Aurelia remembered her mother, in a foggy, almost dreamlike way. She had been only four years old when the woman died and many years later, she still did not know how it had happened. Her father refused to speak of his wife and had never shared a tale or memory of her, never revealed what had taken her from her child’s life. Aurelia had become afraid to bring her up, his anger growing each time she was mentioned. She lived with her father, a quiet and reclusive kind of man, and her grandmother. When she asked her grandmother whether she was her father’s or her mother’s mother the old woman simply smiled. Then changed the topic of conversation. There were no photographs of either of them as children in the house, no family photos that might give her a clue. The only personal picture was one of her mother, holding Aurelia as an infant in her arms and gazing lovingly upon her. She wondered who had taken such an intimate kind of portrait in a home where the subject could not be mentioned. As time passed, aurelia simply accepted the state of silence as her standard of living. Her father kept his distance, cloaked in anger and resentment she figured she would never know the source of. Her grandmother taught her and raised her, cared for her gently and kindly. She never attended school, never played with other children she saw about her neighbourhood. She never played a sport or attended a dance class. It was a strange kind of childhood, secluded in suburbia and full of secrets.
She itched to grow up, to be old enough to leave the old creaky house and quiet emptiness behind. There had to be more to the world, more for her, than the loneliness and boredom that seemed to plague year after year. Her father left the house sporadically, for indeterminate periods of time. Sometimes he would be gone for days. When she was little, she presumed that he was going to work, like father’s did on TV or in her books. As she grew older his movements made less sense and she became bold enough to question him.
“What have you been doing today, Dad?” she asked from the kitchen table when she was ten years old. He froze, turning to her with wide surprised eyes.
“What? Why?” he snapped. She flinched.
“Oh, um its just you’ve been gone all day and I wondered what you had been doing.”
“Well, don’t,” he barked at her, “Mind your own damn business.” He grabbed her head, roughly turning it back toward her dinner plate as he stomped past her and up the stairs. She proceeded to mind her own business, settling for asking him how his day was every now and again. He responded only with a grunt or a glare and she wondered what it was he went to do. Perhaps he did work, they seemed to have enough money to pay the bills and keep food in the house. She never went without clothes or books for her studies. She asked her grandmother once, about a year after she had first questioned her father.
“Ellie, lovey, that’s not something for you to worry about. We are taken care of, you won’t go without. Best just leave him to himself, eh? Us girls have our own things to get on with,” her grandmama told her, in her warm, husky voice. It was a comforting voice, suiting her motherly demeanor and the way she fussed so lovingly about her granddaughter. It grated on Aurelia’s nerves. She did not want to be padded and protected, taken care off. She wanted to be let loose into the world to experience things for herself.
“Grandmama, why do you call me Ellie? Dad never does.” There was a soft sigh from the old woman, a longing and sad kind of sound.
“Your mother called you Ellie. What would you like to do tomorrow, lovey? I thought maybe the museum in the city, finish off your history project?”
Aurelia knew better than to push any conversation that involved her mother. She wondered if the deep sigh had indicated something in regards to who’s mother her grandmama was. Although if she was her mother’s mother, she wasn’t entirely sure why she put up with her father and his bad temper.
“Sure, grandmama, museum sounds good.” Life carried on, constant and predictable. Until she was fifteen.
She wasn’t sure what sound it was that stirred her but she woke to a commotion outside the house. there were raised voices, angry and frightened. A strange sound, part hiss and part screech, made her skin ripple with shivers. Slipping from her bed, she ran to the small window and tried to peer out into the front yard. There was flickering light, like fire, the source just outside her vision. The voices seemed to grow in intensity. Deciding she didn’t care if her observation was known, she unlatched and pushed open the window, leaning out further so that she could see the front steps of the house.
Her jaw dropped open as she stared. A mob of angry people crowded the front steps of the house. she stared up and down the street, lights on porches were coming on, people stepping out in their pajamas and robes to see what all the noise was about. She heard her father’s name shouted by a large man brandishing a large knife. The man beside him appeared to be carrying a flaming torch and her eyes widened, it was like something out of a medieval movie.
Her father’s voice issued from the front porch, she couldn’t see him from the window above but his tone was low and desperate. The angry voices blended into a cacophony that muffled the words. She shook her head, she needed to know what was going on, and turned to run down the stairs. Inside the front door her grandmother grabbed her arm, stopping her. Her grip was surprisingly tight for a woman her age and Aurelia froze, staring at her in fear.
“No, don’t,” she hissed,
She was in trouble. The really bad kind, the kind you probably won’t live to tell anyone about. She stood motionless, her gazing drifting one by one over the men surrounding her. They were more than just men, she was certain. They were all a little too tall, too wild. Their eyes glowed yellow in the darkness. She didn’t know what it meant, but she did know it did not bode well for her. She couldn’t run, she had already seen that they were much faster than her and now they had her boxed in. She could try to fight back but she didn’t think her limited skills would be much in comparison to whatever they were about to throw at her. She wasn’t stupid, they were just playing with her now because she knew they could have killed her several times over already.
As one, the men in the circle stepped forward, closing her in tighter. Her breath caught in her throat. This was it. She would resist, she would fight with everything she had, but this was about to be her death. Suddenly, one man stepped up to her and swung his fist. It connected with the side of her face and she fell, hard, into another member of the circle. He grabbed her shoulders, spinning her so that her assailant could take another shot. She kicked back at her captor with all the force she could manage, hitting him squarely in the knee. His leg buckled and as he was thrown off balance she twisted from his grasp and tried to run. Before she could take a second step she was grabbed again, more than two hands this time and she did not even see the blow before it struck her face. She threw her foot out blindly and was rewarded with a grunt of pain as she hit flesh, not wasting a beat she struck out in the same direction again. A curse followed and suddenly she was thrown through the air. Landing hard she was instantly smothered by large, hard bodies that seemed to rain blows down on her. The hands were grabbing at her again and her strength was waning, her muscles pulling as she yanked against their grip.
She was dizzy and despite her efforts could not break the restraining hands. Without aiming, she kicked and thrashed, feeling her feet and elbows hit flesh. She couldn’t do enough damage to free herself. Sharp pain shot through her arm. She screamed, yanking harder at her limbs in an attempt to pull away. More searing pain, it felt like tearing teeth but her vision was blurring and could make out little of the bodies around her.
She heard another scream and registered dimly that this one was not hers. Without warning she fell, slamming into the ground, the wind rushing from her lungs. She lay still, shocked and gasping for air. The sounds of a fight seemed to continue around her and more guttural screams reached her ears. Something had changed, but she couldn’t see what. Rolling awkwardly, she rose to her knees, wobbling.
Looking up, her jaw dropped. He stood in the middle of what had been a circle of a terrifying men. Somehow, he was more terrifying than all of them and yet she was not afraid of him. He was disposing, singlehandedly, of each man that attacked him. Laying about, with fists and feet. Barely a moment later it seemed, her attackers lay motionless before him or fleeing into the shadowy alleys around them.
She waited, frozen, watching him. After a long beat of silence, he turned quickly to face her. Taking a few steps forward, he stopped before her and offered his hand. Without hesitation she took it and let him pull her to her feet.
They stared at each other. He was fearsome, but she felt reassured by his presence. He was easily a foot taller than her five and a half feet, with dark hair that stuck out at messy angles and dark chocolate eyes. His shoulders were broad and lean muscles rippled under his light cotton shirt.
“Who are you?” she whispered, her hand still clasped in his.
“My name is Levi. Are you alright?” his voice was deep and smooth, less husky than she had expected. She wasn’t sure why that matter at the moment when she should be wondering why he was here. She nodded, attempting to answer his question, but was contradicted when her legs collapsed beneath her. He caught her as she fell, scooping into his arms and beginning down the deserted street.
