Things were settling back into a routine. Most people would have been happy, but Xander was just bored.
So it was almost a relief to him when Jean-Claude announced the fact that a few Council representatives were going to be making an appearance.
Xander had been curious about the mysterious Council ever since he had first heard of them. It wasn't like he had a death wish or anything, but he did like to have some excitement in his life. And there was nothing more exciting than danger.
The fact that Jean-Claude had gone to some extreme lengths to keep him from ever coming across a Council Member only made it that much more curious and exciting. He truly wanted to see what was going to happen next.
Some would have said his curiosity was a fault... he just thought it was part of what made him so special.
"What's got you so smiley?" Jason asked, appearing at his shoulder.
Lazily rotating his head, Xander gave him a lizard smile. "Just thinking about all the fun I'm going to have."
"Should I be prepared to hide the women and children?" Jason was dressed in black leather pants with most of the ass cut out and a shirt made from silver strings.
"They'd take one look at you and run the other way." Xander reached out to run his finger down Jason's arm, liking the bump of the strings against his fingertips. "Those pants are awful."
"Mon coeur, you wound me with your words." There was the wash of power that always flowed before Jean-Claude, a rush of that expensive perfume he favored, then the man himself appeared in the doorway with a charming smile. "You know that I choose all the clothes for our charming Jason."
Xander rolled his eyes. "Well, you chose badly this time. He's going to be a health hazard if he sits down anywhere."
"Hey, I'm perfectly clean!" Jason crossed his arms.
"Sure you are," Xander scoffed. "Your bare ass is hanging out all over the place, but no one has to worry about disinfecting anything. I'm surprised no one has called the health inspectors on you."
Xander glanced over at Jean-Claude and caught the older vampire with a fond smile curving his lips. It made something inside him relax a little; the coming of the Council representatives had put Jean-Claude on edge.
Just because I don't have a soul doesn't mean I can't take care of the monster I love, Xander thought, keeping his own smile secret as he stood up from the recliner with a stretch of his arms over his head.
"I'm hungry," he said.
"Well, we cannot have that, now can we?" Jean-Claude held out his hand and Xander didn't hesitate to stalk across the room and take it. "Let's go find you something delicious, n'est pas?"
Xander smiled and let himself be led from the room. He snorted a laugh at Jason's bereaved sounding, "What about me? So rude..." behind them. Like Jason really wanted to be there when they ate some people.
The vampires of this world were so civilized when they Fed. So it was maybe a little understandable why Jason would get a bit freaked out when he saw Xander go all demon face. He was used to the kind of vamps that stayed beautiful all the time--the only exception being the rotters. And those guys were just gross. Like chaos demons to the nth degree.
"We should get Jason a girlfriend," Xander mused.
"And why is that?" Jean-Claude was genuinely interested.
He slanted a curious glance toward Xander, who shrugged. "He seems pretty tightly wound to me and it's always nice to have some kind of leverage over someone. Family, friends, favored pet, they all work good."
"That is terrible," Jean-Claude said, sounding more amused than censoring. "Promise me you will not say such things when others are around."
Xander huffed and rolled his eyes. "I wasn't born yesterday, you know. I do know how to behave in front of the sheeple so they don't panic."
"Perhaps it would be better for you not to call them such things," Jean-Claude said.
Xander stuck his tongue out at him. "You can't change me. 'I yam what I yam,' as Popeye would say. And those people out there... they're definitely sheep that let themselves be led to the slaughter. Why else would they volunteer to be here?"
"Because we are civilized monsters." Jean-Claude reached out to take Xander's hand, turning it this way and that beneath his examining gaze before twining their fingers together.
Jean-Claude had a thing for the romance. He dreamed of soft sheets and romantic strolls down moonlit beaches. It was the kind of sentimental crap that Xander's demon scoffed at, all growly and disgusted, but Xander was willing to put up with all that for Jean-Claude.
"It must be love," Xander laughed, giving Jean-Claude's hand a squeeze.
"What?" Jean-Claude looked at him in surprise.
"Nothing," Xander grinned at him, "just thinking out loud."
He had to admit that his feelings for Jean-Claude had only grown during his time on this world. He was soulless, but he could still love. It was just a darker, more terrible kind of love than most people wanted to be the focus of.
