Jean-Claude was led to the very back rooms of the Council chambers where most of the lesser servants and slaves
that were kept, resided. The lycanthrope guiding him, unlocked the door farthest from the stairs and ushered him inside, closing
and re-locking the door behind him.
The room was dark, heavy with shadows, and the air inside was stale and hot. It smelled strangely musty, like
old clothes or books kept away in an attic for a very long time.
Jean-Claude couldn't bring himself to believe Asher resided here now. Asher had an affinity for luxury and
loved fine things around him. He was like Jean-Claude in that respect. Of course, they had sold their townhouse before setting
out across Europe with Julianna, but Jean-Claude knew their affects had been stored in a warehouse south of the shipping docks.
He wondered why Asher had not sent for these things and used them to furnish and brighten this place. But then, deep in his
heart, Jean-Claude knew exactly why Asher did not want them. Many of the items belonged to Julianna, and to have them around
without her, more than likely proved to be too painful for Asher to withstand.
Jean-Claude licked his lips slowly and looked around. There was nothing in these rooms except for a chair,
a desk, a lamp with no oil, a crude wooden coffin, a small table, and a small wardrobe. Even the contents of that were sparse
and dreary, not at all like the wardrobe Asher normally kept. There were no canvases on the wall, no vases, or carpets. And
particularly, no bed. That in itself spoke more of Asher's present state of mind than anything else the room lacked.
Feeling as if he were suffocating, Jean-Claude went to the room's one window, and drew aside the heavy drapery.
Standing beside it momentarily to feel the cool freshness of the night breeze on his face, Jean-Claude felt it helped ease
the tension in his chest and soothed his flushed skin.
Gone. Everything was gone, Jean-Claude concluded, struck hard by the very thought. There was simply nothing
left of his dear friend, his lover, and confidante. When Julianna had died, she had taken all that was good about Asher with
her, leaving not even his heart behind. But then Asher had done the same to Jean-Claude with Julianna. He had not left him
the smallest trinket behind to remember her by. He had all but wiped her very existence off the face of the earth. Jean-Claude
had nothing of her. Nothing.
Overwrought, the vampire sought out the lone chair beside the desk and sank into it, clutching the hard wood
of the arms as if for support. His knees felt weak and his head was pounding inside the casing of his skull mercilessly. Every
beat of his heart was stabbingly painful.
It's breaking, Jean-Claude thought, placing his hand upon his chest. It must be--to hurt so profoundly. It
was that same sensation he felt when he first learned Asher had been captured and Julianna taken. It had felt this way again
when he had realized Julianna had been killed. Breaking. His heart was forever breaking now. Seeing Asher scarred so wretchedly
had broken it. And his poor beloved, left in such despair after Julianna's death, had broken it too. Now this.
Maybe this was the price he was to pay for his own inadequacies, his selfishness, and his flawed devotion.
His ultimate failure. No amount of torturous hell could exact the kind of retribution he deserved for failing the two people
in the entire world he cherished more than anything.
Perhaps, if time had looked kindly on Asher, the pain Jean-Claude was feeling would not be gripping him so
severely now. But it was clear, the steady passing of time had not healed Asher's wounds, for this was a house of mourning.
Symbolically furnished with the nothing Asher believed he had left. No hope, no peace, no love, no life.
Jean-Claude closed his eyes. In that moment, he longed to pray, pour out his heart to the god of this world,
and plead for some sort of insightful resolution to all this misery. He was becoming desperate indeed if he was actually contemplating
prayer--something he had always deemed a waste of breath. Now, more than ever, considering what he was. But then, there truly
was no where else to turn. No being left on earth who could possibly give him what he wanted more than anything. God, the
all-powerful. God, the merciful. Surely in His infinite compassion, God would open His ears to a humbled vampire's prayer.
Just this once.
"Please," Jean-Claude breathed, and nearly choked on the word. Bitterness flooded his aching heart. Had not
God's own caused all this anguish in the first place? Surely, Asher and Julianna had pleaded for mercy as they were so ruthlessly
tortured and condemned. And God, in all His reported compassion, had simply looked the other way.
The lock on the door rattled loudly in the stillness of the dark room. Jean-Claude turned towards it and rose
slowly to his feet.
Truthfully, he did not know how Asher would react to seeing him here. He hoped his friend would take one look
at him and rush into his arms, cover his face with kisses and whisper words of forgiveness and unwavering love in his ear.
Surely, he was aware that Jean-Claude still wanted and loved him. Rejected by everyone else, including Belle Morte, Asher
had no one left but Jean-Claude. Asher would not turn him away. He could not.
Asher entered. Even in the heavy shadows of the dismal room, the glint of Asher's golden hair shone like a
thousand suns in Jean-Claude's eyes. How beautiful it was, the vampire mused, those lustrous tresses of spun gold. Even more
beautiful than he remembered.
