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Anabelle Stafford
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2016 10:34 am    Post subject: Welcome to the New World Reply with quote

Money could open a lot of doors. In this case, it had opened up a private landing strip, complete with private hangar, in the very early hours of the morning, New York time. As the jet bearing Julian and Anabelle taxi'd out of sight behind heavy bay doors, a car pulled up, its windows heavily tinted. A man stepped out, immaculately dressed, and made his way patiently into the hangar to await the arrival of the passengers.

The flight had been uneventful, at least as far as routine flights were concerned, but for at least one of the passengers on board, it had been a wondrous if nerve-wracking experience. They couldn't have arrived soon enough as far as Julian was concerned, though the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. It was far quicker than any other means of travel, and that was certainly a good thing.

As their escort waited patiently by the car, the two Old World vampires were making their way off the jet, pausing to thank the pilot and stewarding staff, and - of course - tipping hugely as they did so. Anabelle smiled as she ducked out through the door, stepping down onto the tarmac. "It feels good to be on solid ground again."

"I am not looking forward to doing that again anytime soon," Julian remarked as he followed her down the stairs onto the tarmac. Despite the care and comfort the crew had provided and the relative ease of their flight, Julian was just as happy to have his feet back on the ground and wasn't looking forward to repeating that journey anytime in the near future.

"It was luxurious compared with my last trip in the air." She chuckled, feeling lighter now they were on a completely different continent to Serena, though there was no telling how long that would last. Her hand in his, she looked around, surprised to find a well-dressed man waiting for them. "Did Sheffield say someone would meet us?"

"Yes," Julian replied, following her gaze toward the man who seemed to be there waiting for them. He lead the way toward him, tugging his carry-on behind him on his right, clutching Ana's hand with his left. He did not have to ask whether the man was there for them or not, since there was no one else arriving right now, and Julian was old enough to sense another of their kind when he saw one. "You must be Tobias," he said, letting go of his carry-on momentarily to offer a hand to the other vampire.

"I am, sir," Tobias nodded respectfully, shaking his hand. "And you would be Mr. and Mrs. Stafford, yes?" He glanced between them, sharp eyes taking in the joined hands, the easing sense of tension, and the old world mannerisms in one easy flick of the eyes.

"We would, but you may call me Julian," he replied, gesturing toward the blonde beside him. "This is Anabelle, my ... wife," he said with a slight pause between the two words as if he was not accustomed to referring to her that way.

"Thank you, sir, that's very friendly of you," Tobias smiled. He was more than a little nervous - after all, the last Old World vampire he'd actually met had screwed his own wife, killed her, fed their daughter to her, and then left town. He didn't think that would be a problem this time, though. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Stafford."

Anabelle's smile warmed on hearing herself referred to as Julian's wife. "Thank you for the welcome, Mr. Acton."

"Tobias, please," he answered, automatically moving to take her luggage. He did have out-dated manners of his own, after all. "If you would both like to come with me, I have a car waiting outside to take you to your accommodations."

"I'm curious to know what your connection is with Sheffield," Julian said curiously, hoping he wasn't putting the other vampire on the spot. Or vice versa, how his solicitor knew of him. He would have taken Ana's bag himself, if she wasn't clutching his hand so tightly. "How long 'til sunrise?" he asked, the most important concern of every vampire.

"Around four and half hours," Tobias told him, answering the more urgent question first as he lead the way out of the hangar. "As to how I know Ms. Sheffield ... that is a slightly convoluted answer. I am currently the recognized liaison for New York City - I am actually based in Albany, but as the population of our kind through the city tends to be fluid and the only settlers I am aware of have only been here for a year, mine is the name that is passed to anyone seeking to blend in on a visit here. Ms. Sheffield will have been given my name and contact details when she made the necessary arrangements."

"I see," Julian replied, accepting that explanation at face value. He didn't even so much as flinch when Tobias referred to Sheffield as a female, though that was a detail he'd been keeping from his companion so as not to arouse any unnecessary jealousy. There were a few other things he had chosen not to tell Anabelle regarding his solicitor, but the important thing was that he trusted her implicitly and for very good reason. "I'm told the traffic here can be a nightmare. Will four and a half hours be sufficient?"

"Plenty," Tobias assured him, opening the trunk to set Anabelle's bag away and reach for Julian's. "With the weather as it is, there are fewer vehicles on the road at this time of night. The worst of the traffic is during the day; thankfully, we seem to miss most of it." He smiled at them both, moving to open the back door for them. "Please, be comfortable."

Anabelle couldn't help smiling as she slipped past Julian to slide over the seats. "So Sheffield is a woman, hmm?" she asked teasingly under her breath.

"Thank you," Julian told Tobias before sliding into the car beside Anabelle. "Sheffield is my solicitor first, a woman second," he explained, arching a brow as she smiled, a little surprised. He had expected her to be jealous, not amused. "I suppose I should have told you, but I didn't want you to worry unnecessarily."

"She's not in your heart, Julian," Anabelle told him, a gentle reminder that they had shared blood. She knew him, exactly the way that he knew her. Her fingers tangled with his, sapphire and diamond sparkling at her knuckle. "I was not built to be jealous. I love you, and I trust you. And if she really was a rival, she would have made herself known a long time ago."

"No, she's definitely not a rival," he assured her, with a squeeze of her hand and an affectionate smile. "You have no rivals, love. That is something you never need worry about." There was something else about Sheffield he wasn't telling her, but he didn't think this was the time or the place.

She laughed softly, wrapping her arm through his as she leaned against him. "So stop hiding her," she suggested affectionately, raising her eyes to the divide between front and back as she felt the car moving. "Mr. Acton? How long will it take to reach these accommodations you have acquired for us?"

Tobias' voice was a little muted as he replied. "A little over an hour, Mrs. Stafford," he called back to them. "Do not feel obligated to talk to me. I understand crossing the ocean is a disquieting experience for our kind."

