London Loves Ch. 08bySadieRose©
© Sadie Rose Bermingham and Bellora Quinn 2012
Apologies for the long hiatus between the last chapter and this one; I was caught up in the complexities of moving house and it's taken me a little while to get my mojo back. All thanks go to Bellora Quinn for knowing just how to motivate me and how to be patient when the motivation wasn't there. This chapter goes out to her and of course to you, our dear reader, for your endless patience and enthusiasm.
The cab ride to the airport and shuffling through the boarding process was a bit of a hassle and took far longer than either Rayne or Xavier had patience for. Xav had dug out a pair of sunglasses before they left the apartment that didn't really do much to hide his battered condition. Rayne too kept his shades on throughout the checking procedure but the three young women on the desk still briefly huddled and exchanged whispers after he had shown them his boarding card, and they attracted more than a few passing glances as they made their way down to the gate.
Although the flight itself was little more than half an hour, by the time they were on the ground again Xavier was already tired and hurting and they still needed to push through the Manchester evening rush hour. Rayne was solicitous of his lover, refusing to let Xavier carry any but the lightest of bags as he hurtled their baggage trolley through the EU channel and out into the arrivals hall. He kept an arm around Xavier's shoulders though and asked him frequently if he was okay.
Outside the air was cooler but no less smoggy than London and Rayne parked Xav on a bench with the bags and kissed him on the forehead before zipping off to find the cab he had booked back in the Capital. Which was also an excuse to grab a cigarette and calm his own frayed nerves. Rayne was better on planes than Dominic Warren but he still did not enjoy the process.
The pick-up area was drab and dirty, and totally chaotic. Xavier had never really felt anxious in London, apart from the night when he was attacked, but the atmosphere here was high in tension. A few businessmen shoved their way irritably through a throng of harried looking travellers, many with screaming children in tow. There were young men lounging around, drinking from cans of cut-price pilsner, throwing empty fast food cartons at one another and shouting. A huge party of large and definitely under-dressed women with pink, sore-looking arms and legs, jostled for a minibus and an argument broke out between two of them and the driver who accused them of being drunk and refused to let them on board.
Maybe it was just their way and not intended to be threatening but Xavier felt uncomfortable. Coupled with that, he was hurting so badly now that he was only taking short, shallow breaths to keep from letting his ribs expand too much, and his head ached too. He wanted a drink, and to lie down for a while in the quiet darkness and was massively relieved when Rayne came jogging back to him, crooking his finger and grabbing the handle of the cart.
"Fucking mental!" he shouted, to be heard over the sudden rumble of a souped up exhaust system on a beaten up looking VW Golf. "C'mon! Let's get out of here, yeah?"
A dark saloon car had pulled up on the inside of the turning circle, unable to get into the taxi rank for the bawling women and the rhythmically pulsating Golf. A lean, indo-gangetic man with a slim moustache jumped out of the car and helped to throw their bags into the boot as if he had no desire to stay here longer than necessary.
Xavier couldn't blame him.
And then they were cocooned in the back of the car and pulling away, the noise and the smell of engine fuel and dodgy take-aways left behind. Rayne snuggled up to him and pulled him close, kissing his hair.
"You all right, sweetheart?" he asked again, voice husky from the nicotine smoke. "Not far to go now."
"I'm ok," Xavier answered woodenly, as if it were a rehearsed line. He was holding his side though, and he'd lost all colour in his face as he continued to breathe shallowly and not move too much.
Before they even got out of the city the cab ride was turning into an ordeal for him. Every stop, every minor lurch, made him wince. It wasn't long before he was gritting his teeth, a focused stare on his face, and his thoughts were almost wholly on the pain pills in his bag.
I should have taken a couple before we left... No, I can live without them.
Back and forth went the inner argument.
"What!" Xavier snapped.
His expression crumpled as soon as the sharp word was out of his mouth and he was immediately contrite in the face of his lover's startled look. Rayne was only worried about him, he knew, even through the hurting.
"I'm sorry..." he said with a little sigh and bit his bottom lip. "I'm sorry."
