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crescent moon

Richard and Jean-Claude realize they must join forces in Anita's absence.
Rated PG
Disclaimer:  All characters, situations belong to author Laurell K. Hamilton.  I'm only borrowing them to pass the time.



He had always had an affinity for wolves. Nothing could make his breath catch like the unexpected sight of one of these formidable predators on a moonless night. A solitary wolf loping through the dense outer forests was a spectacular thing to behold. Their prowess and graceful beauty intrigued him. To him, wolves were as alluring as they were fearsome; as keenly intelligent as they were primevel. They should be revered. 

So it was with a heavy heart that Jean-Claude gazed down at the broken body of the ensnared white wolf. The heavy metal jaws of the trap had captured the animal's midsection and had embedded its teeth well into the wolf's ribcage. Its legs were splayed against the forest's floor at awkward angles. The weight of the trap pinned the wolf's chest to the chains which tethered it to the ground. Blood colored the animal's thick fur and bubbled out of its nose with each labored breath it took. 

Talking to the injured wolf soothingly, Jean-Claude dismounted from his horse. He pressed his thumb into the mare's right flank and sent her away into the trees. He knew the smell of blood frightened horses and the wolf was bleeding so profusely, the scent hung heavily in the damp night air. He didn't want the horse taking flight in a fit of panic before he had finished here.  

The white wolf peered up at Jean-Claude as he approached. It licked its teeth repeatedly and growled threateningly, choking on the blood dripping from its mouth. It coughed and its body spasmed, causing the animal to emit several piercing whines of pain.  

Even in its dire agony, this animal still posed a significant threat to him. It would surely tear him open if he got as close to it as he intended. This is utter madness, Jean-Claude thought, but it didn't dissuade him from taking another step forward. Surely if left alone, the beast would die on its own before the night was through. Even as he told himself these things, he still felt the need to help it in some way. Any way he could.  

The wolf snarled fiercely at the figure approaching it and tried desperately to pull its legs underneath it. It managed to stand, but fell heavily back to the ground in a matter of seconds. The blood poured from its mouth now. It gagged and pawed at its jaws, smearing the blood on its long white legs. 

Jean-Claude knelt down where he was and locked his eyes on the wretched animal, using his power to reach into its mind. The wolf was nearly insane with misery and its mind had shifted away from cognitive thinking into pure survival instinct. Probing deeper in the clouded recesses of its consciousness, Jean-Claude's power brushed the animal's awareness and found the remnants of its inherent intelligence. Immediately, the wolf quieted and turned its pain-glazed eyes towards him. Jean-Claude smiled sadly. 

"I was not certain my power would work on one such as yourself," he mused. "I am happy we have reached an understanding of sorts." Keeping his gaze fixed on the wolf, Jean-Claude folded his arms loosely around his bent knee. "You and I are not so different, mon frere. We are both ethereal and elegant creatures. But we are also resourceful predators, who strike fear in the hearts of men--depised and hunted for our sins against humanity. It is with such empathy, I offer my assistance to you in your...unfortunately fatal consequence." 

Dying. Yes. The wolf knew it was dying, as much as it understood the concept of death. Being free of pain was all it could think of, but it didn't really believe escaping would free it of pain, so it battled with its intinct to try to survive. Yes, it would rather just die. 

Jean-Claude sighed. "You will not survive your wounds. You will expire before the break of dawn, you understand? Until then, you face hours of torment. Best your instincts, mon ami. I know the pull of an instinct so deeply embedded into your psyche, it is almost impossible to ignore, but ignore it you must. Do not let your instincts drive you to such an end. If you will allow me to approach you, I can take your life now and quell your pain." 

The vampire rose slowly, keeping his eyes on the wolf's. The animal tried to crawl away from him and whimpered pitifully, but Jean-Claude could tell it was also struggling to subdue the fear it felt towards him. It kept its eyes steadfastedly on him, and lowered its head in a submissive gesture. When Jean-Claude reached out for it, it licked his hand. 

Running his long fingers through the wolf's pelt soothingly, Jean-Claude drew up behind the animal and lowered himself to his knees. He caressed the wolf's massive head and bent to rub his cheek along the soft heated fur between the wolf's folded ears. Pleased by the wolf's obvious comprehension, Jean-Claude poured his power over the beast's mind once more, and used it to alleviate the animal's fear and pain, much in the same way he rolled the minds of his prey. He marvelled at the wolf's ready submission. No animal had ever responded to his power this way before. It both thrilled and grieved him.  

Grasping the animal's head on either side, the vampire placed a soft kiss on its domed skull and took a deep breath. 

"Au revoir, mon frere," Jean-Claude whispered into the wolf's fur. With that he wrenched the animal's neck completely around, snapping it in two. The wolf went limp against him.  

A nervous chuffing from his mare drew his attention away from the dead wolf. Jean-Claude rose to his feet and looked in the direction the sound had come from. The horse's head was up, small pointed ears pricked forward. Her nostrils flared as she repeatedly blew air forcefully from her lungs. She had caught the scent of something, and Jean-Claude was sure it was more than the wolf's blood that had startled her.  

Scanning the thick shadows beyond the trees, the vampire saw several shapes materialize from the darkness. Several pairs of eyes were looking at him. Low gutteral growls filled the stillness of the night.  

More wolves. Drawn by the scent of blood perhaps and the fear they sensed in the horse. They were circling her. They were hungry, but cautious, holding back at the unexpected sight of the man before them. They knew men and they feared men. 

Jean-Claude edged towards his horse, hoping she would not bolt in blind terror at the wolves approach. At that moment, he wished he could touch the mare's mind the way he had the dying wolf's. He could have calmed her and assured her she would be defended. 

"Do not trouble my equine companion, mes amis," he murmured, using the power in his voice to emphasize his threat. "I forbid it." 

As if understanding his words, the wolves turned away from the horse and peered curiously at the vampire. 

It occurred to Jean-Claude then, he might be able to communicate with these wolves through his power as he had the white wolf. It was worth a try. What did he have to lose? Perhaps he had only been able to touch the white wolf's mind because he was dying, weakened, and afraid. These wolves were not, but they were focusing entirely on him now. At once he knew their minds were sharp and calculating, and their bodies were strong and healthy. There was a connection there. He could feel it.


Stretching out towards the pack with his vampiric powers, Jean-Claude called the alpha male forward and once again became aware of several things at once. The alpha male was dead. He was the one in the trap. This was his pack. The alpha female had taken over the pack in his absence. They had only just found him.  

A pregnant gray wolf stalked towards the vampire, keeping her head low, growling softly in her throat. She walked hesitantly past Jean-Claude and sniffed at the carcass of her mate. She looked up and whined, an expectant _expression in her eyes.  

Jean-Claude reached out and touched the wolf's muzzle. She curled her lip back, flashing her fangs instinctively, but clearly influenced by the magic he poured over her.  

"So sorry, my lady," Jean-Claude whispered. "But I know there are many fine young wolves left in your clan to take his place. Your children will not go hungry."  

The gray wolf dropped to her stomach and rolled over, her eyes ever locked on the vampire above her.  

Jean-Claude smiled. He knelt down and languidly scratched her chest. She snarled again, but remained submissive. 

"Yes, ma belle loup, you are mine now," he told her, triumphantly. His heart was beating wildly as his mind began to comprehend the significance of this newly dawning ability he possessed. He raised his head and gazed towards the remaining pack. "You are all mine. Show yourselves. Come to me." 

Slowly, cautiously, the wolves materialized out of the shadows. There were sixteen of them altogether. Seven young males and nine females. Soon, they were pacing around Jean-Claude in an agitated, eager swarm. They didn't understand the power overtaking them and they fought it, reacting aggressively towards each other at first. A couple of fights broke out among the younger wolves and several snarled menacingly at the vampire. 

Jean-Claude drew more power to him and sent it out over the pack. They quickly calmed and many became as submissive as the alpha female had, creeping closer to him on their bellies.  

"Forgive me, mes amis, this is new to me as well," Jean-Claude stated softly. He stretched out his hands and touched the wolves nearest him. Some growled, but most just licked his fingers and whimpered.  

The vampire straightened and looked around him at the milling wolves. Overjoyed, he raised his face to the night sky, wrapping his arms around his body in a tight hug, and laughed in sheer uninhibited delight.  

