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Joby lay awake as it got light. Whilst Kieran slept beside him he came to the worrying conclusion that his friend may be right and that Angel was at large once more. He had been denying it for so long because to acknowledge the truth would be to acknowledge that he might then lose Kieran. Even though it had happened eleven years ago, he still vividly recalled the night Kieran had gone off alone to fight Angel. He didn't want to live through that again.
"He predicted this you know", Kieran whispered.
"I didn't realise you were awake", Joby drew close to him.
"When I went on that mad buggy ride with Angel around the Freak Colony", said Kieran "He said to me that one day he would come back, when I was middle-aged and past vanquishing. That was what he said".
"You're not middle-aged, you're thirty-one".
"In the fifth millennium that is middle-aged Joby".
"And I shouldn't think you're past vanquishing either", Joby went on "You could still wank over the Devil if you had to".
"The biggest worry though", said Kieran "Is that he said he would use Lonts this time. I remember I made some grand claim at the time that we would make sure Lonts got better so he couldn't use him. He hasn't though has he?"
"He's better than he was then. At least he doesn't go spooking at everything anymore".
"He's still weak-minded though. Angel would have no trouble manipulating him if he had to. I'm going to have to have to confront him. Find out what it is he wants, and who's pulling his strings".
The outer door opened and shut again softly. Joby went pale.
"Who's that?" he said, hoarsely.
"Don't panic", Kieran squeezed his arm fondly "It'll be Hillyard with me hot water".
"Of course", Joby sighed with relief "As he's here now, do you mind if I nip down to the garden and open up me greenhouses for the day?"
"Go on then", said Kieran "And don't be late for the reception".
"I don't know what we're making all this fuss about anyway", said Joby, pulling on his robe "It's only Trixie and that creep Vanod".
"Diplomatic relations, Joby".
"Another boring bloody state occasion you mean. Sitting around all day, twiddling your thumbs until they turn up, and then everybody behaving unnaturally".
"It's only for today. The official greeting later this morning, and the state dinner tonight. From tomorrow onwards it'll be business as usual, and Trixie will just be a guest. I doubt we'll notice he's here half the time".
Hillyard washed Kieran in the porcelain hip-bath, as he did every morning. But today it seemed that everything was doomed to remind Kieran of his fight with Angel. As Hillyard soaped his hair and his back, Kieran remembered the way he had bathed his bruised and bloodied body at Buskin's house.
"Of course I remember it", said Hillyard, in answer to his question "And I'd do the same again if I had to".
"I hope it doesn't come to that", said Kieran, with feeling.
"You'd see him off. If he is back he's just pushing his luck that's all".
Hillyard was towel-drying Kieran's hair when Adam came in, swathed in a wreath of cigar smoke and with his robe open to show his nipple rings.
"Addy, do you have to smoke that thing at this hour?" said Kieran "It's giving me a headache".
Adam obligingly stubbed out the cigar on the side of the bath, and then flicked the butt into the water.
"I knew I'd catch up with you sooner or later", he snapped at Hillyard.
"What are you grouching at me about?" said Hillyard, as he began to comb Kieran's hair.
"You should've kept a closer eye on Lonts whilst I was away".
"I tried to", Hillyard protested "But the eunuch seemed to know what he was doing, so I didn't like to interfere".
"But didn't you notice the way he bullied the boy?" Adam exclaimed.
"No I didn't", said Hillyard "I just thought he was a bit strict that's all".
"Well you're always saying that Lonts needs a firm hand. That's why I didn't say anything at the time, because normally you accuse me of being too soft with him. If I'd known what the eunuch was really doing, of course I'd have interfered".
"Fat chance of you noticing. You're normally too busy bonking the arse off the kitchen staff to speculate about Lonts's welfare".
"Adam!" Kieran slapped his hand against the wash-stand irritably "Hillyard does his share with Lonts. Who do you think has been washing Lonts's soiled nappies whilst you've been away? The laundrymen get snotty about doing them, and the eunuch wouldn't even consider it, so Hilly's been doing them".
"Well then he should've noticed the marks on Lonts's body", said Adam.
