“So… I’m meeting with you and Councilor Evansworth on my time to go over something you both need my help with, but you’re not at the University anymore, so you can’t help with my grades or anything… so… what’s my motivation?” Johnny looked back and forth between the two. Sure, he had respect for the Tasker. He’d gotten his first dabbling into that lifestyle thanks to their run-ins with the doppelgangers. But he’d barely heard from the guy since.  Nor had he heard from Councilor Evansworth or Councilor Kennedy for that matter. And now, suddenly they needed his help? So, he felt the question was justifiable.

Sebastian was sitting there staring at the human that seemed to think he was irreplaceable. To the vampire’s thinking not many humans fell in that category. There was a slow grin on the vampires face as he tapped his finger on his chin. “Any other time I’d personally show you, but Raudine is very insistent that you are useful.”

“He has been. I give him that.” Raudine  replied as he absently swirled his drink in the highball.  

“Here’s the only motivation I’m going to offer and I’d think very hard on it before rejecting it, given my preference of meals.” Sebastian sipped from his glass of bloodwyne as he went on. “I’ll personally make sure that you pass all of your classes. In return, you help us without hesitation when asked. Fair enough?”

“If you can pull that off, I can pull my part off.” Johnny smiled and brought out his notebook.  He began to make notes.

“And keep in mind that I was the one who killed the person who was previously in your position. I don’t mind killing, if it’s necessary,” Senias smiled in an evil manner and fluttered his eyelashes at the shit.

“You’re such a kidder, Mr. Raudine.” he chuckled, but the fact that the Tasker didn’t change his expression made him nervous as fuck.  Johnny swallowed hard. “Okay, well, I guess I’ve got a task myself, now, so I’ll take mine ta go and leave you gents to your thing!”

The boy’s heartbeat sped up and Sebastian chuckled. “He likes you so for now your safe.” He swirled the potent liquor in the glass and watched the young man move. “Just don’t disappoint us.” His gaze glittered ruby as he drank more.

Johnny nodded and scooted away from the table and toward the bar. Senias or as he was known by most of humanity – Raudine – had already told the boy to use his tab. He had no issue with it. The dragon looked across the table, then moved over in the horseshoe to be closer to Sebastian for ease of keeping track of people around them and also talking.  

“That’s two chores down.  I can’t do any digging at HQ without eyes and ears attached to mouths getting wind of it. But I can definitely seek more information through the dragon community, such that it is. Any other suggestions?”  

Watching the human at the bar, Sebastian answered the dragon. “I’ll see if anyone knows anything in the covens. We need to keep an eye on the demons as well. I need to find out what illegal portals are being used and by who. Someone on the streets knows and we need to find out who and what they know.”

“Well, Mira would admit it if something was happening through their portal that tied in… something that would free her twin brother. Even if it wasn’t fiscally practical for their business, if it freed Dante, she’d say.” Sen took another drink.  

“You seem pretty certain about that demon. Her brother wouldn’t be pleased if she simply gave everything over to Crimson that he has worked his whole life for.” Sebastian knew of Senias’ history with the succubi but could that really be why he was so certain about the dangerous female?

“She’s more emotional than him when it comes to such things. She’d give it all up in an instant, no matter what he thought – if it meant gaining his freedom. And Dante would forgive her. He’d rebuild. But then – that’s what Skinner is trying to keep from happening, isn’t it? He doesn’t want them to rebuild or even be in the market.” He took another drink. “Besides, Dante now has something besides wealth to keep his heart beating.”  Sen looked down into his drink and took another sip, taking some ice into his mouth to swirl around.

“How long has it been?” Sebastian finally looked at the man seated beside him. “Two days? Three? How long before you’ll have to see him?”

“I have no idea. Going on two days, maybe three? And what makes you think I have to see him?” the dragon glared.  He hated when the vampire knew something about him that he thought he was hiding. Truth was, Gabriel, for all his claiming to not want to know a damned thing about magic, had shut down their bond to a minimum. That bothered Senias. It bothered him greatly.

“I’m asking because you are supposed to be my Tasker and I tend to keep up with mine. Not to mention if you go to him you’ll have Skinner on our asses and that isn’t acceptable to me.” the vampire was being very serious on this point of their conversation.

