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 betterTake 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.

 

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