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Conflict in Blood [MultiFormat]
eBook by Ariel Tachna

eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance
eBook Description: As the Alliance wizard-vampire partnerships grow stronger, the dark wizards feel the effects and become increasingly desperate to find enough information to counter them, unaware of the growing strain of the blood-magic bonds on the wizards and vampires alike. The conflict is spreading. The strife of uncomfortable relationships, both personal and professional, is threatening to tear up the Alliance from the inside, despite the efforts of Alain Magnier and Orlando St. Clair, Thierry Dumont and Sebastien Noyer, and even Raymond Payet and Jean Bellaiche, leader of the Paris vampires, who is fighting to establish a stable covenant with his own partner so he might lead by example. As the war rages on and heartbreaking casualties mount on both sides, the dark wizards keep searching for clues to understand and counter the strength of the Alliance, while the blood-bound Alliance partners hunt through ancient prejudices and forgotten lore to find an edge that can turn the tide of the war once and for all. The third of a four part series.

eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2009, 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: July 2009


44 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter 1

"What does he think to gain from this ... farce?" Pascal Serrier spat, switching off the television in disgust. Chavinier's announcement of an alliance between the Milice wizards and the Parisian vampires turned his stomach, the thought of such creatures having any say in the ruling of the country more than he could stand. It was one more reason to overthrow the current government and replace it with one run by wizards--his wizards--who understood the value of magic and the appropriate place for such lesser beings. "He has to know this alliance won't avail him. What can a vampire do against our spells? And even if they can resist some of them, we can simply move our plans to daytime. Chavinier won't mess with the natural order enough to confuse night and day, if he's even powerful enough, which I doubt. He's put his reputation on the line for nothing."

"Then there's more to this than he's telling," Eric Simonet disagreed. "He might be a bleeding heart, but he wouldn't make claims about the war that he couldn't carry through on. He's not stupid. He knows what that would do to morale and to his reputation."

"So what's the angle?" Serrier demanded. "What can he gain from this?"

"If the vampires cover the night patrols, he can move more wizards to fight during the day," Simon Aguiraud pointed out.

"But that's fewer wizards to counter us if we attack at night," Simonet disagreed. "He spoke the truth when he mentioned the turning tides, a fact he laid firmly at the feet of the vampires. They have to have a weakness, though. Joëlle managed to defeat them before she was killed."

"Sunlight and fire," Serrier repeated slowly. "That's what Bellaiche said at the press conference. Sunlight and fire."

"What are you thinking?"

"A few minutes before dawn," Serrier declared. "If we engage a patrol just before dawn, they'll lose their numbers as the sun comes up, either to the vampires seeking shelter or to the sunlight itself."

"Is it instantaneous, though?"

"I don't know," Serrier admitted, "but our resident bloodsucker will. And he'll tell me the truth or I'll stop providing victims for him. Send Claude to get him."

Eric frowned, but did as the dark wizard asked. The very idea of the vampire made him uncomfortable, though he took pains not to show it. "What about the woman?"

"What about her?" Serrier demanded.

"You don't need her anymore, do you?"

Serrier shrugged. "You never know when she might prove useful. Even if she can't tell us what we need to know, I'm sure Claude would enjoy playing with her. It's been a while since I've given him a new toy."

Eric hid a flinch at the thought of the twisted wizard getting his hands on the slender woman he had helped bring in at Serrier's command. He had never been terribly hopeful where her fate was concerned, but he had allowed himself to believe Serrier would at least kill her mercifully once she had told them all she knew. He might have thrown his lot in with Serrier and his wizards after his wife was killed, but some of their methods made him question his judgment at times. He had burned his bridges, though, so he would just have to find other ways to preserve his humanity. His misdirection over a mercy killing had worked once. He doubted Claude--or Serrier--would buy it a second time.

"Sunlight and fire," Serrier repeated musingly. "We can't force the sun to rise early, but there are spells for fire. We'll need to work on refining those spells for battle. Simon?"