“I’m not stupid. If I wanted to see him, I’d not make a show of it, Bastian. But I’m not seeing him, am I? I’ve been at your side or doing your bidding since we left Skinner’s office. So ease off.” He took another drink and the last piece of ice before putting the highball back on the table.

Relaxing back into the seat Sebastian watched his former partner and chuckled as he shook his head and drank more wine. “You really have not changed much at all.”

“I never said I had.”

“You aren’t stupid, but sometimes you do foolish things when cornered.” Sebastian stared at his glass, it was much easier than looking at the dragon right now. Of all the creatures to win the heart of the beast why did it have to be a damned human from the lineage that had branded Sen? Could karma really be that screwed up?

“That part , I can’t guarantee will ever change. I try to be strategic, but it’s not exactly my forte.” He smirked and leaned back in his seat until he caught Sebastian’s eyes and winked at him just to be silly.  

“But, I have, you know? Changed.”  he looked up as the waiter came out with fresh drinks.  

“Oh, have you? The Sen I know would enjoy the hell out of the human, have your fun and then when he shows signs of caring too much you’ll bail on him.” Sebastian smiled and waved his glass at Sen. “You aren’t running away from this one. At least not yet. This time my old friend it seems you are very determined to run right into the fire for this one. My question is why? What’s so different about this one other than being a fragile human mortal?” Sebastian refilled his glass before corking the bottle.

“I don’t know how much of that is an actual question, how much a challenge, or how much is jealousy?”  Senias knew he was deflecting. He even scolded himself for it.

He had started to drink from his glass but now paused and set the second glass of bloodwyne down untouched. “Well let me help your addled brain sort it out shall I. The first part was insight to what I know of the warlord dragon from days gone by. The second part is observation with a caution to you that I see a drastic change in you that I know can sometimes be painful. And last but not least the questions were simply that, questions regarding your feelings towards a Kennedy male. Considering you once threatened to wipe out his entire lineage. Better or need I go on?” Sebastian was still smiling in that patient way of his.

“The warlord dragon died when he had to leave Europe behind and begin a new life elsewhere or be drawn and quartered.  I stopped running from others who might care about me when I realized my actions had caused my best friend to turn himself in to Crimson for both of our crimes. I had thought that you had taken my advice and just left – like me – so I didn’t try to find you for at least a century. You were on this side of the drink as well, it seemed, only you were in a cell.  I stopped running away from things the day I told Skinner who I had been and told him I would act as his very own personal Tasker if he would free you. I decided not to wipe out his family when I met his grandmother, not when I met him. You remember Amelia, don’t you?”

Sebastian had never known the extent of the agreement with Skinner for his freedom. He had never asked for such from him. In fact he had wanted Senias to forget him and had tried to to die in that damned cell. In some ways he was still there or at least parts of him were. Realizing he’d been asked a question he answered, “Yes, I remember Lady Amelia very fondly. Quite the spitfire under all those mannerisms.” The ladies passing had been heartbreaking to many.”

“When she found out what I really was… things changed. But it wasn’t because of what I was so much as it was because of who I was. She saw me as a danger to her family instead of a blessing. I never understood why. It wasn’t until she was on her deathbed that I was told to look after Jonathan and protect Gabriel. And I realized that she had kept my secret because she cared and not because she wanted to use me. She had never asked anything of me until that moment. And she asked it – she didn’t order it. She asked it, not knowing that there was even a binding spell upon me. She apologized to me for not acknowledging what I was.  It wasn’t her ancestory that had anything to do with it. But it was her heart that showed me that not all humans are… like the ones who enslaved me. So, yes, I’ve changed over the years. But not all because of Gabriel Kennedy.”

“Then by all means explain in detail these changes in you.”

