He had given Aurora the bed, but after catching a few hours of shut eye on the couch Gabriel was unable to rest any longer. His head was filled with wild ideas about slaying monsters, saving the world and he couldn’t deny it, Aurora. She was unlike anyone he had ever met. Sure he had dated women, even come close to marriage once back when he was human, but never anyone like her. She was stubborn and determined but there was also a part of her that was tender and broken. At times he was torn between wanting to kiss her and shout at her all at the same time.
He didn’t know what any of it meant but the scary part was, he liked it.
He padded into the bedroom and watched her sleeping. Had she ever been in love? She was so obsessed with avenging her parents he doubted there would have ever been time for things as trivial as love. The best he could hope for was just to help, and it was a good fight. If those monsters really were responsible for killing her parents, and perhaps posed a risk to everyone else, then he wanted in. Christ, if he was still in the Army he would have done anything to protect people. He would have hunted these murderers down and taken them out. Maybe all that didn’t have to change just because he had.
“What are you staring at?”
She was awake and caught him watching her. Damn it. “I was coming to wake you,” he lied. “It’s almost dusk and we have a lot to do.”
If it were possible, she was even more beautiful half asleep than she was awake. Her messed up hair and sleepy eyes were irresistible and once again he had to remind himself he was only there to help.
“Oh… Well, okay,” she mumbled. “Do you have coffee?”
And she had an uncanny knack of always saying the very last thing he expected.
“Yes, coffee. You know, hot drink, brown, with caffeine?”
“Why would I have that?” He shrugged.
“Wait a minute,” she said, propping herself up against the pillows. “You’re face looks like I just asked if you had demon bran. Why are you so surprised I would want coffee?”
“What in the hell is demon bran?” He asked with raised brows. “And please don’t say the cereal of Satan.”
She rolled her eyes. “It was a joke. Seriously Gabriel, do you have coffee or not?”
“Not,” he replied. “You really drink coffee?”
“I do a lot of things.” She threw off the covers and her long slender legs fell over the side of the bed. “Please tell me you at least have the internet.”
He was zero for two. “Nope, no internet.”
“You’ve got to be kidding? How are we supposed to do research without the internet or coffee?”
When she stood up, Gabriel noticed she wore only a singlet and tiny black briefs. The sight of her half naked was enough to make his legs go weak.
“Damn, I have no clean clothes here,” she said aloud. “We’ll go back to the farmhouse and get my things and then head into town.”
But Gabriel was already shaking his head. Both of her suggestions were outrageous and completely impossible. In fact, everything she had said since she opened her eyes was ridiculous.
“No Aurora, we can’t do any of that,” he told her flatly. “Absolutely not.”
“Well I’m not sure how to put this to you Gabriel, but it wasn’t a suggestion. That’s what we’re doing. Now I need to brush my hair. You do have a bathroom I take it?”
As he watched her stroll out of his room and into the tiny bathroom, Gabriel wondered what the hell he had gotten himself into. She was impossible.
“Aurora,” he began, following close behind. “How are we going to get your things? And more importantly, how are we supposed to go into town?”
“Easy? Can you elaborate? And can you put on some damn clothes please.”
She put the hairbrush down on the sink and turned to face him. “First of all, my sisters will be out of the house, I know their schedule. Second, now that we know a little more about those things we can go to an internet café, get a coffee, and start researching. Like I said, easy.”
But Gabriel shook his head and crossed his arms firmly across his chest. “No, I can’t. It’s impossible and I won’t do it.”
“What are you talking about? What’s impossible?”
“Going into town. I can’t do it.”
Gabriel’s stomach twisted as though he had swallowed a jar of bees. She wanted him to go into town. Town, where there were hundreds of people and he was a vampire, no wait, a strigoi. Whatever he was, it didn’t matter. He was not going and that was that. Desperate to get away from the situation, he turned and strode outside into the lightly falling snow. But to his surprise she followed him right out, in her underwear.
“What’s your problem?” she asked, coming up behind him. “What’s the big deal about going into town?”
Tiny white snowflakes decorated her fire-red hair as she stood in the snow staring up at him. They hadn’t even begun trying to find these things and already he was going to let her down. He should never have gotten involved in the first place. The man he used to be would have this completely under control, but as a strigoi he had no clue what to do or even where to start. Shit, he couldn’t even go into town with her.
“I should never have got involved in this Aurora,” he told her. “I’m sorry but I can’t help you. It was wrong of me to say I would.”
He shoved his hands into the pockets of his torn cargo pants and stared down at his bare feet covered in snow. In any other world they would have ached from the cold, but he felt nothing at all.
