We all sat in the comfy room eating snacks (or drinking blood) and recounting the epic tennis match. We joked and reveled as evening and night fell. I asked Riel if he wouldn’t mind me sleeping out in the gardens and he showed me a secret bed in the rock wall. Another nice little thing built by Mark. It could slide out to give you a view of the stars or be tucked into the wall for a little more privacy. There was a nice little force field that could be activated around it as well. He pointed to a touch screen interface. “There’s a fridge in here but if you need anything else this menu here will let you contact me directly. And because we’ve had lycans here before…” He walked a little to the right and opened a hidden door. A small restroom. Brilliant. “Enjoy yourself, poppet. I’ll pick you up in the morning so we can visit Sam.”
“Thank you, Riel,” I squealed, hugging him around the middle.
“Pleasure’s all mine, babe.”
“Davis, you want to spend the night out here with me?” I asked him.
“Sure. But you put on your climbing gear again. I really liked it,” he agreed.
“As long as you wear yours. You’re really hot in shorts.”
“How delightful. You know I don’t sleep. So if you happen to catch a glimpse of me in the entertaining room don’t be alarmed,” Riel warned us.
“Voyeur.” I rolled my eyes.
“I love it.” He ruffled my hair and started off after Aeryn. “How about a quickie, my pet?” he called to her.
She scoffed. “Your ‘quickies’ can last upwards of four hours.” She crossed her arms.
“If I make it two will you do it?” he bargained.
“Not a second over or we’re never having sex again,” she ruled.
“You say that every time, love,” he grinned.
She pointed at him and he leaned down to nip her finger. She darted off. The game was afoot. I smiled goofily as I watched them go. Cal and Ashley had already turned in for the night but Jesse and Jack brought marshmallows for us to roast. Evin sat in the hammock as the four of us had little stick sword fights. I laid my head in Jesse’s lap until the moon rose. I hugged them all goodnight before settling down next to Davis. We’d pulled the bed out far enough to see the Milky Way. We played in and out of our dreams, wearing each other out in good time. By the time dawn rolled around I was ready to see Sam. Riel gave me time to freshen up and change before leading me to the dungeon. Aeryn was there already, preparing another helping of bleach. Sam was curled up around his shackles looking sickly. As the days passed he became gaunt. He was practically wasting away before our very eyes. But the scariest part was the cure. Aeryn put the bleach away for good and fed Sam drops of blood from her wrist. It was slow going. And as his vocal chords healed he began to scream and wail. Horrible, haunting sounds. Mark came along, feeding him drops of blood as well.
But this was the slow way. Sam would need an enormous amount of blood to fully recover. Queen Aeryn had decreed he’d be healed slowly, painfully. The days passed and eventually Sam’s hair turned yellow and then filled in with that gorgeous red. He cried a lot, weeping for what he’d done. As he grew stronger he started reaching out for Mark and Aeryn. I realized that he was dying to be touched and held and caressed. For a scaroth, not being able to touch someone they loved was as effective a torture as being bloodless. Sam trembled, literally shaking with the need to feel the skin of the people that meant the most to him in this world. Mark and Aeryn were careful not to let any part of them touch any part of him. It was akin to what Jesse had gone through the times we’d bound him up and kept me out of his grasp. It was still based in consent yet it introduced a whole new level of pain, determination, and emotion. Sam was utterly, completely broken. His body slowly filled back in and his tears stopped. Mark and Aeryn gave him more blood now, each day moving their wrists a little closer to his mouth. Finally, the day came when Mark let his wrist come within licking distance of Sam’s face. Other than subduing him and dragging him in here, Mark hadn’t touched Sam in two years. There had been a few times Sam had snuck in a touch here or there but for the most part he’d abstained (it was Mark’s own personal punishment for him).
The way Sam moaned when he licked Mark’s wrist had me wetter than anything. The sound of pure ecstasy and longing. I’d take that sound with me to and beyond the grave. It was the first voluntary touch they’d shared in over two years. I could not even imagine. Mark’s eyes closed and he dropped to his knees. Sam ran his tongue up and down Mark’s wrist, damn near making love to him without anything but his lips and tongue. I felt like a voyeur and squirmed. Mark sucked in a breath and pulled away from Sam, stumbling as if drunk as he headed out of the dungeon. Riel, Aeryn, and I quickly followed him out and shut the door behind us. “Holy shit,” I breathed, leaning on the wall. “Now I’m pretty sure I’m the one being tortured.”
