Avenari - Chapter 15
I was in the limo, feeling every bump in the road as we traveled along.
My body felt numb from the chest down, but I was too confused to worry about my condition. I tried to look up, but my vision swam with glowing spots and patches of gray. However, despite the confusion, I knew that Andris was watching over me. I could sense him his powers dissipate as soon as he saw that I was conscious.
Still edgy, I supposed.
“What—?” It was all I could say, my voice too thick to manage any more than that. I could feel the thirst begging for attention, but that was also distant, like an echo floating down the side of a mountain. I tried to lift my head, but my neck didn’t have the strength. My whole body moved like old rubber.
“Stay still,” Andris said softly. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
After several moments, my vision cleared enough to see him. I lay on the long, curving back seat with my head on a pillow beside Andris, and Nick appeared to be sleeping in the seat row he had started off in, curled into a ball like a puppy. He was out cold, but not for the same reason that I had been. Making the change from human to vampire was exhausting, and he had already been tired. We would have to find him a meal soon…
I need blood, I said groggily. The thirst kept rattling its cage, telling me that I was starving. Whatever had put me under must have also drained my reserves. To think that there existed something out there powerful enough to suck the strength from my veins without even touching me. What a world...
It was already past nightfall, according to the shiny raven strands on the ancient’s head and the shifting color show in his eyes. What happened? I asked.
You blacked out. I think you were attacked from a distance. I felt a presence as you fell, but it vanished before I could get outside. Nick and I felt that it would be better if we left quickly.
How did I get here?
I carried you...if that’s what you mean.
He frowned as his eyes shifted to bright vermilion. I would have bet good money that anything red meant irritation or anger. How can you ask me that?
By asking that, I replied sharply, somewhat pleased to know that it didn’t take much energy to argue through telepathy. Why didn’t you just leave while I was unconscious? Your chance was right there. In my state, I doubted he would do anything to me just for being difficult, and I didn’t want to waste the opportunity.
Vermilion blended into violet. I couldn’t possibly abandon you like that. I don’t hate you.
That confused me. But all you do is fight me, and you did try to kill me. Twice, I believe.
You fight Nick, don’t you? He doesn’t hate you the least bit. He turned away, looking out the tinted glass of the window and hiding his telltale eyes. And I wanted to kill a false Nariuvne, not you. You are something else entirely. As for the first time, I was going to, and that was the plan…but I didn’t. I don’t know why, but I didn’t.
Ignoring the numbness in my lower half and the screaming echo in my blood, I pulled myself up to a sitting position and leaned against him for support. If I didn’t feed soon, the thirst might actually win for once. Honestly, I had expected him to turn away, but instead he just sat there, staring ahead in silence like a statue of pearl and obsidian.
If that’s true, then why is it so hard for you to a least try to be receptive? I said, trying to coax him a little. Wouldn’t you be happier talking someone who didn’t want you dead?
If you knew everything there was to know about me, then my happiness would be the least important thing on your list, Princess, he sighed. The melancholy in his tone weighed so heavily that I couldn’t even consider getting mad at the “Princess” bit.
Idiot. I already told you that I don’t care about who you used to be. I never met the old you. All that matters to me is who you are now, and you seem like a nice guy. If you gave it some time, I’m sure you would enjoy being in friendly company.
At last he turned his gaze on me, clearly uncomfortable with the way this conversation was going. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy it. It just doesn’t feel appropriate for me to be accepted so easily by someone whose mother I killed in cold blood.
Through the muted burning in my veins came the dull pain of an old wound, and slowly I reached up to grip his sleeve. It’s okay. You don’t have to think of it that way. I’m sure my mom would rather have you find happiness than stay repentant for the...for the rest of eternity.
I could hear his heartbeat from this close, a slow, steady thumping in my inner ear—calling to me, making the world soft and surreal. The delicate scent of his blood hovered like a veil around him, lulling my thirst into desperate submission. Sweet sanity, I needed blood. It was getting more and more difficult to pay attention.
Are you okay? He leaned down, brushing my hair aside and studying me in concern.
Andris, I need blood, I begged suddenly, half in control of—and half being controlled by—the thirst. My veins ached with it, like little claws scratching through my flesh.
What? No! He stared at me with unreadable emotion in pale lavender eyes.
But I need it, I said, turning my head to his throat and catching the sweet scent through his skin and silky hair. I closed my eyes, entranced already by the mere memory of that first drop. What would it be like to feel my fangs buried in him, to feel that otherworldly warmth flowing inside of me?
Lynn, wait. His grip on my shoulder was like stone, but gentle. I healed fast, yes, but a broken arm at my age would have taken hours to knit. Hell, I couldn’t even remember how I had gotten my skull to repair itself after he’d bashed it to the floor. Healing at will wasn’t one of my abilities, and I suspected that there had been other powers at work. Between the rock and the hard place slept a wealth of strange magic.
