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Blair MacLeod

Love Like Winter

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“I have to get going, but I’ll talk to you tomorrow, love. Kiss the kids for me. Goodnight.”

Pulling the phone from the crook of his neck and his shoulder, Blair stared down at the open suitcase in front of him. Everything had its own neat pile, organized within an inch of its life, and yet it still looked wrong. The fact that it was even happening, he guessed. That he was leaving his apartment in a confusing mixture of willing and unwilling, for some amount of time he had never really been told. A week, a month, indefinitely. He had been auctioned, pawned off into the hands of the highest bidder—someone he knew only for having an attractive face and a fine etiquette.

With a penchant for getting under Mara’s skin in the kind of way that he silently wished he could for well over a year now. He had always planned on going into this neutral, but a new anticipation rippled its way under his skin. He zipped the case, breaking the silence with that harsh noise of closure, and hefted it off his bed to head for the door.

Mara was standing in his doorway.

Blair jumped, reacting with a short, mental curse as his heart pushed upwards into his throat. The woman leaned her elegant frame against the doorway, unmoving. Her face was passive, stoic, the only emotion betrayed in the quiet burn in the back of her eyes. Had he not known her better, he would have missed it entirely.

She could have saved herself the trouble and not pawned him off, if she was going to be this reluctant about letting him go.

(She should have thought twice about inviting the one person she seemingly wanted to impress but had no taste for otherwise.)

“You’re all set to leave, then,” she spoke, commenting more than questioning, voice low, a flowing stream in the winter. She was amazing at manipulation. An extra word here, a tone change there, and she could pull guilt out of a bloody sociopath. Blair swallowed and held his place. He had nothing to feel guilty about. She did this to herself, just like she always did.

(Funny, how it had never stopped him before.)

“Er, yeah, I think I’ve gotten everything I’ll need for now,” he answered after a hard swallow, eyes flicking down to the case by his side and back again. Anxiety clutched at his stomach, at the doorway half obscured by this woman. Older in look, older in age, older in experience. There was only one way out. He stepped forward, closing the gap between them. She stopped him (of course she stopped him) as he came into line with her, his feet pausing in their desperate march as a hand snaked up and under his chin. Delicate and cold, her fingers caressed his tensing jaw, ghosting down to land on the two teeth marks on his neck. They pushed just a little too hard against skin a little too tender, and he winced.

“I’ll miss you, love. Next time you’re around, I’ll take you to Berlin with me,” she murmured, close to his ear, with a warmth that couldn’t quite pierce her words. So she was flying away again. There’d be no loneliness in her future, no time for silent pining with extravagant parties and foreign donors lining up at her door. They always did. The only thing that had ever really surprised him was her faithfulness. At least, what he saw of it.

(It’s not always that bad, he told himself. She has her good moments. You’ve seen them.)

“Sounds nice, I look forward to it,” he answered coolly, warmer than her still, eyes half-lidded while the tiniest of smiles tugged at his lips. He had picked up a lot in these last couple of years.

Fingers released, and Blair had to keep from tripping over himself as he headed for the stairs, desperate, hoping that there was a car already there. There wasn’t, but its headlights flashed through the living room window as he reached the door. He opened it, strode out, and didn’t look back. He could imagine it easily enough, anyway. Mara, in the door, scowling—maybe even snarling—looking onto the vehicle and the vampire inside that was about to take her favorite quarry. It was too dark for him to see into the windows of the vehicle, but the chill on his back said enough on its own.

The driver exited, grabbed his suitcase after a polite requested, and opened the back door for him. He slid in, nerves rattling, splitting apart as he let all the tension out of his body at once and looked over to his left. To his new…owner, for lack of a better word. Tired as it was, he offered him a smile. It was real this time.

Edited by Gin
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Two-hundred thousand going once... two-hundred thousand going twice...

Her face had been more shocked than livid then, eyes wide and all but pleading with the crowd to raise their hands, run him over, do something to stop the madness, but he was still the oldest in their coven even though he had no title, and very few were willing to challenge him the way Mara did.  No one raised their hand.  No one overbid him.

Now, he leaned forward just enough in his seat to smile at her before his driver closed the door, offering a delicate wave with his fingers as the frown deepened on her face to an unbridled scowl until he asked Bernard politely to close the door.  Bernard, ever faithful, complied without question, leaving him to settle back in his seat with a sigh, hands laced in his lap, with Blair at his side.

"I don't believe we've had a proper introduction," he observed, regarding his companion with a mildly disarming stare, "Perhaps one is in order, given the circumstances."

Offering his hand, the corners of his lips upturned in the smallest of smiles, blue eyes bright even in the dimness of the car.  "Julien."

