It was just past one p.m. and the sun was high in the cloudless sky.
It was the middle of the day for most people, but more or less the middle
of the night for Ezra Standish. As a vampire he didn't require as much
sleep as humans normally did, but it didn't translate into no sleep at
all. Lately, he had caught little rest, mostly because of the planned renovations
of the Grotto nightclub, which he was the owner of. The renovations would
take the business out of its usual haunt, the basement of a building Ezra
owned, and move it to the first two floors of the same building.
Luther, the manager of that particular establishment, was running most of the business and renovation plans had been made, but Ezra liked to be involved. It was simply bad luck that the planning coincided with the simultaneous acquirement of a large hotel in the city of Las Vegas. Ezra was flying back and forth between meetings, and it was just now that the deal in Vergas had been done and he had turned over affairs to the manager of the new business, a casino and hotel resort on the Strip. It was Ezra's second hotel in Vegas and it was a sound investment.
Walking into the living room of the apartment that legally belonged to Chris but which they shared in a house that had Ezra's name on it, he had to smile. His lover and partner sat at the dining room table, a place that was rarely used for ingesting real food – vampires really did drink blood – papers and disks spread out everywhere. His laptop was open and he was frowning at something on the screen.
Chris had apparently taken work home with him – again.
Working the graveyard shift of the crime lab he was usually home throughout daylight hours and since, as a vampire too, he didn't require a lot of sleep, he caught up on everything he hadn't managed throughout regular hours.
Ezra walked noiselessly over to his lover and placed both hands on the black-clad shoulders, squeezing gently. Chris sank back against him, letting his head fall against Ezra's stomach. Hazel eyes looked up and met green ones.
"Hey," he greeted the other vampire, smiling.
Ezra leaned forward and gave him an upside down kiss. "Hey yourself. Busy?"
"Kinda. Budget figures. Got a meeting with Travis about it tomorrow."
Chris smiled. "No toys, and nothing I require is too expensive. It's needed to get what we need: the suspects."
"I know." He massaged the slightly too tense shoulders.
Lying on the papers stacked farthest from Chris's laptop, Cassy sat up and stretched. She was a silver tabby, one of the four kittens of Shawn, Ezra's own cat, and like her mother a familiar.
Chris glanced at her, smiling. Cassy was his familiar, though through cat eyes it was more likely that he was her human. Now she mewled softly, walking over to him, tail cork-screwing in a blatant demand.
"You had your share already, Cassy. You're growing fat with everything you eat."
"Mew!" she protested.
"And you're not a kitten in growth."
He rubbed her head and scratched an ear as she pushed against his fingers, the demand still strong.
"She's been eating enough for two," Chris sighed as he continued to pay attention to his familiar.
Ezra stopped his massage, a mild frown on his features. "Come again?"
"Just look at her. She's grown bigger in the middle and she constantly eats."
"Yes, you do, young lady."
Ezra stared at the cat, taking in the rounder belly, the otherwise still normal-sized proportions, and something inside of him twisted. "Good god!"
"What?" Chris demanded.
The older vampire reached out and snatched up the tabby, who huffed a little but didn't fight him. He ran a careful hand over the belly and groaned.
"Chris, the cat's pregnant."
"What?! When did that happen? Cassy!"
Green eyes out of a silver and gray striped face regarded him calmly. "Meow," was all he got for an answer.
"One of them will be a familiar…," Ezra sighed, shaking his head and putting the cat back onto the table where Cassy proceeded to smooth her fur. "And they only give birth to one when they feel that one is needed."
It had been how Chris had come to have Cassy. Shawn had decided that it was time to push Ezra into making the decision, to turn Chris into a vampire before the leukemia killed him, and she had also given birth to Bagheera, JD's familiar. No one had known back then that JD would turn out to be a warlock; no one except a small, black cat.
"Who could it be?" Ezra murmured thoughtfully.
"Don't tell me it's Nathan," Chris muttered.
"I doubt it, actually."
Both vampires looked at each other, equal expressions of denial and shock on their faces. Chris reached for the cell and speed-dialed JD's number.
"Wouldn't it be Bagheera then?" Ezra thought out loud.
A sleepy JD answered the phone. It was his 'night' after all and ever since going out with Karen Chapman, he kept regular hours. Since they had married just a few months ago, JD was actually a lot more settled, too.
"JD? Chris here."
"Chris? Something up? We got a call or something?" JD asked, suddenly a lot more awake.
"No. I just need to know something… Is Karen okay? And Bagheera? She okay? Is she pregnant?"
Ezra, listening in with sensitive vampire ears, had to chuckle as he almost heard JD's brain kicking into gear.
"Pregnant? Who? Bagheera or Karen?"
"Chris, I've got no idea what got you. Maybe you've been out in the sun too long, but both the cat and Karen are fine. Neither one's pregnant."
"What's going on?"
Silence. Then, "Ah, hell. Who?"
"We don't know. We thought it might be Karen, but I guess if that happens and the familiars feel there's the need for a new companion, it would be Bagheera who'd have a litter."
"Uh-huh. Sounds logical. So… no clue at all?"
Chris sighed. "Nope."
It was Chris's sentiment exactly.
"Sorry to wake you, JD," he apologized.
"Uh, no problem. Listen, if you find out anything, lemme know?"
"Sure. Night." Chris hung up and turned to look at Ezra, then at Cassy. "Guess we'll find out soon enough, hm?"
Cassy just cleaned her left paw, giving it her undivided attention.
Ezra touched one shoulder and squeezed it. They would find out. He just hoped the news weren't too bad.
* * *
The idea had come all of a sudden. Well, more or less. There had been
the phone call from Ezra where he had talked at length with the younger
vampire, and it had ended with an open invitation to drop by Salt Lake
whenever he felt like it. Franklin had been surprised. Of course, he and
his 'son' had been on good terms for a while now, but he hadn't expected
to go back to Salt Lake any time soon. At least not for another decade
or two. It always paid to be careful when angering a community leader,
especially when the leader in question was such a powerful one as Ezra
Then there had been Conrad Ecklie's convention in Denver. It was a three-day affair and while Franklin hadn't come along, he had flown to Denver at the end of the third day to meet his lover there. While Ecklie had protested the vampire had done it anyway.
