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The Warning

 
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Anabelle Stafford
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:32 am    Post subject: The Warning Reply with quote

((Takes place a little over a year after Reconciliation.))

Julian had always hated winter, even as a child. Winter was cold and dark and lonely, especially for a boy who had few friends and even fewer relatives - only a sister, who had loved him so much it had poisoned her soul. Even now, when nights were longer, affording those of his kind more hours to live; even now, when the cold was a mere nuisance that could no longer harm him; even now, when he could marvel at each individual snowflake that fell from the sky, he hated it. There was a reason people called it the "Dead of Winter", so quiet and cold sometimes that it seemed like Death itself had fallen over the landscape.

Even here, in the heart of London, where Julian had secured a safe place to live, it was too cold and too quiet, but feeding was rarely a problem. There were enough mortals willing to offer a taste of their blood, and he had learned how to do it without killing his meal, though there were times when even he was sorely tempted. Tonight, however, was not one of those nights. Tonight, he had gone out alone, leaving Anabelle behind to find her own meal. He had his reasons, though he had not yet shared them with her.

There were, thankfully, systems in place to allow their kind to find sustenance without danger. Though she chafed at being left alone with no explanation, Anabelle was slowly coming to accept this habit of her sire and lover. It was a habit that had driven them apart when she had been newly turned, so certain that he was visiting some unknown lover, her insecurities stoked by the spiteful vindictiveness of his sister until something snapped. Afraid to confront him then, she had fled, and spent two hundred years on the run, only to come back to him when he found her. All he'd had to do was ask, and she was his. And even now, despite the insecure pain she felt, she had let him go his way tonight, taking herself out into London's darkness to seek out a sanctuary where she could partake of a willing supplicant to renew her own strength. She had never taken an unwilling meal, thanks to Julian and, later, to Freya.

Warmed by the fresh blood spilling slowly through her, Anabelle walked through the London streets, remembering a time when this hour would have been quiet. Now it was loud, almost as loud as the day, until she found herself in the private gardens surrounding the home Julian had made here. Quiet and dark, this was the London she remembered, the memory bringing a soft smile to her porcelain smooth face.

By the time she returned, he was already there, as evidenced by the warm glow of light in the windows of his rooms that shone like a beacon beckoning her her home. It wasn't that either of them needed the lights so much as it was out of habit and a desire for ambiance. Besides, they needed to at least appear normal to the outside world or risk discovery. If she looked hard enough with her preternatural sight, she might even spy a familiar dark silhouette pacing back and forth in front of the windows.

Her eyes rose to find that familiar silhouette, her smile deepening with pleasure to find him already home before her. No doubt worrying over her safety, yet Serena would not dare to attack anyone in the midst of a busy thoroughfare in a city that no longer slept. Still, the thought of leaving her brooding sire to worry any longer than was necessary was repugnant to Ana, and she hurried to enter, stepping inside with fluid grace, always careful to keep her movements as human as she could anywhere they might be seen.

"Julian?" She spoke his name softly, not needing to raise her voice for him to know it was her.

He did not have to hear her voice to know she was there. He had felt her presence growing closer with every step she took in the direction of the house. Manor, really. It was too big to merely call a house, though they were the only ones who were here this time of night, the servants and such having dispersed for their homes hours ago. It was no secret that the master and mistress kept strange hours, but they were paid so well, few questioned it.

"I'm here," he replied quietly from his study, where he had halted his pacing at the sound of her voice.

Shedding her coat by the door, Ana made her way toward the study, knowing instinctively where he was even without the implicit invitation in his answer to her. It was a gift they had given one another the night they had reunited; the sharing of their blood, while giving each an insight into the mind and memories of one another, had also bound them closely. They could feel when the other was close in a way that transcended description. But even with the implicit invitation in his answer to her call, still she waited to knock on the door and be truly invited inside. The manners of her Regency upbringing were firmly rooted in her present mind.

By the time she reached him, he was seated near the fire - another habit born of an age past, neither of them needing the warmth or the light, though it still gave them both an odd sense of comfort. His fingers were steepled thoughtfully, against his chin as though he were deep in thought or worry so great he did not stir to greet her just yet.

Diamond and sapphire sparkled on her wrist as she reached out to gently touch the blue-black raven's wing darkness of his hair - her coming of age gift from him, when she had still had a pulse of her own. "What troubles you, my lord?" she asked him in her soft way, not taking the other chair but finding her accustomed place to sit on the floor beside his knee, wheat-blonde hair spilling back from her face as she looked up at him.

He would have preferred drawing her into his lap, but he did not, allowing her to warm to him as she would. Though he was undeniably her sire, he did not want to be her lord or master or even father. No, his love for her went far deeper, as did their connection to one another, but as yet, he had made no demands of her, save that she not leave him again. "She's here," he told her quietly, sliding his gaze to the window, knowing there was nothing either could do to avoid her forever - the vampire who had made him.

Anabelle stiffened, concern radiating from her as she watched his gaze slide away. He did not need to tell her who "she" was - Serena, his own sire, the insane vampire that had begun all of this with her possessive jealousy. "We must move on, yes?" she asked him quietly, her hand coming to rest on his knee, needing the comfort of his touch, though she did not know how to ask for it.

"Perhaps," he mused aloud thoughtfully, nibbling on his thumbnail - another old habit - and tilting his head as if he was listening for something in the still hours of the night when most of the mortal world around them was sleeping. "I can feel her presence, but I cannot say with any certainty where she is or how close." She was calling to him in her way, trying to draw him out, and for now, he was able to resist her, but it was wearying, even for him.

"She's summoning you." It wasn't a question. Ana knew all too well the power of the blood she shared with Julian, and knew too that he shared blood with Serena. What frightened her was the prospect that perhaps he would one day not have the strength to deny that summons. Would Ana then find herself all alone in the world, waiting for the death sentence that was Serena's jealous spite?

"Yes," he replied, not bothering to deny it. She could feel some of what he was feeling and would only know he was lying. He slid his gaze away from the window to touch his fingers to her cheek in a caress as gentle and tender as any lover. "Don't worry, dear heart. I am stronger than she thinks."