“Tell me your name,” he commanded, softly.
“It’s Aurelia,” she managed to squeak, trying to get her head upright as her vision blurred, “but people just call me Ellie.”
“I like Aurelia,” his words were so soft it was almost as though he was talking to himself, “It’s a pretty name.” The jolting motion of his body as he strode through the night jarred her own in all that places that hurt and her head seemed to swim further and further from reality until she began to think she surely must be dreaming him. Her consciousness faded.
Levi watched her unconscious form as the hours ticked by. Her wounds were cleaned and bound, her pulse and breathing steady. He was confident she would wake. The room was dark, curtains drawn against the moonlight. He could barely see the gentle rise and fall of her chest but he sensed it. He had saved her from the Lycans and brought her back to his home, not somewhere he usually revealed to friends let alone strangers. He had wanted her to be safe and she would be safe here. He had never even met the woman, he wasn’t entirely sure why it mattered, why she mattered.
She stirred and then groaned. He stilled, for the first time considering the panic she would wake with when she realized she was in a secluded place with a strange man. With a small gasp, her eyes flew open, the whites seeming to glow in the darkness. She whipped her head around, trying to take in her surroundings but she could barely make out the shapes around her. Sitting up, she gasped again at the thudding pain as her hand shot to her head.
“Easy,” he said, softly, “Move slowly, you copped a beating.” Moving to the window, he pulled the curtains back. The moon was the only light outside the window but it shone a bright beam of light into the room. She blinked against it, trying to adjust her eyesight as she scanned the room again.
“Where are we?” she whispered, her throat felt raw and her head pounding. Every breath seemed to hurt, as though her lungs themselves were bruised.
“This is where I live, no one will find you here,” he grimaced at the way her eyes widened, “That was not meant to sound so sinister. I meant that you’re safe. I won’t hurt you.”
“You saved me,” she said, softly and turned to meet his eyes, “Thank you.” He nodded, but said nothing. He was still puzzling over his decision to do so.
“Why?” she asked him, beginning to gingerly move her limbs, as though testing what worked.
“Straight to the point, huh,” he muttered, and her gaze returned to his face, “Because you needed saving or you were going to be Lycan meat.” He couldn’t help the frown that creased his face.
“What would it have mattered to you?” She winced as she rolled her shoulders and tried to stretch her legs.
“I wouldn’t try to stand, your knee doesn’t look good,” he told her, leaning over the bed and tucking another pillow behind her back. She noted that the caring gesture seemed to contrast his stern appearance. He didn’t answer her question.
“Are you hungry?” he asked her. She shook her head automatically and then winced at the increased pounding that followed. She was feeling ill and disoriented.
“You’re going to need to rest and heal, try to relax.”
“How long do you plan to keep me here?” She asked, trying to put an edge into her voice. Instead she just sounded weak and rasping. He straightened from where he was gathering up the supplies he used to tend to her wounds.
“I’m not keeping you,” there was a harshness to his tone, “You can leave whenever you like, crawl out the door if you wish. Head south and stay true, you’ll get to the road eventually.” He turned to leave the room without looking at her again.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, laying back and closing her eyes, “I didn’t mean it that way. You’re being very – “She searched for a word, caring seemed too intimate somehow.
“Hospitable. I’m grateful for what you’ve done for me.” He glanced over his shoulder and nodded at her, again not acknowledging her thanks.
“I’m not afraid of you,” she added, voice so soft she wasn’t sure he would hear. A smile spread across his face.
“Good to know,” he told her, turning to leave the room and adding so quietly that she almost didn’t catch it, “but maybe you should be.”
Ellie woke with a sharp gasp, monsters hovering on the edge of her thoughts as her gaze whipped around the room. The nightmare faded quickly as the reality of the night came back to her. She wasn’t sure how long she had slept for but the daylight was now streaming into the room. Levi was nowhere in sight. Moving as carefully she could manage, she sat up and tried to stretch. She was stiff but the general ache of the night before was fading slightly, leaving in its place several areas of focused pain. Her knee was the worst, it was swollen and various shades of blue and purple. Her ribs hurt badly on one side and she knew without looking they were bruised too, that would be the cause of the pain when she tried to breath. Her head pounded and her throat ached, from the screaming she supposed. There were bandages on all four of her limbs and she knew from the sharp pain each time she moved one that there were some nasty wounds underneath.
She still didn’t know why those men had attacked her, Lycans Levi had called them. She was pretty sure that was some kind of mythical creature, something like werewolves. She couldn’t put much stock in that, they must be a gang or something that went by that name and she had wandered into a gathering at the wrong time. Serves her right for thinking she could find her way around the city on her own. She hadn’t wanted to draw any attention to herself or leave a trail for anyone that might be following.
She could move, it was a struggle and it hurt like hell, but she could manage it slowly. Twisting her body, she shuffled to the side of the large bed and got her feet on the floor. Clinging to the bedpost, she pulled herself up and attempted to take a step forward. Her injured knee gave out and she cried out in pain. Levi’s hands caught her as she stumbled and gently lifted her back onto the bed.
“I told you you wouldn’t be able to walk,” he said, shaking his head.
“Well, that’s inconvenient,” she grumbled through gritted teeth. The shot of pain had made her head spin unpleasantly and she felt queasy. She sat motionless, waiting for the feeling to pass. Levi stood and watched her silently.
“The bathroom’s through there,” he told her, pointing out the bedroom door. She glanced at the door and then back at his face. He was smirking. She glared.
“Yeah, thanks,” she muttered, sarcastically. Without warning, he reached down and scooped her into his arms, carrying her from the room. Crossing a narrow, dim hallway, he entered a brightly tiled bathroom. The tiles were many colours, in no particular pattern and the effect was a little garish. A large window over a freestanding bathtub filled the room with natural light. Levi set her gently on her feet by the basin. She held it tightly for support.
“Best you handle it from here,” he said, still smirking slightly, “I know you probably feel like a shower but I think it’s a bit soon for those bites.”
“Bites?” she cried.
“Yes,” he indicated her bandaged arms and legs, “The Lycan bites. Nasty wounds that need to be sterilized the right way or they’ll get infected.” Ellie stared at the bandages in shock. Those men bit her? Because beating her half to death wasn’t doing enough damage? The whole thing seemed insane.
“I’ve left some clothes on the rack there. I know they won’t fit properly, they’re mine, but yours are, well, tatters.” She looked down. He was right, they were torn and dirty.
“Thanks,” she croaked.
“Are you alright? You look pale.” She nodded, silently. Pursing his lips, clearly not believing her, he left the bathroom and closed the door. She stood at the basin for a long time, staring at her battered face in the mirror. No wonder her head hurt, her face was an assortment of bruises. Lycans bit her? It couldn’t be real.
Curiously, she carefully unwound the bandage on her left arm. A strip of flesh seemed to have been ripped from her arm and she could see teeth marks on the surrounding skin. She stared in shock. It definitely hurt a lot but from the mess of her arm it seemed like she should be in far more pain. She didn’t dare look at her other limbs. Turning around she eyed the distance between her and the toilet, groaning inwardly at the thought of trying to stumble across the room. Staying off her injured leg as much as possible, she hopped and hobbled her way around the bathroom, clinging to any available support to stay upright.
As she pushed open the door, Levi sauntered up the hallway. Ellie leaned in the doorway, trying to catch her breathe. He offered his hand and she reached out, leaning on him as he helped her back to the bedroom.
“Wait,” she said, suddenly. He paused, looking at her curiously.
“Is this your bedroom?” she asked him. He blushed in response.
