Kindred Spirits

by Gadfly

CHAPTER 1

Julian strode through the entrance of The Haven a little before 9pm. Cash was, as ever, a mere half step behind him, eyes scanning the crowd for potential threats to his Prince.

He waited until Julian reached Lillie's table then headed for the bar. He could still keep an eye on Julian and the crowd from there.

***

If Lillie noticed Julian's restlessness, she gave no sign. He'd talk to her when he was ready, and not before. Besides, she smiled to herself, she was more interested in what he'd think about her surprise.

***

The two sat in easy silence, sharing a bottle of champagne. Their conversation was minimal - both had things on their minds. Old friends and sometime lovers such as they had little trouble sitting in comfortable silence.

Julian looked around, distracted by the applause, as the act for that night came onto the small, intimate stage. He recognised the musicians as the house band, but he'd never seen the man who stood at the microphone before. He was about to glance away when the man looked towards their table and smiled at Lillie.

The smile changed his whole face, lighting up his eyes. Julian kept his gaze on him as he spoke to Lillie.

"He's new."

"Yes." He could hear the smug satisfaction in her voice. "And he's rather special."

"Really?" Julian turned to face her, an amused smile on his face.

She hit his arm lightly. "No, I haven't seduced him - yet." She laughed. "I only met him today."

"That hasn't stopped you in the past." He teased her gently.

"I thought you might like to meet him?" She teased back.

Julian frowned. He hadn't taken a man to his bed since Cash, and certainly not since he'd been seeing Caitlin. He sighed. That relationship was currently in limbo - much would depend on what Caitlin managed to piece together after their weekend at Manzanita Springs. He'd distanced himself from her since then out of necessity.

"What makes you think - ?" he began, then broke off to turn back toward the stage, his eyes widening in amazement.

The singer had launched into a soulful, haunting song that Julian had never heard before, but it wasn't the song so much as the voice that had captured his attention. It was sweet and pure, and full of emotion that touched even Julian's long-stilled heart.

Lillie saw his reaction and smiled even more smugly. "I knew you'd like this one." She whispered.

Julian sat, transfixed, throughout the whole set, joining in the enthusiastic applause when it ended nearly an hour and a half later.

"Would you like to meet him?" Lillie asked quietly, signalling to the bar for more champagne and fresh glasses.

He nodded wordlessly as Lillie beckoned the singer over to join them. Once offstage, the singer seemed to retreat back into himself, almost as if he was uncomfortable in the crowded nightclub. Several patrons stopped him as he made his way over to the table, and he smiled shyly at their obviously complimentary remarks, moving on as soon as he could.

"Paul, this is Julian Luna. Julian is a very old and dear friend. Julian, this is Paul McDermott." Lillie made the introductions then poured them all champagne.

"Pleased to meet you, Julian." Paul's speaking voice was soft and pleasant, and his handshake was warm and firm, despite his obvious shyness.

"Not as pleased as I am to meet you, Paul." Julian smiled engagingly, delighted when Paul blushed. Oh, this was a rare one indeed! "You're a long way from Australia, aren't you?" He asked as Paul slid gracefully into the booth to sit across the table from Julian and Lillie.

"I guess so." Paul smiled and shrugged. "I decided to try my luck here. Lillie was kind enough to take a chance on me."

"Nonsense!" Lillie laughed as she handed them their glasses. "How could I not hire you once I'd heard you sing?"

Paul dropped his gaze, embarrassed at the compliment.

"A toast!" Lillie held her glass up and waited until the two men joined her. "To a long, happy stay in San Francisco for Paul."

***

By the time Paul had to take the stage for his second and final set of the night they'd consumed the better part of two bottles of champagne between them, and Paul was noticeably more relaxed, although by no means drunk.

"And will you embrace him?" Julian asked as he watched Paul disappear backstage after completing his second set.

Lillie smiled dreamily. "I want to. He's everything a Toreador should be - intelligent, artistic, talented."

"But?" Julian prompted softly.

"But something's troubling him. I don't want a repeat of what happened with Zane."

"He's not Zane." Julian reassured her. "But I understand. Haven't you been able to find out what it is?" He was a little surprised that Lillie hadn't managed to find out whatever it was that was troubling Paul. She had a knack for getting people to open up to her.

"Not yet." Lillie smiled. "I was hoping that you might be able to find out for me."

Julian was surprised, and, he realised, pleased. The thought of seducing Paul, of sharing all his secrets, appealed to him. It appealed to him very much. He wanted to know everything there was to know about him, and he was sure that he would enjoy finding it out.


CHAPTER 2

After finishing his second set, Paul slipped backstage to change. The sight of his bags sitting on the dressing room floor reminded him that he'd come straight to the club from the airport. Friends in New York had suggested that he might be able to get a gig at The Haven when he got to San Francisco, and he'd decided that he'd try the club first before finding somewhere to stay. He'd arrived just after lunchtime and had been fortunate enough to get to see Lillie almost immediately.

Getting the gig had been a very lucky break, but he'd forgotten to check in at a hotel and had no idea what would be available at 2am. A few months ago, he wouldn't have had to worry. Tim had always looked after those sorts of details when they were on tour.

Tim. He wondered briefly how Tim was doing back home in Melbourne with his family, then pushed the thought angrily from his mind. Tim had made the only decision he could, and dwelling on it did nothing to help him get over it and move on.

He carefully folded his suit jacket and pants and stowed them in one of his bags before putting on his jeans and a thick, oversized jumper. Old, comfortable Docs replaced the flashier shoes he'd worn for his performance. He sighed with relief as he removed his contacts and put them into their case. Slipping his glasses on, he grabbed his bags and headed back out into the crowded club.

Approaching the table again, he saw that Julian and Lillie were deep in conversation. He paused a few feet away, not wanting to disturb them, but they both looked up at him and smiled at almost the same instant. There was something about the two of them that he couldn't put a name to, but he found them intriguing.

"Sorry to interrupt, but I was wondering if you could recommend a good hotel." He spoke mainly to Lillie, but included Julian in his glance. "I sort of forgot to check in anywhere when I got in today," he added somewhat sheepishly.

"You can stay at my house." Julian offered with a kind smile, glancing at Paul's well-worn Docs and jeans and battered luggage, his thought obvious.

Paul's head came up slightly, his eyes flashing. "I can afford a hotel." His voice was still soft, but there was steel in it as well. Just because he didn't dress like he had any money didn't mean he was a pauper for God's sake!

"I'm sorry, Paul, I didn't mean to offend you." Julian said placatingly. "But it would make more sense if you stayed with us tonight - Lillie lives at my house too. You can find a hotel tomorrow if you still want to."

Paul sighed and ran his fingers through his hair wearily. God he was tired. "No, I'm sorry. I overreacted. Thank you. It's very kind of you to put me up on such short notice." He'd stay the one night and find a hotel the next day - he didn't want to impose.

"So it's settled then, you'll stay with us tonight, and decide about a hotel tomorrow?" Lillie smiled happily when Paul nodded. "Good. Now that's out of the way, why don't you join us for a drink?"

***

One drink turned into two, but when Julian noticed how tired Paul looked he made a show of checking his watch.

"Damn! Is that the time? I have an early meeting." He stood after kissing Lillie on the cheek. "I'll see you in the morning." He turned to Paul with a smile. "You could get a lift with me now, if you like, or you can wait for Lillie."

"I'll go now, if it's not a bother." Paul smiled. It had been an eventful day, and he was just about out on his feet.

"Then I'll see you in the morning, too." Lillie leant over and kissed him lightly on the lips then glanced at Julian. "Look after my star, Julian." She laughed when Paul blushed again at her words. He really was quite delightful.

***

Paul was somewhat startled at the size of the limousine waiting for Julian. He wondered, too, at the presence of a man who Julian introduced merely as Cash. Some sort of bodyguard, he assumed, smiling wryly when he realised that Cash was obviously studying him to determine if he was a threat to Julian or not.

He threw his bags in the boot then followed Julian into the limousine. Relaxing back into the plush upholstery, he soon found himself fighting to stay awake.

***

Julian studied Paul as the limousine wound it's way through the quiet San Francisco streets. He was slender, with large, sometimes sad, eyes, and a cheeky, if tired, elfin smile. His hands were long-fingered and expressive, his hair long, pulled back in a ponytail. He thought back to the club, to the way Paul moved. Even merely walking, he moved with that fluid grace often associated with dancers. He was, in a word, fascinating.

The flash of fire he'd seen in his eyes back at the club had only served to pique Julian's interest even more. He had little time for cowering, subservient people, and it pleased him to know that Paul would defend himself if pushed. He was no Zane, though, that much was clear. Julian's mouth turned down when he thought of the singer who Lillie had embraced about a year ago. Things had seemed to be going well, but then Zane began embracing female fans indiscriminately, and against their will. The penalty had been death - and Lillie had been the one who had executed him, even though it had broken her heart.

Staring at the pulse beating strongly at the base of Paul's throat, he found himself wondering what those large, expressive eyes would look like in the throes of passion. He had every intention of finding out.

***

By the time the limousine pulled smoothly to a stop outside Julian's mansion, Paul was fast asleep. It seemed cruel to wake him, so Julian carefully lifted him out of the limousine and carried him inside. Cash grabbed Paul's bags and followed, an amused smile on his face. He'd been right to judge Paul as being no threat to Julian. He wondered whether he could say the same about Julian's intentions towards Paul.

***

Paul stirred as Julian carried him up the stairs and into the main guest bedroom. When he showed signs of waking up - as Julian undressed him and put him into bed - it took only a gentle 'nudge' from Julian to send him immediately back into a deep, dreamless sleep. Julian rarely used his power to dominate humans, but it sometimes had its uses.

After he'd drawn the covers up around Paul's shoulders, Julian stood watching him sleep for several moments. He fought unsuccessfully against the desire to taste him, leaning over him and breathing in his scent before delicately easing his fangs into the soft skin at the base of his neck.

His blood was spicy and invigorating, as he'd known it would be, but Julian limited himself to a small sip and drew back after carefully removing the evidence of what he'd done from Paul's neck.

Reaching out, he freed Paul's hair from the band that held it back, watching as it fell forward across his neck and face like a silken curtain, resisting - barely - the urge to run his fingers through it. There would be time enough for that - and more - later. For now, though, Paul needed his rest. Julian suspected that it was more than just the events of that day that had brought Paul to his current state of exhaustion.


CHAPTER 3

It was late in the morning when Paul finally woke up. He stretched languidly, idly wondering how he'd gotten into bed in the first place. He vaguely remembered getting into the limousine, but things were a bit hazy after that. Oh well, he shrugged, it wouldn't be the first time he'd had trouble remembering how he'd gotten home, and he'd been tired even before he'd started drinking.

He looked around the room appreciatively. It was beautifully furnished without being ostentatious. He was a little surprised to see that his bags had been unpacked and his clothes hung in the wardrobe. The doors of the wardrobe had been left slightly ajar - obviously so that he'd know where his clothes were. Whoever had done it must have been very quiet - he was usually a very light sleeper.

On closer inspection, he saw that his clothes hadn't merely been unpacked and hung up, they'd been ironed as well. His socks and underwear occupied a drawer in the wardrobe, and his shoes had all been cleaned and polished and were sitting neatly on the floor of the wardrobe - even his beloved, battered Docs looked like they'd been given a facelift.

Shaking his head, he wandered into the en suite to find that his toiletries had been neatly arranged in the cupboard. He'd known Julian must have been fairly wealthy, judging by the limousine, but this kind of service could only mean that he was extremely well off. Paul might have felt uncomfortable about it, but Julian was anything but snobbish or ostentatious.

The thought crossed his mind that for a man to acquire and retain that kind of wealth he'd have to be fairly ruthless - he was certainly not someone that Paul would wish to have as an enemy.

***

Lillie knocked lightly on the door and opened it when invited.

Paul was sitting on the edge of his bed, dressed only in jeans, in the process of putting on his socks and shoes. He looked up, smiling. "'Morning."

"Good morning." She answered his smile, her eyes running appreciatively over his bare chest and shoulders. His hair was loose and still damp from the shower. "Would you like some brunch? Julian's back from his meeting, and we were just about to eat."

"That'd be great, thanks." Paul nodded as he finished putting on his shoes and stood, reaching for the shirt he'd retrieved from the wardrobe earlier and slipping it on. "Lead on." He grinned as he did up the buttons on the shirt.

***

Julian glanced up as Paul paused in the doorway to the conservatory, where brunch had been set out. "'Morning. Did you sleep well?"

"'Morning. Yes, very well, thank you. I must have been more tired than I thought," Paul smiled, "I never even heard whoever unpacked my bags."

I'd be surprised if you had, Julian thought, amused. He'd needed the sleep, and Julian had made sure that he'd stayed asleep as long as possible. It had been the right thing to do - Paul had looked utterly exhausted the previous day.

They enjoyed a pleasant meal, interspersed with lively conversation about art and music. Paul had both Lillie and Julian laughing with anecdotes about his time in New York, but he said little about himself of a personal nature. They didn't press him for more than he was willing to give at the moment, although they were successful in convincing him to stay at the house for as long as he was in San Francisco.

***

After brunch, Julian showed Paul the studio that he'd said he could use during his stay. He watched, amused and pleased, as Paul wandered around the large, well-lit room, eyes shining with pleasure, sometimes exclaiming with delight at a discovery, often reaching out to run his fingers lightly over some object that had taken his interest.

Finally, he turned to face Julian. "I'd love to, but I can't use the things in here."

"Why not?" Julian was surprised.

"Because it's obviously been kept exactly as whoever used to use it left it," Paul observed. "I feel like I'd be intruding."

