Prologue

The mid December rain had been coming down in a steady torrent for the last hour, and Kadin was certain it was more ice than water. Little daggers stung the skin of his face, crystallized on his eyelashes, and crusted in his hair. His eyes were clouded and watering from the cold, but through the white haze, he could see it. The house, not even 300 feet away, strung with brightly colored twinkling lights. Something so cloying and perfect it could have been painted by Norman Rockwell himself.

Pale orange light spilled from the windows, and Kadin could almost feel the warmth from where he stood.

Beside him, Zane rocked on his heels before steadying himself, pulling long graceful fingers through his tangled mass of ink black hair, shaking the ice crystals free. Kadin thought of polished ebony studded with diamonds, tried to read the hidden expression in Zane's perpetually half lidded eyes. Kadin cleared his throat.

"Is this it? Finally? The end of the fasting?"

He tried to keep the eagerness out of his voice. But he was cold, and half-starved, and couldn't help thinking about how it would feel to rip into pliant human flesh again. His stomach clenched painfully at the thought.

Zane was watching him, cool amusement playing on the surface of his midnight blue eyes, full lips turned up into what might have been a smirk if Kadin could have been able to see through the fog of cold that had settled behind his eyes. This was Zane's ritual, not his- but he had no choice but to go along with it. They traveled together, were each other's only source of company and companionship- and somewhere along the lines, Zane had taken the reins and had begun to lay down the rules. Kadin was too quiet, too self contained, to ever dream of challenging him.

Of course, there was more to it than that- and Kadin reflected on his reasoning as he felt Zane's too-warm fingers press against his burning eyes, urging them closed- slipping down his cheeks, and warming the wind numbed flesh. He remembered their first meeting, half a century ago, in that quiet southern town. Even then, Zane was too beautiful to look at, with his long, graceful limbs, wild shock of ebony hair, and wide set blue eyes. Eyes that always held a hint of boredom tinged with amusement. Kadin remembered how he had offered his blood that first night, how they had passed the time in an ecstatic orgy of lovemaking and sharing secrets, and how upon waking the next night, there wasn't a question of following wherever Zane chose to lead.

And through the years, Zane's original beauty had become more refined, more pronounced...more of a weapon to be wielded with even more practiced skill. He chose to mold his body in soft black leather, or gleaming vinyl- the midnight eyes smudged with black kohl. With each consecutive year, he looked more and more like a hungry panther- always searching for it's next meal.

Kadin knew he was the physical opposite of Zane- skin the color of warm coffee with cream, brown eyed, broad shouldered. He chose clothing that was simple and comfortable- jeans and T-shirts were much preferred over the objects that Zane chose for him...Zane, who always seemed to prize flash over comfort. He was taller, more solidly filled out, with muscles that rippled and flexed effortlessly when he moved. He knew he moved with an easy grace, but it was always Zane's lithe body and hypnotic stare that drew appreciative glances from the unfortunates who had the courage to talk to him. To flirt shamelessly, never dreaming that the half smile they received in turn would mean their deaths.

But even though Kadin's insides were empty and his skin ached from the cold, the night was beautiful. The ceaseless shower of rain that had felt like glass being ground into his skin had finally begun to stop. The clouds parted with languid slowness, letting the brightness of stars and moon peek through, almost as if the sky was opening up to them, for them, giving a silent answer to the question he had asked. Zane's hands had slipped from Kadin's face, traveled down his broad chest, and slipped under his thin, soaked shirt- pulling him close and tight into an embrace that was deceptively warm. Zane's body was never cold, never anything other than beautifully, achingly hot and alive. Kadin wanted nothing more than to push his way into the heat, to taste the blood that reminded him of dark places and sweet, over ripe fruit. But that would come later, when they were both sated on human blood, when they would turn on one another like two wild, hungry animals- fucking and drowning in a sea of blood until the sun rose in the sky, leaving Kadin sleeping like a corpse in Zane's still warm arms.

Zane's tongue had found the soft spot under Kadin's jaw, and he pressed against it before leaving a stinging kiss in it's place, delighting in the way the larger man trembled in his arms. This would be the end of their four week fast, and he knew it had been torture for Kadin, to restrain himself from taking what he needed- but Zane sometimes forgot they were of different bloodlines, of different races altogether. Kadin's blood had come from an ancient source, leaving him looking at times like some divine creature carved out of amber. Zane knew his own blood had been stolen, crudely tampered with- siphoned from some poor, hapless immortal. He had been born from a human woman after long years of experimentation- leaving him a strange hybrid who could walk in the sunlight if he chose to, who had grown and aged much like any other human until he reached his twenty first year...who didn't have the burning need for human blood that his lover did. He could indulge in any mortal vice he chose to. He would have considered living any other way pure torture.