Please, Andris? I won’t take too much, I whispered into his thoughts. I took his hand and slowly removed it from my shoulder, lacing my fingers through his. His skin was so soft and smooth, like confectioner’s sugar—as though it might sift away through my fingers.
You have no idea what you’re asking of me, he argued, though he didn’t fight. If it’s too strong for you, it could do more damage than good.
I’m willing to risk it. If I don’t get blood soon, I might lose control for once.
At last, he gave in with a sigh. “Very well, but don’t take more than you need. I’m a little drained right now from turning Nick. I killed the old woman, but I didn’t take much blood. Besides, I don’t even feed on mortals. In all honesty, I should be asking you for blood.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “You can feed from me after I drink, if you’d like. Someone as powerful as you are won’t need as much as I do.” I let go of his hand and held the other side of his head gently, nuzzling his warm, silken throat, intoxicated by the calming scent.
His hair was amazing, softer than rabbit fur, but thick and strong. Was his skin and hair this way because he was a Nariuvne? He had been born, after all. From the beginning, before ever gaining his powers, this had been his body. The blood had improved my complexion and some of the luster in my hair, but not to this extent. He was otherworldly—soft and touchable, with an irresistible scent that made my blood ache with need.
My thirst stepped to the fore and I leaned in. The smooth skin at his throat might have been air, for all I knew. I slid my other hand up to grip his shoulder for support and took a moment to enjoy the feel of him. It seemed amazing how someone so frigid could be so warm. Against my chilly skin, he was an oasis of comfort. He shivered slightly and I smiled.
See? I whispered. You’re not a bad person if you’re excited over a little bite.
You don’t know enough to make that determination.
But you’re sharing your blood with me, though I hardly know you. It’s sweet of you.
He hesitated, then said slowly, I’ve...never shared blood with a Shima before.
“It’s not that strange, is it?” I asked aloud.
“It is for me. No one else was ever brave enough to even come near me. Only mortals ever took interest in me. Shimaren feared me—as they should. You’re...different. I don’t even know why I’m doing this.” He sounded so confused, and I couldn’t help but think it was cute.
“Hmmm...I don’t think you realize how likeable you are.” I pressed my lips against his marvelous skin and planted a small kiss where I would bite, touching the vein with the tip of my tongue. His pulse sped melodically in my head, calling my thirst.
“How can you be so calm around me?” he whispered.
I smiled to myself. Because despite all that you’ve done, I still like you.
Before he could reply, my thirst crested like a wave, and I bit down, sinking my fangs into his hot flesh. A sharp hiss of breath escaped his lips, half pain and half pleasure, and his arms slipped around my waist, cradling me as his heat flooded my senses.
The dark blood gushed down my throat, thicker than human and vampire blood alike. It was so rich and sweet that a strong jolt crashed through me, shooting straight down my spine, followed by a comforting heat. This hot vein was so much better than that one droplet I’d taken from the cold floor. It was like comparing straight tequila to water, so potent that I had to break away before the link could form.
Immediately, his blood went to work, refreshing my body and spreading luxurious heat through my limbs. I sighed contentedly and rested my head on his chest. My exhaustion didn’t vanish, but it abated enough that I could finally relax a bit. His strong heartbeat pulsed through my veins, but it was a quiet kind of strength. Andris was ancient, but his power’s subtle current glided across my skin like warm air. It was an immeasurable power, but when his guard was down it felt quiet and gentle.
He started to speak, but paused when he looked down at me. Something cold touched my cheek. I reached up, and my hand came away with a drop of blood.
You’re crying? He chuckled quietly in my mind. That’s rather flattering.
Shut up, I muttered. I’ve never tasted blood like yours before.
He held me a little more tightly, as though apologizing. Aren’t you tired? Today has been fairly unusual for you, I assume. Unusual for me, as well, but I’m accustomed to life not making any sense. He shook his head, as though trying to understand the whole situation would take more effort than he was willing to put in at the moment.
Sort of. Though, after that blood of yours, it’s not as bad as it had been a moment ago. What time is it?
Half past seven. He looked thoughtfully out the tinted glass. It seemed for the first time that all of his bitterness had gone.
I was out a long time, I commented, trying to keep the conversation alive. Why didn’t you take the amulets and run? Freedom was right there, and I wouldn’t have been able to follow you.
You have to let me take them. Otherwise they won’t allow it. I suppose they’re a little like the Ruby Slippers, while I’m the Wicked Witch of the West. Also, I have no need for more power. What I have now is troublesome enough.
Oh. You’re not evil though. You’re more like an antihero or something.
I’m not any kind of hero, Princess. I’m just Andris.
You can just hang out with me, then. I don’t mind, and I could use another sidekick.
