melissas_corner: (Carter/Dean)
[personal profile] melissas_corner
Author's Notes: For translation, hold mouse over highlighted text.

Carter's POV:

The battle has been in full swing for about an hour, having started just before dawn. The sun has yet to burn off the morning mist and as such visibility is rather limited. Even so, I had eyes on Dean just a few minutes ago. He was fighting two of Kinsey's best warriors to my right when I was attacked by two others. By the time I got turned back around, Dean was nowhere to be seen.

"Dean!" I bellow his name, swinging my sword in a wide arc, continuing to fight off every man who approaches. "Dean!" The mist seems to be getting thicker, preventing me from seeing more than a few steps in front of me.

"Adair!" Dean's voice sounds like it's coming from my left. I turn in that direction and the mist acts like it's going to part and let me see him, but then it thickens again and my brief glimpse of Dean is gone.

"Dean!" I use the momentum of my fighting to carry me across the field in the direction I last saw Dean in.

"Adair!" Now Dean sounds like he's to my right again. Have I turned in a circle?

During a momentary lull in attackers, I turn and seek out Dean's familiar form, the mist lifting enough for me to see it just a few feet away. "Dean!" He jerks his head in my direction, telling me he heard me but can't be distracted from the warrior he's battling.

With a smile, I stand and spend a few minutes engaging in my third favorite activity; watching Dean fighting. A noise from behind me pulls my attention away from my former lover, and I turn in time to be stabbed through the chest with a sword carried by a lad of no more than sixteen summers. He manages to miss my heart, but I can feel the tip of the sword exit my back. I know I'll be dead soon.

The lad seems as surprised as me that he managed to do what his elders have failed to do. He pulls his sword from my body and stands there, totally stunned by his first kill.

I fall slowly to my knees, my only thought the hope that Dean won't see me die. Blood drips out of my mouth and down my chin. I make eye contact with the lad and he whispers, "I'm sorry" before turning and running from the field.

"Adair!" Dean's voice is rough, like he hasn't used it in some time but I know that's wrong because he was just hollering for me mere minutes ago.

The world begins to spin, my vision narrowing to a point on the ground in front of me with the edges going black.

It's getting difficult to breathe. The world is dark, and I realize it's because my eyes are closed so I open them to stare up at the bright blue sky. Why is the sun shining on this, the day of my death?

"Adair!" I can hear the tears in Dean's voice now. I manage to turn my head enough to see him crawling toward me, one hand clutching his middle, the other dragging his father's sword behind him. "Adair." His voice breaks on a sob.

I open my mouth to reply but only end up choking on my own blood.

"Easy." Dean's beloved face comes into view. Even though he's on his knees, he's swaying like he's just barely able to stay upright. "Don't try to talk," he tells me, cupping my right cheek in his left hand. It's sticky with what I know is a mixture of his own blood and that of the men he has slain today.

A cough wracks my frame and leaves me gasping for breath. "Go," I manage to croak out. "Before they get you."

"I won't leave you, Adair." The lad has always been beyond stubborn. "I can't. Don't ask it of me. Please."

My eyelids are getting heavy, and I'm having difficulty keeping them open. "Dean-" I have no more breath to finish saying what I need to.

He presses his forehead to mine and I feel tears drip onto my face. "I love you," he whispers, placing a gentle kiss to my lips. "I renounce my marriage. Erica McKinnon is dead to me. Yours is the life I want joined with mine. Your life is my life. Your fight is my fight. Your enemy is mine, your family is mine. Wherever you call home shall be my home, for wherever you go I shall follow. I pledge my life, my heart, my very soul to you, my love. Treat it kindly for you now hold my greatest possession."

Wedding vows? Why is he reciting wedding vows? I wonder then the answer comes to me. He never loved Erica. Hell, he never even liked her but he married her on order from our laird. It would appear that my feelings for the lad are returned. Why couldn't we have figured this out before now? What cruel twist of fate that he professes his love for me as I lay dying in his arms.

He presses chaste kisses to my closed eyes, another sob escaping. He shifts as if to lie next to me but before he can, there's a commotion and Dean's warmth is gone. I try to open my eyes. I need to know he's alright but my lids are so very heavy and it's becoming even more difficult to draw breath into my lungs.

The last thing I hear before Death comes to take me to my reward is Dean's pained scream.

I jerk awake, panting hard, my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest and sweat dripping down my face with Dean's name a smothered scream on my lips.

Slowly my breathing and heart rate return to normal. When I start to lie back, I reach out to my left where Dean is supposed to be. My hand flails a bit until my brain catches up, and I realize that he's not in bed. Panic flares quickly; he was here when I fell asleep last night. It's not like Dean to get out of bed without waking me.

I roll from the bed, my heart starting to beat faster again. According to the clock it's mid-morning and there's only one reason I can think of for Dean to not have awakened me; there was an emergency of the Sylum variety. I can only hope he doesn't keep me out of the loop once I've been Turned.

The door to the bathroom is slightly ajar. Pushing it further open, I see Dean, still mostly wet from the shower, standing in the middle of the room with a towel wrapped around his waist.

I bite back a sob and throw myself into his arms. He holds me close with his arms wrapped tight around my shoulders and my head tucked under his chin.

"Talk to me, Carter." His voice is as gentle as if he's talking to a spooked animal. And I guess at this moment in time, that's what I am.

"I dreamt we died."

He rubs his chin in my hair. "Who died?"

"Us. You. Me. Everyone." I'm not quick enough to keep the sob from escaping this time.

Cupping his shoulders with my hands from behind, I shift until I'm standing up straight and press my cheek against his. He takes this as a suggestion to do something he knows annoys me; rubbing his cheek against mine so that our stubble scrapes together. This time, however, it soothes me. I sigh and relax some, my eyes closing in contentment.

"I can still taste-" I break off as an echo of Dean's death scream rings through my mind.

"Taste, what?" He cups one hand around the back of my head, offering me comfort as I begin to tremble again.

"Blood. I can still taste the blood in my mouth. Smell it too. Death. Blood. It was horrible."

"Shush," he murmurs. "It was just a dream. We're both okay. You're still alive and I'm still here." From his words, I can tell he hasn't figured out that my dream was about his and Adair's deaths. And that's just fine with me.

Something tells me that he thought Adair was already dead when he renounced his marriage to Erica and said the wedding vows to Adair. And for that reason alone, I won't tell him that I remember. Dean has enough issues with being touchy-feely and I don't want to ruin the moment. Instead I mumble against his neck, "It was still very disturbing," and hope I'm successful in working a pout into my tone.

"Yes, I can see just how 'disturbed' you are by it," he chuckles, grinding his hip against my growing erection.

Nope, not fooling anyone here, so I decide to not beat around the bush. "What can I say? Your smell turns me on."

"Just wait until you have Vampire senses." He pulls back just enough to capture my mouth with his.

Our tongues tangle while we fight for dominance of the kiss. I slide one hand up to grip the back of his neck while the fingers of the other dig into the skin and muscle next to his spine.

Eventually I need to breathe, so I pull back and rest my forehead against his. "Fuck me, Dean. Fuck me so fucking hard I feel it for days."

"God, Carter." His voice is rough with arousal. It's not often I demand he make it hurt but when I do, he usually does the exact opposite. Hopefully that won't be the case today. "Where?" I have to actually stop and think about what he's asking.

Licking dry lips, I back up a step until my hip touches the pedestal sink. "Here." I turn to lean on my hands on the edge, the angle forcing my ass to stick out in invitation. Meeting his eyes in the mirror, I tell him, "I want to watch you."

He chuckles, dropping the towel and stepping up close behind me. "You can watch if we do it face-to-face on the bed."

I roll my eyes. "But I can't watch you, watching you. If that makes sense."

"Yeah, it makes sense." He reaches over me to take the lube from the medicine cabinet before warming some between his fingers. He probes gently with one finger and I duck my head to hide the wince at the slight pain.

Dean is usually pretty gentle with me but last night was the first night we'd been together after a case where we were both in danger of getting a bullet between the eyes. 'We're alive' sex is always rough and Dean has stopped holding back as much. Almost as if he's trying to prepare me for when he Turns me and he doesn't have to hold back at all.

"Maybe-" he starts, adding a second finger.

"Don't even think it," I growl and spread my legs a bit to give him more access.

He just shakes his head, a tiny smile gracing his lips. Palming my ass cheeks, he spreads them and begins to slowly press inside.

"Dean!" I protest. "What part of 'hard' did you not understand?"

"You're still a bit sore from last night. I'm not gonna just slam my way in. Not until I know you can take it." Of course he'd be that thoughtful. Everything he's ever done has showed me that he is one of those Vampires who have the utmost respect for Humans and who will go out of their way to make sure none come to harm.

I let my head hang between my arms and just breathe through the initial burn of penetration. He pauses when he bottoms out and runs his hands up from my ass to wrap around my hips.

"Carter." I raise my head at the command in his voice, locking gazes with him in the mirror again.

Making sure I'm watching, he pulls out slowly before slamming back in. The force of his thrust pulls a gasp from me. He just smirks before repeating the move. Slowly, he increases the pace until his hips are doing a fair imitation of a piston and all I can do is hold onto the edge of the sink and take what he's giving me.

Dean's gaze eventually drifts down until he's watching his dick disappear into my ass as he thrusts in and out. I keep watching his face; waiting for something. And then I see it.

His lips curls until his canines are visible and as I watch, his fangs extend and his tongue plays with the tips. I'm not sure he's even aware he does it but it's a huge turn on for me. I like to think he's imagining biting my neck and draining me in preparation of Turning me.

He kicks my feet a little bit further apart and the new angle has him hitting my prostate, which in turn has me seeing stars. "Come for me, Carter."

Bracing myself on my left hand, I reach my right under me and wrap my fingers around my cock, stroking counter to his thrusts until the world shatters into a million pieces and I come all over my hand and the floor. Seconds later Dean empties himself inside me before leaning down and placing an open-mouthed kiss to the knot of bone at the top of my spine.

"Now, you need a shower, and I need another one," he chuckles, pulling out slowly.

I share in his laughter. "Somehow I don't think a shared shower is a good idea."

"Naw, it's the best idea. We are in a drought, you know." He wraps one hand loosely around my upper arm and pulls me into the shower where we spend several pleasurable minutes using up all the hot water.


Once again, I find myself alone in the bed upon waking. I'm going to kill him. Seriously, how difficult is it to remember to wake me?

My jeans and a shirt land on my chest, alerting me to the fact that Dean is standing next to the bed. "Better get dressed."

"You couldn't have gotten me up when you did?"

He shrugs. "After the way you objected when I woke you a couple weeks ago, I figured you wanted me to start letting you sleep."

"I'd only been asleep an hour!" I prop myself up on my elbows to glare up at him. "And since you were the reason I didn't get any sleep that night, I had every right to be pissed."

"First time you ever objected to a blowjob so I thought you wanted me to stop."

"So not the point, Dean!" I toss back the covers. "I don't like waking up alone. Well, not anymore at any rate."

"Okay. Objection recorded." He turns to exit the room. "But you still need to get dressed."


"Janet's on her way."

I jump from the bed and scramble into my jeans. "Why the fuck didn't you tell me she was coming?"

"Because I only found out when she called just now. She has a job that keeps her quite busy and she never knows when she can make a trip like this until the last minute." His phone rings just as I pull my shirt over my head. "Hey." He sounds happy to see her. "Yeah. Just get in the elevator and come to the top floor." He puts his phone back in his pocket. "Look, I'm sorry I haven't been getting you up when I do. I can't really explain why I've been doing that." I have my suspicions about why, but I keep them to myself.

Dean opens his mouth to say something else but is interrupted by the sound of the elevator doors opening. The look he gives me has a shiver of arousal skating down my spine and my dick gives a very interested twitch. He smirks and turns to greet our visitor.

Slipping my feet into socks and shoes, I step around the glass brick wall into the living area.

"Carter, I'd like you to meet Janet Frasier, née Clarissa Barton." Dean waves one hand in the direction of the pretty blonde woman standing next to him. "Janet, Carter Shaw, my Mate."

"Clarissa Barton." I've done some research on some of the people Dean has said I'd most likely meet so I'm not surprised that Dean introduced her with both her names. "You founded the American Red Cross." I hold out one hand then remember what Dean said but before I can pull it back she takes it in hers and gives it a tiny squeeze.

"I did indeed. So, Dean." Janet turns to face him. "You staying for this lesson?"

Dean shrugs into his jacket. "Um, no." He shakes his head. "I know all I need to about what it means to be a Vampire."

Janet smacks him on the arm. "That's not all I'll be telling him."

"Still. I don't have any questions. Might've had some back when I was first Turned but not now."

Janet gives him a look that reminds me of the look a mother would give a troublesome child. "Fine. Go." She makes shooing motions with her hands. "I certainly don't need you distracting him."

Dean gives her a cheeky grin and leans down to kiss her cheek when she tilts her head to present it to him. "Be gentle with him," he requests.

"I'm a military doctor, Dean. 'Gentle' isn't in my vocabulary."

He huffs an amused breath, then steps closer to wrap one hand around the back of my neck so he can pull me into a down and dirty kiss.

"Enough, you two." Janet's voice is full of amusement.

"Ah, Janet. It's not like we're the first pair to get it on in your presence." Dean mock pouts at her.

"Maybe not, but I'm on a tight deadline here."

"Why didn't you say something?" Dean grumbles, turning and slamming his way out the stair door.

"I just did," she calls out just as the door closes on his retreating back, then turns back to me. "Do you want to ask questions, or do you want me to just talk?"

"I think I'll ask questions. Last time I got a lecture about Vampirism not many of my questions actually got answered and then I got distracted before I could ask them."

One of her eyebrows climbs her forehead. "I take it you asked Dean? Or rather it was Dean who gave you your 'lecture'?"

"Yeah. The closest Vamps that he feels comfortable having talk to me are the Epps brothers and they were Turned not that long ago."

We stare at each other for a few minutes, neither sure where to begin.

I clear my throat. "Can I get you anything?" I ask, taking a step toward the kitchen area.

Janet shakes her head. "I fed before coming here."

"But I know you can digest other liquids and even solids."

She smiles. "I'm fine, Carter. But thank you."

I nod my acceptance of her refusal of refreshment. "Please sit, make yourself at home."

She sits primly on the edge of one chair and I take up residence on the couch opposite.

"I think I'll start small and build to the big question," I begin.

"And that is?" One of her eyebrows climbs her forehead.

"What exactly, in medical terms, will happen when Dean Turns me."

She nods. "Yes, that is the big one. So, what's your first question?"

I cross one leg over the other and take a moment to get my thoughts in order. "What happens when a Vampire feeds? I've never seen one feed in person, Dean refuses to feed from me until he Turns me and, as far as I know, I've never been a Donor."

"Well-" She sits back in the chair. "-there are several places where a Vamp can feed from. The two main ones are the carotid artery and the jugular vein. My Mate prefers to feed from my femoral artery."

"Too much info, Doc," I say with a wince.

She chuckles. "Sorry. Most Vamps go for the carotid or jugular because they're the easiest to access. Especially during sex. Most Vamps who are just feeding from a Donor will feed from the wrist. It can be turned into a flirty kiss if the Donor should question it."

"That's not exactly what I was asking."

"Okay. What exactly were you asking?"

"What happens when a Vamp feeds? What does it feel like?"

"Well, first the Vamp picks the vein or artery he's going to feed from, then his fangs extend. They're used as a hole punch. Fangs are not hollow. They're pressed through the skin and into the blood vessel. When I feed, I let the Donor's heart pump the blood into my mouth, then I just swallow it. Others will actually suck the blood through the holes, like drinking from a straw."

"How much does a Vampire need?"

"At the very least two or three pints a month. It's recommended that each Vamp feed once a day but some can't do that."

"Why not? I've seen Dean drink several cups of cloned blood a day."

"I'm sure he's doing that so he doesn't give into the temptation of you. But most Vamps can't afford to drink more than one a day because cloned blood is expensive. Nick has tried to make the price more reasonable for Vamps who haven't been around long enough to have a large bank account or who just can't hold onto their money, but the cost of production keeps going up because Nick doesn't control all the elements needed."

"So the people who control those ingredients aren't allies of Sylum?" I tilt my head. It doesn't seem like Nick to not keep something as important as cloned blood firmly within his control. Even if just through a member of his Clan.

She frowns. "Unfortunately, those elements were in other hands before the formula for cloned blood was created. Nick has offered obscene amounts of money for controlling interest in those companies but no one will sell." She gives a wry twist of her lips at my raised brow. "Long winded way of saying, yes, controlling interest is held by enemies of Sylum."

"What happens after a Vampire feeds?"

"Well, he'll make sure the wound is closed by licking it. Vampire saliva has healing properties. It's being studied to see if it can be used in some kind of ointment for wounds."

"I always wondered why in the movies the Vampire licks where he bit his Donor." I relax back on the couch, stretching my arms across the back. "What happens to the Vampire? How is blood digested?"

"His heart will pump about one beat every minute for about an hour. This allows the blood to cleanse the body of any toxins the Vamp may have ingested with that feeding as well as allowing for the digesting of any solid food that has been eaten recently. And before you ask, yes Vampires use the bathroom. But only if there is any solid food in his system."

I nod in understanding. "I know Dean knows all this instinctively but he told me he can't explain it like you can."