“Yeah, it’s a small place, only one bedroom.”
“Oh. I can’t take your bedroom, you must have a couch or something.”
“And how hospitable would that be? Letting an injured lady sleep on the couch?” he scoffed, “Don’t worry about it, I don’t sleep much anyway.”
“Me either,” she muttered under her breath. If she slept here then she would have the nightmares she always had and he would hear her. She never could sleep when there were other people around. Easing her back onto the bed, he reached for bandage on her arm and began to unwind it.
“I need to clean and treat these again,” he told her, “This stuff smells pretty awful but I promise it helps them heal and eases the pain.” Sitting on the edge of the bed, he picked up a small glass bottle and uncorked it. Ellie immediately gagged at the smell.
“Yeah, like I said,” he laughed lightly. He took her wrist in his large hand. His palms were calloused but his touch was gentle. He held the bottle over the gash in her skin.
“This isn’t going to be pleasant,” he warned her. He tipped the bottle and a gluggy oil oozed out, dripping into her wound. It stung fiercely. Her breath hissed through her teeth and she turned her head away, jaw clenched and eyes screwed tightly closed. After winding the bandage carefully back around her arm, he laid it gently on the bed and stood, moving to the other side.
“I’m sorry,” he said, softly and begun to unwrap the bandages on her other arm.
“You have nothing to be sorry for, you didn’t do this. I’m alive because of you. I should be apologizing to you for the trouble I’ve caused you.”
“You don’t owe me an apology, or anything else.”
“Why didn’t you just take me to a hospital or something?” she asked, curiously.
“Because they wouldn’t know how to treat the Lycan bites and you would probably have died,” he said, bluntly, “If you hadn’t, they would have been asking you question with suspicious injuries like these and one of the Lycan pack would probably have come and finished you off to keep you quiet.” Her face drained of colour as she listened to him.
“Lycan,” she repeatedly quietly, then her voice rose, “Are you telling me those men were…what? Werewolves?! That’s insane.”
“I…that’s,” she stuttered her disbelief. “I mean, it can’t be…” she trailed off. She would be lying if she said she’d never seen anything that other people would put clearly in the fiction category. Did she believe him?
“So I owe you my life twice over then,” she said, softly, a slight tremor in her voice.
“You don’t owe me anything,” he repeated.
“Well, you didn’t have to risk your own life to step in and save me,” she pointed out.
“I could hardly just stand by and watch them kill you,” he said, trying to keep his voice light but she could see the shadow on his face that meant there was more to it than that.
He would not tell her that he had stood by and watched the same fate befall others. Why she was different, he wasn’t entirely sure. Something about the way that she fought, even when her death was inevitable. He saw a spirit in her that he did not want to see snuffed out. Without seriously considering what he was starting, he had intervened and fought for her. Now here she was, in what had been his secluded refuge, needing him. He probably seemed kind and caring to her and to his surprise he wanted her to believe that. The truth was drastically different, he was barely better than the callous Lycan that attacked her.
Ellie remained silent as he treated the rest of her wounds, but he could feel the tension in her body as she tried to hide any expression of the pain he was causing her. He kept his eyes on his task, wanting to give her some semblance of privacy as she suffered. When he was finished he looked up and found her eyes on his face, she was studying him, her gaze steady. He knew he was generally hard to read, he tried to give little away to anybody, but it felt like she could see through the blank expression on his face. He cleared his throat, uncomfortable with the thought that she might come to know more of the real Levi. She blinked, as though she hadn’t realized she had been staring so intently and then blushed.
“Are you alright?” he asked, knowing how uncomfortable she would be as the salve burned its way through the remaining Lycan venom in her tissues. She nodded but the expression on his face showed that he was convinced.
“You ask that a lot,” she muttered. His smile was amused.
“Well, when I believe your answer I’ll know you’re on the mend,” he replied. She couldn’t help her smile in response.
“Wait here,” he said, standing and putting aside the potent bottle.
“Very funny,” she replied, sarcastically and he laughed. His laugh was light and warm and Ellie thought it contrasted with how large and imposing he looked from her place on the bed. She liked that she could illicit a laugh from him, she had the impression he was generally quite stern.
He left the room and she lay back against the pillows, closing her eyes. The pain was exhausting her. She wanted to sleep but she was afraid to. She was always afraid to and really only managed any sleep when she was completely worn out. She certainly felt like she could sleep now but she didn’t want him to hear her dreaming. He would probably assume it was nightmares of the Lycan attack, but they were not her first encounters with monsters. The ones that haunted her were monsters disguised as men.
She began to drift off. The afternoon sunlight falling across the bed felt warm and soothing and the sounds of the forest were peaceful, natural. She was startled awake by a noise at the bedside. She jolted upright.
“Hey, it’s ok,” Levi reassured, noting the fear in her eyes. He wondered again why he felt so protective of her. “You’re safe here, Ellie.” She nodded, trying to calm her rapid breathing. She didn’t look convinced. He couldn’t blame her, she’d been jumped in a back street but something she probably didn’t even believe existed.
“Why am I here?” she asked him, with the same puzzled tone she had used when she asked last night why he had saved her.
“Because I needed somewhere safe to bring you,” he said, simply, “Here, you should eat something.” He gestured to a bowl of what looked like some sort of stew on the bedside table. She opened her mouth to protest but he shook his head.
“I know you don’t feel well, but you need to feed your body or you won’t have the strength to heal or fight off an infection.”
“I thought that’s what the foul smelling oil was for,” she grumbled. He smiled.
“It helps, but not if you’re weak.”
“I am not weak,” she protested.
“I didn’t say you were,” an amused smile was creeping across his face, “Just try and eat a bit OK? I know my cooking’s not the best but I promise it won’t kill you.”
“That would make all this kind of a wasted effort at this stage, wouldn’t –“ she stopped, her face falling.
“What’s wrong?” he asked quickly.
“They got you too,” she sounded dismayed, as she pointed at a gash on his upper arm that looked distinctly like her wounds, “Why didn’t you say they’d hurt you? God, it’s my fault you were even involved. I’m so sorry.”
“You apologize too much,” he told her, “Would you calm down? I’m fine, it’s not that bad and a bite from them won’t affect me like it does you.”
“But –“ she started, he cut her off.
“Stop finding distractions and eat, woman,” he voice was stern but he expression was playful. It changed his entire demeanor. She grinned, giving in.
“Fine, but if you poison me…”
“Oh, what are you gonna do? You’re half crippled and I’m twice your size,” he laughed. It shocked him how quickly he had become comfortable with her, he didn’t even know her yet he found himself enjoying the banter and her company. She laughed and it was the first time he had heard it. It warmed him. Her voice seemed deep for a woman her size and her laugh was deeper, rich. It seemed to fill the room. She twisted in an attempt to reach the bowl on the nightstand but fell back with a groan, her hand going to her bruised ribs.
“Forgot,” she mumbled, the shook her head as though amused at herself. Without a word, he handed her the bowl, trying not to smile.
“Thanks,” she said, laughing lightly again, “I’ll learn.” He grinned and left.
When he entered the room again she was lying back on the pillows with her eyes closed. He hesitated in the doorway, if she was sleeping he didn’t want to wake her, especially if it would frighten her as he did earlier. She must have sense him there because she opened her eyes and turned her head toward him, the sunlight was fading as the sun dipped out of sight. The fight from last time seemed a long time ago. She smiled slightly at him and something about it made his stomach drop. She was beautiful, her chestnut colored hair splayed on the pillow around her head. Her eyes were such a light green that in the darkness they seemed to glow almost colorless. He’d never seen eyes like hers. The fact that she was attractive wasn’t the reason he had saved her or the reason he found himself caring now if she recovered.