Julian was impressed by Paul's insight. The studio had been Alexandra's. "It's time the room was used again. Time to move on." He said quietly. "Honestly," he added when Paul still hesitated, "I'd be pleased if you used it."

"If you're sure then?." Paul's smile was shy when he finally agreed. "Thank you."


CHAPTER 4

Lillie and Paul left for the club early in the afternoon. Although he wasn't going to be onstage until 9pm, Paul had arranged to go through more songs with the band so that he'd have a larger repertoire available for his sets.

Julian stood at the window and waved them off. "What do you think of him?" He asked without turning.

"He's perceptive. I think he sees far more than he lets on. You'll have to be careful around him, Julian." Daedalus' voice came from a few feet behind Julian.

"I intend to be very careful with him." Julian turned to face him with a wicked smile.

Daedalus smiled enigmatically. He was pleased to see Julian showing an interest in things again. Caitlin's absence from his life had weighed heavily on him. Maybe this man was just the distraction that he needed.

***

The next few days served to establish a routine. Paul would get a ride to the club with Sasha, perform his two sets, joining Lillie and Julian at their table in between, and go home with Julian when he left. Depending on what the day was like when he awoke the next morning, he'd either spend time in the studio or go into the city to explore.

His sleep each night was deep and refreshing, due mainly, although he was unaware of it, to Julian's intervention.

He was gradually relaxing more and more in Julian and Lillie's company, and he and Sasha had hit it off immediately, which went a long way in making Cash more friendly towards him. Sasha often took him on interesting detours around the city when she gave him a ride to the club on her motorcycle, and, more often than not, they'd walk into the club giggling like children and trying not to look guilty about being late.

***

On his fourth night at the club, Julian, Lillie, and Cash had been called away to some sort of business meeting. Paul found himself unsure about what to do to pass the time until he had to do his next set. Sasha solved the problem by dragging him up onto the dance floor, which is where the three found them when they returned from the conclave.

From then on, whenever the other three were not around during his break, Paul and Sasha spent the time either dancing or talking.

***

"Tell me something, Paul?" Julian and Paul were relaxing in the conservatory in the late afternoon sunshine. It was a week since Paul had started at the club. He'd been out sightseeing during the morning and had returned to the estate to have a rest before he had to leave for the club. Privately, Julian thought that Paul looked a hundred percent better than when he'd first arrived. The rest he was getting was obviously good for him.

Paul sipped at his bourbon and leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs out comfortably in front of him, ankles loosely crossed. "Sure. What?"

"What brought you to the States?"

"The group I was performing with disbanded." Paul shrugged. "I wasn't ready to settle back in Australia at the time, so I decided to come here and see what happened."

"Had you been with the group long?" Julian lounged back in his chair, careful not to seem too curious. Paul didn't usually seem to want to talk about himself or his past.

Paul's expression was deliberately bland. "More than eight years."

"So, was it a singing group, then?"

"Not really. We were mainly a comedy act, but a lot of our material was sung." He grinned mischievously. "I think it constantly shocked people that we actually could sing. Tim used to say - " he broke off abruptly and turned his face away, but not before Julian had seen the pain in his eyes.

***

Paul was shocked at the intensity of the pain that he still felt when he thought about Tim. He'd been so busy in the last week or so that he hadn't had time to brood - which had been what he'd hoped would happen. It was the reason he'd come to the States - to give himself some space, and to give himself time to come to terms with what had happened.

He sat up straighter in his chair and put his glass down on the table as he lowered his head, his face hidden by his hair, fighting to keep the tears in check.

He understood all the reasons that Tim had for making his decision, and, on an intellectual level, he even agreed with the decision. That hadn't stopped his heart from breaking, though, and didn't make him miss Tim any less.

Oh, God! Would it always hurt this much?

***

"Tim was special to you, wasn't he?" Julian's voice was gentle.

"Yes." The word was little more than a sigh.

Julian stood and moved over to crouch in front of Paul. He reached out and gently nudged Paul's head up until their gazes met.

"Do you still love him?"

"No." Paul sighed. "I don't know." He shrugged helplessly as the tears spilled from his eyes to run down his cheeks. "Yes. I miss him so much that it hurts."

"Maybe I can ease the pain - at least for a little while." Julian murmured. He leaned in and began to drop delicate, feathery kisses on Paul's forehead, cheeks, and finally, his lips, before drawing back slightly.

Paul was staring at him, those chameleon eyes almost glowing in the afternoon sunlight. Julian could sense his nervousness, his hesitation - and his need.

"Paul?" There was no mistaking what he was asking.

"Please." The layers of emotion in the single, softly spoken word were many and complex.

Julian smiled as he framed Paul's face with his hands and leant in to kiss him again. He smiled into the kiss as he felt Paul responding, his hands coming to rest lightly on Julian's chest.


CHAPTER 5

He stood, drawing Paul up with him, not breaking the kiss. Paul's hands moved more surely around to Julian's back, pulling him closer until their bodies were pressed firmly together. He groaned softly when he felt Julian's hardness against his hip.

They both drew back at the same moment, staring into each other's eyes.

"Only if you want to, Paul." Julian ran his fingers through Paul's hair, luxuriating in its silkiness.

Paul's gaze searched his face and eyes for a moment before his lips curled in a sensuous half-smile. One eyebrow rose slightly in invitation. "I want to." His eyes gleamed with desire.

He'd barely finished saying the words before Julian's mouth crushed his in a wildly passionate kiss, his fingers tangled in Paul's hair. Paul opened his mouth wide to allow Julian's probing, insistent tongue full access, his own tongue sliding languidly across Julian's bottom lip.

***

They stumbled through the house and up the stairs, hands exploring, mouths locked together, until Julian growled in frustration at the delay and lifted Paul off his feet. Paul's legs came up to lock around Julian's waist, his arms sliding around his neck. Julian smiled and made his way more quickly up the stairs and into his bedroom, kicking the door closed behind him.

Falling onto the bed, they clawed almost desperately at each other's clothing until finally all physical barriers between them were gone. Paul's hands slid lightly over Julian's muscular chest and stomach, enjoying the feel of the smooth skin, his fingers combing delightedly through the light covering of hair.

Julian suddenly changed the pace, rolling them both over so that Paul was beneath him. He slowly licked and kissed his way down Paul's chest, allowing his teeth to lightly graze the sensitive nipples, causing him to gasp and moan with delight.

Paul surprised Julian by abruptly pushing him onto his back again, and licking his way quickly, but very thoroughly, down his chest and stomach. He teased Julian by running his tongue lightly - once - around his moist tip, then moving down to trail fiery kisses along the sensitive skin on the inside of his thighs. Julian shivered at the sensation.

Without warning, Paul took his length into his mouth, using his fingers to lightly caress his perineum as Julian writhed beneath him, groaning. As he licked and sucked, Paul hummed softly. Julian had been trying to hold back, but the combination of the vibration from the humming and Paul's wickedly skilful use of his lips and tongue sent him crashing over the edge and into a stunningly intense orgasm. Paul licked and swallowed until the spasms subsided, then kissed his way back up to Julian's mouth, which he captured in a hot, wet kiss as he rubbed himself against him erotically.

Still incredibly aroused, Julian scraped his nails lightly down Paul's back, causing him to arch up in pleasure. "What do you want, Paul?" he whispered, his smile wicked.

"You." Paul's pupils were dilated, his eyes dark with lust. "Now!

***

Julian's smile was predatory as he slid out from beneath Paul and moved around behind him. Grasping Paul's hips, he guided him until he was on all fours before him. As he gently probed Paul with his fingers, preparing him, Paul reached up to grasp the bed head, his head resting against his forearms.

"Oh fuck! Yes!" He cried out as Julian pushed firmly into him.

Establishing a strong, steady rhythm, Julian brought him to the brink several times, each time pausing until Paul's breathing evened out before starting again. By the time he felt his own climax nearing again, Paul was panting and moaning, his body slick with sweat, his hands white where they gripped the bed head, the muscles in his arms trembling. Changing the pace again, Julian thrust harder and faster as his body dictated the rhythm.

Julian grasped Paul's hips firmly and withdrew almost completely before ramming himself into him as deeply as he could, his hands moving to Paul's waist, pulling him upright, his back pressing against Julian's chest.

"Oh, God! Julian!" Paul thrust back hard against him as his orgasm began, his body convulsing.

Dropping his head, Julian sank his fangs into Paul's neck as he came, drinking deeply of his blood even as his seed surged into Paul's shuddering body.

Paul groaned softly and pressed back more firmly against him, one hand grasping Julian's thigh, the fingers of the other sliding up Julian's neck to bury themselves in his hair.

Regaining control, Julian licked the wounds on Paul's neck closed as they collapsed together onto the bed in a tangle of arms and legs. Julian rolled over to lie on his back as Paul snuggled contentedly into his arms, his head resting on Julian's shoulder, an arm draped across Julian's waist. He sank quickly into sleep, needing no 'encouragement' from Julian.

Julian lay awake for a while longer. Part of him was shocked that he had lost control and succumbed to his desire for Paul's blood, but another, more primitive part, savoured the memory of that long, heady sip. He hadn't lost control like that with a human in a very long time. He only hoped that Paul had been too caught up in the moment to realise what had happened.



When they awoke in the early evening they made love languidly, without the urgency of their first coupling, but with the same mind-numbing intensity. Once again Julian's fangs were buried in Paul's neck before he could stop himself, but Paul didn't react, or give any sign that he even knew what had happened.


CHAPTER 6

Sasha took one look at Paul when she came to his room to tell him that it was time to go to the club and began to grin. Paul blushed and picked up his bag, mumbling something about not wanting to be late.

"Why not?" Sasha laughed. "Why should tonight be any different?" She teased as she followed him down the stairs.

Paul laughed ruefully. "Yeah, well, that's a good point."

Sasha surprised him with a hug as he was securing his bag to the back of the bike.

"To what do I owe the honour?" Paul raised an eyebrow and grinned impishly at her.

"Julian needs someone like you, and you need him. I'm glad you two have gotten together." She told him, lightly stroking his cheek.

"Me, too." Paul nodded, suddenly shy again.

"C'mon!" Sasha mounted the bike and turned to grin at him. "We'd better get to the club before we both get all emotional."

"God forbid!" Paul laughed, swinging easily up onto the bike behind her.

They were both still laughing as Sasha guided the bike carefully out of the estate and onto the road. When she was on her own, or riding with Cash, she was more reckless - she could, after all, afford to be. When Paul was with her, she rode more cautiously, aware of the frailty of human bones and bodies. And now that he and Julian were together, Paul was doubly precious to her.

***

The members of the conclave were grim-faced as they discussed the rumours that were circulating about a rebellious group of younger Kindred. There was little hard data available to them, but the fact that rumours were reaching them at all was cause enough for concern. They needed to decide on a course of action - and soon - in case the rumours proved to be true. The Masquerade must be protected at all cost.

Julian couldn't suppress a twinge of guilt. His own lack of control where Paul was concerned might also have put the Masquerade at risk. He'd have to be more careful next time, he told himself firmly. His mouth curved in a slight smile. Next time. The words had a very nice ring to them.

***

With Julian and the others off at their meeting, Sasha and Paul once again took to the dance floor after his first set. Both enjoyed dancing, and it showed. They were more or less oblivious to what was going on around them, letting themselves go wherever the music took them.

It came as something of a surprise, then, when a man that Paul had vague memories of seeing around the club came over and tried to cut in, despite Sasha's obvious lack of interest and repeated rebuttals.

"Back off, mate!" Paul was becoming irritated with the man's persistence. "The lady's with me."

He stared, initially more surprised than scared, as the man pulled out a knife, waving the blade menacingly at him. "Then if I get rid of you, things will be a lot simpler, won't they?"

Getting his first real look at the man's eyes, Paul's concern rapidly escalated. There was a slightly glazed cast to his eyes. Shit. He was obviously on something, which would make him dangerously unpredictable. Shit.

A hush had fallen over the dance floor. Paul spread his hands placatingly, palms up, careful to move slowly. "There's no need for that, mate. Why don't you just calm down and put the knife away?" He said calmly, relieved that at least the man wasn't threatening Sasha with the knife.

He caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. The club bouncers were moving cautiously towards them. Good. He suddenly noticed that Sasha was tensed up as if she was about to do something. Not good.

While Paul was distracted, the man took the opportunity to lunge at him, slashing wildly with the knife. The blow never landed. The blade halted several centimetres from Paul's chest, stopped by a hand that seemingly came out of nowhere to grab the man's wrist in a vice-like grip. Paul's gaze moved up the elegantly cut suit sleeve to stop at Julian's face.

In the short time he'd known him, he'd never seen Julian angry before. He found himself relieved that the anger was not directed at him.

***

Other eyes watched the confrontation with interest. With Sasha so close to the singer, it had been unnecessary for the Prince to intervene personally in the incident on the dance floor, and yet he had. Obviously the singer was someone significant to the dandified Ventru. This was important information - they'd have to be sure to use it to maximum advantage.

***

Julian glared icily at the man who had tried to attack Paul. "I think you'd better leave. Now!" His voice was low and deadly. With a twist of his hand, he casually broke the man's wrist, the crack clearly audible to Paul, whose eyes widened in surprise. The attacker screamed in agony, dropping the knife and falling into the arms of the two bouncers who had moved in at Julian's curt nod.

Julian's eyes followed the small procession for a moment as it moved towards the exit then turned his attention to Paul. "I'm sorry. Usually these sorts of incidents are stopped well before they get to this stage."