How considerate of you, he chuckled.
I settled back against the seat, mellowed by his blood and pleased with how receptive he was being. We would have to take a late flight, but I didn’t mind. I kind of wanted to just talk to him for a little while. How come we’ve been driving so long?
There were police coming, so we had to get away. Someone found the old woman, according to the local news. It was probably the dead man’s family. We did some backtracking and waited until nightfall to start moving again.
Your fault for killing her in the first place.
I’m not fighting you about that again, Lynn.
I looked up at him and thought I saw another cryptic smile.
Lynn—, he began, but halted in uncertainty.
What is it?
Ah, nothing...I just remembered something from a long, long time ago. It surprised me a little, is all. He gazed at the floor, apparently troubled—though why, I didn’t know.
You can tell me. What is it? Was this it? Was he finally going to open up?
He didn’t say anything, but removed his arm from around my waist and bowed his head closer, tilting my chin up with a finger and bringing his smooth lips to my throat before I knew what he was doing. A wonderful tremor shivered through me. Being near him while his blood still hummed in my veins was overwhelming. Even if I had wanted to fight back, I still wouldn’t have had the willpower, as though his blood could render me docile for its original master.
He was going to bite—I wanted him to bite, I realized—and readied myself for the pinch.
He kissed my throat and sent more unfamiliar, ecstatic shudders through my bones. He was copying me, but more thoroughly, with more skill.
I froze in shock at the sensation as he ran his fingers through my hair and worked his way up my neck, grazing my skin with his fangs and holding me captive in his hands. I closed my eyes and sighed, intoxicated by his blood and his lips, feeling his tongue trace my throat where he kissed the vein…
Without warning, he pulled away and sat up, glaring resolutely out the window and leaving me in shivers. “Just forget it again,” I thought I heard him whisper.
What’s wrong? I gripped his shoulder and forced him to look at me. I already said it was okay. It’s only fair after you let me, and it’s my fault for making you give so much to Nick.
Recoiling, he shut his eyes tightly and shook his head. “That’s not...I just can’t,” he whispered, sounding so disjointed that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend his thoughts.
“What is your deal?”
“You won’t understand,” he replied, frosty edges sharpening his liquid velvet voice. He still refused to meet my gaze. I shouldn’t have gone near you for so many reasons, and now I have so many more, he added silently. You were right. I should have run.
Frustrated, I grabbed his coat lapels and forced him to look at me again, holding him this time so he couldn’t turn away without breaking my fingers. What’s wrong, Andris?
His hands automatically came up to pry me off, but pulled away again after touching my skin, as though I were made of hot coals. I don’t want to hurt you, he said, as blank as ever. Again, that inky blackness hid his thoughts from me.
You can’t hurt me. You’ve already done the worst thing you could have done. Get over it! I snapped. I let go of his collar and sank back against the seat with an irritated sigh. Way to ruin my buzz. I can’t hate you, though. I’m trying, but it’s not working.
That remark obviously startled him. Really?
I could never hold a grudge for that long. I’ve mourned for years. I don’t know what exactly is eating at you, but…I’m still mad, and it still hurts…but I can’t keep doing this to myself. I want to do what Mom asked of me, but I also want to find a way to make things right.
At the time, I didn’t really understand what Mom was talking about. But after meeting you in person, I can’t help but like you, antisocial nature and all. You’re interesting and obviously torn up about what you did to me. It’s hard to stay angry over an old wound when forgiveness will fix everybody. Unless I forgive you, I’ll never heal properly…
I could accept that, I realized. If my mother could forgive him, then so could I. My own conscience would have railed against me if I tried to stay mad at him forever. Maybe I didn’t trust him completely, but that was okay. Only time and honesty could earn that, and we had an eternity ahead of us.
He moved a little closer. I don’t deserve the faith you’ve put in me, and my apology is worthless, but— he froze involuntarily, but forced it off and placed his hand over mine.
I blinked, somewhat surprised. But...what?
I’ve decided to take a chance. Before I could react, he brought his hand quickly to the seat on my other side, trapping me between his arms. He did it so fast that not even he would have been able to stop himself.
In an instant, his lips were on mine, eager and overwhelming. I resisted at first, but the moment I hesitated he quickly swept me up in his fervor. My brain crashed violently and had to reboot before it could react. Before I knew it, I was returning the kiss.
Andris kissed me deeply, taking his sweet time and pulling me half-willingly into a different kind of trance. That special blood laced the kiss, and his hot tongue slipped between my lips, drawing me in until I licked the enticing hardness of his fangs. He tasted like honey and rum, a heady mix of addictive candy. His lips were pale rose petals, soft and smooth, and I felt my thoughts drift while my body took on a mind of its own.