He glanced at the bowl on the nightstand. It was still half full.
“Was it that bad?” he joked. If he was being honest, he wanted to make her laugh again. She smiled but he could see that it was strained.
“No, not bad. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Do you need anything else?” he asked.
“No, I’m fine,” she told him. Her voice was tight and she was avoiding movement as much as possible. Her bites burned and any flinch of her limbs sent pain shooting through them. Her head ached, as did her chest with each breath. He studied her for a moment before taking the food and leaving.
When he returned there was a glass of water in one hand and steaming mug in the other. He put down the glass and sat, carefully, on the bed beside her.
“You need to drink this,” his voice was stern this time. She wrinkled her nose at the smell and he couldn’t keep from smiling.
“What is it?” she asked, both curious and trepidatious.
“Tea,” he stated. She pulled a face at him and he laughed. She smiled and then shrugged as she took the mug. She took a tentative sip and pulled another face, this one clearly of distaste.
“What kind of tea?” she asked, pointedly.
“It’s-,” he cocked his head from side to side, “A concoction. An old witch taught the mixture to me, it’s effective,” he said, “It will ease the pain and hopefully ward off any fever.” She nodded and sipped again, the expression of distaste less pronounced but still present. After a few more sips, she looked up and her eyes met his. They held each others gaze.
“Do you live here alone?” she asked. He blinked, unprepared for personal questions.
“Do you work? Have a job?”
She returned to sipping the tea, then brought her eyes back to his.
“Not a fan. Coffee drinker here,” she commented, “So how do you survive? Living out here in the woods alone?”
“I’m resourceful,” he replied, voice guarded. She continued to sip and study him, but didn’t pry any further. When he was satisfied she had drunk enough he held out a hand and she passed him the mug with a sense of relief.
“Drink the water,” he instructed, rising from the bed, “Do you read?” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Are you asking if I can?” she asked, sounding slightly offended.
“No,” he replied, on a laugh, “I’m asking if you like to.”
“Oh,” she smiled, “Yes I do.” He nodded and left. She watched him go, wanting to learn more about him but knowing he didn’t want to share. Despite the apparent secrecy and isolation, she wasn’t afraid to be here alone with him. This surprised her because the fact was she had been here before, alone with a man who had promised to take care of her but instead was abusing her. There was something threatening about him but she knew, with a kind of intuitive certainty, that it wasn’t threatening toward her. Even when he had appeared to be caring and loving toward her, there was something about Wyatt that had put on edge and made her anxious. She felt calm and comfortable with Levi, and she had known him less than 24 hours. She didn’t know him at all in fact.
Levi walked in with a stack of books in his arms. He placed the pile on the bed beside her. Her face lit up at the sight of them and he felt a strange kind of joy. He wondered when he had gone so soft.
“I don’t know what your tastes are,” he said with a shrug, “but I have a lot more out there if there’s nothing you like her.” With an almost childish smile, she gently fanned the books across the bed cover to see the selection. Suddenly, she froze. She looked up at him.
“You’re joking,” she said, flatly. At his confused look she picked up a well worn copy of Little Women and he laughed.
“It was my sister’s,” he told her, his eyes softening as he thought of her, “She left in the bookcase a long time ago and I couldn’t throw it away.”
“She didn’t want it back?” she asked. He hesitated, chewing his bottom lip, before answering.
“She passed away young,” his response was heavy.
“I’m sorry, Levi.” He nodded. She lay the book back in the fan.
“You’re welcome to read it,” he told her, more color back in his voice, “It was one of her favorites.”
“Mine too,” she said, with a wistful smile. He wondering if she was remembering someone as well as she stroked the book’s battered cover.
“What do you do?” he asked, suddenly, realizing he wanted to know more about her, “You know, work or whatever.” She seemed to think for a while about her answer.
“I used to be a musician,” she said and he noted sadness in her voice, “and a teacher.”
“Used to be?”
“Things changed,” her toned darkened, “Now I do whatever I have to get by.” He wanted to ask further but thought better of it. Collecting the books, he stacked them on the nightstand and waved toward Little Women, still in her hand. “Why don’t you try to relax a bit? I’ll be back shortly.” She nodded, not meeting his eyes. He had touched on a sensitive issue.
As he left the room he wondered, not for the first time, why a young woman had been wandering the back streets of the city alone in the middle of the night? Why was she not panicking that people would miss her if he didn’t return her home? He didn’t want her to leave until he knew she was well and safe from the transition, but shouldn’t she be eager to get back to someone or something? She was hiding things.
She curled in the center of the bed, a pillow propped under her side. She glanced over her shoulder toward him as he came in but seemed reluctant to move. He imagined it had taken her a while to find a comfortable position. He had broken ribs plenty of times, it was a painful experience. He had been gone a few hours and she was well into Little Women. He hadn’t meant to take so long but hunting had been difficult tonight and he had needed to feed since his hunt had been interrupted last night by an impromptu rescue mission. She didn’t comment on how long he had left her alone, but her attempt at a smile was weak and tired.
“I need to redress those bites but I thought you might want to use the bathroom again first.” She simply nodded in response and put the book down. As she made a move toward the edge of the bed he stopped her before carefully lifting her into his arms as he had done before. She leant against him as he carried her across the hall and he could feel the weariness in her. Easing her to her feet before the sink, he closed the door behind him as he left. Her condition seemed to be getting worse and this concerned him. What if she did transition? Or died? It shouldn’t matter so much to him, she was nothing to him. He had lost everyone he loved and he had killed people who were more integral parts of his life than she was. Yet his chest clenched painfully at the thought that she might not survive.
He heard the creak of the door as he stood in the bedroom, gazing out the window into the night. The moon was bright, but not full. He hurried to her as she clung to the door frame. He knew she would try to walk back to the bed but she was in no shape to do so. He carried her, setting her down as gently as he could. Her face was pale.
As he treated and rebound the wounds on her arms she lay still, eyes closed tightly and jaw clenched, but not a sound escaped her lips. He was hurting her and he hated it but he needed to do what he could to keep the transition from starting. She was weak, he didn’t think she would survive it. As he slowly poured the oil into the deep wound above her right knee she cried out, before biting down on her lip. Frowning, he gently pressed the inflamed red skin around the gash. She whimpered, her teeth sinking deeper into her lip.
“Sorry,” he whispered. This was what he had been trying to prevent, the infection that would set in and trigger the transformation. Reaching out he pressed the back of his fingers against her cheek, followed by her forehead. Her skin was burning.
“Damn,” he muttered. Her breathing seemed more labored with each breath she took. Rushing to the kitchen he returned with a small ceramic jar. Her eyelids fluttered as she lay her head down. If she’d been standing she would have fainted.
“Just rest,” he told her, deep voice soft and soothing. As gently as he could manage, he finished the bites on her legs and sat back, watching. If he could break the fever he might prevent the change. If not, she would become a Lycan. He didn’t think she would be happy about that. She was too warm. A teacher, an artist, he could already see she seemed thoughtful and bright.
The rise and fall of her chest settled into a rhythm and he was confident she was asleep. He didn’t want to leave her alone but he needed to go back out, he needed the wolfsbane. He knew where it grew, if he shifted he could probably run there and back within half an hour or so. It might be enough time. If he didn’t prepare it properly it would kill her, and quickly. He had the other ingredients. He had never tried to stop a transition before but he was determined to this time.
Upon his return her found her shivering and sweating, it was progressing quickly. He couldn’t rush the mixture, he couldn’t risk an error. By the time he was satisfied the brew he feared he was running out of time. Lifting her head as gently as he could manage he placed the cup by her lips.
