The original dedication of this story has been removed.
In its place I would like to dedicate this story to all my readers who love truly, freely, and most importantly, unconditionally.
This, my friends, is for you.
“He was caught performing marriage rites?”
“Yes, Excellency. He performed three unions before he was taken into custody.”
Claudius Gothicus, the Master of the City-State of Orlando, gazed at his most trusted advisor. His cold, pale face was as unreadable in undeath as it had been in life. Julius fixed his gray eyes at the corner of Claudius’s sensuous mouth; he never met the master vampire’s eyes. Claudius’s power filled the room and spilled down the corridor like a drink that had been overpoured. Julius shivered as the excess energy sent a billion tiny insects marching over his skin. Before he even realized he’d done it, Julius dropped to his knees, rested his head on Claudius’s lap, and draped his arms around his master. Claudius pushed his fingers into Julius’s thick silver hair, carding it back from his strong, stunning face. The low growl that trickled up out of his throat was one of sheer contentment.
The Alpha Were turned his head and looked up the long, hard line of Claudius’s body to his harshly beautiful face. Not all vampires were attractive. Some were quite ordinary while others were downright hideous in their grotesquery. Claudius hailed from a time of proud men with strong bone structures, and he had been a handsome man in life. Long, long ago sculptors created busts of his likeness and had his reign lasted longer there would’ve been coins to commemorate his visage.
History had once believed him dead after a two-year reign of military conquest, lost to smallpox in the year 270, not an uncommon fate for somebody born in 213 AD. The truth was very different. Claudius Gothicus, once emperor of
, became a vampire. Nearly 1900 years later he was still an emperor, still beautiful, and still on the path of his next conquest. Julius loved him with feverish devotion and would’ve gladly given his life to see his master truly happy. Rome
“The sentence for directly disobeying my orders is death. Why was he taken into custody and not killed?” Claudius didn’t sound angry, merely curious as he continued to pet and stroke Julius’s wavy silver hair. Julius nuzzled Claudius’s leg, rubbing his face against the soft brushed fabric of the very expensive designer trousers Claudius wore.
“Prior to the fall of the
, Valentinus was a priest of high rank, Excellency. He has a great deal of power. Given our current situation in the war with Yannakis I thought…” Vatican
Claudius disengaged from Julius, much to his wolf’s dismay, and rose in one fluid motion. He crossed the room to a set of double doors. Sliding them open, he entered his war room and strode over to the old-style topography map that covered several large tables. Die cast pewter figurines representing his current military regiments lay spread out to mark all his current skirmishes and engagements.
Marked in bold red, the current boundaries of the City-State of Orlando encompassed all of Old Florida as well as sections of what had once been the states of Alabama and Georgia. A small deployment of forces to the west guarded that border and satisfied the truce between Claudius and the master of the City-State of Naw’leans. But the largest concentration of Claudius’s forces at present centered on Old Savannah, a seaport territory in the defunct state of Georgia that Claudius had been attempting to annex for almost two years. Claudius stared down at the current deployment of his forces as Julius joined him.
His wolf was correct. His war with the necromancer Yannakis had reached a stalemate. After two years of skirmishes, little to no territory had been gained. Yannakis had the near endless resources of Savannah’s cemeteries to call upon when he needed to swell the ranks of his undead armies. Claudius outlawed marriage twenty moons earlier to try to make up for man power on his side. Single men made better soldiers. Initially the gambit worked, but he’d not expected the conflict to last so long.
“Would you prefer I have the priest executed?” Julius’s voice was deep, low, and growly.
“No. I think I’d like to meet this
Vatican priest who thinks so little of my decrees that he openly flaunts them.” Claudius turned eyes gone to blue flame on to his wolf. “I hunger.”
“You would reward a criminal with your bite?”
Claudius gave a minute shake of his head. “I can make it as unpleasant as it is ecstatic, believe me. Let’s make an event of it, shall we? You do such nice formal dinners.”
Julius bowed so that Claudius would not see his face. The Alpha Were was disappointed that he’d been reduced to nothing more a party planner. He would’ve given much to feed Claudius, to share in that tremendous intimacy and eroticism with the master. Instead he turned on his heel and left the room with his face to the floor so that Claudius wouldn’t know that his first and most trusted advisor was jealous of a common criminal.
He froze in the archway leading to the corridor, his heart thumping hard with a combination of excitement and dread. “Yes, Excellency?”
“Send Aurelian to me.”