She relaxed as his eyes found hers, as his fingers ghosted against her cheek, visibly allowing her tension to fade as she tilted into his touch. "I'm not strong," she told him quietly, still very much a product of the era she had been born in. "I am frightened, Julian. I could not bear to lose you, or to be the reason you were harmed."

"Do you trust me, Ana?" he asked her, his eyes meeting hers, seemingly able to see into her very soul. Everything from this moment forward depended on her answer and, more importantly, on the honesty of that answer. They had shared more than most people did it an entire lifetime, and he had no intention on losing her now that he'd found her again - now that she was truly his.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It was a question that did not need to be thought about. It was an answer that came from the soul he was seeking in her eyes, the soul he had touched and molded and helped to form throughout her lifetimes. "With all that I am," she told him, confident in her response.

"Then trust me in this," he told her, taking her hands between his, his gaze solemn and unblinking as he looked into her eyes. "I will never let any harm come to you. Never," he promised her. Of course, he could only keep her safe so long as he lived, if that word still applied to such as them. "I think perhaps we should leave London, at least for a little while. We need to find a place where you can be safe, and then I will finish this once and for all."

"Not alone," she told him, her tone firm in a way it only ever became when she felt strongly about something. "If you insist upon finishing this, then you will not do it alone. I will not let you endanger yourself for my sake. I love you, Julian. Don't make me face even the possibility of this eternity without you."

"I will not risk losing you, Ana," he told her, as insistent as she, tightening his grip on her hands as though he never wanted to let go. "You are everything to me. You are all that matters. I was a fool in finding you, in bringing you here. So long as you were with Freya, you were safe from Serena. My own selfish desires have put you in danger, and now that we are bonded, she will feel you as surely as she feels me."

"Then we will both go to Freya," Ana insisted, rising from her seat on the floor to perch on the arm of his chair, looking intensely into his eyes. "If you cannot lose me, then I cannot lose you. We will go to Freya, and we will ask for her advice. She is older than both of us. Perhaps she knows of somewhere we can go, or someone we can ask for help. For I will never let you go to Serena alone, Julian. Never."

"And by going to Freya, we put her life in danger, as well," he pointed out, though he saw the wisdom in her logic. Freya was the oldest vampire he was aware of, though he knew there must be others even older than her, older than Serena - vampires who made even them seem like children. "Something must be done to end her, Ana, or we will never be safe. You will never be safe," he pointed out, daring to touch her hair, her cheek, as soft as a rose petal, but as pale as alabaster.

She had never denied him any wish to touch her, reveling in the gentleness he displayed when his fingers brushed into her hair, or over her cheek. She knew she was weak compared with many of their kind, more inclined to bend than to stand firm, yet that was why she had survived. She had learned to adapt far more quickly than most vampires ever did, while still clinging to the core of who she had been before the eternal night had become her day. Her hand rose to curl about his, drawing his inner wrist to her lips to kiss with the soft, full lips he knew well. "We need to know more," she said quietly. "To go into anything blind is to invite true death."

He paused, a long silent moment passing between them, watching as she pressed her petal-soft lips to his wrist. She did not break the skin or even touch her teeth to his flesh, nor would he have stopped her if she had. They had shared blood once, an act even more intimate than lovemaking, and there were no secrets between them, but perhaps she was right. As much as he loved London, nothing good would come of staying if Serena found them there. "We should go," he said finally, as if only just deciding it. It would take a few days to make the arrangements - he could only hope that they had a few days.

"Then we go," she nodded in agreement, enclosing that one hand between both her own. "We make certain that no human comes to this house for the next few months - I can pay off the staff and have the locks changed so they can't physically get in. She'll do anything to get to you, and this house is a part of you now. I want to protect the people who protect you."

Julian took a moment to let his gaze stray from her face to look about the room - the study - his study. He'd owned this house for several generations, purchased shortly after the house he'd shared with her had been destroyed. He had bought it with her in mind, hoping to one day share it with her again. It was a grand old house, a house that spoke of days gone by, of days that would never come again. It was no secret that Julian hated the modern world with its machines and technology, and yet, he was not afraid to take advantage of those advances in science when it suited him. After a moment, he nodded, a rare sheen in his eyes when he looked back at her. "I bought this place for you, but it doesn't matter where we are, so long as we are together."

"We'll come back," Anabelle promised him, leaning down from her perch to touch a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth. It was the closest she often came to such intimacy, too shy and uncertain of herself to ask for more. "Make the call," she told him. "I'll contact the locksmith and make an appointment for tomorrow, and get in touch with Mrs. Abernathy."

Her kiss reminded him of another who had touched his lips many years ago, and yet, her kiss was wholly Anabelle. He had never asked for more, never expected more from her than simple affection. She had been daughter and protege and companion and friend, but what was she now that she was nearly his equal? And more importantly, what did she want to be? "I'll book a private flight to New York. We'll decide where we want to go from there."

Her fingers skimmed his cheek as she smiled her gentle smile, the tip of her nose brushing his before she drew back. "Whatever we do, it will be together," she promised him, sure he still wanted to leave her somewhere and deal with Serena himself. That was one thing she would never let him do.

"We can't hide from her forever, dear heart," he told her, perhaps more for his own understanding than hers. The world was a much smaller place today than it had been a few centuries ago, but he had learned how to hide in plain sight and looking for them in the New World would be like looking for a needle in a haystack for a while.

"We don't have to hide forever. Just until we are strong enough to finish this." Whenever Anabelle talked about this, it was always we. She would not even consider the possibility of being left behind. They had spent two hundred years apart because of one woman's bile and spite; she would not be parted from him now because of another's. Her lips brushed his temple as she made to rise. "We have calls to make."