Paul shrugged, the look he directed at Julian unreadable. "I'm just glad you stopped him." He smiled wryly. "I have a fair idea that would have hurt." He couldn't help but think about the strength that would have been required to stop the knife's downward plunge so completely, and to break bones so easily.

Sasha giggled, more in nervous reaction than because Paul's words were particularly funny. "I'm sorry, Julian." She should have stopped the man before he'd had the chance to attack Paul.

Julian's expression suddenly lightened. "I think we could all use a drink, don't you?" He placed a gentle hand in the small of Paul's back, guiding him from the dance floor and over to Lillie's table. Sasha linked up with Cash, who had been at Julian's side, and they followed silently, both thinking of how close Paul had come to being seriously injured - or worse. Neither wanted to think about what Julian might have done if that had happened.

Lillie joined them a few minutes later. She'd been called away to deal with some club business after the meeting had ended, but she'd been told about what had happened. She was as angry as Julian had been, her eyes flashing dangerously. She kept apologising to Paul for what had happened until he laughingly stood to go and get ready for his second set, joking that he had to go, or he'd drown under the weight of all the apologies he kept receiving.


CHAPTER 7

When they reached the house in the early hours of the morning, Julian wasted no time in taking Paul to his bedroom. Once inside, the door closed, he drew him close, his kisses almost desperate as he thought of what might have happened if the knife had found its target. Paul seemed to share Julian's sense of urgency, soft moans of desire escaping from him as he struggled with the buttons on Julian's shirt, his fingers clumsy in his haste.

Their mouths, hands, and tongues roamed freely, almost roughly, over each other's bodies. Exciting. Teasing. Tasting. Arousing even more, if that was possible.

Paul pulled Julian down to lie on top of him, wrapping his legs around Julian's waist, pressing hard against him, a low growl escaping from his throat as Julian took him with only minimal preparation. His hips thrust towards Julian, wanting more. Julian laughed huskily and gave him what he wanted. What they both needed.

Despite his earlier resolution, Julian was unable to stop himself from tasting Paul's blood as they shuddered together in blissful release. It was as if he was addicted, he thought wryly to himself as they lay quietly together afterwards. The more he got, the more he wanted.

***

Now Paul was sure of it. There was definitely something very different about Julian - and Lillie, Cash, and Sasha, for that matter. As he lay, half dozing, in Julian's arms, he thought again of what Julian had done earlier, back at the club. It wasn't just the sheer strength that he had displayed, stopping the knife from reaching Paul, and almost casually breaking the man's wrist as he forced him to drop the knife. There had been a strange glow to Julian's eyes, too. He'd thought he'd been imagining it, but he'd seen it again, just moments ago, as the first spasms of his orgasm had overtaken him.

There was also the fact that several of the other patrons of the club regarded Julian with fear. Not awe or respect for his wealth and position, but real fear.

It was a puzzle that Paul intended to solve. He liked Julian - a lot. Maybe he'd even fallen just a little in love with him. Whatever he felt, he wanted to know more about the enigmatic man whose bed he shared.

But not right now, he thought sleepily, as he nestled further into Julian's embrace. Right now he was far too tired and sated to be bothered doing anything other than sleep.

***

The next day - Saturday - Julian and Paul didn't emerge from Julian's room until just after midday. Stumbling out of bed after waking each other up in the most pleasant of ways, they dragged on the clothes that they'd left scattered around the room and headed downstairs. They just grinned at the knowing looks they got from Lillie and Sasha when they joined them for a very late brunch.

Paul was talking to Sasha, so he didn't see Lillie glance at his neck, her eyes widening in surprise. Julian followed her gaze, his own eyes widening as he saw the two small marks on the pale skin of Paul's neck. Damn! He'd been careless and not completely removed the evidence. He'd have to make sure they were gone before Paul looked in a mirror.

Lillie's eyes were clearly asking him what it had been like. Julian's lips curled into a small, smug smile and she had her answer.


CHAPTER 8

Paul studied the marks on his neck curiously. He'd excused himself from the table to go to the bathroom, moving off before Julian could say anything. He hadn't seen the anxious look Julian exchanged with Lillie.

Running a finger lightly over the two tiny scabs, he was surprised that they didn't hurt more. He had no idea how they'd gotten on his neck, unless Julian had put them there?.

Shrugging, he dried his hands and headed back to the conservatory to rejoin the others. Something was niggling at the back of his mind, but he couldn't quite catch it. Oh well. It would come to him in time.

***

Brunch finally over, they all headed off in different directions. Julian had some business to take care of and Lillie had to go to the club, while Sasha went looking for Cash. Paul headed off to the studio to work on a painting he'd started earlier in the week.

***

One hand absently coming up to smooth down the hairs on the back of his neck, Paul turned suddenly, but there was no one behind him. He'd been engrossed in the painting, but the feeling that he was being watched grew strong enough to break into his concentration as the hairs on the back of his neck prickled. Shrugging, he turned back to the painting, still unable to shake the feeling completely.

***

Daedalus drew back into the shadows when Paul turned. He was a little surprised that he'd sensed his presence. Still, he'd warned Julian that he was perceptive. He'd just proven it.

It had probably been a mistake to come to the studio, but Daedalus was curious about Paul. He enjoyed watching him, so absorbed in his painting, his hand moving confidently as he held the brush, a slight frown of concentration on his face.

When Paul's hand came up again to smooth down the hairs on the back of his neck, Daedalus knew it was time to leave. If Paul decided to search the room, he'd find him, and that would be disastrous.

***

Over the next two weeks, Julian and Paul's relationship continued to develop. They often talked for hours after making love, falling asleep in each other's arms just before dawn. Julian had finally managed to get Paul to talk to him about Tim. It was obvious, at least to Julian, that Paul was still desperately in love with him. The situation was not completely dissimilar to that of himself and Caitlin. They both loved people that they couldn't be with.

Their feelings for each other were something they also discussed. Neither was in love with the other, but they were comfortable in each other's company, and they continued to find delight and comfort in each other's bodies.

***

On the whole, the Kindred who Paul came into contact with accepted and liked him. It wasn't just that he was under Julian's protection. Paul was quiet and pleasant, blended in easily, and didn't ask nosy - and dangerous - questions.

They tended to forget that he wasn't Kindred and were often less than discreet when he was with them. He never commented on what he heard or saw, and they soon gave his presence no more thought than if he was indeed one of them.

Even Julian, Lillie, Sasha, and Cash often let things slip as they became accustomed to him being around.

***

Being around Julian's friends and associates had been an education for Paul. He gradually came to realise exactly who and what Julian and the others were, although he could scarcely believe it at first. He was somewhat surprised that he didn't fear them. Perhaps it was because all the stories and myths that were around about vampires just didn't seem to fit with what he'd seen and heard since he'd been in San Francisco.

There were some Kindred - he found himself using their term for themselves in preference to 'vampire' - that he was instinctively wary of. They all belonged to the same clan - the Brujah. He avoided all of them - he was easily able to distinguish them from the others - except Sasha. How she had come to be of a different clan to Julian was still a mystery to him, but he gathered that it had caused a great deal of trouble when it had happened.

The clan system intrigued him. He knew that Lillie was the head, or primogen, of the Toreador clan. These were the Kindred that he felt most at home with. The house band were all Toreador and he got to know them quite well during the times when he dropped into the club to go over a new song or work on something that he felt he could do better. They would spend hours discussing art and music, often losing track of time and having to scramble to get ready to go on stage.

The Gangrel clan was interesting. They seemed to be individuals only held together by a loose kinship, but they all shared an undefinable quality that marked them clearly, at least to Paul, as being part of the same clan. Cash was quiet and brooding, but he and Paul got on well, probably because they both doted on Sasha, and because Paul clearly cared for Julian as much as Cash did.

Which brought him to Julian. Julian was, Paul now knew, a Ventru, as well as being the Prince of the City - the leader of the Kindred in San Francisco. It was a position of great power and responsibility, and Julian was not necessarily popular with all the Kindred - most noticeably the Brujah. Until a new primogen could be chosen, he was also the acting head of the Ventru clan since the previous primogen - Julian's sire - had recently died. From what he'd heard, Julian had been out of the city when Archon had been killed. Cameron, the primogen of the Brujah, had been involved somehow, but the details that Paul had managed to piece together were somewhat sketchy. He did know that it had involved something called a phosphorous gun, which was apparently something that Kindred used to kill each other.

There were other clans that he'd heard mentioned, but only one - the Nosferatu - currently resided in the city on a permanent basis. They apparently didn't mix with other Kindred, preferring to keep to themselves. It seemed that the primogen of the clan - Daedalus - was a close friend of Julian's. Paul wondered why he'd never met him, until he overheard a comment which explained it. The Nosferatu, it seemed, were decidedly non-human in appearance, which meant that they could not pass as easily among humans as the other Kindred.

It was frustrating to Paul that he couldn't discuss what he knew with the Kindred. They were fascinating and he was intrigued at the way their society coexisted with humanity, hiding in plain sight, as it were.

But he couldn't let them know that he knew. He'd learned that very early. Humans who knew about what the Kindred called 'the Masquerade' had to die, or become Kindred, in order to protect the Masquerade. And he most certainly wasn't ready to either die or be 'embraced' - the term the Kindred used to refer to the act of changing a human into Kindred.


CHAPTER 9

Paul had been in San Francisco for nearly a month when Julian told him that he wouldn't be seeing him for a few days.

"Have I done something wrong?" Paul asked with a teasing smile, propping his head up on his hand so that he could look at him, the sheet slipping from around his shoulders.

"No. Far from it." Julian brushed the hair back from Paul's forehead and smiled affectionately down at him. "I have some business that's going to take all my time for the next couple of days. Will you miss me?" He ran his hands lightly down Paul's sides.

"Yes." Paul grinned up at him before turning his attention to Julian's chest, caressing the skin lightly, circling the nipples with his tongue.

"You know that Lillie wants to sleep with you, don't you?" Julian's question caused him to look back up at him, a little surprised that he would bring the subject up.

"I get that impression." Paul's smile was smug until Julian started to tickle him. He giggled and squealed and tried to squirm out of Julian's reach, but couldn't.

When Julian finally stopped, Paul was flushed from his exertions and flopped breathlessly back down onto Julian's chest. "Bastard!" He laughed.

"So, what are you going to do about Lillie? Will you sleep with her?" Julian asked, curious.

"That's up to her." Paul shrugged. "Will you be jealous?" He asked with a cheeky grin.

"No." Julian smiled. "Well, not really." He laughed. "Actually, just a little bit."

"I won't if you don't want me to." Paul told him, idly tracing circles on Julian's chest with his finger as he looked up into his eyes.

"I don't mind. Just don't forget about me!" Julian smiled.

"As if I could." Paul grinned and went back to licking and sucking Julian's nipples.

"God, I can't get enough of you!" Julian groaned as he rolled over and pinned Paul beneath him, his smile wicked.

"Good." Paul laughed huskily before claiming Julian's mouth with a kiss that left them both breathless and wanting more.

***

Lillie smiled at Paul as he joined her at her table after his second set. "You must be lonely without Julian for company." She said, her smile saying a great deal more.

"A little." Paul smiled. He could play this game too. She certainly hadn't wasted any time in making her move.

"Perhaps I can find something to take your mind off your loneliness?" Lillie arched one perfectly shaped eyebrow suggestively.

"Perhaps." Paul's smile was mischievous. "What do you suggest?"

"I have some interesting artwork upstairs in my office." Lillie's hand was slowly moving up Paul's thigh.

"Hmmm. I'd love to see it sometime." He leaned closer, his breath warm against her neck.

"Why not now? Unless you have something else you need to be doing?" Lillie smiled sensuously as her hand brushed lightly against Paul's crotch and he drew his breath in sharply.

"I don't seem to have any pressing engagements." Paul shrugged, his eyes flashing wickedly.

"Then let's not waste this opportunity." Lillie took his hand and led him across the dance floor and up the stairs.

***

Frank Kohanek watched Lillie lead Paul up the stairs and let his breath out explosively. He hadn't realised that he'd been holding it. There was little doubt in his mind about what was on their minds - the atmosphere was charged with sexual tension.

The slender singer intrigued him. He'd thought at first that Paul must be Kindred, almost certainly Toreador, but he'd quickly learned otherwise. That he was staying at Julian's estate was interesting, as well, particularly since he was human. He needed to find a way to get to talk to him. There were things that he should know about the company he was keeping. From the way Lillie had been looking at Paul, Kohanek decided that he'd better talk to him sooner rather than later - before it was too late.

***

Lillie led Paul through her office to the apartment beyond. There were three quite magnificent original paintings on the walls, a fully equipped bar, and a large, exquisitely feminine bed.

Paul smiled to himself as he paused in front of one of the paintings and pretended to study it. Actually, he would like to spend some time studying all three paintings - but not just at the moment.

Lillie laughed softly, realising what Paul was doing. She moved to stand behind him, her arms sliding around his waist as she kissed his neck. He turned to face her, his hands gliding up her arms to gently cup her face as he kissed her.

They made their way, still kissing, towards the bed. They undressed each other slowly, taking the time to explore with hands and mouths.

Lillie pushed Paul down onto his back on the bed, kneeling astride him, rubbing against him tantalisingly before slowly lowering herself onto him. Paul's eyes closed briefly and he groaned as he felt her wet warmth close around him. Reaching up, he began to knead and caress her full breasts gently with his hands, rubbing her nipples lightly with his thumbs. Lillie smiled sensuously down at him as she began to rock up and down, the rhythm she set slow and deliberate. They had all the time in the world, and she had no intention of rushing.