A soft, insistent keening filled my ears and only after a few seconds of hard thinking did I realize it was coming from...me? He tasted so good, and he was so hot to the touch. It calmed my triggers wonderfully. I wanted to swallow his heat whole.
The kiss was long and sweet, but he eventually drew away, pressing his forehead to mine and breathing heavily once we parted. It took a few moments for the fog to clear from my head, but I froze once my brain started working again.
I blinked, suddenly back in harsh reality. What? Why did he kiss me? Why did I help?
“What was that?!” I sounded as perplexed as I felt, pressing my fingers to my lips. “No! That wasn’t right! What did you do to me?! I said blood—blood! You know, the red stuff?!”
I tried to scramble away, but he held me still and covered my mouth before I could wake Nick. I didn’t even have the sense to use telepathy, I was so angry.
“Lynn, please!” he whispered frantically into my ear. His strength easily pinned me against the seat, and he held both of my wrists in one hand while keeping my head still with the other. Despite my struggles, he was immovable. I don’t want to hurt you! Honestly, I don’t!
I ceased, seeing the futility in trying to fight, and looked into his eyes, which gradually slipped from pale green to pale violet as I watched.
“Why did you do that?” I hissed when he removed his hand. “You’re not supposed to kiss your enemies!” There was no need to call on Nick. If I did it would just complicate things. Now that surprise wasn’t clouding my judgment, I couldn’t help but feel horrified.
“I’m not your enemy—not even close,” he said, the faintest hint of a growl spiking his voice. “And you didn’t say stop.”
“You took advantage of me!” I defended. “Did you really think I could fight that?!”
His eyes very suddenly went jet black, and I winced, thinking he was going to hit me. Instead, he let go and sank into the seat, bringing his feet up and hugging his knees as he leaned his head back against the headrest. “So you didn’t mean it when you said you liked having me around? I’m just a dangerous element to you?” he asked coldly. “Just because I’m a Nariuvne does not automatically make me your enemy, Princess.”
I balked in surprise. “What the—how did you jump to that conclusion?”
He leered at me through long black bangs, his eyes still darker than a moonless night, and my heart gave an odd jump. “Regardless of your argument, you enjoyed that. Don’t say it was an accident, either, because people don’t drop their walls impulsively. Otherwise, you would have made me stop. You’re just angry because you were caught off guard.”
“But…!” I was at a total loss. Total. “What do you mean? Why did you even want to kiss me? Tell me that, first. You wanted me dead! I wanted you dead for a while! How did you turn it around like that?!”
For a long time he just watched me, as though weighing whether or not he should answer. Then, when I was beginning to think that I would have to end the silence myself, he turned away and said quietly, “You broke me, but I’d forgotten…”
I frowned. “I did what?”
Still avoiding my eyes, he continued, “Before I met you, I’d had no problems with murder. Your family was a threat, therefore it had to be removed, and it was just that simple. But when I got to you there was something in your blood that I didn’t know how to handle. I couldn’t bring myself to harm you—something about you broke my humanity out of the shell that my thirst had trapped it in.”
He raised his head and at last turned to me. “You have to understand: I haven’t been sane for most of my life, and now that I am it’s unbearable. When you’re consumed in madness you don’t care about companionship, but when you’re sane it destroys you.
“You made me sane, Lynn, and when Simone took you away, I didn’t know what to do. I had been a monster my whole life, and then you came along. The only thing I could do was lock the memory of you away, but even then I had already lost all interest in the world. For the past fifty years, I’ve felt dead inside, and I didn’t even know why until just now, when you bit me.”
I wasn’t sure how to reply. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Something had changed. What exactly did he remember?
He laughed bitterly. “What does that mean? Princess, I was prepared to murder you, but when I couldn’t…I mean, there was nothing else I could do. I fight you out of discomfort, seeing as how I’m not used to this kind of civilized treatment…but, in all honesty I enjoy being near you. It makes me feel, well, normal. I want to be near you…but I couldn’t before…but now…”
I gawked at him as a thousand confused emotions flickered through his eyes. “So, basically, your thirst made you into a monster, but something about me returned your control? But Simone made it so you couldn’t stay nearby, so you forgot about me somehow?”
He nodded and stared bleakly out the window, watching the stars again. “I was afraid that Simone would tell you about me—that you would hate me for what I did—so I hid the memories. I didn’t think I would ever see you again, but I kept them, just in case…”
I did the only thing my mind felt was appropriate, as though it had pre-examined all the possible reactions, gotten confused, and said, “Screw it. I’ve got nothing.”
Without asking, I wrapped my arms tightly around him, pressing my temple to his warm heartbeat. “I’m sorry I yelled,” I said softly. It felt strangely comforting, and I settled in against his peculiar heat, thinking hard. I still didn’t really get it, but I had a feeling that Andris didn’t, either. Maybe the kiss had been pure impulse? It seemed like the only reasonable explanation.