He knew what this meant. His powers were such now that he had finally become a master. His increasing independence as of late had hinted as much, but this, this confirmed it. He was a master vampire and he had the gift to call an animal. That animal was the wolf. 


Richard Zeeman strode purposefully through the underground passages of the Circus Of the Damned towards Jean-Claude's luxuriant living room. Jamil and Shang-Da followed closely behind him, eyes sweeping this way and that in careful scrutiny of their surroundings, ever on the alert for possible threats to their Ulfric. 

Richard stopped abruptly just outside the living room and held up his hands. Jamil and Shang-Da exchanged glances. 

"Wait here," Richard said and took a deep breath. 

Jamil frowned, placing his hands on his slim hips. "Do you think that's wise? Confronting him alone?" 

Richard shook his head, his long brown hair dancing around his face with the force of the movement. "I'm not confronting him. I just want to talk to him." He looked from one bodyguard to the other. "Even if I was confronting him, Jean-Claude knows better than to try to hurt me, gentlemen. Such a thing would be...self-defeating." He forced a smile. "And if there is one thing Jean-Claude is not, is self-defeating." 

Without a second thought, Richard pushed his way past his bodyguards and into the vampire's living room. He had walked all the way into the middle of the room before he realized no one was around. He stopped and sighed heavily, thinking he should have called first. Jean-Claude wasn't one to sit around at home on a Saturday night when he was the owner of three very successful night clubs. In fact, ever since Anita had left, Jean-Claude made a point of being out almost every night.  

"Damn it!" Richard swore, dragging his hand roughly through his hair. He stretched out his power, feeling his way along the metaphysical link which connected him to the Master of the City. There was a distinct sense of his presence. Jean-Claude was here after all. Somewhere.  

"Damn what?" came a sudden, unexpected voice from across the room.  

It was familiar, but it startled Richard nonetheless. He whirled around on his heel to find Asher walking slowly towards him. The tall, blonde vampire seemed to have appeared out of thin air. Only seconds ago, there had been no one in the room. 

"Jesus, Asher," Richard said, his frown deepening.  

His exclamation only made Asher smile. "A little on edge tonight, are we, mon ami?" 

"I'm fine. Where's Jean-Claude?" He glanced around the spacious living room once more before focusing his attention back on Asher. When he did, he noticed to his surprise, the vampire was now standing so close to him, their bodies were almost touching.  

"He is around," Asher answered, waving his hand through the air in a noncommittal sort of way. "Perhaps there's something I can do for you in his stead?" He reached up and suggestively traced the line of Richard's unshaven jaw with his index finger while placing his hand in the center of the Ulfric's chest. His power slid coolly over Richard's body. 

Richard jerked away from him, then shot Asher a menacing glare. "One of these nights, you're going to push me too far. You know I don't like you coming on to me, yet you persist. I think, just to annoy me."


Asher threw back his head and laughed. "Is that what you think? I can assure you, I do not...'come on to you' just to annoy you. But forgive me such ill regard for your sensitivity, mon ami. I cannot seem to help myself around you." 

The werewolf folded his arms across his chest impatiently. "Where is Jean-Claude? I need to talk to him." 

Moving almost as if in slow motion, Asher turned slightly and gestured towards the short hall leading back to the bedroom. "He's coming," Asher said with several breathy pants. He offered Richard a small, sly smile.  

At first, Richard didn't catch what Asher was insinuating, and readily started towards the bedroom. When it finally did strike him, Richard abruptly stopped. He turned to face Asher, knowing his _expression betrayed his shock and disbelief. 

The vampire chuckled deeply. "Don't look at me like that. I implied no such thing." He paused and smiled wide enough to show the pointed tips of his fangs. "But at least I got you thinking about having sex."


Richard shook his head. "There's something definitely wrong with your wiring, Asher," he mumbled and stalked back over to him. "You know you don't have a chance in hell with me. Why do you keep trying?"


Asher spread his hands in a gesture of innocence. "It is partly because I know my teasing gets the most exquisite rise out of you, and it is partly because you are so very handsome, I get a little rise from it as well." He raised his brow provocatively. 

The werewolf glowered at the vampire which only made Asher laugh more. Asher walked up to him and threw his arm amiably around Richard's shoulders.  

"Let me apologize again," Asher went on. "I am harmless, really. You know you are like a little brother to me." 

"If that's the case, you really are twisted," Richard began, his voice deepening some as he allowed the vampire to steer him towards the sofa. "You know, I have a theory about you." 

Asher pursed his full lips and considered this for a moment before replying. "A theory? By all means, mon ami, do tell." 

Richard slipped out from under his grasp and sat down. He looked up at Asher and cocked his head. "One night, when I'm in a better frame of mind, I'm going to surprise you and put this theory of mine to the test."


Asher clasped his hands behind his back and gazed down at Richard with an open _expression. "You think I am only bluffing, but when you do decide to make me your test subject, I may surprise you as well, Monsieur Zeeman," he muttered under his breath. 

Richard locked his eyes on Asher's, and sunk himself deeper into the couch cushions. He smiled slowly. "Maybe. Maybe not. We'll see." 

"Always nice to have something to look forward to," Asher said and sighed rather wistfully. He bowed slightly. "Until then, mon ami."  

Richard suddenly realized Jean-Claude had entered the room. He was fully dressed, and in an outfit far too pristine and elaborate to have been engaged in what Asher had hinted at earlier. The Master of the City also looked somewhat perturbed and preoccupied.


He had several papers and a leather document folder in his hands. His eyes scanned the length of a few pages before glancing up. 

"See, I told you he was...coming. And here he is," Asher declared and laughed lightly.  

Feeling gullible, Richard shot him a scathing look. 

Jean-Claude furrowed his brow, not comprehending their peculiar exchange, and looked from Asher to Richard and back to Asher again. Both merely stared up at him innocently. Finally, he sighed heavily, but apparently decided not to pursue the matter, and returned his attention to the documents he held.  

He must have sensed the tremor in the connection he shared with Richard when the werewolf reached out with his power to search for him. The master vampire certainly wasn't surprised, or particularly pleased, to find the Ulfric in his living room.


"And to what do I owe the honor of your presence here tonight, Richard?" Jean-Claude asked flatly, still reading.


Richard rose to his feet and approached Jean-Claude. He neither bowed, nor greeted him in any way. He only stood before him and frowned. If this lack of respect upset Jean-Claude, he didn't show it. Jean-Claude didn't bother extending any formal courtesies either.  

At one time Richard's Ulfric had given him to Jean-Claude on loan. A token of the pack's on-going amiable relationship with the Master of the City. Now Richard was Ulfric and considered himself equal to the master vampire in more ways than one. The triumvirate they had formed with Anita had further instilled this belief. 

Jean-Claude looked up at him finally. "Has Asher been pestering you again? You have that...'put off' look on your face." He spared a quick admonishing glance at his friend. 

"I need to talk to you. I've got a little problem brewing in the pack," Richard began, ignoring his question. "I...need your help." 

Jean-Claude looked back at Richard, the faintest smile playing on his lips. "Only a little problem, mon ami? Yet something so minor, forces my rival to my door, and subjects him to seek my assistance with his pack?" He shook his head and clutched the black leather portfolio to his chest. "Something tells me it is more than just a little problem." 

Richard licked his lips and looked away momentarily, trying to collect himself. "Don't try to start anything with me, Jean-Claude," he warned. "I'm not your rival anymore. We both lost. She doesn't want anything to do with either one of us right now. So, can we stop dancing in circles, and get down to the point? Are you willing to help me or not?" He put his hands on his hips. 

Jean-Claude gave the Ulfric a rare exasperated _expression. "You are the one waltzing around the room, my friend. I am standing completely still, and entirely unenlightened." He put up his hand to quiet Richard's impending outburst. "The pack is yours to deal with, Richard. I cannot interfere with any of your internal strifes. Besides, do you truly expect me to pledge to you my assistance without knowing the kind of assistance I'm expected to give?" 

"My problems are your problems, Jean-Claude," Richard shot back. "The triumvirate made sure of that." 

The master vampire took a deep, measured breath. "Ah, if that is so, mon ami, then shouldn't my problems concern you as well? Yet during the territorial dispute I had last month, you were no where to be found. I could have used you then. I called my wolves to me for a show of support, but you were not to be counted among them."  

Richard put his hands on his hips. "You knew I wouldn't come. You knew I couldn't allow myself to be seen in such a public place with so many...." 