"I'm on it," Aguiraud declared, standing and heading toward the door. "The vampires will regret revealing their weakness."

As soon as he was gone, Serrier turned back to Eric. "Now more than ever, we need to know what's going on in Chavinier's head," he told his lieutenant. "Have you given any more thought to returning to him as my eyes and ears?"

"I have," Eric admitted, "and it's an appealing thought, being able to use his naïveté to undermine him, but I don't think I could convince him. I don't think I could pretend to work with my wife's murderer again, even to bring him down. And with that anger still in my heart and my magic, I don't think he'll take me back. You'd do better to find someone else, someone with less of a history with the Milice."

"Suggestions?" Serrier asked curiously.

"Monique," Eric replied after a moment's thought. "She's ruthless enough to do what needs to be done, but she can put on a pretty enough face that she should pass muster."

* * * *

"You can never ask for anything simple, can you, General Chavinier?" Denise Cadoret demanded, looking at the draft of the law in front of her. "Equal rights for vampires under the Constitution is no small matter in itself, and now you ask us to engage the responsibility of the full government on this issue?"

"As you are well aware, Madame le Ministre," Marcel said, suppressing a glare at the Ministre de la Justice, "the matter is of some urgency."

"Why?" Madame Cadoret demanded. "For better or worse, the situation has existed for as long as there's been a government to grant rights to anyone. Why do we have to push this through now? I'm not saying we shouldn't grant them equal rights. I just don't understand why this can't go through a normal legislative process. You're asking us to do something incredibly controversial and risk the entire government being dissolved if the Assemblée decides to vote down your proposal."

"Because it's the right thing to do," André Guy, the Secretary for the Human Rights, interrupted. "The vampires are risking life and limb to protect us. The least we can do is take a risk for them."

"Because since they started risking life and limb to protect us," Marcel added, "we've only lost one battle with Serrier's rebels. The stalemate is breaking and the tide is turning in our favor."

"That's all well and good," the Ministre de l'Economie, des Finances, et de l'Emploi protested before realizing how sarcastic he sounded. He turned to the chef de la Cour, sitting at Chavinier's right, looking quite imposing. "I mean that. It's a wonderful thing that we're making progress against the rebels, but creating thousands of new citizens all at once ... it's an administrative nightmare. There are jobs to consider, health care, social security...."

"Yes, there are thousands of us," Jean agreed, "but we will not strain the system nearly as much as you imagine. We don't need health care. We only need to feed, something we manage quite well on our own. We don't age or grow infirm, so social security isn't necessary. The chefs des Cours each know their own cities. They could easily provide a list to the local préfecture of vampires there, in order to get them identity papers. We have all found ways to provide ourselves with the money we need for lodgings or else we don't survive past the dawn so housing isn't a problem."

"It isn't just those agencies who are unprepared for this," Madame Cadoret countered. "Vampires have never been governed by our laws, but if we grant them legal protection, the courts will have to deal with them."

"We have not recognized mortal law because it does not recognize us," Jean acknowledged, "but that does not make us ungovernable. We have had our own laws, our own courts, and our own justice for far longer than this Republic has existed."

"All the more reason to take this slowly," Madame Cadoret insisted. "We know nothing of your laws and how they would mesh with ours. This is asking for nothing but trouble." Seeing the vampire's scowl, she continued, "I'm not saying we should keep the law from going to the Assemblée. I just don't think General Chavinier's timeline is a reasonable one."

"Let me see if I can't put it in perspective for you," Jean bit out coldly. "My people and I have volunteered to help in this war to sustain a government that, at the moment, doesn't even acknowledge our right to exist, much less our right to anything else. Fortunately for you, we realize that more is at stake than simply which short-sighted mortals sit in these chairs. The one condition we placed on our assistance was this law."

