by A. E. Lowan
The signs had all indicated he would come here, and so she waited. She haunted hospital nurseries and sun-dappled playgrounds, watched the children come and grow, the swaddled babies age and die. She searched their eyes, eyes in all the colors of humanity, but none were his. As the years passed a cloying fear coiled in her mind that somehow she had missed him, that he had been born and aged while she hunted in vain, and had died unknown. Or worse, that he was rotting and neglected in one of the warehouses for the aged of which mortals were so fond. Horror-filled, she searched oubliettes scented with decay and talcum powder, where men with eyes like children had long forgotten their own names.
Vampires did not forget.
Alone in shadow in the bright of the day, she dreamt of the taste of his skin, the heat of his flesh against her moon-cool body. His laugh, rumbling in his chest beneath her cheek, still echoed in dearly held memory.
It was the heat of his blood that had first drawn her to him. She had been young and ravening, and the smell of flesh and sex made her mouth water and her teeth ache with need. She remembered scrambling through the little brothel window, being too new for true grace or subtlety. She had her teeth buried in the hot meat of the whore’s slim throat, hands tight around the bony wrists before either the girl or her customer could react to her presence. Searing blood flooded her mouth and she swallowed compulsively, feeling it soak into her parched tissues. The girl struggled at first like a little bird, fluttering in her embrace, and then relaxed into thrall as the young vampire drank her life. So focused was she on feeding that she forgot the man until he moved beneath her. She realized the whore had been riding astride when she attacked, and the man tried to slip unnoticed from under their combined weight. She watched him with pleasure-darkened eyes, her mouth clamped tight to her prey’s throat, as he crept nude to the head of the bed. But he made no attempt to flee. Instead he watched, his eyes fixated on her face, her swollen lips pressed hard against the girl’s pale flesh, her eyes glittering in the dark.
For long moments the tableau remained still, man and vampire locked in their own curious thrall, the only sound her swallowing. She knew she had committed the last mistake a young vampire makes, forgetting the presence of an enemy in her bloodlust, and for the first time in her immortal life she tasted a little of her own fear. This man watched her with a warrior’s eyes. Only a trace of animal fear mingled with his spicy scent. Beneath her tongue the whore’s pulse had weakened to a whisper, and she let the feather-light body slip to the rumpled blankets, her eyes never leaving his.
“What are you?” His voice was so soft there was no resonance, merely breath forming words against teeth and tongue. His fair eyes, too, were dilated, though with pleasure or fear, or both, she was not sure. His hair was dark and rumpled, speckled with silvery flashes here and there at temples and forelock. His face was finely seamed by sun and wind, and the legs and arms supporting his crouch were both tight with muscle and scarred from conflict.
Her belly full, she could allow herself to admire him as a man, rather than a morsel. Her pink tongue flashed out to lick the girl’s blood from the corner of her mouth. “I think you know.” She kept her voice as low as his own, reluctant to shatter the stillness.
His eyes wandered to the still form of the whore, and then back to her face. “Are you going to kill me, too?” Tension increased through his body, like a bowstring pulled back. He could fight or flee with the slightest provocation.
She eased back from him, so slowly, and moved off the bed. Blood pumped hot through her body now, suffusing her with both the power and languidness of a heavy meal. “Not just now,” she replied, this time full volume. Both the richness of her voice shattering the tense silence and her not-so-gently-teasing tone seemed to startle him a little. She was no longer hungry, but he had brought her attention back to the body and she did not wish to remain here. The room seemed suddenly too small and close, and the open night beckoned from the window. Before he could reply she was gone.
But she did not go far. Those fair eyes of his haunted her and she found herself lingering in the dark near the brothel. She knew him for a lord when he left the dead woman behind without incident, and against her better instincts she followed him home. Perhaps it was because she was only recently made that mortal longings and loneliness remained within her, but she found the thought of letting him disappear back into the human herd to be unbearable. Nights of watching began, and she discovered to her irritation that he was a man not often left alone. He was a leader of men, his days spent among his people, settling disputes or riding out to eliminate the four-legged predators that picked off both animal and human strays. A predator herself, she forced herself to curb her youthful urges, taking only enough to slack her hunger. If the village youths were a little spent in the mornings, it could only be blamed on the vigorous nature of adolescent dreams, for her bite marks were nowhere open to public scrutiny.
She grew to love the way a stray breeze would toss his hair, how he laughed with his entire body, and how he rolled a coin across his knuckles when in deep thought. Soon, watching was no longer enough.
The room was lit only by the dim glow of the banked fire. A page dozed peacefully beside the hearth, and with a soft whisper against his ear fell into deep slumber. She padded barefoot across the woven rug, and brushed her fingers against the rich brocade bed-curtain.
If she had been mortal, the vice-like grip on her wrist would have been painful. The prick of the wicked dagger against her skin stung a little. Again she found herself face to face with the fair-eyed lord. He seemed just as surprised to see her as she was to be at knifepoint. Then his gaze moved to the limp form of his page, and his face clouded with anger.
“He is merely sleeping.”
His eyes were skeptical, but the anger began to seep away. “Forgive me, madam, if I hesitate to believe you.” He eased out of bed between her and the page, and crossed the room to check on him, never quite turning his back. When he assured himself the boy was slumbering peacefully and unpunctured he returned to her side, the dagger still held loosely in his hand.
A little nonplussed that this encounter was failing to go as she had envisioned, she scowled at the weapon. “Expecting someone?”