"Monsters?" Jean-Claude finished for him. "Soon, hopefully, you will come to terms with who and what you are. Until then, that should be the only problem you struggle to solve. For that is the single stock root which nutures the vines of all your other...little problems." 

Richard shook his head slowly. "I should have known better than to come to you for anything," he mumbled. He turned around and started towards the hall.  

Jean-Claude lowered his head wearily and rested his chin on the folder he held. He closed his eyes and moaned audibly. "Richard, Richard, Richard. What am I to do with you?" He opened his eyes and saw Asher coming to stand beside him. "It is a two-way street, mon ami!" he called after the Ulfric, and glanced over Asher.  

"Actually, in your case, it's a three-way overpass," Asher said.  

Richard stopped and looked over his shoulder. "Yeah, well, our third isn't exactly available at the moment. And like Jean-Claude with his territorial disputes, I need a show of support." 

The vampire began massaging his eyes as if he suddenly had a nagging headache. "You are being challenged again, aren't you?" Jean-Claude surmised. "The third time in four months?"  

Asher peered over at Jean-Claude. "That has to be a record somewhere, I am sure." 

Richard frowned. "I'm not being formally challenged, but my authority is," he explained, then laughed humorlessly. "I have the most dissatisfied pack in werewolf lore. It doesn't seem to matter I best my challengers time and time again." He looked distractedly about the room as he went into a litany of grievances. "My power in itself, doesn't impress them anymore. They could care less about my ability to actually organize and lead them. They just don't like my politics. And my lupa is nowhere to be seen. The changes I'm trying to bring about are too radical. But then I haven't killed anybody yet. I'm too civilized for their tastes." 

Jean-Claude took a deep breath and walked over to his sofa. He tossed the leather portfolio on his coffee table and motioned for Richard to sit down as Asher dropped into a chair opposite them. 

"Neither one of us are too terribly good at politics, mon ami," Jean-Claude grumbled. He gestured at the various documents he had been reading. "Ever since I extended an open invitation to shelter vampires within my borders in exchange for their loyalty, I have been inundated with requests. They flock to St. Louis en masse. Even vampires nearly equal to my power base seek my protection. In my humble opinion, many are just biding their time before they put my authority to the test." 

Richard swallowed thickly and hesitantly sat beside the master vampire. "You think vampires are entering the city illegally? To challenge you?" 

Nodding Jean-Claude sat forward slightly and shuffled through the documents. "I know they are. There are vampires milling about in my lands who have not yet pledged their allegiance to me. I can feel them, but there is no way for me to monitor them all." 

Richard stared back at Jean-Claude incredulously. "What are doing about this? At least stop the influx of new vampires." 

A shadow of a smile passed over the master vampire's face. "Under normal circumstances, I would not have a problem. After all, the Executioner, a powerful necromancer, is my human servant. My triumvirate is the rarest and one of the most powerful unions ever forged. No master vampire would dare challenge me. But word is spreading that my triumvirate has failed--that I am weakening without Anita. As you are aware, she is blocking us. She has effectively severed her connection to us. I cannot even tap into her power when I need to. Our triumvirate may not have failed completely, but it certainly is not functioning the way it is supposed to. The truth of the matter is, you hate me and Anita has rejected me. It is only a matter of time...before I am challenged once more myself." 

Richard bowed his head. "I don't...hate you. I may have once, a long time ago, but we're too much a part of each other now for me to keep hating you." He looked up and fastened his gaze on Jean-Claude. "Sometimes, I feel as if you are the only one I can turn to--the only one who will ever understand me." 

His eyes searching Richard's _expression, Jean-Claude peered back at him questioningly. "Am I to believe your concern for my well-being stems from more than the metaphysical connection we share?" 

The werewolf slowly licked his lips. "You can believe me. There's a lot of reasons, besides how your death will effect me, why I care what happens to you." 

Jean-Claude grinned. "I can taste the truth in your words," he stated. "I must say, I am surprised and quite touched." 

Sitting forward, Richard scowled. "Then put an end to this open invitation of yours. Stop bringing new vampires into this city. You're tempting fate, if you don't."  

Jean-Claude exchanged looks with Asher before facing Richard once more. "Ninety-six percent of them have valid reasons for wanting to come here. Many are oppressed by their masters and seek refuge with me. These I do not wish to turn away." 

"Oui, there is a lot of oppression going on out there," Asher added. "Jean-Claude has a reputation now of being despotic, but fair." 

Leaning back against the sofa, Jean-Claude shrugged slightly. "These vampires prove to be the most devoted. They benefit me. It is the other four percent which concern me. They seek complete freedom from all masters, as I have. They've no wish to submit to another, no matter how 'fair'. Instead, they want to be me. They want my city." He paused and shifted his body to better face the Ulfric. "I have ordered my vampires to seek these beings out and bring them before me. Then I give them an ultimatum. They will either become my subjects, leave my territory, or be killed. Seven have been found so far. Two chose to leave, four decided to submit to me, one forced my hand." 

Richard dragged his hand through his hair and exhaled his breath forcefully through his nose. "I...didn't realize." He looked back at Jean-Claude sympathetically. "I guess your knee deep in it yourself, aren't you?" 

Jean-Claude smiled slightly and gave him the barest of nods. "You could say that." 

Asher made a scoffing noise deep in his throat. "I have said this before to no avail. But if Anita's absence is so vexing, why don't either of you try to contact her? If you cannot reach her through the marks, at least pick up the phone, and give her a call. If she knew what was going on here, surely she would come to your aid? Or at the very least, lower her shields so you could utilize her powers."  

Richard and Jean-Claude exchanged dubious looks. Both lowered their heads and sighed simultaneously. 

Asher shook his head. "Am I missing something? Isn't she supposed to be in love with both of you? Anita has always struck me as being a very generously giving and protective soul towards those she loves." He stared unblinkingly at Richard and Jean-Claude. "Looking at both of you now, one would think otherwise." 

Jean-Claude looked up sharply. "You will not condemn her for doing what she believes is right. Anita needs to find herself, and learn to control her powers before she can offer those powers to us. You saw what she did with the munin. You know it destroyed something inside her to unleash that kind of power. She knows what she is now, and wisely seeks the counsel of another to better understand her abilities. We will not speak of contacting her again."  

Asher rose to his feet and started pacing around the room in exasperation. "Fine. Then you both need to find a new power source in each other. I think the time for a little cooperation is at hand." He pointed a long slender finger at Jean-Claude. "It took a lot of humility for Richard to come to you for assistance, mon ami. Do not turn him away. Especially after the way he has confided in you. Anita is not here, so you are the only one who can give him what he so desperately needs." 

Taken aback by Asher's support, Richard turned towards him and inclined his head in a gesture of thanks. He had expected Asher to side with Jean-Claude. 

Asher smiled and offered Richard a small bow in acknowledgment. 

Jean-Claude frowned. "My little tale of woe was not relayed solely for your amusement," he began. "It was to convey the fact I have no power to spare, so to speak. Soon I will be forced to resort to measures I swore I would never consider, just to maintain the status quo." 

"But don't you see," Richard countered. "If we pool our resources instead of trying to go at this alone, we can draw from each other. Neither one of us can afford not to at this point." 

"Anita's absence has not rendered us completely powerless. Her absence only makes us not as powerful as we have been, or could be," Jean-Claude pointed out. 

Richard shook his head. "Our powers, combined with Anita's, damn near make us invincible, and it's not as if I believe your powers and my powers are anything to scoff at. But if we continue to avoid each other, we will eventually weaken. You know that as well as I do." He moved a little closer to the master vampire. "Surely just having me next to you strengthens you. My power is not as influential on you as Anita's, but I know you can use it like you use hers. I want to use your proximity in the same way--to increase my power. That's all I'm asking." 

Jean-Claude blinked several times as he studied Richard's _expression. "And when I am in need of your proximity, will you stand by my side as well, mon ami? Will you let me take from you what I need to best my opponents?" 

Nodding readily, Richard openly poured his power over the vampire beside him and drew Jean-Claude's power back into himself. "That's only fair," he whispered. He raised his hand tentatively and offered it to Jean-Claude. "Feel it, Jean-Claude. This is what we have to give one another. If we combine our strength, our individual powers double. We can put a stop to these challenges once and for all." 

An awed _expression settled over the master vampire's face as he took Richard's hand in his and reveled in the powers they shared.  

