Chapter 1

Author's Note: I think this is the fastest chapter I've ever written. I started at 8:30 tonight and it's now 12:00 and I've written a complete, seven-page chapter. Sure, it's a little shorter than I usually write, but I had no more to say for the first chapter. You'll understand why when you get to the end. The rest of the chapters should be the average length though. But this fast writing stuff is a really good sign! It's flowing really well and I was really into what I was writing. This should be a great story. Enjoy!

Later- Yes, this is a repost. Thanks to an interesting run in with my cat and my cousin, the story somehow got deleted from FP this morning ... Personally, I don't think it had anything to do with the cat... But it's back, so no worries!

My hands flew lithely over the piano keys, weaving a delicate melody that never failed to fill me with serenity and peace. Its sheet music sat on the stand in front of me, precariously leaning in front of what was probably a hundred or so other scores that I hadn't bothered to put away in the past few months. The chances were high that any number of the yellowing pages might fall down at any moment, but that didn't make much of a difference to me. After all, I wasn't even looking at them. And there was absolutely no reason that I should have been. I had composed almost all the pieces myself in the past few hundred years. I knew them all as well as I did the back of my hand. Even the ones I hadn't written were familiar enough that I could play them while letting my entire attention drift to something else.

I loved music more than almost everything else in the entire world. It was one of the very few things that never seemed to get old, not even after hundreds of years of being alive. A night was never complete without me sitting in front of my piano to play a familiar tune or compose a new one. Of course I did not limit myself to this solitary instrument; I had flutes, clarinets, harps, violins, and many other instruments housed in my apartments as well, but the piano had always been my favorite. Perhaps other instruments could make a melody dance even more gracefully than a piano could, but there was just something about its ability to interweave multiple melodies into one beautiful piece that made it like none other.

I continued to play, letting my mind drift over the last few days' events. Nothing particularly important had happened. The newest member to the Round, Henrietta, whom I had appointed to Camilia's Chair after her death, was having trouble with a needy vampire in her territory, but Marci had graciously volunteered to help her with the problem and it was well under control. Marci had always been highly competent at her job. Now that she had taken Henrietta under her wing I knew the Henrietta would become an expert with vampire policy in no time as well.

On the other hand, Trenton was still unexplainably blaming me for his sister's demise, but there was little I could do about that seeing as I had truly had nothing to do with it in the least. Still, I was not concerned by his anger because I knew he had no plans to act on it. I hated to speak ill of my Round members, but Trenton just wasn't bright enough to seek any sort of revenge. It still baffled me to why his predecessor had chosen him to be his heir. Donavan had been a exceedingly intelligent man. Trenton… was not. Hopefully for the sake of the Round and the British vampire population, his successor would be a bit more able.

Besides those two occurrences, neither big enough for me to have to call a Round meeting, I had been left to my own devices for the past two or so weeks. Time like this was a rare occurrence for the Elder of the Round. I had taken advantage of it, updating records I had been ignoring for a few decades as well as beginning a new composition and simply enjoying myself in general. Of course I could think of something that would have made my free time even more enjoyable, but I knew better than to push my luck. It had been over fifty years since I had last seen—

There was a knock on the door.

My fingers paused on the keys. This was odd. I could smell a vampire on the other side—one of my servants—but there was also a vaguely familiar human scent with her. "Yes?" I responded.

"A visitor for you, milady," came the quiet reply.

A human visitor? I had had one or two humans find their way to my manor house, but never to my apartments at the Round. This was very curious indeed. The Round was completely unknown except to my British vampires… or so I had thought. No vampire would have dared to give away its location… But if a human had gone through the trouble to locate it, I wasn't about to send him away. Such sleuth deserved reward. If he wanted to talk to me, that was what he would get. I doubted he was a Slayer, or at least a Slayer looking for trouble. If he were, he would have killed my servants, not asked them to take him to me like a reputable gentleman.

"Send him in." I commanded.

The door opened and I swiveled around on my piano bench to greet my guest. I smiled. "Elsandra." I might have guessed it would be her. She looked just as beautiful and regal as the last time I had seen her, although the ten years since then had left her mark. She was no longer the young teenager I had met in Nicolas's parlor. Now she was truly a woman. "I commend you on finding this address, but I suppose I shouldn't expect any less from the new head of the Establishment."

Elsandra smiled back in greeting although her expression was reserved. "Don't commend me too much for my efforts. I simply found it in one of Uncle's old files. I didn't actually do any of my own searching."