“Wait for it, lass,” Mark urged me, giving me a huge grin before going to take care of his own arousal.
The next day Aeryn laid her head on Sam’s chest as she fed him from her wrist. His hips grinded into her and I’m pretty sure he shot over by the time she pulled away. I came pretty close myself and jumped around the dungeon shaking out my hands to calm down. The next time we went Mark let Sam have his neck and his backside. He sat facing us as he rode Sam. The first time they’d made love in two years. I panted and drooled as Aeryn went forward to claim Mark from the front. Sam’s arms struggled to break free so he could hold his lovers. His wrists were actually cut from the pressure he put on them trying to get free. Riel stole up behind me and made me keep watching when I tried to leave. His hand slid into my pants and he pleasured me as we watched them. I locked eyes with Sam and exploded. It was almost unbearably intimate but I couldn’t look away. And then the last blessed day, the shackles were undone. Sam sprang to his feet looking as healthy as ever. He ran around the dungeon a few times and then came to rest in front of me. “Thank you for bearing witness, Aniella. I know it wasn’t easy,” he said warmly.
“It was nothing compared to what you went through,” I replied, touching his arm.
His eyes closed and he sucked in a deep breath. “You have no idea. Let me kiss you, at least. I’m about to catch up, physically speaking, with Mark and Aeryn but I want to touch you, too. I want to hug and kiss everyone. For hours,” he gushed, pulling me into his arms. I giggled and tilted my head back. I had no doubt of his sincerity. He kissed me a lot like Mark normally did. His hands and tongue started roaming as he was swept away in the sensations. Mark gently pulled him back and kissed him in my stead. He lifted Sam into his arms, shot me a devious grin, and ran off. Aeryn kissed my hand before running after them.
“Congratulations, Ani. You’ve made a hell of a name for yourself,” Riel inclined his head in a bow. He lifted my arm and pressed his lips against my wrist.
I blushed. ”Oh no, Riel. I’m no one to show deference to,” I argued.
His hand fit into my back and he guided me out so he could seal the dungeon. “Nonsense. I put you on display yesterday and you didn’t even bat an eye. You understand exactly what this was. Few Others can stand to witness, let alone vampires. You’ve got guts, Brewster. I admire the hell out of you.” He shut and locked the door. “If you ever need anything, feel free to call on me. Use this phone to contact me if you have an emergency or simply require some vamp lovin’. It’s the quickest way to reach me.” He handed me a phone styled like the old cell phones but I knew better. This was a special phone.
I tucked it securely in my pocket. It was always good to have friends in high places. The Sex God, the queen of all Others, the man behind the scenes, and the future royal consort all thought I was the shit. It didn’t get much more awesome than that. I returned to California a changed person. Davis, Ram, and I plotted as many realms as we could sanely stand to visit and practiced creating several more of our own. Ashley, Jack, and Jesse stayed in touch with Amada and started gathering and connecting containers from all over the world. Cal kept an eye on Evin whenever the rest of us were out or otherwise occupied. The Overlys damn near adopted Joel; he spent all of his free time over at their place. My family thought I’d gone a bit nuts when I actually started introducing tiny bits of pink into my wardrobe. I think Dad nearly fainted, in fact. My lovable family. Stan had managed to hold onto Areillo for this long and he was a regular at our Family Sunday Football Games.
On New Year’s, the Hunters struck again. This time they hit China. 680,000 people, mostly witches, were wiped out. Davis’ mom’s family was among the dead. Poor Davis. The year hadn’t been especially kind to him. He’d had me avoid him, been stabbed by a unicorn, lost his ghost, and now lost nearly half his family. We gave the Overlys plenty of love. They handled it well, though. And it appeared more and more humans were recognizing they shared Earth with other human-looking creatures. Most of them were understandably confused. That gave Others a slight advantage: after the attack in China witches stood wholeheartedly with the vampires. Unfortunately, the Hunters were enlisting other humans to their cause. We called them the Soulless; they were the worst of humanity. And they started hunting down any vampires they could find in order to kill them. A war was brewing, slowly but surely.