She gives a humorless huff of laughter. "That is so like Dean. Of course he can explain it just as well as me. It's obvious he didn't tell you that he got a medical license back in the 60s. He never actually practiced, but he did go to medical school."

"Why? I mean if he wasn't going to use that knowledge, why spend the time and money learning?"

"Because Nick requires all his Vampires to know what it means, medically, to be a Vampire. He was given a choice; let me teach him or go to a Vampire approved medical school."

Chuckling at her words, I stand to go to the kitchen and make myself a glass of water. "I can just see how well that would have gone over with Dean. Let a younger Vampire teach him about something he's been for centuries or go to a school and learn from Humans."

"Actually, all the teachers were Vamps close to Dean's age."

"That makes sense." I place the empty glass on the coffee table and sit back on the couch, getting as comfortable as I can since I know this is going to be a long conversation. "So he just didn't trust you to tell him what he needs to know?"

"I think it was a combination of things. The attitude toward women had just started changing to think of us as equals and the fact that Dean still didn't trust Nick or anyone affiliated with Sylum all that much yet."

"He does seem to have trust issues."

"Who can blame him? I mean with what he's been through." She crosses one leg over the other, swinging her dangling foot a little bit. "Next question?"

"Does it take the same amount of time for the food to make its way through the Vampire's body as it does a Human's?"

"All solid waste is expelled from the Vampire's body within the hour after feeding that the heart beats."

I purse my lips as I decide which question to ask next. "I know Dean can't sweat. But if he feeds from someone who is stoned or drunk what happens?"

"If a Donor is drunk or stoned the Vamp that feeds from them will basically become drunk or stoned until all the toxins have been expelled."

"So if I feed from someone who's on meds for a heart condition, I'll feel the side effects?"

"Yes. And since you don't have a heart condition now, you won't have one once you're Turned so you'll have chest pains until the nitrates have left your system."

"How fast do Vampires heal? I mean, if I scratch Dean, can I sit there and watch it heal?"

"How fast a Vampire heals, depends on how severe the wound. A bullet wound to the head or chest will have the Vampire fall into a healing trance for several hours. A minor scratch will usually heal before it even really forms."

"Will the body type a Human has when they're Turned be their body type for the rest of their life?"

"Yes. That's why Jack O'Neill is having his knee surgery soon. Daniel Jackson finally figured out that they're Mates and they're planning on Jack Turning soon, and he doesn't want to have to deal with a bum knee for eternity."

"How much stronger than Humans are Vampires? Can they lift a whole car by themselves?"

She laughs. "Lift a whole car? Someone's been watching too much late night TV. A Vampire can run faster, jump higher and throw a harder punch than a Human. They can even lift about one hundred pounds more but most definitely not a whole car."

"What about the other senses?"

"Sight, smell and hearing are definitely sharper than a Human's. When Dean Turns you the first thing you'll have to learn is how to 'turn down' your senses. And when vamped out, a Vampire's vision is similar to if a Human is wearing night vision goggles."

"What about past lives? Do many Vamps remember much about them?" She tilts her head questioningly. "All my life I've had dreams of other lives. Now that I've met Dean, I'm pretty sure they're actually memories of some of my past lives."

"Ah. Most Vampires don't have clear memories of more than a handful of past lives. Usually ones they lived after their Vampire Mate was Turned. Or, in other terms, lives where they met their Mate once he was Turned."

"Interesting. I remember six lives. Three before Adair and two after."

She crosses her arms over her chest, tapping one finger thoughtfully against her lips. "That is interesting. I've never heard of anyone remembering lives before their Vampire Mate's last Human life."

"I only have a couple more questions." She smiles and I get the feeling she wouldn't mind if I had dozens more questions. "When a Vampire is killed-" I clear my throat because I don't like thinking that there is a way to kill Dean. "Does the head have to be completely removed? Or does death occur when the brain stem is severed?"

"Have you seen the Highlander movies?" I nod. "It's just like in those movies. The head has to be completely severed. Vampire DNA keeps the brain going as long as there are any connective tissues touching. As soon as the head leaves the neck, the body turns to Dust."

"And now the big question; what will happen when Dean Turns me?" I lean forward, my elbows resting on my knees.

"First, Dean will drain about forty percent of your blood volume, that's the maximum that can be removed without causing brain damage. He'll then slit his wrist." She makes a vertical motion with her finger on the inside of her wrist, following the blue vein that's just barely visible beneath the skin. "And hold it to your mouth, forcing you to drink. As his Vampire DNA begins to overwrite your Human DNA your organs will begin to shut down in order of least importance; intestines, stomach, colon, spleen, pancreas, gall bladder, liver, bladder, kidneys and then your lungs followed by your heart. I was already dying when I was Turned so I don't remember if it was painful. I've been told it is, especially when your lungs stop working because your animal instincts will try and force air into them. You'll most likely panic but hopefully Dean's presence will ground you enough to keep that from happening."

"So he has to kill me?" I glance up at her, my brows lowered over my nose.

"Yes and no." She shifts on her chair, uncrossing her legs and crossing the opposite one. "You'll fall into a coma while his Vampire DNA overwrites your Human DNA. But once it's complete, you'll regain consciousness."

"But he'll feel me die since the Bond will have been started with him draining me." I make it a statement.

She sighs. "Yes. But since he can take his time with your Turning it'll only be for a few minutes. When I was Turned I was already dying so I was in a coma for several hours."

Shaking my head, I try to wrap my brain around all this. "It doesn't seem fair."

"Maybe not but it has to happen this way."

"Was your Mate already a Vampire when the two of you Bonded?"

"He was."

"Tell me about the Bonding process."

"That's one aspect of being a Vampire that no one is real sure of. Why Vampire Mates Bond and exactly how the Bond is created. The Bond is almost telepathic but not quite. You can't hear each other's thoughts but you can feel each other's moods and tell if the other is injured. The closer you are, the stronger it is, with it being strongest while feeding from each other."

I thread my fingers in my hair. "Not exactly what I meant but it'll do. Unless you know how the Bond forms?"

"All we really know is that the Bond forms when the Vampire Mates feed from each other. Something in Vampire DNA literally Bonds the two souls together."

"And that means if someone cuts off my head, Dean'll die as well." I can't let that happen. I won't let that happen.

"It's true for all Bonded pairs." Looking up through my fingers I can tell she's starting to put two and two together and she isn't liking what she's getting. "Carter? Talk to me. It is why I'm here."

I shake my head again. "I can't do this, Janet. I can't put him through this."

I feel the couch cushion next to me dip as she sits down next to me before rubbing my shoulders soothingly. "You have two choices at this point, Carter. Let him Turn you and spend the rest of time making him happy, or let him go. And I mean that. If you don't let him Turn you, you'll have to let him walk out of your life."

"I can't do that." The pain at just the thought of watching him walk out of my life has me biting back a gasp.

"Then you only have the one choice." Her cell rings, interrupting anything further she might have said. "Sorry, I have to get that."

"Yeah, I understand." I scrub my hands over my face when she stands to step over to where she dropped her purse when she entered. Pushing a couple of buttons she grimaces at the text message. "I have to return to base. Seems my pet trouble magnet has gotten hurt yet again." She slips her purse strap over her shoulder. "Tell Dean I'll be in touch." She turns toward the elevator, then turns back. "Remember what I said, Carter. If you can't, or won't, let him Turn you, you have to let him go. If you think it's unfair to make him watch and feel you die, then think how unfair it is to sleep with you every night, knowing he'll have to watch you die of old age when he could have Turned you and given you eternal life." And with that she enters the elevator.

Once the doors close, I sit back on the couch and lean my head back to stare up at the ceiling. There is no way I can let Dean kill me. Not after everything he's been through since Adair died in his arms.

So intent am I on finding the courage to let the man I love walk out of my life, I don't really notice Dean coming in. Not until he says my name with a chuckle.

I close my eyes to keep him from seeing the anguish I know must be plain as day in them. Taking a deep breath, I open my eyes and, avoiding his keen gaze, stand up. "I'm sorry, Dean. I can't do this." I walk around the glass brick wall into the bedroom area and pull my duffle from under the bed.

"Carter?" Dean's voice is thick with his confusion. "What the fuck's going on here?" I shake my head. If I answer, I'll just disgrace myself by breaking down and sobbing like a baby. "Talk to me, Carter!" he demands, ripping the duffle out of my reach. "When I left this morning you were almost ready. And now, just a few hours later you've decided you can't go through with it? What happened?"

Squaring my shoulders I look him in the eye, steeling myself to not give in to the temptation to beg him to Turn me now. "I just can't, Dean. After hearing what Janet had to say, I just can't." I plead with my eyes for him to understand; to not make me say the words.

He doesn't try to get me to talk again but he also doesn't move out of my way, forcing me to brush past him in order to leave the apartment.

I get in my truck in a daze and exit the garage. Not paying any attention to my surroundings, I drive. Just drive. My mind runs in circles. Going over and over everything Janet just told me.

When I become aware of my surroundings, I'm parked outside Nicole's house. Before I even think, I climb from the truck and approach her door. I knock lightly, don't want to wake the baby, and begin pacing while waiting for her to answer.

"Carter? What are you doing here?" I spin back to face where Nicole is standing in the doorway, her arms crossed over her chest and a scowl on her face.

"I didn't wake the baby, did I?" I've always heard that Heaven had better help the person who wakes a sleeping baby.

"No, you didn't."

"Good. Is Steve home?"

"Yeah. Why?"

Tucking my hands in my pockets, I drop my gaze to the ground. "I need to talk to you."

She closes the door and walks down the steps to stand in front of me. "Carter? What's wrong?"

With a sigh, I look up and meet her eyes. The scowl has been replaced with a frown of concern. "I need to talk to someone. I guess deep inside I still consider you a friend."

"What do you need to talk about?"

I don't answer her question, instead, asking one of my own. "Do you believe in Vampires?"

"I do. Why?"

Again, I ignore her question in favor of asking my own. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because you didn't, and I never liked arguing with you. Why are you asking me this now, Carter?"

I can tell she's getting frustrated and if I don't start answering her questions she'll go back inside the house and probably not speak to me ever again. "I just found out that someone I trust is a Vampire."

She sighs. "So, he finally told you."

My head snaps up at her response. "Wait, what?" I narrow my eyes on her face.

"Dean. He finally told you."

I take a step toward her. "How do you know?"

She opens her mouth, then closes it without saying anything. Her eyes go wide when she realizes what my question means. "He didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what? Damnit, Nicole! You know how I feel about secrets."

"I do, Carter. But it was his decision to not tell you and I can't really go against that. Not even now."

"I deserve to know, Nicole!" How could he keep that he knew Nicole before me from me? He told me other things, why not this?

She runs one hand through her hair. "I've known Dean my whole life."

"That right." If my tone becomes any drier, it'll be labeled a fire hazard. "Why wouldn't he tell me?"

"Would you, if it was illegal to be who you are?" She shifts her weight to one foot and tilts her head to the side. "Think about it Carter. Most of his Vampire life, it's been illegal for him to be who he is. Not to mention he had a really rough childhood. And I mean rougher than anyone living today can even imagine."

"He told you this? About his childhood, I mean?"

She nods. "Yes. My family has been Chosen for hundreds of years. Dean saved the life of my many greats grandfather and when the man pledged his life to Dean, well he kinda had to tell him his secret."

"Chosen?" I'm getting even more confused the more she talks.

"I think you should tell me what you know and then I can fill in any gaps."

"I know about Donors, Soul Mates and that I'm Dean's."

"Okay. Well, Chosen are like Donors except all Chosen know at least one Vampire personally while Donors don't always. Chosen are people who know the Vampires' secret and help keep it in exchange for the protection of a Vampire Clan."

"Do all Chosen become Donors?"

"It's not required. Or rather, if a Human is a Chosen of a 'good' Vampire, it's not required. Most Chosen do become a Donor for the Clan they're associated with because it's considered a great honor to be fed from."

Chosen Ones. Donors. Soul Mates. These are all things I should have been told about long before now. "I've been fucking him for three months, Nicole! Why didn't he tell me all this when he told me he's a Vampire?" I pace agitatedly back and forth in the tiny area between her house and the one next door.

"I can't answer that."

"Did he ever fuck you?" I'm not sure how I'll feel if she answers yes.

"No. And when I told him I had met you, he even stopped feeding from me."

I spin to look at her, confusion pulling my brows into a frown over my nose. "What do I have to do with anything?"

"Oh, Carter. He really hasn't told you shit, has he?"

"What is there to tell me? I know I'm his Soul Mate. What more is there? About me, that is?"

She sighs and sits on the steps, patting the spot next to her. "Come. Sit and we'll talk." I sit, a bit worried about what she has to say. "What do you know about Adair?"

"More than Dean thinks I do," I mutter, bracing my arms on my knees and staring at the ground.

"What?" I've managed to surprise her.

With a small smile, I turn my head just enough to look at her out of the corner of my eye. "All my life, I've had dreams where I was another person. I now know those are memories of past lives."

"How many?" She turns sideways so she can look at me.

"Six. Including Adair."

"Six!" She seems surprised. At my raised eyebrows, she clarifies, "Most people only remember one or two. Three at the most. Are all six after Adair?"

I shake my head. "No. Three before, two after."

"Tell me about them. The dreams, I mean."

"I used to have them about the same amount. Until I met Dean. Now most of my dreams are about Adair."

"Before or after he met Dean?"

"Both. I know things I don't think even Dean knows."

"Like what?"

"Like Adair had a son. His wife died in childbirth and Adair gave the child to her parents to raise."

"Dean knows that."

"He does?" She nods her head. "And he told you?"

She sighs again. "Yes. That's why he stopped seeing me when I met you."

"I still don't understand."

She reaches over and pats my knee. "You, Carter Shaw, are a direct descendant of Adair McShaw."

My jaw drops at her statement. I had always wondered. My family's lineage was lost when they arrived in America because they didn't come through Ellis Island and tried very hard to fit in with their adopted homeland.

"How long has he known I'm his Soul Mate?"

"Since the two of you shook hands when he came to ask you to hire him."

"Then why stop seeing you when we met if he didn't know then?"

"Because you're of Adair's blood. He's been in love with Adair since he was a kid. When we became romantically involved he saw seeing me as a betrayal. To you and to Adair's line."

"Did he know I had Adair's soul back then?"

"Probably. He had seen pictures of you, so it is possible."

I blink at her. "You can see someone's soul in a picture?"

"Of course. The eyes are the windows to the soul, after all."

"Yeah. Just never thought you could actually see someone's soul in a photograph."

"Yeah, well, you can. Especially with today's level of photography."

"Yeah, I got that." Huffing a laugh, I run my fingers through my hair, then, unable to sit still any longer, I jump up to pace the area again. "It's a lot to take in, you know?"

"I know. It was a lot for me and I've known most of this my whole life."

"What do I do, Nicole? I can't let him go but I also don't know if I can let him kill me."

"Then you need to talk to Horatio Caine and Jethro Gibbs."

"Why?" I turn to look at her, my weight on one foot and my hands tucked into my pockets.

"Because they were where you are not that long ago."

"And just who are they?"

"Horatio is Head of Clan Security. When Don Diego was killed in the war last year, Nick appointed Horatio as the new head."

"And this Gibbs person?"

"He's Second in Command with his Mate, Tony DiNozzo."

I nod, taking in all this info. "It's still a lot of info in a short amount of time."

"It is. I could just shoot Dean for not telling you most of this."

I return to sit next to her on the steps. "Tell me about the hierarchy of the Clan."

"Well, you know that Nick is the leader." I nod. "He rules with his Mate, Warrick Brown. Anthony DiNozzo and Jethro Gibbs are Second in Command with Timothy Speedle as the Clan Advisor and Horatio Caine as Head of Security."

"Anyone else I need to know about?"

"Well, Janet Frasier is the Clan Doctor. And Richard Riddick is Head Hunter and the trainer of new Hunters."

"Riddick as in…?"

She rolls her eyes and makes a rude noise of frustration in the back of her throat. "Did he not tell you that most, if not all, books, comics, TV shows and movies are based on Vampires?"

"He did but Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick are set in the future and in space."

"Yeah, well, Riddick made them up. They're stories he used to tell the kids in his gang when he was Human."

Before I can respond to that, the door opens behind us. "Nicole," Steve, my former partner and Nicole's current fiancé, calls. "Charlie's fussing. I think he's hungry."

"Okay." We stand up. "Call Nick. He'll help you get a flight out."

"He won't tell Dean?"

"Of course he will. But Dean won't follow."

"He won't?"

"No." She shakes her head. "He will give you the space you need."

"Will he?" I glance up at where Steve's standing in the doorway and give him the 'what's up?' head nod which he returns.

"Of course. He wants to make sure you're sure and totally ready to be Turned."

"Thank you, Nicole." I pull her into a brief hug just before she turns to go up the steps.

"If I didn't know that you love him in a way you never loved me, I'd tell you to walk away because of your doubts."

"How do you know I love him like that?"

"You wouldn't be here if you didn't." She starts up the steps. "Now go. Get the answers you seek."

"Thank you again," I say, walking back to my car. Her "You're welcome" reaches my ears just before I close the door.