Between the shooting pains and the bedlam going on in his head from soaking up all the random chaos of emotions at the airport he was holding his shit together by only a thin thread. Rayne looked at him with eyes gone almost black, the green melted dark like moonlit leaves, edged with frost. His expression was the only thing which softened the impact of that gaze. There was nothing but love and concern in those shadowy eyes.
"If you say the word, I'm turning this cab around and taking you to A&E, sweetheart. You do not look well, and you do not feel well," he said quietly. "If you didn't reckon you were up to this you should have said something this morning. It would have been okay. We could have stalled for a few days. I'm just... I don't want you backsliding on me now, Xav. Not here." There was the edge of a plea in his voice but he swallowed it down. "It's not so far now to Dominic's place. Gabe's a Healer and a good one, whatever else he might be. He can help, but if you want a proper Doctor, I get that too. I know you don't like hospitals but I don't want you to be in more pain than you need be."
"I can make it. I'll be okay," Xavier said more softly, his voice a little breathy as he tried to get a handle on the pain. There was underlying steel in those softly spoken words that rarely showed in the easy going young man. He slipped his hand into Rayne's though, curling trembling fingers lightly around his.
"I felt better this morning. I didn't realise how much the trip would take out of me," Xav explained, still in that soft voice. "It's just pain, it'll go away."
Rayne did not exactly look happy but he said no more. Xavier did his best to try and get comfortable, first leaning back, then putting his head on Rayne's shoulder and finally he ended up curling up on the seat using Rayne's thigh for a pillow. He didn't sleep, but he closed his eyes and concentrated on just taking one slow breath at a time. Rayne's cool fingers stroked through his hair gently and that more than anything helped.
He must have dozed a little because the next thing he knew he was blinking his eyes open as they were winding up a crunching gravel drive. It was starting to get dark outside the car.
"Where are we?" he asked in a husky voice.
"We're nearly there, sweetheart." Rayne bent over him and whispered the words tenderly into his ear.
The taxi driver was complaining in an undertone; "Ruddy hell, mate. How long is your pal's driveway anyhow?"
Then the car peeled out of the shadows of the tree lined avenue and turned a corner, coming over a low rise. Xavier sat up in time to see that below them, set against the last light of the day and bathed in luminescence by strategically poised spotlights, was a building that could only really be described as a castle. The word, 'house' didn't do it justice. It had a turret for starters, and the stonework was golden in the lamplight. More light glowed warmly from the arched windows that would not have looked out of place in a country church.
It took Xavier a moment to connect that what he was seeing was indeed their destination, "Are you kidding me? Dom really lives in a castle?"
As they pulled up on a wide, gravelled turning circle, in front of a short flight of steps, leading up to the broad, arched front door, even the cabbie sounded impressed. He murmured; "Now that's worth the trip out here!"
As they climbed out of the car and he got their bags from the back, Rayne made sure that the trip out there had definitely been worth his while, giving him enough of a tip to put a smile back on his face for the rest of the night. As their driver got back into the car and started the engine, the front door slid open, silhouetting a tall figure darkly against the golden light from the hallway beyond.
The vampire hesitated for a moment, looking up at the man standing in the doorway. He was even taller than Dominic, and lean in spite of his broad shoulders, with a cascade of long, black hair that tumbled down his back, past his waist. Dark eyes surveyed them quietly out of an angular, handsome face that split suddenly in a smile that - even if Xavier hadn't been listening to Matty's talk earlier - he would have thought of as 'wolfish'.
"Dom told you we were coming, yeah?" Rayne said to him uncertainly.
"'s right," the fellow on the doorstep nodded, looking from the vampire to his companion at once. "The chavvi's hurting. You wanna get 'im inside, 'fore he falls down."
It wasn't a question.
Xavier, despite the considerable pain he was in, had been unobtrusively checking him out. He was curious for several reasons. One, this was Dominic's live-in and that was interesting enough by itself, two he was a werewolf and that was even more interesting, and three he was gorgeous.
He followed Rayne slowly up the steps, feeling a hundred years old but determinedly walking on his own. Even though their host seemed friendly enough Xav felt an odd mix of defensive anxiety churning inside him as he looked at the other man. It took him a second to realize it wasn't his own emotion, he was picking up on it from Rayne, but that didn't clear his confusion. Until he hit on an idea. He knew vampires were extraordinarily strong from personal experience but, were werewolves stronger? It would maybe explain both Rayne's hint of anxiety and Matty's apparent enthusiasm. He filed the idea away, meaning to ask Rayne about it later.