He was in one a dark mood it seemed, darker even than usual. It was Serena's influence that was causing it, the knowledge that was she getting ever closer. He could feel her presence, like a shadow on his heart, grower ever closer, darker, heavier. He let her slip away from him, his hand reaching for hers to hold her back a moment longer. "I will not lose you again, Anabelle," he promised, his voice full of determination. "We will be free." One day, somehow, somewhere - they would have a life of their own, free of fear and enemies.

Caught in his grasp, Anabelle halted, turning to look back at him as he held onto her. "You never lost me," she told him softly. "I was simply misplaced for a while." And though it might seem to be simply semantics, it was the truth. She had always been his, from the moment he had gathered her child's form into his arms and taken her away from the home that had given her mother so much pain and misery. "Call," she told him once again. "Before it is too late to do anything about it tonight."

"Very well," he replied, reluctantly letting her fingers slide through his as she left him to make the arrangements for the house to be locked up until such time as they returned. He looked around again at the familiar walls that surrounded him - the large mahogany desk that filled the center of the room; the shelves filled with books, old and new; the fireplace; the antique, ornate furnishings - all of it as if from another age frozen in time. What would it be like in New York? In all his four hundred years, he had never crossed the sea - that vast body of water that separated the Old World from the New. It would be different, certainly. Safe for a time, but nothing like home. He sighed, more out of habit than necessity, and slid a hand into a pocket of his trousers to pull out the small rectangular device known to the modern world as a cellular telephone. He was a relic, he knew, but he had not survived all these years without being able to adapt.
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Anabelle Stafford
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

While Julian reluctantly made use of new technology, Anabelle had embraced it. She left him to make his call alone in the study, taking herself to her own favorite room of the house - the beautiful garden conservatory that offered a view of their private greenery lit by moonlight and shaded with shadows. This was where her laptop lived; where her own telephone and tablet were kept; modern conveniences in a house that was definitely not modern in feeling. She kept them out of sight for his comfort, but she had enjoyed the emergence of technology over the last century, and she would continue to enjoy its evolution, she was certain of that. The prospect of visiting the New World was an intimidating one, but not one to fear. Not so long as she was with Julian.

There were times that last year or so since he'd found her that he wondered if he had, in fact, become far more dependent on her than she on him. He'd had four centuries to amass enough wealth to offer them both a relatively safe and comfortable life, and yet, he had not quite embraced the nuances of science as Anabelle had and he often depended on those around him to keep him abreast of such things. Traveling halfway around the globe to a place neither had ever been seemed a daunting task, and yet, a necessary one. Fortunately, his solicitor had connections and promised to make all the arrangements, but it would still be a day or so before they were ready to leave, which would give them time to pack and put their affairs in order.

It did not take long to contact a locksmith and the housekeeper. Mrs. Abernathy was one of the very few humans who knew the secret - the only member of the staff there who did. She accepted the need for changed locks without question, and understood the necessity of keeping all humans away from the house for an undisclosed amount of time. Thankfully, Anabelle had wealth enough to be able to keep all staff on a retainer that would not make them unavailable when the time came to reopen the manor once more. That done, she put her computers away, settling the telephone back into its cradle, and returned to the study.

"Mrs. Abernathy has everything in hand," she told Julian in her soft tone. "She is a very capable woman."

"She is a godsend," Julian agreed, though he was half-tempted to point out that Anabelle herself had proven herself more than capable. "Have you telephoned Freya?" he asked without looking up as he sat as his desk, going through a small sheaf of papers on his desk. There was not much that needed to be done before they could leave - money helped immensely where that was concerned.

"In a manner of speaking," she smiled faintly, moving to stand behind him. One hand came to rest on his shoulder as she leaned against the back of his chair - no matter where they were, what they were doing, she always found some way to touch him. "She is in the New World herself at the moment. She says she will meet us in New York."

That got his attention, one brow lifted as he glanced over his shoulder at her. "Is she? Has she added precognition to her long list of abilities?" he asked, just a hint of teasing lighting his face. "We are to meet with a Tobias Acton once we arrive in New York. Sheffield will make all the arrangements. Our flight leaves in a few hours, barring any unforeseen circumstances. Can you be ready?"

"You said we would go to New York," Anabelle laughed quietly, glad to see his mood lightening, even if it was at her expense. "I simply passed on the information." She bent to kiss his hair. "I can be ready," she promised him. "Who is Tobias Acton?"

"One of ours. An entrepreneur of sorts. Not so very old, but he knows the city," Julian explained, gathering up some papers and moving with fluid grace from his chair behind the desk toward the fireplace. It went without saying that if Tobias knew the city, he would know how to survive there. "They call it 'The City That Never Sleeps'," he added as he crouched down in front of the hearth and looked for a moment into the flames. Was it strange that he still liked to have a fire roaring in the hearth, though neither of them needed either the heat or the light? Fire was their enemy, and yet, somehow, it soothed him to watch the flames dance as if of their own accord, so long as the fire was carefully controlled, as this one was.

"I didn't know there were systems over there for our kind," Anabelle commented curiously. "Freya told me that there was no centralized governing body in the Americas, which is why so many of our undesirables end up there." The undesirables being vampires who could not, or would not, abide by the laws that kept their secret hidden from the human community across Europe and Asia.

"Not systems so much as connections, I think," he said, his gaze never straying from the flames as he fingered the sheaf of papers in his hands. Whatever they were, it seemed he was about to burn them. "We must make sure we leave no trail behind for her to follow, Ana," he said, turning his face to her at last, the flames casting ominous shadows across his face. "I would have the hunter become the hunted."

She nodded, easing herself down onto one of the chairs by the fire. "We disappear," she agreed. "It is not something either of us has no experience of, dear one. We do not need to take anything with us - apart from the necessary identification and money. Everything can stay here." Money did make life a lot easier.

"Money," he echoed in a derisive tone, chuffing a breath. "Do you know how much money this place is worth? I've had offers to sell it, offers to turn it into a museum. Can you imagine? Our home turned into some ridiculous tourist trap. It's obscene. I refused, of course." He turned his gaze to her again, his expression full of fondness and pride for the place they'd called home. "Everything here is mine, painstakingly purchased and collected for centuries. Everything. Do you know I have an original first edition copy of Gulliver's Travels? Literature, art, the furniture even... It is all priceless. There is no amount of money they could offer that would be enough. And now, we are to leave it all behind."