Eventually, he relaxed enough to cautiously return the embrace. “Thank you,” he whispered, slipping his fingers through the ends of my hair. “Your understanding means worlds.”
I leaned back a little and looked at him. “Are you okay now?”
He smiled slightly. “Almost. May I ask one more thing?”
In a flash, he pulled my hair to tilt my head back, running his lips along my throat. “A taste? I’m absolutely parched, thanks to you, Princess.”
My body gave an involuntary shiver at the touch of his lips. “Y-you had your chance earlier,” I stammered.
You can’t seriously be thinking that I’ll let you escape me that easily, he said softly, favoring my throat and kissing the vein fondly. I want your blood. I want to taste you. I’ve wanted to bite into you for a very long time, and I refuse to wait any longer. Your blood intrigues me to no end, my Princess.
Then do it. I couldn’t say no—I had forgotten the words.
I gasped through gritted teeth when he pierced my flesh, and couldn’t help a soft moan as he drew on my vein. Ivan’s bite had never felt this good. Andris’ long fangs drove deep, but the pain was minimal—outmatched by a warm, pleasurable sensation spreading quickly from the bite and into my body. My hands came up of their own volition to grip his hair and shirt as he drank from me, making sure that he didn’t stop anytime soon.
The pulse in my chest sped to deliver his sustenance, and my body tensed with every lap of his sly tongue. The heat spread further, making my skin hum with sweet, unfamiliar sensation. A rattled breath escaped my lungs before I could stop it.
But then came the blood link. It was like a projector turning on in a dark video library. Random scenes from my life mingled with his, and I couldn’t make sense of any of it…except for a single familiar image.
It was my mother, lying in the grass before the bullet had gone into her. She looked peaceful, but my heart shuddered nonetheless.
Then it vanished, and I was lost for a moment until I saw Andris’ breathtaking violet eyes watching me in fear. The emotion there sent a jab of feeling into me that I hadn’t prepared for.
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” he whispered.
“It’s okay,” I gasped, convincing myself as well through the dizziness. “She told me to forgive you, and that’s what I’m going to do. You’re a different person now. I can’t hold you accountable.”
“But why would she want you to forgive me?” His eyes melded into deep cerulean, and I realized that I was beginning to love those colorful windows. His soul was complex, but nowhere near as ugly as he seemed to think.
I shook my head as the last tendrils of fog cleared. “Never mind, Andris,” I said with a small laugh. “I had trouble believing it too, but I think I understand why. As you are now, you’re a nice person—a bit standoffish, but sweet. It doesn’t matter to me who you were a thousand—even a hundred years ago. In an immortal world, change has more bearing than the unchangeable past and the time that marks it.”
He sighed, deciding not to ask. “I’m not going to be able to let you go again,” he whispered, more to himself than to me. “I want to be selfish this time.” His tone made it sound like a realization, and he drew me closer to his heat. The way he held me made my blood ache.
What did he mean? I remained silent, my mind drifting into deep thought and wondering exactly where he was taking this. Granted, I was willing to let him lean on me—I wanted to help him regain his humanity, after all—but what did that entail? What was he expecting from me? What was I willing to give?
“Lynn?” A hint of anxiety colored his voice. He could sense the disorder in my thoughts.
I didn’t respond right away. If I made a mistake…I had to protect Nick and my family. There was so much more to consider, despite my blood’s fondness for the ancient.
I didn’t want to hurt him, but I couldn’t let myself get comfortable. Besides, I wasn’t even sure of what I was feeling. His blood flowed within me, muddling my thoughts and skewing my judgment. My own blood was so busy enjoying his that it would take a while before it returned to normal. I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions without thinking things over.
“Lynn, are you okay?” he pressed, watching me closely.
I frowned. “I don’t know exactly what it is you’re asking of me, but I’m not sure I’m prepared to give it,” I said. The words sounded…awful. My blood did its version of a double-take, and it took all my willpower not to immediately retract my statement.
All expression left him for a long moment, but it eventually returned as a sigh.
“I understand. I’m sorry for everything.” He let me go.
My blood didn’t like it, having him move away, but I had to be cautious. I wouldn’t treat him like an enemy, but he was too powerful, too dangerous to handle so lightly just yet. I needed to learn more about him, and I needed my stupid blood to stop getting in the way of reason.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I said, touching his arm gently, “but you understand, right? You killed my mother…but it wasn’t really you…I need to organize my thoughts before I can give you the trust that you probably deserve. I do trust you, but not enough—for now. We need to spend some more time together, talking and learning about each other.”
He smiled a tiny bit, but it was sad. “I had a feeling it would be this way.”
That gave me pause. There was still something he hadn’t explained yet. “What do you mean by that?” I asked uncertainly. “When you showed up at my door, you claimed that you didn’t even know that I was still alive.”