"I wasn't allowed to change him", said Hillyard "Now we know why! The eunuch used to just leave them in a bucket outside his door and I'd collect them every morning. I know I should've insisted on seeing Lonts, but I thought the eunuch was probably doing a good job. After all, you were the one that hired him. I trusted your judgement".
"Game, set and match to Hillyard I think", said Kieran.
"I'll go and fetch your breakfast tray Kieran", said Hillyard, leaving the room with dignity.
"I know, I know!" Adam exclaimed, as Kieran shook his head at him "I'm entirely in the wrong, I admit it. I'm feeling guilty because it was me who left Lonts in the care of that psychopath, and I'm taking it out on everyone else. It's wrong, but I'm only human after all".
"Your heart was in the right place", said Kieran, kissing his hand to make amends "We were just unlucky. Nine times out of ten we'd have got a highly competent nurse".
"And instead we got a sadist", said Adam "I can't believe I could have been so naive Patsy. Me of all people! When I interviewed him I said Lonts could be difficult sometimes, and occasionally needed a smack on the butt to put him right again. I didn't think he'd take it as carte blanche to thrash the living daylights out of him".
"Put it down to experience, that's all we can do. We'll be much more careful in future".
"There won't be any 'in future'. I'll look after Lonts myself".
"Yes but next winter the doc may suggest you go away again", said Kieran.
"Then I'll take Lonts with me".
"He'll get in the way of your painting".
"As if I care about that!" said Adam "Anyway I don't think I could stand another three months away from you all. If I have to go away again I might insist you come as well".
"Oh God, I'm so relieved you're back Addy", Kieran wept, and buried his face in Adam's stomach "I don't know how I managed without you, I really don't".
"You won't have to again. Next winter we'll think of something, somehow".
"I hope we're all still here then".
At noon precisely they all lined up on the bridge that spanned the moat around the Ministry Headquarters. Kieran felt tired and apprehensive, but he had been President for long enough now to have learnt that maintaining an outward appearance of calm was half the battle.
"You look wonderful", said Adam, standing next to him. He had plaited Kieran's hair, and with his white silk pyjama suit and Reuton's crucifix on him, Kieran looked like a young and smart hippy pope.
"You're not so bad yourself", said Kieran.
"I can't compete with Hillyard", said Adam, glancing at the said man who was standing further down the row, looking scrubbed and magnificent in a black military-style jacket with polished silver buttons "If we were back in our time he'd become a gay icon with a look like that".
"Who does he think he is?" Joby snorted "A rear admiral or something?"
"That would be a very good title for Hillyard", Adam laughed.
"Yea, and less of the double entendres if you don't mind", said Joby "This is supposed to be an official occasion".
"You've whined all morning about having to be here", said Adam "And now I'm getting lectured by you about duty".
"He's late", said Ransey, as the clock on the other side of the arch finished striking noon "I've got things to do you know".
"His time is worth a hundred pounds a minute", Adam muttered.
"What?" said Ransey.
"'Alice Through The Looking-Glass', you wouldn't get it old love".
The open carriage appeared finally at the far end of Ministry Square. It paraded down an avenue of passers-by, who were staring mainly because it was something different to look at than any great curiosity about Trixie and Vanod. Trixie had taken in recent years to favouring an austere look. He wore his hair slicked back ruthlessly from his head, which emphasised his large eyes, and made him look more like an anxious seal than ever. He wore his habitual white silk pyjamas, and was irritated to find that Kieran had also adopted this style and, what was worse, looked better in it. Next to him a sulky Vanod had voiced his protest at being there at all by not shaving. Trixie was too afraid of him to do anything about it. Vanod had been his consort for seven years now, and yet in all that time they had never managed to establish a modicum of intimacy or friendship with one another. It was a pathetically cold and sad relationship.
"I see Vanod's dressed up for the occasion", said Adam, disapprovingly "He looks as delighted to see us as we are to see him".
"Give it a rest Adam", Kieran hissed "Or I'll excuse you from official duties for the rest of the day".
"And that's meant to be a threat!"