Julian couldn't help but smirk a little at Tobias' insistence on referring to Anabelle as "Mrs. Stafford", though Julian had insisted being called by his first name. "We are very appreciative of your help, Tobias," Julian added. "I assume you will be helping us get acclimated in the city."
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2016 10:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Actually, I will be introducing you to some good friends of mine," Tobias told them as he navigated his way out of the airfield and onto the main roads. "They are young, a little over two years in this life, but they have a very good handle on the way things work in New York. They settled here a couple of years ago, and they've integrated well. But their youth, of course, precludes them from having the council consider them reliable names to place as liaison for the city itself."

Even Tobias was young compared to Julian, and to a lesser degree, Ana. There were those of their kind who were far older, of course, but many of them tended to be reclusive. "We were all young once," Julian replied, thoughtfully. He did not want to pry when they had just met, but every vampire he knew had some story or other to tell.

"Nick and Willow have a complication that will not allow them to be liaison figures for at least twenty years, if not a little longer," Tobias told them. "But it is not a story that is easily told, and especially not in a car." He chuckled, the sound making Anabelle smile.

"I have heard, Mr. Acton, that there are inventions here in America that make life easier for our kind," she said curiously. "Is that true?"

Tobias glanced back at them with a smile. "I believe so, Mrs. Stafford," he nodded. "Such is our innovation that you will be able to watch the sun rise over Central Park without danger to yourselves."

Julian lifted a curious brow at the hint offered by Tobias regarding the other couple, but remained quiet, allowing Anabelle to ask her questions. He didn't want to make any assumptions, but there were only a few complications that came to mind. The talk of sunrises drew his attention, however. It was no secret that Julian wasn't overly fond or trusting of modern contraptions, though they had become something of a necessity if one wanted to survive in the modern world without becoming a complete recluse. "Sunrise?" he echoed, doubtfully. "I have not seen a sunrise in over four hundred years," he added for the record, though not because he hadn't tried.

"And I have not seen one in two hundred," Anabelle agreed, turning her eyes forward once again. "How is that possible, Mr. Acton?"

Tobias' smile was audible as he answered them. "A few years ago, one of our number began experimenting with the qualities of various light filters," he explained. "Poor man looked like a burst pustule for almost a full year, but he finally cracked it. A gentle gray tint in the glass, coupled with a full UV filter, allows our kind to enjoy the sunlight within our own homes. Unfortunately he has been having difficulty getting people to embrace the concept outside the States."

"I should say so!" Julian exclaimed, his age showing. "It's preposterous! And what keeps you awake when the sun rises? Will power?" he asked, having become a vampire during the days when daylight demanded a deep sleep in a safe place where one would be protected from even the tiniest shaft of sunlight.

Tobias bit his tongue before he could blurt out what immediately came to mind, carefully choosing his response. "We have found, over the years, that we do not truly need to sleep from dawn until dusk," he offered. "At most, we need perhaps four hours of sleep in twenty-four. And, of course, there is so much more we are able to do, thanks to the march of technology. It seems to be more boredom than necessity that keeps our European cousins asleep for so long."

"Hmm," Julian replied, noncommittally. "Forgive my skepticism. Seeing is believing, I suppose." Like many of his kind, he missed the sunrise, but he wasn't so sure it was really possible to view one without being turned to ash. "I am something of a relic, I'm afraid," he added with a guilty frown.

"Ancient and precious," Anabelle murmured behind her smile, touching her cheek to Julian's shoulder as she smiled sweetly up at him. The change in her as they'd crossed the ocean was marked; no longer immediately afraid for her life and Julian's happiness, she had relaxed into the sweet girl he had known when he had first turned her.

Tobias pretended he hadn't heard that, discreet as ever. "There are shutters to close over the windows, if you require them," he assured Julian, sighing as they entered the city and the pace of their journey slowed.

"Children are precious, love," Julian remarked, leaning closer as Anabelle touched a kiss to his cheek. She had been a child once - his child - but she was a child no more, and though he was old, he was not quite ancient. "How old are you, Tobias?" he asked, not only curious but trying to make friendly conversation. It was only fair now that Julian had shared his own age.

"I am just over two hundred," Tobias offered up without protest. "Including my mortal life as well, of course. Life seems to move at a swifter pace over here than it does in Europe - I've noticed that we seem to age more quickly than you do."

Anabelle chuckled. "You can't be that much younger than me," she smiled, hugging Julian's arm. Her eyes were drawn to the busy streets as they drove through, surprised to find that the city really wasn't asleep at all.

They didn't call it the "City that Never Sleeps" for no reason, though Julian wasn't yet sure if that was a good or bad thing. He was hoping it would be harder to find them in a place like this though. "I'm not so sure about that. Right now, I'm feeling rather like an antique compared to the both of you," he said with a faint smile.

"Darling, I am wearing an antique," Anabelle told him affectionately. "Two, in fact. I do not sleep with one." Her fingers teased into his hair as she smiled, kissing the corner of his mouth. "Aged like a fine wine."

Wisely, Tobias kept his mouth shut in the driver's seat, definitely not prepared to get involved in that conversation.

"Even wine goes bad eventually, Ana," Julian pointed out, though he appreciated her attempt to soothe him, smiling into her kiss. "Hopefully, I am a good vintage," he added, eyes sparkling with amusement.

"You are an excellent vintage," she assured him with fond tenderness. "An acquired taste, perhaps, to most, but you have always been my favorite tipple." She giggled at her own poor joke, nestling close to him. "The buildings are so tall," she whispered in awe. "It is like standing in my own grave, the sky is so far away."

"It is a little daunting," Julian agreed, tilting a glance toward the buildings, which seemed to go upwards forever. He was reminded of the Tower of Babel. It couldn't possibly have been taller than these buildings, could it? He dashed that thought away quickly, as he'd never been very religious, even before he'd been turned.

"We won't be in a little house among all these huge buildings, will we?" Anabelle asked anxiously, her gaze flicking toward the front seat.

Tobias was shaking his head. "No, Mrs. Stafford," he assured them. "You will be in a penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. High enough to get a beautiful view across the city, and not to be hemmed in by all the gray."

