We exploded out into the front lawn just as the flames consumed the front parlor in a shower of glass and splintered wood.
Andrew had kicked out one of the front-facing windows and was frantically trying to get us to safety before the whole house was consumed. Within moments of clearing the frame the flames roared out of the broken window and began to lick around the perimeter of the porch and danced among the support columns. An ominous groaning sound indicated that the whole structure was coming dangerously close to collapse, but Andrew easily sprinted down the front steps and despite the desperate shouts of onlookers, managed to make his way to the side alley towards my car with me still dangling limply from his arms.
“I’ve got you—you’re going to be okay.”
I whimpered as he shifted my weight to one side while he opened the unlocked passenger side door and set me gently down on the seat. “Keys…front pocket.” I was fading in and out of consciousness but managed to rasp out a request. “No hospital.”
I heard the fear and disapproval in his voice but I remained stern. “No. Hospital.”
“Okay. No hospital then.” He reached over and buckled me in and I hissed in pain as the belt lay against my wounds. Blood continued to seep steadily out of my chest, abdomen and wrist and I tossed restlessly against the seat as a wave of nausea overcame me. I retched miserably and Andrew gallantly held my hair away from my face as I gasped and heaved all over myself. I whimpered again and let my head loll to the side.
“God, there’s so much blood, what can I do?”
“Drive. Just take me somewhere where I can heal without someone recognizing us.”
He nodded. “I know exactly where to go.” He quickly put the car in drive and we headed away from the now-collapsing house. There were frantic shouts from the onlookers as the roof caved in and the whole structure visibly sagged, and from up the road I could hear the screeching sirens of approaching fire trucks.
Andrew was careful to maintain a reasonable speed as we headed north on a side road, but it was not well-maintained and I cried out as the car hit a bump and sent fresh shards of pain shooting through my limbs.
It was impossible to be in this much pain and still be alive, yet alive I was though for how long I did not know. Blood had soaked through my shirt and jeans and turned tacky, sticking against the seat. My body was freezing cold and I struggled to wrap my arms around myself, desperate for warmth.
“Kat, talk to me...Kat!” Andrew’s voice. Amazing how strong he sounded, so coherent when only minutes ago he’d been dead and had been brought back from the precipice by my blood. I’d nearly killed myself in the process yet at the time it hadn’t mattered so long as he lived, though to what ends I hadn’t even considered. I began to fade in and out of consciousness and the one thought that kept reverberating over and over through my mind was: Andrew doesn’t know that he died. He has no memory of his transformation or knowledge of what he has become.
His hand was firm on my arm as he shook me awake and I heard the apprehension in his voice. “Don’t you dare die on me. Not like this. Not when I need you the most.”
I forced my eyelids to open. “Cold,” I rasped.
He nodded in a mixture of relief and understanding and immediately turned on the heater. Heat flooded the cabin and I moaned in relief and sank down into the seat. I didn’t have the strength to keep my eyelids open any longer and let the darkness come, the slow rhythmic hum of the engine soothing and lulling me to sleep. We traveled for a time, undoubtedly towards the outskirts of town. Andrew was intelligent enough to know that however severe my injuries were, that going to a hospital was out of the question and that he would have to tend to them away from prying eyes. Yes, we were definitely headed out of the city limits where cheap hotels abounded and where the proprietors didn’t ask too many questions.
“We’re almost there; hang on.”
I nodded weakly, imperceptibly.
He steered the car smoothly to the left and parked. I heard him turn towards me and his fingers gently stroked my face. “I’ll be right back.” He exited the car and silence descended, broken only by the infrequent traffic rolling by and the occasional squawk of a nearby television. I started to shiver despite the heater being on and attempted to draw my knees up to warm myself, but the action sent a riot of agony through my torso. I gritted my teeth to keep from screaming and I felt as if I was on the verge of blacking out. Yes, blacking out seemed infinitely preferable to this searing pain shooting through my ribs and out my back.
Too many wounds, so much blood lost—so little time left. There was too much left unsaid between Andrew and I. Andrew, who most likely would not survive my death given how fresh the bond between us was.
I wept now and sunk down further into the upholstery, afraid to shut my eyes on the world that I had tread upon for nearly four centuries, yet I was even more afraid of what I would see in Andrew’s eyes as soon enough the full reality of what I had done and what he now was would sink in.
“It’s alright now, I’ve got you.” I became weightless in his arms once again as he effortlessly picked me up and hurried down the short corridor to our ground-floor room. My head lolled against his chest and my arms dangled limply at my side, my strength entirely sapped. A warm, fuzzy feeling not unlike being mildly drunk infused my limbs and I marveled at the fact that the pain was nearly gone. I felt light, content, and utterly at peace.
I was dying.
Those moments took on a strange, dream-like quality as my body began to shut down yet my mind remained alert and fully aware of my surroundings. Each external sensation was magnified to the point of exquisite and beatific potency, yet I felt no physical pain. My thoughts passed through my brain like fine silver threads at amazing speed yet I couldn’t grasp or retain any particular memory of what they were or why I was thinking of them. My life did not flash before my eyes as so many people have claimed, and for a while I simply floated without form or direction in the void.