"Yes, this is it. Let's make this a night to remember."

Kadin felt the tremor inside him grow stronger, making his knees weak, and for a moment he felt himself resting his entire weight against Zane, sure that he couldn't support himself any longer. Zane was tugging at his jacket impatiently, the hands gone from his flesh, and all at once his senses were alive and singing. His veins ached with anticipation, heart tripping wildly, fists clenching and unclenching in time with the muscles in his jaw. Together, they advanced on the farmhouse, eyes shining with thoughts of murder, phantom screams echoing in their ears.

Kadin tried to remember how they had gained entrance to the house, as he crouched over the body of the woman. She had been sick, he had been able to tell the moment he pinned her to the floor and clawed his way inside with teeth as sharp as spikes. Her blood had been thin and bitter, not the feast it should have been- but still he sucked and tore at the tender tissue, rending her apart with both hands, burrowing his way inside like a baby trying to return to the womb. As he licked the last of the gore from his fingers, he saw Zane across the room, pushing the man's head back to an impossible angle, tearing into the throat that had been covered with parchment-skin, trying to get to the bones beneath. With the last of the bubbling screams dying in the man's throat, Kadin was sure he heard the bones snapping like dry autumn twigs.

It wasn't until the house had once again settled into comforting silence that Kadin saw Zane appear with her- the one they had overlooked. Young, so deliciously young- with firm skin the color of milk, and chestnut colored hair that fell thick and heavy over her dazed chocolate eyes. Zane's arms were wrapped around her thin frame, and her face was bloody from his kisses. Kadin was sure she would taste like a mixture of honey and spices.

"We can keep her for a while. We can stay here until you're warm again."

Zane's voice was thick with lust, and the pretty little thing shook and wavered in his arms, trying to turn and bury her face in his shoulder. She had seen too much, was too afraid to do anything but comply.

They took her upstairs, away from their bloody feast, and Kadin watched as Zane stripped off his clothes and became something carved out of moonlight, pale smooth skin melting with hers, undulating and moving like two beings with one mind...and for one sharp instant, Kadin was jealous. But Zane knew- he always knew, and he threw his head back and bared his throat, giving Kadin the invitation he needed to join in the frenzy.

By the time the sun was starting to rise, the three lay in each others arms- the heavy draperies closed to block out the light, the weight of the girls firm breasts settled in Zane's hands, Kadin's mouth still sleepily working at the gash in Zane's flawless throat.

They stayed there longer than they expected, watching each night melt into the next- enjoying the silence and the peace- the temporary reprieve from the ceaseless wandering. They watched the girl change with each passing night, her taut little belly growing round, her entire body becoming foreign and strange. Neither of them quite understood what had happened, although Kadin was sure sometimes he would catch a glimpse of Zane, sitting by himself, gone quiet and pensive...a flicker of wonder and anticipation giving more depth to his usually cold and mocking blue eyes.

Kadin didn't know what to do when her screams started, when he could see how her belly seemed to shift and move of it's own accord, as if something were trying to force it's way out.

He understood childbirth, had been witness to it on a few occasions, but he could not fathom that Zane had created this child. He had never heard of a vampire reproducing like this, so exactly like a human. Kadin had always known that Zane was different, not like him.... but he liked to forget. He didn't want to know what any others would do, if they found out his lover's secret.

Kadin made her comfortable, fed her his blood when the pain grew too great for such a fragile little thing to bear, but the labor was long- and the little sips of his blood weren't enough to keep her from screaming, from uttering half choked sobs twisted into prayers. And through it all, Zane watched from a safe distance- knowing there was nothing that could be done for her. His own mother had died giving birth to him. He had effectively begun to feed on her, from the moment of his conception. Even if there was a way to take the baby instead of letting the birth progress naturally, he knew...he remembered.... it would already be far too late. He felt pity for her, but the elation of having a child of his own blood far outweighed any other emotion.

He would no longer be the only one. There would be another, someone who would belong completely and utterly to him, for the rest of eternity.

As the sun shone bright and warm in the sky, and Kadin slept the sleep of the damned, Zane held his tiny son in his arms. He thanked the cold, quiet body of the girl for giving him a gift he had never known he had wanted.

The baby was perfect- red, and flawless and furious at the indignities he had suffered coming into this world- with a shock of ink black hair, and the same wide set midnight blue eyes as his father. Zane called him Raven, because of the way his tiny mouth opened and closed constantly, begging to be fed. He spent the morning cradling the infant, feeding it his secrets along with his blood, telling the child about the last 200 years he had spent walking this earth. When the boy got older, he would remember. He would have the knowledge he needed to find his way home. Because, after all, Zane knew he had to surrender his child to the mortal world, until the boy was old enough to find him again.