Julian arched a brow. He'd heard there were penthouses in London - modern structures that lacked warmth and character, in his opinion. He much preferred the classic architecture and gothic clutter of his own estate, but beggars could not be choosers, and it seemed they'd at least be safe in a high-rise apartment. "It sounds expensive," he remarked curiously, though money wasn't much of a concern.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2016 10:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"You are guests," Tobias pointed out, pulling off the road just as they caught a glimpse of greenery through the nighttime murk. The car tilted forward, going down into an underground parking structure of some sort, though they had to pause while Tobias put the code in to allow them to enter.

Anabelle was impressed. "Tight security," she murmured to Julian softly. "Not bad."

Julian merely shrugged, not that easily impressed, slightly annoyed the security here was better than his own. He assumed the view would be, too, but guests or not, it wasn't home. Still, the point was to keep Anabelle safe, until they could sort out a way to take care of Serena, once and for all. That was all that was important.

The trip through the car park was dark, interspersed with moments of bright fluorescent light that flashed by, until finally Tobias drew the car to a halt. "And here we are," he announced, moving to vacate the driver's seat and open the back door for them. "I was contacted by a Ms. Freya Gustavsson a few hours ago. She will be lodged in this building as well, when she arrives."

Julian rolled his eyes at that, wondering if he'd get a moment's peace with Freya living nearby, though it was just as well. She and Anabelle were close friends, and they'd need all the help they could get to defeat Serena. "What about you?" Julian asked as he practically glided out of the backseat before turning to offer his companion a hand. "Do you live nearby?"

"Myself, I will be staying with the Gregorys until you are acclimated with what you need to know," Tobias told them, taking their bags out of the trunk. "After which, I imagine, you will be comfortable enough with them to be able to get by without needing me in the way too much."

Anabelle giggled softly as Julian helped her out of the car. "I don't believe you are ever in the way, Mr. Acton," she smiled, tapping the car door closed with her hip as her fingers tangled with Julian's once again.

"And after that?" Julian asked further, wondering what the man had planned. He had yet to share much of their story - that would come in time. Though they'd been referred to him by Sheffield, Julian's trust was not easily given and had to be earned.

"Well, sir, unless you need me, I will return to Albany and my own business," Tobias assured him. "I'm attempting to track someone down, among other things, but I think he has gone to ground in Europe for the time being. So I amuse myself with experiments and the people I consider to be my family."

"And who is that?" Anabelle asked curiously as they entered the elevator. "The people you call family?"

Tobias smiled, swiping a keycard through the reader next to the number pad before handing it to them. "That is your passcard. No one can reach the penthouse without one, and that is the only copy," he told them. "And my family are here in New York. They affectionately call me Grandpa, which appears to have stuck."

"The Gregorys," Julian guessed, answering Anabelle's question for the man, though it wasn't too difficult to put two and two together. "What sort of experiments?" he asked further, as he took the passcard and gave it a cursory glance before secreting it away in his jacket. "Can we have another made, just in case?"

"Yes, the Gregorys," Tobias nodded. He was very careful about not revealing too much about Nick and Willow; their story was their own to tell, and Alessandra was their greatest concern. "Of course, I can have another key made and have it couriered to you by midday," he nodded in answer to Julian's query about the keycard. The question about his experiments made him chuckle. "Personally, I am working on sunscreen. As it stands, I can hold my hand in direct sunlight for about twenty seconds before it burns off and I feel pain."

Julian dead-panned for about half a minute, as if he was the straight man in some comedy, featuring himself and Tobias. He couldn't decide whether the man was serious about his claims or yanking Julian's leg. "You're not serious," he said finally, though it seemed he was. As if watching the sun rise through tinted windows wasn't enough, now he was claiming to have discovered some sort of lotion that allowed a vampire to feel the sun against his skin without turning to ash.

"Oh, I am quite serious, sir," Tobias nodded. "I am not given to flights of fancy or deception. It will take many more years before my dabbling comes to anything of any real value, however. There are others who are working on isolating the cause of our unique abilities, though. Who knows? In a few centuries, there may even be a cure."

Anabelle's jaw dropped. "Excuse me?"

"A cure?" Julian echoed, arching that dubious brow of him once again. "Do you mean to say that we will no longer need to drink blood to survive or that we will no longer be immortal?" Or close to immortal.

"Now that is too far away to say," Tobias admitted with a shrug. "I do not have the aptitude to be able to follow the research, but even conservative estimates put the real results at least two hundred years away. It is slow, difficult work, sir." The elevator came to a halt finally, the doors opening onto a softly lit apartment. "Mr and Mrs. Stafford ... welcome to New York."

Julian wasn't sure what to make of that, though it seemed he would not have to worry about it too long. "If you truly are working on a cure, I would strongly suggest you keep it to yourself. There are those who revel in what they are, sir, and who would not hesitate to make sure nothing changes." He was not only talking about vampires like Serena who would never agree to be cured, but other more powerful vampires, as well.

"Believe me, sir, I know that," Tobias nodded, his expression grave. "I know it better than most."

The serious turn of the conversation was lost on Anabelle, however. She was entranced by the sight before them - just a hallway that opened with two large archways, but through those archways, a grand salon bedecked with floor to ceiling windows. Even at night, the view was beautiful. Abandoning Julian's hand, she wandered to those windows to look out over the vast greenery of Central park, bordered by the architectural lights of the city it inhabited. They were definitely not in London anymore.

Julian didn't mean to seem so somber and unfriendly, but these were serious concerns, and he did not take Anabelle's safety lightly. He didn't bother to ask what Tobias meant by his statement, as that would be prying, but given time, he hoped he and the other vampire could be friends. It was the view, though, that distracted him most, as he turned to find the most amazing view he had ever seen there before him. It did beg a particular question, however.

"Are these the windows you were talking about?" he asked, curiously, with just a hint of skepticism in his voice. It was hard to believe they'd be safe here when the sun rose with all the glass in front of them.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2016 10:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"They are, yes," Tobias nodded, setting their bags down beside the door that lead into the master bedroom. "These windows run the length of the apartment, but I assure you it is perfectly safe. However, for your convenience - and because it is incredibly difficult to sleep properly in a lit space - they all come with shutters which can be operated with this remote control." He showed the piece to Julian, which was remarkably simple to use. "Ah ... if I may, sir ... have you both fed in the last few days?" Tobias added delicately.

