The lamp was lit in Vodalus’ study. Dreux snaked his head around the doorway. The senator was hard at work on his histories. While the boy was enamored of all things Family, he had little patience for combing through crumbling scrolls and tablets. He preferred talking to people instead.
“Vodalus,” he said, entering the room.
The older man looked up and smiled despite himself. The lamplight was dancing in the boy’s curls. “What is it, Drusus?” he asked.
Dreux sat on the edge of the desk. “Why haven’t you talked to me before?”
Vodalus was puzzled. “We talk often, Drusus. Is there something you wanted to talk about?” Perhaps the boy’s guilty conscience was leading him to this, Vodalus thought.
Dreux closed his eyes and concentrated, removing everything from his mind but the words he wished to project. He visualized the letters arching across the distance between them, flowing from his head into his guardian’s. *I meant, talk to me like this,* he telepathed.
An involuntary twitch of surprise set Vodalus pushing himself away from the desk. He looked at his ward. “I didn’t know you could do that,” he said, a little awed.
Dreux hopped off the desk and paced. “Neither did I,” he shrugged. “Did you hear what I said?” he asked.
“Not as I would from one of the Family,” Vodalus said, recalling the mental transmission. “It was more a sense of what you meant. You asked why I never spoke to your mind.”
Dreux paced again. “More or less.”
“How did you discover this talent?”
“Domitian,” he answered. “He spoke to me yesterday. He said I had the ability.”
“The ‘I do.’ A question, not a statement, eh?”
Dreux nodded. “Gwyddion says I have the gift, too.”
“Gwyddion?” Vodalus asked.
“Philip,” Dreux said. “Julia’s fledgling.”
“Yes,” Vodalus said with distaste. “I’m not sure I approve of that.”
“He’s my friend, Vodalus,” Dreux defended.
“I just think she should have allowed him to grow first. It will be difficult for the boy when he is older.”
“I doubt he’d have gotten much bigger anyway,” Dreux observed. “His people are not as tall as Romans.” He sat again. “Earlier tonight Philip spoke to my mind, too. I hear him clearly like I did Domitian. I suppose that’s because he’s a vampire now. Before, I only sensed things about him, like when he was homesick.” He looked at Vodalus. “It is such an intimate conversation,” he said, reaching his hand to touch the man’s temple. “I can’t help being disappointed you never spoke to me thus.”
He closed his eyes and a pained look crossed Vodalus’ face. *The speech does not come easily to all,* he sent.
Dreux kissed his furrowed brow lightly and the man opened his eyes. “It is easier for me with another vampire, but even then, I prefer audible speech,” he explained.
“I understand,” Dreux said. He sat back. “There is still so much I don’t know about the Family.”
Vodalus motioned over his desk at the scattered papers. “It is all here.”
Dreux rolled his eyes. “It’s also all here,” he said and tapped the man’s forehead again. His hand followed the other’s gesture across the table. “This is death, the true death. Remembrances filtered through the self-consciousness of the pen. It loses its meaning and becomes flat. The Family began with oral history, and it shouldn’t lose that.”
“That argument has raged since ancient days, Drusus,” Vodalus said.
“I know what you’re doing is important,” he said. “But it’s not my way.”
“Very well, Drusus,” Vodalus said, sitting back. “We shall pretend you are a babe again. What bedtime tale would you have me tell?”
Dreux laughed lightly. “You always let me sit in your lap when you told me a story,” he said sweetly.
Vodalus’ eyes narrowed, and Drusus climbed into his lap. It was a mistake. The boy’s body was altogether too lithe and beautiful. He exercised his self-control.
“Tell me what it will be like when you kill me,” he said, leaning his head against Vodalus’ broad shoulder. “Tell me how I will be young and beautiful forever.”
“Ah, Drusus,” Vodalus sighed, settling his arms around the boy’s waist. “I have never known someone to fear age as you do. Why is that?” The fear exposed, he felt the boy tremble.
“I want,” he began slowly, “to always be as I am now. I am certain that if I do not die soon, the only death that awaits me is the solitude and blackness of the true death.”
The knowledge that the boy had the sight made him listen carefully to his ward. “You truly sense this, Drusus?” Dreux nodded against his chest. He felt the boy’s tears dampen his tunic. Vodalus held him closely. “I won’t let you die,” he said. He kissed the top of his head.
Dreux looked up at Vodalus. Only in his arms did he feel safe and warm and loved. He smiled. “I love you,” he said.
The light sparkled in the dampness of his cheek. Vodalus kissed the saltwater tears.g “You are infatuated with me, that is all,” he said gently. “When you are older you will find someone to be to you as Marius is to me.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Already, do you not love your friend the Celt?” Vodalus asked, wiping dry the moist cheek with a corner of his toga.
“Yes, but that is different,” he explained. “He is like my brother.” Dreux tried to remember what is brother looked like. He couldn’t. “Or what I imagine my brother would be,” he said, a little sadly. “Besides,” he continued, “Philip is already in love.” He smiled. “It is something we share, talking about the ones we love who do not understand our affections. He offered me the blood, but I refused it,” he added.
“I am glad you did,” Vodalus said. “I have always assumed you would be my Child.”
“It is easier to speak with your own Children, isn’t it?” Dreux asked.
“A little, but it is something more,” he said. “A connection,” he tried to explain. “I can sense Marius’ presence. I know he is well, and that he misses me.”
“And you want us to be connected like that?” Dreux asked, changing the conversation away from the banished fighter.
“Yes,” he admitted.
Dreux looked up hopefully at Vodalus. “Then you do care for me.”
“That was never the issue,” Vodalus said. “But you are an unavoidable distraction, Drusus. Don’t think your attempts to get my attention haven’t been noticed.”
“If it matters so much to you,” Dreux said, “I will be good until my birthday. Then your conscience can be clear,” he offered. “And since Marius is away, that can hardly be a problem.”
Vodalus held the boy away. “That is rather convenient,” he said pointedly.
Dreux shrugged. “No harm was done, was it?” He smiled.
The man shook his head. “You are a schemer, Drusus. You’ll be a panther once you’ve changed.”
“Have the two sides of the Family always fought?” he asked.
“As far back as I have read, yes,” Vodalus answered. “The leopards are the oldest branch.”
Dreux laughed. “And you, a wolf, admitting it!”
“In truth, any great predator was taken in ancient times,” he continued. “Lions, tigers, hyenas, wild dogs. No great distinction appears until civilized days. Then, it became a regional trait. Those from the North tended to the canine, while those from the South more often were feline.”
“But I’m from Gaul,” he observed. “Perhaps I’ll be a wolf, like you.”
Vodalus shook his head. “Now it is more a factor of personality. As the Family has traveled, the distinctions of place have become blurred. You aren’t a pack animal, Drusus. Perhaps had you grown up in your own family … .”
“I would have grown old and died,” he finished and yawned.
Vodalus slid the boy off his lap. “You’re tired,” he noted.
“No,” Dreux denied, stifling another yawn.
“The living need their sleep, and I need to get back to my journals.”
“All right,” Dreux said reluctantly. The senator turned back to his scrolls. He kissed Vodalus on the cheek.
“Goodnight, Drusus,” he said. As he turned his head, Dreux kissed him full on the mouth, wrapping his arms around his neck. The boy’s tongue darted between his startled lips.
Just as quickly, Dreux stood back and grinned. “I said I’d be good, but not that good.” He spun on his heel and left.