When Asher woke it was to the sounds of Jean-Claude and Jason speaking softly, Jean-Claude’s arms wrapped possessively around the blond vampire’s body. Asher basked in the feel of Jean’s strong arms around him once more before the Master of the City greeted him with a soft, “Bon nuit, mon chardonneret.”
“Bon nuit,” Asher replied, making no move to remove himself from Jean-Claude’s lap. When he turned his attention to Jason it was to find the wolf trying to hide a grin, his eyes on his lap.
“Jason,” he greeted. “What has happened while we slept?”
“We were just discussing that,” Jean-Claude replied, “While waiting for you to wake.”
“That’s a very long conversation,” Asher said. He woke early in the night for a vampire but hours behind Jean-Claude.
“Not so long as you’d think.”
Asher frowned up at the dark-haired vampire.
“Que voulez-vous dire?” what do you mean he asked.
Jean-Claude smiled enigmatically and turned to Jason.
“How long have we been speaking, mon loupe?”
“Since you woke, master,” Jason said, grinning cheekily. Jean-Claude gave him an indulgent smile of his own.
“And how long is that?”
“Ten minutes, tops,” the werewolf replied, glancing at Asher as understanding dawned and he sat up, turning to face Jean-Claude.
“Truly?” he asked and the Master of the City nodded.
“It would seem that having your servants so close has given you a, how do you say? Boost?” he glanced askance at Jason, who nodded.
“I’ll say,” Jason replied. “That hyena is way powerful, like, on level with Richard and according to Spike the woman is the last true Slayer called before the spell to activate all of them was done.”
“Powerful servants indeed,” Jean-Claude observed and Asher tried to decipher his mood, but the Master of the City gave nothing away.
“ Sont vous toujours furieux, Jean?” are you still angry, Jean he asked. “ J'ai vraiment eu l'intention de vous dire.” I did intend to tell you
“ Je ne suis pas furieux, mon ami, mais je crois vraiment qu'une telle tromperie mérite la punition.” I’m not angry, my friend, but I do believe such deception deserves punishment
Jean-Claude’s grin was positively wicked and Asher felt his throat go dry as a spark of lust shot through him as the dark-haired vampire finished, “Vous ne seriez pas d'accord?” Wouldn’t you agree?
“But first,” he continued, leaning back against the headboard. “Tell us of the happenings of the day, Jason, s'il vous plaît. Miss Dawn and young Caleb have been recovered, oui?”
“Yeah,” Jason said then launched into a brief recap of the last few hours the vampires had been dead to the world, giving details when Asher or Jean-Claude asked for clarification. Apparently, Asher’s animal to call was rather unique among shifters because he hadn’t been infected in the usual ways. Through some metaphysical accident, the arrival in their current world had woken a primal hyena spirit which had resided inside of the other man since his Sophomore year of high school when he’d been possessed while on a field trip to the zoo.
“A hazard of going to Hellmouth High, is what he said,” Jason relayed. They still didn’t know how Asher’s being caught up in the Quad’s formation had led to the forming of his own triumvirate but with what had happened to Anita and Spike not so long ago, the bleached vampire had claimed that the whole thing reeked of the Powers That Meddle and the others had agreed. A small group of slayers had been pulled through with Faith and Xander, Ellie included, though the five other girls were hiding out in a hotel room until the three who had come ahead could decide if it was safe or not, a move Jean-Claude understood. But, aside from those few things, not much else had been answered. Dawn didn’t know where she’d sent Cassidy’s body, claiming she’d just wanted him gone and hadn’t cared about the destination, the formation of Asher’s triumvirate was still a mystery even if the Powers That Be were prime suspects, and Darla and Angelus were still set to arrive after nightfall, a fact Jean-Claude still hadn’t shared with many.
In his defense, quite a lot had been happening lately but he still dreaded the reactions of those most likely to be affected by the appearance of the other vampires. But what was to be done? The meeting had been set and could not be changed and, as much as he’d like to feed from his pomme and remain in bed with Asher for the foreseeable future, arrangements had to be made and, probably the hardest task, the others needed to be informed of the coming night’s activities. Asher gave him a lingering kiss before rising to pull on his robe and return to his own rooms to bathe and Jason offered a vein to Jean-Claude.
He would need to see to the cackle until a new Oba could be found, he mused. They had held together well during Narcissus’ absence but now that the Oba was dead, something he honestly regretted, the less dominant of the hyenas would need a firm guiding hand while the alphas struggled to replace their leader. Perhaps, he thought as he opened the door to his suite, Xander would put himself up as a candidate; the boy was certainly strong enough. But his thoughts derailed as the door swung open to reveal Ghost seated in one of the wing-backed chairs in front of his fireplace, her eyes dark and a great many of his possessions swirling about the room in a whirlwind of her own creation.
“Sorciere?” he asked cautiously, for the first time very much aware of the power she could call to her hand. The witch glanced up at him and the objects revolving around her seemed to pick up speed.
“I thought we had an understanding, Asher,” she said softly. “That we’d stop the one-upmanship that we started with, that we’d stop lying to and manipulating each other. But I guess I was wrong.”