My expression sobered at the mention of Lord Borieal. "Ah. He would have deciphered the locality of the Round and then not done anything with it…" Elsandra bowed her head and I continued solemnly. "I'm sorry for your loss. I should have sent my condolences when I heard the news. I'm sure it sounds strange coming from me, but your uncle was a very good man. He will be missed, even here in the vampire community." It was the truth. Lord Borieal had actually helped us by creating the Establishment, setting rules for his Slayers and controlling their assignments and slaying goals. Before him, my people had been constantly terrorized by rogue Slayers. Now, there was almost a shaky cooperation between the two groups and it was all thanks to him.

Elsandra nodded. "Thank you." She made her way across the room, settling herself on one of my couches. Once comfortable, she laughed weakly and then continued. "I know it's been three years already, but it feels like it happened only weeks ago. I'm still in shock when I think about it. Pneumonia! It seems like such a pathetic way to go after such a life."

I nodded understandingly. I knew how she felt. I too had lost family members. For some of them, hundreds of years had gone by since their deaths, but it was still painful to think of their passing.

This was such a depressing topic though and depression had never sat well with me, just like any other normal person. It was time to change the topic.

My smile returned. "But I suppose I should have also sent my congratulations in the past few years. You're married now I hear? You're Mrs. Mark Heaney?"

She smiled as well, although the expression was gentler than I would have expected for the event we were discussing. It was easy to deduce that while she had nothing against the marriage or her husband, she disliked having to use his name. I wasn't surprised. Elsandra was such a free, independent spirit. The idea of giving up her identity and taking on someone else's had probably upset her. Hell, knowing her she was probably still upset and would continue to be about it so until the day she died.

"Yes," she agreed. "To Mark Heaney…" Her smile turned to one of fondness. "We have two sons now too. Our oldest just turned five. His brother is two… Nicolas and Aden."

Nicolas? I chuckled at that. I could only imagine where they had gotten the name. How Elsandra had convinced her husband to agree to it though was beyond me. Nicolas let on to me how apparent Mark's hatred for him had been. He had considered him some sort of romantic threat, and rightly so. I knew very well that even after all these years Nicolas still held a flame for Elsandra... But all the same, I hoped the name didn't affect the boy's relationship with his father. That would have been a tragedy in itself.

It was hard to imagine Elsandra with children. Her personality didn't seem as if it would lend itself well towards motherhood. Yet she had two. "And one coming?" I questioned knowingly, glancing down at her belly. She wasn't too far along, a few months perhaps. Her baby bump was barely showing and I doubted most humans would have even noticed it. However, my vampiric senses were sharper than a human's. Plus, the second, quieter heartbeat within her had given away Elsandra's secret sufficiently.

Elsandra flushed and laid a hand on her stomach. "Yes," she agreed. "We're hoping for a girl this time. Mark's dying for a child he can dote on and I'd love someone who can truly follow in my footsteps."

"Of course," I agreed. "Well then, I hope you have a girl."

The room lapsed into silence as I moved from the piano bench to the sofa across from hers. "So, do you have any business with me?" I prompted. It was not that I didn't enjoy her company, it just seemed unusual that Elsandra would visit so suddenly after all these years without some reason to do so.

"Not really," she admitted with a shrug. "Just a social get together. The Establishment's been quiet lately."

"Here too," I put in. "I suppose if one of us is quiet, the other would be as well."

She nodded in agreement. "Anyways, I've had nothing to do but sit in on training sessions to check the quality of the Slayers in Trainings' education and go to state events at the palace. I've taken advantage of the time to play with my children, which I don't often get to do, but I can't just sit around. I need to do something! When I found your address, I thought I'd make a trip of it and come for a visit. As far as everyone else knows, I'm on official Establishment business."

I laughed. This was exactly the Elsandra that I remembered. An entire Establishment to run, plus civic duties and two children to take care of, and she still couldn't find enough to do. She reminded me of myself when I had been younger. Much younger. "It's a reasonable statement," I pointed out. "After all, it's important for the Round and Establishment to be informed of each others' activities from time to time. I suppose I could dish out a few secrets of ours if you'll give us a few or yours in return."

"It's a deal," Elsandra agreed cheerfully. "Have you heard from Nicolas lately?"

Her tone was casual, but I could tell that she had been yearning to ask this question for a while now. "I have," I replied, just as casually as she. I didn't want to let on that I knew how anxious she was for news of him. "He was just here three weeks ago for a Round meeting."

"And is he well?" she pressed.

"Very much so," I frowned. "How long has it been since you saw Nicolas?" I questioned curiously. As I was probably closest to Nicolas out all the Round members, we talked often but he did not tell me these sorts of things. I had asked him this same question a few months before, but I had hit his stubborn streak and he had refused to answer. I guessed it had been quite awhile. It was sad to say, but I supposed it was probably better this way. Elsandra just wasn't part of our world. Nicolas had to understand this.

