It only took two minutes of Scarlett trying to figure out how to use her stove before I had to step in and help. The plan was to make a quick mac and cheese for the three of us who ate. When I suggested it, it seemed easy. I was now having my doubts. I opened the fridge and pulled out cheese, milk, broccoli and an onion. I figured if she was going to be human long term, she would probably need to eat some vegetables at some point.
As I worked to prepare the meal, I tried to explain to her what I was doing. Aside from poking fun at me for being good at cooking, she did listen. I could see her sharp eyes cataloguing and recording everything I did.
“Are you supposed to have work tonight?” I asked her as I chopped. I knew her job was important to her.
She sighed and bit her lip. “I called in sick. I know I’m not actually ill… but I wanted a bit of time to deal with everything before I go back.”
“It might not be the best idea to go out at night anyway,” I said. “You could meet a vampire and then… they would know what happened.” I finished the sentence awkwardly, changing it at the last moment. I didn’t want to say they could kill you.
Her eyes flashed dangerously as she picked up on the underlying message. “I can take care of myself.”
I held my hands up, “I know, I just think it might be better to stay inconspicuous for now.”
“I know.” She admitted reluctantly. “I just don’t like feeling so… limited. It’s like I’m trapped, not even just in the house but in my own skin even. How do you cope with being so… so human all the time?”
I had to smile at her frustration although I knew that it was honestly bothering her. After her initial emotional outburst the previous morning she had been remarkably calm and composed about everything. She was not one to put her emotions on display unless really unbalanced.
“I’ve never felt limited,” I told her honestly.
“You’ve never known any better.” She groaned. “I could hear and see everything, I could run over the rooftops and jump between buildings” She picked up a heavy ornamental rock from the arrangement on the windowsill. “I could have crushed this to dust in my hand... now it’s difficult to even pick it up.”
Although I had witnessed it, it was hard to imagine possessing the kind of strength that she had had. I had never envied the powers of a supernatural creature before. I had always thought of them as wrong and unnatural. But, I had to concede that seeing Scarlett suddenly without them was strange. I realised that I had come to accept them as a part of her.
“It’s weird,” I said out loud. “I know that lots have things have changed for you, but you still seem like… you. I didn’t expect that.”
“What do you mean?” She said, leaning against the counter and looking up at me. I couldn’t get over how blue her eyes looked in the sunlight.
“Well… I always believed that when someone turned into a vampire… or I guess a-um draugr?”
She shrugged. “Seems so.”
“Well, I just always thought that they wouldn’t be themselves. At least, not completely.”
She had her I’m-trying-hard-not-to-say-something-judgemental face on.
I gave her an apologetic look. “I just- I was raised to believe it. I never really questioned it until I met you. It just seemed like it made sense, you know?”
“Did you think we received a brain transplant when we turned?” She asked, obviously losing the battle with herself.
“Of course not.” I groaned, “It just… it raises some issues for me.”
Her eyes suddenly turned soft as she read my expression.
I slipped onto one of the stools at the counter and put my head in my hands.
“I just can’t help but wonder… if things could have worked out better.”
If my brother had been raised with different beliefs, would he have still chosen to end his life? Or would he be living as a vampire now, different but maybe still… ok? I rejected the thought. I couldn’t imagine my little brother as a creature of the night. Cold and pale and living on the blood of others. It just wasn’t him. He had wanted to be a hunter, but that was just because of me and our father. He never really had a passion for it as I did.
Plus, even if Scarlett was some kind of special case, it didn’t mean that he would be the same. What if he was like the other vampires I had seen? Preying on innocents and harming those he would have protected? Would I have been able to stop him? It tore me up inside that he was dead. I would never forgive myself for encouraging him to follow in my footsteps. But, despite all that, it would be a thousand times worse if other people had also been hurt. I was well trained but I can’t even imagine the horror if it had come down to me having to kill him.
The idea of a potential cure just confused everything further.
I felt Scarlett place a hesitant hand on my back. “It never helps to question the past; you can’t change what is already done.”
“I know,” I breathed, “I just wish… I don’t know. I just want my brother back.” It had been two months since I had discovered his death but the pain of losing my sibling had not lessened.
“I’m sorry.” She murmured simply. I knew that she understood my pain.
A new uneasy feeling hit me. “It’s not just Darren though,” I admitted. “I have killed a lot of vampires in the past. I never doubted that it was the right thing to do.”
Scarlett shrugged. “I’m not going to defend your actions for you, but I will say that just because you are a vampire, doesn’t mean you get a free pass. If you hurt people, you deserve to be punished for it.”
She moved away and sat down on the stool next to me so that she could meet my eyes.
“I will be honest with you. When you say that we don’t change as a person, I think that is true. However, I cannot deny that being a vampire or whatever does bring certain… instincts. We-they are predators by nature after all. The urge to drink human blood is… strong.”