"Very well," Jean-Claude stated. "We will put these rumors of weakness to rest once and for all. I may not have my servant beside me, but I will have my animal to call. My pack's true Ulfric. My...friend." 

Relieved, Richard grinned and nodded. "Yes. Your friend. Finally, your friend." 

"Splendid," Asher said from across the room. "Now that we are all one big, and oh so happy family, what, specifically, would you have us do for you, as a 'show of support'?" 

The werewolf pulled free of Jean-Claude's grasp and rose to his feet, keeping his eyes fixed on the Master of the City. "I want you to come to the lupanar this Thursday. I need you to help me impress the hell out of my pack again. I have a plan in mind--a bluff, actually. I need your power, but I also need someone of your...unparalleled deviousness to pull it off." 

Flashing a toothy grin, Jean-Claude leaned back into the sofa cushions and spread his arms out along the back. "I am truly flattered, but your wolves will not appreciate my presence there, Richard." 

"My enemies won't like it, but that's the point," Richard went on. "My wolves are your wolves too, Jean-Claude. You will be there by my personal invitation. Maybe, with a blatant display of our solidarity, my opposition will think twice and back down. Maybe I can stop the bloodshed before it begins." 

"How very conscientious of you, mon ami," Asher proclaimed somewhat sarcastically. "If your wolves confront you, you are deluding yourself thinking there will be no bloodshed. Especially with an army of vampires by your side. No matter how much power we exude, we'll be the first ones your revolutionaries attack...beside yourself, of course." 

Richard shook his head and started pacing a small circle beside the sofa. "That's why I don't want anyone with me but Jean-Claude. He is their master as much as I am. They wouldn't dare try anything with him. I'm not asking him or his minions to fight my battles. I only want his support--his power behind me. If he comes to my lupanar with a hoard of vampires, it'll send out the wrong message. I don't want it to look like a declaration of war. Besides, I can't vouch for the safety of any other vampires." 

Asher was beside Richard in the blink of an eye. Like a flag in the wind, his power unfurled from him with an almost audible snap and made Richard unintentionally step back.  

"No," Asher hissed. "He is not going alone. Don't be foolish." 

"Asher," Jean-Claude said. His voice was deep with unspoken warning. 

The blonde vampire turned to face him, his eyes flashing with anger. "You cannot be seriously considering it," he spat, then faced Richard accusingly. "You would risk his life so ignorantly for your principles?" 

Richard leaned closer to Asher and lowered his voice soothingly. "He'll be with me. I'm not going to let anything happen to him." If he couldn't reassure Asher, he stood a good chance of losing Jean-Claude's faith in him as well. 

Asher spun away from him and knelt entreatingly at Jean-Claude's feet. "Jean-Claude, please." He placed his hands on his friend's thighs and looked up at him anxiously. "Despite Richard's assurances, you could be putting yourself directly in the line of fire. If a challenge is issued, there will be blood spilled. And then he will be far too busy fighting for his own life to look after you. If you want to show power, then do it. Call your vampires. Bring them with you. Surely, the sight of hundreds of vampires will deter his malcontents from acting irrationally far better than you alone could." 

"I will not be alone. Richard will be with me. It's not my power as much as our power we need to show." Jean-Claude reached out and stroked Asher's hair. "You were the one who so adamantly encouraged me to help him," he pointed out and sighed heavily.  

"I would not have said anything if I knew I'd be compromising you." 

With a slight shrug of his shoulders, Jean-Claude grimaced. "The very first time I used my power on a pack of wolves, I was entirely alone and far less powerful than I am now. But I still controlled them. I touched their minds and spoke to them. I eased their fears. They were ready to kill for me before the night was through."  

Asher leaned into Jean-Claude's hand and closed his eyes. "These are not merely wild wolves, mon ami." 

"I am very aware of that, Asher," Jean-Claude replied. "But it makes no difference. Richard is right. His wolves are my wolves. They will kill for me if I command them to. Or they will give their lives to defend me." He dropped his hand, and peered up at Richard, but continued addressing Asher. "His ideals may be somewhat naive, but if we are to make this triumvirate truly work, we must strengthen our bond and spread the power base equally. I cannot rely solely on Anita's power to support me, and neither can he rely solely on her to support him. We must use each other as well. This will be a true test, not only of our connective power, but of our newly forged friendship as well." He paused and faced Asher again, his _expression softening. "I must show him I trust him, don't you see? Or how can I ever ask him to trust me?" 

Realizing the futility of his pleas, Asher stood up and shook his head forcefully. "This is wrong," he said to Jean-Claude before turning once more to Richard. "You're wrong." He strode past the werewolf, brusquely bumping his shoulder, and continued towards the hall. 

Richard looked at Jean-Claude, but the master vampire made no move to stop his friend's departure. Now Richard felt inclined to try to stop him. Despite the way Asher flirted with him, Richard knew the tall blonde vampire was in love with Jean-Claude. His fear for his safety was understandable and made Richard's heart go out to him. He couldn't let Asher just leave, knowing how upset he was.


"Asher! Wait!" Richard called and held his breath. He was relieved to see the vampire stop to hear him out. Richard cleared his throat. He was feeling more than a little emotional at the moment.  

"Asher, I swear to you," Richard continued, walking slowly towards him. "I won't let anything happen to him. I will give up my life to defend him if need be, and he won't have to take my mind for me to do it." 

Asher slowly turned to face the Ulfric and forced a thin smile. "As it should be, mon ami. After all, you are his animal to call." He stared piercingly at Richard, letting his startlingly pale blue eyes speak volumes of discontent, before continuing on out of the living room, and disappearing into the hall. 

"I'm sorry, Jean-Claude," Richard murmured, feeling suddenly deflated. He gnawed his lower lip and furrowed his brow. "I didn't mean to pit Asher against you. I'm trying hard not to be selfish. I don't want to endanger you or your vampires or my wolves. I'm actually trying to save lives."  

Taking a deep breath, Richard finally pivoted around and looked at Jean-Claude, still reclining casually on the couch. The master vampire's face was completely void of _expression and Richard couldn't help but wonder what was going through his mind, if perhaps he was reconsidering.  

"You look like you're miles away, Jean-Claude," he stated quietly. "Let me guess. New Mexico?" 

Jean-Claude glanced up at him and offered him a congenial smile. "To be truthful," he began, his smile widening, "I was merely wondering what to wear." 


Standing a short distance from the ancient throne which served as the focal point of the Thronnos Rokke Clan's lupanar, Jean-Claude looked past the assembly of werewolves gathered before him to the shadows of steep hills beyond the clearing. He then gazed up into the night sky at the crescent-shaped moon nestled among a dazzling array of glittering stars. 

With Jamil and Shang-Da at his left side, Sylvie on his immediate right, Richard took his place on the throne. Jason stood beside the black curtain behind the throne, keeping his eyes determinedly on Jean-Claude. Despite the fact Jason was a young werewolf Richard had personally mentored, Jason was here tonight for Jean-Claude, not his Ulfric. In many ways, Jason belonged more to the master vampire than he did to Richard. Tonight, that arrangement might prove beneficial, so Richard was not about to begrudge Jean-Claude the young wolf's loyalty.  

Richard's attention was divided between watching Jean-Claude's silent scrutiny of the moon, and the packs' agitated rustling. On any other night, most of the lukoi would be up in arms by now over the inexplicable delay of the meeting, but tonight, the pack stood before their Ulfric, merely watching and waiting.


The wolves' wary, inquiring eyes shifted from their Ulfric to the master vampire in their midst. As expected, Jean-Claude's presence had both unnerved and excited them, but there were none of the usual aggressive displays or angry outbursts Richard had anticipated Jean-Claude's presence might have provoked. In fact, it seemed the vampire's presence was actually deterring it--but with power, not intimidation or awe. 

There was no doubt in Richard's mind each individual pack member could feel his increased power tonight and had rightly attributed it to Jean-Claude. Jean-Claude's link with the lukoi and Richard, enhanced their links to each other. Richard had never felt this kind of unity with his pack, even when using Anita's power. The fact the wolf was Jean-Claude's animal probably had something to do with that. Richard could combine his power with Jean-Claude's in a precise, perfect blend that touched the lukoi on a different plane. That combined power flowed throughout the lupanar in a permeating wave, tying them all together as a single entity made up of many harmonious powers and one collective mind. 