***

Paul struggled to hold back for as long as he could. The sensation of Lillie's muscles contracting around him as she reached orgasm was finally too much for him, and he abandoned himself to the inevitable, pulling her down to lie on top of him as he thrust firmly into her, feeling the familiar tightening in his groin as he came. The sharp sting in his neck and the tingling sensation as Lillie fed on his blood only served to intensify the experience.

They lay quietly for a few moments before Paul gently rolled Lillie over onto her back, his mouth seeking her breasts. She moaned with delight, her fingers combing through his hair. She could feel him hardening again and smiled. It was going to be a very long night - at least she hoped so.


CHAPTER 10

Paul had spent most of the morning and afternoon wandering around San Francisco with his sketchpad, pencils, and charcoal. The last few days had been interesting, to say the least. Lillie had certainly made sure that he hadn't had time to feel lonely without Julian. She'd also passed on several messages from Julian, and conveyed his answers back to him. Tonight he and Sasha would be left to their own devices since Lillie had another meeting to go to, but tomorrow night Julian would be back and the three of them - Julian, Lillie, and himself - would be going to dinner at a restaurant Julian had mentioned a few times. He had the feeling that they had something they wanted to discuss with him.

He was on his way to the club, strolling apparently idly along the footpath, when he suddenly disappeared down a small side street. Kohanek swore and quickened his pace. This was the best opportunity he'd had to talk to Paul since he'd seen him with Lillie at the club a few nights before. He turned into the side street and came to an abrupt halt.

"Detective Kohanek, are you following me?" Paul asked, leaning casually against the wall.

"Uh, actually, yes, I am." Kohanek looked slightly shame-faced that he'd been spotted. "How do you know who I am, anyway?"

Paul grinned cheekily. "It's amazing what you can learn if you keep your ears open and your mouth shut."

"Uh huh." Kohanek shrugged. "Look, I really need to talk to you. There's things you need to know - for your own protection."

Paul looked at him for a moment, his expression unreadable, then shrugged. "Okay. Is there a bar around here anywhere? This sounds like a discussion that should be held over a bourbon - or several."

***

Julian received the report about Kohanek meeting with Paul even as the two were sitting down in the bar that Kohanek suggested.

After the messenger had gone, he shared a slightly anxious look with Lillie. For the past three days he'd been occupied almost solely with trying to deal with the increasing rumours about rogue Kindred causing havoc in the city. They'd finally managed to apprehend the culprits. There were three of them. They were all very young and very foolish, and, surprisingly enough, from three different clans - Ventrue, Brujah, and Toreador. A conclave had been called for later that night to deal with the three miscreants.

"You've been having Paul followed?" Lillie was a little surprised.

Julian shook his head. "No. But I always have someone on Frank - just in case he gets himself into trouble." He smiled wryly. The detective was very good at getting himself in over his head.

"Do you think he'll tell Paul?"

"I don't think that there's much he could tell him that he doesn't already know." Julian said quietly.

"You think he knows about the Masquerade?" Lillie asked carefully. She'd had her suspicions for weeks, but hadn't said anything, not wanting to put Paul in any danger.

"Don't you?" Julian raised an eyebrow. "All of us have been guilty of letting things slip in front of him, and he's not stupid."

"So what do we do about it?" Lillie was almost afraid to ask the question.

"Nothing." Julian said firmly. "Whatever he knows, he's kept it to himself. I don't think he endangers the Masquerade."

"Neither do I." Lillie was relieved. "I think we should just keep our suspicions to ourselves for the moment."

"Agreed."

"And dinner tomorrow night?" Lillie asked quietly.

"If he accepts, then you have my blessing." Julian nodded.

Lillie smiled dreamily. She was fairly certain that Paul would say yes. The siring of a new Toreador was always a joyful event for her clan, and Paul was already accepted by them as almost one of their own. The celebration would probably go on for days.


CHAPTER 11

Kohanek had been more than shocked to realise that Paul already knew a great deal about Julian - and the Kindred.

"Don't let them know what you know." He warned him. "There are only two options for dealing with humans who know - death, or, worse, becoming one of them."

"I figured that out as well." Paul smiled wryly. "So how come you're still alive and unembraced?"

"Julian made a promise to someone." Frank shrugged, clearly not wanting to go into details.

"So, there's a third option for special cases." Paul observed quietly. He'd heard a little about Frank and Alexandra, and he could guess the rest.

"You're insane to stay." Frank shook his head.

"I have a contract to sing at the club for another two months." Actually, Lillie had already told him that she'd be happy for him to stay on at the club indefinitely. "And I owe Lillie - and Julian - a great deal." Paul said, suddenly completely serious. "They took me in and gave me their friendship and their trust. I'm not about to repay them by running away just because they're different." Being with Julian had helped to heal his wounds, and Julian had told him that it had helped him as well. They each satisfied a need in the other without demanding any commitment beyond friendship.

"Their trust?" Frank's expression was scornful. "They never even told you what they really are, for God's sake!"

Paul shook his head. "You've said it yourself - under their laws, they couldn't tell me." He pointed out. "They're not stupid, though. They have to know that I've noticed things, and overheard things that I probably shouldn't have. They've taken no action, so that proves that they trust me not to do anything stupid with what I know." He wondered a little at Kohanek's attitude. His own partner was Kindred, Paul knew.

Frank studied him in silence for a long moment. "Fair enough." He said at last. "But what if they want to make you one of them? To embrace you?"

"From what I've seen, I don't think that it would be the terrible fate you seem to think it would be." Paul replied slowly. He'd obviously thought about it. "I don't know what I'd decide if they offered it." He grinned suddenly, breaking the serious mood. "I've never really been a daytime person, so it wouldn't be so drastic a change for me that way, anyway."

Kohanek had to laugh at that. He'd been watching Paul when he'd been out exploring San Francisco on several mornings, and he had to agree with him. There was something else he was curious about. "So? You and Julian??" He'd been a little surprised when he realised that there was more to Julian's relationship with Paul than friendship. Kohanek knew that Julian had shared his bed with Lillie, Alexandra, and Caitlin Byrnes at various times in the past. And he was absolutely positive that Paul had slept with Lillie.

Paul met his gaze squarely. "What about me and Julian?" His eyes challenged Kohanek to ask the next question. For once in his life, Kohanek backed down.

"I'm sorry." Kohanek was embarrassed. "It was out of line for me to ask that."

"Yes, it was." Paul smiled, amused at Kohanek's discomfort. He liked the brash detective - he had a refreshing directness that would probably irritate the hell out of anyone who was trying to hide something from him. "But, right now," he glanced down at his empty glass, "I think it's your shout." When Kohanek looked blankly at him, he laughed and explained what the expression meant.

***

The trial of the three rogue Kindred was about to start. Cash had been chosen to adjudicate because his clan was not involved. Julian, as acting primogen of the Ventru, would of necessity stand with the young Ventru prisoner. Lillie and Cameron also stood by their clansmen. Daedalus, as was the norm for the Nosferatu, was present only as an observer and had no set role to play in the proceedings.

By Kindred law, once the trial had started, it must continue until a verdict had been reached. It looked like being a very long night, since the young Kindred refused to acknowledge that they had done anything wrong.

***

The opportunity was just too good to pass up. The four Brujah watched as Paul finished his first set then joined Sasha on the dance floor. They would make their move after the second set. That way they would have more time to get away before Paul was missed.

They had engineered the petty rebellion that now occupied Julian and the rest of the conclave. It had taken only a few well-chosen words to three young Kindred, who they knew would be easily influenced. It had been almost too easy. Now that their first objective had been achieved - getting Julian and the primogens out of the way for a while - the next stage - abducting Paul - would be simple. Julian would be enraged and, they hoped, careless when he searched for his pet human - leaving him open to attack. And the city would have a new Prince - one who was more to their liking.


CHAPTER 12

Paul went backstage to change after his second set. He and Sasha had decided to head for the park overlooking the Golden Gate, to take advantage of the balmy night and enjoy the peace and quiet. As he entered his dressing room, he turned in surprise as the door seemed to close by itself behind him.

The two men who had been waiting for him were Kindred - Brujah to be specific. Oh, shit. This definitely looked like trouble.

"Can I help you?" He asked even as he was judging the distance to the door and weighing up his chances of making it out of the dressing room.

"Come quietly and we may not hurt you." One of the men said, smiling nastily.

"Oh, yes?" Paul raised an eyebrow and leant back against the dressing table. "That's just so reassuring."

As they stepped towards him, he did the one thing they hadn't expected - he pushed off the dressing table and rushed at them. While they hesitated, surprised, he wrenched the door open and ran out. They quickly recovered and were soon after him.

Paul headed back towards the stage. If he could get out among the crowd they wouldn't dare try anything. Too many witnesses - and far too many Ventru and Toreador clan members who would help him. If he could just get to them.

Two more Brujah stepped out of the shadows just when he thought he might actually have a chance of making it. Fuck! He skidded to a stop, hearing the two he'd run from coming up behind him.

***

"And you would be doing what, exactly?" Sasha stepped through the curtained entrance that led to the stage. She'd gotten impatient waiting for Paul and had decided to see if she could hurry him up. The scene that greeted her - Paul being circled slowly by four of her clansmen - was not what she had expected.

"This doesn't concern you, Sasha."

"Oh, but I think it does." Sasha's eyes flashed dangerously. "By whose authority are you doing this?"

"Our own. Stand aside and you won't get hurt."

"Leave him alone, and you won't get hurt." Sasha countered, judging distances and preparing her strategy. She couldn't take all four, but she could distract them while Paul went for help.

Before she could act, one of them grabbed Paul, his talons poised to rip Paul's throat. "You have a choice, Sasha. Come with us quietly, or watch him die."

Paul struggled violently, but he may as well not have bothered. Human strength meant little against steely Kindred muscles.

When Sasha hesitated, the Brujah lifted Paul off his feet with the hand that held his throat, cutting off Paul's air supply. As Paul's struggles started to weaken, Sasha realised she'd lost this round. But her memory was long and the incident would not go unpunished. And she couldn't leave Paul alone with them.

"Where are we going?" They knew they'd won.

"You'll find out." Paul was returned to his feet, his legs nearly buckling beneath him as he sucked in huge draughts of air.

None of them noticed the silent figure who melted back into the shadows as they passed him.

***

The trial was progressing, but slowly. The members of the conclave looked up in surprise as one of Cameron's clan nervously entered the room after having knocked. Interruptions were not usually tolerated. The Brujah hurried over to Cameron and held a brief whispered conversation with him.

Julian watched with interest as Cameron's eyes widened in surprise and anger.

"There's been some trouble at the club." Cameron turned to face Julian. "The singer, and Sasha, have been taken by four of my clan."

"What?" Julian and Cash both came to their feet.

"I had nothing to do with it." Cameron stated firmly. "The four are Fiori's progeny, not mine. If I ever move against you, Julian, it won't be this way."

"Where have they been taken?" Julian asked icily.

"I don't know. Morgan came straight here to tell me. He had no one he could ask to follow them."

Julian forced himself to remain calm. He couldn't really fault Morgan, but he wished that he'd at least followed them to find out where Paul and Sasha had been taken before reporting to Cameron. "We need to organise a search."

Daedalus stood. "Under our law, the trial, once begun, must continue to its conclusion, without exception. Even this interruption should not have been allowed."

"He's right, Julian." Lillie said quietly, her expression sympathetic.

Julian stared helplessly at his friends. Daedalus was correct, but he had to do something.

"The Nosferatu will undertake the search." Daedalus continued. "When you've finished here, you can join us if we haven't succeeded in finding them."

Julian and the others had no choice but to accept Daedalus' proposal.


CHAPTER 13

Daedalus wasted no time in gathering his clan. While it was true that they usually did not become involved in the affairs of the other clans, this time they could not stand aside. Actions such as those taken by the four Brujah were unacceptable. There were strict guidelines for disputes within or between the clans, and one of the most unbreakable rules was that humans were not to be involved. To turn a blind eye even once would set a dangerous precedent which could ultimately endanger the Masquerade.

His clan listened silently as he gave them his instructions. When they located Sasha and the human they were to take no immediate action - unless either or both of them were in imminent danger - before reporting back to him.

Watching the clan fade soundlessly into the night to carry out his orders, he hoped that Paul was unharmed. There was little beauty in Daedalus' world, and Paul's presence at the estate had provided a small oasis in an otherwise bleak existence. Although he had never heard him perform, he'd often listened in rapt silence as Paul practised in the small music room. His voice touched something deep inside him, and his paintings and drawings also spoke to him.

And, perhaps more importantly, Paul had been good for Julian. The Prince had been despondent when he'd had to distance himself from Caitlin. While Daedalus knew that the relationship between Julian and Paul was hardly serious, both had benefited from it. To lose Paul through action by Kindred would doubtless push the Prince into a depression deeper than before, leaving him vulnerable to the manoeuvrings of such as Cameron. He could not let that happen. The Kindred of San Francisco needed a strong Prince. They needed Julian.

They would find Paul and get him back. They had to.

***

Paul and Sasha had been taken in separate cars to an abandoned warehouse in the older part of the city. Once there, Sasha was quickly secured with chains while Paul was held by one of the Brujah. It was a mark of their contempt for him that they didn't even bother to tie him up. What could a mere human do against them?

"I'm sorry." Paul sat beside Sasha when their captors left them alone.

Sasha shook her head. "It's not your fault, Paul. You've just gotten caught up in a power struggle that's been going on for a very long time."

"Between the Brujah and the Ventrue?"

She stared at him in shock for a moment before slowly nodding. "That's right. How did you know that?"

Paul's smile was wry as he replied. "Let's just say that I've heard a few things that I probably shouldn't have."