“How strong?” I asked, for the first time honestly curious. I was doing my best to stop making judgements about things I didn’t understand.
“It’s always there, in the background.” She admitted reluctantly, “With practice, I could ignore it quite efficiently unless I was injured or really starved. I think a lot of it is about personality. If you are a strong, responsible human you probably would make a good vampire and… vice versa.”
“And you want to go back to that?” I asked, my lips twisting at the thought. “Wanting to drink human blood?”
She smiled wryly. “Wanting is the worst part of it. The actual drinking is... not so bad.”
I shuddered. “Ew.”
The sound of the oven timer going off made us both jump. I caught her eye and we laughed. It was nice, doing something… normal. I already knew that we worked well together in a fight, I hadn’t realised that we could also function in a more domestic setting.
I pulled the now perfectly crispy, cheesed pasta creation out of the oven and began serving it into three dishes. Amir entered the room inhaling.
“Something smells delicious!”
Scarlett grinned at me. “It turns out Nick can cook, who would have thought?”
Lillian appeared next to me, making me jump and almost drop the spoon I was holding. “Hello!” She said brightly, smiling wickedly at my discomfort.
“Hi,” I grumbled.
It turned out that I was starving, I practically inhaled the food. Amir was almost as fast but Scarlett took her time, slowly savouring each bite.
“This is delicious.” She moaned, closing her eyes. “Who would have thought cheese could be so delightful?”
Amir nodded. “It is good. Thanks, Nick.”
I shrugged casually, although I was secretly pleased that they liked it.
The afternoon followed a similar pattern to the day before. We all sat around pouring over pages of tiny writing, trying to find some hint of anything that could be helpful. When evening came, I helped Scarlett make up sandwiches for everyone.
Later on, Lillian and Amir went upstairs to his apartment to look at his medical texts and examine a sample of Scarlett’s blood with his microscope. I did not question why he had a microscope. I also highly doubted that the books contained any information about supernaturally switching species but Lillian insisted that they could contain something useful. I think she was just desperate for any kind of information at all.
I found myself sitting on the sofa next to Scarlett. She had started off sitting at the far end, with as much distance as possible between us. Over time as we looked at things together she had moved nearer and finally she had fallen asleep leaning lightly against my arm. I was hesitant to move in case I disturbed her. She was close enough that I could feel the warmth emanating from her body. It was a little strange- I had become accustomed to her being so cold. She still had the same pleasant floral scent that I had noticed before.
In sleep, her face was more relaxed and open than I had ever seen it. When she was awake there was always a defensiveness about her, like she could never really let her guard down. I didn’t blame her for not trusting me; we had had a difficult start to our relationship with us lying to each other and then trying to kill each other.
In retrospect, I probably deserved her trying to kill me. I had, after all, tried to kill her first. At the time, I had been confused and distraught over the death of my brother, Darren. Still, I had thought that I was doing the right thing. Now… I didn’t know what the right thing was any more.
Scarlett was human now. The words together still seemed foreign, even in my head. I still didn’t know how to deal with it. Part of me was still overjoyed, but I was sad that she didn’t see the good in it. I wondered if perhaps I would be able to convince her that being human was not such a bad thing before she figured out how to get out of it.
For reasons I didn’t fully understand I hated to see her so upset. I wanted to help her, but what if helping her led to us being pushed apart again? Would I feel the same about her if she once again wanted to drink my blood? I didn’t want to think about the answer too deeply, I wasn’t even sure how I felt at the present.
My phone buzzed with a message and she awoke with a start, jumping away from me. I gave her an apologetic look.
“Sorry.” She said, seeming embarrassed.
I shrugged, “You’ve had a lot to deal with. I’m not surprised that you’re tired.”
Her expression soured. “All I’ve done is sit around. I wish I could be out there doing something… even if I had to beat the answers out of someone.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “I have to agree that I would prefer that over... this.” I gestured at the piles of books and papers around us.
Scarlett got to her feet and stretched, catlike. “I should probably get to bed.” She confessed. “I’ll be useless if I don’t get some sleep.”
I nodded, taking the hint. “I should go home.” I wanted to check on Angela again anyway. She would be in bed but it would make me feel better to see that she was ok. The thought of a ghost taking her energy made me shudder.
Scarlett’s keen eyes were on my face. “You’re worried about Angela again?” she guessed.
If I didn’t know any better I would sometimes worry that she could read my mind. “Yes,” I admitted.
“I could ask Lillian to check on her.” She suggested. “She will be able to see if Hester is anywhere around.”
I thought about it. I had initially disliked Lillian, although I had to admit that it was probably because I was a little bit scared of her. After spending a couple of days around her, I had to admit that she was much nicer than I gave her credit for. Not that I would ever tell her, of course. Did I really want another ghost around my sister though?
“Yes.” I decided, “If she doesn’t mind, that would actually be really helpful.”