The journal slips down, unnoticed, to sit in David’s lap. He stares across the room without moving, glasses slightly over-magnifying the dark figure standing in the doorway.
His historian’s mind, always present, busily catalogues all the facts he was too stunned by shock and noise and the crush of bodies to notice at the concert. That Marius still favours the elaborately-embroidered velvet he has been pictured in for centuries; that he has a scar on the back of his hand, and large plain rings on both ring-fingers; that he stands not with the predatory readiness of Lestat, but with the patient calm of a man ready to wait for the world to come to him; that he’s much shorter than David expected – the poorer nutrition of the 1st century, of course.
It is entirely the back of his mind that is taking note of this. The main part is taken up with variations on the tune of shit shit shit.
Marius walks in slowly, hands clasped behind his back and long coat billowing out. Rather than focusing on David he scans the walls as he walks with apparent interest, nodding in approval. “Yes. Yes. Just what I had imagined. And somewhere, I think, a world map. No – a globe. Age of sail – wooden.” He looks around, as if searching for it.
David motions wordlessly to the globe, partially hidden to anyone entering the room by the desk lamp. Marius cocks his head slightly, nods. “Precisely. And the paintings?”
Of course he knows they’re kept here, in David’s study, within his easy reach. Of course.
“There,” he says, pointing to the opposite side of the room. Marius turns and strides over to the wall, opening the shallow door to the atmospherically-controlled vault. He pulls the paintings out one by one, glancing at them critically.
“I always liked this one… hm, a bit clichéd, don’t you think? …Oh, I had forgotten about this… I always felt that Doni was rather overrated… This must have cost a pretty penny.” He pulls out the last of the canvases, the Cimabue, and considers it for a moment before simply nodding. It’s the rarest of them all, and he clearly knows it. “Well. Not a bad collection, all things considered.”
“There are more?” asks David, before he can stop himself. Marius turns, and meets his eye for the first time. In the low lights of the library, he looks human – betrayed by neither his skin nor eyes. And then he smiles, and the illusion is shattered. David’s heart leaps in his chest, sweat beginning to gather at the back of his neck. There is nowhere to run to, and even if there were, Marius would outpace him without effort.
“Oh, David. A rich man must find some way to pass the time. Besides, I have an eye for art. It enables me to live comfortably in the knowledge that what I buy cheaply today I will be able to sell for an embarrassing profit in a few centuries, if need be.” He crosses the faded carpet with a whisper of velvet. Marius glides smooth as a cat in long grass, shoulders never moving while his legs skate quickly over the distance between them. He stops at one of the two leather chairs provided for guests, resting a pale hand on its back for a moment before stepping around it to seat himself gracefully.
This close, David can feel the first tingling of his glamour, the innate attraction all vampires possess. It can be overcome if one is aware of it, and if the vampire chooses not to strengthen it, and David refuses to let it colour his thoughts. Refuses to be distracted by Marius’ elegance, or the pleasant tone of his voice.
“Is there really nothing you would say to me? You are a historian – this is an historic opportunity.” Marius weaves his fingers together and rests them politely on his knees, as if sitting for an interview. David can see the levity in his eyes – that this is all an act is evident, but he can’t tell where it’s leading.
“Historians are unaccustomed to meeting the objects of their study in their offices,” he replies, with all the dryness he can muster. His heart is still pounding uncomfortably hard in his chest, his palms moist and the back of his neck beginning to prickle with sweat.
Marius leans forward, eyes flashing. “Do you fear me, David?”
“Yes. Quite a lot, actually.” David is at least proud of the fact that it hardly tells in his voice.
Marius indicates the journal, still resting awkwardly in David’s lap. “Because of that?”
David runs his fingers over the cracked leather bindings, stained and weather-beaten by the passing centuries. He picks it up slowly, carefully, and places it on the desk between them. “Ought I to?”
