Aurora sat on an over-sized leather armchair, her long legs tucked beneath her bottom and her hair piled high on her head. She was so engrossed in whatever she was reading that she hadn’t even noticed him staring. Jesus she was beautiful. When Gabriel eventually managed to tear his eyes away from her, he looked around the place. Since she moved in the cabin had a few new additions. There were throw pillows on the couch and wild flowers in the kitchen. There was a dog bed for Aurel and a scented candle on the hearth. He knew there were still a few ‘upgrades’ she wanted, but for now they would have to wait. There was still so much they had to face. So much that lie ahead.
“What are you reading?” he asked eventually, keen to draw her attention back to him.
But when she looked up, the first thing he noticed was her frown.
“Gabriel, we need to talk.”
He might have spent the past 10 years alone, but Gabriel knew when a woman said ‘we have to talk’ it was never about anything good. “Alright…” he said nervously. “What is it?”
She stretched her neck over to one side and then to the other and Gabriel tensed. She was stalling. This had to be bad.
“It’s about your father,” she began. “He made me feel uneasy tonight.”
Gabriel nodded and thought back to the dinner with his parents. For the most part it had gone well. They had been forgiving of his absence and accepting of Aurora, but he knew what she was getting at. There were moments his father had definitely acted strange.
“I know,” he nodded. “I’m worried about him.”
She set her book aside and looked at him closely. “You think he and Harrison know something?”
He had not told Aurora much about his conversation with Harrison, it would just worry her, but he didn’t think for a moment that his father’s behaviour had anything to do with Harrison or the quest. “Know something? No, I’m actually worried my father might be ill. He seemed ‘off’ somehow, like the way he kept forgetting things. He wasn’t himself.”
But Aurora shook her head. “No, that’s not it Gabriel. It’s something else.”
He took a deep breath and tried to steady himself. He loved Aurora but her suspicions were starting to get the better of him. It was as though she suddenly thought everyone was out to get them. Now she even thought his own father had some agenda. She was being paranoid and it was unnecessary, especially when it included his family.
“Why do you immediately think the worst of everyone?” He snapped. “Not everyone is like your sisters. My father is a good man, he wouldn’t keep something like that from me.”
One look at her face and he immediately regretted his words, but it was too late. He hadn’t meant to hurt her, Christ if he was honest this wasn’t even about her. The truth was, after seeing his parents he felt guilty for disappearing and even worse for having lied to their faces. They had been through enough because of him.
“Gabriel, I’m not trying to hurt you,” she tried. “I just think there’s more to this than you’re seeing.”
“Yeah alright,” he sighed, no longer in the mood for a conversation. “Let’s just leave it for now, huh?”
But she kept at it. “Gabriel, your father is not sick. I know because I would have sensed it in the rhythm of his heart or the pulse of his blood. Your father is fine, you have no need to worry about his health.”
Gabriel thought back to the night she had accompanied him on the hunt, the way she had known about the injured coyote. Feeling stupid he looked over at her. “Aurora I’m sorry. I sometimes forget the things you can do. This whole thing is just starting to get to me. It’s just… I feel like an arse for what I did to them, you know? They’re good people. They deserve better than this, better than me. They deserve…” He trailed off but his brother’s name stung at his lips.
Aurora nodded and weighed her options. If she told him what she had figured out it could destroy him, but if she didn’t…
“Gabriel, I know you don’t want to hear this, but there’s something your father’s not telling you.”
“For Christ sakes Aurora would you just let it go? Not everything is about you and your mission. Whatever is up with my father has nothing to do with you. In fact, it’s none of your business.”
The words cut deep and Aurora flinched. Gabriel and his family were not her business because she was not included. He may love her, but he had not completely accepted her into his life. Not all of it anyway.
“My father is not that kind of man,” he tried again. “He’s always been honest and upfront about anything that’s on his mind, even when you don’t want to hear it. Believe me, if he had something to say we would have heard it.”
“I understand that Gabriel, but sometimes people change.”
“Not my parents. I know who they are.”
She looked away and Gabriel’s chest tightened. He didn’t want to get angry with her, but he was obligated to defend his parents, they deserved that much. More than that, he sensed she was going somewhere with this and he didn’t want to find out where.
“I’ve been right about everything so far and yet still you think I don’t know anything,” she told him. “What will it take for you to realise that when I say something there’s a reason for it?”
“Aurora, it’s not about seeing a reason. I just don’t want to discuss my parents anymore, alright? Now just leave it alone.”
“No Gabriel, I’ve been patient while you caught up but now that you know the truth you have to follow my lead and I’m telling you, your father knows something.”
Gabriel had heard enough. He had tried to keep his temper but she was going too far. He would do anything for her, he had proven that already, but his family was off limits. He just got them back and there was no way he was going to let her, or anyone, come between them again.
“Follow your lead?” He got to his feet and stared down at her. “As I recall, it’s you that needs me not the other way around!”
At once Aurora was up on her feet and standing toe to toe with him. “So you don’t think it’s just a little strange that your father read out a poem every night about a vampire?”