He held Blair's fingers in his own, leeching their warmth as the car started and Julien found himself, as he had earlier that night, engrossed entirely by the minute flex of muscle under the smooth line of the young man's jaw and the anxious swell of his heartbeat as it pulsed through those fingers in time.  Julien's thumb skimmed Blair's knuckles and his hand slipped away, withdrawn out of sudden restraint as he felt his incisors elongate and pressed his lips more tightly together.

"You must forgive me," he apologized, looking back down at his hands.  "It's been some time since I kept a companion, and for the life of me I cannot remember one quite as stunning."  Julien glanced out the window, staring thoughtfully at the streetlights deglazed by the dark glass.  "I don't know how you've managed to put up with someone so base as Mara Camille, she has no appreciation for you."

Unconsciously, his lip twitched into a distasteful curl.  "I shudder to imagine spending more than an hour with her."

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Intense. It was the first word to come to mind as Blair looked back at Julien. Sharp eyes in a sharp face that was nonetheless elegant for it. He was ethereal, more than someone human ever could be, with lips he found himself watching even as he spoke, so close to those powerful eyes. Julien. Even his name was perfect. 

Blair smiled back, already enamored and already unsure of what to do about it. He took Julien's hand, noting its smoothness and the familiar chill of vampiric skin. "Blair," he responded with a small smile, "nice to properly meet you." He looked back down to the hand clasped with his own, admiring it, long and elegant and ethereal.

He shifted his gaze out the window.

A small chuckle escaped his lips. "I feel a little bad for you, if after all this time I'm the most stunning human you've seen," he mused, hoping the light color of his cheeks was marginally hidden but knowing he was most likely out of luck. Try all he might, he wasn't completely immune to compliments.

Cold settled over his skin, fleeting, unable to stick in the comfort of the backseat. The dull hum of the motor pressed in around them, pushing the car past more streetlights and farther from the biting cold behind him. Lurking in the darkness of his apartment. It shouldn't have felt so relieving to drive away from her. But every meter of pavement between them was another cut in the chain, closer to that broken link giving him freedom.

(He couldn't argue that point. Her touch had always been shallow and her eyes had never looked at anything more than a beloved toy. Sweet teddy bear. He couldn't bring himself to share that part.)

"Thankfully, with special occasions aside, she never seems to visit for over three hours," Blair shrugged, giving a small smile, "I'd be happier with less but...well, I guess that's not really in my job description."

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"You must get something out of it," Julien remarked, somewhat surprised that Blair was so forward with his honest opinion -- most companions, though often admittedly more attached to their position than their patrons, did maintain a certain level of fidelity.  To Julien, Mara was uncultured and obtuse, too young and power hungry to comprehend fully the gifts she had been given or the gravity of her disregard, but he had to wonder just how deeply her willfulness could cut, if the man who bled for her would so happily discard the weight of her presence.  He was introduced as her pet, but how did she keep him?  How was he cared for?  Was he forced?  Did he hate her?

Did he hate all of them?

Julien did not think so, but he could not, admittedly, be sure.  Mara certainly presumed some loyalty from the young man, and yet here he was with a sigh of relief sinking comfortably into leather seats and perhaps feigning diversion to flattery.  He could be a good liar, Mara would appreciate someone like that.

And yet, as Blair stared out the window, Julien could not in good conscience commit him to such a dour impression.  He had difficulty doing so with any human, in all honesty, as they were generally by nature too instinctive and emotional to maintain the levels of intricacy that such deception in the face of age and experience would have required.  Blair had clear, worried eyes, the lines in his brow carved too deep for his young age and telling of a troubled mind too preoccupied for lies.  At least, not lies directed at Julien.

"Most companions simply enjoy our specific attentions," he said, gaze fixated on the exposed bite just above the collar of Blair's shirt.  Tasteless, he thought, and reached over to cover the marked bruise with the cool tips of his fingers.  "There is a certain intimacy in the act that most seem to appreciate.  Less akin to feeding and more like. . . other primal nocturnal activities, I suppose."

He pulled Blair's collar up a little to cover the mark as well as he could, settling back into his corner as the car turned up his street, lined with extravagant townhouses.  "Though that is not the impression I get from you.  The apartment perhaps, though it isn't to my personal tastes I suppose it could be considered generous to house you that way.  I would prefer to keep you in house, if you're not opposed.  Free to come and go, of course, but I can better assure you're cared for if you're close."

The car pulled into a waiting garage and the engine cut off, the dark opening swallowing them up and Julien's face, previously aglow in the dimness, sank into the sudden darkness as if he were a part of it.  For a moment, he could feel the hitch in Blair's breath and taste the tension in his sweat, that visceral, instinctual reaction to a predatory presence, and to the unknown blackness around them.