“You know our laws, know them in my own words. In breaking them, Lestat very nearly brought doom upon us all. Old friends were lost – to both of us.”
David looks away, and his eyes catch the empty corner of the bookcase where a photograph of his apprentices used to sit. Its outline is still visible in the dust.
“Nevertheless,” continues Marius, “Lestat has shown himself to six billion humans. In light of this, I thought it would be excusable to do the same for one. I feel no compunction to erase tonight’s conversation with blood.”
“But you – at least, according to Lestat – spoke of knowing. I have known about you for a long time, Marius. As has the Talamasca.”
“Ah, the Talamasca!” Marius looks around with theatrical appreciation. “Certainly. They have watched me for centuries. ‘Observe the dark realm, but be not of it.’ Such restraint, such pragmatism! Tell me, David – does that match well with human nature?” His mocking tone takes on a sudden thoughtfulness, and David stares sharply at him.
“What do you mean?”
“Simply that the best method of winning a game is to control the cards before they are dealt.”
“And so you – founded – the Talamasca?”
Marius smiles at him as though he has done something clever. “Rich men must find ways of passing the time,” he repeats. “I gave them gold and their credo and, eventually, allowed them to learn of me.”
David cannot stop his eyebrows from rising. “So you created an ancient, multi-billion dollar organization, simply to act as your biographer. Somewhat self-absorbed, perhaps?”
“It’s always nice to know that someone, somewhere cares,” replies Marius facetiously. And then, more seriously, “Man loves secret societies – it was only a matter of time before one found us. Better to be in at the ground floor and control the agenda, I think. Finance has never been your strong point, David, but I assure you the Talamasca has always possessed amply-funded war chests with which to fight off potential rivals. Or didn’t you think it was odd that a private organization with no regular revenue stream managed to purchase your little collection?”
David shrugs as nonchalantly as he can manage. “As you said, I’m no accountant.” He is slightly calmer now, heart slow enough that he can hear himself think. And he knows with certainty that Marius didn’t come here to bait him about the Talamasca. “Why are you here?”
Marius cants his head to the side. “I told you, I was – shall we say emboldened – by Lestat. He is in many ways a child still, and foolish as one, but it does not mean that we, his elders, cannot benefit from his mistakes.”
“I’m no elder of Lestat’s,” protests David. “And to you –”
“Lestat was barely a man when he was turned, with the thoughts and passions of a headstrong youth. In the lifespan of my kind he is still hardly much more than a child. The prospect of eternity makes us slow to learn, and slower to mature. At forty, you are still the elder of Lestat at two hundred odd years. For myself – yes, the years tell. My equals are few, and grow fewer with the passing years. You are not that. But for reasons of your own, you have grown the closest to knowing, to understanding me, of anyone born in the past thousand years. So I will ask you a question in return: Why is that, David Talbot?”
His voice is low and melodious, and David can feel his face flushing with the compliments it carries. Marius’ skin is a warm honey-colour in the lamplight, his full lips – no. David blinks twice, fast, and digs his nails into his palms. The glamour recedes.
“I was searching for the original vampire. You were my first, best, link to that. To her.”
“And yet there are many better ones, and many of equal standing. But there is only one man in that vault.” He gestures absently towards the back of the room.
“Perhaps you just had better taste in artists,” says David, lightly.
“That, certainly. But it is no answer.”
“Every academic needs a subject,” begins David, but gets no further.
“Why, David?” demands Marius, smile turned small and sharp. He waits for a moment, but when David doesn’t answer he stands. He moves slowly around the desk, speaking in a low growl and sliding the tips of his fingers over the edge of the desk’s walnut surface.
“Do you think I don’t know about your little obsession? You know me better than most, and that is difficult – I am ancient. But you are not – it is no difficulty to know you. I know what you eat, when you sleep, where you shop. I know your school grades and the breed of your childhood dog and the make of your former automobiles.” He rounds the second corner but continues; David pushes his chair back, but can’t stop watching him, can’t look away.