"Temporarily," she reminded him, slipping from her seat to kneel beside him in front of the fire. "We will come back, Julian. You cannot go into this believing that we will never see our home again. I don't believe that. We will come back, and we will be happy. But carrying cash and cards when we travel is essential. She could track us through those cards if she ever got hold of their details."

"You misunderstand my meaning, Ana," he said, motionless in his crouch in front of the fire, the papers still clutched in his hands. Or at least, she misunderstood what it was he'd been trying to get at, but though he was a capable hunter, as deadly as an asp, he savored the long nights of winter, relishing the extra hours, unhurried in knowing the sky would not lighten for many long hours. He had often thought it might be wiser to travel to where the nights were longer than stay in one place, but this was his home and he was reluctant to leave it. "All of these things will not buy us what our heart desires, Ana, and money is only a convenience which makes life easier."

"You are what my heart desires," she told him firmly. "I did not have to buy you, nor would I ever have tried. All I need is you, no matter where we are or what we are doing. Without you, my life has no point or purpose. Please understand, Julian. I could live without any of this, so long as I have you."

"You lived without me for two hundred years, love," he reminded her, fingers gently grazing her cheek, that sheen of dampness brightening his eyes once again. He wasn't sure why he was mentioning it again, when they were closer now than they'd ever been since he'd first found her all those years ago.

"That wasn't living," she shook her head in denial of his reminder. "I existed. I moved along. But I did not live without you. I didn't know if you would have me back, or if you would kill where I stood, but I decided that night to start living again, no matter how long that might be. I have been without you, and I will not go into that existence again."

"Perhaps we should make it official," he suggested, though it was really just a matter of legalities on paper. He had once passed her off for his daughter, giving her his last name in place of her own, but this past year, they had posed as husband and wife. They had even shared a bed, but only for sleeping. "I had Sheffield add you to my Will. If anything happens to me, all of this will be yours, but traveling overseas ..." He shrugged lightly, not quite knowing what to expect. No matter how wealthy they might be, there would be security and customs and all manner of scrutiny. It was dangerous, to be sure, but not as dangerous as staying.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Julian, we share a surname," she reminded him gently. "More than that, we have shared blood. How much more official can we make this?" She eased closer to him, drawing her fingertips against his cheeks. "I love you. I want you. But ... I do not know how to be a wife, not yet. I want you to teach me those things, but it seems so selfish to ask when you have so many other concerns."

He arched his brows, a little surprised at her confession. He had been talking about legalities - documents, papers, proof of a legally-binding connection between them - but it seemed she had been talking of something else all together. "Have you never?" he asked, brows lifting higher, a puzzled expression on his face. "No, I suppose you have not."

If she could have blushed, she would have, snatching her hands down from his face as she looked away, uncertain whether she should be insulted that he seemed to have assumed that she would have given herself to any other man during their time apart. "I have said too much," she apologized softly. "I am sorry, I did not mean to speak out of turn."

"My darling Ana," he said, gently turning her face back toward his. "I have not lain with a woman since ..." He frowned, betraying how long it had been without speaking. Not since Serena had killed his sweet Abigail. "I had no idea ..." He trailed off again. Was he mistaken or was she trying to tell him that she wanted him in that way, like husband and wife?

He was not mistaken, but how could she, a product of her time, tell him so without breaking the rules she had been taught to abide by? "I do not look on you as a friend," she told him uncertainly. "I do not see you as a father, or a brother, or a guardian. I see you as a man, the man I love. Is ... is it so very strange that I might feel for you as other women feel for their husbands, with all that entails?"

"No ..." he replied, turning to face her, the sheaf of papers in his hand forgotten for the moment. "I just ... I had no idea. I did not think you would want ..." He trailed off, struggling to make himself understood and to understand. "I did not think you would want me." If he was still mortal, he might have blushed. Julian had only slept with one woman in all his four hundred years.

"Am I not meant to want you?" she asked worriedly. "Is this something wrong with me, something that I should not have spoken of?" Her expression crumbled as she bit her lip, almost hard enough to slice it open with the sharp point of her incisor. "I am sorry, I-I should not have said anything at all. If you would prefer, we can assume nothing was said."

"Ana, I am not even sure if it is possible," he admitted. Would that part of his anatomy still work after four hundred years? He certainly felt something stir every time she was near, but he had never dared put it to the test. There were other more immediate hungers to tend to than that of the carnal variety, and he had learned to suppress those longings in favor of others. Now that she had expressed a desire to know him like a lover, he could not help but worry he would disappoint her. "You must know we can never have a child - not biologically," he pointed out, but then there were other reasons to lay with a woman than merely procreation.

She shook her head, glancing away to hide her disappointment. "I know I can never give you a child," she assured him. "And it would seem to be a moot point. It does not matter. I do not want to cause you discomfort, love. I will never speak of it again, I promise." She touched his cheek softly, rising onto her feet. "I distracted you from your tasks, please continue."

"Ana, please ..." he pleaded, frowning sadly as she slipped away from him once again. "You could never cause me discomfort, but what you ask is something I ... I have not considered for many years. Not since ... not since I was human. Please, love ... You know I would never deny you anything, but ... I need some time to think on it."

She paused, looking down at him with gentle eyes. "It does not change anything," she assured him softly, brushing her knuckles against the silken fall of his hair. "I still have a lot to learn, that is all." She offered him a soft smile, moving away on silent feet. She slipped from the study, finding her way to the music room, filled with instruments she would have to say goodbye to for a time. And slowly, the haunting strains of Chopin began to fill the house, music that assured him all was well, even if they did not seem to have come to any conclusion.

