Thankfully, when I awoke close to noon the next day, I was still where I was supposed to be.
My muscles all ached from being so cold the previous night. With effort I made it to the top of the stairs, pausing halfway to have a small coughing fit. Great, I thought. It would just be the perfect time for me to do something human like catch the flu. I hoped I would be fine after a glass of water.
Lillian was sitting on the floor in the living room surrounded by piles of books. I think my smile looked more like a grimace as I made my way first to the bathroom and then to the kitchen. I had donned a large fluffy robe, determined to stay as warm and cosy as possible.
After making my way through a generous bowl of cereal and a large cup of tea I felt somewhat more functional. I resolved to spend the rest of the day going through the rest of the books. At least now we had something new to include in our searching. I was eager to find out more about reapers and what they could do.
Lillian informed me that Amir had gone to work. We hadn’t heard from Nick, but after spending the past days and half the night here, I guessed he deserved a break. Perhaps a little distance could be a good thing, I thought.
In between researching, I took the opportunity to catch up on some of the housework I had been neglecting due to all the chaos.
It felt nice to do something familiar and normal, even if it was just sorting laundry. I always felt happier if I could create order in my surroundings. I tried to ignore the fact that all of the tasks were noticeably harder now that I was human. Wrestling a clean sheet over my king size duvet left me slightly breathless and hoovering the stairs made me sweat. Still, it felt good to move around and accomplish something, even something as menial as cleaning.
Despite the fact that I had slept through half of it, the remainder of the day seemed to go very slowly. When dinner time arrived, I ate the last of Nick’s delicious cheesy pasta creation. I decided that I really had to figure out how to improve my own cooking skills beyond cereal and toast. It would be worth it if I could produce something half as good as his food.
I still hadn’t fully wrapped my mind around Gabriel’s revelations from the previous night. I didn’t understand how I had managed to transport myself across the city, especially whilst I was asleep. Sitting at my kitchen counter I closed my eyes and focused, picturing my living room as hard as I could. To my frustration, when I opened my eyes, I was still sitting at the kitchen counter. Lillian appeared next to me.
“How! How do you do that?” I demanded. “I cannot figure it out.”
She frowned, “I don’t know, to be honest, I’ve never really thought too deeply about it. I think of where I want to be and… poof I’m there.”
I put my head down on the counter and groaned. “That’s what I was trying to do. It doesn’t work.”
“Well, maybe it’s different for you.” She suggested. “If it’s linked to your power, what do you do when you use that?”
I chewed on my lip. “I don’t really know, it’s kind of like… moving my hand or blinking. If I want to do it, I just do it.” I closed my eyes and tried to feel for the power in my mind. It was like grasping at smoke, it wasn’t substantial enough to grab on to. After a couple of moments, I gave up.
“I need to figure this out. It would help if Gabriel had done something normal like leave a contact number.”
Lillian looked amused. “Yes, how dare he just mysteriously disappear into the night like that?” Her expression turned speculative. “How old do you reckon he was when he died? Twenty-seven? Twenty-eight?”
“No idea,” I muttered. “I’m not even going there with you… I wonder when he died though. If he was around when I was young he must be fairly ancient.” I shook my head. I didn’t want to think too much about the mysterious reaper. I still didn’t trust him; he seemed to have too much information.
“Fine, if you are not going there, I want to know about you and Nick.” She declared. “It’s been ages since we had a proper talk.”
I immediately went on the defensive. “Who says there is a Nick and me?” I demanded.
She raised her eyebrows at me. “I saw all that hand-holding and cosiness last night. He was proper freaked out when you were missing.”
That was interesting information. “Well, that’s really all there is to tell. Besides, I wouldn’t really call it handholding. It lasted for about three seconds.” I sighed. “I really don’t understand what’s going on with us at the moment. I mean, we went from sort of friends to enemies, to working together, to ignoring each other and now… this.” Whatever… this was.
“Do you want more?” She asked me gently. If it was anyone else I probably would have avoided the question, but Lillian was like my sister. I read only genuine concern in her dark eyes.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “He did try to kill me… I know I tried to kill him in return but it’s hard to completely forget something like that.”
