Sitting at the brotherhood's table in ZeroSum's VIP section, John Matthew was drunk off his ass. Drunk off his motherfucking ass. Totally shwasted.

So as soon as he finished whatever number beer he'd been working on for all of five minutes, he ordered a J?ger bomb.


Qhuinn and Blay, to their credit, were saying absolutely nothing.

It was hard to explain what was driving all the bottle pounding and the shot sucking. The only thing he kept coming back to was that his nerves were decimated. He'd left Tohr back at the house sleeping in that bed like the thing was a coffin, and though it was great that they had reunited, the Brother was not home free, not by any stretch.

John couldn't go through losing him again.

And then there was that bizarre Lash sighting and the fact that John was kind of convinced he was losing his ever-loving mind.

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When the waitress came over with the shot, Qhuinn said, "He'd like another beer."

I love you, John signed to his buddy.

"Well, you're going to hate both of us when you get home and throw up like a golf course sprinkler, but let's just live in the here and now, shall we?"

Roger that. John threw back the shot and it didn't burn, didn't land in his stomach in a burning rush. But, then, really. Would a forest fire give two shits about a Zippo lighter?

Qhuinn was right: He was probably going to hurl. As a matter of fact¡ª

John lurched to his feet.

"Oh, shit, here we are," Qhuinn said, getting up as well.

I go alone.

Qhuinn tapped the chain around his neck. "Not anymore. "

John planted his fists into the table, leaned across, and bared his fangs.

"What the fuck?" Qhuinn hissed as Blay frantically looked around at the other banquettes. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

I go alone.

Qhuinn glared like he was going to argue, but then he parked his ass again. "Fine. Whatever. Just keep that grille to yourself."

John walked away, amazed that no one else in the club seemed to notice that the floor was shifting back and forth like a funhouse. Just before he got to the hall of private bathrooms, he changed his mind, louied, and snuck out past the velvet rope.

On the other side, he navigated the packed crowd with the grace of a buffalo, sideswiping people, knocking into walls, pitching forward, then leaning back to keep from yard-sale-ing.

He took the stairs to the mezzanine floor and punched his way into the men's bathroom.

There were two guys at the urinals, one by the sinks, and John met none of their eyes as he went all the way back to the end of the stalls. He opened the handicapped one, then pulled back because he felt bad, and stepped into the second-to-last one. As he locked the door, his stomach cement-mixered on him, churning like it was collecting a care package for immediate airmailing.

Shit. Why hadn't he just used the private bathrooms in the back of the VIP section? Did he really need those three Joes hearing him tribute-band a plumber strong-arming a drain?

God... damn. He was wicked faced.

On that note, he turned and looked down at the toilet. The thing was black, as almost everything in ZeroSum was, but he knew it was clean. Rehv kept a clean house.

Well, except for the prostitution. And the drugs. And the booking.

Okay, it was clean by Spick-and-span standards, not according to the penal code.

John let his head fall back against the metal door and closed his eyes, the true reason for all the drinking bubbling up.

What the hell was the measure of a male? Was it fighting? Was it how much you could bench-press? Was it revenge carried out?

Was it staying in control of your emotions when the whole world seemed funhouse-unstable? Was it loving someone even when you knew there was a risk they could walk away from you forever?

Was it sex?

Okay, big mistake to close his eyes. Or start thinking. He cracked his lids and focused on the black ceiling with its recessed, starlike lights.

The sink shut off. Two urinals flushed. The door to the club opened and shut, then opened and shut.

There was a sniffing noise from a couple stalls down. And another. Then a whiffling and an ahhhhhh. Footsteps. Running water. Laughter of the manic kind. Another open and shut with the door to the outside again.

Alone. He was alone. Except it wouldn't last long, because someone would come in again soon.

John looked down to the black toilet and told his stomach to get with the program if it wanted to spare him embarrassment.

Evidently it didn't. Or maybe... yes. No? Shit...

He was staring at the toilet, waiting for his gag reflex to make up its mind, when he forgot about his stomach and realized where he was.

He'd been born in a toilet stall. Brought into the world in a place where people threw up after having had too much to drink... left to fend for his infant self by a mother he'd never known and a father who'd never known him.

If Tohr took off again...