He looked away, somewhat awkwardly. “After I killed your mother and found that I couldn’t muster the will to kill you, I ended up watching you for a long time. I watched you grow up. The thought of your blood was too intriguing, and my newfound self-control gave me more freedom from my thirst than ever before.
“When you were fourteen I forced myself to go far away. You were so young, and Simone had already taken up the task of protecting you from me, so I made the decision to leave and not look back. I went around the world for five years, but in the end I gave into my blood and came back to see how you were doing.” He shifted uncomfortably, still avoiding my eyes.
“Trouble was, I hadn’t realized how much could happen in such a short amount of time. I was so used to millennia of stability, yet you had gone from being a rambunctious little girl to a stunning, unstoppable woman.” He sighed again, a frustrated crease appearing between his brows. “You see my predicament, don’t you? For thousands of years, I had never cared about a human, yet when I saw you after my absence, I would have done anything for you.”
He finally looked at me, very plainly, and I felt my blood shift in its version of blushing. “Why? I—I don’t get it,” I said quietly, fairly embarrassed and baffled.
“I didn’t, either. It was aggravating; Simone watched you like a hawk, so I could only keep an eye on you from a distance. He knew that I was around, but I think my lack of direct action piqued his curiosity. He wanted to wait and see what I would do. I knew he was planning to turn you, but I couldn’t figure out why that bothered me.”
“What was the reason?” I pressed, mildly disturbed that he had been keeping tabs on me.
His expression hardened a little, but not in anger. “It should be obvious by now,” he nearly whispered, focusing a little too hard on the stars above. “I wanted to be your Maker, to turn you into something like myself so I wouldn’t be alone. I didn’t want to take your life, but I wanted you with me. You were the only human whose blood drew me in. Now that you’re a Shima, it’s even harder to fight. You calm my thirst. You let me be myself.”
I stared for the longest time, trying to weigh the chances that he was playing with my head, and my silence made him turn to give me an inquisitive look.
“I didn’t mean to throw you off,” he said. “I just think you ought to know the truth. I’m rather possessive, so I’m likely going to compete with Simone, regardless of the fact that he’s your true Maker—and regardless of whether or not you want me to. To be frank, I found you first. Simone just got lucky.”
“I don’t even…huh?” Andris as my Maker? Would I have hated him forever for the things he had done? Back then, I hadn’t been nearly as forgiving as I was now. “I mean, I still don’t understand, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to ditch you…”
“Do you think that honestly or are you afraid that I might be angry with you if you shove me away?” he asked, seemingly at peace with rejection already. His expectations were so low, and in some corner of my mind I found that unbearably sad. Even my blood took notice and shifted in discomfort, warning me to choose my words wisely or fear its wrath.
I shook my head. “I’m not afraid. Cautious, maybe, but fear would be stupid. I don’t want my friends or family to be afraid of me. That would be horrible, so I’m going to give you the respect an ancient of your caliber deserves. I’m going to try my damnedest not to hurt you any more than you have been already.”
“Why?” It was a valid question, though the way he asked only made me worry more. “I’ve hurt you much more than you could ever hurt me. I deserve whatever hell you wish to bring down upon me.”
“It won’t help anybody for me to make your situation worse. I’m sorry that I can’t give you more than that. If the circumstances had been different…but they’re not. I like having you around—you make things fun—but first things are still first.”
What an odd feeling this was. I wasn’t sure how to take the knowledge that someone so powerful—possibly the oldest Shimari creature in existence—had long ago chosen me as his fledgling. I had been flattered when Simone turned me, but this...this was cosmic in comparison, as though the Emperor himself had declared me his successor.
“I understand if it bothers you,” Andris murmured. “I hope it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, but just being able to speak with you after so many years of fascination makes it worthwhile. Until you say otherwise, I am here to help you. I can’t guarantee that my temper will never get the best of me, but I will validate your mother’s decision to forgive me, as I will respect your decision to accept me.”
His words made my blood writhe in a very disconcerting manner. It didn’t want to listen to my convoluted, skeptical brain—it could sense his sincerity and his pain and that was enough. He had somehow unlocked a door which had been shut since my turning, and it was all I could do not to let my blood take charge. I couldn’t give in so easily. I had to know more.
“However,” he added, almost as an afterthought, “I’m not going to give in. I can sense well enough that your blood disagrees with your choice to keep me at a distance.” I stared at him, nervous that maybe he was invading my head again. “I will remain intent on pestering you until I feel I have absolutely no chance in hell of taking you from Simone.”
“Is this because of that kiss?” I demanded in a low whisper, careful not to disturb the sleeping kid. Taking me from Simone? How the hell could that happen? There was something else going on in his head, but he wasn’t being at all helpful.
