We practically exploded into my apartment in a burst of sound and frantic movements. Never mind that my neighbors might be awoken by the noise—we had to get inside now and away from whatever horrors lurked out there in the night.
It wasn’t until the door shut behind us and I had securely latched it shut that I allowed myself to breathe in and out steadily. My heart beat a staccato rhythm against my ribs, but it was out of fear for Andrew’s safety that it beat so frantically. If those things ever found out who he was and his connection to me…. No. Best not to dwell on such thoughts. I moved towards the window, my eyes scanning the parking lot below for any sign that we had been followed.
Andrew was still clearly unnerved by what had happened, and the fact that his eyes kept glancing furtively between myself and the door to my apartment was a sure sign that he was ready to bolt at any second.
“But this is crazy! What the hell were those things?” He took a tentative and accusatory step closer to me and I braced myself for what I knew was coming, from what I had feared from the moment we’d shared that first passionate kiss together.
I could see his reflection in the glass before me, wild-eyed, trembling, and trying to hold it all together. He raised his anguished face up to my twin reflection staring back at him. “What are you?”
The words stung me like a slap to the face and I gasped as if struck. His words wounded me more deeply than anything I had ever suffered before and I felt my resolve crumbling. “Andrew….” I turned around to face him and he stumbled back, clearly frightened of me.
“Don’t. Just…don’t.” He held his arm out as if to ward me off and the action was like a knife through my heart.
“Andrew, I’d never hurt you!”
His face contorted into an ugly mask of anger and betrayal. “Maybe not, but apparently you have no issue with lying to me, from keeping things from me.”
I felt my own face undergo a similar drastic change. “If I withheld anything it was to keep you safe! What I am—what those things are—they’d kill you if they even suspected that you were involved with me. Everything I’ve done since the moment I met you was designed to protect you; I can’t help it if I fell in love with you—that I never lied about.”
His face softened but I could still sense the mistrust lurking beneath the surface. “But those things…are you even human?”
I stared down at the floor, beaten. “No. I haven’t been human for a very long time.”
Andrew looked as if he was going to be ill. “God.” He ran his hand up through his hair and he reminded me of a caged, frightened animal as he paced the floor in tight circles.
I wished that the ground would open up and swallow me whole so that I wouldn’t have to look at him, to see the look on his face as something deep and innocent inside of him was irrevocably violated. “Please don’t look at me like that. If you must go then do it, but I can’t bear the thought that you hate me for something that I have no control over. I’d rather die than know that you’re afraid of me.”
My whole body was trembling violently and I knew that at any moment I’d lose control of my emotions. Between one breath and the next I could almost feel the finality of everything that we had experienced and were in danger of losing winding down to an inevitable close. It was as if I were keenly aware of the last grains of sand slipping through the proverbial hour glass and with them my resolve to live. I knew that if Andrew were to walk out that door that my last and perhaps most precious reason to continue on would disappear with him. I would once again be alone in a world that I didn’t belong in and the memories of our brief time together would soon crush me under the weight of the passing years, driving me to madness and eventual self-destruction.
Silently and without a word Andrew turned to leave. I saw him turn to go but my mind didn’t seem to want to accept what the heart already knew, that he was abandoning me.
An ugly choking sound filled the air and I was dimly aware that it was coming from me. My vision wavered and I slumped heavily to the floor, slipping onto my side. The cheap carpeting was rough against my face as the tears spilled down my cheeks, soaking into the weave. I drew my knees up close to my chest as if to keep myself from flying apart in my agony, and at last the sobs came, deep and wracking.
This can’t be happening to me…not again. The first time I’d had everything ripped away from me nearly killed me, and this time it just might. I was only vaguely aware that blood from my wounds had stained the carpeting as well, wounds that should have killed me yet didn’t. There goes my security deposit, I thought stupidly and then strong, warm arms encircled me.
“Kat…Kat!” Someone shaking me. Hmmm. Funny how despair could play tricks on the mind. A hand brushed my matted and tangled hair away from my face, smearing my tears. I made a weak half-hearted attempt to brush this nuisance away, to snarl at it to leave me alone in my misery where I surely belonged, but there was the faint hint of familiarity to it. Tenderness, warmth, love, those were the emotions that I sensed.
I opened my eyes.
Andrew’s face was only inches away from my own, his handsome features pinched and worried. So tenuous was my hope that he did not abandon me that I feared to speak or do anything. He began to kiss my lips, the tears streaming down my cheeks, the side of my neck, pleading with me to forgive him, to forgive him his momentary fear and human weakness.
But it is your humanity that draws me to you. Your tender nature, your capacity to love even one such as myself despite the odds, your all too fleeting mortality—that is what binds me to you. I wrapped my arms tightly around him possessively, refusing to let go.