It was February by the time Mark was able to visit. He was a bit grumpy because Joey, Aeryn’s human boyfriend, was now her fiancé. They were due to be married in another year. I don’t know if Mark had ever smoked before but he was puffing like a chimney now. I was rather tickled to see he’d actually brought a poster of himself as promised. He’d had Riel take the photo for him. He seemed to be naked in it: his chest bare of his usual vest and even though his lower half wasn’t visible it was all skin down to his hips. So either his pants were set far below his hips or he’d forgone wearing them altogether. Either way I didn’t mind. My imagination was pretty vivid. So was my memory. It was the sexiest picture I’d ever seen. I posted it on my ceiling and Jack laughed at me before going to make tea. “I’m glad you’re here,” I told Mark, hopping off my bed.
“I promised. It does me good to not have to see Joey for a while as well. I wish she’d just let me kill that turd.” He shook his head and lit yet another cigarette on our way to the living room.
“Anyway.” I rolled my eyes.
“Heh, right. Ah, so let me take a look at your map so I can mark off the most likely places these black clouds hide. The fact that you can visit the Shadow realm at all means there’s a leak somewhere. We’ll have to fix it and then find any stray clouds and finish them off. That’ll help cut down on the Soulless in this realm,” he laid out.
“Excellent. Davis should be here shortly. He was dropping Joel off at his moms’ house. They absolutely adore him,” I informed him. “You can look this map over while we wait.” I handed him my pager with the map of the realms already open. It was a bit surreal to see him casually seated on my couch in my living room.
“Cool. Oh, I’ll also have a necromancer stop by to bind you to Evin. I finally tracked one down,” he remembered.
“Fantastique. Merci, Mark,” Evin thanked him.
“The best news is that he’ll be able to do it without Ani being present. I doubt we’ll make it back when she shows up. Her name is Arena. You can trust her,” Mark continued, speaking to both Evin and Jack.
“We appreciate it,” Jack nodded. “We’ll keep an eye out for her.”
Mark finished his cigarette while he studied our layout of the realms, making notes here and there of the ones most likely to have been accessed by black clouds or Shadows. I grabbed an old candle holder for him to ash into and cracked a window. I certainly wasn’t about to ask the over 200-year-old vampire to step outside. I didn’t much mind the smoke and I figured there’d be a lot of car crashes if a gorgeous semi-naked redhead was posted up outside like god’s gift to the world. I sat with my legs crossed and stared at him and his beautiful aura. He didn’t seem to mind this time around. Either that or he was focused on more important things. Even the way he smoked was sexy to me. I wondered what he got out of it. Vampire physiology wasn’t anything I was very familiar with. Only Amada would know about that.
Davis’ music thrummed as he pulled into the driveway. Evin and I ran outside and jumped on his car. He stepped out and tugged me into his arms for a kiss. Then he grabbed Evin and pulled him in for a hug. “Excited to see me today?” he asked. He always asked that.
“We’re always excited to see you,” Evin replied cheerfully.
“Mark’s here. And Arena is on her way to bind Evin to me. We don’t even have to be here,” I mentioned.
“Great. Let’s get started then. We might be gone for a while,” he reasoned. “Hello, Mark. Thanks in advance for your help. Have you ever been in the realms before?” he greeted him as we piled in the front door.
“Only when I was dead,” Mark shrugged.
“You remember being dead?” Jack wondered.
“Yeah. I remember my entire reincarnation tree. Something happened to me a while back that gave me back my memories."
“Not many creatures fully remember their past lives. And I’m sure very few can recall time between lives,” Evin pointed out.
“What can I say? I’m special,” Mark smirked. “We ready to go, lass?” he inquired.
“Yep. We need to pick a group tether. You’ve got your home tether, yeah?” I held his hand and Davis’.
“I do. Aeryn’s blood.”
I hid a smile. “In case we get separated, Davis’ tether is my scent.”
“Which one?” Mark flirted.
My blush was all the answer he needed. He laughed and I moved on. “My call sign is black tea. Any suggestions for our mutual tether?”
“The lick on the palm,” both Davis and Mark chimed.
“Why am I not surprised?” I shook my head. “Let’s go. Jack, Evin, see you later. Mark, think loudly about the realms you want to visit. Davis will skip us through. Let me know if the pull behind your belly gets too tight or painful,” I instructed. Mark nodded and Davis and I took him to Middlespace. We went through the basic movements with him and then Davis jumped us to the Shadow realm. Show time!