She nodded. “I still haven’t forgiven him for that. It’s a good thing I’m already dead because I’m pretty sure my heart would have stopped at the sight of all that blood.”
Her words reminded me of the bloody mess our kitchen had been in after he had stabbed me in the heart. I shuddered at the memory.
“Exactly,” I muttered darkly.
She was quiet for a moment, thinking. “But, do you think he would do it again?” She asked finally. “I kind of feel like he regrets it.”
“I don’t think he would do it again,” I said truthfully. “Definitely not whilst I am still human, anyway. I think he sort of… cares about me, somehow. He has really helped with all this research.”
“Do you like him?” Her eyes glittered when she said the word like telling me she meant as in something more than a casual acquaintance.
I suddenly hated that I had the ability to blush; I could feel my cheeks flaming red. I shrugged awkwardly.
“It’s possible,” I admitted reluctantly. “But, that doesn’t mean I should act on it. What if we start… something and then I turn back and he hates me? You know that once I get attached, it’s a pretty long term thing. It might be less painful for both of us if we just leave it.”
She was quiet for a long time and when I finally looked up to meet her eyes I saw a deep sadness there.
“I think that life’s too short, even for you.” She smiled forlornly. “If you have the opportunity to be happy, even for a little bit, why not take it? You never know what could happen. I hate to say it but you could die tomorrow. People never see it coming, I certainly didn’t. I had all these plans and things that I was going to do one day… and then I never got to do them. I was suddenly cast into this wretched existence, here just as an observer. I watch everyone live and fall in love and grow and I just… wait.”
“Oh, Lillian.” I pulled her into a hug, feeling terrible. I’d heard her moan before but I’d never heard her sound so bitter about her condition. “Are you really so unhappy?” She was normally the cheerful one of the pair of us.
She pulled away and smiled at me weakly. “No… I’m ok, don’t worry. I’m not really unhappy; I sometimes just wish for… more.”
“Is this about Amir?” I guessed.
She picked at the frilly lace of her sleeve, looking embarrassed. “How did you know?”
“I’m not blind. I’ve seen the way you look at him sometimes.”
Her eyes widened in mortification. “Does he know?”
I quickly shook my head. “No, I am pretty sure that he is oblivious. I just know you too well.”
She relaxed and gave a long sigh. “He’s just so interesting... not that it matters, it’s not like we have a potential future. I’m dead, after all.”
I patted her shoulder, at a loss for what to say. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t deny her words. She did have a point though, about seizing opportunities whilst I had the chance. I would have to give it some thought. Since I was unable to help with her existential crisis, I resolved to spend the rest of the evening cheering her up.
After staying up later than I should to have a movie marathon with Lillian, I sank gratefully into my bed. Worried that I would have a repeat of the previous night, I made sure that my phone was in a pocket of my pyjamas. Health and safety warnings be damned, my health would definitely be at risk if I ended up stranded on the other side of town again.
I couldn’t stop turning over Lillian’s words from earlier in the night. I wished that there was more I could do to help her. She had got me thinking about Nick again, despite the fact that I tried to avoid it. I was no stranger to romantic relationships; I had certainly had more than my fair share over the centuries. Somehow though, this felt different. Like, it meant something more.
I knew how rare true love was; there was a big difference between that and attraction. It was far too early for me to decide what I really felt for Nick, but I did know that he made me feel like everything was new and exciting. I felt a connection, I could admit that much.
I sighed as I snuggled deeper into my bed and relaxed. It was a problem for another day, for the time being, I was content to drift into sleep.
I wasn’t surprised when Nick featured in my dreams. I was climbing a mountain in the Scottish highlands when he first appeared. In the dream, I still had my vampiric powers so I simply stepped off a cliff and fell away from him only to find myself sitting next to him in a Victorian parlour. With an angry huff, I left, finding myself standing on a Tudor high street with Nick still standing next to me.
“Scarlett?” He called in confusion, following me as I slipped through an archway, walking out into the tiny Scandinavian village of my youth.