"Don't start on Vanod as soon as he arrives", said Kieran "We all know he's a shit, you don't have to labour the point, but we must at least try and pretend to be civil to him".
"I cannot for the life of me see why", said Adam "Diplomacy only goes so far you know".
"I see they've still got the half-wit with them", said Vanod, as the carriage rolled round to the bridge. He was talking about Lonts, who was standing at the end of the line, scowling against the bright spring sunshine "I thought they might have had it put down by now".
"Please Vanod", said Trixie, wearily "They are putting us up. The least we can do is be polite".
"Putting us up!" Vanod exclaimed "I thought it was standard practice for the President to accommodate those of his neighbours in distress. You make it sound like he's doing us an almighty favour. Look at them! Standing there like a line-up of whores in a nightclub".
"Please Vanod", Trixie repeated in desperation.
Official embraces had been exchanged, and the party had repaired to a small room near Kieran's suite for a light buffet lunch. In spite of his pleas to Vanod to behave, Trixie wasn't the most enchanting of guests himself. Because of his place at Kieran's side when the Vanquisher had reclaimed the City from Gabriel, Trixie's position had been unassailable in Pepuaah for some time now. As such he was conscious of his regal status at all times and acted accordingly. This was obvious from the way he had stood in the middle of the room and held out his hat and muslin scarf for any scurrying minion to take off him. There had already been a small embarrassment, when on their way up to the room, they had almost literally stumbled over Gimmit in the Quadrangle, who was tidying-up his bed-roll.
"Gimmit prefers to sleep outside", said Kieran, apologetically "Except in rough weather, when he takes a truckle bed in Lonts's room".
"But why do you still keep Gimmit around?" Trixie had said, disdainfully "It's not as if you require storms to be raised these days is it?"
"He's more of a companion for wee Lonts really", said Kieran, trying to ignore Vanod's tutting noises.
Lunch got off to a bad start by Trixie picking gingerly at the food on offer as though it was rat poison, and then protesting vociferously, but blatantly insincerely, that everything was fine. This was upsetting for Joby, as some of the produce had been grown in the gardens on-site by his own hands.
"Don't they make a charming couple", Adam whispered to him "Like Vlad the Impaler and the Emperor Nero come to stay!"
"I appreciate your grub Joby", said Ransey, popping a small tomato into his mouth whole.
"I had a feeling you might", said Joby.
"I don't want to worry you, Joby old love", said Adam "but Trixie still has the hots for you. He's fairly smouldering over the rim of his coffee-cup".
Joby had been aware of Trixie's hot glances for some time and had become thoroughly unnerved by them.
"He still carries a torch for you it seems".
"Belt up Adam, I don't wanna hear it", said Joby.
"I can't imagine he gets much change out of Vanod", said Hillyard "He might still be looking for a second consort, you never know".
"I wish you lot would find someone else to laugh at", said Joby "I'm sick of being the butt of everyone's jokes".
"You're not", said Adam "Anyway, we all have to take turns at that particular role".
"You be his second consort then".
"No thanks, I have enough to cope with".
The rest of the afternoon was taken up with preparations for the dinner that evening. Vanod and Trixie retired to their rooms, and did their best to think of as many things as they could find to complain about. Hillyard encountered Trixie's valet when he was filling Kieran's hot-water jug in the laundry-room, and was disappointed to find that he was a middle-aged individual in a pinz-nez who took himself very seriously. Hillyard had enjoyed considered success with other visiting valets, but resigned himself immediately to this one being a non-starter.
Lonts was shooed out of the dining-room, mesmerised as he was by the long tables of gleaming gold cutlery laid out like ceremonial swords for the evening ahead. He went on into the rose garden where Joby was hurriedly watering his bushes from a can that had been hand-painted by Adam.
"Bog off, I'm busy", he said, when he spotted Lonts nearby "No, on second thoughts, go and fill some more cans for me".
"Alright Joby", said Lonts, and went off towards the stand-pipe by the largest greenhouse.