The drive to LAX is spent on my blue-tooth making arrangements with Nick to get me on the next flight out to Miami. Nick must have mentioned his name or Sylum, because when I get there I'm walked through security, personally, by the head of the TSA of LAX. Once on the plane, the flight attendant shows me to my seat. In first class. Being associated with Sylum sure does seem to have its perks. The flight is uneventful, and I sleep through most of it.

After we land at Miami International, I exit the plane, debating whether or not to rent a car versus hiring a taxi to take me to the Miami-Dade Crime Lab which is where Nick told me I would find Tim Speedle and his Mate, Horatio Caine.

Upon exiting security, I discover that I needn't have worried about how I'd be getting to the lab because a man approaches and asks, "Lieutenant Shaw?"

"Yes?" I give him a once over. He's just as Nick described: dark hair, olive skin, average height, wearing clothes that are slightly too big for him and with an expression that leads one to wonder if he's bored with life in general or just the people within his general purview. "Detective Speedle?"

His smile is disarming to say the least. "Friends call me 'Speed'," he says and extends his hand.

Remembering my Vampire manners, I take his hand and give it a brief squeeze. "Nick send you?"

"Yes and no." He turns to walk away. "Got any bags?"

"Nope. Just the duffle," I say, patting the bag hanging from my left shoulder.

"Great. Let's go." He doesn't wait for me to catch up, just continues striding toward the glass doors that lead to the parking lot.

Once outside, the heat is stifling. I know that Miami is a tropical city but I wasn't prepared for the heat. After living my whole life on the west coast with the Pacific Ocean's cool winds blowing ashore, it's almost too much.

"How do you stand it?" I ask without thinking, slipping a pair of sunglasses in place to try and protect my eyes from the glare of the Miami sun.

"Vampire," he says as if that one word is answer enough. And I guess it is. I know that despite not having heart beats vampires are impervious to temperature. Or is that because of? I shrug mentally. Whichever it is, the truth is that Vampires are unaffected by the temperature around them. Except when they feed and then their body temp rises.

"Right. Sorry." I quicken my pace to catch up after lagging behind at the shock of the heat. "What did you mean when you said 'yes and no' when I asked if Nick sent you to fetch me?"

He stops suddenly and I almost run into him. "First off-" He spins to face me. "I don't fetch for anyone, not even Nick. And second-" He turns and begins marching away again."-I don't know you. Why would I allow you anywhere near my Mate?"

"Even though Nick vouches for me?"

"Nick's never met you either, English. So what makes you think that counts for anything?"

"English? Why'd you call me that?"

"Shaw is an English name."

"Shortened from 'McShaw'. As in Adair McShaw. You do know who he is, right?" I stop walking and plant my feet, refusing to budge another step at this time.

He looks around, then, spying me, stomps back to stand in front of me, doing his best impression of a very pissed off Vampire. "Of course I know who Adair is. Fact remains, your family moved to America from England. Therefore, you-" He jabs me in the chest with his finger. "-are English."

"Actually," I shift my weight to one foot and tilt my head to the side. "I'm American. My family moved here sometime after the Revolution. But, if you want to call me something other than my name, how about 'Scot'?"

I can hear him grinding his teeth, then suddenly he grins at me before slapping me on the shoulder. "Good to know you won't back down from a fight. Dean has a lot of enemies."

"Does he now?" I narrow my eyes on his face. Should I count this man as one of Dean's enemies?

"C'mon," he says with a flick of his head before turning and continuing on his way to the parking lot.

I don't know what kind of vehicle I expect him to drive, but the H2 with the MDPD Crime Lab logo on the doors isn't even close.

He sees me eyeing the SUV and snorts. "I was on the clock when the call came in. H told me to take the Hummer instead of making you ride my bike."

"I'll have to thank him for that," I mutter, climbing into the front passenger seat.

The drive to the lab is full of the most awkward silence of my life. I keep trying to come up with something for us to talk about. The only thing I can come up with feels to me like the safest topic, for now.

"So, how long have you known Dean?" I turn a little in my seat so I can look at him.

"Long enough."

Am I not going to get any straight answers out of him? "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Look," he sighs and runs one hand through his already disheveled hair. "I still don't know you. Why should I tell you things only a friend should know?"

"So the fact that I'm Dean's Soul Mate and the reincarnation of Adair McShaw means nothing?" I love how he's trying to protect Dean and all, but damnit, I'm Dean's Mate! These people should trust me on that alone.

"Have you heard about what's been happening to the Clan lately?"

"I was told there was a war last year." I'm totally puzzled as to what that has to do with me. I wasn't even aware of Dean's true nature until recently.

"Yeah, well. The war wasn't just last year." He checks his mirrors and merges left. "It's been going on for years but became an all-out war in 2004 when an enemy tried to kill me then kidnapped Nick and buried him alive. And all this after trying to kill Tony with The Plague. There was a traitor within the Clan. And while he's been dealt with, Nick has gotten stricter about who has access to anything, and anyone, that has to do with the Clan."

"And because of that, you won't tell me how and when you met Dean?"

He chuckles. "No, that has to do with my not trusting you personally yet."

"If Dean can trust me, what can't you?"

He looks at me from the corner of his eye and I can see a small smile curling one corner of his mouth. "Does he really trust you? Think before you answer. Your answer to that will be found in your answer to this: has he told you everything, or anything really, about Sylum Clan? Do you still have questions he can easily answer?"

I open my mouth to say 'of course he trusts me' but something makes me pause and think. Really think about the past three months. It's not just that Dean hasn't answered questions about the Clan and his past. Or even that he's told me things of his own free will. It's more that I haven't asked. Of course he could have just told me but that's not Dean. He doesn't talk about things. He's very secretive about his past and all things to do with Vampire society. But still, he knows I need to know these things. "Dean's very secretive about his past. And his present, if I'm being honest." I try and keep my frustration from my voice but I know I'm not successful.

"As are most Vampires. Especially those of us that were Turned back when it was still illegal for us to exist." He glances at me from the corner of his eye again. "So, again, I ask you: if Dean doesn't trust you with his past, why should I?"

Grinding my teeth together, I try and regain control of my emotions. It won't do to anger this man. Not while I'm in his home territory. "I just want to know how you met Dean. Was he the one who Turned you?"

"No. Nick did. You'll find that Nick has Turned most of the Clan."

"Interesting." I rub my palm over my chin. "Will you, please, tell me how you met Dean? I'm finding too many people in my life knew him, and knew of him, before I did."

"You talking about Nicole?" Now that's a name I never thought I'd hear from him.

"How do you know Nicole?"

"She told you she's been a Chosen her whole life, right?"

"Yeah." I stretch the word out into several syllables.

"Well-" He takes a deep breath. "-a chosen isn't just the chosen of one Vampire but for the entire Clan."

I sigh deeply at how little I actually know about my soon to be family. "Maybe I should have started asking questions a couple of months ago."

"Ya think?" he quips with a bark of humorless laughter.

"So sue me. The man's great in bed and I tend to get distracted when we're alone."

"I know."

"I tend to think of-" I begin, then what he just said registers. "Wait, what?"

He snorts a laugh. "I said, 'I know'." He glances over his shoulder before merging right and then exiting the freeway. "You really think Dean hasn't fucked other members of the Clan?"

"I know he has a past but I never thought…" I shake my head. "I don't know what I thought. He keeps himself separate from the Clan so I didn't think it would be an issue. It's one thing when the former fuck buddy is a Donor but something else when it's another Vampire."

"Why's that?"

"With a Donor, the sex is like dessert. With another Vampire, it's just sex. And that makes me sound like a jealous boyfriend." I lean my head back against the seat and watch the scenery go by.

"Actually, I feel the same way about Horatio. From what I've been told, it means that you're who you need to be for your Vampire Mate to Turn you."

I turn my head to look at him. "I'm not sure I understand. I thought the soul determined who a Vampire is supposed to spend eternity with."

"Yes and no." Traffic's starting to pick up a bit so he stops talking to concentrate. "Before you yell at me for that evasive answer-" He continues when the traffic thins out again. "-it's not a question that has just a yes or no answer. See, the soul tells a Vampire when they've met the other half of their soul. But the soul has nothing to do with whether or not two people are compatible. Personality makes all the difference. You have to like the person the soul belongs to." He sighs and looks over at me when we stop at a red light. "I'm not explaining it very well, am I?"

"No, I understand. The Vampire and Human must be attracted to each other for the Bond to work. And the soul isn't what people are attracted to, that's the personality."

"Correct." The light turns green and he continues on our way to the crime lab. "From what I've been told, a Vampire who feels jealous over a Human has found the person he's supposed to Turn and Bond. And for the Human to feel that way for the Vampire means they've found the Vamp they belong with."

"I don't think Dean feels jealous over me."

"Nick begs to disagree." I look at him sharply in confusion. "Dean went to see him several months ago. You knew that, right?"

"I knew Dean went to Vegas to see a friend but I didn't know it was Nick."

"You have been talking to Nick, right?"

"Yeah. Couple of times a week since Dean told me he's a Vampire."

"Then you know Nick lives in Vegas?" I hadn't made to connection, but I nod my head. "Nick said that when Dean came to see him he was antsy, couldn't sit still. In fact, Nick said that when they went to eat, Dean's leg was bouncing so hard Nick was afraid it was going to move the table."

"And all this means that Dean is supposed to Turn me?"

"It does. Vampires are very protective of what's theirs, including Soul Mates; especially Soul Mates. Some don't mind sharing with Donors or the occasional Vampire and then there are those like me, and I'm guessing you and Dean, who can't bear the thought of their Mate fucking anyone but them."

I turn my head to stare out the window again. "At this time I've asked him to not fuck anyone else." I want to believe he'll respect my request, but a part of me keeps whispering that he's well over a thousand years old and has been fucking whoever catches his fancy all that time, so why should he stop now just 'cause I asked?

"You don't think he'll honor your request?" Tim's voice is soft, almost like he knows the answer but is afraid I'll break down when I say it.

"Honestly?" I sigh deeply. "I'm not sure. I'd like to say I'm positive he will, but I can't. Truth is, I just don't know him that well." The part of me that is Adair is screaming that I'm wrong, that Dean would never betray me once I ask him not to. While the other part of me is still saying it's possible."

We fall silent, each lost in our own thoughts. I lose all sense of time and so startle a bit when he puts the SUV in park and turns off the engine. "End of the line," he says but he makes no move to exit the vehicle. Clearing his throat, he shifts in his seat and I get the impression I'm not gonna like what he's about to say. "Look, Lieutenant," he begins.

"Carter, please," I interrupt.

"Carter." He dips his head in acknowledgment. "Dean has been angry with life in general and being a Vampire in particular for centuries. Because of that he kept himself hidden in the middle of the Sahara for most of his Vampire life. The time he's spent here is the longest he's been in Human society since his time in Medieval Japan."

"How long was that?"

"From 1290-1420." I give a low whistle. "It has never been illegal to be a Vampire in Japan. The next time he surfaced for any amount of time was around 1500. Only reason he's been here this long is because a Chosen that got him, and most of the Clan, wrapped around her little finger the first time they met, asked him to watch over her child when she discovered she was pregnant."

"But wouldn't any child of a Chosen be immediately protected by the Clan?"

"Yes, but she saw his wounded soul and wanted to heal it."

"He does seem to bring that out in people." I shift in my seat, mulling over what I have learned today about Vampires in general and Dean in particular. "So, what exactly are you saying?"

He chews his lower lip and I can see he's trying to decide if he can trust me with the rest of what he has to say. "What I'm saying is, Dean is still very much wounded. He doesn't talk much about his life before he was Turned but I do know he lost his parents tragically when he was a teenager. Their loss and the events leading up to it made him extremely angry with the world. Being taken in by the leader of his Clan did little to ease that anger or even the hurt he suffered at his parents' deaths. The Vampires who took him in after he was Turned tried to help him come to terms with his new life but they were mostly unsuccessful. Only Ardeth seemed to be able to get through to him. Well, Ardeth, Daniel, then John and finally Riddick." He turns to look me in the eye. "What I'm saying, Carter, is that Dean is special. He was Turned Without Consent and has had to struggle with wanting to end his life. I assure you that if anyone associated with Sylum knew who was responsible for his Turning, that… monster would rue the day he decided to Turn Dean without Dean's consent."

"Glad to know he has so many people looking out for him."

"Within Vampire society, Dean is special. And not just because of who he is or because he was Turned Without Consent, but because he never asked anyone to Dust him."

My brows lower in a frown of confusion. "Why does that make him special?"

"Most Vampires consider being Turned Without Consent close to being raped. Although not quite. You will be hard pressed to find a Vamp who was Turned Without Consent who hasn't at least thought about asking someone to Dust them."

"And Dean has never wanted to end his life?"

"Not that I'm aware of." Before he can say more, his cell rings. He pulls it out of his pocket and glances at the caller ID, then swears under his breath. "Duty calls," he sighs.

Giving a nod of my head, I grab my duffle from the backseat and climb from the cab. "Thanks for telling me what you did."

"Sure. I can tell you care for him a great deal and that man needs all the love he can get." He turns the car back on. "H is expecting you. Just go to reception and ask for Lieutenant Caine."

"Thanks again." I slam the door closed and watch as he backs out of the parking spot and then drives off down the road.

Slinging my duffle over my shoulder, I turn and enter the building. The inside of the building is full of light streaming in through glass walls. Everywhere I look is glass and chrome. It's an unusual design for a crime lab but somehow it seems to work.

I approach the reception desk and the pretty blonde uniformed officer behind it. "Lieutenant Carter Shaw to see Lieutenant Caine," I say when she glances up at me.

She smiles and picks up the phone. "Lieutenant? There's a Lieutenant Shaw here to see you." She pauses to listen to whatever Horatio's response is. "Understood, Sir." She hangs up the phone. "If you'll just sign in, Lieutenant Caine will be right down." She slides a visitor log toward me as well as a visitor's badge.

I return her smile and sign in. Just as I finish crossing my 't', the elevator behind me opens. "Lieutenant Shaw?" I turn and find myself face to face with a red-headed man about my height and age. He grins and walks toward me, one hand extended. "How was your flight?"

"Uneventful." He chuckles at my answer. "Does Nick always spring for first class?" I lean close to whisper in his ear.

"Only when his private jet is unavailable." He turns to his right and extends that arm to indicate he wishes to go in that direction. "Thanks, Paula. We'll take the short way back to my office. I just happened to be closer to the elevators when Paula called that you were here."

We begin walking in the direction he indicated, neither speaking until we can get somewhere private. I find myself admiring the architecture. And here I thought LA had some of the most unique architecture but Miami has proven that's not true. All the glass and chrome fits perfectly with the tropical atmosphere of the city.

After climbing a flight of stairs, we enter an office that keeps the glass and chrome theme going right down to the glass desk set on the far side of the room.

I dump my duffle on the floor next to the door and wander over to the windows that are overlooking a lab where techs are performing tests on samples of evidence.

"So," he begins, coming to stand at my left and join me in watching his techs do their jobs. "Nick said you still have questions."

"Yeah." I chew my bottom lip while trying to figure out how to word what I need to ask. "I was told that just a few years ago you were where I am in regards to your Mate."

"Pretty much, yes. One major difference is that I didn't fuck Tim until after he Turned me."

I glance sharply at him when he says that. "Are there no secrets in this Clan?"

"Not many, no. But don't worry. That's one secret that's not common knowledge. Yet. I can smell Dean on you."

"How is that possible? It's been nearly a day since I was last with him, and I've been in close contact with other Humans in the meantime."

"A Vampire's scent is stronger than a Human's. It lingers for days. It's how we 'mark' our Donors as well as those that have been fed from recently. The stronger the scent, the longer the Human has been with that particular Vampire." He eyes me like I'm a suspect. "You do know that one Human can only be fed from once every six to eight weeks, right?"

"That is one of the things I do know." I turn back to stare out the window. "Tell me about you and Tim, please."

"This lab-" He raps one knuckle against the glass. "-is his. He was a CSI before I was given the day shift supervisor position. I used to stand here and watch him work. There was always something about him. I never could quite put my finger on it. Then in 2004 we had what started out as a murder turned kidnapping that led us to a jewelry store. It went south fairly quickly once Tim and I entered the store. His gun jammed and he took one through the heart. He woke up on Alexx's, she's our ME, table. Just about gave her a heart attack. The rest of the team and I came in just as he was drinking the blood of a recent arrival in the morgue. When he said it wasn't enough to help him heal I offered myself. At first he refused. Told me I'm his Soul Mate and to feed from me would start the Bond and with our jobs that's not a good thing.

"It took a while, but I finally convinced him to feed from me. Afterwards I expected we'd get closer but it's like him feeding from me drove a wedge between us. While I was beginning to learn about Vampires and stuff like that, we were hardly ever alone. Outside of work, that is.

"Six months later, I met Nick. And learned that while I was taking my time deciding if I wanted to be Turned or not, Tim was getting weaker. I had no idea. He didn't tell me. When I found out, I made sure I got the answers I needed and then we began planning my Turning." He walks over to his desk and sits in the chair behind it. "What I'm saying, Lieutenant, is if you're not going to let Dean Turn you, you have to force him to leave."

I take a seat in one of the chairs in front of his desk. "You're not the first one to tell me that." I cross one knee over the other. "Only problem is, I can't do that. I barely remember my life before Dean but I do remember I was a bigger bastard than I currently am and I refuse to go back to that."