Julian's attention wavered between watching Anabelle, admiring the view, the other vampire's instructions, and the question of sustenance. "Not since before we left London," he replied. It hadn't been quite twenty-four hours yet for Julian; he wasn't so sure about Anabelle.

"I see." Tobias glanced around, and sighed with relief when he found what he was looking for - a Filofax left out on the coffee table. "In there, sir, is a list of nightclubs and bars. Each one operates a back room that is open to us and our donors, and are safe places in which to feed. No one is coerced. We only ask that you do not kill, and that you give a little of your own blood to heal the wounds left behind."

Anabelle tore her eyes from the view, surprised. "You have a donor system here?"

There went Julian's brow again, arching upwards at the thought of willing donors here in New York. It wasn't unheard of in London exactly, but there was no organized system of donors or safe places in which to find them. "Pardon my ignorance, but may I ask ... what do the donors expect in return?" he asked, wondering why anyone in their right mind would volunteer to let a vampire feed off them by choice. There had to be a catch but what was it?

"Generally they are employed by our kind, or have family who have been helped one way or another," Tobias shrugged. "In some cases, they are actually related to one of our own. I understand there are some who would like to become one of us, which is why we do not tell them about how long our blood remains active in their systems. The vast majority, however, do not expect anything from us. They are simply helping us, as we help them. My own housekeeper, Dora, donates on occasion, though I asked her to stop when her husband was injured."

"As we help them," Julian echoed, thinking of his own household staff back home in London. He had never dreamed of feeding off any of them - at least, not in many long years. He was old enough to have mostly mastered his hunger, though like all those of his kind, he could not go forever without feeding or risk madness. "It seems you have a very organized system here," he said, though he was only going by what Tobias was telling him. Nothing, Julian knew, ever worked perfectly.

"In New York, yes," Tobias agreed. "In other states, the systems may be different, I do not know. But this system allows us to pinpoint when someone has gone rogue." The way he said that hinted heavily at his own involvement in setting up said system, but his jaw clenched as he spoke. "I will bring the Gregorys here, with your permission, after sunset tonight. They have not met any others of our kind in more than passing; they may be a little wary of you."

"No more wary than we'll be of them, I suppose," Julian replied with a strained smile. "You must forgive me, Tobias ... May I call you Tobias? I'm old and rather set in my ways, and this is the first time I've ventured to the New ... across the sea."

"Please do, sir," Tobias smiled in answer to the request. "And, with respect, you are not old. You are simply a stranger in a strange land."

Anabelle smiled herself from where she had been peeking into the master bedroom. "You have been very welcoming to us, Tobias," she said softly, moving finally to rejoin Julian. "Thank you, for making all these arrangements. We may have brought danger with us - she will likely not be far behind."

Julian extended an arm to gather Anabelle close, in an obviously protective and affectionate gesture. "Yes, thank you, but it is nearly morning, and we will have more time to talk tonight," he said, knowing Ana must be tired, as he was feeling weary himself.

"Of course, sir." Tobias just about stopped himself from saluting. There weren't many people who made him feel inferior just by existing, but the mysterious Mr and Mrs. Stafford were definitely among them. "You have my contact details - if you need me for anything at all, at any time, please do make use of them."

"We will, Tobias," Anabelle assured him. "Take care on your way home."

"I will, Mrs. Stafford," he assured her in return, offering his hand to Julian. "And once again, welcome to New York."

"Julian," the elder vampire corrected, not for the first time, as he gripped the other vampire's hand. "Thank you. I hope we will become friends," he added, sincerely. Their list of friends was short, and those those they trusted even shorter. Though Julian was suspicious by nature, he trusted Sheffield implicitly, and she in turn trusted Tobias. "I do hope your windows work, or our acquaintance will be very short."

Tobias chuckled. "I would tell you to trust me, but this is something you must experience to believe," he grinned, stepping back from them. "I'll have that second keycard delivered to you by midday. Have a nice day." With a last incline of his head toward them, he made for the elevator to let himself out, leaving them alone in their unaccustomed accommodations.

As soon as the elevator doors closed, Anabelle hugged her arms tight about Julian's waist. "Come and see the bedroom!"

Julian visibly relaxed a little once they were alone, chuckling at Anabelle's almost childlike enthusiasm. "Don't tell me the bedroom has a view like this, too," he said dropping an affectionate kiss against the top of her head.

She nodded excitedly. "Two walls of it!"

Unlooping her arms from about his waist, she seized his hand to pull him into the master suite. The last time he had seen her this way had been on her living sixteenth birthday - Rosalind's final attempt to set aside her jealous obsession and make friends with the little girl her brother had brought home had resulted in Anabelle being gifted a dog. That, in turn, had resulted in both Julian and Rosalind being dragged all over the house in pursuit of said dog, with the sixteen year old giggling in delight. More than two hundred years later, Anabelle had rediscovered some of that innocent excitement, pulling Julian into a master bedroom that was completely different to any bedroom either of them had experienced before now.

"Good lord," Julian gasped once Ana had tugged him into the master bedroom with its wall sized windows, massive bed, and creature comforts of every kind imaginable. The extravagance of it almost put his manor house to shame. It was a far cry from a dark, dank crypt, but he did really hope those windows closed up at sunrise.

"Isn't it beautiful?" she enthused, her smile bright. It wasn't that she didn't like their own home, with its old world style and charm, but this was her first real brush with new world luxury. "And that view ... It's terrible that there is so little greenery for every home in the city, but the people who live around this park ... I wonder if they know how truly blessed they are to have this view?"

"We are the ones who are blessed with the view, love," Julian reminded her as he moved tentatively closer, not quite trusting all that glass. It would take time before he settled in here and felt comfortable, but he couldn't argue with the security and the luxury of it. "It is quite a view, isn't it?"

"I can't wait for sunrise," she admitted, eager to see if Tobias' claims about the glass really were kosher. Leaning back into Julian, she tilted her head to show him her smile. "They have to move with the times here more quickly than we have to at home. And besides, he has no reason to lie to us." She frowned as a thought occurred to her. "Is it me, or did he seem uncomfortable with knowing we're from Europe?"
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2016 10:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

He winced a little at her mention of sunrise, in no hurry for it himself, though he said nothing of it. From the position of the moon in the sky, he guessed they had a few hours yet until the sun came up. "No more uncomfortable than we are," Julian pointed out, though it seemed he was the one feeling awkward, not her. He had a feeling she could get quite comfortable here, but he was feeling a little homesick for England already himself.