“Ellie, I need you to drink this,” he murmured. Blinking vaguely, she tried to pull her head away. “Ellie, please, just a few mouthfuls.”
“You can’t keep doing this to me,” her voice cracked, as though she was on the verge of tears.
“What?” he was startled. Was she speaking to him? Surely not. It must be a fever dream.
“Come on, Ellie, drink,” he urged. He thought she would pull away again but she allowed him to pour the brew into her mouth, swallowing obediently. When she coughed and gagged, he pulled the cup away and eased her back down. She drifted back to sleep. She would need more, but for now all he could do was wait.
A scream woke him with start. He jerked up from the chair he had pulled to the bedside and dozed off in. Her eyes were open wide, full of horror, her hands pressed tightly over her mouth.
“What happened?” he asked urgently.
“He took him from me,” she cried into her hands.
“Took who, Ellie?” he asked. She blinked rapidly a few times and then her eyes scanned the room around her. She pulled her hands from her face and her gaze rested on him.
“It was a dream,” she whispered, but the pain in her voice was real, “It was just a dream.” He knew it hadn’t been just a dream. A memory turned nightmare perhaps, but certainly more real than just a dream. He reached forward, taking her hand. It felt small and warm in his. The odd tingle that crawled up his arm made him want to pull her whole body against his and hold her.
“It’s OK, Ellie,” he told her softly, “I’m here and you’re safe.” She began to relax, her breathing evening again as she drifted off. He wondered who she had lost.
As the night wore on her voice woke him again, this time begging.
“Please, please just tell me,” she pleaded, her voice desperate, “Please, I need to know where he is. Tell me where you took him, please!”
“Ellie,” he stroked her face, “Ellie, wake up, it’s a dream.”
“Please, I need to know,” she sobbed, “I need to know if he’s dead.” His heart skipped a beat. He shook her shoulders lightly and she awoke with a gasp. There were tears on her cheeks.
“Are you alright?” he whispered, knowing she would answer yes but that the true answer was no. She didn’t respond. He reached for the cup and quickly put it to her lips. It would taste worse cold but her needed her to drink some more of it and it was easier while she was awake.
“Drink some, please,” he begged her. She obediently took several swallows from the cup before he pulled it away. As he lay her back against the pillows he couldn’t resist the urge to ask.
“Who did they take, Ellie?” He thought she wouldn’t answer as she closed her eyes again. A long moment passed.
“Finn,” she whispered. He waited but she said nothing more.
She woke with a start, eyes searching for the danger but she was alone. She relaxed and tried to inhale deeply. She had been beaten before but she couldn’t remember ever feeling as bad as she had this past night. She pushed herself upright and slowly climbed off the bed. Her legs were shaky. With a bit of a shuffle and a heavy limp she could move and made her way to the bathroom. She could see the early morning light outside and realized she had now been here just over a day. It seemed much longer. She felt safe here and she couldn’t say why, she knew that logically she shouldn’t. she knew nothing about Levi beyond his name and the fact that he had a sister and apparently a decent knowledge of herbal medicine. But his touch was gentle and the caring way he looked at her had her trusting him.
“You’re such a sap,” she mumbled to herself in the mirror, “A sap and an idiot.” One of these days she was going to get herself killed. It didn’t help that she already had someone trying to kill her and a band of strange creatures willing to unknowingly do it for him.
She looked awful, the bruises on her face standing out against her pale skin. The whiteness was almost scary, she was usually tanned. With difficulty, she made her way back across the hall. As she paused in the bedroom doorway, gripping the frame and trying to catch her breath, Levi appeared behind her.
“Determined little thing, aren’t you?” he commented, wrapping an arm lightly around her waist and guiding her to the bed. He wanted to ask her about the things she had said last night, ask who Finn was, but he suspected she wouldn’t answer.
“How are you feeling?” he asked instead and she responded with a groan as she fell onto the bed.
“I need to clean these again,” he indicated her bandages.
“OK,” her agreement was a reluctant mumble. He touched her face and she blinked in surprise at the gestures before realizing he was checking her temperature. The fever had broken but he would bet she felt like hell.
“Are you hungry?” he asked, hoping she would say yes.
“Definitely not,” she responded quickly, her voice rasping. he nodded and still breathed a sigh of relief that she seemed to have able to ward off the change. She was stronger than he had thought.
She lay still and silent as he tended to her but her jaw and fists were tightly clenched, her eyes closed. When he had finished, he sat back and scrubbed at his face with his hands. He was tired. He had not slept more than brief dozes between her fever dreams in the past 48 hours. When he lifted his head she was watching him but the curiosity that he had seen in her bright eyes yesterday was dulled.
“Are you OK?” she asked softly and he barked a short laugh.
“Me? I’m fine,” he replied, “It’s you we’re trying to fix.”
“You look tired. I’m imposing on your sleep, and your life.” Her voice was different today and it wasn’t just the raw scratchiness that probably came from fever and screams; it seemed flat, weary.
“I need to leave, there’s something I need to do. I don’t want to leave you alone –“
“I’ll be fine,” she interrupted, quickly, “Go and do whatever you need, I’ve interrupted your life more than enough. I’m fine.” He knew it wasn’t true but if he didn’t show up today then Tristan would come looking for him and he couldn’t let him find Ellie here. He went to the kitchen and returned with two steaming mugs this time. She eyed them both with disdain.
“This one first,” he offered her one, placing the other by the bed. She sniffed and blanched, glancing quickly up at him. He raised his eyebrows at her.
“Just trust me and drink it,” he told her, sternly. She quickly gulped a few mouthfuls and shuddered. He took it from her hands and passed her the other.
“This is willow bark, I know you don’t like it either but just sip on it for a bit ok?” She nodded, meekly and he backed away from the bed.
“Just try to rest,” he instructed and headed for the door. He paused, looking back over his shoulder at her. She was staring into the mug in her hands. He couldn’t believe the lengths he would go to already to keep her safe, he barely knew her and yet felt as though he had always known her, as though there would be a hole in life where she had been when she was gone. And she had go, he had no doubt of that. He left, but worry for her was on his mind every minute.
She sipped slowly on the willow bark a few times before placing it on the nightstand. She knew she should probably drink more but she didn’t feel like she could stomach it. Sure enough, a few minutes later, she hauled herself from the bed and dashed as fast as she could across the hall, falling to her knees in front of the toilet and throwing up the brews. She cursed several times, vicious pain shooting from her right knee. When her stomach was empty she sat back against the wall and closed her eyes, the room spinning slightly. What the hell had those Lycan things done to her? She crawled over to the sink and pulled herself up, rinsing her mouth and splashing her face before sliding down, resting against the cupboard under the basin. She wasn’t sure how long she sat there on the floor but she figured an hour or so passed. She didn’t have the strength to get back up and instead opted for a slow and awkward crawl back to the bedroom. Thank goodness Levi wasn’t here to see.
When she was settled back on the bed she eyed the mugs on the dresser. The willow bark she knew was for pain, the other she thought might have been for the fever and infection, she vaguely remembered drinking it last night. She knew she should drink more of both of them. Tentatively, she took a small sip of each. They were stone cold but this seemed to help. When minutes passed and all seemed well, she repeated the process. Picking up Little Women she continued her reading, taking tiny sips of each at intervals. Her eyes grew heavy as she read and eventually she fell asleep, the book laying open on her chest.
“What’s your deal, Levi?” Tristan asked, stretching his crossed legs in front of him and his arms over his head as he reclined in the leather armchair. Levi raised an eyebrow in question as he gazed around the room. It was decorated much too ‘old world’ for his taste. He liked his simple and rustic cottage in the woods. He didn’t need much in the way of luxury and he would trade any of it for the privacy that his isolated location offered him.