“Oh hell.” I sighed. I didn’t want to deal with Nick or the trauma of my past, but it seemed that my subconscious had other ideas.
Wind whipped the braided hair around my face and pulled at the long worn dress I suddenly found myself in. The sky was overcast, colouring the nearby hills purple. Children ran past, crying in fear. I recognised this day; it was the day that I had died. I had revisited it in my dreams many times over the years, but never in so much detail.
Perhaps this was the only way my new human mind could truly process my past. I could make out my little family home in the distance along with the rest of the village. I could hear the first cries of the residents as the alarm was raised. Black smoke curled from one of the buildings.
I didn’t want to face the horror that was coming. Not again. Damn Gabriel for reminding me of this, even if I had asked him to.
Nick had reappeared beside me. “Scarlett?” He asked again in confusion, looking around at the scene. I ignored him, I knew he wasn’t real.
“Not again.” I murmured aloud, squeezing my eyes shut. I could feel myself being pulled into the dream; the surroundings were becoming more and more realistic.
“Wake up Scarlett, wake up now.”
“Svanhild!” The cry echoed up the hill, my father was calling to me.
I shook my head, but I could feel myself shaking. “No. Wake up!”
Nick gripped my arms and gently pulled my hands away from my face.
“Scarlett, what’s happening?”
“I’m going to die.” I moaned, beyond caring that he was a figment of my imagination. “This is a dream, I need to wake up.”
I felt his strong warm arms wrap around me and I breathed in his fresh clean scent. Instantly I felt safe like nothing could hurt me.
“It’s ok.” He whispered, “Everything is fine.”
Forgetting about the scene I rested my hands against his chest, feeling his heartbeat quicken as I looked up into his dark eyes. His breath hitched as he met my gaze and he pulled me closer.
“Scarlett.” This time, when he said my name it was like a caress.
My heart was pounding. My hand gripped the sheet and- what?
I suddenly realised that we were no longer in Norway. Nick's arms were still wrapped around me but we were in a bed.
“Oh!” I sat up so quickly I almost fell out onto the floor.
“What- what the?” Nick sat up more slowly. “Scarlett? What are you doing here?”
A faint part of my brain noticed that he was not wearing a shirt. The more sensible part of my brain was too busy freaking out to do much else.
“What-?” I looked around frantically. “Am I awake this time?”
He seemed bemused but not particularly upset that I was in his bed. “You’re at my house. I am pretty sure you are awake. Not sure how you got here though.”
I put my head in my hands. “Oh! It must have happened again.”
“You er… shifted here? In your sleep?”
“I am guessing so unless this is still a dream. If we end up in Paris in a minute then it’s a dream.”
“Or you shifted there too?” He suggested, only half-joking.
I groaned. “Look, I’m really sorry.” Now that the initial shock had worn off embarrassment was starting to creep in. “I should-”
I abruptly broke off at the sound of footsteps moving along the landing outside his room. As silently as I could I moved away from him. Hitting the soft green rug on the floor I rolled under the bed.
The footsteps paused for a moment outside the bedroom door and I held my breath. After what seemed like an eternity, they moved away and continued down the stairs. When it had been quiet for a couple of minutes I slowly extracted myself and sat up. Nick was staring at me in amusement.
“It’s just my mum, she gets up really early. She probably went down to the kitchen to make some herbal tea.”
He held out a hand and I allowed him to pull me back up onto the bed. I kept a cautious distance between us, still feeling embarrassed about the dream.
“You do realise, if she finds me here she’ll probably kill me.” I reminded him. “She’s not exactly part of the Scarlett fan club.”
“There’s a club?” His face became very serious. “Why wasn’t I invited?”
“Your invitation was lost in the post.” I quipped, making him smirk.
Nick was eyeing my silky pyjamas critically. “You know, in all the scenarios where I imagined an evil vampire sneaking into my bed, this one didn’t come up.”
“Not a vampire.” I reminded him.
“Still, I didn’t imagine it would be like this.” He said.