He watched as she slipped from the study, before turning his eyes back to the flames dancing in the hearth, his memory moving backwards to the time before he'd turned her. She'd caught the eye of many hopeful young men then, and he'd been jealous of them all. She had even brought one home to meet him once, introducing him as her guardian, and his heart had burned with envy and jealousy to know the boy could give her the one thing he could not, dared not. Could it be she was still a virgin, after all these years? That it had been him she had been waiting for?

He remembered the papers in his hand and threw them carelessly into the fire, watching as the flames hungrily devoured them, turning them to ash - just as he and she would turn to ash, if they were not careful. He listened as the music reached his ears, poignant and lovely as the woman who was playing it, and it struck him not for the first time that she truly was a woman, a girl no longer. Wasn't this why he had saved her, all those years ago? Because he knew she would one day grow into a lovely flower of a woman, beautiful enough to rival Venus herself.

He remained there while he listened to her play until, at last, he rose to his feet, the music drawing him to her, like a moth to the flame. Silent footsteps took him to her, and he settled himself beside her in front of the piano. It was him who had taught her to play, after all, though she had long ago surpassed his talents.

Automatically, she slipped to one side on the seat, giving him enough room to sit comfortably. She could remember being a small child, not even big enough for her feet to reach the pedals, sitting beside him as he played his piano. Sitting beside him as he began to teach her how to play, how to read music, how to translate thoughts and feelings into melody. It had been a beautiful surprise to learn that he had rescued that same piano from the fire she had caused on her run, had it restored and brought to this new home of his. This piano held many memories, and all of them good. She sighed contentedly as the last notes faded away, her hands sliding to her lap as she looked up at him. "One day, I will rival you for technique."

He studied her as she played, dainty fingers moving gracefully over the keys as the melody filled the air around them, lightening a heart that had felt too heavy far too long. "If my ears do not deceive me, you have already done so," he praised her, no longer the master or father, but perhaps still the guardian, ever watchful to keep her from danger.

Anabelle laughed, shaking her head. "You will always be the pianist I look up to," she told him fondly. "It was your hands that taught mine." She reached for his hand, gently stroking her fingertips over his palm, his knuckles, along the line of his long fingers. "It is one of my fondest memories ... these hands guiding mine when I was just a child, teaching me that I do not need words to express what is in my heart if I have music."

His heart was slowly melting, as it did each time she touched him, each time she was near. He had learned to harden his heart, to protect himself against heartache, but she always seemed to find a way past his defenses - she always had. "I have only ever wanted to make you happy, Anabelle," he said, closing his fingers around hers.

She watched as his fingers closed around hers, that familiar softness in her smile emerging once more as she raised her eyes to his. His fingers about hers could have been a metaphor for their relationship; she always felt protected, surrounded, encompassed by him, and now she had returned, she would never seek to free herself again. "I am always happy when I am with you, dear one."

"I never want you to feel like a bird in a gilded cage, Ana. You are not my prisoner. You never have been. You are free to come and go as you please, but when you left ..." He broke off a moment, unsure if he really wanted to talk about that again, especially when she seemed so happy. "No matter," he said, a faint smile on his face. "Do you remember when we used to play together?"
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Julian, I am here because I choose to be here," she told him, firm and gentle but confident of her own mind. "Yes, you could have caught me at any time, but you let me make the decision to be caught. I am not a prisoner, I am not caged. You loved me enough to let me go, and I came back. The proverb is not wrong." She leaned close to him, nose to nose, arm to arm. "Shall we play something together now, love?"

He couldn't help but smile as she touched her nose to his, remember the silly Eskimo kisses they'd shared when she was just a child. He had loved her even then, but it had been a different kind of love. Now that she was a woman and nearly his equal in every way, he found that love had deepened into something he could not explain. "I think so, yes," he replied, his fingers finding their proper place on the keys. He hesitated a moment before letting his fingers move over the keys, picking out a melody he had written just for her when she had been a child.

Anabelle's own smile brightened into a delighted grin as she recognized the melody, raising her hands to the upper keys to echo the melody he played. She remembered him writing this, how delighted she had been when he had told her it was for her; how angry Rosalind had been when they had played it together, adapting and adjusting the simple tune until it was a duet only they could play with any form of success. "Our song," she murmured, tilting her head to his shoulder briefly as she found his rhythm among the notes.

"You remember," he said, his lips curling into a handsome smile that made him look almost young again, as she joined him, his fingers moving over the keys alongside her. His thoughts did not stray to that of his sister, the jealousy of Anabelle having poisoned her heart. Rosalind had wanted more from him than he'd been able to give, wanting him to sacrifice this sweet angel at his side so that she was the only one who could claim his heart. It was a sickness in her that that finally ended in her death, and though Anabelle had fled worrying he would hate her for what she'd done, in truth she had only freed him from the claim his sister had insisted she held on him.

"How could I forget?" She smiled back to him, a secretive look on her face that suggested she had something he might like to see or hear. She would not show him until they had finished their private recital, however. "It was my lullaby every morning you were not there."

"Your lullaby?" he asked, curiously, turning his gaze to her, even as his fingers moved over the keys. He knew the song well, even after all these years, and did not have to look to know where his fingers belonged.

Her smile betrayed the fact that, had she been mortal, she would have been blushing once again as she watched her own fingers moving with his over the keys. "I sang it to myself every morning before I slept," she confessed with a shy shrug. "And later, I recorded it, so I could fall asleep listening to your music."

His fingers stilled on the keys, though the song was not quite finished, a small frown touching his face. He dared not look at her, not wanting her to see the tears that were starting in his eyes, though she'd seen them often enough before. "Not a day passed that I did not think of you, that I did not miss you, that my heart did not ache for you." But what did all that matter, now that she was here?

The song was completed under her fingers, a delicate ending to a full sound that seemed to taper off as she turned her eyes to his face. "Julian ..." She eased just that little bit closer, stroking her fingers against his cheek as she pressed to his side. "You will never have to ache for me again. Never."

