“I’ll be back.” Maefyl had his fill after another hour of petty bickering. He headed down the table and snatched Sanguine off of it to sit her on his shoulder giggling. Then grabbed Brig and Raziel by the arm. “These two are going home. Nothing is getting accomplished here, and the hall is probably flooded with tears at his point.”
When no one complained Maefyl shifted them into the hall and got caught in the embrace of relief. He didn’t bother trying to push his way out of it, but sent Bezer and Azazel in to give their own hugs to Asura and Nikolai.
“Kaneko, you can go in.” Maefyl smiled as one of the fargoyles ran across his shoulders to make sure they were hugging everyone. “Those three don’t need babysitting anymore.”
“Nyaa.” Kaneko giggled. “They were nice and quiet. Make sure you give them treats.”
“Take them home, Raziel.” Maefyl didn’t want the questions starting while they had an audience. It was going to be hard enough on all of them. “Take a few days, if you need me to check on Vex I will.”
“I’ll take care of it.” Raziel let Maefyl wriggle his way out of the tangled reunion. Maefyl had fought on their behalf, risked punishment for a swift act of vengeance and confronted Lucifer to a painful end. Even in Council he spoke for them. Maefyl had access to all of Raziel’s secrets. His knowledge, his memories. Maefyl had only glimpsed a few of them, but few as dark and shameful as those he now knew. As soon as they had been taken Maefyl had found dozens of them locked away in Raziel’s mind. The many debts he paid for Galik, and now for Brig. This time Brig paid with him and Raziel hated that he had let it happen. Maefyl should have been furious with him, but as Raziel looked at Maefyl’s sad smile, he heard only sympathy and compassion. Maefyl understood and appreciated the freedom he had given Brig and did not leave any blame with Raziel for what had occurred. “But, thank you. For everything.”
Maefyl nodded and waited for them to leave. He would go to see them soon and give them all the words of comfort they needed. For now they just needed each other and he had a few other things to settle before he could go and relax himself.
“Thanks for not sentencing me to hard labor.” Maefyl put his arm around Eliza’s shoulders and looked at Donovan and Mala. “If you are dead set on asking; go ahead, but I wish you would leave well enough alone.”
“What about an alternative?” Sanguine suggested. It had been her slip up that made Mala so determined. She fluttered into the Council hall and emerged with Azazel. “Show them.”
“Are you starting trouble out here, asshole?” Azazel pounced on Maefyl’s back and stretched his arm over him to show off his wedding bands.
“Always, pussy cat.” Maefyl grabbed Azazel’s hand to point out Sanguine’s clever alternative. The wedding bands of Golod. “She means this. They all have them.”
“Those are pretty. Why is one white?” Eliza leaned closer to look and Azazel hissed at her. “What was that for?”
“Only Nikolai and the pussy cats have that one.” Maefyl sighed ad realized he would probably working a bit of magic on Eliza and Donovan, but for now he didn’t have the patience for it. “It used to be black, too.”
“You lost someone…” Eliza lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“Lucifer helped them with the magic and bound them all together equally.” Sanguine decided it would be best to move on and make the point to Mala.
“But he is collared as well.” Mala tapped the delicate black band coiled with green that wrapped Azazel’s wrist.
“It’s more recent, but we all are.” Azazel looked at Maefyl confused and started to get frustrated. “Why does it matter?”
“Mala is the one that wants the collar.” Maefyl tugged at the longer bits of Azazel’s hair. “Donovan doesn’t have magic going for him, which means one of Lucy’s little gifts. On another vampire it might be reliable…”
“Useless on a demon.” Azazel nodded and poked at Donovan. “Are you sure he’s completely useless? Have you asked Raven?”
“I am so completely lost.” Eliza ducked away from Maefyl’s arm around her and left them to discuss confusing things about people she didn’t know. The door to the hall was still open and she peered through it to look at Vikarr. She wasn’t sure the open door was invitation enough to step inside, but thought if she could get his attention he would clear that up. “Psst, Vivi.”
Samael had gotten bored and taken Shiroi and Azrael home. Promising to visit Golod and Nihil soon to continue and to establish friendships. Once the Wyrms left Gabriel lectured Nikolai on the caution he should take with them and insisted he would be reinforcing and strengthening the magic that protected them. He couldn’t dictate the friends Nikolai or Asura kept, but he could insist on barriers that denied any malicious intent to enter their home.