"We've barely recovered from one imbalance in the elemental magic," Marcel spoke up. "Having the vampires on our side allows us to divert wizards to deal with that, both the clean up and the problem itself. You don't really want to explain to the French people why your recalcitrance caused the alliance to fail, the Milice to lose the war, and the Republic to fall, do you, Madame le Ministre?"

* * * *

"What a bitch," Jean muttered when Marcel had transported them back to his office from the Conseil des Ministres.

"She didn't get where she is by being nice," Marcel agreed, "but she isn't reactionary, just cautious. Once the Premier Ministre makes his decision, she'll support it and make sure it's the best law possible. We just have to wait now on M. Pequignot's decision."

Jean hesitated a moment and then gambled. "You know at this point we won't walk away even if he doesn't invoke l'alinéa 49-3, right? For better or worse, we're committed now."

"I know," Marcel replied, having already guessed that the vampires would not withdraw if the government did not support the up or down vote on the proposed equality legislation, "and more than likely, so does the Premier Ministre. By coming out publicly on our side, you've made yourselves as much targets for Serrier as the Milice wizards. You may want to warn those not directly involved to take extra care now. If Serrier's wizards find your people, they won't ask whether their victims are involved in the alliance or not. They'll just attack, and while the Abbatoire doesn't work on vampires, other spells certainly will. I know why you told the press that sunlight and fire were all vampires have to fear, and I know sunlight isn't an issue for those vampires with partners, but it was still a huge risk because it will narrow down the spells Serrier has his people direct at you."

"I've fought at the side of the wizards," Jean pointed out. "I've watched them neutralize spells before they can do any damage. They'll just have to neutralize those spells instead. And the bond that seems to be forming between partners will certainly give them plenty of motivation." He did not mention the more intimate dimension that many of the partnerships now encompassed, not wanting that issue to influence the old general's championing of the vampires, but he could not keep from remembering the intimate sounds he and Raymond had overheard as they checked the balance of the elemental magic while they were in La Réunion, dealing with the aftermath of the magic-fuelled typhoon that struck the tiny island, leaving devastation in its wake.

"They'll get that chance soon enough," Marcel informed him sadly. "We need Thierry in here, and probably Alain as well. Our young spy has sent us some information that we can't afford to ignore. The orders will be mine, but Thierry is far better at strategy than this old man."

Jean gritted his teeth against his instinctive reaction to the blond wizard's partner, stemming from his belief that the other vampire had stolen his lover, his potential Avoué, out from beneath his very nose mere days after his arrival in Paris. Their recent conversation on the subject notwithstanding, he did not like Sebastien and was not entirely sure he trusted him. Unfortunately, Marcel trusted his wizard, which meant Jean had little choice but to tolerate the other vampire. He smiled at Orlando as he came in and kept the expression in place as he turned to face Sebastien, who answered with an amicable nod. Jean wanted to shake his head at the constant maneuvering, even putative allies playing Le Jeu des Cours at every turn. The game was too ingrained, though, to stop, even for this. He glanced again at Orlando and Alain, trying to decide if they had mended matters between them. His young friend certainly seemed outwardly calmer than the last time they had talked. He would watch and wait, but if he saw anything that concerned him, he would speak to the wizard before the day was over. He had been Orlando's protector too long to stop looking out for the youngling now. Instead, he leaned back against the wall, ready to listen to what Marcel had to say and the discussion that came out of it.

"What's going on?" Alain asked after they were all seated. He could feel the elder vampire's eyes on his back, but he did not know how to reassure him, particularly not in this forum. If Marcel had called them together, something was happening, and the war came first. It had to.

"Our young spy sent us some information this morning," Marcel told them, "that I think bears considering. According to him, Serrier has decided to use Samhain to demonstrate his continuing power. He has to know we were hoping to use the holy day to stabilize the elemental magic and so wouldn't be as able to counter his plans."

"That's no surprise," Thierry agreed, "although the news of the alliance may change his methods somewhat."