//"You're a vampire!" Conrad argued. "It's not healthy!"
Franklin pulled him close and kissed him gently. "I know you worry, but remember what I told you before: I'm two centuries old and my resistance to sunlight is quite high. I can manage a flight. We just hop into the car and have a nice long weekend in Salt Lake."
"Salt Lake?" Ecklie asked, eyebrows rising.
A shrug. "It's on the way… and… I got an invitation from Ezra."
Another shrug. "Technically yes, but I'm not his sire per se and he's just a friend."
Ecklie wrapped his arms around the slender blond. "Okay."
"Yes, okay. I've been to Salt Lake before, but it'll be nice to see the city again."
Now he looked at the sleeping form of his lover, feeling pleasantly
warm and lazy. It was just past sundown and they had arrived two hours
ago, christening the hotel bed. The hotel was rather small but also very
exclusive. Franklin had made sure it didn't belong to Ezra but was owned
by someone who knew about the paranormal world. While he had nothing against
staying in either of the four hotels Ezra Standish owned, it felt better
not to be a guest there.
Ecklie hadn't said a word about the accommodations, had simply helped his lover out of his clothes and pulled him to the large bed.
Lying on his stomach, head pillowed on his arms, dark eyes opened and a smile graced the familiar lips. Franklin answered the smile with one of his own.
"You slept at all?" was the muffled question.
Franklin shrugged. Vampires needed a lot less sleep than humans and he rarely spent so much time asleep like his human lover.
"You up for some night sight seeing?" he asked instead of an answer.
"What do you have in mind?"
"Uh, well, first I'd like to drop by one of Ezra's places… see if he's in? I need to show myself, have a chat, just to keep things even. I know it was an invitation on his part, but he's the head of the Salt Lake community and I'm something of a tolerated presence until I can talk with him."
The dark eyes crinkled into a smile. "Sure. If the place has something to eat, I'm in."
Franklin leaned over and kissed his lover. "They have," he said, chuckling.
"Then give me a few to shower and dress."
Slipping out of bed, presenting Franklin with a view of the tanned, slender body, he shot the vampire a look, then disappeared into the bathroom. Franklin felt something stir inside him. Ecklie had developed a wonderful tan and had filled out nicely muscle-wise ever since the day they had first met in San Francisco. The tightness around his eyes was gone, he looked a lot more relaxed, at peace with himself, and with his shorter hair he had lost so many years, looking more his age than before.
Leaving the bed himself, he entered the bathroom where the shower was already running.
* * *
Ecklie descended the steps into the nightclub and tried to hide his
astonishment at the place his lover had chosen. Well, of course this was
Standish's business, so Franklin would come here. They had an open invitation,
but still… This was way out of his class and he would probably stick to
one beer and lots of tab water after that. Even that would most likely
People shot them glances, curious about the newcomers, some of them giving Franklin a closer, second look, which the blond didn't so much as even acknowledge. He had a hand at the small of Ecklie's back, clearly showing who he was here with, but it still felt awkward. Worse than having to work a crime scene in this club after someone important got killed, Ecklie mused. He was here on his own free time, a guest, a man who normally wouldn't be caught anywhere near these pricey establishments, and he was in the company of an attractive man.
Who was a vampire.
He wondered how many of the patrons were vampires, too. How many recognized who and what Franklin was?
"There's a table," Franklin just said and headed for the small corner booth. "I'll be back in a few. Just going to say hello, okay?"
Ecklie gave him a smile. "Sure. Take your time. Dinner's on you."
Franklin chuckled. "Let's keep the kinky stuff confined to the privacy of our home," he replied, eyes alight with mischief.
Conrad grinned and gave him a little push. "Go. Talk."
Franklin gave him another warm smile and headed for the back of the club. Ecklie ordered a beer from the waitress, glanced at the menu, and decided to wait for his lover's return.
* * *
Ezra regarded his 'Sire' calmly, taking in the glow in the gray eyes,
the happiness radiating from the older vampire, and how balanced he seemed.
A far cry from the man he had met years ago, the man who had revealed that
making Ezra a vampire had been an accident, that he hadn't known what he
had done back then.
Their relationship had developed slowly since Chris had finally convinced Ezra to talk to the older vampire. Ezra had come to accept that Franklin hadn't created him out of malicious intent or had left him alone in the knowledge that a newly-born vampire needed help and refusing it. Franklin had been young himself and had made a mistake.
That he had accepted the open invitation to come by Salt Lake if he ever felt to do so had been a first step to finally start over.
"Actually," Franklin told him calmly, "I'm glad I met you. I'm glad I fell from grace, so to speak."
"You are?" Ezra echoed, surprised.
Franklin had had a good position within the San Francisco community; not a leading one, but one of respect. Today he was just one of many, with no responsibilities. It seemed it became him.
"No, I'm not. It gave me a freedom I had missed for a while now. I could finally do what I wanted, meet people without thinking of my status, and I could be myself."
Ezra smiled slightly. "And your new self met the man you came here with?" he asked, straight-forward to the point.
Ezra had been surprised to see who had accompanied the older vampire. Not that it had been a man, but that it was a human, not a fellow vampire.
"Before you ask," Franklin now said, "his name's Conrad and we met in San Francisco. We both live in Vegas right now."
Ezra raised an eyebrow. They both did? Well, it had to be serious then, though for a vampire to be serious about a human partner…
"Serious?" he asked casually.
"Exclusively serious," was the level reply. Gray eyes met green head-on. "He's my life partner."
Ezra stood stunned for a whole five seconds. "Life partner?" he finally echoed.
"Yes. I felt it. The tingle. And what I feel with him, I'm sure I don't have to tell you how it is." A smile graced Franklin's lips.
Ezra was, mildly put, shocked. "He's human," he said.
Defensiveness flared within Franklin's eyes. "So?" he challenged.
Intriguing reaction. "You know better than I what can happen."
Now it was anger. "Of course I do!"
"So, when will you make the last step and turn him?" Ezra provoked the older man.
Pain crossed Franklin's features and he jumped up from the chair. "I won't!" he snarled. "I couldn't!"
"Because sires and children can't be lovers."