Eidolon was chatting with Lucifer over a stubborn friend who was procrastinating over something important. He had a bride on each arm; one seemed to be a vampire, the other a demon. Kage was explaining some of the simpler details of the changes Vikarr would have to adapt to. Gabriel had moved into Maefyl’s seat and was apologizing for their recent neglect.
It was Nikolai who noticed Eliza at the door first, because he was watching it for Azazel’s return. He just gestured for her to come inside and Eliza took the invitation assuming the powwow was over and this was just coffee hour.
“Vivi, I’m going to need to get home.” Eliza told him quietly as he leaned beside his seat at a table that gave him all new reasons to be arrogant. “I’m thirsty.”
“Vikarr, can you do us all a favor and keep your bride fed?” Kage scolded him. “After you called on the Council to rid your city of vampires. It would be an insult to all of us to let your own bride continue to take innocent lives in Nihil.”
“What are you talking about?” Eliza looked across the table and pouted. “I can’t help that I need to eat.”
“I think my Lord Kage is suggesting that you use my own blood as a means to keep your thirst satisfied.” Vikarr smiled up at her. “You are welcome to it.”
“It’s also less of a suggestion and more of an unspoken rule.” Nikolai added as he looked up at Vikarr’s bride. “There is not a vampire on this Council that still hunts unless there is benefit in it for our Circles. Asura and myself included. Bezer and Azazel give generously, I imagine your Master will as well.”
“Eew.” Eliza grimaced. “You are kidding right? You feed on your spouses?”
“They love it.” Asura giggled and Bezer leaned over her grinning.
“So much.” Bezer nodded excitedly. “Are we going home soon?”
“Very soon, my pet.” Nikolai looked back toward the door. “I am waiting on Azazel.”
“I had to steal him for a minute.” Maefyl leaned over the back of Asura’s chair and pushed her hair in her face. “Sorry I’ve been missing your messages.”
“You just have to visit tomorrow to make it up to us.” Asura grinned as she fixed her hair. “Are Shana and Brig okay?”
“They’ll be alright.” Maefyl was more concerned for her at the moment. Nikolai had befriended the Wyrms. “Nikolai I have no business telling you who to hang out with, but you are keeping a couple risky comrades.”
“I realize they are dangerous, Maefyl.” Nikolai stood and pulled Azazel in front of them. “So are you. They have not given me any reason to believe they mean any harm to me or any of my pets. The only one I doubt is Shiroi, and aside from polite greetings and partings she spends most visits silent.”
“I don’t like her any more than before.” Asura grabbed Maefyl’s hand and leaned against his arm. “But at least now when she goes home it isn’t to make you miserable.”
“See you tomorrow.” Maefyl kissed her forehead and sent her off with Nikolai and the cubs. He still had to deal with a few things before he could get home and talk to Gabriel alone.
“Did that obnoxious white haired girl live with you or something?” Eliza regretted the question when the few remaining in the hall fell silent and stared at her. “Never mind.”
“I’m not getting into that today.” Maefyl forced a smile and tried to solve a few problems at once. “I’ll come by for Q & A in a few days if you do me a favor. Go back to Nihil, take Vikarr up on the offer.”
“I’ll think about it.” Eliza smirked. She had tasted his blood only once when she bit him to defend herself. She had been too angry to remember it until now; there was something strange about his blood that left her feeling almost euphoric. She could only liken it to the way she had seen drugs affect the patrons at her club. “I’m not thrilled with the idea of giving him something else to hold over me.”
“I’m not thrilled with vampires killing when it isn’t necessary.” Maefyl insisted that she give it serious consideration and made the same demand of Donovan. “That goes for you, too. I don’t want either of you to be the next reason I am called to Nihil.”
“I’ll work on it.” Donovan sighed. Mala’s blood was amazing, but he didn’t like putting the demand on him any more than he enjoyed the drunken state the blood left him in. Donovan noticed Mala’s smile growing more hopeful and he clung tightly to his arm and started to pull him toward Lucifer. Donovan was not sure this was the best time for such things, but he had promised to ask. “Lord Lucifer, Mala and I recently wed…”
“Congratulations.” Lucifer grinned as he interrupted. “I assume from your pitiful expression that you are looking for a favor.”