“What are you talking about? What’s the problem?”
“Just go on without me Aurora. I’m no use to you. I’m no use to anyone.”
“I can’t Gabriel, don’t you get it? I need you to help me.”
“Why would you need me?” He shouted. “I’m no good for anything! I can’t go to town, I don’t… I can’t…”
He couldn’t find the words to tell her that he didn’t know how to be a strigoi and he couldn’t be a man. That he was caught in a world where he didn’t belong.
“I’ve already done enough damage Aurora.” He threw up his hands and stared at her. “Don’t you see? Your life is in pieces because of me. I’m no good for anything, just go.”
“Gabriel…” She reached out and touched his arm. “It doesn’t have to be this hard. My father…”
“Well it is for me.” He pulled away before she could tell another story about her incredible strigoi father. “I haven’t been near any humans since I was changed Aurora. What if…?”
He couldn’t even say the words. The idea of killing a human made him sick to his stomach. It was something he just couldn’t risk.
“Gabriel, you won’t.”
“But how do you know that? What if I can’t control myself? And besides, people think I left town years ago. What if someone sees me?”
“Wait, you grew up here?”
“Yes Aurora, I grew up here. My family is here. I was a decorated Army Captain, third generation. Now I’m just, this.” He shook his head and stared out into the forest. So much had been taken from him. An entire life lost along the way.
“But you don’t have to stay here Gabriel. You can go anywhere you want, somewhere you don’t have to hide yourself away.”
“No Aurora, I can’t. I’ve always looked after my parents and I still do, just from a distance now is all.”
“Oh Gabriel, that’s so sad.”
“Don’t you feel sorry for me,” he snapped. “I am what I am, and I’ve accepted it. Well I had until you came along. Now just leave, alright? I can’t help you.”
As they stood together out in the snow, Gabriel wanted to say something, anything that would make things different. She was only inches away and he ached to reach out, but it was pointless. He would only cause her more harm. Better to hurt her now than make things worse later.
“Do you trust me Gabriel?” She asked, eventually breaking the silence.
But he just shook his head and looked away. “Aurora, it’s not about trust. Up until yesterday I had this grand plan to kill vampires, to protect the town, avenge what happened to me. Now I find out there are no vampires, there’s just me, and maybe that Lucius character. None of it makes any sense. First of all, if I’m the only one then how did I even get like this? Tell me that.”
“Gabriel - ”
“No, at least tell me that much!” He threw his arms up in the air. “Why am I like this Aurora?”
“Gabriel, I don’t know.”
“Was it him? Did Lucius make me like this?”
She could tell from the tension on his face that Gabriel was about to explode. She wanted to calm him, to take things back to before she said anything, but it was clearly too late. “Gabriel please…”
“I don’t want to be like this,” he shouted at her. “Don’t you see? I’m no good to anyone. I can’t help you. I can’t be the one.”
“That’s not true Gabriel.”
“Yes Aurora, it is.”
She watched helplessly as his shoulders fell slack and his head dropped forward. “It’s a nice idea and it sure as hell makes me feel better about what I did to your brother, but I’m not the one. You need to go and find a real hero Aurora, because it sure ain’t me.”
Aurora stared at him as he stood there feeling sorry for himself. She hated that he was so down, but he was supposed to help her. She couldn’t let a little bout of self-pity get in the way. They had a job to do and it was an important one. She quickly decided he was going to help her whether he liked it or not.
“Hey,” she shouted. “Now you listen to me Gabriel…”
And before he knew it, she was up in his face, her finger pointed so close that it was almost touching his nose.
“You are the one and you are going to help me, so stop you’re whining and pull yourself together. I need you. Do you hear me? I need you and I won’t take no for an answer. That’s all there is to it.”
He could see she was up on her tippy toes and there was something about her tiny feet that seemed in complete contrast to the way she was shouting in his face. Once again, he couldn’t help marvelling at how incredible she was. His resolve crumbled.
“Okay, alright,” he sighed. “Stop with all the shouting, I’ll help. But I’m warning you, I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Good. Now go get your shoes on and grab a jacket. We have to go.”
And just like that she was done.
“Has any man ever said no to you and actually meant it?” He grinned as he followed her back into the cabin.
“I killed him.”
Before he could ask any more questions, she disappeared inside leaving him to wonder how much of the story was actually true.
“Wouldn’t surprise me if you did,” he mumbled under his breath. “Not in the slightest.”
After gathering some of her clothes from the old farmhouse and racing them back to his cabin, Gabriel followed Aurora along the jagged edge of the Peaks until they reached a bluff that overlooked a town called Vista Lakes, just a few miles west of Hania.