“I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt you—”
I silenced him with a kiss that left us both breathless. “Hush. There’s nothing to forgive, nothing for you to be ashamed of. You’re here with me. That is all that matters, all that has ever mattered.”
His eyes fixed on the dark stains on the carpet. They widened. “You’re bleeding!”
Before I could wave away his concerns—to tell him that the wounds were no more and that there was really no need for concern—he scooped me up and rushed me into the bathroom where he set me down gently in the tub.
“Here, let me.” His hands deftly pulled the shirt over my head and then moved to unzip my jeans. I sat there passively and let him do whatever he felt was necessary. It quickly became apparent that there was really nothing to do, as my wounds had already vanished without a trace. Only my clothing was the worse for wear and the evidence of the attack was plainly evident in the ripped and bloody cloth. He stood back, seemingly confused but also slightly amazed. “You’re okay.”
His fingers brushed over a section of my abdomen where the blood stains were thickest and I shivered involuntarily. He quickly withdrew his hand as if the action had somehow caused me pain. “It doesn’t hurt, does it?”
I felt strangely small and exposed with him standing there as if he were unsure of what else to do or say, and I awkwardly cleared my throat. “I should get cleaned up.”
“Oh. Right.” He stepped back while I stood up in the tub. “I’ll uh, just wait outside.” He turned to go, closing the door behind him.
I momentarily panicked, convinced that his actions were just an excuse to get away from me as fast as possible. “Andrew?”
He hesitated, then turned to face me. There was no trace of anger or malice in his eyes as he gazed at me. “I’m not going anywhere, Kat. Not now, not ever.”
The door closed softly behind him and I heard his footsteps recede down the hallway.
I pushed my wet hair back away from my forehead and wrapped the towel tightly around my torso. Little sounds from the kitchen down the short hallway informed me that Andrew had remained true to his word, and the air was tinged with a faintly familiar sweet smell. Curious, I cracked the door open and called out to him. “Andrew?”
“I’m in here, the kitchen I mean.” He tapped the stove top with a spoon to emphasize his point. “I left you a change of clothes on the bed. I hope that they’re okay.”
I smiled despite everything. The fact that he was here and attending to mundane tasks as if he hadn’t just discovered that I wasn’t human was more than okay.
I changed quickly—shorts and a sleeveless tank—and then padded softly into the kitchen. Andrew was pouring a steaming liquid into two chipped coffee mugs that he had found in the back of my already sparse cabinets.
He held one out to me. “I uh, didn’t know if you needed anything else to finish healing or if you were hungry or thirsty. You didn’t have much else so I settled for hot chocolate. It always seems to help make me feel better whenever I’m sick.”
I took the offered mug, enjoying the warmth as I cupped it in my hands. “Thank you.”
He smiled slightly and his gaze traveled briefly over me. “You really are okay; there’s not a scratch on you.”
I could hear the awe in his voice, and sighing, I set the mug down on the kitchen counter. “Andrew, you really have no need to be afraid of me. I meant what I said about never hurting you.”
I swallowed thickly. “I also meant it when I said that I loved you. I know that this is a little too much to take in, so please don’t think that—”
I stopped, fear and anxiety whipping through me. What had I been about to say? That it was okay if he no longer felt that way about me, that if he no longer wanted any part of what we had that I would not only understand, but accept?
I looked up and met his gaze.
“I’m not going anywhere. I meant it when I said it earlier. Yeah, I freaked out at first—who the hell wouldn’t?—but I’ve accepted it. As crazy as it may sound, it doesn’t matter that you’re not human and are something completely different. What matters is that whatever I felt for you before tonight hasn’t changed. I love you, too.”
He took my hands in his and I felt his warmth, his fragility, everything that made him precious to me. He squeezed them gently. “Will you tell me how it happened? That is, if it’s not too painful.”
Not too painful.
I had never disclosed the details of how I had come to be what I am, not even to Wendell who knew what I was and had even seen me kill. The memories are as clear now as they were over three and a half centuries ago. The pain that I suffered then had never completely diminished over time. I had simply learned to bury it and it was always there against the backdrop of my mind.
Tell him how it happened.
Such a simple request really, but Andrew had no idea what he was asking me to do. He was asking me to plunge back into the hell that I had barely managed to pull myself out of all those centuries before. He was asking me to put into simple human language the multitude of nameless horrors that had been visited upon me, to somehow in the soft, artificial light of my modern-day apartment make such horrors seem mundane, safe.
He looked at me expectantly and I met his gaze unflinchingly. Such love and patience was reflected back in his brown eyes, and I silently prayed that when I had finished recounting my tale that I would see understanding reflected there as well.