The gray eyes turned silver with emotional turmoil. "Because it's Conrad's decision and not mine. Because I won't kill him!" The blond vampire stabbed his finger at Ezra. "You should know what that's like."
Ezra briefly closed his eyes. He had earned that blow. "Yes, I know it. I had no other choice. It was that or lose Chris forever after just a short time."
Franklin tried to calm himself, inhaling deeply, releasing a breath. "I know what it means, Ezra. But I love him. I won't leave him, whatever happens, and should it mean we grow old together and die together, so be it."
The somber words shocked Standish. Franklin was contemplating ending his life…? On the other hand, he had done the same. If Chris had died, he would have taken the last step. So it was serious for the other; very serious.
"Tell me about him," Ezra asked quietly.
Franklin looked at him, then finally relaxed and sat back down again. The smile came back when he related how they had met, how their relationship had developed, and the return to Las Vegas. Ezra listened up when Franklin mentioned his partner's job and nearly laughed out loud.
"He's with the LVPD crime lab?"
Ezra chuckled. "Colleague of Gil Grissom?"
"Actually, he's the dayshift supervisor."
Ezra's grin widened. "The world is really small," he commented.
At Franklin's questioning look he did some story-telling of his own.
* * *
Franklin left the back office and walked into the nightclub, wincing
slightly at the blast of loud music from the main stage. There was a lot
of commotion on the dance floor and a quick scan showed no sign of Conrad
at the table. His jacket was still there, as was a glass. Then he discovered
the other man at the bar, talking to the young woman manning the bar. She
was smiling at him, handing over a package of snacks.
Franklin grinned and headed over to the table. Over the din of the music, someone suddenly called his name.
Well, the abbreviated version of it.
He turned and found himself almost nose to nose with a slightly taller, dark-haired man, blue eyes alight with happiness.
"Eric?" he echoed.
Eric Hamlin, a fellow vampire, younger than him, and someone he hadn't seen in nearly two decades. Ever since Eric had decided that San Francisco was a boring city and he wanted to see New York. A Texas native, he had been turned only fifty years ago. Franklin had met him just after Eric's sire had decided he was old enough to fend for himself now, and the two men had spent a year together. A very passionate year, Franklin recalled, but the younger vampire had simply been driven to see more of the world.
Now he was here, in Salt Lake.
"Hello, Frank," Eric purred. "Long time no see. You haven't changed."
Franklin felt something wash over him. A desire from old, a heat that had nothing to do with want, but there was still need. A lot of it. And he gave in.
He wasn't aware of the pair of dark eyes watching the whole development.
Ecklie didn't know what to feel for a whole long second. It wasn't just
a chaste kiss. It was a deep, tongues involved, full body contact kiss.
He could almost feel the heat from where he stood and something inside
of him went cold. Watching the two men, his lover and the stranger, he
felt the shields from old rise, his face turned blank, and he bit down
on the emotions churning inside.
Franklin and the dark-haired man separated, Franklin looking dazed and slightly at a loss for words, but who needed words when a possessive hand was draped around the vampire's waist, holding him, while the stranger smiled hungrily at the blond.
Ecklie had seen enough. It was time to leave before it got ugly. Walking over to the table, he picked up his jacket.
"Conrad?" Franklin managed, sounding a bit stunned. "What…?" He tried to push away from the other man.
"Don't bother," Ecklie replied, noticing with a wince that his voice sounded as cold and sharp as it had been before his world had been turned around by not only Grissom, but also Franklin.
But that world had been shattered once more, and he couldn't take it again. It would end tonight and while the pain was already starting, he knew it would get worse. He should never have opened up, never let Franklin in, never made himself vulnerable. He should have ended it in San Francisco before it had had time to grow and mean something to him.
"I can get myself home," he added, then turned and walked through the crowd toward the exit.
"Conrad?" Franklin called, confused.
What the hell…?
And then he became aware of the hand on his waist, of the presence next to him. Eyes sparked with anger as his mind wrapped up the loose ends and came up with one ugly bow.
The blue-eyed vampire looked a bit confused too, but he hadn't relinquished his hold. "Uh, who was that?"
"You used the hunting skill!" Franklin hissed, pushing finally away, glaring at his former lover.
"Hey, it's nothing we never did before, right? And who was that guy?"
"That guy is my partner!"
Now the confusion doubled. "Partner? You mean lover?"
Franklin tried to calm his anger, but it was boiling up with a lot more force. He grabbed Eric and pushed him into the small, empty cubicle next to their table.
"That man is my life partner, Eric! My chosen mate!"
"Astute power of observation!"
"But…" Suddenly Eric looked stricken. "You mean… he and you… damn, I didn't know!"
"You would have if you had stopped to think before hitting me full force with the hunting skill!" Franklin was livid. "We are over, Eric! It's been over for over two decades!"
Eric scrubbed a hand over his face. "I didn't plan on more than maybe a little fun. Hell, Frank, I didn't know!"
Franklin snarled something under his breath and whirled around, heading quickly for the exit. He needed to talk to Conrad, set things right…
By the time he was outside the club, there was no sign of his lover. People were milling around, hoping to gain entrance to the club, and the bouncer of the evening, Ben, kept an eye on things.
"You lookin' for your friend?" the big man asked as Franklin looked around frantically.
"Caught a cab. Looked real pissed." Ben smirked a little, then turned back to the hopeful wanna-be guests.
"Shit!" Franklin breathed.
He took out his cell phone and dialed Conrad's number, but he only got the voice mail. As he turned to head for the parking lot, he nearly ran into Eric.
"He's gone?" the other vampire asked.
"I'm sorry, Frank."
Franklin pushed past him, too angry to reply. He got into the rental car and backed out of the parking lot, then headed toward their hotel. It took him too long in his estimation and when he finally pulled up front, he was feeling more nervous than the time he had come to his lover's place in San Francisco, trying to explain why he had kept his vampirism a secret from him.
The hotel room was empty. Well not completely. His own clothes were still there. Franklin stood in the middle of the room, feeling the ground drop away, free falling, as he saw nothing of Ecklie's left in the shared room. Like in a trance he went down to reception. A man in his mid-twenties smiled at him, polite and attentive. His name plate told the vampire he was dealing with 'Sean'.