I raised an eyebrow, expecting him to say something rude about my pyjamas.
His gaze turned soft as he brushed his fingers gently across my cheekbone.
I suddenly got the feeling that he was about to kiss me. Before I had fully thought it through I tensed and pulled away, creating a cold space between us. He froze, watching me carefully.
“Scarlett I-” he started.
“At least no one’s trying to kill each other.” I cut him off. I aimed to make my comment a joke but my voice came out wrong, betraying me. I realised that I really wasn’t as over that as I had thought.
He frowned, looking unhappy. “I didn’t mean… well, I didn’t mean to imply that you are evil. It was just a joke, I’m sorry.”
That wasn’t what I was upset about. Or, was it? I couldn’t quite figure out the root of the swirling emotions in my stomach.
“It’s fine,” I said, aiming for lightness. I did better that time, although my voice still wasn’t completely right. I glanced at the window, seeing a faint brightness filtering through the curtains. “I should go, it’s late... or early, I don’t know.”
He looked contrite. “No hang on, if you don’t mind waiting a little longer my mother will take Angela to school and you won’t have to sneak out past her.”
I considered for a moment before giving in with a sigh. “Fine, but I’d better send a message to Lillian. If she thinks I’ve just disappeared again she’ll freak out.”
I got my phone out and sent a text to my best friend. The answering machine in our apartment would read it out, making it easy for her to access it. I hoped that she wasn’t worried about me. I sat back down on the corner of the bed, as far away from Nick as possible. I was saved from thinking of something non-awkward to say by the sudden appearance of Hester. I jumped in surprise.
“Oh!” She exclaimed, looking just as surprised to see me.
Nick’s gaze searched the room, looking for the source of my sudden alarm. His eyes passed smoothly over the spot where Hester stood at the foot of his bed.
“Ghost?” He guessed.
“Hester is here,” I said, keeping my voice neutral. I didn’t want to scare her away before I had a chance to talk to her.
Nick had no such reservations. “Where is she?” He growled.
Hester’s surprise was quickly turning to alarm. “What is going on?” She asked.
“What brings you here?” I asked, directing my question at the confused ghost.
She suddenly looked shifty. It was an odd expression for such a matronly looking woman.
“Just passing through.” She said casually. “It is almost time to wake to girl up for her schooling.”
I raised a sceptical eyebrow at her answer but chose not to comment on it.
“It’s not your job to wake up Angela, she has a mother.”
“A mother who allowed her child to be taken to another county without her knowledge?” Hester’s tone was thick with disapproval.
“That was not her fault and you know it.” There was no way Vicky could have known that Rowland would want to kidnap her daughter.
“What is she saying?” Nick demanded.
I shook my head; he didn’t need to get any angrier at the ghost.
“Hester,” I started, trying my most reasonable tone, “you are the one hurting that little girl. You need to leave, go back to the castle.”
“I am not!” She swelled in outrage. “How dare you suggest that I would-”
I held up my hands, “I am sure that it is not intentional, but you-”
“No!” She screamed, furious. A stack of papers flew from Nick’s desk, swirling around the room. “I take care of this house, I look after the child and this is the thanks I get! I will not stand for it!”
“Stay away from my sister.” Nick snarled, swatting a page away as it flew towards his face.
That appeared to be the last straw; with a howl of rage, she disappeared. The papers suddenly dropped to the floor, the only movement in the suddenly still room. I held my breath, listening for the footsteps of Vicky approaching. After a few moments of silence, I relaxed. Belatedly I remembered that I was the only one who could hear Hester’s side of the argument.
“Damn,” I muttered.
“She’s gone?” Nick checked.
I nodded. “Yes, but she’ll be back. She was pretty angry.”
He ran a hand through his hair looking stressed. Moving to a chest of drawers he removed a shirt and pulled it on. I tried not to stare.
For something to do, I began gathering up the papers that were now scattered everywhere. I hoped that they weren’t supposed to be in any kind of important order. I stopped when I spotted the header of one page.
“University admissions?” I asked, curiosity getting the better of me.