“It’s just a damn poem for Christ sakes!” He shouted back. “I wish I never told you that, you’re making it into way more than it is. My father read books of literature his entire life, it doesn’t mean… I don’t even know what the hell you think it means, but it’s nothing. Now for the love of God just leave it alone.”
Aurora knew what the poem meant but she was afraid. Once she said the words they could never be taken back, but what choice did she have? If they were going to succeed Gabriel had to know the truth. There was no other way.
“Gabriel, there’s something I need to tell you,” she began, her voice calmer. “You’re not going to like it, but you need to know.”
Gabriel folded his arms across his chest. She was right. He didn’t want to hear it. Only a few hours had passed since he got his family back and already she wanted to tell him something that might take them away all over again. Damn right he didn’t want to hear it.
“No,” he shook his head. “I don’t need to know Aurora, and I don’t want to know.”
“Gabriel this is no time to be childish, there’s too much at stake. Now I need you to listen to me.”
Gabriel’s insides were twisting. He knew she was right, but once he heard whatever she was about to say there was no going back. If his father did know something about all of this, the implications were so much greater than she understood. It would mean he was not the man Gabriel knew him to be. It would mean his father had lied to him his entire life.
“God damn it Aurora, why are you doing this? Why are you so determined to destroy my life? Haven’t you done enough?”
“Haven’t I done enough? You’re not the only one who lost a brother Gabriel. I did too if you recall?”
“Don’t you bring my brother into this!” His insides were trembling with rage. “Just stop, now!”
“I’m sorry Gabriel, but I can’t. It’s because of him that you’re here.”
“Shut up Aurora, I’m warning you!”
“Chris was your twin brother, but he was older. Only by a few minutes, but he was older Gabriel.”
“Aurora, I’m warning you,” Gabriel threatened, terrified of what she would say next. “Don’t you say another word.”
But as usual she paid no attention. “The reason you were chosen is because of your bloodline. I thought your father didn’t know about his ancestors, but I was wrong. He knows Gabriel. He’s always known.”
“Aurora - ”
“The reason you were chosen is because you are a descendant of the very first strigoi to walk this Earth. Your bloodline means that by turning you, you have strength that comes from decades of strigoi ancestors. Don’t you see?”
Gabriel stared at her. “And what does any of that have to do with my brother?”
But before she could answer he worked it out. Chris was born four minutes before him. That made him the eldest. Gabriel felt as though his throat was closing over and suddenly he couldn’t breathe.
“Gabriel? Are you alright?”
He crouched down and rested his fist against the flawed timber.
“When we were at the castle… That wasn’t me in the painting was it? It was Chris.”
“And you knew?”
“No,” she told him honestly. “I didn’t know about your brother until tonight.”
Gabriel felt as though he had been thrown into a world that suddenly made no sense. He had never been the chosen one. It was his brother who was meant to save the world, his perfect older brother. Slowly he got to his feet and stared at her. “Why didn’t you tell me? You should have said something, the minute you knew.”
“Gabriel, how long after Chris’ accident were you changed?”
Gabriel’s world was imploding. Just when he had begun to accept his fate, everything had changed again. He stood up, took a breath and linked his fingers behind his head.
“Gabriel, how long?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter. Think back. How long was it?”
“I don’t have to think back Aurora, it was exactly a week to the day.”
Aurora’s mind was racing. Had Gabriel been changed because his brother was killed, or had the Council changed the wrong man? Was that even possible?
Gabriel turned and walked outside. He needed air. His mind was reeling. Chris was the one who was supposed to honour the legacy of their family’s bloodline, not him. Chris was the one who was supposed to save the world. Then, like a knife in his heart Gabriel realised that Chris was also the one who was supposed to save Aurora.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he said as she followed him out. “This is not my fight. It never was.”
She stared back at him as though he had gone mad, but he knew the truth. When the time came to fight he would fail. He would fail because he was not his brother.
“No, I mean it this time Aurora. I’m done.”
The space between them suddenly felt irreversible and Gabriel was more lost than he had ever been. He no longer knew where he fit or what he would do. Worse than that, he didn’t know how he would ever get over Aurora.
“So that’s it?” She asked eventually. “Just like that, it’s over?”
Gabriel couldn’t bring himself to say the words, so instead he simply nodded. Just hours ago they had been sitting around his parents table laughing like a family and now it was over. He looked at her and willed himself to go back, to find the love in his heart and draw it up to his lips.
“Gabriel please…” She tried. “It doesn’t have to be this way. This has to be a mistake. We need to talk to Lucius. We could - ”
“No Aurora, I’m not going back there. I’ve had enough and besides, this might be for the best.”
She looked at him in disbelief. “How could it possibly be for the best?”
“I can finally get on with my life now. I’ve learned enough to fit in with the rest of the world. I can have a life with my parents, maybe make some friends…”
“Meet someone?” She finished.
Gabriel frowned and looked away. No one would ever come close to Aurora. That much he knew. He would love her every day for the rest of his life, he was just too angry to tell her so instead he pushed her away. “You can’t stay here anymore,” he whispered. “I need you to leave.”