She considered him for a moment. "Let's go and see what's in the kitchen," she suggested, taking his hand once again. Hopefully there would be something to tide them over until they were comfortable enough to go out into the city, and a little renewed strength would help him feel more settled. "We're not here forever, love. Just until we know what to do."

"I know," he replied, letting her lead him where she would. "I suppose I should be grateful. At least, we'll be comfortable in our exile," he said, with just a hint of bitterness, though coming here had been his choice.

"We are not in exile," she reminded him, raising her brow as she looked at him over her shoulder. "We are traveling. It is our choice, not hers. No one has forced us out of our home, and no one will stop us from going back. And if you persist in thinking this way, Julian, then she has already won."

"How so?" he asked, though he had a feeling he knew what she'd say - something about the fact that being miserable was exactly what Serena would want them to be.

"Because you are already beaten," Anabelle told him simply. "If you think that she is the reason you are here, then she is winning. If you think that she is the force that drives you to act, then she will win before you ever lay eyes on her. You taught me that. To take responsibility for my own actions, to influence my own life. No one can make me do anything, unless I allow it. And I will not allow her to beat me before I have ever even seen her. If you give up now, then what is the point of fighting? If you die, or go to her, then I will kill myself. It is as simple as that."

Julian clenched his jaw, his anger rising, though it wasn't her but Serena he was angry with. He stopped in his tracks, pulling her around to face him, eyes flashing like the calm before the storm. "I am not giving up. I have not survived four hundred years to give up now. I have no intention of losing to her, and I will not hear you talk about killing yourself."

"Then stop making her your excuse for your decisions," Anabelle snapped back at him. "If she truly has no hold on you any longer, then everything you do, say, or think is your own responsibility and your own right. Take charge of that and be the man I know you are, not some apologist who is beaten before he even begins." Her expression dared him to come up against the steel will he had helped to form for a long moment, before she turned to investigate the kitchen in search of the fridge.

Anyone else who had dared talk to him like that would have faced his ire, but this was Anabelle, and he knew her heart was in the right place. "I am not beaten," he insisted stubbornly, though he was in no mood to argue or to defend himself.

"Say it again," she told him, turning to look at him with a look he knew on his own face. He had raised her, after all. "Say it and mean it." Her arms crossed over her chest as she faced him down. For someone who was certain she was not as strong as she needed to be, she had a backbone of pure steel when she needed it.

He exhaled a sigh, more out of habit than need. "I'm not a child, Ana. Please don't treat me like one," he told her, feeling on edge for some reason. Maybe it was their new surroundings or the long journey or the fact that it was nearly sunrise and he was edgy with weariness and hunger. "I don't want to argue."

"Then don't behave like one, Julian," she told him. "I don't want to argue with you, either. But I'm frightened, and when you talk like that, I can't see a way out. I need you." She held his gaze for a long moment, willing him to see the sincerity in her. Then she turned, pulling a bag of O-neg out of the fridge and moving in search of cups.

Once again, if she was anyone else, her scolding would have incited his anger, but Julian was not usually given to fits of rage, especially where Anabelle was concerned. Though they did not always agree, they rarely went to bed angry with each other. "I'm not going anywhere. You know that. I did not bring you here to abandon you, if that's what you think," he told her, as she turned away from him to search the fridge for a snack. He preferred his meals warm but, once again, beggars could not be choosers.

She paused in the act of sharing the bag between two cups. "You haven't told me what you have planned," she said quietly, resuming her softer attitude, the expression of herself he was most familiar with and most comfortable with. "You keep saying you'll put me somewhere safe and you'll deal with everything else. It feels as though you plan to put me in a box, and unless you come through whole, that's where I will be for all eternity. All alone. That is what scares me, dear one."

"I haven't decided," he replied honestly, frowning in consternation, but no longer angry. "We'll be safe here for a time. We'll use that time to come up with a plan." From what he was saying, it seemed he was willing to include her in at least the making of those plans, though he was not willing to put her at risk. The surest way to draw Serena out would have been to set a trap using Anabelle as bait, but that was not something Julian was willing to do.

She looked up at him, a slow smile touching her face. "That's better." Easing close, she reached up to kiss him tenderly. Crisis averted, it would seem. She nuzzled to him with fond affection. "I love you, Julian."

"And I love you," he told her, once he'd returned that kiss, his arms going around her. "That's why we are here." It was true. There was no other reason for coming to New York but to keep her safe, but now that they were there, there was no reason they shouldn't enjoy it. "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the windows," he admitted, his expression faltering. It was the closest he'd come to admitting his fear.

Anabelle's smile gentled as she looked up at him, safe and secure in his arms, giving her own comfort as best she could. "So we'll close the shutters on all but one of them," she told him softly. "Keep the sunlight out until we're absolutely sure it works, and even then, we don't have to have them open all the time. Just because we can do something, it doesn't mean we should."

"I haven't seen the sunrise in four hundred years, Ana," he explained, though she knew this already. It had been two centuries for her, half as long as him, but still a long time by human standards. "It scares me a little," he whispered reluctantly. It was not something he cared to admit, even to her.

Her hands rose to cradle his jaw, her forehead resting against his. "It scares me, too," she admitted softly. "But it is a fear I am willing to face, for both of us. Let me stay up to test the sunrise?" It wasn't often she asked such a question, but she understood his fear. She felt it herself. Every vampire had burned themselves testing the sunlight at some point; the thought of feeling it on her skin without danger was a promise taken with a hefty pinch of salt.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2016 10:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Now that they were alone, he had nothing to hide, all his fears there for her to see on his face and in his eyes. Connected as they were, he knew she was feeling it, too, but there wasn't much he could do to reassure her, except one thing. "We'll test it together," he told her, though he planned on being very careful. For all he knew, this could all be a trap set by Serena herself, though he thought that, if it were, she'd want to be there to witness them turning to ash.