He shrugged a little self-consciously. “I was thinking about going back to uni. I started a course a while back, but then with all the stuff with… with Darren, I dropped out. When everything gets back to… well, normal is probably a strong word for it. But, when everything returns to normal I was thinking I might go and pick up where I left off.”
“That’s great,” I said honestly. “What were you studying?”
“History.” He grinned wryly, “I figured I might find a use for some of the books in this house.”
My lips twisted into a matching smile, “Good plan.”
Pausing in the act of reordering a stack of pages, his eyes turned speculative.
“I thought it was. I had it all figured out, you know?”
“Get a degree, rid the world of the undead and be home in time for tea?” I quipped.
My words made him wince but he acknowledged my remark.
“Well, basically yes. Although I had my own flat so being home on time didn’t really matter.”
I was surprised; I had always just imagined him living with his family. “I didn’t know you had a flat,” I admitted. There was probably a lot I still didn’t know about him.
“After school and college, I wanted more time for myself. I rented out a place nearer the city centre and started my course at the university. I only moved back in here when Darren went missing. My mum was struggling to cope and I was worried about Angela.”
“Huh.” Was the only thing I could think to say. The room fell silent as we finished restoring order. I lapsed into my own thoughts.
“Scarlett?” Nick murmured, interrupting my reverie. “What is a… Svanhild?” He struggled to pronounce the word but I was still stunned.
“Where did you hear that?” I demanded. My heart beat faster at the old name.
He looked confused but concerned by my reaction. “It was just a dream I was having before… I don’t know. Maybe I read it somewhere?”
I swallowed. “In this dream, did you happen to be on a hillside above a little village?” Through stiff lips, I described the rest of the scene too him.
His eyes grew wider with every word I spoke. “That’s exactly it, how did you know?”
“Svanhild means swan flight.”
I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat. He had been honest with me; I felt that I should continue the convention. His expression was interested but patient and non-judgemental. I spoke quickly, feeling as though a weight was being removed from my chest.
“It was the name my mother called me when I was born, after my hair when it was fair. The last time I ever heard it was when my father called to me on the day that I died. When I was turned I fled, abandoning the name. I didn’t want anyone to ever know what had happened to me as I knew that my brothers would have felt duty-bound to hunt me down. I went by a number of assumed names for a while. One day I saw some beautiful red material being sold, at a stall labelled as Scarlet. I had not heard the word before. The stall owner remarked that it matched my unusual hair which by that point was red. I purchased the material and took the name. I thought it was fitting that my new name was also inspired by my hair.”
“Huh, I don’t know if I can imagine you as someone else, other than Scarlett.” He mused after taking a moment to absorb the torrent of information.
“I have used a number of different variations and spellings but it has been my name for a long time.” As far as I was concerned, Scarlett was my name. The girl Svanhild died a long time ago.
“Wait- but how did you know about the place in my dream?” Nick’s expression was confused.
“Because it wasn’t your dream. It was mine.”
His voice was too loud and we both froze for a moment listening. When the house remained silent I continued the conversation.
“I honestly have no idea how it happened, but I know that it was my dream. Do you remember the mountain at the start?”
He nodded slowly. “Yes… I was chasing you but you kept disappearing. We were in some fancy room with lots of lace; you were in a big dress. Then, we were in a busy street. There were… animals and lots of people. You were in an even bigger dress.”
I groaned, could we not have one day without some new weirdness happening?
“Why focus on my dress?” I complained.
“It was amusing.” He shrugged.
“What I think is more interesting, is how on Earth we ended up in the same dream!” I hissed with something close to panic. It definitely took strange to a whole new level.
“When we were looking up stuff about the Draugr, it did say something about them being able to affect minds.” He mused.
“But I’m not a Draugr now, and this has never happened before.” My dreams had always been purely my own.
“It has got to be related to these new reaper powers. It can’t be a coincidence that it just started now.”
“What next?” I groaned in despair. Would I sprout feathers or grow a tail? Sinking down onto the bed I put my head in my hands, trying to calm myself. After a few moments, I took a deep steadying breath, glancing at him through my fingers.