"I know the feeling." Sasha grinned.

"May I ask you something? You don't have to answer if you don't want to."

"Okay." Sasha nodded.

"How did you come to be Brujah when Julian is Ventru? Or aren't you really related to him?"

Sasha sighed. "It's a long story."

"We seem to have time." Paul smiled.

"Yeah, we do, don't we?" Sasha smiled wryly. She paused for a moment to collect her thoughts.

Paul listened in silence as Sasha told him her story. How she had come to stay with Julian, who was actually her great-great-grandfather. How she and Cash had fallen in love. How Eddy Fiori - the primogen of the Brujah at the time - had orchestrated her being embraced into his clan against her will, in the hope of inciting Julian to do something which would leave him vulnerable to an attack. She'd only found out a long time afterwards that Julian had given his permission for Cash to embrace her, if she wanted him to once he had told her all about himself. She told him of her struggle against the blood that told her to hate Julian and Cash.

Paul didn't speak for a moment after Sasha had finished talking. As she'd told the story, she'd unconsciously leaned against him, seeking comfort. He'd put his arm around her shoulders and held her gently.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked." He gave her shoulders a soft squeeze.

"It's okay, Paul." She smiled up at him. "Actually, I think it helped to be able to tell someone about it." She dropped a light kiss on his cheek. "Don't worry. Julian and Cash will find us."

"I don't think so." The other Brujah had silently entered the room. The original four who had taken Sasha and Paul had been joined by four more.

"I wouldn't want to be you when they catch up with you, Parelli." Sasha told their leader calmly.

"But they won't." Parelli told her smugly. "When they leave the estate to come looking for you, we'll be waiting for them. The city will get a new Prince - a Brujah one."

"So Cameron is behind this!" Sasha was surprised. She'd thought he was smarter than that.

Parelli shook his head. "No. But he'll reap the benefits, and we" he gestured to himself and the others, "will be rewarded for clearing the way for him to become the Prince."

"It'll never happen." Sasha spat.

"I only regret that you won't be there to see Julian and that Gangrel scum you've been seeing die." Parelli sneered before turning on his heel and leaving the room, followed by the others.

"They'll be okay." Sasha told Paul quietly, trying to convince herself as well as him.

"I hope so."


CHAPTER 14

Daedalus waited impatiently at the rendezvous point that he and his clan had arranged in the city centre. So far, there had been no positive reports on Sasha and Paul, only a growing list of places where they weren't. Still, he sighed, as he tried clear his mind of anger, it was progress of sorts.

He looked up sharply when two more of his clan - Solari and Janus - approached.

"We have found them." Solari wasted no words as she told Daedalus where the Brujah were holding Paul and Sasha. "They were unharmed when last we saw them." She concluded.

"My thanks." Daedalus said formally. "Advise the Prince. I will keep watch until he gets there." It was Julian's right to deal with the Brujah who had taken what belonged to him.

They nodded and faded once more into the night.

***

Back at the estate, the trial had finally come to its inevitable conclusion. Cash had handed down a harsh but fair punishment to the three Kindred who had been on trial. They accepted it meekly. It could have been worse - he could have sentenced them to death. He raced through the last of the formalities and officially closed the conclave.

Julian immediately called all the Kindred on the estate together and instructed them to join the search. Cash did the same with his clan, and Lillie and Cameron left to return to their clans and send them out as well. There would be no need for a trial if Cash and Julian found Sasha and Paul first.

Once everything had been arranged and everyone had left to go to his or her assigned search areas, Julian and Cash took one of Julian's cars and headed into the city.

***

Parelli and three of the Brujah watched from concealment as first Cameron's limousine and then Lillie's, went past, heading into San Francisco. Sure that Julian and Cash would not be far behind, they prepared what they would need to give the Prince and his bodyguard an appropriate reception.

***

Paul had managed - under Sasha's direction - to use a small piece of scrap wire to pick the lock on the chains that secured her feet. He'd just started to work on the chain binding her hands behind her back when Sasha had heard the Brujah approaching. Wrapping the chain loosely around her ankles again, he'd barely finished replacing the lock so that it looked to be still in place when the door opened and four of the Brujah came into the room.

Two of them stood back while the other two headed for Paul, who stood and instinctively backed away from them, not liking the way they looked at him. He'd given Sasha the piece of wire. Hopefully she could get the second lock undone by herself.

"What are you doing?" Sasha asked as the two Brujah slowly backed Paul into a corner. The wire had nearly slipped from her fingers, but she'd managed to hold on to it and insert it back into the keyhole of the padlock. Just a few seconds more. That was all she'd need.

"Oh, didn't Parelli mention it?" One of the two who stood near her smiled unpleasantly. "He decided that we need to add to the Brujah ranks. And we seem to have a likely candidate right here." He nodded towards Paul.

Shaking with rage, Sasha nearly dropped the wire again. "I'll kill you if you touch him." Her tone was venomous.

The Brujah shrugged, smiling arrogantly as his companions closed in on Paul. "You can try."

***

The car moved smoothly through a sweeping bend in the road about halfway between the estate and the city.

"Where do you want to start the search?" Julian asked Cash, his eyes still on the road.

"I was thinking - "

Before Cash could complete his sentence, there was a brilliant flash of light followed almost instantly by the roar of an explosion. The car was thrown into the air. It landed on its roof and rolled down the embankment before coming to a stop, on it's side, at the bottom of a small gully.

***

Paul had nowhere else to run. The Brujah had toyed with him, much as a cat toys with a mouse - both knew that the outcome was inevitable, but each still played out their appointed roles.

Finally tiring of the game, one of the Brujah grabbed Paul and threw him roughly to the floor. He held him down on his side, holding his wrists together behind his body, and trapping his legs with his own while the other Brujah reached out to hold his head.

"My name is Vicelli." The Brujah who knelt over him told him smugly. "It's important that you know the name of your sire."

"Fuck off! You do this, and I'll kill you as soon as I get the chance." Paul snarled.

"Then I'll just have to make sure you never get the chance. What the - ?" Vicelli's sneer turned into a yelp and he pulled his hand back quickly when Paul turned his head and bit him as hard as he could, drawing blood. Licking the wound closed, he smiled nastily as he moved in again.

"You'll be a natural." He taunted, as the others laughed. "And I'm going to enjoy this." He backhanded Paul almost casually.

Paul tried to dodge the blow, but he couldn't. His head slammed into the concrete floor and pain exploded inside his skull. He continued to struggle weakly, unable and unwilling to give in, even as Vicelli pushed his head back, exposing his throat. Paul's body went rigid and he cried out in protest when he felt Vicelli's fangs tear into his skin.


CHAPTER 15

Cash climbed groggily out of the car and crawled over to where Julian lay on the grass a few metres away. There was blood - a great deal of it - over Julian's face and chest. His eyes opened slowly as Cash carefully lifted him into a sitting position.

"Cash?" Julian's voice was a pain-filled whisper.

"Hold on, Julian. I'll get you back to the estate. You'll be all right." Cash murmured, noting the glazed look in Julian's eyes.

"You're not going anywhere." A voice said from behind them.

***

With a scream of rage, Sasha freed herself from the chains and launched herself at Vicelli. Flashbacks of when she'd been embraced fuelled her anger. She would not allow them to do to Paul what had been done to her, even if it cost her own life.

Taken completely by surprise, Vicelli had no defence as Sasha used her talons to rip his throat out.

She was vaguely aware of another presence in the room as she turned towards the Brujah still holding Paul down.

***

Daedalus had arrived at the warehouse just as Vicelli's fangs had sunk into Paul's throat. Leaving Vicelli to Sasha, he'd been on the two Brujah who'd been watching before they even knew he was there. They'd stood little chance against the enraged Nosferatu primogen.

***

Sasha rounded to face whatever was behind her when she'd dealt with the second Brujah, talon's extended, eyes glowing, fangs bared.

"Daedalus!" She stared at him in surprise, her gaze moving to the two bodies on the floor beside him.

"We need to get him away from here." Daedalus gestured to where Paul still lay, dazed and bloodied, on the cold concrete floor. "There may be more in league with them."

Sasha's eyes widened as she recalled what Parelli had told her. "They're going after Julian. That's what this was really all about. We have to warn him - and Cash!"

Daedalus' eyes glowed briefly and he growled angrily. "Hurry!" He said as he picked Paul up as if he weighed no more than a child and followed her from the room.

***

Cash's biggest fear as the four Brujah moved in on them was that they would use phosphorous guns, but it quickly became apparent that they wanted the pleasure that killing them with their own hands would provide. He smiled without humour, fangs bared. He'd soon make them wish they had brought weapons with them.

He eased Julian back down onto the ground and stood to face them.

As they moved in, he heard Julian struggling to his feet, but couldn't afford to take his eyes off the four Brujah to check on him.

***

Sasha had hot-wired one of the cars they found outside the warehouse. Daedalus helped Paul into the back seat and climbed in after him. Still groggy from the blow to his head, Paul barely noticed when Daedalus closed the wounds on his neck and checked to confirm that Vicelli had managed to take only a very small amount of Paul's blood.

As his head gradually cleared, Paul studied Daedalus with interest. Here at last was a Kindred who actually looked a little like the illustrations in the old vampire horror stories. But even he didn't completely fit the description. His eyes revealed a burning intelligence, and he'd been very gentle with Paul when he'd helped him into the car and healed the gashes which had been left by Vicelli's fangs when Sasha had ripped him away from him.

Daedalus was uncomfortable under Paul's scrutiny and fully expected that the human would shy back from him in horror at any moment.

"Thank you." Paul smiled shyly, finally breaking his silence.

Daedalus merely nodded, still expecting Paul to react in the way humans almost always reacted to members of his clan when they saw them.

Paul closed his eyes and leaned back against the seat as a wave of dizziness and exhaustion washed over him. Within a few moments he'd drifted off to sleep, the swaying of the car as it went around a corner causing him to fall sideways, leaning against Daedalus, his head resting on the Nosferatu's shoulder. Daedalus' arm came up hesitantly around Paul's shoulders to steady him against the movement of the car.

Sasha saw it all in the rearview mirror. The look on Daedalus' face was priceless. Despite her aches and bruises - which were already starting to fade - Sasha burst out laughing. It wasn't often that you got to see the Nosferatu primogen taken completely unawares and at a loss for words.

***

The last Brujah was dead, and Cash returned his attention to Julian, who had slumped to the ground, lying across the body of the one he'd slain. That the Brujah hadn't expected Julian to be able to defend himself had been obvious - and had been the deciding factor in the fight.

"I'll get you to safety, Julian." He promised softly, although he doubted his Prince could hear him.

Lifting Julian into his arms, he began the long walk back to the estate. He moved as fast as he could, but was hampered by the fact that he didn't want to aggravate Julian's injuries.


CHAPTER 16

The Nosferatu that Daedalus had sent to find Julian came across the wrecked car and the four dead Brujah. After a brief consultation, Janus continued on to the estate while Solari headed for the city.

***

When Sasha pulled the car into the drive in front of the house she was surprised to note that the estate seemed deserted, until she realised that Julian would have put every available resource into finding Paul and her.

Opening the back door, she shook Paul's shoulder gently to wake him.

He opened his eyes and looked up at Daedalus, smiling sleepily. Seeing the look on Daedalus' face, he burst out laughing and sat up, more alert. "I don't bite, honestly." Sasha's laughter set him off again as he climbed out of the car. "Well, I don't think Vicelli should really count - he did ask for it, after all."

Even Daedalus laughed at that - it was a rusty sound as though he was exercising something that hadn't been used in a long time, but it was still a laugh - Sasha had told him about Paul biting Vicelli's hand. He was pleased that Paul seemed to be coping with what had happened. He was obviously stronger than he looked.

A movement to their right caused both Daedalus and Sasha to move protectively in front of Paul. They relaxed when a Nosferatu stepped further into the light. It was Janus.

Hearing about the ambush, and the fact that Julian and Cash were missing, Daedalus' anger returned in full force.

***

Paul trudged wearily up the stairs to his room. He would rather have joined Sasha and Daedalus in the search for Julian and Cash, but he was realistic enough to accept that they could move faster without him. It was frustrating, but there wasn't anything he could do about it. Daedalus had promised to let him know as soon as there was any word. He'd also left several of his clan guarding the house so that Paul would be in no danger if there were more Brujah involved in the conspiracy. Paul hadn't seen any of the Nosferatu, but the prickling hairs on the back of his neck told him that they were there, watching silently from the shadows.

Vicelli's touch had left him feeling soiled and dirty. He stripped off his torn and bloody clothes and stepped under the shower, setting the temperature as high as he could stand it and scrubbing himself all over until he finally felt clean again.

He towelled himself dry and dragged on a clean pair of boxers before crawling onto his bed.

"Please be safe, Julian." He murmured as he fell into an exhausted sleep.

***

It took Cash nearly an hour to get Julian back to the estate. He'd had to move in the shadows, determined to avoid detection by either human or Kindred. While the Kindred who had attacked them had been Brujah, he wouldn't trust anyone until he'd had a chance to contact members of his own clan or other Kindred who he knew were absolutely loyal to Julian.

The house seemed deserted when he quietly entered, still carrying the barely-conscious Julian. He hurried upstairs to Julian's bathroom, where he knew there were supplies that he could use to treat his wounds.


CHAPTER 17

Paul woke with a start.

He'd heard something. He lay completely still on the bed for a long moment, heart pounding, waiting to see if the noise that had woken him would come again.

There! There it was again!