"I understand." He sits back in his chair. "I felt the same about Tim but you have to do one or the other. You have to either let him Turn you or make him leave."

"What if I leave?"

He chuckles. "Do you really think he wouldn't follow if you did?"

He has a point. But then again, so do I. "But I can't let him kill me."

"It's not for long. And is more like falling asleep. It's just so his Vampire DNA can overwrite your Human DNA."

"I know this. But I can't get past the fact that he has to watch me die and know that he did it."

"But he knows it's not a true death. It's just to start the process of Turning you into a Vampire. You'll be unconscious for several minutes to an hour and when you wake you'll be one step closer to becoming his Bonded Mate."

"Is this something you struggled with? Knowing he was going to have to end your Human life? And that he was going to have to watch as your heart stopped?"

"I did. But I have a feeling I didn't struggle with it for the same reason as you."


"Most of the Clan knows that Adair died in Dean's arms. And that he was head over heels for the man. Losing Adair that way and becoming an unwilling Vampire just added to his anger over his parents' deaths. Dean will cry as you die but they will be tears of joy because your death at his hands means you will not be taken from him ever again."

"How many times did Tim meet your soul before now?"

"Just once. During the Civil War. Tim was a doctor and Sean Caine came to his table barely alive. I remember looking up at him and asking him to not mourn that life's loss because I would return and we would be together then."

"And yet you struggled with letting him Turn you."

"You have to understand, Lieutenant," he begins.

"Carter, please," I interrupt. Being deep undercover like I usually am, I'm not used to being called by my rank anymore.

"Carter." He dips his head much like Tim did in the car. "You have to understand that I had no memory of any past lives until after he Turned me."

"Not one dream where you were living someone else's life?" It amazes me that he had absolutely no memories of his past lives when I've had them all my life.

He shakes his head. "No. Not even a hint. I did feel like I'd met Tim before when we were first introduced but other than that…" He shrugs. "From what I can tell it's not unusual." Before I can respond to that, the phone on his desk begins to ring. He looks at the caller ID and swears under his breath. "Excuse me. I have to take this," he says, lifting the receiver. "Horatio." He listens to whatever the person on the other end is saying, his expression darkening. "I understand. I'll be right there." He replaces the handset with a sigh, then looks at me. "I'm sorry, Lieu-Carter. Alexx has something I need to see." He stands and I follow suit. "It was a pleasure meeting you. I hope we meet again."

I take the hand he extends and shake it. "The pleasure was all mine, Lieutenant," I reply, turning to walk toward the door.

"Horatio, please. I have a feeling we'll be family soon." I look over my shoulder and see that he means it. He truly wants me to let Dean Turn me. I want that too, but I can't get past the whole dying in his arms for the second time thing. "Did Nick give you a ticket to go see Jethro as well? Or did he think I'd be able to convince you to Turn?"

"Everyone has suggested I see you and Jethro. But I think I'll rent a car and drive."

"That's quite a drive. Miami to DC."

"I have a lot of thinking to do and what better way than by driving?"

"You have a point," he chuckles, reaching around me to open the door. "I'll walk you out."

"Thanks." I pick up my bag and we both step through the door and begin walking down the hall toward the entrance.

When we arrive back at reception, he turns to me and again extends his hand. "I know we'll meet again, Lieutenant. And I know that when we next meet, you will have made the right decision for you."

I take his offered hand and again shake it. "Thanks, again, Lieutenant. I hope you're right. Right now I'm not sure what that is."

"You love him. Follow your heart." And with that he walks back the way we came.

I return the visitor's badge and ask the receptionist for the number to Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

While waiting outside for my rental car to arrive, I'm approached by Tim again. "All done asking your questions?"

"Your Mate has told me what he can."

He tilts his head to the side. "Why do I feel like you haven't gotten all your answers?"

"Maybe because I haven't?" I tuck my hands in my front pockets. "I'm off to see Jethro Gibbs now."

"Yeah? Need a ride back to the airport?"

"I have a rental car coming. I'm actually going to drive. Need the time to think."

"You could always crash in our guest room. Get a fresh start in the morning."

"As tempting as that offer is, I think I'd rather get a start now." I don't want to offend these Vampires, I just might need their help with Dean one day, but I also need to be alone to think about what I've been told today.

"It is a lot to take in, I admit. I'm not sure I would have made the decision to be Turned if I wasn't already dying."

"And yet you think I should." I make it a statement and can see in his eyes that he knows what I mean.

"Just imagine not having to worry about your health, ever again. Being able to be with Dean forever. Bonding is more binding than a Human marriage contract. There isn't a job in the world that can fire you, or refuse to hire you, because you have a male lover since the two of you are Vampires."

"Except Dean's not out, yet. Only two members of our team know he's a Vamp; me and Jaimie."

"Law says if you tell your employer in confidence that you're a Vamp, it's not to be added to your employee records. Same with your doctor. Of course, you'll have to start seeing a Sylum doctor once you Turn, but you'll quickly discover that there are members of Sylum, Chosen and Vampires alike, in every single government agency in the country as well as in the medical profession. Doctors and EMTs in most major cities are usually Chosen."

"Yeah, I kinda got that. Dean was shot in the vest on a case and I figure the EMTs had to have been Chosen to overlook the fact that he doesn't have a pulse."

Before he can even open his mouth to respond, a newer model sedan with the Enterprise car rental agency logo on the door pulls up and a well dressed man in his mid-twenties gets out. "Carter Shaw?" he asks, glancing at the clipboard in his hands.

I raise one hand and call back, "That's me." Turning to face Tim again, I say, "It was a pleasure, Speed."

"Likewise," he replies. "Follow your heart, Carter and I know you'll make the right decision."

"Thank you." I approach the car and allow the rental agent to assist me into the passenger seat.

Luckily he doesn't seem inclined to fill the silence with useless chatter, instead only answering my questions about prices.

Once at the rental agency, the paperwork is quickly taken care of and all is running smoothly until I go to pay. When I had the agent my card she pushes it back and says, "Your bill has already been paid in full for a whole month, Mr. Shaw."

"By who?" I demand, trying to figure out how Dean could have found me.

She glances at her computer screen, a small frown marring her forehead. "Sylum Corporation. Your assistant called and said you went off and left your corporate card." My assistant? "He wanted you to have an SUV but, unfortunately, we don't have any available at this time so he said a Dodge Charger would be fine."

Sylum Corporation. Nick. Tim must have called him about my change in plans.

"Is everything okay, Mr. Shaw?" The agent brings my attention back to her.

"Hm? Oh, yes. I just wasn't aware that my assistant knew I had left my card behind."

She chuckles. "You executive types tend to forget that your assistants know everything." She slides a sheet of paper toward me and points to the line where I'm supposed to sign. "He said when he went to put your mail on your desk, he saw your card sitting there, right where he put it so you wouldn't forget it" She squares all the papers by tapping them on the counter before stapling them together and folding them into an envelope which she then hands to me. "He said to call him when you get to a hotel and he'll overnight it so you'll have it for your trip."

"Thank you." I take the envelope. "Do you have a map from here to DC?"

The smile she gives me tells me I'm showing my age. "The Charger is a 2010 and has a GPS."

"Of course. Thanks, again."

Just as I turn from the counter, a man who could be the younger brother of the one who drove me here enters and approaches. "Mr. Shaw?"

"That's me."

"Your car's ready. If you'll follow me." He turns and exits, holding the door for me.

Pulled up to the curb just outside the door is a shiny black 2010 Dodge Charger. It's certainly nicer than anything I'd ever rent, or even buy, for myself. In fact all my vehicles have been pre-owned. None have been more than a few years old, with the exception of my very first car. That one was handed down from my parents and was over ten years old, but in excellent condition.

I nod my thanks when the young man hands me the keys. Pulling my phone from my pocket, I slide behind the wheel and press the speed dial number for Nick. Twisting the key in the ignition, I turn the car on and worry that it might be too early in Nick's day for a phone call. It is early evening in Miami so it would be late afternoon in Vegas. I really have no idea what time he gets up.

"Stokes," Nick answers after the third ring.

"I didn't wake you, did I?"

Nick chuckles. "Of course not. Got about an hour before I have to be at work so I was already up. What can I do for you?"

I take a deep breath and try to figure out the nicest way of asking the leader of one of the most powerful Vampire Clans on the planet if he's been butting into my and Dean's affairs. "Who played the part of my assistant?"

He laughs softly. "That would be me. Is the car to your liking?"

"It's, uh, it's fancier than I usually go for."

"Yeah, I tried to get you your usual vehicle but they were all out."

"So the agent said." I lean my head back against the seat. "Why'd you do this, if you don't mind my asking?"

When he doesn't answer right away, I'm afraid I've gone and pissed him off. Just as I'm about to apologize for overstepping my bounds, he sighs deeply and says, "You still haven't figured out that you have a family now, have you?" I lean forward and rest my forehead against the steering wheel. "You belong to Sylum and we take care of our own."

"But I'm not a Vampire, nor have I Pledged my Oath."

"Doesn't matter, Carter. You're Dean's Soul Mate. That makes you family."

I take a deep breath and hold it for several seconds. "I haven't made my decision about that, Nick."

"I know."

"Tell me what to do."

"I can't do that. Only you can tell you what the next step is."

"I don't know that I can."

"I get that. Really I do. Only problem is it isn't fair to Dean. You have to make a decision; either let him Turn you or force him into walking away."

"So everyone keeps telling me," I mutter, sitting upright and running one hand down my face. "You have any idea how difficult it is to even think of a life without him?"

"I think I have an idea, yeah."

Of course he does. Just like most every other Vampire around, well, those who have been around long enough to have watched their Soul Mate die a Human death. "Right, sorry. I just…" I falter with a frustrated growl.

"You haven't asked about him."

"I know. I'm not sure I want to know."

"Let me tell you that if you force him to leave, it won't be pretty."

"Meaning?" My brows lower in a frown over hearing that.

"Meaning you're going to have one hell of a time cleaning up after him when you get back from this navel gazing trip of yours. And you're damn lucky Maynard's a Chosen."

I bite back a groan. "What has Dean done?" I ask, then the rest of his statement registers. "Wait, what? Maynard's a Chosen?"

Nick chuckles. "I'll answer your first question, first." There are some rustling noises on the other end of the phone and I can just see Nick preparing for his shift. "I haven't been told any details, just that a member of the Clan who also happens to be FBI, managed to get him holed up in a room in one of the local Vamp bars."

"He's gorging himself, isn't he?"

"I can't say yes or no. But only because I haven't asked but this is Dean we're talking about so the safe bet is on yes."

That hurts in a way I'm not sure I'm really ready to analyze and because of that, I do my best to keep my disappointment out of my voice. "I see."

Nick, of course, hears it. "Did you ask him to be faithful?"

"Was that wrong of me?"

"Can't say. That's between the two of you. From what I know of Dean he's usually nothing but faithful to someone he's exclusive with."

"But we're not exactly exclusive. So, was I wrong to ask it of him? I mean after centuries of fucking his Donors, do I really have the right?"

"The part of me that wants to knock both your heads together wants to say no, you weren't wrong. But the part of me that hates to be tied down says oh, hell, yes."

I was afraid of that. "What now, Nick?"

"Go see Gibbs. Listen to what he has to say."

"Why should I talk to these two men? And don't tell me it's because they were where I am now."

"Fine. The truth is that Horatio was one of those that never believed, nor didn't believe, in Vampires. He has always told me that just because he never met one didn't prove, or disprove, their existence. And Gibbs, well, Gibbs was just like you. He said that Vampires didn't exist based on the fact that it's scientifically impossible for them to. When Tony finally told him his secret, Gibbs freaked. He didn't run but only because he had nowhere to run to. He did spend a hell of a lot of time on the phone with Horatio, trying to wrap his brain around the fact that his 2IC was a Vampire and that he was said Vampire's Soul Mate."

"Very well. Where would I be able to find Gibbs? In the morning, of course."

"He'd be at the Navy Yard since he works for NCIS."

"NCIS?" I've never actually heard of them but I have a feeling they're crime scene investigators. "He investigates crimes?"

"Yeah. You'll quickly learn that most Vampires are in some kind of law enforcement. And quite a few Chosen as well, which effectively answers the second part of that question from earlier." He gives me the address to the Navy Yard and I put it into the GPS.

"Thanks, Nick." I put the car in drive and ease out into traffic.

"Any time, Carter. Really. All you have to do is pick up the phone and call."

"I do have a couple more questions."

"Ask. I'll answer as honestly as I can."

"If I make Dean leave, will I be able to change my mind?"

"No. If you don't decide to let him Turn you now, if you make him walk away, that's it. There is no second chance."

"What about letting him Turn me but waiting to Bond?"

"What if you get Dusted before then? Have you heard the story of when I lost Warren?"

"You destroyed a whole village; men, women, children and animals."

"And then I burnt their fields and salted the ground so that nothing would be able to grow there."

"Damn, Nick." I think I'm starting to understand why everyone's pushing me to Turn.

"Warren was killed because someone I trusted turned traitor and outed me and Warren by association. See, back then it was not only illegal to be a Vampire but to also know a Vampire. I've been told that the first person I killed when I returned to that village was the traitor, followed by every man who participated in Warren's murder. Do you understand why you have to make this decision now?"

"But he hasn't fed from me."

"But he has touched you. It's almost as bad. Not to mention the fact that he's gone almost eleven hundred years without his Soul Mate. Other than me, only Daniel Jackson and one other has gone longer. See, Carter, the thing is, the longer you make him wait, the weaker he becomes. Oh, not physically or even mentally; but emotionally. Each day that passes, he becomes my weakest link. Much as I love the boy, I can't have him seen as a weakness for Sylum."

"Oh, so this is purely selfish on your part, is it?" I try to make it into a joke but I'm not really seeing it that way.

"Not really. Well, not entirely. I love Dean and want to see him happy, Bonded and settled. I'll admit there are several reasons for this wish: one, it'll help keep him from giving me any more gray hairs. Two, he'll no longer be a pretty target for my enemies. And three, he deserves to finally have everything he desires and right now, that's you, Carter Shaw. I've been around long enough that I can tell this is it for the two of you. If you don't let him Turn you, I don't think you'll get another chance. I truly think he'll find a way to get his ass Dusted if you end this."

Great. Just what I needed to hear, that my indecision could be leading Dean to thoughts of suicide when he hasn't ever had them before. "I'm still really torn, Nick."

"I know and I'd love to continue to discuss it with you, but if I don't leave now, I'll be late for work."

"Alright. Thanks for the answers you did give."

"Anytime. Please don't hesitate to call if you need anything else."

"I won't, I promise. Now go catch some bad guys." He chuckles at that and we hang up.

Tossing the phone onto the seat next to me, I merge with traffic on the freeway headed out of Miami, feeling slightly unnerved at having the ocean on the wrong side of the road. Setting the cruise control, I turn the radio to a soft jazz station, keeping the volume low enough that I can just hear it so that any news breaks will alert me to turn the volume back up. With that done and with nothing else to do but drive and think, I settle back in my seat and let my mind roam through everything I've learned about Vampires combined with everything I once thought I knew about them.

For as long as I can remember I've had dreams where I was living someone else's life. Until recently I thought they were just the work of an over active imagination. Now, of course, I know they're memories of my past lives.

I remember the only time I ever told anyone about the dreams. I was five or six and told my mother about a dream I had where I was a fierce warrior who could kill with a casual twist of his wrist. My mother's reaction was to yell at my father for letting me watch a gladiator movie at such a young age. The truth was that I had dreamt I was a Highland warrior but I didn't have the words to tell her that.

As a child my dreams were mostly about my past lives' daily routines. Snapshots of them at work, mostly, and occasional battles from the lives where I was a soldier, but as I got older they began to include scenes of their sex lives as well. I never figured out I had been a woman twice, not even when the other person was a man; I've known since puberty that I like both men and women. But my dreams of Dean were always different.

For the most part the visions of Dean were from afar and so the feelings of longing and love that flooded my gut whenever I saw him made me think I was a woman who was in love with a man I had no chance of being with. It wasn't until after Dean and I met that I first dreamt of Adair and Dean fucking. In fact, it was the very night after Dean came to my office to demand I hire him for my team that I dreamt of the first time Adair fucked Dean.

I now know it happened the night after Dean's first kill in his first true battle. Dean was grooming his horse and Adair entered the stall and pushed him face first over a stack of hay bales. Adair didn't say a word, just lifted his léine and proceeded to fuck him raw. After he pulled out, he wiped some of his come mixed with Dean's blood on Dean's cheeks before stalking away, again without a single word.

For years I thought Adair blamed his obsession with Dean on Dean himself, and therefore hated Dean and that that was why he raped him, although rape wasn't a word that was used back in those days in regards to what Adair did to Dean. It wasn't until the night Dean told me he's a Vampire that I had a dream about the last time Dean and Adair fucked. The love that flooded me as I looked into Dean's eyes from Adair's prospective told me that Adair didn't become Dean's first male lover out of hate or anger but out of a love he had no clue how to express.

I drive until my stomach demands I fill it and so begin scanning the roadside looking for a hotel, preferably one with a restaurant attached. I eventually find a Howard Johnson's and pull off the freeway and into the parking lot.