A sharp sensation to the side of my face jarred me out of this blissful unawareness and I regained consciousness, gasping and shaking in agony as the full impact of what had just happened slammed me with bone-rattling force. I uttered a strangled scream as air was forced into my lungs and I flailed weakly, my hands grasping blindly as my eyes struggled to focus.
“Breathe, Kat, breathe!” Andrew’s lips were warm on my own as he continued to pass his breath from his mouth to mine, forcing my lungs to remember how to work again. I inhaled slowly, my pulse pounding a staccato rhythm against the insides of my skull and he released me, satisfied that I could once again breathe on my own. As my vision cleared I realized that we were both inside a worn bathtub with the hot water running full blast as Andrew cradled me in his arms. Our torn and bloody clothing lay scattered on the floor along with the remains of the shower curtain, no doubt ripped off in his haste to get me into the tub to increase my body temperature. I shivered weakly and clutched at his shoulders, tucking my head against his heart. It was strong and steady and I smiled despite everything.
He rubbed soothing circles against my bare back. “Oh God, I thought I had lost you.” One hand smoothed my wet and tangled hair away from my face. “Don’t ever do that to me again. Ever.”
I snuggled firmly against him, craving the warmth of his skin now more than ever. “I’m sorry. I wanted to just let it all go, to stop fighting and to be at peace.”
He held me closer, careful not to hurt me. “I know. When I thought that I was dying back there I felt the same way, but the only thing that kept me from letting go completely was the thought that I would never see you again.”
But you did die, Andrew—you just don’t remember it yet.
This time I did cry while he continued to hold me, his hands gentle as they washed the blood from me and inspected my wounds, which had not healed at all and continued to bleed sluggishly. I was still too weak to stand so Andrew wrapped me in a towel and set me down on the bed. The room was stifling due to his having turned on the heater full blast, and despite the comforter and extra blanket, I was still shivering uncontrollably.
“You need to feed.”
I shook my head, which took considerable effort. “I can’t. Maybe if I rest for a few hours I can manage, but right now….” My head rolled to the side and I had to stop to catch my breath.
“You’re dying, Kat. Without blood right now you won’t last the night if even for a few hours.” He moved to sit beside me on the bed and I knew what was coming next, what I had been dreading since the moment he came back from the brink and drew his first breath as an immortal.
Metal slid against skin as he drew my knife across the inside of his arm and the blood glittered darkly in the dim room. The sight and smell of it ignited my senses and my instinct kicked in, giving me just enough strength to arch my torso up as he edged closer to allow me access to the crimson font. I moaned as it hit my tongue and flowed down my throat, into my pores and the tiny vessels leading to my organs, my limbs, to my wounds, which even now were beginning to heal at a rapid rate.
He groaned as I pulled harder, drawing more of his essence into me. My body was starved and cried out for more, but I knew that I had to stop or risk hurting him. With all of my willpower I managed to pull away and laid on my side panting as my flesh continued to knit itself back together.
The blood had stopped flowing from his wound which was healing impossibly fast, the edges puckering and drawing closer to one another as if by magic. Within moments his skin was smooth and flawless.
He stared wide-eyed at his now immaculate skin and a violent shudder ran through his body as his eyes flicked over to where I lay curled up in my misery. “How is this possible?”
I couldn’t meet his eyes—coward that I am—and said nothing.
His body had gone very still and his voice had a hollow timbre to it. “I died, didn’t I? I didn’t just black out like I thought I had, and you brought me back.”
I was weeping quietly and clutched desperately at the pillow, afraid to look at him and even more afraid of what I would see reflected in his eyes.
He swallowed thickly and there was a slight tremor to his words. “I’m like you, aren’t I? I’m immortal and I’ll never die, but my family—” He inhaled sharply and turned away from me, trying to reign in his emotions and process the impossible.
Those moments were agonizing as I waited for him to scream and rage at me, to denounce me as nothing more than a monster who had made him a monster in turn, to deny the truth of what he had just witnessed. He was immortal the same as I and time would only temper this realization and solidify this new reality.
He finally seemed to come to a decision and I braced myself. Without a word he pulled back the covers and his breath was shaky as he stretched out next to me and drew them over us. I didn’t dare move, afraid of what he would say. For a long moment we laid there in silence until I could stand it no longer.
“I understand why you did it.”
I sucked in a breath and let it out slowly. He continued.
“I understand why you did it because if it had been you dying there in that filthy basement with your life flowing out of you, I would have done the same thing.”
I swallowed past the lump in my throat. “It still doesn’t make it right. You had no choice in whether you lived or died, and I had no right to make that decision for you.”
He turned to me and cupped a hand under my chin so that I would look at him. I let my gaze travel up to those dark soulful eyes and felt the urge to weep again. His skin was smooth and flawless and the beauty and perfection of it all made my heart ache. He would remain this way forever thanks to me, and old age and disease would never touch him.