He knew it gave the wolves the same sense of unity he felt, and served to strengthen their own powers. Apparently, for the time being, they were too preoccupied with soaking it all in to be 'up in arms' about anything. 

Jean-Claude was still staring up at the moon. Richard turned his gaze towards the moon as well and his mind immediately flashed on a darkened wood of poplars and wild ash trees that was at once both familiar and unfamiliar to him. The forest's floor was thick with fallen black limbs and decaying yellow leaves. They crunched beneath the paws of several large gray wolves as the animals paced to and fro. Richard could see the wind ruffling their fur, hear their excited whines, and smell each individual wolf's musky, gamey scent. In the sliver of light from that crescent moon, a man's slender, pale hand extended towards them, palm upward in offering. A small cloud of breath billowed from his parted lips in the sharp coldness of the night as the wolves rushed forward to greet him. The sensuous sound of Jean-Claude's distinctive laughter filled the air. 

Richard quickly looked back at the master vampire in front of him. Slowly, as if sensing his gaze, Jean-Claude peered over his shoulder at the Ulfric and smiled astutely. It made Richard wonder if he had purposefully shared that memory with him. 

"I see many new faces," Jean-Claude told him. He made a sweeping gesture with his hand over the assembled werewolves. "The pack has grown. There are some here I have yet to meet." 

Gazing out at the lukoi, Richard realized how true the vampire's statement was. The pack had grown so fast since he'd become Ulfric, even he didn't know everyone on a close personal basis yet. He was hoping Jean-Claude could use this time before the meeting began to bond with the pack. If they knew who, and what, he was to them exactly, it might sway their loyalty in the right direction when the time came.  

"Do you want me to formally introduce you?" Richard asked Jean-Claude, with a shrug of inquiry.


Jean-Claude shook his head slowly. "There is no need for formality," he responded, dispelling the notion with a quick wave of his hand. "But an introduction would be nice." 

Richard stood up. All eyes were immediately drawn to him. He cleared his throat. 

"For those of you who may have been sleeping under a rock for the past three years," the Ulfric began facetiously, "this esteemed person standing beside me, is Jean-Claude. He is the Master of the City. He is your master, as I am your master. We are his animal to call." Richard glanced over at the vampire. "Jean-Claude and I are one person tonight. If any one of you tries to harm him in any way, it will count as an act of agression against me personally, your Ulfric, and will be a challenge to my authority. Hear this, all of you. I will not hesitate to punish...or even kill, anyone who causes him injury." Richard paused to scan the startled faces peering up at him. "I'm not speaking metaphorically either. What harms Jean-Claude harms me as well and vice versa."


"How is that possible?" someone asked to his left.  

Richard recognized one of his newer members. "Jean-Claude and I are part of a triumvirate of power. Both of us share our power with Anita Blake, your lupa, in a forged, metaphysical link." 

"How does it work?" another voice called out.  

Richard didn't see who it was, but turned and faced the direction the inquiry came, then peered over at Jean-Claude. "You could probably explain it better than I could," he stated.  

The master vampire smiled, but shook his head. "You're doing just fine. Keep going." 

Richard frowned briefly, then continued. "The triumvirate lets us draw power from each other to increase our own. Liken this exchange of power to a river current, running back into the same sea which fed it at a different geographical point." The Ulfric licked his lips nervously and looked back at Jean-Claude for reassurance.  

The vampire merely nodded. "That is the way a triumvirate should work anyway," he added, flatly. 

Richard sighed and faced the lukoi once more. "Jean-Claude has graciously consented to share his power directly with me from now on. Before, I've only tapped into his power through Anita. I'm sure many of you can feel the affects Jean-Claude's direct power has on mine." 

There was a low murmuring among the pack as they commented on that aspect with each other. Richard saw Stephan heading towards him and gave him his undivided attention. 

Stephan knew Jean-Claude personally. He worked at Guilty Pleasures and served as one of the vampire's flunkies from time to time. So, it didn't surprise Richard when the young werewolf directed his question at Jean-Claude.  

"But why are you here, Master? Physically here, tonight?" Stephan began hesitantly, as if unsure he was allowed to question Jean-Claude about such things.  

The vampire's eyes flicked to Richard's briefly with unspoken inquiry, before answering Stephan's question. "Proximity to each other enhances our power even more," Jean-Claude replied ambiguously, clasping his hands behind his back unobtrusively.  

The look on Stephan's face told Richard that wasn't the answer he was hoping for, but Richard was grateful Jean-Claude did not reveal their intent for the evening. Richard stepped forward and held up his hands. 

"Just know this," he declared. "Jean-Claude has agreed to be here tonight because having him close to me increases my power, just like he said. Exactly why he is here, is between Jean-Claude and myself. The meeting will begin shortly. We shouldn't have too much longer to wait." With that, Richard resumed his place on the throne and took a deep steadying breath.


Out of the corner of his eye, Richard spied a woman making her way to the front of the pack. It was one of the newer members of the Thronnos Rokke Clan, Paris. Richard couldn't help but notice she was wearing a flimsy white blouse so sheer he could make out every detail of her white lace brazier, and red capri pants so tight, they left little to the imagination. Richard tried not to stare at her, but she was a very attractive woman and she knew it.  

Paris liked to think her position in the pack was above that of her true status because she believed Richard was attracted to her, and therefore, her opinions mattered far more than they actually did. 

Richard would admit to finding her intriguing, and too often tolerated the prerogatives she thought that gave her, but he also found her utterly irritating at times. Now, as she continued forward, smiling with a cloying sweetness and bearing a single long-stemmed rose in her perfectly manicured hands, Richard shook his head subconsciously. He had enough things to deal with tonight without having to fend off Paris, but as it turned out, Paris wasn't approaching him after all. Her sights were fixed on the vampire standing rather inconspicuously on the fringe of the assembly. Well, as inconspicuous as Jean-Claude could be, Richard noted, in black leather and crepe. 

Jean-Claude turned his attention fully on Paris as she came to stand before him.


"There was a rumor circulating that you might be here tonight, Jean-Claude," Paris began in a soft, coy voice, respectfully keeping her head bowed. "I've always wanted to meet you, but have never had the chance to before. My name is Paris." She curtseyed rather melodramatically and then extended her hand, offering the vampire the white rose she held. "May I personally welcome the Master of the City to our lupanar."


As Jean-Claude accepted the rose from her, Paris looked up at him and smiled. 

"How thoughtful of you, Paris, to welcome me so intimately," the vampire replied in a sultry, breathy voice. "I speak of intimacy because I have quite a penchant for roses, did you know? And because your gift speaks to me with a personal language. A language of the heart." He paused and studied the flower with a savory finesse. "A white rose is symbollic of passion. How appropriate your choice...for I can tell you are a passionate woman." He brushed the rose petals across his lips, inhaling its fragrance deeply, then reached down and trailed the rose bud slowly over Paris' flushed cheek. "Merci beaucoup, ma cherie." The vampire layed the rose carefully on the smooth stone at the top of the back of the throne. 

Richard rolled his eyes, finding it hard to believe women really responded to that kind of condescension. When he looked out at the mesmerized faces of the women in his pack, however, he realized not only did they respond to it, they reveled in it. Exuding his charm, Jean-Claude had cast a spell over them as effortlessly as if he'd used his vampiric powers. With Paris, Richard could almost understand, but how Jean-Claude had ever gotten Anita to fall in love with him using so much drivel, was one of those unanswerable mysteries of the universe that would forever plague mankind.  

Thoroughly enchanted, Paris batted her eyes and took a deep, ragged breath before turning somewhat reluctantly to face Richard.  

"Won't you tell us why Jean-Claude graces us with his presence tonight, my Ulfric?" she addressed him, her voice seductively dropping an octave.  

Normally Paris' efforts were spent on Richard. His lupa was A.W.O.L. and Paris was ambitious, to say the least. What she hoped to gain from currying favor from the vampire, Richard couldn't say.  

Furrowing his brow, Richard cleared his throat. "He's here because I wanted him here," he stated, a little more harshly than he had intended. 

Unphased, Paris only smiled, reaching up to caress her cheek where Jean-Claude had touched it with the rose. She stood staring up at the vampire with blatant adoration as more of the lukoi drifted forward to greet him. The master vampire stretched out his hands, exchanging small touches and soft words with them, pouring his power over them while basking in theirs. 