“What do you mean?” he asked. He sat perched on the edge of a matching chair, elbows resting on his knees and hands clasped between them. His eyes fell on Tristan. He was a hard man to read. Tall and broad with blonde hair that he kept cut short and cold blue eyes.
“You’re distracted.” Well he couldn’t deny that, all he was really thinking about was getting back to Aurelia and making sure she was alright. What was wrong with him? One day and he could hardly recognize himself.
“I’m a busy man,” he said, only half joking, “Can we get to the point?”
“Fine,” Tristan said, brusquely, “I have a job for you.” Levi frowned, he didn’t want a job for Tristan right now. Jobs for Tristan meant bloodshed, usually by him. He needed to lay low until Ellie was well enough to leave, then he could get back to his usually ways.
“I can’t,” he shook his head, knowing Tristan wouldn’t like his answer, “Not right now. Maybe in a week or 2.” Tristan’s answering frown was angry.
“This isn’t an optional job, Levi. Do it or become one,” he snapped. Levi narrowed his eyes.
“I’ve been loyal to you for decades, Tristan. This is the first time I have ever told you no. You can give me this.” Tristan pursed his lips, thinking, then shook his head.
“No, I can’t. I need it done and it has to be you. “
“Why?” Levi growled.
“Because I can put my trust in you. The vampires think I am unaware of their tactics, that before long they will control the city and then they can face me on even footing. They’re wrong. I need you to show them that.”
“You want me to take out Marius,” Levi stated. Tristan nodded slowly and Levi heaved a sigh. This was Tristan’s usual way of dealing with enemies, assassination.
“The Lycan are massing, they know the vampires are doing the same. why not let them fight it out and then claim the city when they decimate each other?” Levi asked. Tristan met his gaze with a level look, a sick sort of smile tugging at the corner of his chiseled lips. Levi sighed again. He knew this man too well.
“You don’t really think the Vampires will turn to you just because you take out Marius? He’s not their only leader and you’re not even a vampire.”
“No,” Tristan said evenly, “I’m not. I am, in fact, one better these days.” Levi froze. His stomach seemed to sink slowly. He suspected he knew what that meant and it wasn’t good.
He had been involved in these games of power and murder for far too long, he didn’t want to play anymore. But once you were in, you were trapped in, when it came to Tristan. Almost 50 years ago now, Tristan had saved Levi’s life. He had served him ever since, the debt had no end.
Levi remembered it well. He had been captured by Selina; a strange woman, even for a sorceress, which he unfortunately hadn’t recognized at the time. She liked to experiment on whatever creatures she could get her hands on, so when a foolish and drunken shape shifter had stumbled into her bar she took advantage. After a century of life he had given up trying to find any meaning to it and was simply drinking his days away. Everyone he had loved was long dead and the curse of what he was felt like a sentence he could not escape. Selina had kept him prisoner for months, alternately lavishing him with affection and luxuries, and treating him like a lab rat as she tortured him with procedures and potions. He only remembered about half of the experience but that was more than enough. Tristan had heard rumors that Salina had a shapeshifter and broken in to free him, bringing Selina’s wrath down on his own head. He had the scars to remind him of that rescue.
“What have you done, Tristan?” he asked, quietly. Tristan’s answering smile was sinister. He lifted a hand, twisting his fingers before his face and small ball of red fire appeared to hover in the air before him. Levi gulped. Warlock powers.
“Selina was willing to trade just about anything for her life,” Tristan told him absently, twirling his fingers and watching the fire dance in the dim room. “She realized her mistake, I think. But not soon enough to stop it.”
“Where is Selina now?” Levi asked, trying to keep his voice even. She was a powerful sorceress and if she was out for revenge on Tristan there was a good chance Levi was going to end up tangled up this as well. He needed to get Ellie away from him as soon as possible.
“Wandering the land, powerless,” Tristan replied, with a grin, “She’s no longer a threat.” Levi doubted that was true but didn’t say so.
“So which Lycan leader are you going to remove?” he asked him and Tristan’s answering smile was pleased, he had known Levi would figure out his plan.
“Amos,” he said with a shrug. Levi cursed and Tristan laughed.
“Well you can rope someone else in to that job, I am not keen on suicide missions,” he snapped. Tristan laughed again.
“Give it time my friend and the right opportunity will arise, and then you can pounce. It will, of course, be you. I wouldn’t trust anyone else with such an important part of my plan.” And then the city would be under Tristan’s control. It would just be a matter of joining packs and clans to expand his territory. It was ambitious, but it would probably succeed. Levi felt sick thinking about it.
“I need to go,” he stood, “When do you want it done?”
“2 nights from now,” Tristan answered, “He’s having a party. His security will be occupied with all the guests. I’d like you to make sure he doesn’t show up. Good opportunity to make a show of it, I thought.”
Levi didn’t want to make a show of it. He wanted to hide out at the cabin with Ellie and never see or hear of any of these people again. This was his life though, the path he had been following for many years and walking away would not be easy. He probably wouldn’t survive the attempt.
He nodded and walked out.
Levi didn’t keep a lot of food in the house, preferring to hunt in the form of a wolf or predatory bird. He cooked occasionally, when the activity took his fancy and he felt like acting like some kind of normal human. He stared at the fridge, now significantly better stocked and wondered what she actually like to eat. Did she like to cook? He shrugged to himself. He was doing his best. He wasn’t exactly used to having company. He never brought people here to the cabin. On rare occasions Tristan showed up, but he much preferred to summon Levi to him. He had never brought a woman here. any women he was involved with were one night only, somewhere in the city. There was no romance involved and nothing that stretched beyond a bit of fun in bed. It was sex for the sake of sex, he had no feelings for them. When he was young, nearly a century and half ago, he had loved a girl. They had grown up together and he had thought they would be together all their lives. Then he had changed. He had never meant to hurt her but he couldn’t control it in the early days and he couldn’t blame her for getting as far away from him as possible after the incident. He had never even considered being with anyone since. He couldn’t consider it now. His life was not one he should share and Ellie would not be safe if she stayed involved with him. There was nothing more to it.
He tried to move quietly down the hall in case she was asleep. When he stepped into the doorway of the bedroom her eyes snapped open, immediately alert.
“It’s OK, just me,” he tried to smile at her but his meeting with Tristan was still playing on his mind. He had been gone most of the day and the sun was low in the sky. Something was clearly on her mind also, her smile was strained. He looked out the window a moment and thought. There was no one around, he had scouted the area on his way back.
“How about some fresh air?” he suggested and her expression brightened slightly, “Are you up for sitting outside for a bit?”
“Yes, please,” her voice was hoarse.
“Can you stand?” She nodded at him, and pushed herself up from bed. He offered an arm for support and she took it, hobbling beside him as he led her down the hall and through a large space that served as his kitchen and living room. She looked around her, clearly interested.
“And that’s it,” he told her with a light laugh, “Now you’ve seen the whole place.” She smiled.
“It’s nice,” she said, “Simple, peaceful. I’d like it here.” There was something wistful in her voice and he wondered if it had anything to do with him, or simply a longing for peace. Don’t be stupid, he scolded himself, she probably can’t wait to get out of here. He pushed open the only door outside in the place and led her onto a wide porch. Her smile widened as she sank into one of the two wicker chairs that sat there.
“Pretty,” she muttered. He agreed and sat down beside her. The silence stretched between them but it was comfortable, companionable. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so at ease with someone else around. She would be a good teacher, he thought, he imagined she was patient and kind. There was a playfulness in her personality, even when she was so unwell, that made him sure she would make learning fun for children. She would be good with children. She probably wanted to have some someday. He shook his head slightly. He must be losing his mind, thinking about children and what she might want. It didn’t matter, she was leaving and he could never give her a family or any kind of happy future.