They had spoken of all this ad nauseum over the last year since she'd returned - since he'd found her in Copenhagen and brought her back here to be with him. Never, he knew, was a very long time, but he wanted to believe her. If there was anyone he trusted, it was Anabelle. "What you said earlier, about us sharing a surname. It is true. I gave you that name when you were a child, when you were my child. It was the only way to keep you safe, but now ..." He reached for her hand, noting the lack of a ring, though she still wore the bracelet he'd given her for her eighteenth birthday. He abruptly moved to his feet, pulling her along after him. "Come with me."

Startled by his sudden movement, she stumbled as he drew her up with him, the piano abandoned in favor of whatever else it was he had suddenly decided to do. "Where are we going?" she asked, skipping to keep up before she fell into step with him, her hand ensconced in his securely. After all, she had something she wanted to share with him herself.

"The bedroom," he replied. Not his bedroom or her bedroom, but the bedroom - the one they shared, the one they retreated to each day when the sun first turned the black of night to shades of gray. It was there he kept his most precious treasures, hidden away even from prying eyes. He untangled his fingers from hers once they entered the room and he went to a painting on the wall which depicted a sunrise in all its glorious colors. He had painted it himself from memory, the only sunrise either of them would ever witness again. He pushed aside the painting to reveal a small safe that had been hidden behind it where he kept his most treasured possessions, safe from the prying eyes of servants who might be tempted by such things.

At a loss as to what she may have inspired in her often close-mouthed companion, Anabelle leaned herself against the post of the bed to watch him as he opened the safe hidden behind the sunrise. She knew the combination, but she had never had cause to open it, preferring to let Julian keep his secrets. They knew one another too well to ever think the other would keep a secret that was harmful. "We should take the contents with us," she said thoughtfully. "Treasures should never be left behind."

"We will," he replied, as he turned the dials to open the safe, though there was only one bauble there that he truly treasured. He carefully drew it from the safe, not even a flash of sparkle before his fingers closed around it, and he turned back to find her watching him with curious eyes. If she had ever wondered this past year what he kept in the safe, she had never asked, and he had trusted her not to pry. He held out his free hand to beckon her toward him.

The private nature of the safe, combined with the curious eagerness he seemed to radiate, made Anabelle's smile just a little suspicious, however fondly it was held. She pushed from her lean, moving toward him as he beckoned to her. "Is this where you tell me you found the lost royal treasures of King John and have kept them hidden all this time?" she teased him gently.

"Not hardly," he said, laughing; a rare thing from him - a happy sound that surprised even him. He could not remember the last time he had laughed, and he realized he was afraid of it - afraid of being happy. Every time he'd dared embrace happiness, it had been ripped from him, leaving him lonely and empty, but not this time, he vowed. He would not let anyone ruin his happiness - their happiness - not Serena, not Freya, not anyone. He reached for her left hand, uncurling his fingers to reveal something sparkly, which he carefully drew over her knuckles onto her third finger, where it rested perfectly as it it belonged there. The ring sparkled with diamond and gold, a royal blue sapphire at its center fit for a queen.

Just the sight and sound of his laughter was gift enough for her, drawing her brighter smile forth as he drew her left hand into his grasp. She almost missed the sensation of cool metal conforming to her knuckle, glancing down only to gasp. "Julian ..." Her fingertip touched the sparkling ring, recognizing it as belonging to the set her bracelet must have come from. Dark eyes rose to meet his, astounded and touched. "How long have you had this?"

"Long enough," he told her, an almost bashful smile on his face, though he did not openly admit just how long the ring had been in his possession. "I had it made for you and have kept it safe these many years in hopes you would one day wish to wear it." It was not just an adornment, but worn on her left hand, it marked her as belonging to someone - belonging to him.

It fitted her perfectly. Her smile softened as she took in his bashful expression, moving closer to gently touch her lips to his. "I would have worn it the day you made me, if only you had asked," she whispered to him, sharing more of her heart in that one moment of softness than she had before now. She had been his long before he had allowed himself to think of her as more than simply the little girl he had taken in.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Her answer surprised him, as they so often did, but before he could form a reply, he found himself kissing her again, wordlessly returning the love and affection she had bestowed upon him, but he was not yet finished. "My sweet Anabelle," he said, gathering her hands in his and holding them close to his heart. "Will you be my wife, not only in name but in every sense of the word?"

"I will," she answered him without the need for thought, her heart full as he enclosed her hands in his. "I have loved you all my life. I would be proud to be your wife, in all things." An answer she could not have given him if Rosalind had still lived, yet it was the answer she had always wanted to give to the question he had never asked.

The only real question was whether they made it legal and official, or whether these promises to each other were enough. Sheffield could easily provide documentation to show they were legally married, so that no one would question it. They had already said their vows, opening their hearts to each other and sharing the secrets of their pasts with a sharing of blood. There was really only one thing left, and it was that one thing that frightened him more than any other. "It frightens me, Ana," he admitted at last. "What if ... what if I can't ..."

She held his gaze, understanding in her eyes as she shrugged lightly. "How would I know if you cannot?" she asked him honestly. "In this, at least, I am innocent, my darling. And there is no rush. We will know when it is time, and I do not believe that time is now. We have too much to do, and our danger is too near to take the risk of being so absorbed in one another."

"No, it is enough for me to know that you will have me, that you love me, that you will wear my ring," he agreed. If they were careful, there would be decades, perhaps centuries, for them to discover and enjoy each other in every way possible. He lifted her hand to his lips to brush a soft kiss against her knuckles. "I love you, Anabelle," he told her. "I have always loved you."

She smiled, touching the tip of her nose to his affectionately. "I know," she murmured, her tone sweetly tender as she squeezed his hands. Closing her eyes, she drew in an unnecessary breath, inhaling the scent that clung to him as she leaned close. "If we are to leave in just a few hours, we really should pack what little we will take with us."

"So long as you are with me, that is all I need," he whispered back, brushing his nose affectionately to hers. That was not quite true - they would need more than merely the clothes on their backs to survive a trip across the ocean, without knowing when they might return. Even so, he was reluctant to separate from her even for a moment, hardly believing she belonged to him at last, and determined to keep her from harm.