Julius relaxed a fraction. “Of course. At once.” He moved through the archway and fled down the corridor.
Claudius watched as his wolf fled his presence. Without a doubt the war had gone on too long.
The formal chamber of Emperor Claudius Gothicus was set up in interlocking semicircles in the old Roman style. The entire room was built out of
marble, the semicircles done in alternating rows of medium Creole and Etowah. Claudius’s throne was carved from several pieces of Etowah marble, its deep salmon color meant to camouflage bloodstains from executions or meals taken too quickly. Georgia
Claudius sprawled in the throne wearing only a pair of soft black lounging pants. His powerful chest was bare and on display. Claudius possessed the rare ability to appear alive if he so chose. At the moment he glowed with so much health and vitality that his pale olive skin tone seemed rosy. His black hair was damp from the bath and curled around his ears; he was terribly pleased that the longer Roman styles had come back into vogue.
Claudius felt restless and his supernumerary teeth ached – never a good sign. His meeting with his general, Aurelian, had not gone well. Now Aurelian stood off to the side and brooded, his dark brown curls falling onto his forehead to shadow his eyes. Like Julius, he did not approve of this prisoner’s spectacle, and would’ve preferred Claudius put the human to death and feed off one of his wolves.
The doors at the back of the room crashed open and several large, very strong Weres strode in dragging a man between them. Claudius sat up straighter as they approached. He couldn’t see the prisoner’s face, but his body was whipcord thin and roped with muscle. He looked like he’d tangled with the Weres and came out a little worse for wear. Claudius’s respect for the human came up a notch; he had to be half-crazy to take on a pack of angry werewolves by himself.
The Weres unceremoniously dropped the priest at the foot of Claudius’s throne. He hit the floor with a thud and groaned.
“So.” Claudius stared down at the human with his best imperial gaze. “You are the priest who believes his calling supersedes the will of the emperor.”
The human slowly tilted his chin up and unflinchingly met the vampire’s gaze. “I am Valentinus, priest of the
Claudius was paralyzed. He knew that face, those eyes. His mind raced to count the years…168 years had passed since he’d seen that face and it had been so brief then. So terribly brief, and then he’d run off to fly planes, fight Nazis, and as always happened, death ripped him away. Claudius couldn’t even remember what name he’d taken then, but he most certainly recalled the name before that one: Marcus. 493 years ago this man had been Marcus, his most beloved, and they would never have been parted but for that foolish Thirty Years’ War between the Protestant and the Roman Catholic States and Allies erupting and coming between them.
Over and over again, in lifetime after lifetime, this man found him. Claudius’s elation melted away as he gazed at Valentinus. Every time fate brought them together, war and death tore them apart. He stared at a face that he knew intimately. He wasn’t willing to let him escape this time.
“Excellency?” Julius knelt by his side. “Are you well?”
“I am better than I have been in many moons, Julius. Thank you.” Claudius stood, carelessly arranging himself in the loose lounging pants. “I’ll be retiring now. Please have Valentinus taken to the baths and made presentable before he’s brought to my chambers.”
Julius bowed in acquiescence but Aurelian’s lip curled and he shoved past the wolf to stand chest to chest with his emperor.
“What are you doing?” Aurelian hissed.
“Whatever I wish.” Claudius’s voice was mild as he raised an eyebrow at his oldest and best friend. “You can look at him and see who he is, Aurelian. Deny it if you wish, but I will not lose him again!”
Aurelian scowled ferociously at the emperor, then at the human priest, and finally at the entire assembled chamber. He glared at Valentinus. “Do you have any clue as to what’s transpiring, human?”
Vatican priest glanced up at the lesser vampire. “I have a clue, yes. I’m experiencing very strong déjà vu.” He flicked his eyes to Julius. “It began with you, sire.”
Claudius frowned. Aurelian stalked over to Valentinus and made quite a show of scenting him. Claudius did his best to keep his face blank, but as Aurelian rose up behind Valentinus with his fangs out, Claudius growled, “Enough!”
Aurelian chuckled. “All is not as you wish, Excellency. The Weres were unable to control themselves.”
Claudius’s eyes glowed brilliantly blue as his power pushed through the room, flattening everyone within the confines of its walls. Valentinus gasped as the power hit him, his head going back as he panted. Claudius stepped down off the dais and strode over to where Aurelian still stood behind the priest. Claudius glared at his general.
“Aurelian, you may either move and remain my general, or I will relieve you of the burden of further existence.”
Aurelian’s dark brows rose as he goggled at his emperor in astonishment. “Are you mad?”