“Only because I want to give Mala a bond that reflects his nature as much as mine.” Donovan realized when he looked at the blissfully wedded members of Council that the rings were sweet, but did not give Mala the permanence he wanted. Donovan was heartbroken that he couldn’t give Mala all he wanted on his own, but he was prepared to swallow his pride and ask Lucifer for help if it meant they had a bond as recognizable to Mala’s kin as it would be to humans. “I wouldn’t bother you if it didn’t mean so much to him.”
“Mala, you must realize your difference in strength makes what you want difficult.” Lucifer explained. “Even if I were to create something for him… Donovan does not have to power required to collar you. I can only give you a compromise. A visible, physical and emotional bond between the two of you. It will give neither of you power over the other. Beyond that, Donovan will have to ask Maefyl to make you something nice to wrap around Mala’s pretty neck.”
“Why me?” Maefyl laughed.
“Because you and your meddlesome friend are responsible for my part in this.” Lucifer grinned. “Who else would suggest a marriage like the one in Golod?”
“Busted.” Sanguine giggled.
“We already have rings.” Mala pouted quietly to Donovan. He didn’t want the bands thy already had devalued by the magic Lucifer could use to bring them closer. “It’s enough.”
“Just come here and stop wasting my time.” Lucifer grabbed their left hands once they were close enough and laid them together on the table in front of him. As he held their hands in place he drew a dagger into his other hand and drove it through both their hands. The two of them cringed but endured the pain as he forced a powerful magic through the blade into the wounds. The magic used their blood, moved it through each of them and created a powerful bond with their love for each other as its guide. Donovan held Mala tightly in front of him as the watched dark mists flow into their hands and felt a burning around their wrists when a snakelike coil of the blackish spells wrapped them tightly together. Lucifer withdrew his dagger and the magic finished its work leaving around each of their left wrists a braided band of black, purple and silver. Their simple silver wedding bands had been burned into them, permanently sealing the symbols of their marriage. “Satisfied?”
“Apparently.” Gabriel smiled and answered for them. Mala had seen the final product of the magic for only a second before he turned his face up to Donovan’s and kissed him.
“Good.” Lucifer pushed the two of them and forced their shift to Nihil. “They can go enjoy it elsewhere.”
“We should go as well.” Vikarr stood beside Eliza and bowed his head to excuse himself as he took them back to Nihil
“Before you bother ranting, Maefyl.” Lucifer raised his hand to prevent the incoming screams. “I am more than willing to discuss whatever gripes you have. Just not at the moment. Go home with Gabriel, make good on your promises to look in on your friends and join me in a few days. You are not the only one who is frustrated and I don’t care to fight with you at the moment.”
Lucifer vanished before Maefyl had any hope of refusing. He took Lilith and Kage with him to prevent any conversations that would lead to a change of heart regarding his decision. Lucifer knew they were both too angry to speak with any purpose other than to wound each other. It was better for both of them to cool off so they could have an actual conversation instead of another battle.
“Go ahead and ask, Eidolon.” Maefyl leaned onto the table beside Gabriel. He couldn’t read the Falcon, but both of his brides were waiting for him to ask the same question.
“I know how you feel about it.” Eidolon sighed. “I don’t want to ask the favor of you. I was only curious if you thought Kaneko would be capable. When Kryss decides to give Nat the option, I don’t want to tell him it could end in her death. It’s what we are trying to prevent. I like the girl; Kryss and Aurora adore her. She is part of our family.”
“Death is always a risk.” Maefyl looked at his fingers on the table. He had broken a promise to himself several times over and his only comfort had been that those he fathered were all living on willing Masters that adored them. He liked Kryss and Natasha, but knew neither of them well enough to break the promise again. “Kaneko is probably strong enough, but it isn’t just a matter of how strong she is. So many die trying to accept this curse, what it does to a body does not always go well. If the change itself doesn’t take cause death, the pain often does. I made that even more likely to prevent vampires from spreading more than they already have. I’m sorry, Eidolon, but if Kryss accepts the offer it’s a risk he’s going to have to take.”
“You did it for me.” Karla pouted. “Why not for Nat?”