When Asher looked up at him, Jean-Claude gazed deeply into his eyes. Eyes the color of late summer skies,
or crystal-blue pools shimmering over pale stones left behind by a rippling stream.
Jean-Claude's heart ached for Asher now. He had missed him so much, he was suddenly certain he could not have
existed another moment without him. Summoning forth a tremulous smile, Jean-Claude took a deep breath and held out his arms.
"Asher," he sighed. "Mon chardonneret."
Asher did not approach him, however. Standing like a statue just inside the threshold, the tall blonde vampire
stared back at his unexpected guest at first, as if he could not believe his eyes. Then he stepped stiffly to the side of
the door, and pushed it open wider, his sky-blue eyes narrowing in undisclosed contempt.
"Get out," Asher growled.
His heart and hopes sinking, Jean-Claude slowly lowered his arms. "Asher, please."
"No!" the other vampire snapped. "You have no business being here, Jean-Claude. Now go."
"Don't do this," Jean-Claude begged. "You need me. And I am here for you."
Asher shook his head vehemently. "What could possibly make you think that? I don't need you, and I don't want
Jean-Claude bowed his head. "After all this time, you still don't want me? Not even a little?"
Moving away from the open door, Asher took a step towards the other vampire. It was more a gesture of threat
"Naturally, your supreme arrogance will not allow you to consider the possibility that in all the world there
is nothing I want less right now. But I understand. I can't ask a leopard to change its spots, now can I?" He paused
and took a deep, steadying breath. "So let me appeal to your sense of manners, and bid you to do me the courtesy of removing
yourself from these premises."
"Appeal all you want to my sense of etiquette," Jean-Claude told him, raising his eyes to Asher's once more.
"My sense of devotion to you remains steadfast, and will not let me prematurely depart under such circumstances as these."
Asher sighed. "Under what circumstances? This confrontation? To what end? If you've come seeking absolution,
my friend, you've come to the wrong place."
Jean-Claude started as though he'd been struck. "Oh, Asher," he rumbled in frustration and despair. "I did
hope for such absolution, but now I merely seek the path to it. Tell me what I can say, what I can do, for I've done everything
and nothing has convinced you." He spread his arms wide in a gesture of perplexity. "I have given you all that I can. I have
humbled myself, sacrificed myself, subjected myself to a century of cruel and incessant torture to prove my love for you,
yet your heart is still hardened against me. What more do you want from me? Just tell me and I will comply. I swear it."
Crossing his arms over his chest, Asher smiled, but it was anything but warm. "Do not try so hard to be earnest,
Jean-Claude. It does not become you. Even that impassioned plea sounds baseless and hollow in my ears." Here the blonde vampire
paused and looked away from Jean-Claude, his sneer fading and his expression turning cold. "There is nothing you can do to
give me back what you have taken. Absolutely nothing."
Jean-Claude's hand brushed against the back of the chair he stood beside. He clutched it tightly, longing
for something solid to hold onto.
"I did not take Julianna away from you," he whispered. "They took her. And they took her from me as well."
Asher suddenly screamed, covering his ears as if stricken with an excruciating pain.
"Do not speak of her to me!" he commanded. "Her name on your lips is the vilest sacrilege." He turned away
from Jean-Claude and lowered his hands. "You killed her, Jean-Claude. Just as surely as if you had lit the torch which set
Wincing visibly at the image Asher's words conjured in his mind, Jean-Claude felt the room begin to whirl
around him. He could not bear to think upon the manner in which his beloved Julianna had died. The grotesque suffering she
had been subjected to at the hands of her captors, made her death that much harder to endure. For both of them.
"I know I can never restore her to you," Jean-Claude began in a shaky voice, wrought with pain. "But I am
here to tell you, all is not lost. You still have me. For all eternity, I am yours. Let me stand beside you in this. Together,
we will mourn, and together, we will overcome this misery. Do not spurn me in your plight. I love you, Asher. I love you."
For the briefest moment, it appeared to Jean-Claude as if he had finally gotten through to Asher. The blonde
vampire turned around to face him again, his beautiful, ravaged face melting in anguish. Tears streamed from his eyes and
his bottom lip quivered ever so slightly. But then he laughed and the sound of it made the blood in Jean-Claude's veins run
cold. It was so frightening and unexpected, Jean-Claude inadvertently took a step back.
"And who are you?" Asher suddenly boomed, his voice thundering across the room, setting the meager
contents quaking in its intensity. "You offer yourself to me, to fill the gaping, festering wound you scored on my heart,
as if you are something of value--as if having you back in my life would make everything right again. Well, let me tell you
something about your pathetic attempt to appease me, Jean-Claude. You cannot begin to give me what Julianna gave me. I would
just as soon see you dead and have her left standing here, offering to mourn with me over you. That I would accept. Don't
you get it? She was worth ten of you."