“I was preparing to ask you the same question.”
Before the two vampires could argue or fight further, they had to separate for Julius’s daughter, Damia who had arrived with fresh clothes for Valentinus. Damia was an early tragedy of the war with old Savannah. Some of Yannakis’s walking dead carried silver weapons which were deadly to Weres. Damia took a head injury in the first major skirmish and had only been able to see light and shadow since then.
“The clean clothing you requested, Excellency.” Damia’s voice was a blend of dulcet tones that warmed the ear.
“Thank you, Damia.” As always, seeing Julius’s blind daughter made Claudius feel keenly the burden of leadership.
“Yes. Thank you.” Valentinus reached out and took the clothing from Damia’s hands. As he did so, their fingers brushed and she gasped.
“You… you’re the one…”
The clothing fell to the floor, completely forgotten as Valentinus took Damia’s hands in his. Without asking the emperor for permission, Valentinus prayed fervently in Latin, beseeching his God to grant Damia healing and grace. Claudius hadn’t heard real Latin spoken in so long that he got lost in the lyrical, musical cadence of the language, and forgot to silence him.
Valentinus’s hands grew warmer and warmer until they blazed with heat and light. Damia’s head fell back, and quick as a striking snake Valentinus wiped his thumbs over her eyes. Scales fell away as if she’d been wearing a reptile’s spectacles. Damia blinked, and cried out, turning to her father.
“I – I can see!”
Julius snatched his daughter into his arms, holding her tightly as they both wept.
“One miracle isn’t enough for me to trust you alone with our emperor, human.” Aurelian remained skeptical from his post beside the emperor’s throne.
Valentinus turned to look at Aurelian. “I didn’t do it for the emperor; I did it for her.”
And that was the right answer. Claudius retrieved the clothing from the floor and tucked it under his arm. He looked at the human. He had memories of loving this man. Years and years, different places, different times, different names… Claudius quite suddenly didn’t care in the slightest about the war for Old Savannah, or whether or not any of his soldiers got married. All he wanted was to savor every moment he had with Valentinus.
“I remember deserts… and heat.” Val gazed up at Claud from the large bed. “Your hair was long then. Long and wavy. But your eyes were always blue.”
Claud fought the urge to touch and kiss the Vatican priest. He was fresh from the baths and smelled divine. His body was thin and spare, more like a boy than a man, yet Claud knew he was every inch a man in every way. For the last two hours they’d laid together in the emperor’s chambers talking, remembering lives past.
“The time you speak of was 1500 years ago. I was fighting on behalf of the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire in the Byzantine-Sassanid War.”
“Claud… was there ever a time when we were together…” Val looked away. He reached down and touched the heavy ornate gold and platinum cross that hung about his neck. He hadn’t removed the symbol of his faith and Claud hadn’t asked him to do so, but because of it, the vampire wasn’t able to embrace him, or fully indulge his passions.
“What? Ask me anything. I’ll answer you honestly.”
Val reached out and took the emperor’s hand. “Were we ever together when you weren’t fighting a war?”
Claud sighed and shook his head. “No, Val. I was born a barbarian. War is all I know. All I’ve done for 1900 years is make war.”
“And me… when you find me… am I different?”
Claud frowned, confused. “What do you mean?”
“Am I always a man of faith, as I am now? Or am I something different?”
“Oh… you’ve been many things. A soldier, a baker, a physician, a dancer, a merchant… Why?”
Val reached out and ran his fingers through Claud’s thick black curls. “Maybe you’re the one who’s supposed to change, Claud. I keep coming back to you over and over… Maybe you should try something different.” Val gazed into the vampire’s hypnotic blue eyes. “Maybe you should stop making war.”
Claud shuddered. He’d never considered such a thing before, but as Val slowly removed his clothing and bared that whipcord thin body, making love instead of war sounded like a perfect idea. Claud stared at Val’s beautiful chest, strong and smooth, his pecs perfectly defined and capped with perky little pink nips. Delicious abdominal muscles created individually proportioned squares that tapered down to a darling belly button made for dipping a tongue into, and the only hair anywhere on Val’s body led in a trail from there straight south. His cock was long and thin like the rest of him, and because of his religion, cut. Claud thought he was the single most beautiful male he’d ever laid eyes upon.