"I'm in 315. Do you know if my partner moved out already?" Franklin asked, feeling numb.
Sean checked briefly, then nodded. "He paid the bill and left."
"He didn't tell me, sir."
Franklin turned away from reception, frustration rising inside of him. He left the hotel and stalked down the dark streets, not even sure where he was going. He was furious at Eric for doing what he had done; he was angry at himself for allowing it; and he was desperate to find Conrad to tell him that nothing of this was real.
But where had he gone?
Franklin had no idea why, but he found himself back at the Grotto a
few hours later, just before closing time, and he lingered around outside
for several minutes until he finally got the courage together to enter
the exclusive nightclub again. To his surprise Ezra was still there and
from the other vampire's expression when he looked at him, he wasn't pleased.
"You really know how to screw things up, right?" Standish asked, voice level.
"I didn't do anything!"
"You kissed another man, in front of the one you claim is your life partner… Franklin, honestly, you're lucky it wasn't me because I'd have ripped your head off."
Franklin stared at him, flabbergasted. "I didn't kiss Eric!" he finally repeated.
"It looked like it to a lot of guests, though. Including Luther, who isn't struck with near-sightedness."
"Eric is an old lover," Franklin tried to explain. "And when he saw me, he thought I was single… unattached… and he used the hunting skill!"
And why did he feel like he was explaining his actions to his sire all of a sudden? Because in a way he was trying to explain himself; just not to his sire but a very powerful vampire.
"You let it happen."
Franklin exhaled slowly and pushed a hand through his hair. "He overwhelmed me, okay? I didn't catch on to it until it was too late! Ezra, please! I didn't cheat on Conrad and I never would!"
"But he thinks that."
The quiet statement brought him up short and he evaded the knowing green eyes. "Yeah," he murmured. "Checked out of our room and disappeared."
Ezra regarded him silently for a very long time. "You love him?"
"Yes." No flowery remarks on how much, no explanations, just a simple yes.
"You think he left the city?"
Franklin shook his head. It was what he had been thinking about for the last hours as he walked through the streets. The rental stations wouldn't open until eight and he doubted Conrad had taken a cab to the airport.
"I can check his electronic trail," Ezra offered, voice still calm and even. "It would tell us what he paid for and how he will or has traveled."
Franklin blinked. "You'd help me?"
A smile. "Yes."
"Why?" he blurted.
"Because I believe you, Franklin. I believe that this man is your chosen partner, that you love him, that you need him."
Franklin stared at the younger vampire, reeling. 'That you need him'. He needed the other man, someone who was so unlikely to be his lover, someone who wasn't anything like his past bed partners… someone he felt more for than everyone else combined.
"Thank you," he murmured.
Ezra shrugged. "I'll have to place a few calls, then we'll see." He pulled out his cell phone and speed dialed. "JD? It's Ezra. You busy?... Great. Could you do me a favor?"
Franklin listened to Ezra detailing what he needed, silently impressed. When Standish hung up, he met the gray eyes calmly.
"JD will call me when he has something. If he can't find a trail of Conrad Ecklie, then there is none."
The blond nodded. "Thanks," he repeated.
* * *
Ezra had watched the older vampire carefully as the hours ticked by.
They were in the back office of the Grotto while the nightclub was undergoing
its daily cleaning routine. Luther had headed home.
"We'll be fine," Ezra had reassured him. "If something unforeseen happens, I'll give you a call."
"You think he's serious about this?" Luther wanted to know, glancing at Franklin.
The blond vampire sat staring at nothing in particular, a hollow expression of pain in his eyes. Ezra followed Luther's gaze and nodded slowly.
"Yes, I think he's very serious about this. What happened was beyond his control and I don't blame Eric either. I just hope we can rectify this."
Luther pursed his lips. "Unlikely couple."
Ezra smiled. "Aren't we all?"
Luther had just smiled and left the Grotto, while Ezra and Franklin remained.
When the cell phone rang, Franklin flinched. He looked at Ezra as the other picked it up.
"Hey, JD…. Yes… I know it… yes… okay. Thanks again. You've been a great help. I owe you." Ezra smiled at the younger man's reply, then disconnected. He turned to Franklin. "Apparently Conrad checked into a small motel. He paid with his credit card, so JD could pick up the trail. He also placed a call to Avis Car Rental and made a reservation through their 24 hour reservation hotline. His reservation is for today, nine a.m. One way to Vegas."
Franklin jumped up, eyes wide. "We gotta stop him, Ezra!"
Standish nodded and rose as well. "Martin's on stand-by for me. We'll head over to Avis right away." He checked his watch. "We'll be in time."
* * *
It was a beautiful morning. The sun was out already, there was hardly
a cloud in the sky, and the snow capped mountains were in stunning contrast
to the city skyline. Conrad Ecklie had no eyes for the beauty, the crisp
cleanliness, the photogenic city. He just walked down the rows of cars
of the Avis rental station, shades hiding his eyes, but there was no hiding
the deep lines that had appeared in his face again. His steps were brisk,
business-like, and he nodded at the Avis employee that he would take it
from here. Signing the contract form, he watched the man walk away, then
started to load his bags into the trunk.
The red Toyota was almost brand new and smelled like it when he got in and adjusted everything to his size. Then he started the engine, which came to life with a purr, and pulled out of the parking lot.
He didn't get very far. Standing in the exit was a familiar figure. Dressed in a black shirt and black jeans, the dark blond hair highlighted by the sun, Franklin looked like he had just crawled out of a bar. He was pale, his hair was spiky, as if he had run his hands through it several times, and the smile that always resided around his eyes was gone.
Ecklie sat in the car, the engine running, staring at the apparition.
The man who had kissed someone else with enough passion to burn a hole into the ground from the heat.
A vampire who was standing in the middle of the parking lot exit – in daylight.
Ecklie killed the engine and got out. It was a slow morning and except for him, no one had been at the rental desk, so except for them there was no one around.
"What do you want?" he asked coldly.
"I want to explain, Conrad," came the soft reply.
"You don't have to. I know what I saw. You could at least have waited until I wasn't there!"
Franklin shook his head, hands clenching into fists. "What happened isn't what you think happened!"