Anabelle smiled her soft smile, leaning close to kiss him once again. "But first ... there must be a microwave somewhere in this kitchen," she told him fondly. "Although you do make the most adorable faces when you drink cold blood." She winked at him teasingly, drawing away to begin the hunt for a microwave.

If anyone could soothe his troubled heart, it was Anabelle, as evidenced by the soft touch of his lips as he returned her kiss, though he couldn't help looking appalled at her teasing. "I do not!" he argued. "I just prefer my meals warm and fresh, like any respectable vampire. Blood isn't made to be refrigerated and artificially warmed. It's not ... natural."

"Darling, we're not natural," she pointed out affectionately, squeaking in triumph as she located the device she was looking for. "Found it!" Into the microwave went the cups she had already prepared, and forty seconds would be enough to make it drinkable. "That doesn't mean we can't be beautiful."

"Aren't we?" he asked, arching a brow. It was the age old question of the chicken and the egg. "Who's to say what's natural and what's not natural, Ana? There are plenty of predators in the world. Very few of them would be considered unnatural."

"But we are the perfect predator," she reminded him. "There is nowhere for us to evolve, and our kind do not adapt well to sudden changes. Unless emotional attachments are a flaw that should be improved, we are not exactly a part of the natural order of things." She shrugged, opening the microwave to stir the cups before handing one to him. "It is just a theory, love."

"Do you know what a dhampir is?" he asked, watching as she stirred the the cups before taking one from her and sniffing at it, as if to make sure it hadn't been tampered with. Julian hadn't survived four hundred years without being a little bit paranoid.

She frowned, licking the blood from the spoon before dropping it into the sink. "I don't think I have ever heard that word before," she told him thoughtfully. "I assume it has some relevance, or you would not have brought it up."

To some, it might seem strange to lick the blood off the spoon, like it was something delectable, but to those who depended on the stuff to survive, it was just a matter of frugality. "A dhampir is a child born of a vampire father and a human mother. Or at least a mother who was human at the time of conception," he explained, wondering how she'd wrap her theory around that. He took a small sip from the cup, as if to test it.

"Then it should be an impossibility, surely," Ana said thoughtfully, wrapping her hand about her mug to draw him back into one of the more comfortable rooms. She wanted to curl up on a couch with him and just be for a while. "Yet I suspect from your tone that it is not. Such beings exist?"

He said nothing more until they were settled on the couch, each with a mug full of their favorite beverage. "Far from an impossibility, actually. There are several in my acquaintance. They differ from vampires as they combine the strengths of both humans and vampires and very few of the weaknesses. They can tolerate sunlight, for one, but they are not immortal."

Curled close to him, Anabelle listened curiously. "Why haven't I heard of them before now?" she asked him. "Surely, if a vampire can father children, there would be more dhampir in the world than there are. I assume they are rare, or I should have been aware of them before now."

"Very rare. And those that do exist are very careful to hide what they are. I have heard of some who've become hunters, but because a vampire child is so rare and so precious, they are heavily protected, often even from our own kind. And no, I do not have any dhampir children," he added with a smile, answering that question before she assumed otherwise.

She considered him for a long moment, putting together everything he had said, with everything else they had heard tonight. "You think these Gregorys have a dhampir, don't you?" she asked him curiously. "Which would be a explanation for why they are not the liaison for this city. They'll have to move on in twenty years anyway."

He shrugged lightly. "I think it's possible. What other explanation is there? How unnatural is that?" he asked, with the hint of a smirk on his face. "Cheers," he said, lifting his mug toward her before taking a deep swallow.

She stuck her tongue out at him, knowing now that she was being teased for expressing herself so frankly. "It's very unnatural," she countered. "Just like us. So there." Her own smile disappeared into her mug as she drank, trying not to giggle at the lightening of his mood.

"If you had it to do over again, what would you do? Knowing what you know now, would you still become what you are, or would you have preferred a human life?" he asked, curiously. It was something they had not really touched on before, as he had always been afraid of her response, believing ignorance to be bliss.

"Knowing what I know now?" Anabelle smiled gently. "I would ask you to turn me sooner. And I would have found some other way to deal with Rosalind. I never truly understood that she hated me until that last year - not for who I was, but for what I represented. I would not have run from you. As much as this life may seem limiting, it is the only life where I can be with you, and that is all I want."

He frowned a little at the mention of Rosalind, though he had come to grips with her death several hundred years ago. "I have thought about it from time to time, about what your life would have been like if I hadn't ..." If he hadn't what? Killed her father? Taken her to raise as his daughter? Turned her? So many what ifs, but one thing was certain - if he hadn't made those decisions, she would not have been here with him now. She would have been dead a long time ago.

"I would have died, sooner or later," she told him. "More likely sooner. He killed my mother; he would have killed me eventually. And if not him, then whichever man he sold me to in marriage. My father was not a good man. You gave me a life beyond any I could have hoped for."

"I have no regrets, love," he assured her softly, touching his fingers to her cheek, now that they were warming a little. "You say we are unnatural, but your father was the monster, not I," he pointed out, though he was not innocent. He had shed his fair share of blood, but he had always prided himself on not shedding the blood of innocents.

"I said not a planned part of the natural order," she smiled. "I never said you weren't a good man." She nestled closer, her eyes flicking to the wide windows. The sky was beginning to lighten in that disheartening false dawn that declared true dawn to be half an hour or so away. "We should shut those shutters down."

"If God did not create us, then who did?" he pressed her further, wrapping an arm around her, even as she remarked on the lightening sky. Julian pulled the remote from his pants pocket and handed it to her. "Tobias said to use this," he said, handing it to her, as he was not terribly fond of or familiar with modern technology.

"I have no answers there, love," she chuckled. "I am not given to philosophy very often, and when I am, it is what I feel, not what I have learned or been told. Does anyone even know how we began anymore?" She shrugged, looking at the remote thoughtfully. "Hmm ... simple." Gesturing vaguely toward the windows, she pressed down on the Living Room Close button, and watched as the metal shutters drew over the windows. She released it only when there was a two foot wide gap remaining on the other side of the room. "Very simple."
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2016 10:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

He exhaled an unnecessary sigh. "Sheffield is always after me to learn more about such modern gadgets. She says they are a wonder, but I sometimes think all they do is make people lazy," he said, referring to his solicitor as a female for the first time in Anabelle's presence.