Nick looked conflicted like he was unsure what to do. “Scarlett…” he trailed off. Suddenly he brightened. “Wait- I have an idea-“
“Nick?” The sound of Vicky’s voice drifted through the house. “Are you up?”
Holding a finger to his lips he moved to the bedroom door and opened it slightly.
“Yeah I’m up, is everything ok?” He was clearly trying to make his voice sound like he had just woken up. I stifled a snicker.
“Yeah, I’m taking Angela to school now.” His mother yelled. “I’m going shopping after, is there anything you need?”
Nick reddened slightly. “No, I’m ok thank you.” He called back. “See you later.”
“Bye!” She called, the sound fading as she moved towards the front of the house.
“Bye!” A smaller, higher voice exclaimed.
“Bye Angela!” He replied, grinning despite himself at the sound of his younger sister.
We waited in silence to be sure that they had left. I thought I could hear the sounds of a car start outside, it made me miss my old superior hearing.
“What were you going to say?” I asked when it seemed safe to talk again. I remembered he had been about to tell me an idea.
His expression brightened. “I thought of something to help you feel better.”
I was filled with scepticism. “What makes you think I need to feel better? I’m fine.” I argued.
He gave me a knowing look that made my stomach do a strange little flip.
“Just come with me. Please?”
“Fine.” I huffed. He made his expression look so innocent on the word please that I was following him through the door before I’d even thought about it.
I followed him downstairs and through the now empty house until we reached a cellar. I hesitated at the top of the dark staircase until he switched on a light, revealing an unexpectedly bright room. Various exercise equipment was stacked around the walls in neat arrangements. The centre of the room was left clear, although there was some kind of sturdy blue mat spread across the floor, making it soft underfoot.
“A gym?” I said sceptically. I was still in my pyjamas, not exactly ideal exercise gear.
My lack of enthusiasm did nothing to dissuade him. Moving to the back of the room he rummaged for a moment, before coming up with two long swords. They were elegantly shaped but made from wood. He tossed one to me and I caught it automatically, feeling the weight in my hands. It was well balanced, almost like a real weapon, although the edges were not sharp. I knew it would still be capable of leaving some impressive bruises.
“Please just go with it.” He encouraged.
“Why?” I retorted, feeling the first flickers of irritation building. What was the point of this? I already knew that I was human, weak. He did not have to remind me. Was he trying to teach me some kind of lesson? Why was he making me do this?
“Trust me.” Nick’s expression was bright and open, waiting for me to agree.
I twirled my sword half-heartedly, trying to look disinterested when in reality the weapon felt right at home in my grip.
“Fine.” I huffed. “Let’s do this.” The sooner I got it over with, the sooner I could go home.
We circled each other slowly, keeping close to the centre of the mat. I watched him carefully, but he still took me by surprise when he chose to suddenly strike. I was used to being able to see the tiniest movements of my opponent. Now, by the time I had realised what was happening, he was already moving.
Somehow, I brought my sword up in time to parry the blow. The force of it jolted my arms, telling me that he was not messing around. He grinned but he was already moving away, spinning to come at me from a different angle. I didn’t react quite fast enough, so whilst I managed to dodge the majority of the strike, his sword caught my arm making me hiss in frustration.
His expression was taunting now. “Do you want me to go easy on you?”
“Not a chance,” I growled.
The pain had sparked something within me and I lunged towards him, attacking with sudden vigour. Adrenaline coursed through me, making my heart pound. This was familiar, I realised. I may not have my supernatural strength and speed, but sword fighting was more about skill. It was a matter of good strategy and instinct. I knew that I had both.
Nick was very skilled but I had been using a sword far longer than him. I had been pretty good when I was human the first time around and I had had a lot of practice since.
He looked a little surprised by my sudden attack but he kept up well, parrying my blows and striking at me with hits of his own. Unbidden fury rose in my chest, growing with every missed hit and defence. I was angry at my situation, angry at the fact that I felt powerless and for reasons that I couldn’t quite fathom, furious at Nick.