"You kissed someone else, right in the middle of a nightclub. Call me petty, but sticking your tongue down the guy's throat isn't just a hello. Maybe it's a vampire thing, maybe it's just your way of telling me now's the time you're looking for fun somewhere else, but I'm not in the mood right now, Franklin!" Ecklie snapped. "I believed you when you told me you loved me. I believed you when you said you're not interested in anyone but me. And I was a fool! I should've known that your nature would come through, that two centuries of sleeping around won't stop just like that."
Franklin had paled more, if that was at all possible. He looked decidedly gray now. His eyes seemed huge and what Ecklie saw in his lover's… ex-lover's face was painful. And he almost believed it.
"You're right," Franklin whispered. "What happened was vampire nature, but not the way you think. Eric… he's an ex and I'm not interested in him! Please believe me!"
"Believe you till when? You see another ass you like and go after it?"
"I didn't go after Eric!"
Ecklie sneered. "So he ambushed you and you willingly groped him. Same difference."
Franklin wrapped his arms around himself, looking like he felt cold. "Conrad, he used the hunting skill on me. He smelled the pheromones from our lovemaking… just before we left the hotel. He thought it was me all hot for him and he used his powers."
Ecklie laughed darkly. "Whatever makes you happy, Franklin. I'm leaving."
"No, you're not," a soft, new voice told him and Ecklie jumped as he turned and discovered someone else behind him.
The man was shorter than him, with chestnut hair and the most intense green eyes he had ever seen. Dressed leisurely he still exuded an air of authority and power that had the criminalist stand to attention against his will.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"Ezra Standish," was the calm reply.
Ecklie's head snapped around, looking at the miserable form of his lover, then back at the vampire who was Franklin's only surviving 'son'.
"I think we should talk about this… somewhere else," Standish went on, the voice still eerily calm. "Franklin's in no shape to be out in the sun for much longer."
Ecklie felt a gentle push against his back and before he could protest he stood next to a black limousine that had been parked outside the Avis parking lot. The driver got out and Ezra nodded at him.
"What about… my car?"
"Martin's taking care of it. Please, Mr. Ecklie, just get in and let us talk about this misconception."
The interior of the limousine was pleasantly cool and roomy, so it easily held the three men now sitting in it. Franklin was as pale as a ghost, eyes burning, pleading with Ecklie to listen. Part of him wanted nothing more than to take the slender man into his arms, hold him, kiss him, ease the pain. Another part reminded him of the scene in the Grotto.
"Mr. Ecklie… Conrad… what Franklin told you is true," Ezra began.
"Why do you care?" Ecklie demanded.
"Because finding one's life partner is a wonderful occurrence."
He laughed hollowly. "I no longer buy that, Mr. Standish. I was a nice way to pass some time for him, a toy to amuse himself with, but I'm no one's chosen 'mate'."
Franklin winced and looked even more beaten. Ezra's eyes tightened a little.
"Franklin told you about the past he and I share, right?"
"So you realize that we haven't been on good terms until recently. I get nothing from helping him, helping the two of you. So believe me when I tell you that you're no one's toy. You're not a way to pass a decade or two. You're Franklin's partner and what happened at the Grotto was a misunderstanding on Eric's part. We vampires smell pheromones and they were the trigger for Eric's misbehavior. He thought Franklin was looking for company."
Ecklie just shook his head, a tired smile on his features.
"Are you familiar with vampire abilities? Particularly the hunting skill?" Standish wanted to know.
Ezra glanced at Franklin, who sighed tiredly.
"We never… used it," the blond said softly.
Ezra's eyebrows rose. "Why?"
"I… was afraid I might lose control, Ezra. I had never used it on anyone throughout sex except another vampire."
Ecklie frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"Vampires don't prey on humans to kill them. They drink blood because they have to, be it human or animal, but nature has given us a skill that makes it easier for both parties. Pleasurable, even." Ezra smiled. "It's like a aphrodisiac, Conrad. It enhances sexual pleasure. Vampires use it on other vampires throughout sexual intercourse sometimes."
The frown deepened and Ecklie looked at his lover again, who was biting his lower lip.
"Using the hunting skill throughout sex is also dangerous," Ezra went on. "We lose control, we take what we want, and while it's a total high, it could hurt someone weaker than a vampire. It can kill a human partner."
"Eric caught me by surprise, Conrad," Franklin tried to explain. "I didn't know what hit me until it was already happening, and even then it was hard to get away. His hunting skill coupled with the remnants of our lovemaking had me hooked to him the moment we kissed. I couldn't fight him, tell him I'm already taken… until he let me come up for air, so to speak."
"You know," Ecklie said coldly, "there are better ways to explain a break-up."
Franklin winced while Ezra just sighed.
"You don't believe us?"
"You want a demonstration?"
Ecklie blinked. "What? You want me to watch you woo Franklin? Sorry, but I doubt that would be the best way to make me believe he's faithful!" He reached for the door handle.
"I thought of another victim," the suddenly honey-smooth voice of the green-eyed vampire reached his ears and he stopped, eyes narrowing a fraction. "I thought of someone like you…"
The slightly roughened voice was wonderfully enticing. It dripped into his mind. He could listen to that voice all day and night.
Ecklie felt pleasure spike through him as nimble fingers trailed over his bare skin, leaving fiery marks, making him ache for more. Lips brushed over his neck, teeth biting him gently, and he felt the pressure in his groin rise. He was hot and bothered, hard and wanting, and his eyes sought out the green depths of his lover –
From one second to the next cold realization settled in and he blinked several times to clear his vision. The green color stayed.
Amusement clearly readable in the crinkles around the emerald pools.
"You see, it's not hard to get lost," a soft voice whispered and the smile on Ezra Standish's lips was gentle.
The smaller man was up close and personal, his hands just now retreating from where they had rested underneath his open shirt, on his skin, and Ecklie inhaled sharply. He was still hard, his arousal uncomfortably pushing against his jeans, and something inside of him wanted to jump this man, take him…
And he was lying on the floor of the limousine…
"What…?" he croaked as he scrambled back onto the seat, desire racing through his body at the sheer closeness of the vampire, and his heart was beating hard and fast – just like he wanted this man.