"The message arrived after the announcement was made," Marcel replied, "but you're right that he could still change his mind. For the moment, though, he intends to bring down the Tour Eiffel at noon."

"That alone suggests he's taken the alliance into consideration," Alain observed. "Historically, he's preferred to attack under cover of darkness rather than during the daylight hours."

"Yes, if the vampires were still limited by the cycle of the sun, we would have to choose between meeting him in battle to preserve one of our city's landmarks--not to mention the lives that would be lost in such an attack--and balancing the elemental magic," Marcel affirmed. "Fortunately, our allies don't suffer such limitations anymore."

"With the right assistance," Jean acknowledged immediately, painfully aware as he looked around the room of the man who was not there. Raymond's absence nagged at him like a sore tooth, not so distracting that he could not function but always there in the back of his mind.

"Did Raymond say when he thought he'd back?" Marcel asked suddenly, turning to Jean. "His expertise would be invaluable."

"We can do it without him," Thierry grumbled.

"Yes, we can," Marcel agreed, "but that doesn't mean we should if he's here. None of us have studied the elemental powers to the extent he has, and why not use every resource at our disposal?"

Jean bristled a little, hearing his partner referred to so lightly, but he had dealt with vampires with attitudes like Thierry's before and knew that Marcel's approach would be the most effective. It still bothered him to hear Raymond's abilities denigrated. "How many wizards will be required to make the balancing ritual a success?"

"Raymond for his finesse; Thierry has volunteered as well since he often helped in such matters before the war," Marcel enumerated, "and we will ask for another fifty volunteers to lend their strength. It is not a dangerous ritual, but it is a demanding one. Most of the wizards involved will need to rest for several days afterwards. I will only take two volunteers from any patrol so we don't gut our resources any more than necessary."

"I'll lead the patrol at the Tour Eiffel," Alain volunteered. "If Thierry can't be there to coordinate, I'm the next best one to send."

At his side, Orlando hid a frown. He and Alain were only beginning to find their feet again after their fight, a stupid misunderstanding about Orlando's limits and Alain's subsequent fear that Orlando had lost all trust in him, and his lover was volunteering to walk into what could be a horrendous battle. He understood that the war was necessary and even understood Alain's participation, but his protective instincts kicked into overdrive at the thought of anything threatening his Avoué. He would stay at Alain's side the entire time, but he knew there was only so much he could do to protect his wizard, particularly if Serrier's wizards started tailoring spells to inflict damage on the vampires, a possibility he and Alain had discussed since the announcement of the alliance.

"Take my patrol with you at least, and maybe another one as well," Thierry advised. "Serrier wants this to be a victory. He isn't going to send just a few wizards. We'll be lucky if he doesn't send everyone he's got."

"And if the attack there is a diversion?" Jean asked. "That's what a vampire would do: let it be known he intended one thing while secretly planning another. I'm not saying we should ignore the threat, but it seems awfully straightforward for a man of Serrier's twisted darkness."

"He's got a point," Thierry admitted. "The boy didn't seem highly placed. This could be a trap, either for him or for us."

"It could be," Marcel agreed slowly, "but young Dominique is not my only source of information. Je ne suis pas né de la dernière pluie, as they say. I have enough corroboration to believe the threat is a credible one. The Tour Eiffel is hardly a strategic location, but it is a symbolic one. If they succeed in toppling it, they'll have dealt a serious blow to the Milice's and the government's image."

"Then we'll just have to make sure they don't bring it down," Thierry declared, voice hard.