The door opened at Blair's side, and somehow, without a sound or a shift of his weight, Julien was so much closer to him than he had been only a second ago.

"After you."

Edited by Niki
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Blair thought for a moment. Of course he was getting something out of it, but it was hard to pinpoint just what it was. What really kept him around. Fear, maybe. Less of Mara than of the life he had before her, the miserable existence in a cramped closet of an apartment above a bar, taking whatever shift opened up to him. Living off the scrap of a paycheck, whatever was left after he sent all he could to his ex and his kids, payed the bills. They were comfortable, even while he was barely surviving; and as miserable as he had been he hadn't dared asked for any more than that. It was enough.

Mara had pulled him from that. He owed her. Even when her attention made him balk, even when every facet of her physical appetite was too much and scarcely appealing. And he needed to remember that.

Letting out a deep sigh, he answered. "She did offer a place in her estate, to be fair. I chose the apartment instead. It's far easier for the weekends I get to spend with my children." He left out the part where she had sneered at the idea of small humans running around her home, "dirtying" whatever they touched. And the part where he had preferred to keep them from ever seeing her. "Whether I agree or disagree with everything she does, I wasn't doing well when she found me. She did change that much."

(Something clenched deep in his gut. Something that wished, dreamed, dared to hope that maybe things would be different. Maybe Julien would be different.)

"I don't mind, as long as you aren't opposed to my kids being around on occasion. They are the one thing I won't budge on," Blair responded, smiling a little nervously, silent prayers being thrown from his thoughts, useless and thin as they felt.

The shift in the engine caught his attention, the shift into blackness spurring tension back into the sinews of muscle. He could feel Julien there, a solid shape of darkness awash in all this black air around them. He didn't hear him move, didn't see anything as his eyes continued to dilate, but he felt his shift nonetheless. It was like the cold that radiated off of thick granite memorials on hard winter nights. Julien wasn't touching him, but he shivered. His fingers, all too eager to grip the handle of the door, squeezed shut and pulled at the handle. "I....thanks," Blair murmured, stepping out, feeling the door pulled from his grip by the steady hand of the driver. Unfazed. Hesitant and unsure, he stepped forward. Expect nothing, he told himself. Assume nothing changes.

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Children.  The word was enough to give him pause in the open entryway, the door held promptly for the pair by Julien's attentive personnel.  His face changed, expression confused and soft,  a hand resting against the doorjamb as he reconsidered Blair with a lofted, curious brow.

Children.  Living, breathing, growing children -- the purest form of human existence and the epitome of its delicate nature.  Julien found himself smiling, softly, just a slight turn at the corners of his mouth as he slipped out of his coat in the tiled entryway of the main house.  That much, he thought, perhaps, had been inherited from his father: the urge to propagate, to see small, round faces mirroring his own, smiling blue eyes staring up at him.  He wondered what Blair's children looked like, if they had his eyes or his curly ginger hair.

"You have children?" he asked, a note of longing in his voice, though he turned away from Blair to hide the glimmering reflection of it in his eyes.  Julien stepped into a sitting room, the lights coming on as he passed with a soft, intensifying glow.  "How many?  What are their names?"

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Blair stopped behind Julien, apprehensive. Worried. Seconds stretched, in that atypical way they were wont to do when anxiety loomed so close. He tried to keep it from his face, a face that on its best day had a hard time hiding his emotions. He was glad the vampire in front of him hadn't started moving yet. It would be easier to leave if he never stepped foot in his home in the first place.

(Maybe he was thinking that too.)

That wasn't it. He could see the shift in Julien's features, the beautiful hard edges that seemed to have lost their severity. The upwards tug at the corners of his lips, maybe he imagined that much in this dim light, but it was like he could feel it. There was a change there, and his own body relaxed. It was a relief. It was better than relief. Julien didn't just tolerate kids; he liked them. Blair pushed back the sting in his eyes as his heart swelled. It was better than he could have hoped for.

"Yeah," he answered, taking a moment to clear his throat, "Two of them. A boy and a girl, six and four respectively. Tobias and Evelyn."

Blair smiled as brightly talking about his children, following a few steps behind Julien. He watched the lights bloom into brilliance and had a kindred feeling. More alive, more alight, than he had been in a while, even when standing in a room that was far from familiar in a house that was far from his own. Its warmth spread all the same, quiet for now, with room to reach in deep. Doubts ebbed away and he let them, tossing them back out into the dark of the night they had just rode through. This would be better.

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