"Everything I might take with us is in this room," she admitted softly, opening her eyes at the sweetly innocent affection of his Eskimo kisses. "Which reminds me ... I don't believe you have ever heard what plays through my earbuds when I go to sleep, have you?"

"Your earbuds?" he echoed, the word unfamiliar, though he was able to sort out its meaning, wincing a little at the thought of modern music. "If it is anything like the racket that passes for music these days, I do not wish to hear it." Chopin was music; Mozart was music; Beethoven was music. Even Rachmaninoff and Gershwin were music. He had not heard anything on the radio worth listening to since 1944.

She laughed, pulling away from him. "Darling, have a little faith in me," she suggested, moving to take her little USB player from the bedside cabinet and plug it into the sound system in the bedroom proper. What played was the sounds of the London she had grown up in, fading slowly out as a skilled pianist took up the duet they had played together not so very long ago. Layer upon layer, building to a gentle crescendo of soothing sound ... two pianos; a violin; a cello. A voice - her own - singing softly to the underscored melody the words of Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.

He turned quiet so that he could listen to what she had recorded, a serious expression on his face. He arched a singular brow, pleasantly surprised by what he heard. It certainly wasn't what he'd been expecting. He recognized the sounds of London, and the duet they had just played, and of course, the sound of her voice, not reciting, but singing the words of the Sonnet he had recited to her, once upon a time. "I've never heard a lovelier lullaby," he told her, keeping his voice quiet, almost as if he was afraid to ruin the moment by speaking.

"The cadence seemed made for the melody," she offered softly, smiling as she watched him from beside the speaker. "And I have always loved that sonnet. It was always something to strive for, until it became a description of my heart. Love is not love, that alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove; Oh no, it is an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken. If I did not know better, I would say they were your words, love."

"I'm no Shakespeare," Julian pointed out with a sheepish smile. He may have quoted Shakespeare on occasion and had a certain fondness for his plays, but even after four hundred years, he could not claim such eloquence with words as "The Bard". "Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom," he quoted, echoing the words she had sung so beautifully.

"If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man loved." With the music fading gently into the sounds of Regency London on the track, sounds that also began to fade out, Anabelle moved to draw her fingers along his jaw. "The man knew what he was talking about," she said softly, brushing the pad of her thumb against Julian's lower lip. "We really should pack. I imagine our flight is leaving in just a few hours - there will be an opportunity to sleep on board, yes?"

She silenced him again with nothing but her voice and her touch, drawing her hand to his mouth to touch a kiss to her fingertips. "Yes, but I do not look forward to the journey." A thought struck him, which he had not thought to ask her before now. "Have you ever traveled by air before?" he asked, curiously. He certainly had not, and the thought of it made him understandably nervous.

"Once," she admitted, shaking her head. "It was not pleasant. I got someone to pack me into a crate and spent eight hours in that thing. The flight was only one hour, but customs and traveling to and from the airport was interminable." She rolled her eyes. "This will be better," she promised him.

"That is not very encouraging," he remarked, furrowing his brows worriedly. "Were you not traveling at night?" he asked, wondering if she had just wanted to take extra precautions or if she'd been forced to travel during the day for some reason. He had certainly done his own share of traveling, but it had always been by land or sea.

"I couldn't afford a ticket," she chuckled, shaking her head as she moved to open the chest at the end of the bed and extract a couple of hefty bags for them to use. "I got myself included in a friend's cargo. It is not something I will ever do again. I would rather be on an ocean freighter than in a box like that again. Empty the safe now, we can pack the contents more safely in among our own."

"Where were you going?" he asked, curious now about what had transpired during the years they'd been apart, especially those years when he hadn't been tracking and trailing her. Though it really didn't matter now that they were together again, they had two hundred years to catch up on.

She laughed softly. "From Cork to Southampton," she told him, bending to open her chest of drawers and start to make decisions about what to take and what to leave. They didn't need to take much, after all, but a couple of changes of clothes was essential. "I was revisiting old friends, people I had met during my travels. This was shortly before I invested in Apple and Microsoft, when I was still virtually penniless." She flashed him a sweet smile. "Money only became really necessary as the 20th century reached its zenith, did you notice?"
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2016 9:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Money is virtually invisible now," he said, going to his own chest of drawers to pack a few changes of clothing. Most of what they needed could be easily purchased once they reached their destination. He didn't worry too much about investing himself - he had hired people to do it for him, and from the looks of things, he had few complaints.

"That is very true," she said with a smile, her rather obsessively folded choices coming out of the chest to lie beside her bag on the bed. "In some ways, it is easier, and in others, it is a lot harder." She opened the door to their shared closet, rummaging for shoes and a spare coat.

"I don't think it will be necessary to empty the safe," he told her, as he carefully folded a few suits and laid them in the bag. "I can leave instructions with Sheffield to have them deposited in a safety deposit box." It made more sense that way than hauling the bulky items with them, which would likely be difficult to sell anyway.

She nodded in agreement. "That does make more sense." Moving back to the bed, she started to pack her own bag. It was always just a little sad, having to pack a bag and know you would not be coming back for a while to come, but there was comfort in knowing that they would be coming back. "What time does the flight leave?"

"Around ten o'clock. Sheffield made all the arrangements. If there are no delays, we should arrive around one a.m. There should be someone waiting for us when we arrive," he explained, trusting his solicitor implicitly and paying her accordingly.

Anabelle nodded once again. It was good to know that Sheffield was on top of things, though she'd never had the opportunity to put a face to the name. "The car should be arriving any time now, then," she mused, glancing at the clock. As she did so, her preternatural hearing caught the sound of unfamiliar footsteps on the frosted grass beneath their window. Her head snapped around, dark eyes wide as she sought Julian's gaze. No one came here after dark, and no one came here at all who was not known to them both. "Company."

"So I heard," he replied, as he finished shoving the final few items into his bag before straightening and moving to the window to listen for the telltale sound of voices with his own preternatural hearing. He wasn't sure who was poking around the manor this time of night, but they were unlikely to be friendly.