* * * *

Chapter 2

Raymond stumbled a little as he appeared at Milice headquarters just as the sun was rising. The displacement from La Réunion had exhausted him, but he had not wanted to delay his return any longer. He was painfully aware of the time that had passed since Jean's departure, and the need to be at his partner's side again had grown nigh irresistible. Knowing it was magically inspired did nothing to mitigate the effect. He would check in with Marcel and give his report, and then he would find his partner and insist the vampire feed properly again. His heart lurched jealously at the thought that Jean might have resorted to drinking someone else's blood during his absence. He had pushed himself to the wall trying to stabilize the situation on the island enough to leave it in the hands of Lt. Raynaud de Lage and her partner, acutely cognizant that with each passing hour, the nourishment and protection his blood had provided Jean would be wearing off. He had seen news clips of Jean and Marcel announcing the alliance two days before, drinking in the sight of his partner's understated elegance, and had finally admitted to himself that magically inspired or not, he was falling for the vampire. He would not act on it except to encourage Jean to feed as much and as often as he needed to, in part because one small part of his mind feared to give in completely to the influence of the elemental magic, but the realization was there now, a part of him to the depths of his being.

Wending his way through the quiet corridors, he leaned heavily on the wall as he knocked on the door to Marcel's office.

"Raymond?"

The wizard pushed away from the wall at the sound of his name, not wanting to show any weakness before the others who barely tolerated his presence. It took a moment for him to realize who had spoken. "What are you still doing here, Jean?" he asked. "The sun's come up and I'm sure my magic has worn off."

"It did," Jean agreed, "yesterday mid-afternoon. I came in last night after dark to help with a night patrol and stayed to talk with Marcel about the progress with the legislation. We got caught up and didn't watch the time until he had to leave for a meeting--after sunrise. I was going down to your office to rest since it has no windows. What are you doing here?"

"I came to let Marcel know I was back," Raymond explained, "and to see if he knew where you were. He's not here, but I've found you at least. You need to feed."

Jean chuckled. "It can wait until nightfall. You're exhausted. Go home and get some rest."

Slumping against the wall, Raymond smiled tiredly. "I don't think I can stay awake long enough to take the métro, and I know I don't have the energy to get there magically. I'll just find a quiet corner here and crash after you've fed."

The vampire chef frowned, slipping his arm around his partner's waist and turning them toward his office. If he thrilled silently at the feeling of the wizard walking so close, he sublimated it for the moment beneath his concern at his partner's state. "You'll do no such thing. We'll go back to your office and you can transfigure a bed for yourself. I can read while you sleep--you have more than enough books in your office and I should learn as much as I can now that we're allies--and when you wake up, I'll feed and we'll decide what needs to be done then. Is there anything you need to tell Marcel that can't wait until you've slept for at least a few hours? You're dead on your feet."

"No, it can wait," Raymond mumbled as they crossed the threshold into his office. "I just wanted to let him know I was back."

"I'll make sure he's aware of it," Jean promised. "Make yourself a bed and get some rest."

Raymond nodded and muttered a transformation spell, the desk becoming a narrow cot. "A real bed," Jean scolded. "You can hardly rest well on that."

Raymond summoned a smile and spoke again, the cot disappearing and a small but proper bed taking its place. Exhausted, the two spells having used up what little energy he had left, he collapsed onto the soft mattress, asleep almost before his head hit the pillow. Jean shook his head as he lifted Raymond's feet onto the bed and covered him with the light blanket. The room felt comfortable to him, but he had been around enough mortals to realize that they preferred a warmer ambiance than he found necessary. His partner was already worn out. The last thing he wanted was for Raymond to get sick as well.

Settling down in the desk chair, Jean picked up a book on wizarding history. He imagined it would be dry reading, but monsieur Lombard had mentioned vampires being involved with wizards once before, and that had the chef curious. He wanted to see if he could find any references to such a fight. If he could, he might be able to figure out how to keep his people from being decimated again as monsieur Lombard had said they were before. Certainly, the existence of the partnerships would help this time, protecting paired vampires from sun exposure and giving the wizards someone specific to protect, but not every vampire had a partner and now that Serrier knew about the alliance, the dark wizards would surely change the spells they were using to something more detrimental to the undead.