I pay for a room for the night, then head into the restaurant. A bored looking teenager escorts me to a table near the back and all but throws the menu at me before marching away. With a rueful shake of my head at the manners of young people today, which for a moment makes me feel like a crotchety old man before I dismiss that thought with a snort, I open the sticky plastic covered menu and try to figure out what I want to eat.

"Hi!" A perky voice startles me out of my contemplation of the food on offer. "My name's Ada, and I'll be your server tonight. Can I get you something to drink to start?"

I blink up at the face of a woman who is probably in her fifties but looks twenty years younger. She has a smile that's contagious and before I know it, I'm smiling back. "Cup of decaf, please."

"If you're passing through, might better make that regular," she suggests with a pointed looked out the window where the sun is quickly sinking behind the horizon.

With a chuckle I shake my head. "I'm stopping for the night. Only asked for the coffee because it smells good."

"Oh, it is!" she gushes. I bet she gets a ton of tips. "You ready to order or do you need a few more?"

"What's good here? Other than the coffee, that is."

We share a laugh at my joke. "The burgers and French toast."

"Hm. Not in the mood for breakfast for dinner," I murmur. "I'll take the burger," I decide, handing her the menu.

"One burger," she repeats, writing it on her order pad. "Fries?" I nod. "What would you like on it?"


"Cheese?" When I nod again, her grin gets wider. "You're starting to drool," she explains before I can ask what's so funny. "Are we hungry?" she asks just as my stomach protests its empty status, which has her chuckling at me. "I'll take that as a yes. How'd you like that cooked?"


"Okay. I got one cheeseburger with everything, medium with a side of fries and a cup of decaf. Anything else?"

"No ma'am. That'll be all for now."

"Alrighty, then. I'll be right back with that coffee." She winks before turning and walking away, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

Ada is one of those waitresses who are excellent at her job. She manages to deliver my coffee without disturbing me too much. Likewise, when she delivers my burger, I didn't even have to stop the stream of consciousness rolling through my head.

As soon as I'm alone with my meal, I lean over and inhale deeply, closing my eyes in bliss at the mouthwatering smell of the food before me. Picking up a fry, I wonder idly if Dean is able to drool or if, like with sweating, it's something Vampires can no longer do. Hard on the heels of that thought is the memory of a night a few weeks ago; Dean had just finished an op that required him to live in the target's pocket and left him with almost no time to check in, much less get away for a face-to-face. I had spent the weeks of our separation at his place, and when I stepped from the shower this one night, Dean was leaning in the doorway to the bathroom, leering at me with his fangs fully extended and I'm nearly positive that he was drooling. Guess I'll find out for sure once I Turn. If I Turn, that is.

I shake my head at myself. Why am I fighting this? It's what Dean wants. It's what I want, if I'm honest with myself. So why am I so hesitant to seal my life with his? Is all this agony really worth the worry I'm putting him through?

I munch my fries and burger, grunting my thanks when Ada refills my coffee, totally lost in my thoughts.

Nick says I have to make a decision, soon, or Dean will become a weakness that Sylum enemies will try and exploit to get to Nick. I cannot allow that to happen. It's not fair to Nick or Dean or anyone else within the Clan. They've all been through so much lately that to allow another traitor an opening in the shape of Dean is beyond cruel.

"Must be some hell of a problem." Ada's mirth filled voice manages to break through my musings.

"Hm?" I hum up at her, blinking at her smiling face where she's hovering nearby.

"I've been asking for the past several minutes if you'd like dessert or if you're ready for your check."

"Oh!" I give a huff of humorless laughter. "It's nothing really. Just happens sometimes when I'm alone."

"If you say so. So, check or dessert?"

I can tell she doesn't believe that my problem is nothing but she's a complete stranger. "Check, please."

"There ya go." She whips the bill out of her apron pocket and lays it gently on the table at my left elbow. "Enjoy your stay!" She turns on her heel with military precision, and I watch her head over to a table on the other side of the room and take the order of the young family of four, two of whom are under the age of five, that's sitting there.

Slipping enough money to give Ada a very generous tip onto the table, I rise from my chair and make my way to the cash register where I'm greeted by the same bored teenager that lead me to my seat earlier. I hand her the bill along with the cash to pay. She doesn't speak a word to me as she takes my money and hands me my change. I smile at her to try and get her to respond but all she does is stare stupidly at me. At least she's not chomping on some gum.

"Thank you," I say pointedly.

"Yeah, whatever," she mumbles back.

"Have a nice night." I make one last attempt to get some kind of response other than that of a bored teenager. Her only response is a glare and a grunted 'yeah'. With a sigh I exit the restaurant and head to my room.

Once in my room, I drop my duffle on the little table just inside the room, then turn to secure the door using the hotel's security measures before pulling some items from my bag to make the door extra secure. I then strip the comforter and blanket from the bed and then stretch out on top of the sheets still fully clothed, fighting the urge to pull my cell phone out of my pocket and reread Dean's text messages.

Dean's texts range from g to triple x. I'm not sure which surprise me most. The man does seem to love making me blush, after all.

I lose my internal battle with myself and pull my cell from my pocket. Placing it on the table, I roll from the bed and remove all my clothes, then toss back the top sheet before laying back down.

Picking up my cell, I scroll through my texts until I find the ones I want while fondling myself. The raunchiest of his texts describes in great detail what he'd love to do to me on a near constant basis. My favorite texts where sent at the most inopportune times, usually while I was in a meeting with Maynard or when Ty was standing over my desk discussing something. When they'd arrive during the latter situation, I would look over at Dean and find him engrossed in conversation with Jaimie, not looking at his phone and, more often than not, typing one handed. What makes that last one even more surprising is he doesn't have a full keyboard on his phone.

While scrolling through my texts, I come across one of Dean's tamer messages where he describes how much he cares for me and how he can't wait until we can be alone, and it effectively kills the mood much like a bucket of ice water. Setting my phone back on the table, I roll from the bed again. Pulling on my boxers I pace the tiny room, my hands fisted in my hair as I try and come to terms with the fact that I have to either let Dean kill me or force him into walking away.

Knowing what I do about Dean, I know that forcing him to do anything he doesn't want to will not be easy and forcing him to walk away from me, well, that'll be damn near impossible. Not to mention heartbreaking on both our parts.

"Why is this so blasted difficult?" I wonder out loud.

Surely there's some way of making it easier. That thought sparks another and soon I'm digging through drawers until I locate a pad of paper and a pen.

Sitting down at the table, I draw a line down the center of the paper and another horizontally about an inch from the top. On one side of the center line I write 'Pros' and on the other I write 'Cons'. Under the pro column I write: never get sick again, never die, be with Dean forever and see all the scientific discoveries of the future. Under the con column I write: can die if someone cuts off Dean's head, Dean has to watch me die for the third time, Dean has to kill me. So, I have to die before I can live forever. Thanks for nothing, Universe.

I know what I have to do, now, but still want to talk to Gibbs before I actually make my decision.

Having that settled in my mind, I crawl onto the bed and settle on my right side and fall into a fitful sleep.

For the first time in a long time, I have a new dream. Of all my lives I know very little about the two after Adair. I can tell within minutes that this dream is about one of those two lives.

The cell is dark and stinks of human refuse. The despair I've felt since I was thrown in here three days ago has only increased. I find I can't stay still any longer and so jump up and rush the door. Three days ago I was tried and convicted of adultery with the Lord Mayor's wife because I dared to touch her with my filthy hands when she tripped in the street. My hands hadn't been all that dirty at the time. Hell, I didn't even leave a smudge on her pretty pink dress.

"I didn't do anything!" I scream for what feels like the thousandth time, rattling the bars of my cell, tears of anguish streaming down my cheeks. "I didn't do anything wrong." A sob escapes.

I'm never going to see my family again. Never watch my children grow up, hold my wife in my arms, make sure my sisters are well placed. My shoulders shake with the force of my silent sobs and I rest my forehead against the bars.

A guard appears and begins hitting my fingers with his baton, growling, "Back! I said back!" the whole time. As soon as I step back he pulls out a key and unlocks the door while replacing his baton in its loop on his belt. He pulls a pair of handcuffs from the other side of his belt while stepping forward and motioning with his finger for me to turn around. I do as instructed, and stand there placidly as he places the handcuffs around my wrists.

"Sire, please!" I beg looking over my shoulder as the guard secures the cuffs. "I didn't do anything!"

"The Lord Mayor's wife begs to disagree." Actually that's wrong, she defended me but for whatever reason her husband found me to be a threat and so decided to have me killed.

The guard pulls me from the cell and it isn't until we're almost to the outer door that I realize I'm only wearing a loincloth. While no one truly cares about nudity, it will shame my family to see me dressed thus. "Please!" I beg again. "I have a family!"

"Should have thought of that before you touched the Lord Mayor's wife," he growls, tugging on my arm and pulling me off balance.

"At least let me put on a shift!" I dig in my heels. I refuse to leave this building in this state of undress.

"Lord Mayor didn't say anything about letting you dress."

"Please, think of my family and the shame they'll experience seeing me marched through the streets dress thusly!"

"Should have…" he begins.

"Should have thought of that before, I know," I grumble, still dragging my feet. "I wish I was a vampire!" I yell causing the man to glance sharply at me. "Cause then I could get away from you and kill you for this."

"You broke the law, not me. I'm just carrying out the sentence the Lord Mayor handed down."

Once we're outside, a commotion just out of sight draws my guard's attention and allows me to slip from his grasp. I run as fast as I can with my hands tied behind me. I turn a corner and suddenly I'm tripping over my feet right into the arms of a complete stranger. I didn't see him or the rock I tripped over, because I'm looking over my shoulder trying to keep away from the guards. The stranger sets me back on my feet, his hands wrapped around my bare shoulders.

A sizzle skirts across my nerve endings at the contact, causing me to look up sharply. Our eyes meet, and I swallow a gasp of recognition. How I know him, I have no clue. I've never laid eyes on him before and yet, I know him. A name comes to mind and before I'm even aware of it, it slips past my lips in a desperate whisper, "Dean."

Before he can do more than blink at me, the guards come tearing around the corner behind me, shouting in glee when they see me. "Please, sir. Don't let them take me! I'm innocent, I swear it!" I beg of the stranger, pleading with my eyes for him to believe me.

"Step away from him!" one of the guards orders. I can feel the tip of a small one-handed crossbow pointed at my head.

"What has he done?" the stranger asks, still staring into my eyes.

"That's none of your concern, sir." And damn if they aren't right.

"Please, sir. I didn't do anything!" I try one last time to get him to help me.

"Didn't do anything?" another of the guards demands, stepping up behind me and smacking me behind the knees causing me to sag against the stranger. "You were caught in a compromising position with the Lord Mayor's wife!"

"She tripped! All I did was catch her so she wouldn't harm herself!" My eyes are wide with fear. "Please!" I whisper, tears starting to fall. "They're going to kill me and I have a lot of mouths to feed."

"Should have thought of that before," the guard who struck me says, wrapping his hand around my upper arm and pulling me from the stranger's grasp.

His brows lower in a frown as he realizes that I'm about to be executed. "Was he given a trial of any kind? Allowed to plead his side of things?"

A third guard pushes him back. "Stay out of things that don't concern you, stranger," he growls, all three of them turning and walking away, dragging me behind them.

Just before we turn the corner, I look back at the stranger and shout his name. I can see tears in his eyes but he only shakes his head and follows to see where they're taking me.

A few feet past the corner is a square and in the center is a platform upon which rests a bloody tree stump and a man wearing a mask and holding a battle axe. I'm forced to climb the stairs to the platform, keeping eye contact with Dean for as long as I can, and then I'm shoved down onto my knees in front of the stump. When I give one last fight for my life, my arms are pulled out to my sides forcing me to lean down. When my head touches the stump, I sense the axe man raise his axe and begin to twist my head from side to side. One of the soldiers climbs the platform to tie my head to the stump. When he steps back the executioner again raises his axe and lets it fall, and that's the last thing I remember along with the screams of my wife and children.

I wake with a gasp, sitting upright in bed, my hands grasping frantically at my neck. This dream was about the life right after Adair. Well, maybe the words 'right after' aren't quite right. But it was the next life after Adair's death. I'm not sure how many years had passed between the two because I don't know what year it was when Adair died, nor do I know what year Marcus was born. I'd have to ask Dean but he shies away from talking about Adair.

This dream brings the grand total of memories I have of Marcus to five. The other life I lived between Marcus and my current one, well, let's just say I don't even know his name. And I only know he was male because the man in the three memories I have of that one called him either 'Pet' or 'Boy'.

I swing my legs around until I'm sitting on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands. I felt that axe strike my neck, felt it chop off my head. I know that memories can be that intense at times but this one has left me shaking. Not since the dream of Adair's death have I felt such pain.

Scrubbing my hands down my face, I notice that there is light outside the window. A quick glance at my phone shows it's after seven so I decide to go ahead and begin my day.

Grabbing some clean clothes from my duffle, I head into the bathroom and make quick work of washing my body. I now understand why Dean keeps his head shaved. A shaved head makes it so much easier to take a quick shower. After brushing my teeth, I make sure I have my keys, phone and wallet before leaving my room, tossing my bag into the car and heading to the restaurant for breakfast.

This morning, the bored teen is male and actually gives a half-heart 'morning' before leading me to the same table I sat at last night. I don't expect to see Ada, since it was rather late when I arrived after all, and so it's with some surprise that I see her approaching my table.

A big smile splits her face when she sees me. "Morning! You don't look quite so wild around the eyes." She makes circles in front of her face with one finger. "Sleep well?"

"Not really," I respond with a sigh.

She frowns. "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."

I shrug. "I don't normally sleep well away from home." And Dean.

"Hopefully your trip isn't a long one, then." She smiles again. "Ya here for some of that French toast I told ya about last night?"

"I am." I hand over the menu. "And a cup of regular. Oh, and speaking of last night," I call her back when she turns to go place my order. "Do you live here or something? I mean it was really late when I arrived and it's pretty early now."

"Well-" She clears her throat. "There are only three of us on staff and the other two are off having a baby. Plus, I don't need as much sleep as I used to. So…" She gives a one-shouldered shrug.

"You don't need as much sleep? How is that?" I don't know what I'm expecting but it certainly isn't having her casually open her mouth and extend a set of fangs. "You're a Vampire?" How many are there?

"Does it bother you?"

I shake my head. "No. I recently discovered someone close to me is a Vamp. Just surprised, is all."

"Why? Do you think all Vampires have enough money they don't need to work anymore? Or that they have the skills to not have to work at a blue collar job?"

I sit back in my seat, trying to get away from her growing rage, and raise my hands, palms out. "Whoa! I happen to know several Vampires who are cops and EMTs. I admit I've never met one who worked at a restaurant but that's not what I'm surprised about."

She visibly deflates. "Sorry. Haven't ever told a stranger before."

"It's fine." I give a small smile, trying to show that there are no hard feelings.

"How about I go fill your order and then come back and we'll talk, hm?"


When she walks back to the kitchen to place my order, I turn and stare out the window wondering just how many of the people milling about are Vampires. Surely the Vampire population isn't greater than the Human one, but one can never tell for sure, which is part of the reason for the Registration Act. It's the government's way of trying to control the growing Vampire population. They tried to enforce a punishment for Turning a Human but that was defeated because of the fact that a Vampire must be Bonded to be at full strength and to do that, a Vampire must Turn their Soul Mate. The government settled on the Registration Act and setting a hefty fine for Turning Without Consent. Although from what I can tell, most Clans have their own punishment for that, not to mention the Council does ultimately punish a Vampire who is accused of Turning a Human without that Human's consent.

A few minutes later, Ada returns with a cup of coffee and takes the seat across from me. She stacks her hands on top of the table and leans forward. "Would you like to hear my story?"

I take a sip of my coffee and say "Sure" once I've replaced it on the saucer.

"Okay." She glances around, then begins her tale. "It happened one night twenty years ago as I was walking home from the club where I worked. A man grabbed me from behind. I expected to be raped because the area was deemed free of Vampires. He must have been young or one of those Vampires that don't care about their Donors because he didn't try to make me think he was doing anything other than what he truly was. The pain was intense, I'd never been fed from before but I knew within a few minutes that something wasn't right." She pauses, drops her eyes to the table and lifts one hand to her neck. "I was beginning to feel lightheaded, but I was still lucid enough to notice another man knock that monster off me. At first I thought they were going to fight over me like two lions over a kill but the first man just ran off. The second man came back to where I was still lying and spoke soothingly to me, telling me I was going to be fine and asking if I wanted to live." She looks up at me. "Of course I wanted to live. So he bit his wrist and forced me to drink. When I woke up, I was in my own bed and I thought it had all been a dream." She pauses and looks over her shoulder. "I'll be right back," she says when she sees that my French toast is ready.

When she brings the plate back to the table, she sets it in front of me and resumes her place across the table. "Who was the Vampire who saved you?" I have my suspicions but I need to hear her say it.

"Tim Speedle."

I nod. It's as I thought. "So have you been lucky enough to find your Mate yet?"