When the sun had sunk below the horizon, Kadin and Zane left the comforts of their secret sanctuary, knowing it was time to move on. There were other cities to explore, more dark delights to be found, if one knew where to look. And Kadin was sure that Zane had been gifted with the ability of knowing just the right places to look.

They left the infant wrapped in warm blankets somewhere within the teeming confines of another city, somewhere where he could enjoy the sunlight before the darkness became too much of a draw to resist. Kadin's head lolled lazily on Zane's shoulder as the smaller man shook out the road map, deciding on the next destination.

Zane was secure in the knowledge that he would see his son again.

Blood called to blood, after all.

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Chapter One

It was still raining, had been for the last three days, and Erik decided that he was sick to death of being soaked to the skin.

Sick to death.

The ironic part was, he couldn't die.

The irony wasn't lost on him as he stared out of the dingy bathroom window- rain spiraling and splattering on the dirt and smoke encrusted glass, like spider webs. The water tracked its way down the glass, droplets colliding with one another- and as he caught his reflection in the dingy bathroom mirror, the rain gave the impression of tears superimposed on his face.

Just a trick of the light, but enough to give him pause. He felt like crying, inside. But that was saved for private times, at night, before drifting off to sleep. He would not cry, would not…especially now that he had company.

He burrowed deeper into the ratty blanket that his traveling companion had pulled out of his battered leather knapsack, rubbing the scratchy material against his skin. It was stiff with age, and God only knew what else- but it was infinitely better than being naked in front of a total stranger. How much longer they would be strangers was anyone's guess. Erik had seen the way the other boy had been looking at him. He wagered they would know each other much better, very soon.

The older boy pushed thick hair the color of straw out of his eyes, and rubbed the heavy material of Erik's jeans between his fingers. Picking them up and shaking them out, he turned them and pushed them back into place on the floor, up against the rusty metal heater. He gave an almost imperceptible shrug of one thin shoulder and smiled, slipping onto the floor beside Erik.

"Denim's a bitch when it gets wet, but they're almost dry. Maybe if we stay in here long enough, the rain will stop."

And maybe hell will freeze over, too, Erik thought to himself. But he kept his cynicism to himself, because it had been a long time since he had company. Instead, he rubbed his cheek against the blanket, and inhaled deeply. He wondered about the bedroom it had come from, about the life this boy was so eagerly leaving behind. He closed his eyes, and pictured a room with two windows, covered over with cardboard to block out the light. An old desk crusted over with candle wax and spilled ink, because this boy liked the romance of writing with a quill pen.

A picture danced before his eyes, of a bottle of Johnny Walker Red hidden under the bed, and sheets that were dyed a deep blue-black. Forgotten candles, and dusty christmas lights, strung around the ceiling. Nothing else, no deeper meaning….no reason for running. But Erik liked the things that appeared behind his closed eyes, because it gave him a better understanding of this boy. He was not menacing, nor was he innocent.

He was just human.

They had met by chance at a truck stop, some miles back. It was a dive, filled with men in oily blue work shirts, the kind with first names stitched across the pocket, and the waitresses wore old-fashioned pink uniforms with aprons, like something out of an old TV sitcom. The vinyl of the booths were cracked, with stuffing spilling out here and there, and the windows were almost too grimy to see through. The entire place seemed to reek of stale grease, sweat, and coffee- but beggars couldn't be choosers, and it was a place to get away from the rain for a little while.

Erik had been warming his hands around a cup of coffee, huddled up against the back of the booth, trying in vain to dry out a little bit. His head still ached and buzzed from the troubling dreams that had been haunting his sleep lately, and had stumbled- still half asleep and night blind, into this place, hoping the artificial lights could help banish some of the ghosts. In the beginning, he had dreamed of Armand and Daniel. Every night when he closed his eyes the tears would come, but in his dreams he could make them love him. In the sanctity of sleep, and only then, did the story have a happy ending.

But lately, the dreams had changed. He saw visions of places he had never been, but felt in his bones that he would know…would know every street corner, every alleyway, if only he could get there. He saw a man so achingly beautiful, it made his heart hurt when he tried to picture the face when he was awake. Such perfect symmetry of bone, the narrow face and tapered jaw. The eyes were what he always tried to remember, because he had always been a sucker for eyes. Deep blue, almost black in the right light. Wide, expressive, and ultimately cold. On the third night of waking from this dream, Erik was surprised to realize that this man…the phantom from his dreams…was what he might have looked like someday, if he had been allowed to grow up.