“I took responsibility for Jonathan’s new life. I helped guide him instead of constantly looking for ways to end my binding. I started gathering information here and there on Skinner and doing my best to out-deal him. Hence I got close with the twins once again. I brought them into close competition with things I knew he was trying to do on the side, using Crimson – nothing so serious that we could use it against him, but it was enough that I felt a jolt of joy when I socked it to him – getting people to turn from him and do business with the twins instead.  I took note of the residual magic left in the Kennedy line. I’d ignored it for years, letting it get less and less powerful. I… I even showed Jonathan a few small spells to help him out. I did, however, keep my promise to Amelia to remain away from her grandson. Until he needed me. And even then, I only stayed long enough to be sure he was safe. But I actually came to realize that not all should be judged on what even the many do.”

“My changes led to me being open to more with Gabriel. I began to enjoy being a persistent thorn in his side. And his sincere apology and his drive to free me and mine despite the danger to himself? That is what has helped me fall further for him. But I didn’t realize he was gay until recently. Until the doppelganger investigation. That’s when things took quite the turn. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I suppose only time will tell us all that.”

“Time will tell as you say.” Sebastian did drink this time and he enjoyed this round right down to the final dregs in the glass.

“I walked into that vampire lair, hoping someone would kill me.” He was staring at the cup. He hadn’t picked the new one up yet.  “I had nothing to live for.”

His amber gaze looked at Sen and he let the glass go before he broke it.

“Why? You made it very clear we were done. You had Inea and no longer wanted me. I left just as you wanted me to. I gave you what you wanted Senias. I gave you a life free of me.” Sebastian’s gaze hardened and he felt his fangs as they lengthened.

“That’s not what I wanted,” Senias replied with a whispered snarl.

“I prayed and begged for death every day in that cell and was denied. So forgive me if I seem jealous and just a little envious. A human that hasn’t even spent one lifetime proving himself, his loyalty or his devotion to you is suddenly enough for you.”

“That’s why you hate him? Because he was born human? That’s not his fault.”   

Pushing his fingernail into his own chest just above his heart, Sebastian added with just a little roughness, “I saved you from your grief and I picked up those pieces, not Gabriel Kennedy. I pulled you from that edge and showed you life again, just as you did for me. In return for my loyalty and devotion you shut me out, you turned from me because I wanted to be more to you.. I wanted you to love me as I loved you.” Grabbing the bottle of wine he yanked the cork free and filled his glass again. He drank deeply and savored the salty sweet tang of the liquor.

Senias felt a lump in his throat. He normally never had such a weakness. This was why he had been so easily taken by Inea when she came calling. He’d never explained such things to Sebastian. He’d never given his comrade the chance to accept it. He couldn’t deny what was being said to him. The only point he could ever argue was that he had loved the vampire. It was that emotion that had scared the hell out of him. But, what good would come of him admitting that, now?   

“I turned myself over to Crimson because I had already survived the loss of those I loved, once. I didn’t want to survive such misery again. I thought they’d execute me for our crimes. I confessed to all of it to end my misery and instead..” This was a conversation he had never wanted to have with the dragon and yet the wine loosened his tongue and the moment seemed to fire him up.  

“Well,” Senias took up his drink and swallowed all of it down, scorching his throat. He put the glass on the table with a loud hit. “Go ahead. Tell me.”

He wasn’t going to tell Sen all of it because it wasn’t anything he needed to know, but the dragon pushed and Sebastian responded. “You don’t really want to know all of it Senias. If you did then you would have sought me out after my release.”

“You’ve been saving this up for years and years, mon ami,” he reached over and physically turned Sebastian’s chin toward him instead of away. They’d have to face each other now.  “Punish me with it, like you’ve wanted to do all of that time.”

When Sen dared touch him as if it were his right to do so Sebastian snarled low, “Fine you want to know it all so badly here!”

The vampire opened his mind and pushed all those memories at the dragon. He was in cell that he had to kneel in because it was literally too small for him. It was moldy and damp and he was shackled by his hands and feet. There was barely space to sleep curled on his side, when he slept which wasn’t often. For the first five years he was beaten every day until he passed out and starved so badly he never healed. After that it was once a week. Sebastian’s raspy words echoed off the stone “Please let me die.. Please give me the sun or a stake in the heart but let me die..I beg please…”  There were no tears as he had none to shed. But they never gave him death. They just let him taste it and yanked it back by making him feed off of cold, bagged blood. Only enough to keep him alive, never enough to replenish himself. It was why these days even the thought of bagged blood made him gag.