Asher frowned, not knowing what she was talking about or where this sudden animosity had come from and said as much. Ghost chuckled darkly.
“I’m talking about Faith,” she said slowly as though speaking to a child or simpleton and the vampire felt his own ire rise at the tone. “I’m talking about letting me keep on believing that you were going to take me as your human servant when you’ve had one this whole time!”
“What are you talking about?” he demanded, his eyes filling with power as his anger rose to match hers, his hair starting to lift in the wind of his magic. “Lenore, you were never to be my human servant. You are a weretiger, not one of my animals to call, and before that you were the human servant of Spike. I could not have taken you as mine even…”
“Even if you wanted to?” she spat and a vase whizzed by his ear to shatter against the door at his back.
“That is not what I meant,” he said, not knowing where she would have gotten such an idea. He’d certainly never said anything remotely close to making her his human servant and told her so. A bit of the wind seemed to go out of her sails, so to speak, and the tornado of objects slowed as her eyes showed confusion.
“Not you, but…”
“Sorciere,” he said, releasing the power he’d called up as some of his ire drained away at her honest expression. “You are my lover and my friend, I promised not to lie to you and I have not so please, tell me, who has told you these things?”
Ghost’s own power receded and she nibbled on a thumb nail as the swirling objects began to settle onto the floor.
“Sorciere?” he prompted, moving slowly closer, wary of the things scattered about; some of them were quite heavy, others very sharp.
“Jean-Claude said,” she whispered, mostly to herself. “At the Halloween party, he told Dawn…”
“What did he tell her?” Asher prompted, unable to believe that the Master of the City would intentionally cause such distress on purpose.
Ghost licked her lips and met his eyes.
“He said that he talked to Spike, that he thought the wild magicks that had bound us into such a large group might be settling and that our attraction may be your power calling me as your human servant. I don’t know why…” she glanced down as her cheeks heated in a blush. “I guess I just assumed, or wanted it to be that instead of…” she shook her head, “Never mind.”
She attempted to rise from the chair but Asher blocked her path. She refused to meet his eyes.
“Please, Asher,” she whispered. “Now that I’ve thrown a tantrum like a five-year-old can you just let me clean it up and go die of embarrassment in private?”
“Non, sorciere,” he said, a hint of devilment in his eyes. “I don’t think I will.”
Even with a blush staining her cheeks, the witch still managed a scathing glare at his amusement. Draping his torso over her lap, he wrapped his arms around her hips and held her in place as he looked coyly up at her through a curtain of golden hair.
“I think, petite, that you are jealous.”
“No, I’m not,” she protested but he continued like he hadn’t heard her.
“Yes, I think you were very jealous when you discovered that another had taken a place you’d imagined yourself in, jealous even now that you know that your place was never taken, just other than what you’d thought.”
“You don’t need to sound so proud of yourself,” the witch grumbled.
“Ah, but I do, ma petit reine,” my little queen he purred. “You and your master have given me much since your arrival and now you give me even more.”
At her arched eyebrow he rose to put their faces level with each other, brushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear.
“I am your sweetheart,” he said, smiling with true delight. “The first in your heart. You’ve no idea how happy that makes me, sorciere, none at all.”
Then he leaned up and kissed her.
When the two finally emerged, both showered and quite a bit happier with each other, it was to the confrontation Jean-Claude had known was inevitable.
“And just why in the buggerin’ fuck did you decide to keep this to yourself?” Spike was demanding, game-faced and pacing. “Darla and Angelus both due to arrive in less than twelve hours and you decide that now would be the best time to let the rest of us know! Well, that’s just peachy.”
“As much as it pains me to,” Xander tossed in his two cents. “I agree with Dead Boy Jr.”
“Asher,” Anita said, surprise written across her features as she caught sight of the two. “You’re awake.”
“Indeed,” he replied. “My servants are providing me with a great many gifts since accepting my marks.”
“I never accepted anything from you,” Xander grumbled.
“And here I though we were done with the pity party,” Faith groused as Asher moved to greet her, raising a hand to his mouth and placing a soft kiss on her knuckles.
“How do you fair this evening, ma belle?”
The Slayer shrugged.
“Not bad. Nice to finally see you in person though, Blondie.”
“And you as well,” he looked over to Xander, still by the fireplace. “The both of you.”
Xander looked ready to say something but a scathing glare from Dawn had him biting his tongue.
“Sure,” he said before turning back to the matter at hand. “So, what are we supposed to do when they show up, huh? Sit around and look pretty? Act as appetizers?”
“I don’t get why everybody’s freakin’ out about,” Faith said, still draped in her chair. “Personally, I think it’s a blast gettin’ these vamps all riled up. ‘Specially when they can’t touch us.”
“Exactament, petite,” Jean-Claude said, quick to seize upon her point. “Heinrich Nest has not embroiled himself in Council matters for centuries but something Morte d’Amor’s human servant learned during her time in our city has piqued his interest enough to send Darla, his best-loved, and her Angelus to us. I am unsure of what that may be but I do know that some among the Council fear we in St. Louis are becoming too strong. This visit may be a way for us to assuage their fears and put off any decisions they may be making against us, at least for a time.”