Ellie watched the woods around her, spotting the movement of small animals here and there. She wondered what Levi was thinking. His lips were tight, he was clearly stressed. There was no reason he should confide anything in her but, oddly, she wished he would. she knew she couldn’t stay here much longer, she needed to leave and let him carry on with his life without her in the way. She needed to get her things from the room she had rented and move on, before Wyatt tracked her again. He was in her nightmares, as usual, even though she was confident he wouldn’t find her here. It made her reluctant to leave, knowing she was out of his reach but unsure how far behind her he might be. As she kept moving from place to place she wondered if he would ever give up. She had thought, as months and then years passed, that he would get tired of chasing her. Could she really be that important to him? He didn’t love her, or care for her. He had abused and tortured her and she didn’t expect to ever know why. The moment she stepped back out into the world she would be on the run again and she dreaded it. That was all that her life had become, running.
“Don’t you have anyone who will worry where you are?” he asked, suddenly, “I mean, won’t someone notice that you haven’t come home?” These were the questions that she didn’t want to answer. She took a long, slow breath.
“Do you live in the city?”
“No,” she said again, keeping her eyes on the trees, “I’m just passing through.”
“Where were you staying?”
“Whiteking St,” she told him, knowing he would know exactly what kind of area it was. From the corner of her eye, she saw his eyebrows rise. It was a rough neighborhood, on the other side of the city from the even rougher neighborhood that he had found her in. only locals who were up to no good should have been anywhere near where she was. What on earth could she have been looking for there?
“So what were you doing wandering around alone in the middle of the night?” his tone was somehow both concerned, and accusatory.
“I got lost,” she said on a sigh.
“You got lost in the middle of the night?” he sounded almost angry.
“No, I got lost a few hours earlier.”
“Then why the fuck didn’t you ask for directions or something?” he snapped.
“Hey!” she admonished, her head whipping around, affronted at the way he spoke to her.
“Sorry,” his voice lowered and he closed his eyes for a moment, trying to control the anger he felt at the way she had got herself into so much trouble. She would have died that night if he hadn’t been there, if he hadn’t intervened. The silence was tense this time and she broke it after a few long moments.
“I didn’t want to draw attention,” she said softly, wanting him to understand, “I was just trying to keep to myself.”
“The attention you did get almost killed you, Aurelia.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” her voice was wry.
“So you have things at the place in Whiteking St?” he asked. She glanced up, surprised.
“Um, yeah,” she replied, unsure where he was going, “Just a bag full, really.” He nodded, she obviously hadn’t planned on staying long.
“I’ll go and get it for you,” he told her, “I don’t want you to go back into the city.” She felt like she should protest at being told what to do, but she didn’t actually want to go back into the city. She simply nodded and they returned to silence. As the light faded and the sound of crickets rose in volume, Levi stood. Holding a hand out to her.
“Come on, I’ll make you something to eat. You must be hungry be now,” it wasn’t a question. She was a little hungry. She let him pull her up and lead her slowly inside, where he left her on the small couch in the living room.
“Is this what you have been sleeping on?” she asked, appalled. He laughed.
“I actually haven’t had much chance since you got here.”
“Oh. I’m s –“
“Do not say you’re sorry,” he cut her off and she laughed in response.
“Can I say thank you, then?” she asked.
“Sure. You’re welcome.” As he began pulling food out of the fridge he paused.
“Um, is there anything you don’t eat?” he asked. She blushed.
“Actually, meat,” she said, sounding guilty. She had picked around the chunks in the stew her gave her, hoping he wouldn’t notice.
“What? You don’t eat meat?” Why hadn’t she said anything yesterday when he gave her the stew? She shook her head.
“No. Sorry,” she said. He narrowed his eyes at her.
“For what?” he asked, shrugging.
“Being a pain in the ass?” she suggested.
“Ha! As if this is the start of it,” he teased. He felt strange, he didn’t think he was this easy going around anyone else he knew. She laughed. He really liked that sound.
They had eaten together and there was an ease to the atmosphere that warmed them both. For different reasons, and in different ways, they both lived in a kind of isolation. A lonely existence that neither was willing to let down their walls in order to change. Something had changed now, they found a kind of comfort, a degree of intimacy, with each other that they were both drawn to. It wouldn’t be enough, in the end. This was temporary, whatever feelings it elicited.
She lay back on the bed while her unwrapped the bandages again. He nodded, satisfied, as he viewed the bites. she was healing, which relieved them both. She would be well enough to leave within a few days. He wanted her to be out of the way when he got involved in starting a war with the vampires. She wanted to get moving before she wore out her welcome and try to get ahead of Wyatt, hoping he had lost her trail during her time in the woods. She decided to voice the idea.
“I will be right to get going soon,” she said, trying to keep her voice light, “Leave you in peace again.” His hands paused a moment before resuming their wrapping. He didn’t look at her.
“Yeah, you’re definitely on the mend,” there was something odd in his voice, she couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
“That’s a good thing, you know,” she prompted, teasingly, trying to lighten whatever kind of mood it was that had settled over him. He smiled, but he was still distracted, and she wondered what he had been doing when he left her.
“I know, you’ll be fine,” he frowned down at this hands, “Where do you live, Ellie?” She swallowed, uncertain what to say. She could lie, pick a random town far away and tell him that’s where she was from. But she didn’t want to lie to Levi. What would he think of her nomadic existence? She definitely didn’t want to tell him about Wyatt, she wasn’t sure why but felt as though his protective nature toward her would make him want to interfere there. That seemed like a bad idea, whatever the motivation.
“Um,” she hesitated, truth or lie, she had to decide. He waited for her answer.
“I don’t really live anywhere at the moment. I guess you could say I was in the process of moving.” He frowned, this was not the full story, he was sure.
“I see,” he said, “Moving with no idea where you’re going and no more than a bag of stuff?” His tone was one of clear disapproval. Ellie shrugged.
“I just needed a fresh start,” she said, keeping her voice light, “Bad break-up, you know, same old story. Just moving on to somewhere new.” Definitely not the full story, but he didn’t ask any further for now.
When he was finished he sat back in the chair by the bedside, kicking his shoes off and propping his feet on the edge of the bed. He tilted his head back, closing his eyes for a moment. The conversation with Tristan and what he now knew was to come had him on edge. He didn’t want Ellie to see his stress though, he didn’t want her to think that it had anything to do with her.
“What do you like to read?” she asked, out of the blue.
“What?” he asked, looking back at her. She was looking at the small stack of books on the bedside table.
“I noticed a pretty eclectic collection in your bookcase out there and I reckon books make up about three quarters of everything in this place,” she told him. He smiled; she was probably right.
“So what do you most like to read?”
He thought a moment before answering. Everything, anything. They talked about books, the conversation light and easy. They moved on to music, history, religion, politics, all of the topics you aren’t supposed to raise in polite company. She liked that he was intelligent and well read. He enjoyed her curiosity about the world. He had never talked so easily with anyone in his life. It was an odd feeling, a pleasure he hadn’t imagined or realized he was missing. She laughed a lot as they talked and the warmth that he felt around her seemed to grow in his chest until it was almost hard to breath.
The night wore on as they talked as though neither had a care in the world. As Levi began to blink heavily, his weariness showing, Ellie shuffled over on the bed and patted the space beside her. She knew it was a boundary she probably shouldn’t cross but she liked having him nearby and he was clearly exhausted.
“You sure?” he asked, carefully. She nodded and wriggled herself until she was under the blanket. Then nestled into the pillow and closed her eyes.