John wheeled around and couldn't make his fingers work the lever so he could get out. With increasing panic, he clawed at the black mechanism until finally it sprang free. Bursting into the bathroom, he beelined for the door and didn't make it.

Over each of the six copper sinks, there was a gold-framed mirror.

Taking a deep breath, he picked the mirror that was the closest to the door and stepped in front of it, meeting his grown-up face for the first time.

His eyes were the same...his eyes were exactly the same blue and the same shape. Everything else he didn't recognize, not the hard cut of the jaw or the thickness of the neck or the broad forehead. But the eyes were his.

He supposed.

Who am I, he mouthed.

Peeling his lips off his front teeth, he leaned in and looked at his fangs.

"Don't tell me you've never seen those before?"

He spun on his boot. Xhex was standing against the door, effectively closing them in together.

She was wearing exactly the same thing she always did, but to him it was as if he'd never seen the tight muscle shirt or the leathers before.

"I saw you tumble in here. Just thought I'd make sure you were okay." Her gray eyes didn't waver, and he bet they never did from anything. The female had a stare like a statue's, direct and unflappable.

An incredibly sexy statue's.

I want to fuck you, he mouthed, not caring that he was making a fool out of himself.

"Do you."

Clearly, she read lips. Either that or cocks, because God knew his had its hand raised and waving in his jeans.

Yeah, I do.

"Lot of women in this club."

Only one you.

"I think you'd be better off with them."

And I think you'd be better off with me.

Where the fuck the confidence was coming from, he didn't care. Whether it was an ego-gift from God or just bottle-born stupidity, he was going with it.

Fact, I know you would.

He deliberately slipped his thumbs under the waistband of his jeans and gave the fuckers a slow jack up. As his arousal showed plain as siding on a house, her eyes dipped down, and he knew what she was seeing: He was hung fit for the size of his six-foot-seven body. And that was without an erection. With one, he was tremendous.

Ah, not so statuelike, are we, he thought as her stare didn't return to his face, but flared ever so slightly.

With her eyes on him, and an electrical sizzle between them, he wasn't his past anymore. He was just now. And now was her locking that goddamn door and letting him go down on her. Then the two of them fucking while standing up.

Her lips parted, and he waited for her words like he waited for God's arrival.

Abruptly, she jerked her hand up to her earpiece and frowned. "Shit. I've got to go."

John whipped out a paper towel from the wall dispenser, took his pen from his pocket, and wrote some bold words. Before she could take off, he went over and forced what he'd scribbled on into her hand.

She looked down at it. "You want me to read now or later."

Later, he mouthed.

As he pushed through the door, he was a lot more sober. And he had a big-ass, I'm-the-man smile on his face.

When Lash reappeared in his parents' foyer, he kept still for a little bit. His body felt as though it had been pressed between two sheets of waxed paper and hit with an iron, a fallen leaf captured and preserved artificially, and not without some pain.

He glanced at his hands. Flexed them. Cracked his neck.

The lessons from his father had begun. They were going to meet regularly. He was ready to learn.

Curling his hands into fists and releasing them, he counted the tricks he had now. Tricks that were... not tricks, actually. Not tricks at all. He was a monster. A monster just beginning to understand the usefulness of the scales on his body and the flames in his mouth and the barbs on his tail.

It was kind of like it had been after his change. He had to figure out who he was again and how his body worked.

Fortunately the Omega was going to help him. As any good parent should.

When he could stand it, Lash turned his head and looked up the stairs, picturing where John had been standing.

It had been so good to see his enemy again. Positively heartwarming.

Hallmark really needed to start up a line of revenge cards, the kind that let you reach out to those you were going to come after with a vengeance.

Lash stood up carefully and did a slow turn and review, taking in the grandfather clock in the corner by the front door and the oil paintings and the generations of family shit that had been carefully stewarded.

Then he looked toward the dining room.

The shovels, he thought, were in the garage.

He found a pair of them lined up against the wall beside the pegboard that had the garden trowels and shears hanging on it. The shovel he chose had a wooden handle and a broad red-enameled palm.

When he stepped outside, he was amazed to see it was still dark, as he felt like he'd been with the Omega for hours and hours. Unless this was tomorrow? Or even the day after?