"Oh, yes!" She brightens at my question. "After I woke, Tim explained what happened and then left me and my husband alone. Turns out that Landon believed in Vampires, even knew a few, and so he had no problem with my suddenly becoming one. He reached out and ran one finger down my cheek. We both jumped at the static shock; our apartment has solid wood floors and so there was no carpet for him to have built up a charge on." She drops her eyes to the table top again. "Landon called Tim back into the room and asked what it meant. Tim explained it meant we were Soul Mates." She sits back in her chair. "You need more coffee?" When I shake my head, one corner of her mouth lifts in a tiny smile. "Well, Tim took us off to Sylum Manor and we began our education into all things Vampire. Landon and I began planning his Turning. It'll be nineteen years since Landon and I Bonded next week."

Stabbing the last bite of French toast with my fork, I sweep it around the plate to collect the last of the maple syrup and pop it in my mouth. Chewing slowly, I sit back in my chair and cradle the coffee cup in my hands. "So why'd you wait a year to Turn your husband?"

"We wanted his Turning to coincide with our wedding anniversary and we had just celebrated it two days before I was attacked."

"I see." I take a sip.

"Need more?" she nods at the cup in my hands. I hand it over with a smile. She gets up and returns with the pot, pouring some into the cup before retaking her seat. "So, was my story helpful for you?"

"In a way, yes." She just raises one eyebrow. "Remember when I told you I recently found out someone close to me is a Vampire?" She nods. "Well, not only did I find out he's a Vampire, but that I'm his Soul Mate. I've had a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that he's going to have to kill me in order to Turn me and for us to Bond."

"And have you?"

"Come to terms with it?" When she nods again, I shrug and lean forward to rest my arms on the table. "I think so, yeah."

"So, are you headed home, now?" She gets up from the table, pulling a rag from her apron pocket and wiping the table.

"Not yet. I have someone I need to see in DC first."

"Fair enough. Can I get you anything else?"

"Nope, just the check." She slips the ticket onto the table and smiles before turning and walking away.

This time when I go to pay, I don't try to engage the bored teenager in conversation, just hand over my money and walk away.

Once on the freeway, I set the cruise control and let my mind wander to what it might be like to be fed from. Will it hurt? Will Dean make sure it doesn't? What will it be like to Bond with him?

Of course these are questions I won't be able to answer until I return to LA, unless I can convince Gibbs or his Mate to feed from me while I'm in DC. As if I could think of a more awkward question to ask, and along those lines I can't help wondering what Dean would think if I told him that he wouldn't be the first Vampire to bite me. I've already asked Dean to not sleep with his donors, so the shoe being on the other foot just doesn't sit right with me. I would like to know, though.

I enter DC limits just after sundown and find a hotel near the Navy Yard after hitting a drive-thru for dinner. When I get to my room, I turn my cell off and pointedly ignore the temptation to read Dean's messages again. I'll be seeing him in a day or two, I can wait. Instead I go straight to bed. During the night, if I dreamt I don't remember it but that doesn't mean my sleep was peaceful, just dreamless.

The next morning finds me grumpy and irritable, which isn't helped by the drive to the Navy Yard, which is an exercise in frustration. And here I thought driving in downtown LA was confusing.

At the yard, I enter the NCIS building and approach the security checkpoint. I pull my badge from my pocket and flip it open to show the guards. "Lieutenant Carter Shaw to see Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs."

One guard, who looks like he used to play pro ball, takes my ID and examines it while another tells me to empty my pockets into one bucket and place my weapons in another before stepping through the metal detector. I do as instructed and once on the other side I'm given my badge back along with the contents of my pockets. My guns, however, are locked in what appears to be a safety deposit box and I'm told I'll get them back when I leave; not that I'll need them here.

After signing the visitor's log and clipping the badge to my jacket, a guard escorts me to the elevator. He presses the button for the correct floor and wishes me luck. I'm getting the feeling that Gibbs has something of a reputation for being a hardass.

When the doors to the elevator open, I'm surprised at the openness of the area. While it's not as airy as the Miami crime lab, it's not as closed off as the station in LA. The walls are painted orange on the lower half and gray on top but it works somehow. The carpet is tan in color, which doesn't seem as off-putting as one would expect. The desks are not right next to each other nor are they separated by cubicle walls. There are walls separating sections of the room, separate areas for the different teams, perhaps?

Before I can even step from the elevator a man just a few years younger than me approaches. "Lieutenant Shaw?" he asks, holding out his hand.

I look him up and down trying to figure out if he's Gibbs or Gibbs' Mate, Tony. He's about two inches taller than me with brown hair that looks like someone was running their fingers through it and aristocratic features that have me pegging him as Anthony DiNozzo, born Antonio Crisafi. "That's me. Special Agent DiNozzo?" I reply, taking his hand and giving it a squeeze.

He gives me a grin that probably has women, and quite a few men, falling all over themselves to get into his pants. "That's me. So, what brings you all the way from LA to our nation's capitol?" He turns and with a flick of his hand over his shoulder, beckons me to follow him.

"Did Nick not call you?" I frown at the back of his head. From what Dean's told me about this man, he's supposed to be a pompous jackass who thinks anyone not of noble blood is beneath him. But then again several centuries have passed since he was Turned so maybe he learned humility somewhere along the way.

"He did but I wanted to hear it from you." He props one hip against a desk that has an unobstructed view of not only the elevator but also the rest of the room.

"No need for him to repeat what Nick's already told us, DiNozzo," a voice grunts from out of nowhere, and before I can be surprised, an older man slaps the back of Tony's head.

Tony winces but I can tell it wasn't hard enough to really hurt and gives me an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Lieutenant. Just wanted confirmation that Dean has finally found his Mate."

"You'll be glad to hear that he has. And you must be Agent Gibbs." I turn to the silver haired man sipping from a to-go cup of coffee from a local coffee house. These two couldn't be further from the pictures I had of them if them if they tried.

"Call me Jethro," he says, offering his hand.

"Carter," I respond, giving his hand a squeeze.

"You can call me Tony!" Gibbs and I both turn to look at the young man sitting on the desk. Gibbs just grunts before stepping around me and with a flick of his head tells me to follow him.

Tony grins at me before I turn to follow Gibbs from the room.

"Thought I'd give you a brief tour," he says when I catch up with him. Sounds reasonable but not necessary in my opinion. "So tell me exactly why Nick sent you to talk to me."

"Well, according to him you were where I am not that long ago."

He turns to smile at me. "So you didn't believe until you found out someone close to you is one?" I nod. "I gotta tell ya it was a shock to discover that Tony's a Vampire. He doesn't act like one would expect for someone as old as he is. It took me a while to come to terms with not only him being a Vamp but my being his Soul Mate. All my adult life I thought I had found my Soul Mate in my late wife but then I find out my true Mate is some kid who likes to talk about all the women he's bedded? It didn't make any sense to me. I have to admit the past four years have been interesting. I wish I could say it was perfect but that would be a lie."

"I've been told that Bonding is just like a marriage. I've been married so I know it's not always a bed of roses."

"Exactly. And being Bonded to a member of Sylum is even more difficult; more so when they're a member of the ruling council of the Clan."

"Yeah, well, Dean's not even a member so…" I trail off with a shrug.

Gibbs laughs. "I have a feeling that being Bonded to Dean's going to be even more difficult. That man refuses to accept help from anyone."

"Don't I know it," I mutter making Gibbs chuckle again.

"And you're right about Bonding being a lot like marriage. In fact the Bond is more binding than a Human marriage. A Mate has more power than even parents."

Ah, honest and unbiased answers at last. I find myself liking Gibbs, and I wonder, "So what happens if a Vampire meets his Soul Mate and that Mate is still Human and married?"

"If the marriage is already on the rocks then the Human can be Turned and they can Bond. If the marriage is solid the Vampire will wait for the Human to die and be reborn." Gibbs shrugs. "At least, that's how they're supposed to play it. Every now and then one will butt in, but usually they're pretty good at waiting."

I nod thoughtfully. "I can see that being a problem if the Human is aware that they're not married to their Soul Mate. I mean, I'm not sure I'd've been willing to make Dean wait for me to be reborn if Nicole and I'd had a solid marriage." We walk in silence for a second or two and then I realize something. "Wait. You said that a Mate has more power so why would a Vampire allow his Mate to remain married?"

"Usually the Human isn't aware that they're not married to their Soul Mate so it's not a hardship for the Vampire to allow them to honor the contract they made with another Human."

"And if the Human is aware?"

"As far as I know it's never come up. In all the cases I'm aware of, the Human was not aware that their spouse wasn't their Soul Mate."

"And if a Vampire discovers their Soul Mate is a minor?"

Gibbs takes a sip of his coffee. "If that happens, the parents will usually turn guardianship over to the Vampire while retaining custody."

I lift both eyebrows. "That sounds… awkward."

Gibbs nods like he understands exactly what I'm thinking. "And it can be. But as far as I know it's only happened twice. The Vampires in question ended up moving near the family and began 'courting' their Mate once they became old enough that it wouldn't be considered statutory rape."

"So this doesn't happen often?"

"Not really, no." We turn a corner and I'm blasted by loud rock music. When we enter a lab, I see a young woman in platform boots and a lab coat over her mini skirt with her black hair in pigtails that bounce in time to the music as she dances in place. "Abby!" Gibbs calls and the woman spins, a bright smile breaking over her face upon seeing him.

"Gibbs!" she cries, flinging herself into his arms, and then her eyebrows furrow. "Wait, we don't have a current case." She steps back and frowns at him.

"I know." He grins and kisses her cheek. "Turn it down." Her frown deepens but she does as he asks. "Thank you." He takes a final sip of his coffee and drops it into a trash can. "Now, the reason for my visit is to introduce you to Lieutenant Carter Shaw, LAPD. Carter, Abigail Sciuto, our forensic scientist."

"Hi!" Abby offers her hand, which I take and give a squeeze. "So, what brings a Lieutenant from LAPD all the way to DC?"

"I have a decision to make and was told to speak with Agent Gibbs."

Her face lights up. "What kind of decision?"

"Exactly the kind you're thinking of," Gibbs replies.

"Yeah?" She turns interested eyes to me.

I turn to look at Gibbs. "She's in the know?"

"More than in the know," Abby sniffs. "I happen to be the reincarnated soul of one of Nick's daughters."

"Really?" I wonder if I'm supposed to be showing her a little more respect in that case, but it's hard to even contemplate when she nods so hard her pigtails whip around her head. "Who has the soul of the others?"

Abby and Gibbs share a look and a chuckle. "Tony!" they say in unison.

"Is that so?"

Abby nods, then clears her throat. "Enough of that. What exactly is this decision you have to make?"

Now it's my turn to share a look with Gibbs. "I have to decide whether or not to let Dean Turn me."

Her frown returns. "Dean? As in Dean McGillis?" I nod and she jumps up and down, clapping her hands in glee. "It's about time he found you."

"He happens to agree with you." All three of us chuckle, but when the mirth dies down I notice Abby giving me a look like she'd enjoy nothing more than to lock me in a small room and demand I tell her everything.

Thankfully Gibbs saves me, by way of announcing, "We have more to the tour, Carter."

Abby pouts a bit. "It was nice meeting you." She extends her hand and I give it another brief squeeze before following Gibbs from the room.

Our next stop is the morgue. When we enter the room an older gentleman, bent over a corpse, looks up and says, "This young man does not belong to you, Jethro."

"I know, Duck. I'm giving a tour to a colleague from LAPD." Gibbs stops a few feet from the autopsy table. "Lieutenant Carter Shaw, Dr. Donald Mallard, our medical examiner." He waves a hand between us while making the introductions.

"Please call me Carter," I say, lifting my hand in greeting since I can't shake hands.

"Ducky, please," he responds. "And not to be rude, but I really must finish."

"Of course, Ducky." Gibbs steps back and prepares to turn and leave the room. "We'll leave you to it."

Back in the bullpen, Gibbs stops at his desk. "Why don't you go on over to my house and get settled." He scribbles his address on a piece of paper and hands it to me.

It almost sounds like an order, but since this is a man accustomed to a life of taking and giving orders, I don't object outright but instead try to disagree another way, namely the hassles of logistics. "I'm already checked into a hotel not far from here."

Gibbs bulldozes that and any other protests with a single lifted eyebrow. "So check out. You're practically family. We have a perfectly good guest room. And I'm sure Nick would not be happy to hear I let you stay in a hotel."

"If you insist," I state, taking the paper with his address. I don't know the area so I'm not sure if I should be impressed or not.

"I should be home early evening. Tony may or may not beat me home; depends on if we get a case between now and then."

I nod my understanding. "Thank you, Jethro."

"Don't mention it. Just make yourself at home. The guest room is the first room on the right at the top of the stairs."

"Got it." I shake his hand and head to the elevator.

"Hey, Carter!" Tony comes jogging up and just barely slides into the elevator before the doors close.

"Agent DiNozzo." From everything I've been told of this man and how he's treated Dean in the past, I'm not sure I want to be alone in an elevator with him. It feels a lot like not wanting to share a room with whichever member of Internal Affairs hates me most at the moment.

The elevator has barely started its trip to the lobby when he reaches out and hits the stop button and turns to face me. The upbeat, easygoing grin is gone and for the moment he actually looks serious. "I'm pretty sure I know what Dean's told you about me, and you have to know I'm not like that anymore." He sighs and runs his hands through his hair, making it stand up even more. "I've tried to apologize to him but he's refusing to listen."

"And you expect me to do…what, exactly?" I cross my arms over my chest, settle my weight on one foot and tilt my head.

He tucks his hands in his pockets and looks down at the floor. "I thought that maybe you could…" he trails off with a shrug and looks up at me through his lashes, his bottom lip caught between his teeth.

"You want me to tell him you're a changed man? Is that it?"

His face brightens. "Yes! If you would? That'd be great!"

"And why would I do that? I don't know you."

His shoulders slump and his face falls. "Look, Lieutenant, I was just a young man when we met. All my life, even when I was a Templar knight, I had everything I wanted handed to me on a silver platter. I was arrogant and thought I was better than almost everyone because I was born a Crisafi and was accepted into the Templars. I had just escaped from a Turkish prison when I met Dean and was almost positive he was trying to pick my pocket. It wasn't until later that I realized he was just trying to assist me."

"That doesn't explain how you've treated him since then."

"So he's told you about me." I can't tell if he's insulted or not.

"In a manner of speaking, yes." I can't decide if I should tell him more or not. For some reason it feels like a betrayal if I do.

He gives a sad nod. "I understand. Can't say I like it, but I understand. Your loyalty is to him, so why should you even consider doing this for me?"

I laugh out loud at how he's turning that logic into a despondent plea. "Your trying to guilt me into doing you an unpleasant favor isn't going to work. I come from nobility, too."

He gives a self-depreciating smirk. "Had to give it a try, don'tcha know?"

"Of course." With a pointed look, I ask him to start the elevator again. "I'll be here until at least tomorrow, so if you can prove to me between now and then that you're not the man Dean's told me about, I'll think about telling him you're sorry."

He turns and flips the switch to get the elevator moving again. "That's more than acceptable. Thank you."

"Don't thank me yet, Agent. I haven't promised anything."

"Oh, but you have. You've promised to give me a chance to prove I've changed."

"I suppose I have." I don't get a chance to say anything more because the doors open onto the lobby at that moment.

Tony turns to me and holds out his hand. I take it and give it a tighter squeeze than normal. He responds with a cheerful, "See ya later. If there's anything you'd like to eat that's not currently in the house, call me and I'll pick it up on my way home."

"Will do," I respond, stepping from the elevator. "Thank Agent Gibbs for the tour, would you?"

"Absolutely. Did he give you directions?"

"Gave me the address. The rental car has a GPS."

"Very well," he says with a final wave of his hand as the doors close, leaving me alone in the lobby save the security guards on duty.

After getting my guns back from security, I head back to the hotel where I collect my belongings and check out, then head to Gibbs' house. As I drive, I decide that I should definitely be impressed with his address. I don't know much about the DC area, but it would appear that Alexandria is a very fashionable area to live. The suburb is nice and fairly quiet, on the more affluent side of middle class but without being snobby, as I can tell from the young teenager operating a nice-looking riding mower a few houses down. If this neighborhood was a little less well-off, that kid would probably be pushing a banged-up old push mower. More money in the equation, and the person doing the mowing would probably look like he didn't live on this side of town.

The modest, well-maintained two-story house I pull up in front of has me wondering if Gibbs owned it when he was married or if he purchased it once he Bonded with Tony. Parking the car at the curb, so as not to block the drive for when Gibbs and Tony return home, I climb from the car and then realize Gibbs didn't give me a key. With a grumble, I pull my phone from my pocket and dial the number on the business card that Gibbs scribbled his address on. "Gibbs," he answers on the third ring.

"Jethro, it's Carter." I tuck my free hand in the front pocket of my jeans and lean back against the hood of the car, squinting against the bright sunlight.

"What can I do for you, Carter?" He sounds distracted.

Damn. He must have gotten a call and is at a scene. "I'm at your house and just realized you didn't give me a key."

"Don't need one. I don't lock the door."

Either I've lived in LA too long or there is something seriously wrong with this man, because I can't help sputtering a little when I ask, "Isn't that a bit dangerous? I mean, anyone can just walk right in and take your stuff."

"Don't have anything worth stealing. Well, at last as far as any crook casing the house can tell. The most expensive stuff came with Tony and is tucked upstairs in the master bedroom." There's the sound of something covering the mouth piece of the phone. "Look, Carter, I really can't talk right now. Just go inside and make yourself at home. Tony or I will be home in a few hours. If you get hungry and don't like what's in the pantry, there's a drawer filled with take-out menus."