He managed to skim the first two chapters before his thoughts strayed from the material to the man sleeping nearby. He had not expected to miss Raymond. His blood and the protection it afforded him, yes, but not the man himself. More than once, though, in the past days, he had found himself wanting to share a thought with the wizard or wondering what Raymond's opinion on a subject would be. When he stopped to think about it, he had trouble believing he had not even known the wizard two weeks ago, but in that short time, proximity--and the magical connection between them--had rendered Raymond a part of his existence. He could still function without his partner at his side, but it felt as if he were missing something, like his senses were dulled. Now that Raymond was back in Paris again, everything came into focus, as if a veil had been lifted from his eyes. He told himself such a reaction was ridiculous, but it did not lessen the feeling.

Setting aside the book, he crossed to the bed and perched on the edge, staring down intently at the dark-haired wizard. Raymond's eyes were closed, making it impossible to see the hazel irises, but Jean could imagine them easily enough. Imagine them opening softly, the thin lips parting in a welcoming smile as Raymond reached up....

Jean's hand was reaching out to stroke Raymond's face before he could stop himself, the unexpected train of thought catching him off guard. His hand hovered an inch above his partner's short-cropped hair as he warred with himself, the knowledge that their bond was magically inspired fighting the compulsive desire to claim the handsome wizard as his own. He had not fed since before he left La Réunion. He should have been famished, barely able to control his need to hunt after so long. Forty-eight hours, he could handle with ease. Seventy-two hours was reasonable. But he had passed ninety hours now and his hunger should have been debilitating. He could certainly feel the need for blood, but not as acutely as he expected. Knowing Raymond would offer as soon as he awoke--he had offered before he slept, but that would have been an abuse of trust at the very least--he should have had to hold himself back through sheer force of will. Instead, he sat patiently at his partner's side, waiting for Raymond to wake.

Raymond's eyes fluttered open slowly as if summoned by Jean's intent gaze. He blinked a couple of times, not sure he believed what he saw. Each time he slept while he and Jean were apart, he dreamed of waking to find his partner there. Each time, it had been only a dream. "Am I still dreaming?" he asked groggily.

Jean shook his head. "No, this is real."

"I wasn't sure," Raymond explained, the uncensored words slipping out in his half-awake state. "I dreamed..." he trailed off as he realized what he had been about to reveal. Shaking his head to clear it, he offered Jean his arm. "You should feed."

Jean clasped Raymond's hand in his but did not immediately lift it to his mouth. His gaze was fixed on the pulse pounding in his partner's neck. He wanted to close his lips over that spot, sink his teeth into that portion of flesh, but to do so uninvited would surely shatter the détente that currently reigned between them, and not even for the intimate knowledge such a vampire's kiss would bring would Jean threaten that peace. Something in his expression must have given away his desire because Raymond met his eyes boldly and slowly, ever so slowly, tilted his head back. A millennium of experience as a vampire, a thousand years of sustaining himself on the lifeblood of others, had not prepared Jean for this moment. There should have been nothing special, nothing unusual about the offer Raymond made with such careful deliberation. Mortals had offered themselves knowingly and unknowingly to Jean more times than he could count in the years since he had been turned. Many of them had offered their necks. Perhaps it was knowing how hesitant--Jean suppressed a chuckle; revolted was the better word--Raymond had been the first time that made his new willingness so tempting. Perhaps it was the length of time since he had last fed that influenced his hunger now. Perhaps it was the magical bonds between them driving his possessive instincts. Whatever it was, his hand trembled as he braced himself to lean over his partner and feed from the offered vein.

The sensation of a body hovering over his, nearly brushing, sent tremors down Raymond's back. He fought the twin urges to fight or to flee as the feeling of being trapped grew in him. Then Jean's lips brushed his neck and all desire to move away left him. Instead, his head dropped farther back, giving the vampire better access to the skin of his neck.