"He came the night of Nicolas's christening." Elsandra replied, looking a bit forlorn. "But he didn't stay long. He just wanted to meet his name sake and congratulate Mark and I on our marriage… he didn't come for the wedding."

"Ah," I nodded. I opened my mouth to say more, but then stopped. Was it wise to give out this information? Elsandra was happily married now with a family. I didn't want to ruin that by giving her false hope that she might have some sort of future with Nicolas after all. But she looked so lonely right now… I couldn't just let her sit there. They had been friends. Comrades against Camilia. Partners in his experiment for a brief while. They had much more than just forbidden, brief yearning for one another. The other circumstances outweighed the romantic feelings. I would tell her.

"He misses you."

The news seemed to take Elsandra by surprise. She looked up at me, her eyes wide in shock. "I—" And then she recovered, just as I knew she would. "Well, I miss him too. Has he finished his research yet? He hadn't five years ago."

I shook my head, smiling ruefully. "No, he's still working, but I wish he'd hurry up. I plan to be one of the first people to use his synthetic blood. Not that I'd need very much of it, very often."

Elsandra nodded, understanding what I meant. As an ancient vampire I hardly needed any blood to sustain my life. I hadn't hunted in over a year and I still wasn't feeling the need to hunt again.

"I know you're ancient, but how old are you anyways?"

I blinked. That was blunt, even for Elsandra. But I had no qualms in answering her question. I would have to think about it for a moment though. It had been a very long time since I had last calculated my age.

"Eight hundred seventy years old," I answered finally, proud of my age. True, I was far from the oldest vampire in the world, but I was definitely in the top three, if not the second oldest in the British Isles. I could only name one vampire older than me here, but that didn't mean he was the only one. There were plenty of vampires who liked to keep a low profile, thus sustaining their lives. Vampires who liked to make a name for themselves usually ended up dead before their two hundredth birthday. Of course, as Elder of the Round, I wasn't exactly living a low profile lifestyle myself, nor had I lived that sort of life before becoming Elder, but I had managed to get this far… there was always a lucky one. I had just been fortunate enough to be that one.

Elsandra gawked at me. In that moment she looked exactly as she had at seventeen. "Eight hundred seventy years old?" she repeated, sounding a bit bewildered. Really, I was surprised by her reaction. As head of the Establishment she should have been aware of how long vampires could live.

"Give or take a few years," I agreed. "They didn't keep great records of births back when I was born."

"I thought you were younger than Nicolas!" she exclaimed.

A slow grin appeared on my face. "I was sixteen when I was turned and you don't tend to see many vampires at all with such a youthful exterior," I told her. "Most vampires prefer to turn their companions when they're fully into adulthood. Although technically I was an adult when I was turned… It tends to throw people off these days though, what with changing social patterns. I'm about four times Nicolas's age."



Elsandra gave a very unlady like whistle. "What do you do with all that time?"

I laughed. I supposed to someone who had only lived twenty seven years and would probably only see eighty if she were lucky, eight hundred and seventy years seemed like an unimaginable amount of time. And when I thought about it from this standpoint it was to me as well. But if I thought about it as my lifetime it didn't seem any longer to me than how long Elsandra's life probably seemed to her. She was a good way through her life already. So was I. Yet, she still had many years to go. Well, I did too.

"I could tell you what I've done with it all if you'd like," I offered. "It might take a long time though."

Elsandra rolled her eyes. "Please," she said. "Take as long as you want. It's not as if I have any business waiting for me at home and Mark can take care of the children. He's very good at that."

I smiled. It was nice to hear about a reversal of gender roles. And if Elsandra truly wasn't needed, I had no qualms about relaying my tale. Besides, I could use the company. I had become accustomed to the long bouts of solitude here in my apartments, but it was always a pleasant treat to spend time with someone.

"Very well then, I shall begin."

Author's Note: Yes, I know I didn't turn Elsandra and Nicolas into a couple even though they would have been perfect together. I know a bunch of you are probably really disappointed about that. I'm sorry. Really I am. But as Isabelle says, Elsandra isn't part of Nicolas's world and they have to understand that. I knew from the beginning that Mark and Elsandra would end up together, I just wasn't going to tell anyone. And what do you think? I don't know if I'll be adding these details to the story, but should Elsandra have another boy or a girl? Name suggestions anyone?

Hope you enjoyed that! Stay tuned for the next chapter!