As they approached the threshold Rayne entered without pause, confirming that he had indeed been a guest here before, but Xavier hesitated just under the arched doorway. He looked to one side and slowly up as if simply admiring the shape of the archway as he walked through it, but he had actually caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. It was a bit of shimmering just on the periphery of his vision, like a migraine without the nausea, and he felt an odd, not-quite-physical tingle along his skin as he entered. He dismissed it almost without a thought as some of Dominic's 'hocus-pocus' stuff. What he didn't realise was how unusual it was for a mortal, especially an untrained mortal, to have noticed the ward at all. He also didn't realise that, had he had any bad intentions toward those inside, his passage through that doorway would have been far less pleasant.
Even if he had realised any of those things he was not in any condition to overly contemplate them. His vision was starting to get a little grey around the edges and it had nothing to do with anything magical. He looked as pale as ashes and had to reach out and grab for Rayne's arm when he just about tripped over his own feet.
The vampire turned but their host was faster. He was to the left and slightly behind Xavier having stopped to secure the door after they came through. As the young man's knees turned to water he ducked and swept Xav up in his arms as easily as lifting a rolled duvet.
"Gotcha babes," he said in a mellow tone, exuding quiet confidence that wrapped Xavier like a warm blanket. "Don't you worry. Everything's gonna be fine now."
A little colour crept into Xavier's cheeks other than the dark purple on the one side. He'd managed to hold it together all the way out here, only to walk through the door and nearly fall on his face.
" 'm okay..." he murmured. "Sorry. You can put me down. I can walk." He protested in vain , all of his contentions were blithely ignored.
"Tell you whatnot," the tall, handsome, sun-bronzed fellow suggested, looking him boldly in the eye as he carried him through the hall like a new bride. "Why don't I just take you through to the library and pop you down somewhere a bit more comfortable than the hall runner? Then you can get your land legs back nice an' slow, like."
His gaze, up close, was the colour of wet slate; a dark, shimmering grey, just a little lighter than his pupils. There were flecks of silver and gold in the irises, like a dog's eyes. Gold loop earrings glinted all down the curves of his ears through the coal black fall of his hair. Two symmetrical white streaks ran through the ebony from his temples. His broad, generous mouth smiled easily but like Matty's smile, it had elongated canines that glistened wetly in the muted golden glow of the hall lights.
He wore a white shirt of some heavy cloth, open to the sternum, exposing a multitude of chains and pendants on cords around his neck. It also exposed the thick black hair of his chest, which was straight and smooth like a hound's pelt, right up to his collarbones. The hair looked soft enough to stroke.
"Yeah," Rayne interjected, recovering some of his equilibrium. He had looked slightly stunned when Xav nearly went down but now he was reassured that his lover was still conscious and stubbornly refusing to admit he was sick, he was able to be sarcastic. "Cos Gabe likes to curl up on the mat by the door of an evening. You don't wanna cramp his style, sweetheart."
Xavier, still embarrassed at nearly passing out in the foyer and having to be carried like some fainting débutante, shut his mouth and just looked at Rayne, not knowing what to say to that comment. Apparently no answer was required of him either as Gabe was already moving towards an internal doorway off the main hall with an insouciance that suggested it was not the first time he had been on the receiving end of Rayne's tongue.
Xav was set down carefully on one of a pair of long, sleek leather loungers set either side of a low rectangular table topped with a sheet of smoky glass. Even huddled up inside the pain Xavier couldn't help looking around with wide eyes. The room was like a cross between a modern art gallery and a late Victorian library. Pale maple cabinets and bookshelves lined the walls from the parquet floor, twenty feet up to the elaborate ceilings. Two tall candles stood in shielded sconces on the mantelpiece of a stone hearth that looked big enough to cook a cow. A whole one! More candles burned in the hollow of the fireplace, to either side of which stood a white marble statuette of three lily flowers.