Jean froze, the impulse growing to pinch himself in reassurance, as he had assured Raymond, that this was no dream. He breathed deeply, fighting for the control that had been so easy moments ago, before Raymond offered himself so willingly, his senses wreathed suddenly in the scents of sand and sweat and sandalwood. Conscientiously, he prepared his partner's throat, the pounding pulse beckoning urgently. He could taste the salt on the wizard's skin, but whether it came from his sweat or from the ocean, he could not tell. It mattered little either way, except to entice Jean further. The hiss and rasp of Raymond's breath feathered his hair, blowing the longish strands off his face as one of the wizard's hands lifted slowly to cradle his skull.

Jean cracked. His fangs dropped so quickly it was almost painful, his teeth closing over the patch of skin without conscious direction, driving deep into Raymond's neck, taking the offered nourishment and reveling in the implied intimacy.

The pain was as real as Raymond had always feared, but it disappeared as quickly as it came, replaced by a sense of connection far more immediate than what he felt each time Jean fed from his wrist. His eyes closed as the vampire's lips moved over his skin, sucking deeply, all the hunger Jean should have felt the past two days and had not suddenly overtaking him. Raymond's blood was rich and hot, a banquet of flavors as complex as the man himself. A part of Jean's mind catalogued the flavors for subsequent examination, but he was too caught up in the moment, in the intense, intimate joining to decorticate them now. Before long, one taste overpowered the rest. Distrustful of his senses given how opposed to the idea Raymond had been on the island, Jean did nothing to further the lust he could perceive, but he knew that emotion's signature far too well to misinterpret or misidentify it. It would be hard enough on his partner to deal with the suddenly changed landscape between them without bringing up the issues raised by the magical bond. Instead, Jean focused on keeping his own reactions under control, on doing nothing that would exacerbate their relationship. He needed to feed almost desperately, having stretched his reserves as far as he felt safe doing, but he did not want his voraciousness to scare Raymond. All other considerations aside, for him to participate effectively in the alliance, he needed the protection only his partner's blood could provide.

Jean's body pressed into Raymond's the way a lover's would, the arrangement bringing to mind sweaty dreams of tangled limbs and damp, fragrant skin. He shivered beneath the sudden wash of subconscious cravings, his sleeping mind having come to terms during their separation with what his waking self continued to reject. His hand tightened in Jean's hair, urging the vampire to take all he needed. He shifted restlessly on the bed as the emotions evoked by Jean's fangs grew in him. His other hand moved blindly on the sheets, seeking its mate, fingers twining with his partner's as the vampire continued to draw from him.

If it had been anyone else beneath his fangs, Jean would have taken that gesture as a sign to move beyond simple sustenance and on to even more enjoyable interactions. The rising lust he could taste in Raymond's blood only added to that impulse, but he had not risen to his position as chef de la Cour by giving in to his impulses. Raymond was not some stranger he had picked up in a goth club or paid for at Sang Froid. He was Jean's partner, his protection against sunlight and his ally in this war. Even more than that, though, Jean had come to respect him over the past two weeks, seeing the depth of knowledge and character that hid beneath the handsome exterior and occasionally sullen attitude. And so he did not let his hands wander as they wished, keeping them instead firmly where they were, one held by Raymond's hand, the other braced beside his head to support his weight so he did not press too intimately against the wizard. The knowledge that he was making the right choice did nothing to offset the temptation Raymond presented, though, especially with lust rushing hard through his veins. He had already taken enough to sustain him even after his fast of several days, but he wanted to know the taste of Raymond's completion. He might never know the thrill of making love with the wizard beneath him, might never have anything more than this moment and moments like it. That thought was enough to keep him selfishly feeding. Just this once, he would show Raymond all the pleasure a vampire could offer and hope it was enough to bring the wizard back for more, not because it benefited the alliance but because it benefited them.