He squelched those thoughts, almost embarrassed by their intensity.
"The hunting skill… as demonstrated," was the humorous reply.
He glanced at his lover. While still pale, Franklin looked just as bothered, mixed with a healthy amount of jealousy and possessiveness, and he was gripping the seat in order to keep himself from doing something he might regret later.
Ecklie inhaled deeply, then closed his shirt buttons with shaky fingers. He couldn't recall touching the other vampire, let alone Ezra starting to undress him. But he still felt the burning hot touch, the little bite that told him how close Standish had been, and there was the blatant arousal. Damn! Hot and bothered was a mild term for what he felt right now.
"I think you two should return to the hotel," Ezra said conversationally.
Ecklie wasn't aware of the trip, just the gray eyes watching him – so hurt, so pained, so filled with need. And it hurt him in turn. Realization filtered through. If Franklin had been overrun by what had just hit Ecklie himself…
The limousine stopped and he blinked, tearing his gaze away from the pale face that was pleading with him to understand, to forgive.
"We're here," Ezra announced. "Martin and I will take care of the rental car. Your bags will be brought here later. For now, get Franklin out of the sun and please talk to each other."
Ecklie just nodded, feeling like in a trance.
Somehow he got into the hotel room, aware of the man at his side. And suddenly aware of the hesitant touch to his arm.
Gray eyes regarded him openly, unguarded, filled with regret and sorrow and pain. Gray eyes in a pale, drawn face.
"When was the last time you ate?" Ecklie asked, his voice sounding strange to his own ears.
"I… I'm not sure…"
Like on automatic he scanned the room, located the minibar where he knew Franklin had deposited the shakes, and he walked over there to get one. The vampire took the unmarked container and opened it, taking a swallow.
Ecklie regarded him silently for a while as Franklin emptied the container, then gathered his own failing courage. "I overreacted," he said softly.
Franklin shook his head. "Don't apologize, please? I should've been able to stop Eric, but I had lowered my guard… He took me by surprise and that can be deadly for a vampire. We shouldn't have come to that place."
"That's stupid, Franklin, and you know it." He walked closer to the other man. "I don't want to admit it, but I still have doubts in this relationship, still worry about what the future might bring me – pain, loss and worse… It all cooked up when I saw Eric kiss you like he did, when I saw you react to it."
Franklin's expression tightened slightly. "The hunting skill is powerful on both humans and vampires, Conrad."
"I saw that." And he still felt it. He was still aroused and needed relief.
"And I told you that you're the only one for me. I love you." Ecklie was about to say something when slender fingers touched his lips, silencing him. "I do. I'm exclusive. Only you. We're life partners."
He wanted to believe. So much, so deeply, so badly, but the small voice of doubt inside him reminded him of their differences. Handsome, attractive Franklin. Vampire. Close to immortal. And then there was him.
Franklin's features twisted in pain. "Please don't go there!" he begged, reading his expressions. "I can't prove to you that I'm telling the truth… I can only ask you to believe me."
Ecklie looked into the pleading eyes, felt the nearness of his lover, felt the adrenaline pound through him, recalled Ezra's touches. And he remembered their times together, over a year now. Franklin had had ample opportunity to leave and what was there for him to stay for? Why would he always return to Conrad Ecklie if he really prowled through the nights, taking lovers wherever he stopped by? Why would he hang on to this relationship, go through hell and suffer as he obviously had? Franklin was an independent man, had money, a job, experience, and the looks to get laid every night. Why would he stay with Conrad if not because…
He felt something inside of him shudder.
Because there was really something there. Because they were life partners. Because they had both found what they had been looking for.
Ecklie pulled his lover into his arms and kissed him gently. He felt the slender body shiver, hands clutching his shirt, holding on tight, and his kiss was answered hungrily.
"I believe you," he whispered.
Gray eyes lit up with life, with joy, with happiness, and Franklin kissed him deeply, pushing himself flush against him. Ecklie felt the barely deflated arousal come to new life and the hands now worming under his shirt were vastly different from the hands he had felt before. These were familiar, wanted, needed, and they knew his hot spots.
This was Franklin.
They landed on the bed after a while, naked, and very much busy.
* * *
Chris Larabee sighed and rolled around to lie on his back, looking at
his lover through half-lidded eyes. Ezra smiled at him, green eyes filled
with lazy satisfaction, and pillowed his head on the smooth chest. Chris
started to card his fingers through the chestnut hair, playing with some
"Not that I'm complaining," Larabee murmured, "but what set that off?"
Ezra chuckled and caught the caressing hand, interlacing their fingers. "Conrad Ecklie."
"Come again?" Chris blurted.
"From Las Vegas?"
A nod and the smile widened. "You know him?"
"Yeah, met him a few times. Dayshift supervisor, Grissom's counterpart. Part-time prick."
Ezra's eyebrows rose. "Care to be more enlightening?"
A sigh. "The last time I met him was about three years ago. Ecklie's a career horse. Good criminalist, but sometimes his judgment gets clouded by all the ass-kissing he apparently tries to do. I did some workshops with him and whenever his mind's set on a case, he's really good, but I heard how he always tries to suck up to the local high and mighty. Further his career et cetera. Kind of a back-stabbing guy if he has a bad day." Chris's brows dipped into a frown. "Care to tell me how you came up with the name?"
"I didn't come up with it, love. Conrad Ecklie was at the Grotto last night."
Chris sat up, dislodging Ezra from his comfortable place. "What?!"
There was a small, amber fire glowing in the hazel depths and Ezra had to hold on to himself not to laugh out loud.
"I demonstrated the hunting skill on him."
Now the glow intensified. "You did what?"
Ezra grabbed the slender figure and kissed him. "I showed him what we vampires can do… to help save a relationship."
A puzzled frown appeared on Larabee's forehead. "Care to explain?"
"Conrad Ecklie is Franklin's lover and life partner."
Chris blinked again.
Ezra nodded, grinning.
"Yes, I invited him to come."
"You did what? Ezra, you astound me!"
Standish chuckled. "Your hard work finally paid off."
"You can say that again. I'm proud of you. Really." He was silent for a moment, then the frown returned. "Franklin and Conrad Ecklie?"
"Yep." The grin widened.