Feeling inexplicably annoyed, Richard had to admit, the master vampire was suave and romantic, and some women were simply drawn to that sort of thing. Richard had just never personally seen anything to this degree before, and it made him think about Anita again. He and Jean-Claude were polar opposites, yet she claimed to love them both.


Somehow, someway, Jean-Claude had stolen half of Anita's heart and held it captive under lock and key. The only thing Richard could think of was, there must be some secretive side to Jean-Claude that only Anita knew, that Richard had yet to see. Some complex part of himself the vampire normally kept hidden away that had made her respond to him--that made her fall in love with him.  

Well, Anita loved him too, Richard told himself, as he watched Jean-Claude at the forefront of the pack, mingling with his wolves; men and women alike now.


It was hard to forget the bitter rivalry Anita's divided heart had forged between them, and even harder to actually join forces with said rival. Passing his hand over his face, Richard told himself to calm down. The rivalry was over and had been for a long time actually. But the way the lukoi interacted with Jean-Claude now filled Richard with an ironic sense of that old jealousy.  

Richard had hoped Jean-Claude could win them over this way. He would need their loyalty as much as Richard did. Jean-Claude was their master just as Richard was their master, but the wolves seemed almost eager to accept the vampire's authority over them. The look in their eyes told Richard they would die for Jean-Claude if he asked them too. It had been a long time since Richard had seen such devotion for him reflected in the eyes of his pack.  

Jean-Claude glanced over at Richard and smiled triumphantly. It suddenly occurred to Richard that perhaps that was the point of this patronal display. Perhaps Jean-Claude was trying to teach him a lesson.  

"Jean-Claude," Richard called out, swallowing down his suddenly flaring temper. "Enough already. Back off." 

The master vampire faced Richard again, surprise flickering in his dark eyes. "Whatever do you mean, mon ami?" Jean-Claude replied quietly, reschooling his _expression into one of complete guilelessness. "I seek only to soothe and commune with them. It is within my right to do so. Their animals recognize me and respond to my power."  

Richard rose to his feet and was standing before the vampire in the blink of an eye. "You heard me," he said through gritted teeth. "You've proven your point. I see how they submit to you." He grabbed Paris and hauled her away from Jean-Claude despite her hiss of protest, dispersing the others with a forceful wave of his hand. "They're responding to your power all right. Look at these women. They're ready to fall down and worship you."  

Jean-Claude fought a smile. "I can assure you, I have done nothing supernatural to cause that," he confessed with a smug arrogance, placing his hand over his heart to emphasize his earnestness.  

Richard fought the urge to reach out and grab him by the throat. That kind of aggression would certainly shatter any pretense of an alliance he had hoped to project to the pack, but it was tempting. Besides, he never said anything about him hurting Jean-Claude.


"Enough is enough. Whatever you're doing. Stop it now."  

Slowly, the master vampire turned away from the lukoi and focused on Richard. "Why are you so...offended by what I have done?"  

Biting his lower lip to keep from saying what he truly wanted to say, Richard leaned closer to Jean-Claude. "These are people. Don't treat them like animals."  

Jean-Claude narrowed his eyes slightly and frowned. "Oh, but half of them are animals, mon ami. Just as you are half an animal. You deal readily enough with their human halves while choosing to ignore the animal inside them. That kind of policy will never work with werewolves." He paused and gestured out at the assembly. "You must recognize both the person and the animal."


So this was a lesson after all. Richard closed his eyes and counted to ten before replying. Unfortunately, he didn't feel any calmer when he reached ten. "Listen to me," he glowered at the vampire. "I'll deal with my pack in my own way, thank you. I will lead them, Jean-Claude. Me. Not you."


"Then lead them, Richard," Jean-Claude snapped back. He shifted his weight to one leg and planted his hands on his hips letting his posture convey his frustration and confusion at Richard's fractious behavior. 

Richard shook his head forcefully. "I won't let you take my pack from me like you took...." He abruptly stopped, but knew he had already given himself away. He turned and stalked back to the throne. He dropped into it and roughly massaged his eyes. 

At first, Jean-Claude looked genuinely startled, then he purposefully softened his _expression, and walked slowly over to Richard. He moved to stand directly in front of the throne and bowed his head.  

"Is that what this is all about, mon ami?" the vampire inquired, his voice barely audible. 

Richard started to deny it, but then looked up into Jean-Claude's eyes and felt his resolve slip away. There was a quiet comprehension in the vampire's steady gaze that made Richard ashamed of the ill-will he still harbored towards him. He nodded reluctantly, swallowing down the uncomfortable thickness in his throat. 

"Maybe," he confessed and quickly looked away. 

With a theatrical flourish, Jean-Claude dropped to one knee in front of the wolf king, which drew a collective gasp from the assembled lukoi, as well as Richard.  

"I will not take your wolves from you, my Ulfric," he began, keeping his voice soft and toneless. "We share them...as we unavoidably share many things which make us more alike than I know you would prefer." 

"Like our powers?" Richard concluded hesitantly, not sure where this conversation was going or what point the vampire was trying to make. He was still too shocked by Jean-Claude's little show of submission in front of the pack.  

Raising his eyes, Jean-Claude smiled up at Richard, and shook his head slightly. "I was speaking of our love for Anita. We share that and something else. Or have you forgotten, mon ami? We share her rejection. Anita has banished me from her life as thoroughly as she has banished you."  

A shadow of pain darkened the master vampire's eyes, and in that instant, Richard knew how much Jean-Claude loved Anita. He had always believed Jean-Claude was simply infatuated with her, and only professed to love her, so he could utilize her power. Richard had never truly believed the vampire really loved her as he did. And clearly Jean-Claude was just as hurt by what she had done, as he was. Something else they shared, Richard noted dismally. 

"I'm sorry," Richard murmured. "I tend to get a little overly possessive sometimes, as I'm sure you know." 

"I know." 

Richard sighed heavily and forced a smile. "Next time just tell me to stop being such an ass and face the fact we're in this together, like it or not." 

Jean-Claude cocked his head. "I would not put it quite so crudely." He smiled again, then rose fluidly to his feet and resumed his place behind the throne. 

A ragged snarl suddenly cut into the ensuing silence. "I don't believe this!" an angry voice rang out from the assembled lukoi. "What is he doing here? How many more outsiders do you plan to saddle us with, my Ulfric?" 

Richard and Jean-Claude turned as one to face the figure pushing his way to the front of the pack. Richard tensed with recognition.  

Now the meeting could begin. Jacob had finally arrived. The proverbial thorn in Richard's side. Jacob contested and disagreed with Richard on nearly everything he proposed. He was far from declaring himself Fenrir, but he was splintering the pack in two, pulling those down with him who shared his disenchantment. If Richard couldn't rein them in, Jacob would try to stir his supporters to revolt without having to challenge Richard directly himself. But if Richard got in his way tonight, there would be a challenge issued, and Richard would be the one to issue it. If he really got what he wanted tonight, the mere threat of a challenge would keep a real challenge from being declared.  

Jacob's aggression seemed to fill the air, skewering the flow of power which had unified the pack moments before. His power pelted everyone close to him, and several of the werewolves immediately began to shift. Deep growls and piercing howls soon split the night air. The ones who remained in human form shouted and snarled and grumbled in as gutteral a language as their lupine counterparts. The pack physically split in two, many rallying around Jacob as if he were their risen savior. Many rushed forward in a surge of emotion, waving their arms and gesturing to stress complaints lost in the swelling tide of noise. 

Wearily, Richard looked up at Sylvie who immediately stepped forward, raising her hands for the pack's attention.  

"Quiet down!" she shrieked at the top of her lungs. "You'll get your turn to speak in time!" She managed to quiet the wolves directly in front of her who turned to hush the ones behind them. When silence had fallen on two thirds of the pack, Sylvie tried again. "Let's have order! Your Ulfric wishes to speak!" 

Richard raised his hand, effectively bringing a noticeabley higher degree of silence over the lukoi.  

"I realize some of you are new to this pack," Richard began, carefully keeping his voice level, but still projecting it across the clearing. "We do things a little differently here, a little more democratically than what you're used to probably. Remember what I said earlier about challenging my authority? Well, tonight, I propose we vote on whether that kind of defiance be dealt with as a formal challenge. Are we agreed?" 

"You call this a democracy?" Jacob grumbled, pacing a short distance from the throne. "Did I miss the vote about letting a vampire in our midst? When was this decided? Tell the truth, Richard. We only vote on matters you do not want to take responsibility for."  

