill against his lover’s torso, he abandoned all caution and rolled them both over so that he could thrust into Xavier hard from beneath, without worrying about sinking onto him and crushing his poor, wounded body.

“Jesus… that feels good!” he growled huskily, his hands tight on Xav’s lean thighs as he bucked rapidly between them.

Xav’s body canted forward slightly, his hands resting on the mattress just above Rayne’s shoulders, his face still slack and eyes dazed with that ultimate pleasure as he panted hard.

“Oh, fuck, that was amazing!” he groaned as he bounced with every kick of Rayne’s slim hips arrowing up between his thighs. He bit back more words that wanted to spill out, not about to make the same mistake twice and contented himself with watching Rayne’s beautiful face and slender body contorting under him as he drove hard for his own sweet release.

That was not long in coming. Rayne stared up intently into the darkening blue of his lover’s unfocused gaze, adoring every aspect of him, from the rumpled cascade of his untrimmed, sweat and bathtub dampened hair, to his angelic face and the lean, glistening beauty of that slender body crouched astride his own. He braced his heels in the bedcovers and drove upward until each stroke was driving a lustful groan from between his gritted teeth. The tips of his fangs pricked at his lower gum and drew blood but he was not even distracted by that. Finally, blissfully, he felt his abdominal muscles contract and spill fire through his clenching, rolling belly, as he reached nirvana deep inside his precious Xavier.

“Uhhh… Christ! That feels so… so amazing!” he panted when he was finally able to speak again.

Xavier folded down over him in a hot, panting heap, unable to do more than grin dazedly and snuggle up to his lover in a haze of lovely bliss.

When he finally did risk moving, every bruise felt like a fresh ache, but he would have done it again without a moment’s hesitation. A lazy, very happy smiled touched his lips as he looked at his beautiful lover and kissed him tenderly. He could have easily just closed his eyes and gone to sleep but his stomach chose that moment to remind him he hadn’t eaten since that morning with a low rumble.

“I wonder what Dom’s got in the fridge…?”

Rayne grinned at him and waved a hand in surrender. He knew that by rights he ought to feel hungry too. He hadn’t fed in nearly twenty four hours but it didn’t seem to matter for the moment.

“If there is no food in this house I will suck Gabe Arden’s dick,” he declared, pushing himself to a sitting position. The bed was impossibly comfortable and it was a wrench to get up again, but Xav was going to need food to keep his strength up if they were to have a repeat of this evening’s satisfying lovemaking any time soon.

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