His heart rate went up immediately. What had happened had been vile and in all that time, he’d never known Sebastian was incarcerated, little on what he’d been put through. What did the vampire expect him to do? He’d never thought such self flagellation was possible from another being. Especially not, for him?  

“You wanted to see so see it all Senias, why stop there.. that’s just the beginning.” Sebastian pushed onward. The lash that the guards had enjoyed the most was laced with silver and had silver tips. Sebastian remember how it had burned and seared his flesh, stripping tissue away from bone as he cried out from the pain. They would scatter flaked silver in the raw wounds to delay the healing and leave horrible scars behind after they festered and practically rotted on his body. To add insult to injury the guards made the once mighty, fearsome coven master and warlord crawl everywhere. Sebastian had never been allowed to stand or walk anywhere in all those years. Crimson had experimented on him to see how close to death they could push him without the vampire actually dying. Sebastian had literally been butchered for Crimson pleasure. There was a room with a long stainless steel examination table and a surgical tray with a kind of medical instruments laid out neatly upon it. Crimson surgeons removed fingers and fangs to see his physical reactions. Sometimes he screamed out other times his beast came forth to show itself. The guards would take the discards for souvenirs knowing with blood he’d recover. The scientists even blinded him a time or two by acid just to see if that replenished too. Sebastian recalled going into shock so many times he’d lost count, but he never died no matter how much he begged for it.

And then finally in that last twenty years of imprisonment the immortals body had shut down and gone into stasis. Oh it had been sheer bliss to just lose sensation. His mind was still present it was just he no longer felt anything physically. It didn’t stop Crimson punishments as they simply drug Sebastian from the cell, but at least he didn’t feel as much at that point. Then one day the guards pulled him out and tossed the vampire outside  like yesterday’s trash. Another vampire had happen to see them dump Sebastian and had gathered him up after realizing he wasn’t just a corpse. If not for that the immortal would have gotten his release with the sunrise. The rest were just bits and pieces of memory from Sebastian’s recovery that was nearly as painful as his imprisonment. The last image that the dragon was allowed was the first time Sebastian had seen himself fully since his release. It had been months since being thrown out and was slowly, very slowly recovering. Sebastian had taken a very good look at himself as best he could and had wanted to die all over again. The once most powerful vampire was emaciated right down to bone and viciously scarred all over with glimmers of silver visible in the puckered, damaged skin. While most was Crimson’s doing, the long nasty scarring to his right arm starting at his shoulder down to his elbow was all Sen. Long gone was the handsome warlord that had fought at the dragon’s side and in his place was this… this husk of a monster. Sebastian had began using an illusion spell from that point on, because even the immortal couldn’t stand to look at the thing he’d become thanks to those two hundred years.

There were tear trails down the dragon’s face by the time Sebastian was done showing him the things he had endured during the time they had been apart.  

Sebastian closed his mind again and walled everything away once more as he pulled away from Senias ending the physical contact between them. “You should never ask for that which you never really want.”

“I wanted to know. I deserved to feel it. I owe you an apology for my actions, since my actions and my lack of explaining anything led you to that which you’ve shared,” the dragon spoke softly and quietly. When the waiter brought him another drink, he wiped his eyes and looked up at the young man. “Bring me the bottle.” He stood and took out his wallet and gave cash in the form of several hundred dollars to the man. “Take care of us both.”

The man nodded and walked back off.

Finishing his third glass,  Sebastian pushed the empty fragile piece out of reach as Sen recovered from the memory sharing. “I never said you owed me anything. It’s my fault, all of it. You didn’t turn me over to them it’s my doing. I would have never told you any of it. Why would I?” He really didn’t share any of those memories with anyone. Sebastian felt that they were too personal. If he had a weakness that was it. The good Dr. Keene was slowly becoming another weakness of his which was dangerous for them both.

“Do you want me to explain things? Or would you prefer the wedge to remain exactly where it is so that you can continue to live your side of this life in hateful ignorance?” Senias asked.  His question was valid. It seemed that in all these years Sebastian had used his anger and hurt and resentment to form quite a comfortable shell around his heart and soul. Maybe he didn’t want it to be removed? Maybe, even if Senias told him things he had never told him previously – it would change nothing at all.  But, the dragon offered, because, no matter what happened between them, he still cared about his vampire.