"Do you have something against vampires, Jacob?" Richard taunted and sat forward as something suddenly occurred to him. Would he be talking about Jean-Claude in such a derisive tone if he knew who he was exactly? Or was he really that audacious? "Are you aware of who he is?" 

"I know who he is and I know who he isn't," Jacob muttered. "You're Ulfric here, Richard. Why do you think you need the likes of him beside you?" 

He was that audacious, Richard concluded and sat back. He licked his lips before answering.  

"If you're so certain I'm Ulfric, Jacob, why are you belittling my attempts to lead democratically? Voting on proposals allows everyone to have an equal voice."  

Jacob sneered. "The fact that we vote at all shows you've no backbone for that throne," he shot back, his dark eyes glittering with anger. "A true Ulfric tells the pack this is the way it is going to be. The only law we need is our tradition. It has served our kind for centuries. Who are you to declare it unfit?" 

Richard scowled at the werewolf, his hands balling into fists on the armrests of the ancient stone chair. "If that's the way you prefer things, why are you getting all bent out of shape about my decision to bring Jean-Claude here tonight? We didn't vote on that, as you so eagerly pointed out." 

"Like I said, we only vote on things you don't want to feel guilty about later." 

A scattered chorus of agreement sparked through the assembly of lukoi.  

Richard could hardly believe his ears. Jacob was definitely testing the limits. His power was radiating from him like a withering heat. He'd instigate a rebellion tonight, if Richard could not put a stop to it soon. 

Cool fingertips touched Richard's face on either side, gathering his long hair together behind his neck. Richard jumped slightly, somewhat startled by Jean-Claude's unexpected caress. But the power between them mingled and rose, pushing Jacob's back with a forceful shove. Richard realized the vampire was creating a physical connection to reinforce his power against Jacob, and relaxed.  

Jacob must have felt their infuence because Richard noticed he suddenly seemed to withdraw into himself and look around warily.  

Richard's confidence rose along with his power. "So tell me, Jacob, if I up and order you executed for your constant insubordination without first putting it to a vote, would that make me more Ulfric in your eyes?" He struggled to tamp down his temper and took a deep calming breath. "The old laws may have served our kind once but we're not barbarians anymore," Richard continued, addressing all of the lukoi. "We're shopkeepers and waitresses and businessmen. We don't kill our own simply because we don't agree with them. We hear each other out. We compromise. And yes, we take a vote."  

Jean-Claude tapped Richard on the shoulder. Richard turned slightly and peered up at him. The vampire subtly bent forward, keeping his eyes on Jacob who was pacing in front of him. 

"Your dissident, mon ami?" 

"How'd you guess?" Richard replied quietly. 

"A dangerous personage to keep around," Jean-Claude murmured. "I would not wait too terribly long to deal with him." 

"Hmm, my thoughts exactly," Richard grumbled and glanced at Jacob. "A bluff, Jean-Claude, that's all. No bloodshed." 

"And if your proposal succeeds and he calls your bluff? What then?" 

Richard didn't get the chance to answer Jean-Claude. Jacob was speaking again. Both the Ulfric and the Master of the City turned their attention back on him. 

"Behold," Jacob sputtered mockingly, gesturing at Jean-Claude and Richard, but clearly addressing the lukoi. "The real power behind Richard's throne revealed. The message tonight is clear. With Richard we get a package deal. Two for the price of one. Not his lupa, a human, who has all but abandoned us, not even a Geri or Freki. But a vampire who means to enslave us!" He pointed at Jean-Claude, but turned to face the lukoi. "To him we are nothing but mindless fodder, for tainted sex and supernatural blood. Is this what you want? Richard would have us ruled by a being who feeds on us!" 

Several things happened at once after Jacob's outburst. At first, the most noticeable thing was the shocked silence that fell over the lupanar as Jacob's supporters edged slowly away from him. As Richard had hoped, Jean-Claude had garnered their respect before the meeting, if not their undying devotion. They seemed to know Jacob had overstepped his bounds this time and were not about to side with him against the master vampire.  

Jason suddenly bolted forward, his eyes fixed on Jacob with murderous intent, clearly feeling the sting of a personal insult. Jamil and Sylvie sprang after him, and had to hold him back. Paris took the opportunity given her and rushed Jacob. She cursed at him and spat in his face for deriding her newfound lord and master.  

Meanwhile, Jean-Claude had stalked out from behind the throne and was now heading towards Jacob, his power swirling around him like a cold wind. Richard shot to his feet and seized the vampire by the shoulders. 

"Don't!" Richard snarled in his ear, feeling Jean-Claude's power shoot through him with the physical contact. "They're just words! Inciteful words. That's what he does. I told you that!" 

Jean-Claude raised his hand, and Richard was hit with another blast of power that made him catch his breath. His own power flared in response and crashed over Jean-Claude like an ocean wave breaching the shore.  

Jean-Claude pulled Richard's power into him, his body shuddering as he did. He stood staring sightlessly for the span of a few heartbeats as he allowed himself time to adjust to the melding of such force. Then he faced Richard with eyes that had bled to a solid fiery darkness. 

Richard slowly released the master vampire and moved to stand beside him.  

"Jean-Claude, please," Richard entreated, a little breathlessly, as he struggled to ride the power as well. "You have a right to be pissed, but don't kill him." 

The vampire took a deliberate, menacing step forward and smiled when Jacob gave him ground. 

"That's better," Jean-Claude whispered thickly. He glanced back at Richard and shook his head. "Do not fret, mon ami. I will not take someone's life for just committing a mere faux pas," he assured. His deep velvety voice was laced with sarcasm. "After all, that is not the way of your pack, but I do believe a little discipline is in order."  

Jacob paled as Jean-Claude turned his attention back on him. He seemed to know he was in deep trouble this time. Everytime Jean-Claude stepped closer to him, he took another step back. Jacob narrowed his eyes and growled low in his throat at the vampire.  

"Don't you dare hurt him, Jacob," Richard growled back, his mind readily recalling his pledge to Asher. "You hurt him, I'll kill you. You even try to hurt him, and that will be considered a challenge to my authority, which we will be voting on whether or not to make that kind of challenge dealt with like a real one. So either way, you're dead." Richard motioned sharply to Shang-Da and Stephan, who were standing on either side of him. They seized Jacob by the arms and dragged him up before the vampire.  

Richard noticed three of Jacob's staunchest supporters were moving forward to aid their friend. The Ulfric wasted no time in intercepting them. He grabbed the wolf closest to him by the forearm and wrenched it behind his back, driving him to the ground on his knees in front of him. He pushed him forward into the other two who caught him and quickly pulled him away. 

"I mean it, damn it!" Richard snarled. "If any of you so much as scratch him, I'll kill you!" He gestured back at Jean-Claude. "He has every right to exact punishment on Jacob. Jean-Claude does not tolerate the kind of disrespect I have put up with time and time again. Well, this is the end of it. I'm not putting up with it anymore either."  

The Ulfric turned and went to Jacob's side to address him, and pressed his shoulder up against Jean-Claude's arm for physical contact. He pulled the vampire's power back over his own, and sent it raining down on the hapless werewolf before him to help emphasize his point.  

"I am your master and Ulfric. You need to start recognizing authority, Jacob, whether you like who wields that authority over you or not. Jean-Claude is your master as well. You are his animal. Accept that fact and give him what he wants."  

Jacob shook his head, fixing his eyes on his Ulfric in desperation. "Please, please," he begged over and over again. "Stop him, Richard. Don't let him bite me!" He screamed suddenly as if overwhelmed by the thought and struggled harder against his captors. "Don't let him bleed me!"  

Richard knew Jean-Claude was doing 'something' to Jacob by the way the vampire's power was flowing around him, but was hesitant to try to stop him. He had to admit, it was good to see someone as powerful as Jacob cowering and begging for mercy for a change. Jean-Claude wasn't really harming Jacob, just bullying him in a way Richard personally never would. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad for the pack to think of Jean-Claude as the 'power behind the throne'. It would only help bolster Richard's bluffs if they believed he'd sic the Master of the City on them if they gave him too much trouble. 

"Jean-Claude," Richard said, folding his arms across his chest in an attempt to appear casual. He waited until the master vampire looked at him before continuing. "Don't bleed him, okay?" Richard noticed his eyes were back to normal, but he still looked intimidating. Jacob's fear was a thick bitterness in the back of Richard's throat.