He almost smirked, and the citrine in his eyes sparkled. “Well, you’re not supposed to kiss your enemies, as you said, so we know we’re not enemies. I don’t know why, but you seemed to enjoy that a little too much.”
My temper flared just a bit. “Well, pardon my saying so, but you’re not exactly an average, common vampire! I didn’t want to let you, but you...your blood and mine...” I trailed off, glaring at him. “It wasn’t a bad kiss,” I finally growled, angry at the truth.
He seemed secretly pleased and a little surprised. “Well, you did help. I must admit that I would happily trade my right hand for another kiss from you. It was...a very nice kiss.”
“That’s disturbing. Don’t say stuff like that,” I snapped. “Normal people don’t sacrifice limbs for kisses.”
His smile wilted, and his eyes faded a little as his expression grew slightly more serious. “I’m not normal, Lydian, and I would sacrifice much more than just my limbs to become your blood partner.”
And there was the missing piece—in all its earth-shattering glory.
“You don’t know me nearly well enough to go saying crazy things like that!” I cried, not even caring anymore whether the kid woke up—fortunately, he didn’t. “And I don’t even know who you really are! I’ve known you for what, a day? Normal people don’t chuck that kind of crap around on a whim!” First fledglings and now this?!
He shrugged, and his casual attitude downright aggravated me. “It’s not a whim. My blood picked you decades ago, back when you were still human. You may not know me so well, but I do know you, Princess, and I know what I want. But I’m already several millennia old, and therefore accustomed to waiting. I can spare as long as you need to let you get to know me...though, resisting your charms will be much harder if you are so close.”
He glanced out at the stars with a perceptive eye. “However, I think you should sleep now. It’s late, and after whatever happened to you, I’m shocked that you awakened at all.”
I sprang at the subject change like a dog after a squirrel. “What happened to me?” I asked, trying my best not to sound like I was changing the subject. I was probably failing miserably, but honestly didn’t care.
Andris watched me with a degree of worry. “I’m not sure, but whatever it was had to have been powerful. It wasn’t a Shimare—I would know the presence. I admit that I fear for your safety, so please don’t try anything rash until I find out what that was.”
“I can take care of myself,” I grumbled, clenching my fists. Although a fistfight with a seven-millennia-old vampire-among-vampires was likely to end badly for me, my inner tomboy had a hideous tendency to not care about odds.
“Oh, spare me. You’re a fledgling. You have no experience with your powers. How could you possibly hope to win against whatever did this to you? It could have been many things.”
“I beat you,” I pointed out, not a little pretentiously.
He set his gaze level to mine, unimpressed. “Do you honestly believe that I would have fought back after I found out who you were? If I had fought you properly, you would be dead right now, but I needed to know why you were still alive.”
Well, there went my bubble.
“Bastard. You tricked me!”
“Perhaps, but you must acknowledge the fact that I am far more capable than you are in a fight. Now, before you try and test to see whether or not I’m right, you should rest. You no longer bend to the sun’s will, but you would do well with some sleep. It’s been an eventful day.” He slid the soft feather pillow towards me.
I eyed him warily. “How can I be sure you won’t try anything funny while I’m asleep?” Like bond with me, my brain hissed in spite of how absurdly impossible it was.
His smile went away so quickly that I almost felt the whiplash, replaced with indignation unlike any I had ever seen. He leaned towards me with carmine eyes, and I scooted back an inch, instantly regretting the snide remark.
“I would rather be tortured for eternity than take advantage of you like that,” he snapped. “I’ve done terrible things—violent and bloody things—but that is the one line I will never cross.”
“What about the kiss?” I asked, doing my best to hold onto my bravado.
He raised an eyebrow at me. “That doesn’t count. It was a test. Besides, you liked it.”
Grumpily, he backed away to his corner and folded his arms. “I’ll wait for you to come around to your blood’s reasoning. It’s better that way. There’s no fun in cheating, and it would be a shame to hate myself more than I already do.”
I held still for a few moments, waiting for the shoe to drop, but when nothing happened, I let out a sigh of relief. “I could have sworn you were going to either hit me or kiss me again,” I said, reaching for the pillow and cuddling it. Getting hit would have meant pain, but a kiss was probably worse. I didn’t think I could resist the blood. At least getting hit would have given me the dignity of fighting back.
“I’d rather die than hit you,” he murmured. “As for a kiss...I’ve already stolen one. I need to pay you back before I can even think to ask for more.”
“Such a gentleman. Now, were you holding to that philosophy when you bashed my head onto a marble floor, pray tell?”
“Go to sleep,” he growled, turning further away.
“No. You’re not my Maker, and you can’t tell me what to do!” On impulse—and, upon reflection, rather stupidly—I swung the pillow at him—
He was gone.