There was a reading table under a lamp shaped like a bell-flower, the pale wood sloping upward and an adjustable chair set before it. Like the shelves it was delicately carved in curling patterns and letters. In one corner near the foot of a winding spiral staircase leading up to a balcony with more shelves, up above the windows, a lectern, such as one might find in a church, held a heavy volume bound in purple velvet and marked with a jewelled band of emerald satin. Nothing in the room seemed out of place though.
Xavier felt a bit like he'd been transported to a movie set.
Although there was no fire, the room was comfortably warm. The tall windows beyond the staircase were screened with internal wooden shutters and all the light came from the lamps and the candles.
"I take it her ladyship's been held up?" Rayne said, heading for one of the cabinets, which unfolded to reveal a mirror-backed bar.
"She's on her way, you've probably beat her by a few hours." Gabriel sat down on the opposite sofa to the one Xavier was lying on. Though he answered Rayne's question his eyes never moved from Xav.
Rayne poured himself a shot of vodka and looked over at his lover more solicitously. "Do you want a drink?"
"I'd rather have a couple pain pills," Xavier answered hoarsely, which told Rayne exactly how badly off he was right now, if he was asking for the painkillers rather than trying to tough it out.
Gabriel moved over to the edge of the lounger beside him with a lupine grin.
"I'll get you something better than that," he promised, cupping Xavier's face gently in a warm hand.
Xavier did not pull away, just looked at him with a slightly unfocused and wary stare. He was not sure what the other man was offering but his mind immediately jumped on what it wanted most. The thing he knew would erase all pain and let him fall into a blissful sleep. He hardly ever had those thoughts anymore, but when they hit it was like a wave that could bring him to his knees crying and nothing but a will of pure steel could bring him back from giving in to the seductive lure.
His mouth went suddenly dry and he swallowed as those odd slate gray eyes looked back into his own. He could not force words out of his mouth because he was afraid what he would hear himself saying.
Gabriel must have saw that hint of fear because his grin softened and became more reassuring. "You know I'm a healer, yeah? I can help you feel better, if you'll let me."
A small quiver went through Xavier but he wasn't sure if it was relief or disappointment as he realised Gabriel was not offering any sort of illicit drugs to ease the pain.
"Now, the energy I'm gonna give you will go where it's needed, but it works best if I know where you're hurtin' the most." Gabriel said, still holding Xavier's chin gently and looking into those big blue eyes filled with pain and fear.
Through that gentle touch, Xavier realised he was sharing some of his host's feelings and emotions, the way he did with Rayne through the bond. Gabriel must have a powerful aura because the senses Xav was reading in him were so clear. Even battered and bruised Gabe could see he was proper pretty under the purplish swelling on his cheek and jaw. Xavier almost blushed again at the realisation that the wolf was discreetly checking him out.
He looked very vulnerable and the wolf could have slotted him into the category of easy prey, but Gabriel was not a mindless beast and neither was his wolf. Gabriel the man often took his time to make up his mind about a person, but Gabe the wolf usually made up his mind much faster, and his wolf was already feeling protective of the boy, despite the smell of blood and death on him. All of this Xavier picked up in a flash from just a few seconds' contact with his skin. When Gabriel moved his hand away he felt empty and light headed for a moment.
"I-I just want...want to be able to breathe for a few minutes without it feeling like there's a knife in my side," he answered now, as candidly as possible.
"Take your shirt off," Gabriel said without a pause.
There was not a hint of suggestiveness in that command. When Xavier faltered all the same, he tempered that instruction; "I just wanna see how bad the damage is. Someone gave you a good thrashin', hmm?"
Xavier needed to sit up to take the shirt off, which he did while pulling the small buttons free. The dark red silk slipped off his shoulders and pooled around his hips and he moved his arm back a bit so the vivid black and purple bruises that were heavier on his right side were exposed. He'd gotten used to the appearance of the injuries but they still looked bad.
"I got jumped," Xavier explained distractedly. "I wasn't about to take on all three of them but I got chased down a blind alley. I almost made it over the fence but I wasn't fast enough."
"Cowardly bastards!" Gabe remarked grimly. His eyes wandered over the patchwork of bruises critically. Then he knelt by the lounger and glanced up at Xavier. "Do you mind if I touch? I'll try not to hurt you, mate."