"Okay. Thanks, Jethro," I say but I'm fairly sure he didn't hear me since I'm almost positive he hung up after telling me about the take-out menus.

Grabbing my bag from the car, I head up the walk and hesitate only a second or two before turning the knob and opening the door. It's obvious the neighborhood Gibbs lives in is one of the nicer ones but still, the cop in me rebels at leaving the house unsecure with no one home.

Entering the house, I find myself in a tiny little foyer with stairs along the right wall that end just steps from the front door. Along the left wall is a set of double doors that are open to reveal a sparsely furnished living room. I decide to dump my bag in the guest room before giving myself the ten cent tour.

At the top of the stairs, I find the guest room right where Gibbs said it would be, not that I thought he'd lie about something like that. I push open the door to the first room on the right and step inside, noticing the impersonal furnishings; the bed is a standard double from IKEA (or so it appears at first glance) with two matching night tables flanking it, a lamp on each. In the corner facing the door and next to the large window overlooking the side yard is an overstuffed arm chair that looks like it'd be very comfortable to curl up in with a good book.

The second door on the right opens to what appears to have at one time been a little girl's room. I barely register the pink walls and frilly bedspread, before closing the door feeling like I've glimpsed a part of Gibbs' past that he doesn't share often with others.

The room across the hall is the master bedroom and one look tells the story of the two men who live in this house. The bed that takes up most of the room is an oversized king four-poster with matching night tables. It's plain which side of the bed belongs to whom; on the table closest to the door is a stack of crime novels and books about woodworking and on the other is a stack of glossy magazines and DVDs. On the wall right next to the door is a top of the line flat screen with an equally as expensive DVD player on a stand under it.

Closing the door to that room, I go in search of the bathroom so I'm not stumbling around in the dark should I wake up during the night. After opening a couple of linen closets (who needs more than one in a hallway?), I find the bathroom at the end of the hall. And it's everything a guest bathroom should be: tiny with a single cabinet sink, toilet and shower/bathtub combo. The shower curtain surprises me a bit and makes it obvious Gibbs doesn't come in here very often anymore, since the curtain is pink and has pictures of Disney princesses on it. Guess Tony hasn't gotten around to getting Gibbs to replace it. The only other thing about the bathroom that is unexpected is the mirror. Instead of having a wall mirror over the sink with a medicine cabinet on the side wall it has a medicine cabinet mirror over the sink. A quick peek inside shows it stocked with travel sized tooth paste, toothbrushes, shampoo, conditioner and body wash as well as other things one expects in a medicine cabinet.

My stomach rumbles a bit and I realize it's getting close to lunch time so I head back downstairs. I can see the kitchen through the living room and head in that direction.

It's obvious Tony and Gibbs don't spend much time in this part of the house. The couch sitting under the picture window looking out on the front lawn has definitely seen better days and appears to have been made in the 1970s. Across from the couch is a stone fireplace and next to that is a TV from the 50s perched on a TV tray from the same era. "I bet that TV's black and white," I mutter to myself as I continue through the room. The dining room is just as devoid of personal effects as the living room was. The dining table appears to be from the same decade as the couch and only seats four.

The kitchen on the other hand shows that someone in the house likes to cook. While the appliances are not state of the art, they are much more modern than the rest of the house and are gleaming stainless steel that shines with loving care. In the double refrigerator I find the makings for a sandwich.

I eat my lunch the kitchen table, staring at my phone and telling myself I don't need to check up on Dean, that he's in good hands with whoever Nick sent to babysit him. When I finish eating, I clean up the kitchen, being sure to leave it looking just like it did when I first arrived, and then head back upstairs. I may not have had any dreams disrupting my sleep last night but that doesn't mean I slept well. Plus, being on the road for long periods of time is exhausting, and I realize just how tired I am. With a jaw-cracking yawn, I toe off my shoes, remove my jacket and lay down on the bed fully dressed hoping to get at least a couple hours of sleep.

When I wake up, the sky outside the window is definitely darker telling me I slept longer than I had planned. "Guess I was more tired than I thought." Swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I get up and head to the bathroom.

On my way back to my room, I become aware that I'm no longer alone in the house. I pause outside the master bedroom door and can just barely hear the local evening news.

So, at least one of my hosts has arrived home. But which one? And does it really matter?

I decide and head down the stairs to the kitchen in search of something to drink.

Before I get there, a noise from a partially open door just past the living room doors gains my attention and I change my route to head in that direction.

Pushing the door the rest of the way open I find myself on the landing of a set of stairs leading into a basement. "Come on in, Carter. I was beginning to think you were going to sleep all the way to tomorrow morning." Stepping to the rail, I can see Gibbs standing at a work bench with his back facing me. My trained eye sees that there are scratches on the concrete floor which means this room usually sees a lot of use and that Gibbs is usually working on something large.

"I don't think I'll ever get used to not being able to sneak up on certain people."

"It can be disconcerting at first." He turns to face me and I can see him cleaning some woodworking tools. "Don't just stand there. Come on down." He motions me in with a flick of his head similar to the one he used at his office to get me to follow him before turning back to the bench.

Descending the stairs slowly, I take in what is obviously Gibbs' domain. While I'm sure Tony is welcome here, this space is all Gibbs and it's plain as day that he prefers to work with his hands. There are very few wall outlets and all of them are used for simple appliances like a radio and black and white TV that is a twin to the one in the living room.

Gibbs turns to look at me out of the corner of his eye just as I reach the bottom step. "Normally Tony would be curled up on that step, watching me work while chattering about our day but since you came here to talk to me, I asked him to stay upstairs tonight."

I nod my thanks and sit down, unconsciously, in the exact same spot as Tony. "I'm not sure I even really need to have this conversation anymore."

Gibbs nods in understanding. "I had a feeling when we met earlier that you'd already made up your mind. But you wouldn't have come here if there wasn't something that's still bothering you."

Scrubbing my hands through my hair, I clear my throat and try to figure out how to put my biggest fear into words.

My hesitation makes Gibbs chuckle. "I have a feeling I know what the issue is," he says, dumping the contents of a mason jar onto the surface of the bench before wiping it out with a towel and pouring a measure of bourbon into it and handing it to me. "You're still trying to wrap your head around the fact that you have to die in order to be Turned, aren't you?"

Taking the offered glass, I take a sip and just barely keep from coughing at the burn of it sliding down my throat. "No. The dying part I've come to terms with. It's the fact that Dean has to kill me that I'm having issues with."

"Interesting," he murmurs, leaning back against the bench. "Most Vampires have no problem with that. Hell, I'm a Marine sniper and even I had issues with having to die in order to Bond with Tony."

Sighing deeply, I get up and walk over to stand next to Gibbs, watching him clean his space. "Do you remember any of your past lives?"

"Bits and pieces. Why?"

"How long have you had these memories?" Gibbs turns to frown at me in confusion. "I only ask because all my life I've had dreams of other lives and only now know they're actual memories."

"I see. Any life in particular?"

I turn around and lean my back against the bench, my arms crossed over my chest. "The one that knew Dean when he was Human. And the reason I'm having trouble getting over him having to kill me is that he saw two of my lives die. One in his arms and the other by decapitation."

"Damn," he mutters and I can tell he wants to put a comforting hand on my shoulder but feels we don't know each other enough.

"Yeah." I scrub my hands down my face, rubbing against the stubble I haven't been in the mood to shave off since I began this trip. "Adair and Dean had been lovers before Adair died and Dean was Turned. And the other life, he had just met him, didn't even know his name, but had to stand by and watch as he was executed."

Gibbs turns and mimics my posture. "But it's not the same, Carter. Dean didn't kill those lives. When he Turns you it won't be a true death. Only your status as a Human will die. Since this is a planned Turning no one who doesn't know about Dean will know that you're no longer Human."

What he says makes sense, and repeats almost word for word what Janet, Tim and Horatio have already told me while echoing some of what Nick's said. "I get what you're saying, and have heard it from others, but I still can't get the idea of Dean crying over Adair's lifeless body from my mind."

He nods in sympathy. "I, too, have an image, several in fact, of Tony crying over the dying body of a past life. It's the way of things for those of us who remember the deaths of our former lives. Tony and I were able to get past it and so will you and Dean."

"I'm not so sure, Jethro. I mean I know Dean'll get over it but I'm not sure I can. I remember the sword piercing my body and the axe striking my neck. I've never been fed from willingly so I don't know what it's like and I'm afraid I'll panic when he goes to bite me."

"You need to talk to him about these fears, Carter. He's the only one who can reassure you."

Lowering my gaze to the concrete floor in front of me, I chew my lip and think about what he's said. "I suppose you're right." I glance at my watch and realize it's later than I thought. "I'm gonna go back to my room and let you and Tony get on with your normal evening routine."

"There's no need for that," Gibbs says when I shift my weight in preparation of heading upstairs.

"Of course it is. The two of you have opened your house to a complete stranger, and I thank you for that, the least I can do is allow you some alone time with your Mate." I begin climbing the stairs. "Good-night, Jethro. See you in the morning."

Back in my room, I strip to my boxers and climb under the sheets with a book I brought to read on the plane. Eventually, my eyes get heavy so I put the book on the night table, my glasses folded on top, and turn out the light before settling down for sleep.

An insistent ringing wakes me and I frown, wondering why Gibbs isn't answering his phone, then realize it's my cell. I roll from the bed and hunt in the dark for my jeans and the ringing cell phone in a pocket.

Pulling my phone from my pocket, I don't even look at the caller ID before answering. "Carter," I grumble, rubbing one hand tiredly down my face.

"Carter." Dean's voice wakes me up the rest of the way. He sounds rough, so much so that I find myself sitting up and hanging my legs over the side of the bed.

"Dean." I don't even know what to say. This trip has been all about what to do about our future and while I have made my decision, I'm still not ready to say it out loud.

"Carter…" He trails off and I can hear him swallow. "Please, Carter." Did his voice just break? Surely not.

"Dean, I…" I have no words. I seriously cannot think of a single thing to say right now.

"I need you. Come home. Please! We don't even have to talk about Turning or Bonding or anything like that! Just please! Come home." His voice does crack then.

Damn. As difficult this has been on me, it's been even more so on him. "I'm not done here, yet, Dean."

"Damnit, Carter! Don't make me beg!" Is he crying?

"It's not that simple, Dean." I pace the small confines of the bedroom. "It's a lot to take in and I need the space to think and come to a decision."

"But Cater, I need you! You're my anamchara."."

"I know that, Dean. I'm not doing this to punish you, I promise. I can't think when I'm near you and this isn't a decision that should be rushed."

Dean sniffs loudly. Could he be drunk? I know Vampires can't get drunk on their own, but could he have fed from someone who was drunk? "I hear what you're saying but I can't – I can't –"

"Can't, what, Dean?"

"Just come home." Before I can even open my mouth to respond, I hear him hang up the phone.

I sigh deeply and drop the phone on the night table before sitting down on the edge of the bed. "What am I going to do now?" Dean sounded like he was on the edge and I feel like I need another day or two of space before I head back to LA and announce my decision.

I head to the bathroom and then climb between the sheets and again attempt to sleep. I'm not entirely successful, so after tossing and turning for the rest of the night, I get up, dress, and head downstairs. I can hear someone moving around in the kitchen and so I head in that direction.

"Morning, Lieutenant," Tony says in a cheery voice, beating some eggs in a bowl before pouring them into a sizzling hot skillet.

"You can call me Carter, Agent." I step to the counter and pour myself a cup of coffee.

"And you can call me Tony." He glances at me out of the corner of his eye. "I was wondering if you were really going to give me a chance to prove I've changed."

I take that as a subtle jab at how much time I've spent in the guest room and admit, "Guess I was more tired than I thought yesterday. I haven't napped like that, without being sick, since I was a kid. And when I got up yesterday evening, you were in your room and I didn't want to disturb you. Plus, I was here to talk to Gibbs."

"Right, of course." Tony expertly slides an omelet from the skillet onto a plate, which he hands to me. "Hope you don't mind a simple egg white omelet. Gibbs says I shouldn't put anything in the food I cook for others unless I ask if it's alright first."

"It's fine. I usually have a shot of Jack, maybe some coffee. Not usually up at this time of day." I take the plate from him and sit down at the table and begin eating.

Tony joins me with a mug of what I quickly realize isn't coffee, but is instead blood. "Gibbs wanted me to extend an invitation for you to shadow us today, if you want."

I smile at him. "So you can prove to me just how much you've changed from the man who did his level best to make my Mate feel like shit?"

He has the grace to look a little flustered and maybe even blush a bit, which I chalk up to the fact that he's currently consuming blood. "I've tried to explain…" he begins.

I don't let him finish. "So you've said. However, I'm not Dean. I don't care. I know you know where I'm coming from when I say that no one gets to treat my Mate that way without me doing something about it."

He smiles. "I do understand where you're coming from with that. But you weren't around for any of my past with Dean."

"Doesn't matter. You made him feel like he wasn't worthy of living and that's unacceptable in my book."

He bows his head. "I know and I deeply apologize. I can't take back what was said or done but I can try to make it right going forward from here."

"Understandable. If indeed, you have changed. And that has yet to be proven to me." I give him a pointed look and finish off my omelet and coffee.

"Don't worry, Carter. I'll prove it to you!" he says, jumping up from the table, picking up my plate and mug and carrying them to the sink. "Better finish getting ready. I have to leave soon."

"I can always come in on my own."

Tony chuckles. "Gibbs asked me to drive you."

"Speaking of, where is you Mate?"

Tony shrugs. "Had something to do, I guess."

"You don't drive in together? No, of course you don't." I answer my own question before Tony can even register that I've asked one. He grins at me. "I bet there are very few people at your office who even know you're Vampires, much less Soul Mates."

"We do work for the military and DADT is still very much in effect."

"But I heard it doesn't affect Vampires."

"Ah, but for that to be the case, we'd have to register and Nick hasn't spent the past two hundred and fifty-five years hiding his people to allow us to register just so we can be 'out' as a gay couple."

"Point," I concede, standing and making my way back upstairs to finish getting ready for the day.

I make short work of brushing my teeth, then run a razor over my jaw to try and at least look like a man who belongs at NCIS headquarters.

On my way back down the stairs I get the feeling Gibbs didn't ask Tony to drive me around so much as Tony demanded the opportunity to begin proving to me that he's changed. I can't decide if I'm annoyed or touched by how much effort Tony is putting into this. I think I'm mostly annoyed. It must show, because when I find Tony waiting for me by the door leading from the kitchen to the garage, he takes one look at me and sighs in defeat. "You're a good match for him, you know."

"Meaning?" I raise one eyebrow and motion with one hand that I'm ready to leave the house.

"You figured out that Gibbs didn't actually ask me to drive you today." He enters the garage and walks around to the driver's side of a classic Mustang.

I get in the passenger side and buckle up before responding. "It wasn't difficult, considering how hard you've been pushing for me to get Dean to talk to you." He backs out of the garage and points the car in the direction of the Navy Yard. "I have to warn you, I may be his Mate and his boss, but he barely listens to me at work much less in our private lives. If you want Dean to talk to you, you're going to have to find a way to get him to see that you've changed. Having others go to bat for you will help, but it has to come mostly from you."

He downshifts to avoid the traffic in front of us and nods. "I've been trying but he stays away from the Clan so much that it's difficult."

"And I plan on changing that." I don't even think about what I've said until Tony whips his head around to stare at me, a pleased grin spreading over his face. "That doesn't mean I've made my decision," I clarify with a groan, thumping my head against the headrest of my seat. Arguing with this man is like arguing with a puppy that thinks it's doing you a favor every time it chews up a favorite pair of worn-down slippers or something.

"Yes, it does. And even if it didn't, do you really think you're fooling anyone? We all know what you've decided."

Damnit. I really hate being that transparent. Plus, I wanted Dean to be the first I actually said that to.

For all his bluster Tony certainly is intuitive, and he lets the grin drop a little. "Don't worry, Carter. No one will tell until you're ready."

I sigh and stare at the passing scenery. "It's not that, Tony. It's that there are no secrets with you guys."

He chuckles and merges with traffic exiting the freeway. "That's where you're wrong. There are secrets in this Clan, not many, true, but there are secrets. And the only reason there are so few is because Nick prefers to remain out of the public eye. Every mayor, governor and president has been read in on Sylum, starting with George Washington."

"Wow. So every city in every state has at least one Vampire?"

"Usually at least two, but yes."

"Huh. And why does Nick not want Humans to know of Sylum?"

"Because of all the history and the hatred. Humans made us outlaws for something that was usually beyond our control. Like Dean. He was Turned Without his Consent and he spent so much of his life being made a target for it. Of course there are some, like myself and Nick, who were Turned in order to live, but still, we were branded outlaws by our very existence."

I wonder, "What does Nick get in return for the government being let in on his secret, beyond not going to jail for being unregistered?"

Tony shrugs. "He's told about every governmental secret there is. And he passes that knowledge on to his followers."

"And the government is okay with that?" Surely that's not legal? And I'm still not seeing what the government is getting out of the deal that seems to give Nick a win at every turn. And how the hell did he manage getting such one-sided secrecy?