Jean-Claude nodded. "As you wish," he consented, but not before facing Jacob and licking his full lips with a decided savor. "Be still now. I've no intention of hurting you."  

He reached up and stroked the side of Jacob's face, but Jacob flinched at his touch, looking like he was being attacked more than caressed. He struggled against the wolves who held him again, trying to break free of their grasp. The vampire admonishingly clucked his tongue at him, and took ahold of the back of his neck to keep him still. 

"Why are doing this?" Jacob gasped, leaning as far away from the vampire as he could.  

Jean-Claude rubbed his thumb over Jacob's cheek. "I know you meant to insult me," he duly informed him. "But instead, you have insulted my pomme de sang--which I find far more offensive." He paused and glanced back at Jason, who was still being subdued by Jamil and Sylvie in front of the throne. Jean-Claude took a deep, measured breath. "Jason means much more to me than what you have so crudely implied. You will apologize to him now to make amends." The vampire signaled to Stephan and Shang-Da to release Jacob. They did, and Jean-Claude immediately drew him forward.  

Growling, Jacob tried to push away from him. He turned his face to the side, determined not to look the vampire in the eye if he could help it. 

"And if I don't?" Jacob snarled. "Everything I said was true, you can't deny it!" 

Jean-Claude smiled, as if pleased to be given another opportunity to show his nefarious side. He wrapped his arm around Jacob's back and crushed the werewolf against him. Then he slid his fingers through Jacob's hair and jerked his head back, exposing the long, line of his bare neck.  

Jacob blanched; his terror, combined with Jean-Claude and Richard's consolidated powers, held him all but paralyzed in the vampire's arms. 

Seeing this, Richard almost told Jean-Claude to release Jacob, but forced himself to let the vampire finish what they'd started.  

"If you do not wish to make amends, I cannot force you," Jean-Claude continued softly. "But know this, my wolf. I may not be allowed to taste of you this night, but there will be other nights my hunger will burn. One of those nights, I will seek you specifically to slake my thirst, and I will take no measures to make it pleasant. Do you understand?" He smiled again, this time purposefully flashing his fangs. As Jacob squirmed in his arms, Jean-Claude leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "Best to just apologize now and put it all behind you."  

"I'm sorry!" Jacob hissed through his teeth.  

"Not to me," Jean-Claude stressed with feigned exasperation. He all but threw Jacob at the foot of the throne in front of Jason. "Him." 

Jacob landed heavily on his knees and wisely chose to stay there. He glanced up at Jason hesitantly and shook his head.  

"I'm sorry, Jason. I'm sorry, all right?" He paused and squeezed his eyes shut tight as if apologizing was actually painful. "I wasn't talking about you specifically...I swear it." Jacob's body unclenched, and he exhaled forcibly as if in relief. He slumped against the ground and cradled his head in his hands.  

Richard glanced questioningly over at Jean-Claude, who stood staring down at the errant wolf passively. Chills rippled down Richard's spine and he felt his power settle over him again with an unnaturally cold rush of air. Whatever the vampire had been doing to Jacob, he had apparently stopped. 

Nodding his acceptance of Jacob's apology, Jason glanced up at Jean-Claude with unspoken gratitude, and shrugged out of Jamil's grasp.  

Jean-Claude nodded benevolently back at him, and stepped around Richard to resume his place behind the throne.  

That seemed to be everyone's cue to go back to where they were moments before. Richard slumped into the throne with relief and dragged his hand roughly through his hair.  

Jacob climbed shakily to his feet and pushed his way back among the other pack members. 

Richard motioned Jean-Claude closer, and the vampire readily leaned towards him. "That worked even better than what we had planned," Richard relayed quietly. "He played right into our hands." 

Jean-Claude nodded. "Yes, I believe we put on a rather effective demonstration of our new alliance. If anyone chooses to defy your authority in the near future, I will be very surprised." He lifted Paris' rose from the back of the throne and sniffed it delicately. Something in the distance seemed to catch the vampire's eye, and he looked up into the black hills surrounding the clearing. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "If you feel you are no longer in need of my service, mon ami, I think I will take my leave of you." 

Richard followed Jean-Claude's gaze into the hills and spied a solitary figure, barely visible in the thick shadows of the craggy rocks. The figure moved and a single sliver of moonlight fell upon his hair. With that flash of gold, Richard knew it was Asher. He sighed heavily. 

"How long has he been up there?" he asked Jean-Claude. 

"All night," the vampire replied.  

Richard recalled how Jean-Claude had been staring into the hills before the meeting. 

"Of course," Richard replied. "You wouldn't let him be with you tonight, but he couldn't stay away either. He cares about you too much." 

"Yes," Jean-Claude answered softly, carefully keeping his face free of _expression. "I know." His eyes brightened as he turned his gaze back on Richard. "He cares about you as well. He's been watching over both of us tonight." 

Richard couldn't help but smile at the thought, but forcefully shook his head. "He's there because he loves you. He lusts after me." 

Jean-Claude regarded the Ulfric with an amused look. "You are rather handsome, mon ami. What do you expect?" 

"Yeah, so he keeps telling me." Scowling with feigned indignation, Richard held up his hand and clenched it into a tight fist. "I'm warning you, Jean-Claude, if you don't keep him off my back, one of these nights, I'm going to slug him." 

"But Richard," the master vampire began solemnly. "I was under the impression you had yet to allow Asher on your back." 

Since his delivery was so perfectly deadpan, it took Richard a couple of heartbeats for Jean-Claude's teasing to sink in. When it did, the werewolf cringed and made a face.  

"Ah, good one. I walked right into that didn't I?" Richard said, and started to laugh. "Now I know where Asher gets it from." He gazed up at the vampire who was now grinning mischievously and felt the first real stirrings of friendship for him. This might just work out after all, he thought.  

Richard reached up and took Jean-Claude's wrist, pulling him down closer, his _expression sobering.  

"I want to thank you," he whispered in his ear. "If you hadn't made a point of acknowledging my authority, none of this would have made any difference." 

Jean-Claude shrugged. "I told you, I have no desire to take your wolves from you. You are their king. When it comes to the pack, your authority stands above mine. I would have submit to your will, even if we had not been trying to make a statement tonight." 

Richard furrowed his brow. He hadn't expected Jean-Claude to say anything like that, and it filled him with pride. He had learned a lot about the master vampire these past few days, and was beginning to get a glimpse of what it was about him that made Anita fall in love with him.  

"You know, I could do this; I could be Ulfric if I wasn't forced to shed blood all the time. If I had someone as devoted and powerful and intimidating as you for my second-in-command, like you have Asher, I wouldn't have to compromise my principles. I wouldn't have to give up my policies." Enthused now, Richard sat up a little straighter and angled his body to better face the vampire. "We didn't draw blood tonight, we didn't hurt anyone, but what we did sent a powerful message to the pack. If you could act as my enforcer--" 

Jean-Claude shook his head, cutting him off. "I am sorry, mon ami, but I have my hands full enough as it is with my vampires. Surely there is someone close to you who fits the bill." He absently toyed with the rose he held, thinking long and hard. Finally, he peered down at Richard and smiled. "Perhaps our little Anita would be interested in the job...when she finds her way back home." 

That possibility gave Richard pause. Anita, of course. Jean-Claude was right. She'd be perfect for the job. 

"Ulfric, are we ready to discuss the remaining concerns of the pack?" Sylvie inquired, breaking Richard out of his reverie. 

Richard faced her. "Yes. Yes. Of course. Let's begin." He looked out over the assembly of wolves and raised his voice slightly. "If there is anyone else who would like to challenge my authority first, let them come forward, if not, let's get down to more mundane matters." 

Of course, no one came forward. They all merely stood staring up at Richard expectantly, their eyes shifting every once and awhile to the black-clad vampire standing behind him.  

Richard turned and looked up at Jean-Claude. "Go on. Asher is waiting." 

Jean-Claude inclined his head respectfully. "Merci et bonsoir, mon ami."  

Richard nodded. "Goodnight, Jean-Claude." 

He watched as the vampire stepped towards the gathered lukoi. They parted to make way for him as he glided through their midst, reaching out and touching his wolves as he passed them by. His wolves.  

Richard noticed Jason hesitated only a moment before stepping around the throne, and following Jean-Claude. Together they made their way towards the hills beyond. 


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