“You learned Latin to read the inscriptions in my crypt in Messana – Mortui Vivos Docent, indeed. You flew to South Africa to investigate a possible depiction of me outside one of the old mines there – a disappointment, surely, as I was never there. You paid your own way to travel through the ancient cities of Europe when the Talamasca would not fund you – clearly I should be on the Board – to search for any sign of me in their libraries.”
He pauses, hypnotic voice falling silent for a moment. David stares up into his eyes, suddenly right there above him, and feels his thoughts leaving him. Marius licks his lips and parts them, just enough to show the tips of his fangs, and a great number slip away all at once. It should be terrifying, should send him stumbling for the door. But all David can do is stare, heart pounding in aching anticipation and skin hot beneath his several layers of clothes. His mind feels empty, a thirst for something it doesn’t know but needs echoing jarringly.
“Tell me, David,” purrs Marius, “are those the actions of a man who is just doing his job?”
“They’re – no – I – oh God…” His voice fails as Marius leans in to kiss him lopsidedly on the side of his mouth, one hand on the desk and the other on the arm of David’s chair. “I never meant –”
Marius runs his tongue up and over David’s cheekbone, brushes his teeth over his ear. “Scio mendaciis,” he whispers, harshly. “Do not pretend, or I will leave, now.”
David catches his arm, and Marius pulls away, just enough to look him in the eye. “This – I don’t want – I’m too old to live forever,” he says, for the second time that night.
Marius gives a coy smile. “Debatable. But that is not what I came tonight to offer.”
“The painting,” says David, scrambling at straws. His mouth is dry as the parchment lining his walls, face hot and breath coming fast. He can’t move, can’t even twitch, like a beetle trapped in amber. He can’t tell if it’s Marius’ gaze or his musky scent or simply his presence, but whatever it is it’s heady as a drug and his head spins with it.
“Another time, I think.” With one ankle Marius deftly pushes David’s legs apart. And then sinks, slowly, to kneel between them.
“I don’t – the office,” he makes one last bid for sanity, in complete opposition to his rapidly-hardening prick.
“I believe that I own it.” Marius, unconcerned, unbuckles his belt. “The benefit of keeping your job without the moral quandary of sleeping with your boss,” he announces in a generous tone.
“No, just the undead,” says David, faintly. Then Marius is pulling his cock out of his trousers, and he can’t do anything but groan.
He nearly comes as Marius takes him in his mouth, biting his lip until he fears it will bleed and shivering, spine arching against the pleasure thrumming up it. Marius goes slowly, teasing with his tongue all the way down to the root until the tip brushes against the back of his throat – David closes his eyes and moans, hips twitching of their own accord. Each thrust is rewarded with just a hint of contact, just enough to tease but not satisfy. He twists his hips and angles his movements, searching desperately for more. David opens his eyes to see Marius grinning up at him with amusement in his eyes – he damns him in a hoarse voice, and Marius just grins wider and bobs his head so that the tip of his prick rams against the back of Marius’ throat and –
David comes, panting roughly, hands clutching the arms of his chair so tightly he can’t feel his fingertips.
Marius pulls back, wiping his mouth primly on the back of his hand. “I like you, David. No wild screams, no entreaties.” He rises slowly, slipping out of his long coat as he stands, and reaches out to pull off David’s glasses. “I will enjoy pulling them from you.”
“That may take some time,” says David, with all the aplomb he can manage – not much.
Marius pushes aside Lestat’s journal and half-perches himself on the desk. “I believe,” he says, as he draws David up to stand in front of him with one hand while undoing his trousers with the other, “that will not be a problem.”
David, who has dedicated nearly twenty years to this pursuit, is inclined to agree.
Later: “And why in the seven hells are you driving a Fiat? Buy yourself something decent – you can afford it. And if not, I’ll have a word with the Director about your salary.”
ACTUALLY THE END