My blood froze, and I frantically searched for him, but found nothing. With his powers, he could easily have been hiding mere inches away, bending the light around himself or something else equally crazy. I gripped the pillow and curled around it on my seat, shutting my eyes and burying my face in the soft down. The sweet scent was his, but I didn’t mind so much now that he wasn’t present. It helped calm my nerves as I cursed my luck.
There was no way I could bind myself to that madman. That was not to say that I wasn’t a little mad myself, or that his blood didn’t tempt me, but this went so far beyond normal. It was just my fortune that the first vampire I had met in decades turned out to be my mother’s killer, of all people. Hell, he wasn’t even a regular vampire. What the hell was wrong with this world?
Of course, Mom must have known he was coming. She had told me to forgive him, after all, but it disturbed me a little to think that my mother could manipulate my life from the grave.
“Sweet sanity, I hate being put on the spot,” I grumbled into the pillow. I supposed sleep did sound inviting. Now that I could think by myself, I realized that the stiff ache in my body hadn’t completely disappeared. His blood was miraculous, but I couldn’t drink very much. I still needed mortal blood.
Fine. I would take a nap—but not because he wanted me to! Screw his worry! I was just damn tired!
Denial was my best friend in the world right then.
I raised my face from the cool feathery mass and flinched in surprise when I felt a firm grip on my shoulder from behind. I nearly smacked Andris in the head as I spun to face him, but he caught my wrist in his other hand without effort and searched my eyes intently.
“Um, freedom, please?” I squeaked. I hated my heart’s stupid, senseless pounding and my brain’s apparent inability to cope with something as benign as a hand on my shoulder.
“Are you cold?” he asked, ignoring my plea. “Your trigger...”
That wasn’t what I had expected. “Uh, it is a little chilly, I suppose, but I’m used to being uncomfortable,” I managed.
“Here, then.” He released me without argument and proceeded to remove his coat.
“Ah! No, you don’t need to do that!” I whispered frantically. No, no, no! My blood was irritated at me as it was, but if he kept being nice, I’d lose!
“Don’t be silly. It’s a very good jacket, and I’m warm to begin with.” He dropped the fine leather coat into my lap and put some distance between us, pressing a button overhead and turning on the heater fan. “Go ahead.”
I frowned at him, sitting there all classy and perfect like my wildest dreams come to overthrow my whole world. That bastard! I didn’t want complications!
...His coat was warm, though. He himself had been even warmer, actually—almost fever-hot. I could still feel the heat in my fingertips, as though his particular brand of warmth remained for a time. Of course, that made no sense. Why wasn’t he cold-blooded like the rest of us?
“Why are you so warm?” I asked, curiosity rearing its homicidal little head.
“I’ll tell you while you settle down to sleep,” he said, bringing one heel up onto the seat and wrapping his arms around his leg while he rested a temple on his knee. He was like a cat—a stray cat that had made himself at home in my life.
You give a stray a meal...
I glared at him, then at the coat, before finally relenting. I slipped my arms into the long sleeves and pulled it closed around me, surprised at the deep warmth and sweet, enticing scent still clinging to the material. His blood was the nectar of the gods, and his scent was the olfactory equivalent, and the leather was almost as soft as his skin...
“So why is it warm?” I demanded curtly, grabbing the pillow and clinging to it for moral support. That pillow was my only ally in this war.
“I’m warm-blooded,” he said simply. “My temperature is naturally hot compared to yours, my little ice queen. On average, it’s about one-oh-five.” He did that half-smile thing again and my heart skipped despite my mind’s protest at being called “little.” He was looking at me through his hair, and his eyes glittered through like living citrine.
My gaze narrowed. “I’m not yours, Andris. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”
He smirked. “My apologies. Now, are you going to nap? You can’t be comfortable all balled up like that. You should really lie down.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Lynn, please stop fighting for the sake of fighting. I just want you to relax. You’ve fed—on me—and were kind enough to slake my own thirst. Now you need to lie down and rest. Please? I swear not to try anything, and I swear to wake you if anything happens.”
I weighed the offer carefully. “If you touch Nick, I swear I’ll never speak to you again. One wrong move and my entire opinion of you goes down the toilet, got it?”
“You’re not the only one enjoying this, but I have better control over my behavior.”
After one last suspicious frown, I complied, fluffing the pillow and setting it away from him before lying down.
“Good to see you trust me at least that much,” he sighed.
I lifted my head to look at him, but he was gazing out the window again in thought. A part of me wanted another kiss more than anything…while the other half held a bat at the ready to beat down that first half in case it got out of line.
I dropped my head back down and made myself comfortable, and after a few minutes of silence I finally closed my eyes and succumbed to sleep, enveloped in his soothing warmth and a sweet scent. Hopefully, this had all merely been a bizarre dream, and I would wake up later and find that things were back to normal.