Lash went around to the side yard and picked a spot under the oak tree that offered shade to the study's wide windows. As he dug, his eyes occasionally flicked up to the panes of glass and the room beyond them. The couch still had bloodstains on it, although what a ridiculous thing to notice. What, like they would evaporate out of the silk fibers?

He dug one grave that was five feet down into the earth, seven feet long, and four feet across.

The resulting pile of dirt was bigger than he'd thought, and it smelled like the lawn did after a heavy rainstorm, musky and sweet. Or maybe he was the sweet part.

The gathering glow in the east had him tossing the shovel out of the hole and leaping up to level ground. He had to move fast before the sun came up, and he did. He put his father in first. His mother was second. He angled them so they were spooning, with his father doing the holding.

He stared down at the two of them.

He was surprised that he needed to do this before he could get another squadron of men in here to try and empty the place, but whatever. These two had been his parents for the first part of his life, and though he'd told himself he didn't give a shit about them, he did. He wasn't going to have those lessers desecrating their rotting bodies. The house? Fine, fair game. But not the bodies.

With the sun rising, and golden rays spearing through the oak's leafy arms, he made a phone call and then put the dirt back where it had been.

Holy shit, he thought when he'd finished. The thing really looked like a grave, with its domed bread-loaf top from all the displacement.

He was returning the shovel to its home in the garage when he heard the first of the cars pull up to the front door. Two lessers got out just as a second sedan eased onto the driveway, followed by a Ford F-150 and a minivan.

The bunch of them smelled as sweet as the sunshine while they filed into his parents' house.

The U-Haul moving truck, driven by Mr. D, was the last to arrive.

As the Fore-lesser took charge and the looting commenced, Lash went up and took a quick shower in his old bathroom. While he was drying off, he went over to his closet. Clothes... clothes... somehow, what he'd been wearing lately didn't strike the right note anymore, and he took out a spank Prada suit.

His military minimalist-chic stage was so over. He wasn't the Brotherhood's good little soldier-in-training anymore.

Feeling all sexy beast and shit, he went over to his bureau, opened up his jewelry drawer, and¡ª

Where the fuck was his watch? The Jacob & Co. with the diamonds?

What the hell had...

Lash looked around and sniffed the air of his room. Then he flipped his vision to blue so that the prints of anyone who had been touching his shit showed up pink, just as his father had taught him.

Fresh, characterless prints, ones more vivid than those he'd left days ago, were on the bureau. He inhaled again. John had... John and Qhuinn had been here... and one of those miserable motherfuckers had taken his fucking watch.

Lash picked up the hunting knife on his desk and, with a roar, pitched it across the room, where it landed blade-first in one of his black pillows.

Mr. D appeared in the doorway. "Suh? What's wrong¡ª"

Lash wheeled around and pegged the guy with his finger, not to make a point but to use another one of his real father's gifts.

But then he took a deep breath. Dropped his arm. Straightened his suit.

"Make me..." He had to clear the rage out of his throat.

"Make me breakfast. I want to take it in the sunroom, not at the dining table."

Mr. D left, and about ten minutes later, when Lash wasn't seeing double anymore from fury, he went downstairs and parked it in front of a nice spread of bacon, eggs, toast with jam, and OJ.

Mr. D had squeezed the oranges himself, evidently. Which, considering how good the shit tasted, was justification enough for not having blasted the fucker right out of his combat boots.

The other slayers ended up all gathered in the sunroom's entryway, watching him eat like he was pulling off a magic trick and a half.

Just as he took a good last long suck from his cup of coffee, one of them said, "What the fuck are you?"

Lash wiped his mouth with his napkin and calmly removed his jacket. As he stood up, he undid the buttons down the front of his pastel pink shirt.

"I am your motherfucking king."

With that, he opened the shirt and willed his skin to slit down the sternum. With his ribs cranked wide, he bared his fangs and exposed his black, beating heart.

As a group, the lessers jumped back. One even crossed himself, the fucker.

Lash calmly closed up his chest and rebuttoned his shirt and sat back down. "More coffee, Mr. D."

The cowboy blinked stupidly a couple of times, doing an excellent impression of a sheep confronted with a math problem. "Yes... yes, suh."

Lash picked up his cup again and met the pale faces in front of him. "Welcome to the future, gentlemen. Now get your asses moving, I want the first floor of this place empty before the mailman comes at ten thirty."

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