Joby noticed that it was clouding over, even though no more rain had been forecast. He methodically moved along the grass walkway swaying the can backwards and forwards. There was an almost thundery feeling in the air, and everything seemed to be unnaturally still. For the very first time he felt vulnerable in the rose garden, as though it was suddenly full of alien presences.
At first he didn't believe what he was seeing. Angel was standing on the other side of a rose bush, staring at him in a predatory way. He was solid, and yet at the same time he didn't seem real, as though it was all taking part in a dream. Joby flung the can at him and screamed, but Angel stood motionlessly.
"Go away!" Joby cried "Go away! Go away!"
"Joby?" Lonts dropped the can he had been filling and ran towards him.
"Go back Lonts", said Joby "For God's sake, don't go near him!"
"Near who Joby?"
"Can't you see him?"
"No", Lonts began to panic "Who do you mean Joby? There's no one there".
"You can't see him at all?"
"See who Joby?" Lonts wept "I'm confused, I can't see anyone".
"Go away!" Joby screamed at the vampire, and began to wade through the bushes "I don't know what you're hoping to achieve, but sod off Angel, just sod off, or I'll destroy you, God help me I will!"
Angel merely raised a quizzical eyebrow and smirked. Joby fell into one of the bushes and screamed hysterically.
Adam came upon the extraordinary spectacle of Lonts trying to soothe Joby, who was lying on one of the grass paths, with his legs and hands bleeding from the impact of the rose thorns. Adam had patched him up with bandages from the First Aid box in Joby's shed, before he managed to get the full story from him.
"And Lonts didn't see him?" said Adam.
"No", Joby gasped "Oh God Adam, I just want Angel gone again. Why's he doing this to us? Why!"
"At the moment only he knows that".
"In broad daylight", Joby continued "He was standing there, bold as brass, in broad daylight".
"Yes, well Angel never was the conventional sort of vampire".
"You always make a joke of everything".
"I'm hoping it'll help", said Adam "At least it confirms what Patsy's been saying all along. At least we know the truth now".
"And the truth is", said Joby "That Angel's back".
"At least it's all out in the open", said Kieran, when they informed him of that afternoon's events "That's about the only thing you can say for it".
"Does it stop you feeling as though you're going mad then?" said Adam.
"I should've asked him what he wanted", Joby whimpered "Instead of just shouting like that. But I didn't think. I was so angry that the bastard had come back after all this time".
"How did he look?" said Kieran, pensively "Not a day over what he was before, I expect".
"Yea, and no traces of the Virus either", said Joby "He looked exactly as he did when we saw him at Henang, except he was more confident".
"Bastard!" Kieran got up and paced around the study "He promised me. He did. He promised me at the Loud House that he wouldn't come back".
"Like you said, he lied", said Joby.
"No, I don't accept that now", said Kieran "Somebody is pulling his strings, I'm certain of it. He wouldn't be doing this off his own bat. After the dinner tonight I'm going to summon a midnight meeting of all my ministers. I have to tell them that Angel is at large again, and probably responsible for the murders. I am not looking forward to it. Not in the slightest".
The evening was stiff with formalities, a minefield of protocol. And Kieran had to sit through it all, sweating under the knowledge that Angel was at large somewhere. The meal, as was the case with all state dinners, was a miracle of gleaming efficiency. The formality of it could be intimidating, and Kieran usually joked with the guests at his elbows when he sat down to put them at their ease. This evening though he was distracted, and he pushed lobster around his gold plate without eating any, making conversation with Trixie as though he was on automatic pilot.
The seating arrangements had been another headache he could have done without. Normally Adam and Joby, as his consorts, sat with any visiting consorts. This could hardly be the case this evening as both of them loathed Vanod (with good cause), and couldn't be trusted to get through the meal in his company without starting a riot. So Kieran had shoved Vanod between Hillyard and Ransey and hoped for the best.
It wasn't unusual for his own people to pass notes to him surreptitiously throughout a state dinner. With them all placed at strategic intervals along the table it enabled Kieran to keep abreast of moods within the visiting party, and to avoid potential social pitfalls. It was also a good way to pick up useful information "on the hoof". The messages weren't always politically-motivated though, such as the first one the head footman passed him this evening, which simply stated "EAT SOMETHING!"