Jean-Claude took him to the Lounge. It was a large room where all the werethings got to hang out and relax as they waited to be needed. It was like the vampires' private pantry while they were at the Circus. Blood on tap.
Jean-Claude rarely visited the Lounge, but he knew that Xander liked to pick his own meal. It was that thoughtfulness that Xander really enjoyed.
Xander smiled and gave Jean-Claude's hand a squeeze. It seemed that with every night that passed, Jean-Claude became more and more the vampire king Xander knew he could be.
It was only a matter of time now.* * *
The Lounge was their place to relax and retreat from the world while still being available at all times. There was the perpetual card game going on in one corner, and the TV was blaring some children's show loudly, and though they weren't allowed to get drunk, there were several open beers.
Nathaniel had been invited to play poker, but he thought that might have been because they all knew how terrible he was at the game. Instead he was curled up in an armchair flipping through a slightly wrinkled magazine. He thought it might have belonged to Jason first, though his scent had largely faded from the pages.
In another time and place, he probably would have been at Anita's house waiting for her to give him a little face time, but he'd shaken his head at Micah and made his escape. It was probably cowardly of him to leave his Nimir-raj to make his excuses, but he was afraid of Anita's reaction.
She wasn't good with rejection and from all that he knew of her, her first reaction to most every situation was violence.
Nathaniel didn't want to deal with any of that. Hence his spending his free time at the Lounge and sleeping over at Vivian's when he just had to get out of the Circus. She'd been cool with the idea of letting him stay, and he'd been careful to keep his presence in her life small. Altogether it was the most peaceful time he'd spent since he'd been bitten.
Life on the street had been misery, then life as a wereleopard had been even worse. There were some days when he was surprised to find himself still alive. But recently it seemed as though things were getting better. He felt as though he might be growing up, as weird as that was. A strange fog was lifting from his mind and he felt as though he could see clearly for the first time in a long time.
He was grateful to Anita for keeping him alive and helping him through some of the fucked up things plaguing his life, but he felt as though he'd outgrown her. She wasn't the strength he wanted to lean against, and he got the sense that somewhere out there was someone that would really and truly see him, warts and all.
Anita was not that person. To her, he was just some burden she'd accepted responsibility for. She used him for sex when she was horny, food when she was hungry, and a presence to rail against when she was feeling lonely. But he doubted that she ever looked at him and saw him, Nathaniel Graison, and not just another problem for her to handle.
There was a tingle on the back of his neck and he rubbed it with his hand, a faint frown pulling his brows together. Then his eyes were drawn to the opening door as Jean-Claude walked in with Xander at his side.
Nathaniel's breath caught. He hadn't seen Xander up close since *that* night, yet here he was. Grinning with all his teeth showing and a challenge in his eyes.
As Jean-Claude's pomme de sang, Nathaniel was the only one that didn't go into full submission position on the floor.
Jean-Claude never visited the Lounge. When he was Hungry he sent for a donor. So for him to be here, Nathaniel could nearly hear the others panicking like it was the end of the world. They were wondering what terrible wrong they had done to bring Jean-Claude himself to punish them.
Nathaniel looked at Xander, his throat tight with desire. "Did you come down for a bite to eat?" He could practically feel Xander's teeth breaking his skin.
Xander smirked at him. "Is that what you want, pretty?"
Some childish part of Nathaniel wanted to tell him no, he didn't need to be dominated and half destroyed. But that was a lie he couldn't tell.
"Yes," he breathed, his gaze locked on Xander's face.
"All right then," Xander said, holding out his hand. "You come with me."
Nathaniel found himself across the room with no idea how he'd gotten there. All he knew was that his hand was enclosed in Xander's and his heart was beating fast with excitement.
He barely noticed as Jean-Claude chose three other donors. Xander was touching him and he never wanted to be away from him.
That spot on the back of his neck pulsed with his heartbeat and his skin felt hot and tight. He wanted to rub himself against Xander, to grind the scent of Xander so far into his skin that no one could deny their connection.
The cruel twist to Xander's lips said he knew what Nathaniel wanted and he planned to torment him about it.
Nathaniel ached with the want.