"Of course. It's all part of the deal Nick made when he helped fight the British."

That makes a little more sense. Old deals are strong, and I'm pretty sure Nick refuses to allow each successive generation of bureaucrats to 'amend' it. "So much for national security, huh?"

He chuckles, pulling into the parking garage. "Yeah. When you help found a country, there's no such thing."

So that answers that question: it seems as though Sylum is the reason America started out, and has remained, such a strong nation, and this is the US Government's way of continuing to scratch Nick's back since he's been scratching theirs for so long. Tony walks us up to the entrance, and since I'm with him, I don't have to relinquish my weapons today and it's much easier getting through security.

We're barely in the squad room before Gibbs barks at his agents to get hopping because they've got a case. Tony doesn't even toss out a good morning, just spins smoothly around back toward the elevator, and the other two are quickly at his heel, so I find myself next to Gibbs as he informs us all that there's a dead Sailor in an apartment complex about thirty minutes away. On the way back down to the garage, Tony introduces me to the rest of the team; Agent Timothy McGee and Officer Ziva David. Once in the garage, Tim and Ziva go for a big van, while Gibbs is apparently headed toward his car. I put my hand on the passenger handle out of habit before I stop and realize what I'm doing, but when I turn around Tony is just giving a polite smile and an 'after you' gesture before he climbs into the van with the other agents. I hesitate, but then Gibbs growls, "You coming, Carter?" and that settles that.

Gibbs doesn't talk while he drives, which is fine with me this early in the morning. And in no time, I'm gripping the panic-handles and trying to make sense of how just a few days ago I wouldn't have believed that there was a more dangerous driver than Dean. Now I have to decide who really deserves that title, Gibbs or the crazy Israeli in the van behind us. It almost makes me wish I'd ridden with the coroner, but apparently Ducky and his assistant had gotten a head start since Gibbs had been waiting for me and Tony to show up. And this is with him driving with the lights off? Makes me scared to contemplate how he would drive with them on.

We screech to a stop in front of a modest apartment complex and Gibbs strides up to the front gate like he owns the place, and Tony is immediately at his back despite having had to grab a duffel bag from the back of the van. I'm not too far behind, as are Tim and Ziva, and although I'm given complimentary gloves and booties I'm quickly ordered by Gibbs to keep my hands to myself and just watch quietly. It makes sense, considering I'm out of my jurisdiction in both location and level of authority.

Ducky is already crouched over the body in the small yet neat living room and greets Jethro with a cheerful nod, an identification of the young Petty Officer, a quick run-down of the God-awful beating he appears to have taken last night, and what sounds like the beginnings of a very long and completely unrelated story before Gibbs excuses himself to go scare the crap out of the neighbors. Tony, Tim, and Ziva make themselves busy taking their photographs and sketches and samples. Mostly, I just watch and try not to get in anybody's way.

I have to admit, it's both interesting and boring in equal parts to watch them work. Interesting because I'm usually gone by the time the crime scene processors arrive – hell, most times I already know what they're going to find because I had a hand in making those crime scenes in the first place – and boring because I'm doing absolutely nothing but holding the floor down. So I keep my hands in my pockets and listen to the three Agents going back and forth at each other like siblings while they do their work. Tony talks about bad movies and likes to lead his teammates to believe he's banging a different girl every night, Ziva calls him on every single little lie, and Tim mostly keeps his head down and tries not to stutter or get smacked on the back of the head.

Gibbs returns eventually, and when he does he informs us all that apparently there had been a Marine with a temper problem having words with the dead Petty Officer last night. "When do Marines not have temper problems?" Tony mutters. And then he stops and looks at Gibbs like a deer caught in the headlights. Gibbs just jerks his head at the doorway and Tony says, "On it, Boss," and gets going. Ziva is right behind him, following a grunt, point, and wave of the hand from Gibbs. I admire his training methods and make a mental note to ask him how he does that later, because it could do wonders for my blood pressure.

There's little else worth noting from my perspective as the body is eventually transferred to a gurney and walked out by Ducky and his assistant. Gibbs orders Tim to finish up the scene, leaving him a couple of bored local cops for company, and beckons to me to follow him back to the car. The drive back is equally as quiet and harrowing as it had been earlier, and I find myself looking longingly at the rearview and the coroner's van moving at a pace that is probably as fast as most other people on the road but from my perspective looks like it's sitting still, and it quickly vanishes out of sight behind us.

By the time we get back, I realize that yes, it has been enough time for Tony and Ziva to have beaten us back to the office, because she's at her desk looking at the personal histories of both the victim and the suspect, and after she displays relevant documents on a plasma TV she informs us that the very hung-over and grumpy Marine with a broken nose and bruised knuckles is in an interrogation room. "It's never this easy," I mutter mostly to myself.

"Every now and then, we get lucky," Gibbs answers from all the way across the room, and it makes me jump because I hadn't thought Vampire hearing was that good. I next decide that Gibbs is a scary man when he's bored because he decides to go see what the Marine has to say for himself, and I'm invited along for the ride as long as I stay behind the glass and don't interrupt. I promise wryly to behave myself and am quickly behind a two-way mirror in a small room full of recording equipment. Tony is already there and he seems excited at the prospect of Gibbs reducing the Marine to a blubbering little boy.

"Gibbs is legendary for his gut," Tony informs me. "He just knows things."

Scary, hell. This man is terrifying, as I quickly come to believe after five minutes of watching him talk to the Marine. And not only am I witnessing a very intimidating Special Agent in his element, but I also appear to be seeing one of those mythical slam-dunk cases opening and shutting right before my eyes. The Marine had been drunk last night but is still carrying his bad mood around, and his motive for beating the Sailor to death is so stupid that I honestly don't even remember it. Something about the Marine being a white boy from the Deep South and the Sailor being a… well, another word for African-American and one I'm not too fond of. "Seriously?" I mutter.

Tony just snorts. "Yeah. We still get cases like this. And it's just between two different skin colors of Humans."

I catch the unspoken addition and wince. If it's still this bad between Humans, then I realize that I truly can't imagine the horrors Humans have inflicted on Vampires over the centuries. No wonder they're so secretive.

"Ya know," I say as Tony and I exit the observation room. "I never have understood that kind of hatred. I mean, why hate someone for the color of their skin or because they have different religious views or because they're a Vampire. I understand why Vampires tend to keep that fact secret but I still don't get why some Vampires are so scared of Humans. Vampires are stronger than Humans so really, why fear exposure?"

Tony contemplates my questions while we walk, his hands tucked in his pockets. "Because Humans can kill us. Or rather they can make it painful to be alive for a while. We don't get as many mobs with pitchforks as we used to, but sometimes having your face and your dirty little secret posted on every other telephone pole can be just as bad." By this time we've reached the bullpen, which is bustling with activity and since I'm not sure who knows about Tony, we have to put the conversation on hold. "I got a lot of paperwork. Do want to help or should I run you back to the house first?"

"I suppose I could help. It's a long time since I wrote a report from an investigator's perspective. For the past three years, I've only written reports as an undercover operative."

"Excellent." He sits down at his desk. "You can use McGee's desk. Just tell what you saw. I'll make sure Gibbs gets a copy."

I sit down at the desk Tony indicated and open a Word document, then begin typing my observations of the scene. It doesn't take long and I realize I should probably make reservations for a flight home. Pulling my cell from my pocket, I call the airline and request the first flight to LA from Dulles International. The helpful agent tells me the earliest flight out is 7 the next morning. Despite wanting to get home now, I book a seat.

"Ya know," Tony calls, strolling up to prop one hip against a corner of the desk. "You could have called Nick and gotten a flight out tonight, in first class."

"I'm not a member of the Clan, yet, and so refuse to let him pay my way. He's already paid for my ticket to Miami and the car I rented to get here."

Tony grins at me. "You still haven't figured it out, have you?"

"What?" I'm getting tired of feeling like everyone knows something I don't.

"Sylum takes care of its own. You may not be a member, or even Mated to a member, but Dean is a member in all but name, and therefore Nick will bend over backward to protect both you and him."

"Does being a member mean I have to let Nick pay for things I'm more than capable of paying for myself? 'Cause, if so, then I'm not so sure I want to be a member."

Tony sighs and I get the weird feeling that he's restraining the urge to call me on something like chauvinism. "No. Nick's just going above and beyond to try and woo Dean into Pledging his Oath. He's hoping by spoiling you, you'll talk him into it. If you decide to Turn, that is."

So I'm officially not fooling anyone anymore. I decide to ignore that and just as mock-sarcastically inform him, "Just like with your request, I'll do my best, if I decide to Turn." Tony smirks at me, and slaps me on the shoulder.

"That'll have to do."

"DiNozzo!" Gibbs yells from the balcony above us. Tony glances up, nods once and with another pat to my shoulder, stands and heads up the stairs. Gibbs whispers something to Tony before the two of them enter a door under the letters M.T.A.C. I go back to my report.

When they exit the room several hours later, Gibbs tells me to follow him and I find myself once again fighting panic as the man drives us back to his house.

The three of use eat dinner together, Tony talked Gibbs into ordering from a local Italian restaurant. The conversation is entertaining, and mostly about Tony's life as a Vampire. I learn that Gibbs has returned once each century since Tony was Turned and he's something of a legend within the Clan because of it. I don't have the heart to tell them that Dean will most likely usurp him in that once the Clan discovers he returned just two years after a past life died.

My hosts decline my offer to assist with the clean up and shoo me off to bed, stating my early morning flight out as the reason. While that is true, I'm pretty sure the main one is so they can spend some time reconnecting at the end of a long day.

The next morning I catch Tony coming back from his morning run. "Shall I fix you something to eat before you head out, Carter?"

"No need. I'll either catch something at the airport or on the plane."

He nods his agreement. "Very well." He extends one hand. "It was a pleasure meeting you. Hope to see you again soon."

I shake his hand. "Likewise." Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I step around him and exit the door, pausing on the front step to throw him a bone since I can practically feel him hovering behind me, I turn around to meet his eye. "For the record, I can see that you are not the man Dean told me about. If you're ever in LA, stop by and I'll make sure he at least listens to what you have to say."

Tony's face splits into a huge grin. "Thanks, Carter!" He thumps me on the arm. "Have a good flight. And remember, whatever your decision, it's the right one for you."

"Thanks, Tony." With a mock two-fingered salute, I head down the walkway, to my waiting rental car and then to the airport and to LA. The trip back goes as smoothly as any trip by plane can in this post 9/11 world, which is to say I think I spend as much time removing my shoes and biting my tongue as I actually spend in my seat on the plane. Through it all, I keep what Tim, Horatio and Gibbs told me in mind, and when the plane touches down I make my way from the terminal to where I left my car and from there head on home to Dean.

From the way Dean sounded when he called night before last, I'm expecting him to be a mess. But even so, I'm not prepared for the sight that greets me when I exit the elevator at the loft. Dean has always been fairly neat but tonight the apartment looks like Dean had a party then decided to not clean up after. And Dean himself, well, let's just say, he's looked better.

Dean's sprawled on the couch that faces the elevator, wearing a tee shirt and jeans and is tossing back what appears to be scotch like there's no tomorrow. He's pale and his eyes are red-rimmed, and he somehow doesn't appear to notice my entrance. If I didn't know better, I'd say he hasn't fed in several days, but I spoke with Don Eppes just yesterday and he confirmed what Nick told me three days ago: that Dean spent twenty-four solid hours locked in a room with several donors.

"Hello, Dean," I say, suddenly unsure of my welcome.

He looks up at me and snorts. "So, you came back." His voice is heavy with derision.

"Not the welcome I was expecting."

His forehead wrinkles in a frown and his eyes narrow in anger. "What? I'm supposed to greet you with open arms, whisk you off to bed to fuck your brains out? You left me, Carter. Please remember the last thing you said to me before walking – no running out!" He jumps from the couch and throws his empty glass against the fireplace.

I drop my duffle and heave a deep sigh. "I know, Dean, and I'm sorry."

"Sorry!?" The bottle of scotch joins the glass, spilling amber liquid and dangerous glittering shards all over the wall and floor. "You're sorry? For breaking another promise? I trusted you!" He's shaking so hard his teeth are chattering.

"Dean-" I approach where he's standing, only to have him throw his hands up and pace away from me. "I came back because I made my decision."

"Well, goody, goody for you!" Even with his back turned I can tell he's crying, his tears are heavy in his voice.

I force myself to remain calm and patient even though I honestly can't decide whether I want to throw my arms around him or throw my fist into his belligerent, sarcastic face. "I came like you asked."

"Two days ago!" He spins to face me. "And I was drunk!"

"You can't get drunk."

"Unless I feed from someone who's drunk."

My shoulders slump as what he's saying registers. "So you didn't mean any of it?" I blink back the tears that are stinging my eyes.

"Not. One. Word." His face is a mask of anger and pain and – an emotion I'm not sure I want to name.

I can feel my world falling apart around me. When I reach down for my duffle a small voice in the back of my head begins pleading with me. Saying, "Don't leave me. Please stay. Fight for me. Prove you love me and won't ever leave again." I turn and look at Dean. His posture screams pissed off but his eyes… his eyes are begging me to stay, to love him, to not leave him alone anymore. "Dean," I whisper his name, stepping to where he's standing, his back ramrod straight. Tucking the fingers of one hand in a pocket of his jeans, I try and tug him closer.

"Don't-" he orders through gritted teeth, wrapping one finger and a thumb around my wrist making sure to touch as little of my skin as possible. "-touch me."

Even those tiny points of contact make me keenly aware of just how long it's been since I've touched him. "Why? Huh? What's wrong with touching?"

"It hurts. I can't bear to lose you again, so, please, just go." That's when I realize that I can feel his hurt and anger over what he sees as my betrayal.

And suddenly it all makes sense. What Nick has been trying to tell me. The past three months of touching have created the Bond and it's almost as strong as if he had fed from me. If I hadn't already decided to let him Turn me, I would have to change my mind because it's too late for anything else. Too late for 'Let me think about it some more'. Too late to not lose my heart to this man who is still so very much the scared teenager who had to bury his parents. There's a sudden, tight feeling in my gut when I realize we're at that stage I had been told about, that dangerous and delicate stage that is basically the Vampire's version of 'now or never.' Nick had hinted around it when he'd talked about how he'd been wishing I would hurry up and make up my mind before Dean 'became a weakness.' It could also explain why Gibbs had insisted I stay at his place rather than some anonymous hotel: he'd been watching my back, even though he'd probably never say it aloud. I hadn't realized we were that far along, but the look on Dean's face and the sensations in my head make it crystal clear: if we don't do this soon or if something happens to me before it does, then things could get very, very bad.

I remember what Nick had said of what he'd done when he lost Warren. My heart falters when I think of Dean doing the same things, of going insane with grief and single-handedly waging a one-man war on downtown Los Angeles. I cannot – I will not – let it come to that. Dean is teetering on a razor's edge but I can bring him back.

He flings my hand away but I snag a belt loop with two fingers of the other hand before he can even so much as shift his weight in preparation of stepping back. "Dean." My voice breaks on his name.

He has been shoving everything he's been feeling through the Bond to me so I try and do the same, only with my feelings for him. I do my best to shove all the love I have for him to his end of the Bond. I have no idea if I'm successful or not since he doesn't react, but at least he doesn't try to back away either. I reach out with one hand to touch his face and he actually flinches away from me so I grab a fistful of his shirt to keep him in place. "Talk to me."

He shakes his head. "You promised." He keeps saying that and I have no idea what he's talking about. I never actually promised I'd never leave. I am more than willing to promise I'll never leave again now, however. "You said I'd never be alone again and then you died, too. Everyone leaves me."

I died? What the hell is he talking about? And then it hits me: he's lost in the past and is seeing me as Adair. I have no memory of Adair ever promising Dean he'd never be alone but he must have, with deeds if not with actual words. "Dean." I feel like I've lost him and it hurts. It actually, physically hurts.

"Don't leave me, Adair," he whimpers and I managed to cup one hand around the back of his neck and it seems to snap him out of wherever he's gone. "Carter?"

"I'm here," I promise. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Hold me? Please, Carter. Just hold me." He wraps his arms around my waist and tucks his head under my chin.

"Sure but not here. You're too big for me to hold like this standing up." He heaves a shuddering breath and slowly backs away until he can lie down on the bed. I kick off my shoes and crawl up the bed to lie beside him. "How do you want to do this?" I ask, remembering he's not much for cuddling.

Instead of answering, he rolls to his side, facing me, and wraps his arms around my waist again and tucks his head under my chin. I wrap my arms around his shoulders, one hand holding the back of his head. Kissing the top of his head I murmur, "Mo shíorghrá." over and over.

Dean does his best to crawl inside my skin and for the first time I feel the Bond as a white hot heat inside of just an annoying sizzle along my nerve endings. It's no longer an itch I hadn't even known how to scratch. It has become something else, something… much… more. And it fills me with a sense of anticipation bordering on urgency, like my body is wondering what the hell I'm waiting for. Not much longer now, I tell myself, and I simply hold him until he falls asleep and allow myself to follow a few minutes later.

Or read it at my website.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-07-12 02:37 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
(Coming from LJ)

I'm so glad you're still writing this! It's been so long since I've checked the Dean Carter comm that I got to catch up on 4 wonderful chapters. It made for some great reading. :D Can't wait for more.


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