It seemed to be coming from Julian's room. He moved quietly off the bed, dragging on a pair of jeans that he snatched from the wardrobe as he went to investigate, moving silently along the hallway on bare feet.

***

Cash carefully helped Julian onto the bed, positioning him so that he was sitting propped up against the pillows. The blood from his wounds still seeped through the bandages, he noted, becoming even more alarmed. Julian's body should have started to heal itself by now.

"Julian, you need human blood - and you need it now!" He said urgently. He respected Julian's views on kidnapping humans, but he felt the situation justified it on this occasion. Julian was too far gone for Kindred blood to be of any use.

"You can have mine." Paul's voice startled both of them. He stood in the doorway, hair still sleep-tousled, barefooted and bare-chested, clad only in a well-worn but clean pair of jeans. The bruise from where Vicelli had hit him stood out clearly on the left side of his face, and there were additional bruises on his arms and throat.

Cash looked relieved, but Julian's expression was unreadable when he locked gazes with Paul as he moved further into the room.

"Sasha's fine. She and Daedalus went into the city to look for you two." Paul said before they could ask.

"Leave us." Julian said quietly to Cash, who reluctantly complied.

"You can have my blood, Julian." Paul repeated his offer quietly as he came to a stop beside the bed.

"I can't." Julian shook his head.

"Why not?" Paul's eyebrow rose in surprise.

"Because I doubt if I have the strength to stop myself from taking too much. I could kill you - take so much that you'd die if you weren't embraced." It was a struggle for Julian to get the words out. "And you'd never survive as a Ventru." Paul was temperamentally not suited to be Ventru - the war between the blood and his nature would destroy him.

Paul considered his words for a moment, weighing them carefully. "Lillie's Toreador." He knew that he had a choice to make. "She wants to embrace me, doesn't she." It was not really a question, Julian noted, his eyes widening in surprise, even as he nodded in confirmation.

"If you took too much, could you get me to Lillie in time?" The choice had been fairly easy to make.

"No." Julian shook his head. "Once I've fed, the healing process will take over and I won't be capable of doing anything until it's complete." He coughed painfully.

"Then get Cash to call Lillie. He's just outside your door." Paul smiled slightly.

Julian looked startled. He knew that, but how did Paul? "Cash?" he called softly.

Cash was instantly by his side. "Julian?"

"Get Lillie. Now." Julian gave him his instructions. "Hurry!"

Paul smiled and sat on the side of the bed as Cash almost ran from the room. He picked up Julian's hand and gently kissed each finger before moving further onto the bed to sit beside him, facing him, his legs tucked beneath him. He leant forward and softly kissed Julian's lips.

"I can't take your blood, Paul." Julian's concerns about taking too much were very real. He'd already learnt how intoxicating Paul's blood was. Weakened as he was, he doubted he'd be able to stop once he'd started.

"No, you can't take it," Paul agreed with a smile, "because I'm giving it to you freely. There's a difference."

"If you say so." A small smile played briefly around Julian's mouth, replaced all too swiftly by a grimace of pain.

Paul leant forward again, his eyes worried. "Please, Julian. You need it. Besides," his smile was pure mischief, "you know you like it."

Julian's eyes widened yet again in surprise. So much for Paul merely suspecting. He probably knew just about everything. With a groan that was part pain and part desire, Julian reached for him.


CHAPTER 18

Paul couldn't suppress a brief tremor of fear as Julian's arms went around him and he drew him closer, but it passed quickly. He trusted Julian. He'd been aware for some time that Julian had been unable to resist tasting his blood whenever they made love. Shocked at first, he'd come to realise that Julian would never knowingly harm him. His eyes were calm as he met Julian's gaze, forcing Vicelli's image from his mind.

Even if Julian's fear was realised, and he took too much blood this time, Paul had already decided there were worse things that could happen than him becoming a member of Lillie's clan. Julian could die. That would certainly be far worse.

He reached up and wrapped one arm around Julian's neck, his other hand resting lightly on Julian's chest. When he felt Julian gently brush the hair away from his neck, he nuzzled his face into Julian's shoulder, breathing in his spicy scent and kissing the smooth skin.

He shivered when Julian delicately licked and kissed his neck, but he barely flinched when he felt Julian's fangs puncture his skin. Even though his need for Paul's blood was desperate, Julian was gentle and careful - vastly different to Vicelli, who had delighted in the pain he'd caused.

Julian's arms tightened around him as he drank. It was a strange sensation. Paul's entire body tingled as Julian drank more deeply than he ever had before. It wasn't unpleasant, he decided, relaxing and leaning more heavily against him.

***

Unable to reach Lillie by 'phone, Cash leapt onto his bike and went roaring from the estate.

Lillie had been on her way back to the house with Sasha and Daedalus when Cash had found her. The Nosferatu who Daedalus had left watching over the house had sent word that Julian had returned home, but was seriously injured. Cash gave his bike to one of Lillie's clan and joined them in the limousine, quickly filling them in on the situation back at the house. Lillie's eyes widened when he told them how Paul had offered his blood to Julian.

"That's why you need to get to the house immediately." Cash told her. "If Julian takes too much, he wants you to embrace Paul. He wants him to be Toreador."

"He already is Toreador, in all but blood." Lillie observed quietly as the limousine pulled in to the entrance to Julian's estate.

***

Paul was very tired, his body strangely heavy. Even keeping his eyes open was eventually too much of an effort and, with a soft sigh, he allowed them to close as his body sagged limply in Julian's arms.

***

By the time Lillie and the others hurried into Julian's room, both he and Paul were unconscious - Julian because his body was wholly concentrated on healing, and Paul from loss of blood.

Lillie gently lifted Paul's limp body out of Julian's arms. His heartbeat was ominously slow, and he was very pale. Cradling him to her chest, she turned towards Daedalus, who was examining Julian. She needed the reassurance of the older Kindred's confirmation of Paul's condition before she did anything. "Daedalus?"

Daedalus had needed to assure himself that Julian would survive. Satisfied, he turned his attention to Paul, reaching out to lay one hand on his chest, the other on his forehead. He closed his eyes as he concentrated on what Paul's body was telling him.


CHAPTER 19

Paul's eyes opened slowly. Oh, God! He was so very tired - and cold, he realised, shivering. Looking up, he found himself staring into Julian's smiling face.

As he became more alert and his memory of what had happened returned, he studied Julian more closely. He seemed perfectly healthy, he realised, relief flooding through him.

"How do you feel?" Julian asked softly.

"Exhausted." The mere act of speaking was more tiring than he'd thought possible. "And cold. Really cold." He was shivering violently, unable to stop even when he tried.

Julian reached down to tuck the blankets more snugly around his body. "You'll start to feel better soon. Your body just needs time to replace the blood you gave me."

Paul's eyebrow rose. "Then Lillie didn't - ?"

"No." Julian shook his head, still smiling, but there was something almost regretful in his expression. "It was close, but no, she didn't embrace you."

"Oh." Paul wasn't sure how he felt about that, and he was too exhausted to try and think it through. "And you? You're all right?" He needed to have Julian confirm it. That would make it real.

"I'm fine." Julian leant down and kissed him - a long, lingering, infinitely tender kiss. "Thank you."

"Good." Paul smiled sleepily up at him. "And you're welcome." His eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep.

***

Lillie checked in on Paul, standing and watching him stirring restlessly as he slept, her expression tender. He'd been so selfless when he'd saved Julian with his blood. She wanted him in her clan more than ever, but she'd been glad that she hadn't had to embrace him when he'd been unconscious. For her, the act of embracing someone was an integral part of making new Kindred. Sire and progeny needed to experience it fully. It intensified the bond between them, and made for a stronger fledgling.

There must be no doubts when she embraced Paul. Not like there had been with Zane. She shook her head sadly. Zane had been beautiful and talented, and the music that had flowed from him had been wonderful, but he'd been flawed. Fatally. That wouldn't happen with Paul, she knew. It was as if he'd been born to be Toreador.

***

For Paul's safety, Julian sent him to a cottage that he kept on the outskirts of the city. Too many Kindred now knew that Paul had penetrated the Masquerade, and Julian was determined that he would not die, and that he wouldn't be embraced unless and until he was ready. It would take some time for the word to reach all the Kindred in the city that Paul was under Julian's protection despite what he knew. He didn't want any 'accidents' in the meantime. To make sure that he would be safe, he sent Cash with him.

***

Paul stirred restlessly in his sleep, muttering softly as he tried to fight off an unseen attacker. Cash had listened to his nightmares for the last few nights, unsure of what he should do. Tonight the nightmare seemed worse. Paul cried out wordlessly in his sleep, his fear and anguish unmistakable. He couldn't sit back and let him suffer any longer.

Pushing back the covers, he got out of bed and headed into Paul's room.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he reached out and placed his hand lightly on Paul's shoulder. Paul reacted as if his touch had been painful, his eyes flying open even as he threw himself away from Cash's hand. It took him a few moments to recognise Cash as the nightmare faded and reality gradually reasserted itself.

"Oh, sorry." He was embarrassed. "I was just?" He shrugged and looked away.

Cash moved further onto the bed, drawing his legs up and wrapping his arms around them as he looked at Paul. "It's understandable that you'd have nightmares, Paul." He told him quietly. "Sasha was a mess after she was embraced. There's nothing worse than being embraced against your will. It's almost like rape, but infinitely worse, because no amount of therapy or counselling can get your old life back."

Paul raised his eyes to meet Cash's gaze. This was the longest talk they'd ever had. Cash was usually taciturn, preferring to observe rather than communicate. "But I was luckier than Sasha." Paul's voice was shaky. "I thought I'd gotten over it, but?" Unexpectedly he felt tears welling in his eyes and looked away again. "Thanks for the talk. I'll let you go back to bed now." He didn't want the sympathy that he'd seen in Cash's eyes, and he definitely didn't want him to see him cry.

"You don't have to be ashamed of your tears, Paul." Cash's arms moved around Paul's shoulders. "Sometimes you need to let it out." Privately, he thought that Paul was well overdue for the release that tears would bring. After what he'd been through with Vicelli it had been incredibly brave of him to give Julian his blood, especially knowing that there was a chance that he would need to be embraced if Julian had taken too much. His respect for Paul had grown immeasurably that night.

Paul felt his control crumble completely at Cash's gentle words. He clung to him, sobbing.

"I - I couldn't - couldn't stop him. I wanted to - wanted to fight, but - but they were too - too strong." Paul's words came out jerkily between sobs. Cash closed his eyes and held him more firmly as Paul unknowingly echoed what Sasha had said to him after she'd been embraced. He'd seen the horror in her eyes and was only thankful that she'd managed to spare Paul that.

Strangely, he'd expected Sasha's nightmares to return after she'd seen Vicelli try to embrace Paul against his will, but instead she'd been more at peace with herself. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that she'd finally had a chance to relive what she'd been through, only this time, she'd been able to stop it happening. He stroked Paul's hair reassuringly as he continued to hold him.


CHAPTER 20

Julian walked into the club, feeling strange without Cash by his side. As he moved over to join Lillie at the table, he noticed that she was sitting talking to a dark-haired man that he'd never seen before. She looked up as Julian approached, an odd smile on her face.

"Julian, I'd like you to meet Tim Ferguson. Apparently he's a friend of Paul's. Tim, this is Julian Luna." Lillie made the introductions.

***

Paul had fallen asleep in Cash's arms. Cash sat absolutely still except for the hand that continued to stroke Paul's hair, not wanting to disturb what was the first really restful sleep Paul had enjoyed since he'd been abducted.

He sat there for several hours until Paul stirred, nestling further into his arms with a small sigh. When he felt him tense up, he loosened his hold on him, smiling down at him as he looked up sleepily.

"Feel a bit better?" He asked softly.

"Mmm-hmm." Paul's answering smile was unconsciously sensuous. "Thanks."

Without thinking, Cash leant down and brushed Paul's lips with a light kiss. They both drew back, somewhat startled. Paul's smile was uncertain as he looked up into Cash's eyes.

"Sasha?" He started to say, but Cash smiled and shook his head.

"Sasha won't mind." His next kiss was more forceful as he felt his passion rising. He smiled into the kiss when Paul responded in kind.

Cash hadn't slept with a man since Julian. Until now he'd never found another man that he'd wanted to sleep with. He groaned as he let his hands roam over Paul's body.

***

"Lillie tells me that Paul's away for a couple of days." Tim said to Julian after Lillie excused herself to go and take care of some club business.

"That's right." Julian nodded, his gaze roaming over Tim's face and body. He could see why Paul had been attracted to Tim in the first place. "He's having a break."

"I'm sorry to have missed him." He said quietly. "I'd been hoping to catch up with him while I was over here on business." Tim looked at Julian speculatively. Lillie had hinted that he and Paul were more than friends, and he could see why Paul would be attracted to him.

Julian smiled and shrugged. "He'll be back in a few days. He really needed the rest - he's had a very busy time of it lately." Personally he was glad that Paul hadn't been here when Tim arrived. He wanted the chance to find out what Tim's intentions were before he let him see him. He cared about Paul and he'd seen what a mess Paul had been when he'd first arrived in San Francisco. He wasn't about to let this gorgeous stranger hurt him again. "How long are you here for?"

"Another two weeks."

"Really?" Julian drawled the word out, his smile suggestive. "I guess we'll have to find something to keep you amused until Paul gets back." There was no reason why he couldn't enjoy himself while he found out what he wanted to know from Tim.

"What did you have in mind?" Tim asked with a smouldering look. He was looking forward to finding out what had been happening in Paul's life while he'd been in the States. There was no reason why he couldn't have fun while he did that.


CHAPTER 21

It was the work of only a few seconds to rid each other of their pyjamas.