Val was having a small crisis of faith. Though the Vatican had fallen and technically he was no longer a priest, his abilities were still active and his faith was strong. Val could still heal with a touch as he’d done for Damia, and turn the walking dead away with nothing more than a vocal command and his holy symbol. Yet he lay in bed nude with a vampire, a creature that many of his ilk would consider evil or unclean. Val was considering losing his virginity.
Claud was perfect. His shoulders were broad and strong, his waist narrow, and his skin like olive marble laid over a delicate musculature. Even his feet were beautiful, each toe exquisitely formed. Silky black hair curled preciously across his chest and over his groin. Already Val had lost the battle and touched those curls to verify that they weren’t the harsh, wiry hairs most men had on their bodies. They were so soft, his fingers slid into them and stroked, first the curls on Claud’s chest, and then lower, the curls above Claud’s sex, which was not as long as Val’s but much thicker, so much thicker.
“No. Don’t apologize.” Claud caught his wrist so that he wouldn’t stop his petting. Blessed mother moon, the last thing he wanted was for the boy to stop the petting! “Take the cross off.”
“Oh…” Val’s hands shook. “Claud?”
“I’ve never done this before.”
“Oh. You can tell?”
“Vatican priests are all celibate.” Claud chuckled. “It’s all right. Take the cross off, lover. I’ll take care of you. I promise.”
“Can I… Before I do. Can I… see your fangs?”
Val looked confused. “Um, the ones you’re going to bite me with?”
Claud roared with laughter. He rolled onto his back and let the laughter bubble out. “Val… you’re beautiful!”
“Why is that funny?”
“I’m not going to bite you at all unless you give me permission, lover.”
“Oh.” Val seemed to think about that. “I thought vampires couldn’t have sex unless they fed.”
“That’s true. But I intended to let allow you to make love to me.” Claud ran a gentle hand down Val’s cheek. “That way we could avoid the issue of my needing blood.”
Val frowned and caught Claud’s hand. “I don’t want to avoid it.”
Claud rolled onto his side and stared into Val’s eyes. For him to be able to look somebody in the eye and not mesmerize them was so strange, but he had no power over Val. “Take off your cross,” he whispered.
Val reached up, and removed the cross.
He climbed out of the big orgy-sized bed and set the cross on his clothing on the other side of the room then got back into the bed. Claud waited until he was comfortable, then ran his hands from his collar bones all the way down his torso to his knees, inhaling deeply.
“So beautiful,” Claud murmured. “Now, you asked about my fangs.”
Val was on sensory overload. Just the feel of Claud’s nude body pressed against his was incredible. Claud lay on his back. “I have two sets of fangs. The first are called blood teeth. Those drop down when I’m hungry, when I need to feed. They’re very sharp and they shed very easily. Give me your finger.” Claud took Val’s hand in his and guided it to his open mouth as he lay on his back. He gently ran Val’s fingertip over the edge of one of his blood teeth and was careful he didn’t cut Val.
“The other set of fangs are my supernumerary teeth, the actual fangs that I can bite with that are strong. They drop down when I’m angry or threatened. They aren’t as sharp as the blood teeth, but they’re much, much stronger, and they don’t come out. They’re a part of my jaw bone.” Claud ran Val’s finger over a lump in his jaw where the fangs hadn’t yet descended. He let go of Val’s hand and rolled to face him.
“Does that answer your questions?”
Val nodded. “Does being bitten feel good?”
“It can. I can make my bite very pleasurable.” Claud pulled Val against his body again and ran his hands up and down his back and ass. “I’d love to show you how good it can be.” He kissed Val’s ear and the priest’s entire body shuddered violently. “Will you let me show you?”
Val said a quick prayer. He’d been alone and adrift since the fall of the Vatican. He needed this.
“Show me, Claud. Love me.”
The oddest part of lying in bed with Claud and kissing him was the déjà vu, the unshakable sensation that they’d done all this before. The tastes, the touches, and sounds, everything was familiar even though this was the first time they’d been together. Of course according to Claud it wasn’t their first time; by the time Claud slid down and took Val into his mouth, the Vatican priest was beyond arguing over such things. He thrashed back and forth on the bed, his hands fisted in the sheets as anchors. Claud sucked him long and hard, deep throating him until he was hard and throbbing, sure he would explode if Claud didn’t stop.
“Tell me what you want, lover. Just tell me and I’ll give it to you.”
“Be in me, Claud.” Val grabbed his face and peppered it with quick biting kisses. His words surprised them both. “Take me, be in me, bite me. Please…”
“If that’s truly what you wish,” Claud breathed. “I would give you everything, all of me.”
“Later. This first.”