Ana's smile deepened as she looked back to him. "Yes, Sheffield," she drawled teasingly. "You made her, didn't you?" Her brows rose curiously above her smile; he had raised her, after all. He shouldn't be surprised if her guesses weren't too far off the mark.

Julian frowned, wondering how much he should tell her. After all, it was really his solicitor's story to tell, not his, though he did have a hand in it. "She had cancer. Terminal. She asked me to do it. It was either turn her or wait for the inevitable." There was that shrug again, as if it was nothing or, perhaps, as if he'd had no choice.

"Did you think I would be angry to know that?" she asked him softly, drawing her knuckles gently along his cheek. "It is your business. It was your call. And clearly, you made the right choice. I'm not afraid of her, or what she might be to you. I know where I am in your heart, love. She chose, and so did you."

"There's nothing to be afraid of. I pay her well, and she quite literally owes me her life. I suppose it's time you two meet," he mused aloud, though Sheffield, as he called her, was back home in London taking care of business - his business, to be accurate.

"Well, it's only fair," Ana laughed. "She knows almost everything about me. She even knows my bra size, for goodness' sake." She eyed him affectionately, knowing full well that the clothes bought for her use must have been purchased with Sheffield's input.

"I think you'd like her. That's the problem, you see," he said, finishing off what remained in his cup before it turned cold, the barest hint of a teasing smirk on his face, not bothering to explain his statement.

"Oh, really?" She laughed softly once again, setting her own empty cup down. "Are you afraid of being overwhelmed by women, darling? Is it possible that the great Julian Stafford does not think he can hold his own against two women in a conversation?"

"Great?" he echoed, chuckling in amusement. "Darling, Alexander was Great. Catherine was Great. I pale in comparison," he said, smiling, his mood shifting. Whether it was the blood or the company was hard to say.

"Alfred was Great, too," she pointed out in amusement. Inching closer, she swung her legs over his lap comfortably, nose to nose with him once again. "And you didn't answer the question. Which leads me to think that you don't like the answer."

"I'm not sure which of you I should be more frightened of - my wife or my lawyer," he said, touching his nose to hers as he pulled her onto his lap. Technically, she was his wife only in name, though she was wearing his ring and they shared a connection mortals could only dream of.

Drawn into the circle of his arms, she curled her own about his shoulders, sharing that Eskimo kiss tenderly as she giggled. "I am not a frightening person," she assured him. "I am more likely to drown someone in tears than hurt them, you know that. Which does not make me a very intimidating vampire, I know."

"You do not need to be intimidating, love," he told her, touching a kiss to her forehead, her nose, her chin, everywhere but her lips. "You only need to be yourself." And with that said, he at last pressed his lips to hers, as if it to prove it.

She smiled as he peppered her face with kisses, trying and failing to catch his lips with her own until he was ready to allow it. But when that kiss was allowed, she melted into it, becoming all at once nothing more than a soft, loving woman who adored the man in her arms. The by-now familiar spark of desire rose, but she suppressed it out of habit, not wanting to push him where he was not willing to go. Nuzzling gently to him, she drew back, her dark eyes alight with tenderness. "I love thee as I love the tone of some soft-breathing flute; Whose soul is wak'd for me alone, when all beside is mute."

He didn't exactly melt into her, as he was the flame to her candle, but wrapped her in his strong, protective embrace, as if it was the two of them against the world. The sky was lightening behind them, turning the black of night into a soft, muted gray, and he knew they only had a few short minutes before the sun burned its way into the sky, banishing night. He smiled softly as she recited poetry - not quite Shakespeare, but none the less lovely for it. He'd passed on his love of arts and literature to her, and it touched his heart that she'd remembered the words of a poet he'd introduced her to long ago. "I love thee as I love the first young violet of spring; Or the pale lily, April nurs'd, to scented blossoming," he replied softly, reciting the next verse.

She smiled fondly to him, brushing a soft kiss to his lips. "She is a very underrated poet," she mused, nuzzling close to him. As her head found a place on his shoulder, her eyes watching the deceptive darkening of the sky outside, she sighed softly. "We should unpack, I suppose. But I really am entirely too comfortable right here."

"There will be time to unpack later, love," he assured her, touching a soft kiss to her temple as she settled her head against his shoulder. Unbeknownst to her, he was feeling that same spark of desire, though he had long ago taught himself to ignore it when it came to her, ever patient with her, until she was ready.

How long they sat together in comfortable silence was measured only by the creeping promise of light through that last open space of glass across from them. But as the sky found the first vestiges of warm light through the cold dark of the night, Anabelle raised her head, gently untangling herself from Julian's lap. "I never watched a sunrise when I was alive," she said quietly. "I owe myself this one." With a gentle glance back to him, she moved across the room ... and stepped fully into the first shaft of sunlight as it poured through the filtered window.

"Ana," he whispered, almost a plea, as she slipped away from his embrace and went to the window where the sun was just making itself known. He couldn't help but shudder as cold fear crept into his heart, terrified he'd lose her in that moment when the first rays of light touched her skin. He moved to his feet, watching from a distance. It had been four hundred years since he'd seen the sun rise. Four hundred years of living in the dark, hiding in shadows, avoiding the sun, even on a cloudy day. Four hundred long bloody years. Tears streamed down his face as he watched her, silhouetted against a muted sunrise, golden and glorious at the birth of a new day.

She stood still for a long moment, letting the light warm her skin for the first time in centuries, unaware of the way the rising sun illuminated her hair and turned it golden, set her skin glowing. Yet that was all it did. There was no pain, no burning. Tobias had been right. She raised her hand to the glass, her fingertips touching it reverently as she looked back at Julian. "I can see the sun," she told him, her other hand opening to beckon to him. "It's beautiful."

Julian only stood there, silent and still as a statue, as he watched the first rays of sunlight turn her hair gold, like an angel touched by the hand of God, or a goddess in her own right. He had no words, remaining where he was, as if his legs would not obey him, his undead heart pounding in his chest.