He wiggled the blade a little in his grip, but did not put it down. “Not you.” He sighed, the sound hollow and weary, and then fixed his eyes on her as if seeing her for the first time. “Madam, what are you doing here?”
Flustered was not an emotion she had experienced since she came to this life. Saying “I came to seduce you” seemed too obvious and just creeping away in embarrassment was too cowardly for her nature. He was dangerous, that much was quickly becoming clear. She reached out slowly, letting a smile play at the corners of her mouth, and traced her fingers down the chill steel blade of the dagger. “I’m not here to hurt you,” she murmured, stepping into the heat radiating from his still sleep-warmed body. He did not step away from her, but neither did he close the narrow gap between them. She could hear his pulse quicken, smell his scent intensify with arousal. What she did not smell was fear. She met his eyes, and saw wariness, the dilation of interest, but no fear. “But, you know that.” She heard the soft wonder in her own voice.
With his free hand he reached up and touched her for the first time, stroking her long hair with callused fingers. A shiver passed unbidden through her body. She had not realized how very much she had missed mortal affection. His eyes softened, and he finally laid the dagger on a small table near at hand.
A vampire does not forget, even if she wants to.
The nights clustered themselves into years as she insinuated herself into his life. She would absent herself from time to time, seeking prey away from home, but even knowing how dangerous it could be to stay so long in the mortal world her absences became shorter and shorter. She was young, and the dangers seemed less real when she had not experienced them herself. For her it was love and a taste of the mortality she had given up. Others of her kind may have kept him as a pet, and as she aged she would meet many who did just that with other men and women of power, but this man from the start was her lover and companion. When the time came, she could welcome him into her world with open arms, and he would be powerful indeed. But, always he hesitated, always had one more thing he wished to accomplish in this mortal life, and she loved him too much to force him.
One night she returned from hunting, still flushed and slightly giddy from a cheerfully drunk and obliging young shepherd. She opened the window to enter his chambers and the thick meat smell of hot blood struck her like a fist. He lay on the floor beneath the window, fair eyes wide, mouth open slightly as if ready to kiss her. His flesh was torn from a dozen blows, slashes and stabs over his arms and chest and sweet face, a dozen gaping mouths flashing dark meat and white bone. He lay at the head of a crimson river, the flow following the spaces between the floorboards to soak into the heavy woven rug. She inhaled again, not realizing she had been holding her breath, and the blood scent of other men invaded her nose and mouth. He had hurt them before he had been taken.
She released the breath in a scream of anguish and rage that shattered glass throughout the manor and sent every dog in the village howling in terror. Then she was gone into the night. His murderers had long since fled, but not far enough to escape her fury. She slaughtered them there on the road, leaving their remains along the cart-path all the way back to their master. And as for him, she often wished she had taken more time, inflicted more torment on him, but as it was generations would speak of his demise before dying fires and fear what the night held.
In the end, her vengeance was an empty thing. No amount of blood and pain could bring her lover back, and from the shadows of the trees she watched them bury him with a sick, aching emptiness that would not heal.
Generations passed, empires rose and decayed, and she watched the world change around her. She knew fleeting company, fed from both the willing and unwilling, but always she slept alone. She could enjoy exchanging carnal pleasures and a little conversation with others of her kind, but still she missed his humor and his tuneless whistles and the way his back would arch as he climaxed.
She sat on a crumbling marble park bench that had been new when she first came here and watched the little faces, searching their bright eyes for a glimmer of the familiar with neither passion nor hope. Patience had outlasted faith by many years, but now even that was looking torn and battered. Doubt was crowding out the certainty that had buoyed her until now. She had forgotten what hope felt like. She ran her fingers over the smooth-worn scrolling on the back of the bench, feeling its age. Feeling her age. The years alone opened before her, endless feeding and waiting.
He wasn’t coming.
She remained still. Pain, new and remembered, filled her mind, her body, leaving no room for inquisitive mortals.
“Excuse me, um… ma’am? Miss? You ok?”
She could smell him on the bench beside her. Clean but musty, like a fresh shower and old books. Her lover had smelled of leather and sweat and wood smoke. There were none here who carried his scent.
“Is there anyone I can call?”
“Leave me.” Years had given her power, and she put it into her voice. A mortal Samaritan intruding on her pain was the last…
“I don’t think you should be alone.” It was a youth’s voice, rich with concern.
She felt her face nearly crumple into tears. She knew her lip was visibly trembling, and she turned to face him, to drive off this mortal who dared ignore her menace and disturb her grief. He was young, wearing a battered denim jacket with a university T-shirt beneath. A backpack lolled between his feet. His smile was gentle, and his eyes were dark beneath longish bangs. But behind those eyes… Her breath stopped, her heart stuttered a moment with the shock of recognition, the renewal of neglected hope. After so long, was she finally going mad? Did she need to see him so much she would begin to see him anywhere?
His dark brows knit elegantly together, and he leaned forward slightly to gaze more deeply into her eyes. “Do I know you?” he asked in a voice softened by wonder. So familiar…
Her eyes reddened and glittered, large tears breaking free to course down her cheeks. Madness be damned, she just wanted him back.
Alarm flushed his face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry. Uh… you want me to get you a drink or something?”
She raised her proud head and brushed her face dry. “Yes,” she said, and barely held back a bark of hysterical laughter. “I would love a coffee.”
He stood and tossed his backpack over one shoulder, then held out his hand to help her up. “What happened?”
She took his hand, firmly, possessively. “Nothing important… any longer. I was just waiting.”