Claud chuckled. He opened the drawer in his nightstand and retrieved the tube of silicone. “Relax for me.”
Claud kissed his way across Val’s chest, tonguing his nips and slid a thick finger inside his lover to stretch him at the same time. Val squirmed away from him, uncomfortable, and Claud lay across his legs, trapping him. He spread Val wide, bared his femoral artery, and with that thick finger still buried deep within Val’s smoldering heat, Claud let his blood teeth descend. He tenderly embraced one of Val’s legs, his cheek in the hollow where leg met groin, his thick finger slowly pumping in and out of Val’s body. Then as Val moaned and squirmed, Claud sank his fangs deep into the artery.
Bliss exploded through Val's body, wiping out his ability to think. Val’s back bowed in an arc as he came, ejaculating across his belly with a soft cry, his fingers in Claud’s hair. Claud swallowed only what he needed to make love and sealed the wound, then slid free of Val’s body to rise up over him. Val lay on the bed, sexed up and relaxed, his body open and sated. Claud coated his heavy erection in the silicone gel and eased into Val’s body with one firm thrust.
“So tight…” Claud closed his eyes and licked his lips where Val’s essence lingered. “Mother Moon you feel incredible.”
He gazed down to see Val looking up at him with eyes full of love. Claud slid all the way out until just his tip remained within Val’s body, then pushed back inside, fitting like a key within a lock. They sighed in unison and Claud began to move, long slow thrusts with Val’s hands on his hips to guide him.
Val hadn’t ever felt anything like what was happening to him before. He knew it was love and embraced it wholeheartedly. The sensations built in his body and overwhelmed him. He watched Claud’s eyes turn to blue fire, observed as his blood teeth dropped down, and knew what had to happen. His second orgasm was milliseconds away as Val bared his neck.
“I love you, Claudius,” he whispered. “I’m yours.”
Claudius reared back and drove his fangs deep into Valentinus’s throat as he poured his release inside his body. He felt the hot splash of Val’s orgasm against his chest and knew his beloved had followed him.
Just before dawn Claudius rose to find Val standing by the window, once against dressed and wearing and his cross.
“You’ve put it back on, I see.” Claud’s voice was careful.
“I have an ability I wanted to make you aware of, my emperor.”
Claud slid his arms around Val, though he was careful to keep his arms low enough that he didn’t burn himself on the cross.
“I can turn back armies of the walking dead. Though the Vatican has fallen, I seem to have retained the power.” Val turned in Claud’s arms. “I thought perhaps I could aid you routing that necromancer once and for all. You would be able to annex Old Savannah just as you’ve wished to do these last two years.”
Claud stared at Val. His mind was suddenly awash in memories: the 270 war against the Vandals where he lost Val, Valerius originally, the very first time; 394 AD and the Roman civil war when he found and lost him again; the Byzantine – Sassanid War of 613 and his next loss; the near 600 years when he was sure his love was lost to his forever, until the Norman Invasion of Ireland in 1169, a folly of a war he’d almost not participated in, and there his darling boy was, fiery and red-haired; the Thirty Years’ War in 1620, where he found his love and lost him again while the Protestants and Catholics argued; and finally 1945, the second World War, when he’d believed he was doing the right thing by staying out of the fighting, and his beloved had gone and gotten killed regardless. Six times he’d found this man, this soul he loved. Six times one or the both of them had gone off to fight wars and lost the other.
Claudius Gothicus, vampire and Emperor of the City-State of Orlando, gazed deep into the eyes of his love.
“I am declining your very generous offer of aid. As of this moment, I am pulling all my forces back from Old Savannah. Yannakis can have it. I have enough land, enough territory, and quite enough seaports to satisfy me.” Claudius took Valentinus’s hand. “What I don’t have is you. And if I lose you again, I’m afraid I won’t find you, or I’ll have to wait hundreds of years to find you, and that’s not acceptable. So I would prefer, in lieu of your very generous offer of aid, that you break my law, one last time, and perform a marriage for me today.”
Tears pooled in Val’s eyes as the Master of the City-State of Orlando tugged him close, once again begin very careful to avoid his cross.
“And who am I marrying, Excellency?” Val’s voice only wavered a little.
“The Emperor.” Claud smiled and leaned forward, licking away Val’s tears. “If you’ll have him.”
Valentinus pulled the cross over his head and let it fall to the floor along with his clothes. He married them in their bed, and as the dawn broke they made love knowing history would never again get in the way of their timeless love.