He leaned forward and kissed me. “I wasn’t ready to die yet. Since meeting you you’ve given me my life back in more ways than you could ever possibly know, but more than that you’ve given me forever.” He kissed me again, deeper this time. “And I can’t think of a perfect way than to spend it with you.”
When I woke up in the morning I found a note on the bed beside me informing me that Andrew had gone back to his place to get a set of fresh clothes and some rudimentary medical supplies, but I knew the real reason why he had left. The hunger within him was pulling and clawing its way up and out of him and given the exchange of blood that he had shared with me the previous night, he was in agony to satisfy it.
It was difficult to describe my own doubts and fears at this realization, as I knew only that the guilt that proceeded my first kill all those centuries ago still troubled my conscience. Without me there to guide and support him Andrew would struggle to come to terms with what he was and what he now had to do in order to sustain his own existence, and I knew that the bond between us could easily deteriorate in the face of this guilt.
It was hours later before he returned as silently as he had left. I awoke from a thin sleep troubled by painful memories and my own uncertainty regarding our future together to find him standing by the curtained windows, his head bent in thought. Sensing my awakened state, he set the gym bag that he had been carrying on the single chair in the room and approached the bed silently. His weight settled on the side nearest me and he reached out his hand and ran his fingers through my hair.
“Hey.” I rolled over on my side and tried to prop myself up on an elbow. He moved towards me and readjusted the pillows behind my back so that I was more comfortable, and without a word he silently rolled up his sleeve. I watched as he took my knife off of the nightstand and drew it across his wrist, and then he scooted closer to me. Shame filled me as I felt my own hunger twist and writhe at the sight and smell of the blood, blood that he was only able to share with me after he himself had been forced to take the life of another. As if sensing my inner turmoil he raised his arm towards my lips and gently cradled my head in his other hand, guiding me towards the wound.
I whimpered with need as I clutched at him desperately, afraid to let him go and even more afraid of what he was thinking in those moments. Was it revulsion or pity he felt for me? Was it hatred and loathing or simply a guilty conscience which kept him near me? I dared not dwell on it for fear of finding out for sure.
I continued to drink until the hunger raging within me quieted and I lay back with a sigh of relief. Andrew stared down at the wound as the flesh knit itself back together and his skin was once more smooth and flawless. He was strong and was barely affected by the loss of energy that I had taken from him. Whatever he had managed to learn in the few hours that he had been on his own was more than sufficient, and I knew that he would have the resiliency to withstand the coming centuries.
I shut my eyes and buried my face in the pillow. I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t look at him and see not only what he had become but what he had ceased to be. I couldn’t bear the thought that his warm and caring nature would be replaced by something colder and more alien as each life he absorbed took him one step further away from his humanity.
A single tear trickled down my cheek and I stifled a sob.
“Kat, talk to me.”
I exhaled slowly and shook my head, still refusing to look at him.
I heard him sigh and then his weight shifted closer towards me. His hands were warm as they cupped my chin and wiped the tear from my face. “Please.”
Defeated, I opened my eyes and met his gaze. “I’m so sorry—for everything.”
His voice held a hard edge to it. “Well, I’m not.”
“What? How can you say that when you just—” When he had just what? When he had just died and been reborn as an immortal? When he had just killed someone in order to live?
He reached over and took my hands in his and I allowed it without protest. He was about to open up to me in a way few could ever hope to understand, and I did not want to shatter the moment with my own insecurities. “When I went back to my place today it was like I had died for real: everything was just as I had left it yet it felt like I had never really lived there, as if the whole place was somehow a front for something false.” He sighed and ran his hand up through his hair and then reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a small knife, a switchblade. He held it up and scoffed humorlessly. “I’ve lived for twenty-seven years and have never been mugged—until today. I guess it was just a matter of timing really. Unfortunate for the mugger and opportunistic for myself.”
So those were the circumstances surrounding his first kill. Someone had tried to mug Andrew as he had left his place—had pulled a knife on him—and in the process of protecting himself, he had killed the would-be mugger with his own weapon and fed on his life force. I spoke quietly. “We won’t always find others of our kind to satisfy our hunger, so it always helps if they are—were—criminals or people of questionable character. It helps with the guilt.”
His dark eyes regarded me seriously and I saw a trace of bitterness behind them. Something of his had been lost during his first kill, something innocent. He scoffed. “Does it?” He held up the knife and twisted it slowly while the light glinted off of its surface. “The man was going to kill me; he said as much when he came at me, yet I don’t feel guilt. I feel justified in a way.”
I shivered but did not let go of his hand.
He set the knife down and let his thumb absently trace the artery beneath the flesh of my wrist. “Your pulse is steady and your strength is returning to you. If that man hadn’t come along and forced me to protect myself, hadn’t forced me to confront what I now am, I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it. I wouldn’t have been able to continue to care for you and you would’ve eventually....” His voice trailed off but I caught the meaning.
“I really am okay with what happened to me. I know that if I do what you suggest—stick to hunting the criminals or those of our own kind who prey on the innocent—that I won’t be consumed by guilt. As long as I have something to live for then I’ll never have to fear facing what I am and what I have to do to survive. I have you and you’re all I’ll ever need.”