There was only one voice, and it was for their ears alone, spoken in a tone only one type of person knew for certain they would hear. "Anabelle ... come out to play."

By the bed, Anabelle stiffened, fear flooding her as she stared fixedly at the bag in front of her. But the voice went on, the tone changing to something that might almost have been loving, if not for the hint of madness at its edges. "A warning, my darling Julian. Be careful not to upset me, turtledove."

The sudden snap of bone made Anabelle jump, almost missing the unnaturally fast footsteps that betrayed their visitor fleeing the scene, gone before the thump that betrayed the warning left behind on the grass.

Julian knew that voice anywhere, whether the words were spoken aloud or merely in his head. He'd felt her close, but he hadn't expected her to be that close. Serena. If she knew where they were, why this game of cat and mouse? "We need to leave without delay," he told his companion as soon as it seemed the other vampire had fled the scene. It wasn't fear for himself, but for Anabelle that terrified him. He had no doubt she had left a calling card for them in the form of a body, but who had been the unfortunate victim, he did not know.

Ana's dark eyes shone with guilty tears. She had a horrible feeling she knew at least part of the answer to the question she had to ask. "Who did she leave outside?" she asked in a shaken whisper.

"I don't know," he replied, clenching his jaw, but it seemed they were about to find out. They couldn't call the police, and it wouldn't look good for a body to be found on the grounds with them gone. "Damn her to hell!" Julian exclaimed suddenly, slamming a fist against the wall hard enough to put a hole in the plaster.

She jumped at his sudden exclamation, moving at speed to restrain him before he damaged any more of the house, or even himself. "There's no time for that," she told him. "Call Sheffield again. They can deal with ..." She glanced out through the window, and felt a ball of ice settle deep in her stomach. "With her." The girl lying on the grass, her head at a terrible angle, looked just like Anabelle herself. That was one hell of a warning.

If he wasn't so worried for Anabelle's safety, he might have had it out with Serena right then and there. "This has to end, one way or another," he said, between clenched teeth, every muscle in his body tense, like a panther ready to attack its prey. "I am going to get you somewhere safe, and then I'm going to finish it." He didn't want to look out the window and see the gift Serena had left for them - another innocent victim of Serena's madness.

"No, you are not," Anabelle told him firmly. "We are leaving here, and we will find a way to finish this together. You are not leaving me anywhere, Julian Stafford." The expected sound of a car pulling up made itself known. "Bags, coats, we're leaving now."

"That girl down there is innocent!" Or at least, he assumed she was innocent. From the look of things, it looked like her only crime had been bearing a vague similarity to Anabelle. "I am not going to allow this to go on, Anabelle. She needs to be stopped." And there was only one way to stop her, though he had to admit, he might not be able to handle Serena alone.

"Julian." She took his face in her hands, forcing him to look into her eyes, to see how frightened she was at having his insane sire so very close to them and to know now for a fact that Serena wanted her dead. "Don't do this right now. Please, I need you to be calm. Because I am frightened, and I can't be away from you, especially when I am frightened. Please, let's just go. The car is here."

Forced to face her as she pleaded with him and see for himself the fear in her eyes, he pushed aside the hatred and rage that was simmering inside, regaining control of his emotions, and nodded his head in agreement. "Very well, but stay close. I can still feel her nearby. She hasn't gone far," he told her.

She nodded, all her trust in him as she drew back to take up their bags over one arm. Though Serena was near, with luck she would not be near enough to follow them without arousing suspicion in anyone who might see her. "Let's go, then," she said softly, her tone shaken. She would not relax until they were in the air now.

"I need to lock up the safe," he told her, but it would only take a moment as they had to pass it on the way out. He reached for the heaviest of the bags, which was his, everything else he needed already on his person. "I'll call Sheffield on the way to the airport," he informed her. There was no time for dawdling or coddling now - time was of the essence.

"Of course." As he moved to the safe, she was quick to collect her coat and keys, knowing that the only door in the house that needed to be locked on their departure was the front door. They were in the habit of keeping every possible entrance to the house locked securely, no matter what. One hand snagged the USB music player from the sound system, tucking it into her pocket as she reached for him.

He glanced out the window again, sweeping his gaze across the lawn and pausing to see if he could feel Serena's presence, but it seemed she had gone. Still, he would not be able to relax until they were in the air and he knew they were safe. God help them if somehow she found out where they were headed. Satisfied Serena was not close enough to be a danger, he took hold of Anabelle's hand and lead her through the house, stopping only once to secure the safe, before heading for the front door.

There seemed to be no sign of her, at least none that Anabelle could hear or see, and even her calling card had been thoughtfully left out of sight of the driveway. The private car Sheffield had sent for them was waiting, the driver patient enough to let them take their time before he got them settled on the back seat, their belongings in the trunk. As the car pulled away from the house, Anabelle slid over the seat, tucking herself close into Julian's side. "We will finish it," she promised him shakily. "Just not tonight."

"No, not tonight," Julian agreed, tucking her close against him, one arm around going around her shoulders, as he buried his face in her hair. "I swear I won't let her hurt you, dearest," he assured her gently, his heart heavy with guilt over the blood of innocents. This was no longer about revenge, but about survival - perhaps, it always had been.

As the car pulled through the busy streets of London toward the private airfield that was their next stop on a new journey, Anabelle nodded, closing her eyes as she held on tight. She could see the face of Serena's victim in her mind, a girl who looked so much like her they might almost have been twinned. A girl whose living heartbeat had been ended purely for that reason. It sickened her, the guilt seeping into her being as she huddled close to Julian. This had never been about revenge, not for her. But perhaps now ... with the lives of innocents laid at her feet, Anabelle had a reason to be angry.

Survival was enough, for now, but the day was coming when Serena would learn how foolish it was to attack a loving pair. And then she would know fear. That alone was worth all this ... if they could just win a little more time to plan with. The New World beckoned.

((You know, we had thought these two were a failure, but it turns out that first scene was just massively draining and they're actually quite a lot of fun! Huge thanks to Julian's player!))
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