Even without recognising the handwriting Kieran knew it was from Adam. The older man had a tendency to watch him like a hawk on these occasions, well aware of Kieran's habit of pushing food around his plate for the entire seven courses without touching a morsel. Kieran loaded his fork with pieces of frayed lettuce and gestured towards Adam with it. His vegetarian tastes prevented him from touching the lobster, and he wished the kitchen staff would occasionally respect his beliefs, which unfortunately they regarded as too eccentric for words. Adam, who was looking stunning a silk shirt, watched him intently as he swallowed the food. They stared at each other until Kieran had eaten the lettuce. He wished he was alone with Adam somewhere private, but knew there was little hope of that tonight.
Another course on and he received a further message. It was straightforward but disturbing.
"I THINK VANOD'S BEHIND ANGEL'S RETURN, HILLYARD".
Kieran looked down the table at Hillyard, who nodded briefly in confirmation and then looked away.
"Of course!" Kieran exclaimed, rather louder than he'd intended "I should've realised".
"Kieran?" said Trixie "Are you alright?"
"Y-Yes I'm fine", said Kieran, recollecting himself "Just a wee domestic crisis that's all".
The meal seemed to go on forever, but at the end of it Kieran took advantage of the general stampede towards the lavatory to meet with Hillyard behind the screen which separated the dining-room from the service area.
"He didn't say anything for definite", said Hillyard "I'm reading between the lines a lot".
"It doesn't matter", said Kieran, impatiently "Go on".
"I think you should know that he's not all there. I think he's taking something. He seemed a bit drugged up to me, so perhaps we shouldn't listen too much to what he has to say. But it also meant he was coming out with things he wouldn't normally have done. He got quite offensive about you at one point. If it wasn't for the fact that I thought I could get decent information out of him I'd have left the table".
"It doesn't matter Hillyard. I've been insulted by the Devil in my time. Come on, what did he say?"
"There was a lot of bullshit about how he couldn't believe you'd managed to fight Angel and win. That went on for some time. He also said he could only put it down to a fluke and it wouldn't happen again. He said Angel was back and this time he'd finish you off for good".
"He actually said that? You're sure?"
"There was no mistaking it. He said it alright".
"But what makes you think he's behind Angel's resurrection?"
"Because he's so damn pleased with himself about it. He had the look of 'I know something you don't know' about him. And he muttered something about having had to wait seven years, but it would all be worth it in the end. He got even less coherent after that, but I'd swear on Stombal's grave - if he had one - that he's behind it all. Does that help at all?"
"It helps my morale more than anything", said Kieran "Now I know who Angel's catalyst is".
"We don't know it is him for certain", said Hillyard, cautiously.
"No, but I have a feeling in my water about it. Years ago, in Pepuaah, Trixie told me that Vanod had a bit of an obsession about Angel. And remember, Vanod was very 'in' with Selis and his crowd, and they were all vampires. Vampires who were desperate to see Angel resurrected. They were even going to sacrifice Lonts to achieve that aim".
"What are you going to do then?" said Hillyard "Are you going to tell the Ministry about Vanod?"
"Not just yet. I'll tell them all about Angel, and try and persuade the Chief Constable that there is a supernatural force behind all the murders, which won't be easy. Like so many men these days he doesn't want to admit the possibility that any vampires might return. I'm keeping the info about Vanod under my hat for the time being, as they'll only go bulldozing in too soon before we've got all the facts. What I want to know is though, how the hell did Vanod manage it?"
Kieran sat down and faced his long table of ministers with a heavy heart. As he told them about Angel's return, he felt like someone going to the confessional for the first time in several years. Nervous, and aware of the sheer enormity of the things he had to confess.
"I want it put about that a vampire is at large", he said "And for men to be on their guard and to act accordingly. Not that there's many precautions they can take".
He felt like making a joke about checking the hairiness of the palms of any strangers they met, but knew that levity never went down well on occasions like this. The Minister for Justice took his revelation as a gross affront, and Kieran knew this was with good cause. To catch a vampire was nigh-on impossible, and Kieran knew it would be a very long night's sitting indeed.