But that was rather pointless to consider, wasn't it? He wouldn't have grown up, not even if Daniel would have left him alone. He and his maker had already had that conversation, one angry night when all of the resentment and hostility had boiled over. He would be dead by now, nearly a year in the ground.

The most suprising thing of all, the revelation that rattled him to the core, was actually so simple it was nearly impossible to grasp. This man was looking for him. He was sure that the leaden pull to go home, was somehow connected to the beautiful face that flared to life behind his closed eyes. And just as surely as he realized that, he was also sure that meeting this man would mean the end of his loneliness. In his bones, he felt it. Nothing else on earth would satisfy him.

He stayed huddled in his booth, mulling these thoughts over in his mind, and trying to figure out for a way to pay for the coffee that was still warming his hands. He had run out of money two towns back, had spent the last of it on a new pack of Marlboro reds. In his rush to get warm and dry, he had forgotten that his pockets were empty.

He knew the waitress was watching him with her bright green eyes, generous mouth turned down into a frown as she continued to rub the dishcloth over the surface of the counter. She had been standing at the same spot for the last twenty minutes, having been around long enough to know turning her back on the ragged waif in the back booth would be a very bad idea. But Erik wasn't considering running. That would have brought too much unwelcome attention, and somehow- being chased through the parking lot by any number of angry truck drivers, eager to impress the lady, didn't seem to be the way he wanted to start off his night.

But…but…there was one little detail he was forgetting. What did he have to be afraid of? He was a vampire, after all. If he lured just one away from the rest of the pack, he would be able to bring his victim down without batting an eyelash. And it would be an easy way to get his hands on some extra cash…

But with the recent dreams had come a new uncertainty. His reality was spinning out of control, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't decipher what was real and what was fantasy. After all, hadn't Daniel told him that he would be preserved the way he was, forever? A fifteen-year old boy, not quite five foot seven. But if that was true, if he was supposed to remain unchanged for all time, then why didn't his clothes fit right any more? It was barely noticeable…but his jeans, which had always almost swallowed his high top sneakers, now just brushed the tops of his shoes.

Maybe Daniel and Armand had been the dream. He didn't know any more. Only knew that he had to get home, and all questions would be answered.

But he didn't have to think about running, or killing, because salvation had walked through that door in the guise of another teenager on the run.

Erik decided that the other boy was perhaps a few years older. After all, he had a light dusting of peach fuzz covering both cheeks- and Erik was sure this had been carefully cultivated to make him look older. But he had a baby face, with deep set green eyes- and the makeshift beard, if it could be called that, only accentuated the roundness of his face. Erik admired the pale blond hair that hung down his back in a wild tumble of curls, and admired the fishnet sleeves that peeked from the calfskin jacket even more.

The boy wasted no time joining Erik in the booth, not even considering the fact that perhaps the other boy wouldn't want company. He introduced himself as Christian, and by the end of the first hour, he had paid for Erik's coffee.

There was no question that they would be leaving together.

"….Hey, are you listening to me? Your jeans are dry, and it looks like the rain let up a little bit. We should get out of here. I know a place where we can spend the night."

Erik hoped he gifted Christian with what was one of his most winning smiles, and let the blanket fall from his shoulders, having had enough of false modesty for the time being.

"Thanks. I'm sorry I've been so quiet. I was just thinking."

Christian handed the younger boy his jeans, but his eyes lingered on the narrow chest, on the little bits of metal that sparkled in his nipples, but most of all on the fat white scars that were visible on the boy's smooth, flat stomach. Christian wondered where they had come from. What they would feel like against his tongue.

He licked his lips, and cleared his throat.

"Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we could stay here for the night. The door's locked, and it's not like anyone's pounding to get in. We could both use to dry out for a while, huh?"

Erik noticed the change in Christian's voice immediately, and he knew what this meant. A quick fuck in a grimy bathroom, somewhere just south of nowhere. Christian was no different than the last guy who picked him up, the one who tried to convince him that sucking cock was the only way to save his soul.

He didn't bother giving an answer, because it seemed the decision had already been made. He waited for the old blanket to be smoothed out and spread against the cold tile of the floor, waited for Christian's long, spidery fingers to take hold of his shoulders and push him back until he was staring up at the ceiling, listening to the other boy's ragged breathing.

Christian captured the smaller boy's wrists in his hands, pulled them up over his head and held them there. But when he looked into the boy's eyes, he didn't see the lust he had been hoping for. Instead, there was something else…something he couldn't put his finger on. If he didn't know better, he would swear he saw murder.

"So tell me again why you're going to Los Angeles. You have family there?"

Erik didn't like the sudden power play, liked the mocking tone of Christian's voice even less.

"Someone's waiting for me."

He knew that was true. It was the only thing that made any sense any more, and he was going to hold on to it for all that he was worth.

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