He was frozen in his place, she could see that. But Tobias' promise of a sunrise without pain was real; she was living proof of that. Her hand fell to her pocket, taking the remote control out once again. "Then I will bring the sunrise to you, love," she told him. Her finger pressed down, and the shutters slid back, the golden drift of light creeping toward him as the view was revealed once again.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 07, 2016 10:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

He instinctively took a step back, his pale face paler further, obviously fearful, but also in awe. "Ana, please," he whispered, needing her reassurance, though the proof of the light's inability to harm him was right in front of him. It was almost too much for him after four hundred years, but he'd felt the pain of the sun before, and his fear was stronger than his wonder.

She walked toward him with the light, refusing to let him hide from this. It was a gift that barely anyone of their kind from the Old World would experience for a long time to come; a gift that she was already determined to have installed in their own home in London. The sunrise might not be so amazing there, but it would be lovely to enjoy natural light. As the shutters opened fully, she slid her hand into his, not letting him try to escape the light that had been denied to him far longer than it had been for her. "It's perfectly safe, love," she told him gently. "There's no pain. No fear. Just us."

"It's impossible," he whispered, clearly in a state of shock over the sight of a sunrise after so many years of continued darkness. Always seeming so self-assured, his hand was trembling in hers, and with nowhere else to go, he had no choice but to face his fears head-on. "I-I can't," he stammered, as fearful of the sun as a mortal might be of fire.

"Yes, you can." She pulled on his hand, harder than she might have done in any other situation. "You don't need to hide from this. Look at me. I'm not burning. And I want to see you in the sunlight."

He forced himself to turn away from the light and look at her, illuminated as she was in the first light of day. "You look ... different," he told her, amazed at the difference natural light made on her, as opposed to artificial lighting or even candlelight. He lifted a hand to touch her hair, her face, as if seeing her for the first time.

And as he reached out, the light touched him. Anabelle smiled as his fingers touched her hair, her cheek, stepping backward slowly to draw him out of the shadows and into the light of he sun for the first time in four hundred years.

Seeing was believing, but feeling was proof. His eyes widened as she tugged him forward into the light, the fear slowly fading, replaced with a sense of wonder, as though he was witnessing some miracle in the making. "Good lord," he whispered again, as he felt the warmth of the sun for the first time in four centuries. It was a strange feeling, unlike the warmth of a flame or any other source of heat, warming his flesh without burning him. His memory flashed back to the last time he'd almost seen the sun rise over two centuries ago, when he'd considered immolation as an escape from emotional torment. It had been the loss of Ana that had driven him to it, and the hope of finding her again that had saved him. He was weeping openly but silently, overcome with emotion. Whoever it was that had said vampires couldn't cry didn't know what they were talking about.

Drawing him close, Ana wrapped her arms about his waist, her face turned toward the rising sun as it began to crest over the buildings on the far side of the park, illuminating the brisk starkness of winter trees. She let him weep, feeling something close to that wonder herself, but somehow too caught up in the sensation of heat and light - real, natural light - to allow herself to cry. It was a true wonder, and one she knew she would never be able to thank Tobias and his friends for.

Though the light was wondrous, it was still filtered - made safe for them through some sort of modern technology Julian did not understand. They could not yet walk in the sunlight, like humans could - and though Tobias had hinted that might be possible in the near future, Julian hardly believed it. Still, for now, this was miracle enough, after four centuries of night. As overcome with emotion as he was, he found he could not tear his eyes away from the sun as it slowly rose in the sky, setting the world on fire. He was aware of Ana beside him, her arms wrapped around his waist, his link to the past and his guide to the future.

For months, he had been telling her that whatever she wanted to do to their home could be done, if only she would ask. Until now, Ana had never found anything she might want to do to the manor that was their own home. Her voice was barely more than a whisper. "I think I have discovered how to improve our home, love."

"I think you have," he replied quietly, in a voice that was raspy with emotion, smiling at last, despite his tears. He turned toward her, his face bathed in sunlight for the first time in centuries, subtle nuances there she may not have noticed before. There was an almost reddish tint to his hair, his eyes not quite blue or green but somewhere in between. There was slight crinkles at the sides of his eyes that must have already been there when he was first made, only made visible when he smiled, but it was the expression on his face that was most markedly different - his expression almost peaceful and benevolent, rather than fearful or anguished.

He was, in her eyes, the most beautiful man she had ever seen. In sunlight, touched with fire, he was beyond beautiful. He was a dream she hoped she would never wake from, and his smile held every promise she had ever wanted him to keep. Serena might well have driven them here, but she could never have imagined that they would discover this. Anabelle rose onto her toes, touching her forehead to Julian's with tender trust. "Let's go to bed," she suggested softly. Too much of a good thing could be toxic in its own way. They needed time to grow used to this.

It was true - the sunrise, like so many other things, was almost intoxicating. Like her smile, her sweet embrace. There had been times when Julian had thought it was all he'd ever need, until the hunger rose in him and would not be ignored. But he did not want to think of that now. This was one of those moments in time he wanted to cherish forever. He touched his fingers to her cheek, drawing her face toward him, so that he could touch a kiss to her lips, soft and sweet and tender. Though he was the elder, the maker, he thought in that moment, he would follow her to the ends of the earth, if only she asked it of him.

Desire flooded her, but like him, she held it back for his sake, not her own. His kiss found her smile, tender and loving, answered with a kiss of her own that shared just as much. "Come on, love," she told him softly, taking his hand. "All I want is to lie in your arms and know that in here the sun cannot hurt us."

"Anything you wish, you need only ask," he told her quietly, whether it be the windows in their home back in London or anything else she might want of him. He was tempted in that moment to make love to her. There would be no more perfect time for it than now, during their first sunrise together, and yet, he held himself back. There were words he wanted to say, things he wanted to tell her, and yet, he held those back, too. Though he knew this day would end soon enough, they had the rest of eternity together - so long as Serena didn't have her way.

Though it did seem the perfect time, it was not. Beautiful though the sunrise was, it had come at the end of a very long night for them - a night that had begun almost fourteen hours ago in London, and was only just coming to an end here in New York. And, for now, just being close was enough. They had plenty of time.
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