“I knew you for years, Rose.” Maefyl sighed. “I watched you grow up with Asura.”
“Don’t call me that.” Karla turned her face to Eidolon’s chest. “I don’t use that name anymore.”
“Right, sorry.” Maefyl could see his slip up aggravated Eidolon as well. “I trusted you, and I trusted Eidolon and Kaneko to look after you.”
“With your gift, you know Kryss and Nat just as well.” Eidolon was disappointed with Maefyl’s stubborn refusal. It would put him in a position that put Nat as risk and jeopardized Kryss’ faith in him. It could prematurely deprive Aurora of her mother, Kryss of his bride and the guilt would fall on Kaneko. Eidolon wanted none of them to suffer. “Have either of them hid some dark secret that makes you doubt they would live well?”
“This changes people Eidolon.” Maefyl defended his decision. “I don’t want to be a part of ruining someone else.”
“Who exactly do you think you’ve ruined?” Gabriel rubbed Maefyl’s back until he stood and wrapped around him crying. “Asura is as sweet, generous and loving as the day I brought her home. Shana is a charming girl…”
“That swore to love Brig and look where that ended up.” Maefyl interrupted.
“And each one of them love each other.” Gabriel was sure there was more to the relationships in Vex that he was not privy to, but it was clear to him that there was no harm in any of it. There was something else that had Maefyl bothered. “You can’t fault any of them for it.”
“You can’t mean me?” Karla whimpered. “I didn’t do anything.”
“No, kid.” Maefyl regretted trying to explain himself at all. ‘No’ should have been enough and it would spare him the misery. “It’s not you. I only regret one, and I don’t want to risk it happening again.”
“Snowflake?” Kaneko hopped onto the table and scrambled across it to hug him. Kaneko had his blood, too. But it had been Lucifer who tricked him into spilling enough to give it to her. While she often wished Maefyl had turned her himself, he had become more than a vampiric father. He was like a brother to her and one of her closest friends. She knew why he was upset, and it was something that had bothered her too. “Maefyl, Kaneko doesn’t think it was your blood that made Snowflake like this. Kaneko did not stop being Kaneko. Asura is still Asura. Karla is still Karla. Whatever is going on with Shiroi has nothing to do with you. You didn’t make her bad.”
“Not a word, Sanguine.” Gabriel knew she would only make thing worse when he felt her angry flutter in Maefyl’s hair.
“I should not have asked.” Eidolon bowed his head to Gabriel. “Let’s go, Kaneko. We will deal with it.”
“Kaneko will do her best.” Kaneko laid her hand on Maefyl’s back before she stood on the table. “Kaneko isn’t mad at you.”
“Just let it wait.” Maefyl grabbed her tail as she turned to run back to Eidolon. “I have other things to deal with, but I’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you, Maefyl.” Eidolon said quietly and left as soon as he had Kaneko back on his arm. There was little point in continuing the conversation for now and it was clear to him that Maefyl needed time with Gabriel.
“I should go to Itami and make sure Nikumu and Fukushu are…” Maefyl stopped when Gabriel lifted his chin. “What?”
“The only place you are going is home with me.” Gabriel kissed him and took him to Osore. When they arrived he pulled Maefyl to sit with him on the couch and set one of the game controllers in Maefyl’s hands before he wrapped his arm around him and pulled him back to lay against his chest.
“I try to do my job for a change and you want me to stop.” Maefyl sighed. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me.” Gabriel smiled. “I just thought this would help you relax while you talk. You can stop hiding your eyes.”
“I wasn’t hiding them from you.” Maefyl turned to face him and was about to start defending his decision. Gabriel smiled and brushed the side of Maefyl’s face with his fingers. “I don’t know what he has done to me Gabriel, but I hate this. I don’t even know what I’m looking at in the mirror any more. I don’t know how you stand the sight of me.”
“You are more beautiful than ever, you don’t ever need to hide things from me. Nor should I have hid this from you.” Gabriel blinked and the calm pools of blue expanded as he released the magic he had been using to cover the fact he had been touched by similar magic. Even without the confined iris, Gabriel’s eyes were soft and expressive, rivers of silver running through pale blues. Maefyl’s eyes had been entirely black, but stirred with shades of blue as he looked at Gabriel. “We have a lot to talk about.”