“There’s a cafe down there we can go to,” she told him. “I’ve been there before and they don’t pay much attention to anyone. But first you have to feed.”
“Feed? You have to be kidding? Why didn’t you tell me before? I had blood stored in the fridge at home.”
“No Gabriel, you need fresh blood. It will weaken any cravings you might have around humans.”
He peered down at his clean pants and crisp T-shirt. “But my clothes…”
“You have to Gabriel. It’s too dangerous otherwise.”
“You know, we could have done this before I showered.”
But she smirked and ruffled his hair. “Now where’s the fun in that?”
Shaking his head, Gabriel bent down and smelled the earth. Even as a young boy he had been a good tracker, but as a strigoi he was incredible. The extra senses allowed him to identify an animal up to 10 miles away and locate exactly where it was.
“There’s a herd of deer about three miles south and a band of coyote two miles west,” he told her. “Which direction to you want to hike?”
She pushed her hand deep into the snow until it reached the black earth underneath. “West,” she told him. “One of the coyote is hurt and won’t make it. You’ll take that one.”
He stared at her in confusion. “Aurora, how could you possibly know that?”
“I can feel its pain. Its leg is badly broken. It’s trying to keep up, but it will die slowly if we don’t intervene. It’s the right thing to do Gabriel. It’s suffering.”
“You can feel what it feels?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “If I choose to.”
He could only stare. “What else can you feel?”
“I can feel everything Gabriel. Take my hand, I’ll show you.”
He took her hand and its sudden warmth made his heart skip a beat. She led him over to a moss-covered patch of the forest floor and together they sat down.
“Quiet,” she whispered. “Just close your eyes and focus on my breathing.”
He did as she asked and soon all he heard was the soft rise and fall of her breath. After a few minutes she whispered to him. “Reach down and touch the earth with your other hand. Tell me what you feel.”
Cautiously he let his fingers fall into the dirt and then his palm. Soon his entire hand was resting against the dark earth.
“You’re nervous,” she told him. “Don’t be. You need to be open.”
He nodded and slowly let his breath fall into rhythm with hers.
“Now, what do you feel?”
“My heart,” he whispered. “It’s pounding really fast.”
“Calm yourself Gabriel, you’re almost there. Now try again. What do you feel?”
Gabriel gasped and his eyes flung open. “Aurora…”
“You have to stay calm and centred,” she soothed. “It’s okay.”
“But I feel… I feel a second heart beating in my chest,” he stammered.
Gabriel tried to remain calm but the sensation in his body was foreign and frightening.
“I can’t do this Aurora,” he managed, quickly pulling his hand away from hers. “What just happened? How could I have two heartbeats?”
Aurora slowly opened her palm to reveal a tiny grey field mouse sitting inside. Gabriel stared in disbelief as it twitched its tiny whiskers and scampered away into the undergrowth.
“That was its heartbeat I felt?”
“Yes,” she smiled. “Just a little mouse Gabriel. Nothing to be afraid of.”
“But I felt its heart beating inside me,” he uttered. “How?”
Aurora got to her feet and smiled. “Like I said, every living thing has its own energy. I can tune into frequencies and connect with everything that has its own life force.”
He fell silent and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, clearly uncomfortable.
“Gabriel? What is it?”
“Can you tune into me?”
But she just laughed and smiled at him. “No, of course not.”
“Why not? Oh.” With sadness he realised she couldn’t tune into him because he wasn’t a living thing. He was dead.
“No, it’s alright,” he managed, shrugging it off. “I get it.”
“I can’t tune into you because you are a strigoi.”
“Right, and I’m not really a living thing.”
He turned away but she caught his arm and pulled him back. “I can’t tune into you because the strigoi were apex predators, void of any weakness. No living being could harm them. To have a weakness like that would mean tribes like the Scythians who were connected to the earth would have the upper hand in battle and that’s not how the strigoi were made. Aside from the original vampires, who were demons created in Hell, the strigoi were the strongest, most powerful creatures to ever walk the Earth, that’s why I can’t tune into you Gabriel.”
At his weakest she made him strong. When he wanted to give up, she gave him purpose. She was everything, but he quickly reminded himself that he couldn’t fall in love. All he could do was help.
“Aurora, I am going to be the man you believe I can be,” he told her with conviction. “I’m sorry about before. I owe you at least that much.”
“No Gabriel, you owe me much more than that.”
He didn’t understand. What else could she possibly want from him? He was offering her everything and she still wanted more?
“What you owe me is to become the man that you believe you can be. Only then can you be of use to me. Now come on, we need to keep moving.”