I thought I had been doing a good job keeping my emotions under control, and I hated him for making me face them. I hated the strange and confusing relationship that had grown between us and I hated him for making me feel things I was not ready to deal with. I could barely cope with the idea of my newly mortal status, let alone think about anything else. I had grown accustomed to being strong, powerful. I had been comfortable with my position and the knowledge that nobody could challenge me and live. Nobody could stop me if I really wanted to achieve something.
Now that was all gone. It had been taken away with no warning and I did not know what to do. I had not even realised what I had. My overconfidence had been like a blinker, obscuring my view of the world. I realised that I hated myself too; I hated that my view of myself was so tied to my identity as a vampire. I had always been adamant that being a vampire did not change a person. But, maybe it did, just not in the way that everyone assumes.
As my weaknesses and insecurities welled up inside me I found myself channelling them into strength. I attacked with a raging ferocity I thought had been lost. Without warning the balance of our fight suddenly shifted. He made fewer successful hits and spent most of his time on the defence. I went after him relentlessly, ignoring the protesting of my muscles and my newly awakened lungs gasping for air.
With a final lunge, my fury peaked and I flew towards him, bringing my sword up towards his neck. I watched his eyes fly wide with surprise as I evaded his guard, knowing I was about to hit him. Suddenly I found myself on the opposite side of him, facing his back. I stopped the swing of my sword just in time before I actually struck him and caused serious damage. The instant my wooden blade lightly touched his throat he froze before turning slowly to face me.
He was breathing hard. Despite the fact that I had just won, his eyes were bright and excited.
“You win.” He proclaimed.
I stood frozen for a moment, panting. My muscles locked into place as I met his gaze with my own triumphant one. My heart pounded in my chest and sweat coated my skin. I probably looked dishevelled in my pyjamas with my hair completely out of control but at that moment I felt... powerful.
Nick may be only human, but I had seen him kill vampires with my own eyes. I knew he was a strong and competent fighter but still, I had beaten him. I was not helpless; I could still look after myself. A new realisation hit me.
“It’s about emotion.” I breathed.
He frowned in confusion. “What?”
“It’s emotion.” I repeated, “My powers are tied to how I’m feeling. That is why I was able to shift a second ago.” I hadn’t even thought about it consciously, I had been solely focused on winning. Before, I had been trying to subdue my feelings. But, that was the very thing making it difficult for me. I lowered my sword, letting it drop to the floor.
“Oh.” He was surprised. “That’s… Interesting. What about when you are asleep?”
I took a moment to think. “I guess I must have been emotional in my dreams. I suppose…” I winced, “I must have been suppressing some things?”
He moved closer to me, putting his own sword down. “What kind of things?” Did I detect a hint of hopefulness?
I shook my head, suddenly embarrassed. I had the horrible feeling that I was blushing.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said stiffly. “I should… I should go home now.”
“Scarlett…” He trailed off, looking unsure.
“Thank you for this.” I gestured around the room. “I think I needed it more than I realised.”
A small smile pulled up the corner of his lips. “Did it help?”
I was surprised to find a real smile on my face, all traces of my earlier anger dissipated.
“Yes, it did. I needed to work through some things. It helped me feel like… myself.”
His smile turned to a smirk. “Remind me to never upset you ever again. You work through feelings in quite a violent way.”
My mouth stretched into a big grin and I felt a hint of my prior confidence.
“Yes, you’d better remember that.” I was perversely happy to realise that the violence was all me, it meant that I was still myself. Being human hadn’t changed anything; I was not powerless at all. A new determination grew within me. I would get my problems resolved, no more messing around.
Drawing my newfound strength into me I closed my eyes and thought of my cosy apartment with its stylish furnishings and thoughtful décor. It would currently be filled with soft morning light, illuminating the floorboards and highlighting the original features of the building. I imagined the scent of it, clean but with a hint of something a little musty like old books. I loved this place, I realised. It was relatively small and innocuous, but it was a place I could feel comfortable and safe. A place I could spend time with friends and laugh at problems that usually seemed insurmountable.