"Life partners?!" Chris exclaimed.
"Another definite yep. Franklin found someone – the only someone."
"I met him and hearing what you have to say, he must have changed. I like him. I think he's good for Franklin. They might be an unlikely couple from another's point of view, but I've seen stranger ones."
Chris shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. "Oh-kay," he murmured. "Damn. And you used the hunting skill on him?"
"A little bit. Just to convince him that it's possible."
Ezra leaned closer and snuggled up to his lover. "Nothing happened."
"At least not between Ecklie and me. As for the them… or the two of us…"
Chris shuddered as Ezra let his fingers wander. Ezra had jumped him the moment he had come home. Chris had been working, trying to get some reports done, sign personnel matters, and the like. But Ezra's growl, the soft glow, the desire radiating off him, and the prowling motions of his lover had told him that work was over.
And the predatory creature his lover had turned into had taken what he had wanted and needed, and Chris had freely given it.
Right now he felt it wasn't over. As soft lips closed over his renewed arousal, he knew it for a fact. Feeling the bliss that coursed through him at the hot, wet contact, he didn't even try to stifle his groan of approval.
* * *
He woke to the wonderful sensation of a warm body next to him, his own
body twinging in places that told him of a hot, wild encounter, and he
was held in a loose embrace. Franklin opened his eyes and looked at the
sleeping man at his side, features completely relaxed in sleep. He leaned
over and pressed his lips against Ecklie's, feeling the other man respond.
Dark eyes cracked open and a smile graced the familiar lips.
"Slept well?" Franklin asked softly.
Instead of an answer he kissed him again. "After that… like dead." Franklin grinned.
Powered by the need triggered through Ezra's manipulation, his lover had made their make-up sex one very special occasion to remember. Desire, passion and sexual heat had combined to render both men insensate by the end of the day, sated, satisfied, and completely relaxed. Spent – in every sense of the word, Franklin mused, snuggling into the warmth next to him. Make-up sex was nice. Having Conrad back was a lot better.
Franklin had been close to doing something foolish, like pulling Ezra off his lover when the younger vampire had used his hunting skills. He had been torn between anger, fury and jealousy, as well as downright lust. He had wanted to remove Ezra from his human partner or join in, unable to decide what he felt.
He rolled around a little and laid his head on his lover's chest, smiling at the relaxed, dark eyes. Outside, the lights were already on, the city preparing for night life, but somehow Franklin found he couldn't care less what action happened beyond these walls. Tender hands carded fingers through his hair and he almost purred. It got him a raised eyebrow. The vampire chuckled and rubbed one cheek against the smooth skin.
"What are our plans for tonight?" Ecklie asked, never stopping his teasing caress.
"No clue. What do you want to do?"
"I heard the food at the Grotto is passable."
Franklin blinked, surprise registering. "You want to go back there?"
"Uh… there are other places… paranormal places… we don't have to…"
"What if I want to?"
"Why would you?"
Ecklie cupped his face and smiled. "To thank Ezra for his help, to finally get the beer I wasn't able to finish, and to have a good time with you… in a place you can relax in, in a place where we can be who we are."
Franklin was astounded by the little speech. He leaned forward and pressed their lips together, feeling Conrad answer the simple contact.
* * *
The club was crowded, as always. And like the last time, Franklin and
Ecklie had no trouble gaining access, walking past the waiting, hopeful
crowd outside to be let in. Music and voices created a background noise
to the sight of so many people in the underground cavern. Franklin's arm
lay possessively around Ecklie's waist as he maneuvered them to the back
bar where the same young woman from before was manning the counter. Franklin
ordered two beers as he slid onto one chair, Ecklie beside him.
They enjoyed the music for a while, watching people come and go, dance and chat, and Franklin's hand rested on one thigh the whole time, sometimes brushing over the jeans-clad skin.
"Table's free," he remarked after a while.
"You go up ahead. I'll be with you in a moment," Ecklie told him. "Gotta make a run first."
Franklin grinned, getting the meaning, and walked over to the table.
Ecklie came out of the men's room and started over to the table when
he was stopped. He looked at the dark-haired man, recognizing him immediately
as the vampire who had started all these misunderstandings. Dressed in
a light gray shirt, a dark blue vest and equally blue pants, he looked
attractive and several men and women had already eyed him. Eric looked
a bit apprehensive as he faced Ecklie, the blue eyes filled with remorse
"I'm Eric," he introduced himself awkwardly.
"I know," Ecklie replied neutrally.
"Listen… I didn't know you two were an item. I'd never have even thought about touching Frank if I had. I honor a partnership and yours is what we all hope to gain one day, find our partner." Eric shrugged, clearly embarrassed. "It was stupid but when I saw Frankl again after such a long time, I just wanted to have a good time once more."
Ecklie regarded the young man, wondering how old the vampire was, how long he and Franklin had been together, then pushed those thoughts aside.
"I want to apologize," Eric added. "Will you accept?"
Before Ecklie could answer, Franklin suddenly appeared between them, eyes glowing. "Eric!" he growled.
The dark-haired vampire stepped back a little, eyes wide. "Wow, Frank, wait!"
Ecklie put a hand on his lover's shoulders and squeezed lightly. "He came to apologize, Franklin. It's okay."
The blond vampire shot the his former lover a quick look, then glanced at Ecklie.
"It's okay," he repeated. Ecklie met the blue eyes. "I accept your apology, Eric."
Eric smiled slightly. "Thank you. The last I wanted was to drive you two apart. Partners are rare and I'm glad Franklin found you. Can I invite you two for a drink or maybe some food?"
There was a moment of awkwardness as Ecklie wondered what to say, as Franklin fought down his possessive instincts, and Eric tried to be anything but threatening to the partnership. Finally Ecklie shrugged. It was what they had come here for.
"I don't mind," he said softly, directing his words at Franklin.
The blond took his hand, wrapping his fingers around it. Very possessive, Ecklie thought.
"Okay," was Franklin's only reply.
Eric visibly relaxed.
The three men picked a table in a quieter part of the Grotto and settled down. Soon they had their beers and were waiting for food.