Raymond could not have said what changed, but he knew the moment it did. Jean's fangs penetrated no less deeply, no less urgently, but their interaction suddenly took on a new dimension. Suddenly, his enjoyment seemed the point of their actions. He wanted to shake his head, to tell Jean not to make this anything more than it was, but he no longer knew what "this" was. Jean had not gone for four days without feeding simply for the alliance. While they had agreed he would be discreet if he went elsewhere for sustenance, no one would have blamed him with Raymond not even on the same continent. Least of all, Raymond. Nor was Jean now squeezing his hand so carefully because of the alliance. Perhaps part of it was the bond created between them by the elemental magic, but although they understood it better now than they had before, the bond itself was not new, having formed the first time Jean fed from him. Then the vampire's tongue lapped across his skin just below where his fangs penetrated and Raymond lost all sense of rational thought. Jean's body did not move any closer to his, his hands stayed where they were, but Raymond had one last realization before the lust swamping his senses took complete control: Jean was making love to him.

With a shuddering sigh, Raymond climaxed, his eyes rolling back in his head, his back arching as his fingers tightened their grip on Jean's hair and hand. His emotions rioting, he collapsed back on the bed, trying to make sense of what had just happened. With Jean's tongue gently soothing the marks left by his fangs, though, Raymond found his usual concentration difficult to attain.

"Delicious."

That one word, murmured almost tenderly against his skin, broke the sensual spell that surrounded Raymond, leaving him squirming with embarrassment, flushing as the movement drew his attention to the spreading wet spot beneath the fabric of his trousers. With an annoyed grimace, he sat up, muttering a cleansing spell to erase the evidence of his indiscretion. The contentment he read on Jean's face only unnerved him further, and he took refuge, as he always did, in the distance provided by academic examinations. "From everything I've read, I didn't think vampires could go four days without feeding."

Jean suppressed a sigh at the change of subject, but went along with the diversion. After all, he, too, had been surprised by his ability to wait for Raymond's return. He would not have been able to wait much longer, but four days was pushing the limits even for a vampire of his strength and experience. "We generally can't," he agreed. "Two days, maybe three, is usually the limit. I can't really explain what happened unless Orlando was right. He told me the first time he fed from Alain that one sip left him feeling as strong as if he'd drained another man dry. At the time, I didn't think anything of it, and then later, I attributed it to the Aveu de Sang which will one day allow him to go far longer without feeding than the rest of us, but perhaps it's the magical bond again. The Aveu de Sang protects Alain from overfeeding. Orlando could gorge himself every day and still not drain his Avoué. The same isn't true--at least, it shouldn't be true--with the other pairings. Then again, nothing else has been as we expected it where these partnerships are concerned, so maybe the magic that allows your blood to protect me from sunlight also gives me greater latitude in how often I feed."

Raymond pondered his words. "That isn't something we could afford to test," he decided after a few minutes. "I don't know what happens to a vampire who doesn't get the blood he needs, but I don't want to weaken anyone by trying to stretch the limits."

"You could liken it to a car running out of gas," Jean explained. "The vampire would go into a sort of hibernation. The problem is the only way to wake that vampire back up is with the blood of his or her line."

"Line?" Raymond inquired.

"Vampires don't have families the way mortals do, but we do have an ancestry of sorts through the vampires that made each of us, and the ones who made them. I keep the genealogy, but I haven't taken the time to look into it more than that. I think monsieur Lombard has, though, if you want more details. It's so rarely an issue because we simply feed when we're hungry. Only a vampire like Orlando, who can only feed from one person, or a vampire who's been locked away for some reason would ever need to worry about such things."

Raymond smiled. "The thought of having the time to pursue that kind of interest again is incredibly appealing. I'll make sure to add it to my list of things to study when the war is over and we can return to our normal lives."

Jean froze for a moment before daring to ask, "And will you still be interested in vampires when this is over?"

Raymond looked away, uncomfortable with the intimacy of the moment, but honesty compelled him to answer. "I rarely lose interest in something once it's piqued my curiosity."


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