Turning to face him more, Sebastian rested his arm along the back of the seat, “Go ahead, explain.” It didn’t guarantee that anything would change between them, but he’d let Sen have his say. He was curious what the dragon would say that would explain that long ago time in their lives. Like Sen, the vampire had moved on and hadn’t really given any of it thought until he’d been dropped into things with the dragon on the doppelganger case and now thanks to Skinner he was stuck with him. He no longer felt like his world would end without Senias in it.

“We were no longer the warlords, though the titles had traveled with us by rumor.  We’d done our conquering and the world was once again our treasure trove, especially in middle Europe. We had no idea that things were changing and gearing up for World War I only half a century…” Senias looked down and took a deep breath.  “I felt comfortable enough in the lair and in the company to entertain the presence of a female dragon who wanted a kitling. But I didn’t tell you.” Senias looked up into Sebastian’s eyes. “I loved you. And…I wasn’t sure how to express it in any other way save the physical. But there was something that …” How did he put it into words? He shook his head slowly and looked away to the drink. “I’m good at destroying things I love.”  

“You healed my wounds and I healed yours. We both loved one another and we were fools. I don’t know what else to say. I… I literally…” He turned in the rounded booth to look out at the bit of lounge he could see from there and his head fell back onto the top of the plush back of the seat, hair on Sebastian’s hand. “I know it’s…” He took a deep breath before continuing, “I wish I could help heal the wounds given, but all I can do is admit fault. I had not felt so secure in centuries. Inea had come to me needing. It’s a difficult thing to describe. Maybe there’s a scientific phrase for it you’d understand. It’s nearly impossible to turn from a needing female when one is male… and also needing…” he swallowed, a bit of red flushing his cheeks.

And just then, the waiter brought out the bottles ordered and clean glasses and also some appetizers. He whispered, “on the house,” before moving off to give the two men their privacy once again.

“I panicked. I abandoned you both.” He closed his eyes, his jaw working. “I abandoned all three of you.”  

Sebastian lifted a brow as high as it could go. Now it made sense to him, Sen thought he didn’t know about the kitling. “Hmm.. and why did you abandon all of us as you did?” Those amber eyes watched the dragon as he drank more and picked at the food. Sebastian couldn’t eat that human creation even if he’d really wanted to. Good thing he’d fed well earlier.

“I realized I had lost you. I hadn’t been open and up front with you about Inea and you didn’t trust me to explain anything afterwards. You were just… gone. I’d done something stupid and unthinking and I had a chance and I fucked it.  Literally. But when I started down that road and add to it that Crimson had begun getting into our businesses along the same time as they did the twins’ business in France – I sent Inea away with her kindred, Seamus and I went into finding a new life. I convinced myself everyone was better off without me, and it was damn sure easier to become someone else if I had no baggage.”  The dragon sighed. “I wish it was prettier and had more meaning to it than that. But I refuse to try and make myself sound better than I was. I was a selfish beast.”

He clasped his hands together against his stomach and looked over at Sebastian, “What you mentioned about Gabriel? About how could someone like him have my heart when he hadn’t put in the time?”

“Yes?” Sebastian took his time to look at the dragon. This was information he hated to admit – that he needed to know.

“What took you and I centuries to overcome with one another, the trust that took so long to finally have and give? The desire to actually give a damn about one another? All of that had to be rebuilt from the ground up? With Gabriel, he offers it without a second thought to what hell it might bring him.  Neither of us are … were… like that. That is why it’s him… now and it wasn’t you… then.”

Now they were getting somewhere and even though it opened old wounds it all seemed to help as well. “Then all I can do is wish you the best with him.”

“Bastian?”   Senias asked as he took up another drink.  

“Yes Sen?” Sebastian wasn’t sure what more there was to say right then between them.

“I hope with all the stars that make up my soul that you find someone as giving, trusting, and loyal to you as Gabriel is to me. You damn sure deserve such a person more than I do.”  

“I’m working on it.”

 

~  Rachel Diane Adams and Dawn McClellan © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2018