Conversation was slightly stumbling at first, but finally smoothed out, too. Ecklie listened to the two vampires catching up on old times. He judged Eric as a lot younger than Franklin, with an exuberance that could only be attested to that youth. He told of his travels all over the world, of the people he had met, then questioned Franklin about the last twenty years. Ecklie found it highly interesting.
After some time the criminalist in Conrad Ecklie discovered that Eric's attention started to sway from them to a young woman leaning at the bar counter, her eyes on the dance floor, apparently all on her own.
"Uh, if you guys excuse me…" Eric started.
Franklin chuckled. "Just go. Have some fun, Eric."
"Was nice meeting you, Conrad," Eric said, smiling at him.
And then the dark-haired vampire was homing in on his 'target'. A few minutes later he and the lady in question were dancing.
"Are you okay?"
Ecklie looked at the man at his side. Around them, people were dancing to the slow, sensual music. The lights dimmed a little and the sparklers were on.
"I'm fine," he replied and pulled Franklin closer, kissing him.
Franklin smiled at him when they separated a little, completely oblivious to the public spot, probably not even caring who saw them. Strangely enough, Ecklie shared the notion. He didn't care.
"It's close to midnight," he murmured after a while. "We should go."
"The witching hour. You gonna turn into a pumpkin if we don't leave?" Ecklie teased.
Franklin laughed softly. "You wish."
Ezra watched the two so different men leave. A smile played around his lips at the obvious gestures of affection, the expressions, the general air of belonging together. Then he turned and disappeared into the crowd.
* * *
The offer to drop by Ezra and Chris's place before their departure had
come as a surprise, but Franklin had accepted it. He had come to Salt Lake
to talk to the other vampire, to maybe make up what had started so abysmally
many years ago. Sure, they were on talking terms, but he knew that a lot
of issues needed time to mend and heal. Conrad had come along, impressed
by the house the two men called their home, but he had kept his silence
The two CSIs of the four men soon found a common topic and Franklin rolled his eyes at Ezra, smiling.
"I live with one, too," was Standish's only reply, which earned him a dark look from Chris, who immediately went back discussing an old case with his dayshift colleague.
It was throughout the first half hour of their visit that a small, silver-gray tabby walked calmly into the room, eyeing the two visitors. Her green gaze lingered on Ecklie and she jumped onto the arm of the couch where he sat.
Ecklie was slightly startled. "Yours?" he asked Chris.
"It's more like I'm hers," he replied with a smile. "That's Cassy. There are some more cats in and around the house. One's Ezra's, the other two are Buck and Vin's. They have the upstairs apartments."
Cassy sniffed at Ecklie, then started to rub her head against his arm. He held out his hand, which was sniffed at as well, then began to scratch her carefully. When she started to tread on one thigh, Chris began to frown. The frown deepened as Cassy walked onto the man's lap and gazed intensely into the dark eyes that now held a surprised look.
"I'm not really a cat person," Ecklie said slowly.
"Mew," Cassy begged to differ.
Large eyes still looked at him.
Her tail twitched.
"Mrow!" she announced, tilting her head.
And she curled up on his lap.
Franklin grinned at the helpless expression in his lover's face, then he became aware of their hosts staring at the only human in the group with undisguised surprise.
"Uh, something wrong?" he asked.
"Ah…" Chris began. "No."
Cassy's ears flicked and she purred loudly, marking Ecklie's hand vigorously. The purring grew deeper, more intense, and she seemed to sigh contently.
"She's just…" Larabee hurried to explain his reaction, "well, she's pregnant and normally not so friendly with strangers," he finally made up a lie.
"Seems very friendly to me," Franklin remarked.
"Cassy's a familiar," Standish sighed. "They like to be odd now and then. Clingy one day, completely independent the next."
Ecklie frowned. "A what?"
"She's a companion for paranormals," the vampire explained. "She's a cat, but more than a simple pet. She's more intelligent than the average feline, she has abilities that are… well, magical, and…" He stopped, then shrugged. "Let's say, when a familiar gets pregnant it's because she feels there's the need to give birth to a familiar kitten."
Ecklie had continued to pet the cat, which was more than happy about the attention. His hand stroked over the round stomach.
"So she's a magical creature?"
"Not really. She's still a cat with some abilities."
"And you're about to have some more of them."
Franklin frowned, aware of something passing between the other two men. Ecklie just shrugged. For a man who hadn't known about the paranormal just over a year ago, he had quickly accepted that there was a lot out there that could be called paranormal. Like familiars. He kept on scratching the cat.
Two hours later they left. It was eleven p.m. now and Franklin would drive through the night while Ecklie slept. Franklin was still puzzling about Ezra and Chris's behavior, but since his lover wasn't really asking, he pushed those thoughts aside. He glanced at the pregnant silver tabby, then turned away. Ecklie's hand rested on his back as they walked toward the rental car.
* * *
"You think it's him?" Chris asked softly after their guests had left
to start their journey home.
"I don't know. Cassy wouldn't leave him alone all evening."
Larabee sighed and shook his head. "Phoenix? Wer? Magic user?" He stopped, eyes growing wider. "Future vampire?"
"Franklin told me he wouldn't turn him. I believe him. He won't."
"But someone else might."
"I doubt it."
Ezra shrugged. "No clue. I'll alert the Vegas community. Danielle needs to have an eye on them. Whatever happens, it'll happen in about six months."
When the kittens were all grown up.
"Will you tell Franklin?" Chris wanted to know.
"No, not just yet."
Chris pursed his lips but didn't say anything. Ezra glanced at his partner.
"Franklin won't like it. Being kept in the dark, I mean."
"What do you want me to tell him? That something's going to happen to Conrad, but we don't know what? That he might die or is already dying? Force his hand to turn him into a vampire? No, Chris, I can't do that. Franklin might feel he has to take that step while it's not even necessary. Something else could happen and we've got to wait, let fate play it out."
Chris sighed. ""He'll still be pissed at you, Ezra. Royally."
Another shrug. "I think I can live with that if it means we're not rushing something that shouldn't be rushed."
Chris's eyes fell on his familiar, which was lying peacefully on one of the armchairs. Cassy was watching them, unconcerned with their concern about the future. She knew what she had to do and she would do it.
Everything was open now and whatever would happen to Conrad Ecklie, they still had about six months left to prepare.