Joby was nervous about being alone. Without Kieran there he was only too aware of how quiet their part of the Headquarters could be. The thick stone walls seemed to close around him forbiddingly, and he felt like a child being forced to spend the night alone in a reputedly haunted house. After an hour of this he decided he had had enough and braved the dark corridors to seek out Adam's room.
"Joby?" said Adam, opening the double doors and emitting a waft of cigar smoke "What are you knocking for? You're one of the elite few who can just walk in. I thought you knew that".
"I wasn't sure if you had Julian in here", said Joby, entering the room cautiously.
"No I'm quite alone", said Adam "I've got enough to think about tonight without having Julian irritating me as well".
Adam's room was twice the size of Kieran and Joby's, with a huge bay window, a four-poster bed and a substantial fireplace. Joby always found it quite ironic that he lived this way, whilst Kieran, as the President, slept in what was little more than a curtained niche.
"I-I felt nervous being alone", Joby stammered.
"I'm not surprised, after seeing Angel earlier", said Adam, standing in a pool of moonlight thrown through the uncurtained window "Or are you more nervous that Trixie might come hammering on your door?"
"That's not funny. I'll be glad when he's gone back to Pepuaah".
"Could be some time old love", said Adam "It might take until the autumn to control the plague".
"Oh don't say that!"
"It's true. It'll flourish during the hot months ahead. And it won't be safe for them to go back whilst it's still raging".
Adam pulled the silk neck-tie which Joby had used to secure his robe in place, and the garment fell open.
"Adam!" Joby exclaimed "I came in here to have a chat".
"Then you shouldn't have worn your seduction gear should you?"
"It's my dressing-gown!"
"And it's a shame to cover up such a magnificent body anyway", said Adam, slipping the robe to the floor and kissing Joby's shoulders.
"Adam", Joby glanced nervously at the turret door which stood slightly ajar "Lonts might come downstairs".
"He'll get his butt smacked if he does. He knows not to come down when I have a visitor".
Adam coaxed him over to the bed, and put Joby firmly on the eiderdown, scooping up his legs as he did so.
"And no running off immediately afterwards, like you normally do", he said "I'm not your cousin Mabel you know".
"Kimberley", said Joby "Her name was Kimberley".
"Whatever. Sometimes I swear you think I'm going to start a scene just like she did. I get quite hurt".
"No, I'm just get nervous because Lonts is upstairs. I think he might be watching us or something".
"Then I'll have to distract you won't I?" said Adam, and he tipped him up so that he was practically standing on his head. Joby's penis slanted outwards as though anxious to please.
"I wonder why they were made that way", said Joby, breathlessly.
"For ease of access", said Adam, and he wrapped his lips around the wrinkled flesh.
"Do you ever miss women Joby?" said Adam, as they lay together in the moonlight afterwards.
"What makes you say that now?"
"I'm just curious. I was always worried about you, because I thought you'd have the most trouble adapting to the fifth millennium".
"Of course I miss 'em", said Joby "But then so do you, I've heard you say so".
"Tis true, but I meant sexually".
"It's more that I regret not making more of my opportunities when I had them. Not that I was ever given much chance. I sometimes wonder if I'd have been better being gay in our own time. I seem to have always got on better with blokes than women. I can relax with you and Kiel in a way I don't think I could ever have managed with a woman. Sometimes, even years and years ago, I used to wish I could meet a girl I could get on with as easily as Kiel".
"You might have done".
"I don't think so", said Joby "Anyway, I think my spots used to put them off".
"They're gone now", said Adam, stroking his face.
"And I was clumsy. Women don't tend to like blokes that are clumsy. I didn't have any finesse".
"It's called confidence Joby. That's all you lacked".
Joby rolled over until he was almost lying over Adam, who kissed him.
"I can get very sad for you sometimes Joby", he said "Even after all these years".
"Don't be", said Joby "I have all I need. And it's a lot more than I would have had in the old life, believe me".
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