At that, Jean-Claude turned away from Asher, his whole body trembling. He felt as though his legs were dissolving
beneath him and he all but collapsed against the cold stone wall. All the suffering and pain he had endured at the hands of
the Council could not compare to the torment Asher was inflicting upon him now.
Asher didn't just refuse to forgive him. Asher hated him, and that realization seized the last vestiges of
Jean-Claude's heart and shredded it beyond repair. He knew now, there was no hope of salvaging their love--a love Jean-Claude
always believed was strong enough to withstand all this tragedy. It was a belief Jean-Claude had clung to these many years.
It was the only thing that had sustained him, and now...he knew, without a doubt, Asher's love for him had died, just as Julianna
had died, leaving him with nothing and no one.
Jean-Claude started to cry. He pressed himself against the wall and cradled his face between his hands, succumbing
to wave after wave of merciless pain. There was no end to it, and his wretched thoughts only served to spur his agony on.
He believed he would never be happy again. He would never find a love so true as the one he'd lost, if he lived to be a thousand.
But then he did not want to fall in love again if even such true love waned. It hurt too much to be in love, he decided. It
hurt too much to lose it.
Asher was suddenly and unexpectedly at Jean-Claude's back. The startling sensation made Jean-Claude's breath
catch in his throat. He felt Asher's hands on his sides sliding over his ribs. He eased Jean-Claude away from the wall and
gathered him close to his body, then wrapped his arms securely around his chest. Asher placed his ravaged cheek against Jean-Claude's
face and rubbed it over his hair.
Jean-Claude's body shook harder in Asher's arms for in an instant he knew this was not a display of affection
or any attempt to console him on Asher's part. This too, was part of the torture.
"There, there, my love," Asher whispered in Jean-Claude's ear, nuzzling his cheek with his soft, warm lips.
"Do not carry on so in my behalf. The very minute you pick your pretty ass up, and step out of this room and out of my life,
you'll realize, it is all for the best. You will dust yourself off and shrug your shoulders, and go about your business as
if I didn't even exist. Because I don't exist, you see. I am just a ghost of the man I used to be." He paused to nibble on
Jean-Claude's neck, running his hands down his abdomen to his groin. "A mere figment of your imagination. A specter in your
Jean-Claude swallowed tightly and tried to shift away from Asher's hands. "Asher, don't, please," he murmured.
"I beg you. Let me go."
Asher laughed lightly. "Go. Believe me, I will not stop you. If you recall, I wanted you to go away long before
now. Go away, Jean-Claude. Go away before I kill you." His hand slithered in between Jean-Claude's legs and he laughed harder.
Jean-Claude jerked away from him, spinning around to face him. He backed up a step, but nodded determinedly.
"I will go. In fact it was my intention all along," he stated, mustering what little dignity he had left.
"I simply cannot bear it here any longer. I had petitioned for a new master some time ago, and just received word that I had
been accepted into the kiss at Chelsea, in England." He paused, his expression losing some of its resolve. "I had hoped you
would consider accompanying me, but you have made it quite clear you want nothing, whatsoever, to do with me anymore." He
shrugged, acutely aware of fulfilling Asher's prophecy in doing so. "So being, I will leave you, never to return. I do hope
you will be content in the life you have chosen for yourself. Or, at the very least, able to endure it."
Asher sneered at Jean-Claude, and issued a mocking little bow before him. "I shall, my love. I promise you
Jean-Claude edged towards the door. "...Then...good-bye, Asher."
"Good-bye to you too, Jean-Claude," the blonde vampire replied with a sarcastic congeniality.
With newfound purpose, Jean-Claude strode across the room, but then stopped just before opening the door.
He turned to look at Asher one last time.
"You will never see me again," he stated, but his tone seemed to betray his lack of conviction. He knew he
would never return, and he would never seek out Asher again, but he still hoped Asher's heart would be moved somewhat, by
the idea of never again seeing the man he had once held so dear.
Asher merely smiled. "Oh, I will see you again, Jean-Claude," he said in a low, rather ominous voice. "Someday,
when the time is right, when you have found true love again, and have become complacent and secure in your arrogant and pompous
existence, I will seek you out." He moved a little closer to Jean-Claude. "And then I will exact my revenge and take from
you what you have taken from me."
Jean-Claude raised his chin defiantly. "Then I will never fall in love again," he rumbled in reply. "Just
to spite you."
With that, he turned and walked out, feeling the very last remnants of the love he had harbored for Asher
simply up and disappear, like the brilliant light of a shooting star streaking across the sky. For a short time, it had been
breathtakingly beautiful, and it had illuminated the darkest night, but now it had burned itself out. Never to return.