“So,” Dawn said. “You wanna invite the lions over to dinner and show them that we’re just other lions and not a dragon waiting to eat them all?”
Jean-Claude inclined his head in her direction.
“That is nicely put, petite.”
“Nicely put or not,” Anita cut in. “That still doesn’t change the fact that you should have told us about this, Jean-Claude.”
“I will admit to that, ma petite,” he conceded. “But much had happened in so short a time.”
Anita crossed her arms and glared but had to agree to that, her frown deepening when her vampire smiled.
“And perhaps you have expended enough energy that you will not fight me so much when we choose what you will wear this evening?”
Connor, as torn as he was at the prospect of seeing the evil, alternate-dimension versions of his parents, still found it in himself to chuckle at the affronted look on the Executioner’s face.
“But I want to see Daddy!” Drusilla insisted pouting on Spike’s bed as her childe looked over the clothes Jean-Claude had deemed fit for him to be seen in. Honestly, it was like the tosser thought they were all his private collection of dress-up dolls. The clothes piled on his sofa ran high to leather and silk, the later of which Spike didn’t mind so much but leather had always been more Angelus’ thing, give Spike a pair of denims any day. Tossing aside a pair of pants, if that’s what the mess of leather straps and silver studs could really be called, Spike turned back to his sire.
“I told you, pet. The you here is dead, has been for a long time, and we’re really wantin’ ‘Gelus and Darla to leave quick-like, not stick around, muckin’ up the works.”
She crossed her arms and glared at the wall and Spike fought not to sigh. Dropping a pair of leather pants, solid leather with no peek-a-boo panels or lace-up sides, on his recliner with a sapphire blue silk shirt he’d decided on, Spike knelt on the floor beside Dru, reaching out to direct her attention to him. She did so grudgingly.
“Tell you what, luv. How about you get your soldier and kitty to take you to the theatre tonight, hmm? I hear they’ve got a right nice one in town and JC’s got reserved balcony seats, just like the old days, what do you say?”
He could see that she was tempted but he remained silent, waiting for her to make up her own mind. Forcing Drusilla into anything was never a good idea because she always found a way to make you pay for it later. A knock on Spike’s door pulled the vampire’s attention from his irritated sire. Glancing toward it he called out, “Yeah?”
It swung open to reveal Xander standing in the doorway, clad in black leather pants that looked painted on with laces criss-crossing up the outsides of his legs pulled tight, not allowing any glimpse of the flesh beneath unlike that one pair Jean-Claude seemed to fancy, and a red silk t-shirt that clung to his torso like a second skin. Living in the nightmare of their world for the last three years, and searching for slayers in Africa for a year before that, had finished trimming the stubborn baby fat and continued toning the muscles the boy had developed over the course of his Sunnydale construction and carpentry jobs. Even Spike had to admit, if only grudgingly, that Xander looked less like the boy he’d first met and more like the man he truly was. The spark of interest in Drusilla’s eyes told him that his sire had noticed as well.
Xander’s mismatched eyes took in the contents and occupants of the room with the practiced ease of a predator before settling briefly on Drusilla, dark brow arching when he looked at Spike.
“So, Looney Tunes made it through, too. It’s just one big reunion.”
“Watch your tone, boy,” Spike warned. “I don’t give a toss if you are the Second’s special pet.”
“Hello, pretty,” Drusilla cooed, crawling toward the end of the bed.
Xander glanced over at her.
“Dru,” he said then looked back at Spike, seemed ready to say something then apparently changed his mind, raking a hand through his dark, shoulder-length hair.
“Just spit it out, Harris!” Spike demanded and Xander glared, green bleeding into the brown of his human eye briefly before he rolled his shoulders and some of the tension seemed to drain out of him.
“I don’t like you,” he said and Spike smirked.
“You don’t say?”
The hyena glowered but pushed on.
“And I know you don’t like me, but I talked to Dawn.”
“Talked to or got yelled at by?”
Xander quirked a grin at that and conceded, “Mostly the first but there was a bit of the second. See, the thing is, Ellie’s cousin, Lynn, was right. You were there for Dawn when I wasn’t, helped her out in this weird-ass world and don’t get me wrong, I’m not thrilled by the vampire boyfriend or the weretiger thing, but she seems genuinely happy. I may not like it, but for Dawn’s sake, I came to offer a cease-fire.
“I’m not suggesting we be bff’s or anything but, I figured, with Darla and Angel coming, if they’re anything like they were back home, that we should be ‘all for one and one for all’, you know? So,” he held out a hand, “Truce?”
Spike glanced at Xander’s outstretched hand then over to Drusilla, a question in his eyes. She smiled, dark eyes dancing.
“One more soldier to stand against the Dark,” she said.
Spike frowned at her reminder of the ancient vampire who had them all in her sights but he agreed with Harris’ reasoning and, if it made Dawn happy… He took the extended hand, giving it a firm shake.
“Truce, for the Bit.”
Besides, once Harris managed to remove the stick wedged up his arse, he wasn’t a half-bad bloke.