Cash pushed Paul down onto the bed and moved to lie on top of him. Paul groaned softly, running his fingers through Cash's hair and kissing him passionately. Where Julian was usually a gentle lover, there was a wildness about Cash that excited Paul and brought out his own wilder side. They rolled around on the bed, hands, lips, and tongues everywhere.

Pushing Paul back down, Cash grabbed his legs and lifted them over his shoulders.

"God! Do it!" Paul begged when Cash's fingers probed him teasingly.

With one hard thrust, Cash entered him. Paul clawed at the bedclothes beneath him as Cash pounded into him, hard and fast. When Cash saw that Paul was on the verge of orgasm, he abruptly withdrew, ignoring Paul's cry of protest as he moved to swiftly take him in his mouth, sucking strongly as Paul came explosively. When his shudders subsided, Cash flipped him over onto his stomach and took him again, more forcefully than before now that his muscles had relaxed sufficiently for it not to hurt him in anything other than a pleasurable way.

Incredibly, Paul felt himself getting hard again almost immediately. Cash continued to thrust into him almost violently and he found himself pushing back against him to heighten the sensation, wanting as much of him as he could get. Cash's orgasm triggered his own and he let out a deep shuddering breath as he felt Cash collapse down on top of him. Turning his head, he shared a long, sweet kiss with him before letting his head fall wearily back onto the bed. Cash lay on top of him for a moment longer before carefully easing himself out and moving to lie on his side next to him. Paul turned over onto his back and let his head roll to the side so that he could look at Cash, a contented smile on his face.

***

Julian wandered out onto the balcony of Tim's hotel room while he waited for Tim to pour them both a drink. He was curious about Tim, wondering how he could ever have let Paul go. It would be interesting to hear his side of the story, although, he smiled to himself, he wasn't really all that interested in talking at the moment.

He turned when Tim came out onto the balcony carrying their drinks. The electricity when their fingers touched as Tim handed him his drink was unmistakable. They smiled, words unnecessary. Placing their glasses on the table, they moved slowly closer until they were only a breath apart.

Tim's hands came up to rest on Julian's waist as his lips claimed Julian's in a hard, passionate kiss.

They made their way into the bedroom. Taking their time to undress each other, they finally fell together onto the bed. Tim enjoyed the way that Julian took control. It was a change for him to be in the more passive role. He moaned softly as Julian eased into him.

Julian paused for a moment to give Tim's body a chance to adjust then began to thrust with tantalising slowness.

Tim writhed helplessly beneath him, begging him to move harder, faster, but Julian maintained the same slow pace for s

everal long minutes.

"Jesus, Julian! Please! Don't torture me like this!" Tim was nearly screaming with need.

"Well, since you asked so nicely." Julian drawled and increased the strength and speed of his thrusts slightly.

"Julian!"

Laughing wickedly, Julian grasped Tim's hips firmly and began to pound into him, his movements hard and strong. Tim timed his own thrusts to maximise the power of Julian's. They cried out ecstatically as they came, the intensity of their orgasms leaving them both drained.

***

Paul reached up to trail a finger lightly over Cash's lips. They curled into a smile beneath his touch. Opening his lips slightly, he sucked Paul's finger into his mouth, teasing it with his tongue, sending a shiver up Paul's spine.

"You're evil, you know that, don't you?" Paul laughed huskily as Cash reached for him again.

"Yep!" Cash's grin was mischievous. He rolled over onto his back, bringing Paul with him to lie across his chest as he kissed him thoroughly.

"My turn!" Paul smiled wickedly as his hands moved languidly down Cash's body.


CHAPTER 22

Tim mixed them both fresh drinks, bringing them back to the bed. "You want to know what my intentions are toward Paul, don't you?" He asked quietly, leaning back against the wall after he'd handed Julian his drink.

Julian lay on his side, head propped up on his hand, looking up at him. "Yes. If you loved him so much, how could you do that to him?"

Tim shook his head. "So much changed in my life so quickly. You know what I mean." Julian nodded silently. "And I was scared."

"Scared?" Julian raised an eyebrow.

"Scared that I'd do something that would hurt Paul worse than I eventually did." Tim told him sadly, and went on to tell him why.

Julian listened in silence until he had finished speaking. There was little that he could say to disagree, given the circumstances. "So, what makes now any different to then?" He asked quietly.

"I can't go on without him." Tim said simply. "I realise that now."

***

Julian and Lillie arrived at the cottage the next evening. Cash took the opportunity to leave and return to Sasha - he hadn't seen her for days.

Paul went out to see Cash off while Julian and Lillie went inside to put their bags in their rooms. They'd be staying the night and heading back into the city with Paul the next night.

"Give Sasha my love." Paul told him, an evil gleam in his eye.

"No way!" Cash laughed. "If I do that she won't want me any more!"

"Flattery will get you everywhere." Paul teased.

"I'll keep that in mind." Cash grinned, then became more serious. "Last night was very special, Paul." He brought a hand up to stroke Paul's cheek.

"For me, too. Thank you." Paul's fingers brushed Cash's lips lightly.

He stood and watched as the taillight of Cash's bike disappeared into the distance. Taking a deep breath, he turned to re-enter the cottage. He had the feeling that Lillie and Julian's visit wasn't purely social.

***

Julian watched Paul walk back inside the cottage, his expression pensive. He waited until Paul had joined them in the loungeroom and Lillie had poured them each a glass of champagne before he nodded to Lillie.

"Paul, you know why we're here, don't you?" Lillie asked quietly.

Paul's eyes were huge in his face as he met her gaze. "Yes." He whispered.

"You don't have to do this - especially after what Vicelli tried to do to you. It's important that you know that." She said seriously.

Paul smiled slightly. "I know. But I want to. It's important that you know that."

"There's no going back. There are rumours and myths about a 'cure', but that's all they are - legend and superstition." Julian told him.

"I made my decision the night you were hurt, Julian." Paul smiled again. "I haven't changed my mind."

"Tim is in San Francisco." Julian said gently. Paul had a right to know, before he made his final decision.

The only outward sign of the effect his words had on Paul was a slight tremor in the hand that held the champagne. "Oh." Paul's voice was expressionless.

"He's been asking about you. He wants to see you."

"Why?"

"He's been worried about you."

"I don't think I want to see him." He knew he wouldn't be able to resist Tim if he saw him, and he didn't think he could survive the heartbreak again.

"It's up to you, but perhaps you might consider giving him a chance to explain." Julian shrugged and let the subject drop. For now.

"But what about Tim? You're not doing this as some sort of attempt to escape from him are you?" Lillie felt that she had to ask. "If you are, then you're making the biggest mistake of your life - and so am I if I embrace you." She voiced her doubts calmly. "I don't want to make that kind of mistake, Paul. I won't make that kind of mistake."

"I'll never stop loving Tim," Paul told her sadly, "but that has nothing to do with this. I've never felt more - " he searched for the right words " - more like I belonged than I do when I'm with Toreador Kindred. I don't want to lose that. I want to really belong. Please don't turn me away." His eyes were bright with unshed tears at the thought that she'd turn him down.

"Oh, Paul!" Lillie stood and came over to him, joining him on the couch and hugging him. "I'll never turn you away. You do belong to us, and with us. All you have to do is ask."

"Then I'm asking you, Lillie." He looked into her eyes, his voice soft but his tone firm. "Will you embrace me? Please?"

"Gladly." She kissed him tenderly.


CHAPTER 23

Julian stood and walked over to stand in front of Paul. Reaching down, he took his hands and drew him to his feet. "This is your final opportunity to change your decision," he said formally. "Last chance to back away, Paul." He added, his expression tender.

In answer, Paul stepped closer to Julian, until their bodies were pressed together. Reaching up, he put his arms around Julian's neck. "I don't want to back away." He leant up and kissed him firmly.

Julian smiled and returned the kiss, his arms going around Paul's waist and pulling him even closer.

Paul's heart was pounding as adrenalin surged through his body. He was excited, and more than a little frightened, but he'd made his choice. Everything in him told him that it was the right one. There was no way he'd back out now. As Julian's tongue explored his mouth, he felt Lillie move to stand behind him, gently pushing the hair away from his neck. He groaned as she gently kissed the skin, his arms tightening around Julian's neck as he felt her fangs pierce his flesh almost tenderly. As before, when he'd saved Julian's life, he felt himself growing heavier, his body tingling rather pleasantly as Lillie drank deeply. He shivered slightly, sighing as he felt Julian's lips leave his mouth and move down the other side of his neck, the slight sting as his fangs sank into his skin. His head fell forward against Julian's chest and he sagged in his arms as consciousness slowly faded, Julian's arms the only thing keeping him from falling.

Lillie pulled back slowly from Paul's inert form. She nodded to Julian, who picked him up and carried him into his bedroom, arranging him comfortably on the bed before standing and moving aside while Lillie sat on the side of the bed.

She leant down and gently kissed Paul's lips before raising her wrist and drawing her fingernail sharply across it. As the blood started to flow, she reached out and held her wrist over Paul's mouth. His lips parted as the first drops fell on them, his tongue flicking out to lick at the blood, tasting it.

His eyes opened slightly and he reached up to hold her wrist against his open mouth, sucking firmly as his body demanded more blood. He wasn't fully conscious, his actions instinctive rather than voluntary.

Julian was surprised at the amount of blood Lillie gave Paul. It was far more than was needed to transform him. He looked at her questioningly.

"I want him to be strong." She told him, her tone almost defiant.

Julian just smiled.

Finally, Lillie judged that Paul had received enough blood. She gently disengaged her wrist from his hands, licking the wound closed.

Paul sighed, his hands falling to his sides as his eyes closed once more. Lillie took his left hand in hers and settled in to wait. Julian moved around to the other side of the bed and took Paul's right hand. As they watched over him, they saw the last remnants of the bruises on his face, throat, and arms fade completely away, and the wounds on his neck from their fangs gradually healing, and shared a smile - it was an indication that the transformation was going well.

***

It was hours before Paul showed the first signs of regaining consciousness. Julian and Lillie had sat in silent vigil while the transformation took place. Paul's body would occasionally twitch or spasm as Lillie's blood did its work.

***

Paul woke, feeling very strange. His skin tingled, every sensation more intense. Small sounds seemed magnified. Opening his eyes, he was amazed at the colours that assaulted him. He had to consciously tone them down before he lost himself in the wonder of them. Looking to his left, he saw Lillie smiling down at him, still holding his hand. Her skin felt like a mixture of velvet and satin to his newly heightened sense of touch.

"Welcome to the clan, Toreador." Lillie said formally, although she was smiling broadly at him. Leaning down, she brushed his lips with a gentle kiss.

"Thank you, sire." His grinned, his eyes sparkling with mischief.

Julian reached out to brush the hair away from Paul's forehead. "Welcome to the Kindred, Paul." He said softly, smiling.

"My Prince." Paul brought Julian's hand up to his lips and kissed it, his grin as cheeky as ever.

Julian laughed and helped him to sit up. "How do you feel?" He asked, studying him closely.

"Fantastic." Paul smiled, a little surprised. Lillie had told him that some fledglings awoke feeling disoriented and ill. "Weird, and a little light-headed, but fantastic." He laughed delightedly.

"You need to feed, Paul." Lillie told him. "That will make the light-headedness pass."

For the first time, Paul looked uncertain. "Feed?" He suddenly realised what that meant. Shit.

Lillie laughed at the expression on his face. "Don't worry. You don't have to kill anyone, or even hurt them." He looked relieved. She would educate him in the ways of the Kindred over the next few days and weeks, teaching him how to take what he needed without harming the unsuspecting human donor. "For now, though?" Reaching up, she pulled the hair back from her neck and deftly drew her fingernail along the skin.

Paul's pupils dilated as the scent of her blood reached him, his eyes glowing eerily. Julian smiled - his reaction to the smell of blood was the final sign that the transformation had been completely successful. Paul could feel his fangs growing even as he leant towards her neck. His first conscious taste of her blood made him almost dizzy. It was sweet and cool, just as, he realised, he'd expected it to be. Closing his eyes, he drank deeply, her hand gently stroking his hair.


CHAPTER 24

Paul finished his second set, still feeling as energetic and strong as he'd felt when he started the first set. He bowed to the appreciative crowd and disappeared behind the curtains to go and change. Lillie had said that there would be a small celebration after the club had closed - which would be in another hour or so.

As he sat down to take his shoes off, he smiled. "And to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Frank?" He asked, turning to where the detective stood in the doorway. He'd heard his heartbeat as clearly as if he'd been standing with his head pressed against Kohanek's chest.

"I was hoping it wasn't true." Kohanek said quietly as he walked into the room. "They did it, didn't they? They made you into one of them." He said sadly.

Paul nodded and smiled, the happiness in his eyes obvious even to the world-weary police officer. "It may not be right for everyone, Frank, but it was the right thing for me. And they didn't force me to. I asked."

"They tricked you into it." Kohanek still couldn't let himself believe that anyone would want to be embraced.

"No, they didn't." For some reason, it was important to Paul that Kohanek understand. "Lillie could have embraced me a week ago, and I wouldn't have been able to stop her, but she didn't. She wouldn't. Not until I asked her to."

"What happened a week ago?" Kohanek wanted to know.

"Julian was badly injured. He needed blood, so I gave him mine."

"So he was hurt in that ambush!" Kohanek's eyes widened. "But why would that have meant that Lillie could have embraced you?" He was obviously puzzled.

"Because he very nearly took too much blood. By the time Lillie and the others arrived, we were both unconscious." Paul said quietly.

Kohanek's eyes narrowed as he thought back. Paul hadn't been at the club since the night Julian's car had been blown up until tonight. Now he knew why.

Paul went on to tell him about what had happened when he and Sasha had been abducted by the Brujah. How Sasha had stopped them from embracing him. "So you see, Frank, it really was my choice."

Kohanek shook his head. "No, you just think it was."

Paul sighed. Julian was right. Kohanek would never openly admit that Kindred and humans could coexist, that the Kindred were really no threat to humans.

"Then why are you even bothering to speak to me, Frank?" Paul asked sadly, as he returned to the task of removing his shoes. "According to what you believe, I'm now one of the vermin who infest the city. Just another threat to humanity that should be eliminated."

Kohanek was silent for a long moment. He'd begun to think of Paul as a friend - when he was still human. "Not all Kindred are vermin." He said finally. "If you ever need to talk, you know where to find me."

"Thank you, Frank. That means a lot." Paul looked up and smiled, knowing what it had cost the detective to say that. "Take care." He called softly as the detective walked from the room. Maybe there was hope for Kohanek yet.

***

Several nights later, Paul paced impatiently around Lillie's office after he'd finished his second set. She'd asked him to wait for her there while she attended to some business. He'd complied. She was his sire, so technically he had little choice, but he wanted to please her anyway. Still, he hadn't seen Cash or Sasha since he'd returned from the cottage, and he wanted to share his happiness with them. He idly flicked a speck of dust from the leather pants he'd decided to wear for his performance tonight. Tim had always liked him in leather pants, he remembered with a sad smile. He wondered if Tim was still in San Francisco, then clamped down firmly on the thought. He was Kindred now. There could be no going back. He didn't want to go back. But he still wanted Tim, he acknowledged to himself with a sigh.

The 'small' celebration had lasted for three nights as Toreador from all over the city and beyond came to meet the newest member of their clan. During the days, Lillie had started his instruction in the ways of the Kindred and the laws that now governed his existence and behaviour. As soon as night fell, the party had continued, with Paul only leaving to perform his sets downstairs in the club before returning. It had been fascinating to finally be able to ask all the questions he'd wanted to ask before he'd been embraced, without fear of the consequences of asking them.

Julian had claimed him from the party in the early hours of this morning and taken him home, telling everyone that the fledgling needed to rest. Not that he'd gotten much rest, he thought, smiling. As good as the sex had been with Julian before he'd been embraced, now it was absolutely mind-blowing. There were even more advantages to being Kindred than he'd realised, he thought with a smug smile. And the look on Julian's face when Paul had sunk his fangs into his neck as he came had made Paul sorry he hadn't had a camera. He shivered lightly as he remembered the strong, spicy taste of Julian's blood in his mouth, the thrill when he'd once again felt Julian's teeth in his own neck.

The door to the office opened and Paul looked around, expecting to see Lillie, but knowing even as he turned that it wasn't her.

There was no mistaking the tall, dark figure who filled the doorway. Oh, God! Tim.


CHAPTER 25

Lillie and Julian sat at their table in the club, sharing a bottle of champagne and discussing the events of the past few months. They kept glancing towards the stairs that led up to Lillie's office. Both hoped that they wouldn't see either Tim or Paul emerging any time soon.

They'd deliberately held off telling Tim that Paul was back until they were sure that Paul was truly reconciled to being Kindred now. Fledglings were often highly unstable in the first few days after they were embraced as they came to terms with everything that had changed in their lives. Paul had been luckier than most and had probably not needed the time to adjust, but they had not been willing to take the chance.

***

Paul stared at Tim through newly aware eyes. Now that he knew what to look for, it was so obvious. How could he have missed it?

He lost himself in Tim's scent, in the way his hair shone in the light. Lillie had warned him about this - it was a particular hazard for fledgling Toreador, some of whom had been know to stare for hours in rapt fascination at something so simple as the way light was refracted by a crystal glass. She'd told him that Toreador were very much slaves to their senses - and it was true. He had to force himself to concentrate on what Tim was saying, rather than on the sweet sound of his voice. He was trembling with need. Tim had always been able to elicit a response from Paul just by being in the same room - now that his senses were enhanced, the effect was magnified to an almost painful level.

"You look wonderful, Paul." Tim said softly, gaze flicking appreciatively over the leather pants as he walked further into the room. "I'm sorry I never told you - that I pushed you away." He said the words in a rush, as if afraid that Paul wouldn't stay around long enough to listen. "I was scared of what might happen - that I'd destroy you if I, well, you know." He stopped barely a foot away from Paul, gazing down at him longingly, afraid to reach out to him.

"You Ventru are always so fucking analytical. Shut up and come to bed." Paul smiled as he took Tim's hand and drew him through the office and into Lillie's apartment, savouring the feel of Tim's hand in his.

"And you Toreador are always so damned insatiable." Tim laughed as he pushed Paul down onto the bed.

"Mmm-hmm. Is that a no, then?" Paul arched one eyebrow seductively, running his hand down Tim's chest.

"Certainly not!" Tim's smile was pure lust as he joined Paul on the bed. "Merely an analytical observation."

Whatever Paul might have said next was lost as Tim captured his mouth in a long, tender kiss.

***

There was a sense of urgency to their lovemaking, but they forced themselves to go slowly, drawing out each sensation as long as possible. Instead of ripping at each other's clothing, they took their time, drawing off each garment with exquisite, torturous slowness.

Tim shivered with anticipation as Paul ever so slowly kissed and licked his way down his chest and stomach, pausing for a long moment before swooping down to take his entire length into his mouth. Tim's body jerked convulsively as Paul sucked firmly and teased him with his tongue. He moaned loudly as Paul continued his ministrations before finally relenting and bringing him to shuddering release.

"Oh, God, I've missed you Pixie." Tim eventually managed to get the words out.

Paul's smile was cheeky as he moved up to capture Tim's mouth in a hot, wet kiss. "So I gathered." He laughed huskily. "I've missed you too."

"How much?" Tim's grin was pure evil.

"Why don't you find out?" Paul challenged, eyes glinting.

"Oh, don't worry." Tim chuckled as he pushed Paul over to lie on his back and knelt astride him, pinning him down. "I intend to."

***

Tim wasted no time in taking Paul into his mouth, sucking firmly, swirling his tongue around the sensitive tip. Paul writhed beneath him when he dragged his teeth lightly up his length, a low groan forced from his lips. Tim smiled and redoubled his efforts, his fingers probing gently at first then more strongly as he felt the tension building in Paul's body.

Paul's back arched in ecstasy as he came explosively, his hands clutching desperately at the bedclothes. "Not bad." He gasped out as he collapsed limply onto the bed, senses reeling.

"Fuck you!" Tim laughed.

"Yes, please!" Paul giggled wickedly, locking his legs firmly around Tim's waist. "Fuck me hard, Timmy. I need you so badly!" He whispered, his eyes dark with need.

Tim groaned and knelt upright on the bed, pulling Paul up with him. Paul wrapped his arms around Tim's neck as their mouths met in a bruisingly passionate kiss. Tim moved forward on his knees until Paul's back was pressing against the wall at the head of the bed. He thrust hard into him, pinning Paul to the wall as he hilted himself then setting, up a hard, fast rhythm. The time for taking things slowly was gone. He needed Paul just as badly as Paul needed him.

Paul felt Tim's fangs against his lip as he felt his control slipping. He tore his mouth from Tim's and sank his fangs into the smooth skin of his neck as he shuddered and came, Tim's blood spicy and sweet in his mouth.

With one last powerful thrust Tim shot his seed into Paul's body, his mouth sliding down to Paul's neck, the taste of Paul's blood adding to the intensity of what he was experiencing.



EPILOGUE

Exhausted, sated, they lay together, half asleep, each lost in their own thoughts.

Paul snuggled more closely into Tim's embrace, smiling contentedly, his mind drifting over the events of the last few days. Tim was right, as Julian had been. He could see that clearly now. He wouldn't have survived the conflict between the Ventru blood and who he was. His smile grew wider as he recalled the ease of his transformation. Lillie had told him that such a painless transition was rare, and that it only confirmed what she'd thought - he'd been born to be Toreador. The more staid Ventru blood, with its tendency to adhere to a rigid, structured existence would have clashed intolerably with his need to create. And his chances of surviving as Brujah, with their violent tendencies and barely suppressed rage, would have been even more slight. He shuddered at the thought of what would have happened if Sasha hadn't stopped Vicelli. He had no idea how Sasha coped, but she was strong - and she had Cash's love to sustain her.

Tim felt the shudder pass through Paul's body and looked down at him questioningly. Paul just smiled softly and shook his head before closing his eyes again. It wasn't important.

He studied Paul's face, pleased to see that he was totally relaxed and happy. Not like the last time they'd been together, he remembered.

Tim had been embraced just after Victoria had fallen pregnant with Leo, when he'd been confused about whether to stay with Victoria or to be with Paul. He'd been vulnerable and hadn't really understood what he was getting himself into. Afterwards, he'd fought his desire to embrace Paul for as long as he could, but ultimately he knew that if he stayed with him, he'd succumb. It had broken his heart to have to push Paul away, but the temptation to embrace him, whether he'd been willing or not, had become too great. The only choice he'd had was to tell Paul that he wanted to leave the group and return to Australia to raise his family. He could never have lived with what embracing him into the Ventru clan would have done to Paul. He suited the Ventru blood, but Paul - everything that made him Paul - would have been suffocated. Paul was Toreador, through and through, and always had been, even before he'd been embraced, he realised, wondering how he could have missed that before.

His arms tightened protectively around Paul's shoulders. He'd never let him go again.

***

Tim extended his stay in San Francisco by two weeks. Julian invited him to stay at the estate, and he accepted eagerly. He and Paul had well and truly reconciled - there were no more secrets to come between them now.

Paul had every intention of honouring his contract to sing at the club, which meant he wouldn't be returning to Australia for at least another two months. And he still had much to learn about being Kindred. Tim understood, but he had to go back - his work commitments would only wait for so long, and he missed his family.

They made the most of the time they had, making plans for when Paul came home, exploring the city together, making love for hours at a time.

***

Paul was almost frightened by how well things were going. He'd finally found where he belonged - and Lillie assured him that there was a large Toreador contingent in Australia so he need never feel alone again. He and Tim were together again, and making plans for the future. It was all so perfect that it made him nervous. Tim's constant reassurances went a long way toward dispelling his anxiety.

***

Sasha found Tim in the music room, playing the piano while he waited for Paul to get ready to go to the club. She paused for a few moments, enjoying the music until Tim finished and turned to her with a smile.

"Hello, Sasha. You're coming to the club tonight?" It was Tim's last night before he flew home to Australia.

"Wouldn't miss it." Sasha smiled then her expression became more serious. "Can we talk for a moment?"

"Sure." Tim nodded.

"I'm not good at this, so I'll just come straight out and say it." She took a deep breath. "Don't hurt Paul. I know you love him, but you didn't see what he was like when he first came here."

"I won't hurt him." Tim promised her quietly. "Not ever again."

"Good." Sasha smiled. "Because I quite like you - I'd hate to have to kill you." She was only partly joking.

***

After his discussion with Sasha, Tim headed back to their room to see how Paul was going getting ready. He was just about to go up the stairs when Cash came out of the library. "Tim. Glad I caught you. Could I have a word?"

Tim nodded, following Cash back into the library with a sense of déjà vu. He wasn't disappointed.

***

Paul looked up from where he was sitting on the edge of the bed putting his boots on. "Hey." He smiled, all the love he felt for Tim shining in his eyes.

"Hey." Tim smiled softly and went to sit beside him, his arms going around Paul's waist. "Have I told you today that I love you?"

Paul pretended to think about it. "Hmm?.not in the last twenty minutes or so." He pouted.

"God?that's dreadful!" Tim gasped, pulling Paul closer and kissing him thoroughly. "I love you." He whispered when they drew apart.

"And I love you." Paul leaned in for another kiss.

***

Tim sat with Lillie and Julian at their usual table. He never took his eyes off Paul, drinking in every movement, every feature. His voice sent shivers down Tim's spine. It would be far too long before he'd see him again, he thought with a sigh.

At the end of the first set, Paul joined them at the table, snuggling into Tim's side as they shared a bottle of champagne. All too soon the break was over and it was time for him to do his second set.

Tim glanced up at Lillie and Julian after Paul had disappeared backstage to change at the end of the set. Uh-oh. "Let me guess. You're about to tell mw that if I hurt Paul I'll answer to Julian? Am I close?" He smiled. He was touched by how much they all cared for Paul. And he was never going to hurt him again.

"Not quite. If you hurt him, you'll answer to me." Lillie told him, speaking not as Paul's friend, but as his sire.

"I get the message." Tim nodded soberly.

***

Julian and Lillie went with Paul to the airport the next evening to farewell Tim.

He was fighting back the tears as he hugged Tim tightly outside Customs. "I love you, Timmy." He whispered, his voice wavering.

"And I love you, Pixie." Tim was barely able to speak as he fought to control his own tears. He glanced up at Lillie and Julian. "Look after him for me."

"We will." Julian promised.

Tim's arms tightened around Paul, crushing him to him. "I'll see you in forty-nine days and twelve hours." He tried to smile. "Not that I'm counting."

"And twenty-seven minutes. I'm not counting either." Paul's answering smile was just as shaky.

"I'll be waiting for you." Tim whispered.

"I'll be there." Paul promised.

END

This story was published in December 2003.

Kindred: The Embraced and all characters are copyright © 1996 Spelling Television Inc.
Vampire: The Masquerade is © 1990-2007 White Wolf Publishing, a division of CCP North America. All rights reserved.