“Lie down and get some sleep,” she muttered, yawning. She felt the bed shift as he climbed on and got comfortable. He lay on top of the blanket, leaving it a barrier between them. The way he felt scared him, laying there beside her. Ellie kept her eyes closed, letting him think she was going to sleep but lay hyper aware of how close he was. She felt calm, safe, laying there beside him. She felt drawn to him, wanting to curl her body into his. But she lay still, keeping the distance between them and told herself to get a grip. Nothing could happen here and they both knew it.
Levi was woken by her frantic voice crying out. He turned toward her. Her head was tossing restlessly.
“Ellie,” he whispered, touching her shoulder. She woke with a gasp, her pale eyes wide as they stared at him in the moonlight.
“It’s OK, you’re OK,” he told her. She drew in a deep breath, and tried to let it out slowly, evenly. He brushed her hair back, stroking it softly. She calmed at his touch. His hand rested on the nape of her neck. Their eyes still locked, she lifted her hand and brushed his cheek with her finger tips and his heart beat faster at their closeness. With feather lightness, she ran her thumb over his bottom lip and he couldn’t help a short, sharp inhale. They lay that way for long moments, something tangible throbbing between them. Neither moved, nor spoke. Eventually, they both drifted back to sleep.
Her eyes flew open, confusion muddling her thoughts. Cabin in the woods, Levi, she was safe. She breathed a sigh of relief. Glancing over, she realized she was in the bed alone. Had she dreamed him lying beside her, hand outstretched during the night? The memory of it seemed far away and fuzzy after the dreams that followed. She always dreamed when she slept, almost always dreams of fear and dread. She didn’t wake feel refreshed or rested, except this morning. She stretched slowly, she still hurt but she could move more easily now. She felt better, in so many ways. She could hear a shower running across the hall. Shower, that would be amazing. She was embarrassingly aware of the fact that she had been wearing the same underwear for at least three days now and that the fear sweat that her soaked her clothes meant she must smell pretty awful.
She didn’t hear the water stop or the door creak open as she lay gazing out the window. Levi stood in the doorway. He knew he hadn’t dreamed of the way she touched him last night. She lay stretched in the bed, hair tossed about. He had a momentary insight to what it would be like to wake up by her each day and, much as he tried to shake the thought, it lingered. But he had only one more night before he had to murder a vampire leader at Tristan’s request and she could not be here by then. If the vampires came for vengeance her life would be at risk. If he copped the wrong end of the fight then he would never return and she would be stranded in this cabin in the woods. Tristan could never know about her, he would use her as leverage. Levi did not want her to ever see the side of him that was involved in that world, the side of him that was dark and cold. The side that knew death and thought little of it. She brought something else out in him that he had not known was there and he wanted that to be all she saw, for the brief time she was here. Tomorrow, he would have to take her as far away as he could, and say goodbye.
She turned her face toward him and his stomach clenched. How could he let her go?
“How you feeling?” he asked her. She smiled and stretched. His body reacted to the movements of her lean body and the content expression on her face and he gulped.
“Not bad, actually,” she murmured. Yes, he needed to get her out of here, before anything happened.
“Thought you might like a shower,” he told her.
“Oh God yes,” she moaned, sitting up, “Can’t imagine how nice I must smell by now with all your potions.” He chuckled.
“I’m going to go and get your stuff, so you have some clothes or whatever. Where were you staying?”
She hesitated, looking a little embarrassed. She knew the place she stayed had a reputation and she wasn’t sure what he would think of her choice. This almost meant giving more information that would make him suspicious of exactly what kind of life she was living before they met and she wasn’t sure she wanted to do that.
“Um, Redmayne,” she told him and he blinked, shocked. It was known for being cheap and full of shady people. Why the hell had she stayed there?”
“OK, do you have a key or something?” She shook her head in response, biting her lip, before sighing and answering him.
“You’ll have to collect it from the desk, it’s under the name, um,” she paused, “Sarah Smith.” For a long moment he said nothing.
“Is Aurelia really your name?” he asked, tone tense.
“Yes, honestly,” she answered, quickly, “I just, I didn’t want to use my name there. I didn’t want anyone to know I’d been there.” There, that was more than she wanted him to know but she didn’t want him to think she had lied to him.
“Are you hiding from someone, Aurelia?” he asked her, there was something dangerous in his voice and she wasn’t sure if it was directed at her or at whoever it was he thought might be threatening her. What could she say? She knew she need to leave him and soon, she needed to move on before Wyatt or his men found her and dragged Levi into something that had nothing to do with him. She didn’t want him to get hurt on her behalf. But would he let her go if he thought she was in danger? Why couldn’t she just lie to him like she did everyone else?
“It’s a long story,” she said finally, voice barely more than a whisper. She sat there, not looking at him, as he stood in the doorway. She could feel his eyes on her.
“Alright, I’ll be as quick as I can,” there was still an edge to his voice, “I left a towel in the bathroom. Take your time, the hot water should last. There’s coffee in the kitchen, make yourself at home.”
She looked up at him, blinking away tears that formed in her eyes. No one had taken care of her like this since she was 6 years old.
“Levi, thank you,” she put as much heartfelt gratitude as she could into her words. He smiled, then turned and left.
The shower felt amazing, despite the vicious sting of the water on her broken skin. The bites were showing signs of healing now and she was feeling more like herself. Sliding down the glass, she sat on the floor of the shower, head bent, for a long time. Where was she was going to go from here? She felt as though she had been on the run her whole life. She supposed she had been actually, from the time that her mother had died when she was 6. She had been dragged from place to place by her father, a harsh man who mostly ignored her as he struggled with his own demons. If he took any notice of her it was usually to yell, scream, curse or hit her. She had been afraid of him as long as she could remember. He had traded her when she was thirteen, for what she thought she would never know. Her life had been that of a captive, used and abused at Wyatt’s will. It was not a period she liked to reminisce. She had finally escaped from him when she was 17 and had thought she had found freedom, normality. It seemed an impossibility for someone like her. She had fallen in love, she had created a life, she had felt happiness. She should not have been surprised by the way that it came to an end. The years passed and she alternated wildly between regretting that time for the pain it had caused and relishing it for the window of joy it was in her life of fear and loneliness. It seemed now that she would never be able to stop running. That’s probably why this place, isolated in the woods, with Levi, was such a refuge that she wished never to leave. But she had to leave, and soon, before her resolve crumbled. Tomorrow, she would tell Levi that she needed to leave tomorrow.
The towel he had left her was huge, wrapping it under her arms it reached past her knees. She couldn’t bring herself to put dirty clothes on again now that she felt clean and decided to stay wearing only the towel. She lay on her stomach across the bed and picked up Little Women, losing herself in the plights of some of her favorite fictional characters. She felt a level of peace that had rarely come to her in her life as she lay reading with the morning light streaming through the window.
So relaxed in the setting and absorbed in the book, despite having read it many times before, she did not hear Levi come into the cabin. A kind of complacency had settled in and her usual alertness was dulled. Levi paused in the bedroom doorway. She lay with her back to him, feet dangling off the side of the bed and crossed at the ankles. She was wearing nothing but the towel he had left her and she lay on her front, propped on her elbows with the book open before her. His eyes followed the gentle curve of her back and her round behind, down her slender legs. They would be scarred now. Her hair fell in damp tangles around her naked shoulders and his palms itched with a desire to run them over the smooth skin he could see there. He had to stop wanting what he couldn’t have.
clearing his throat, he stepped into the room, depositing the large backpack he carried on the bed beside her. She looked up, surprised by his entrance. He fingered the tag on the bag as he put it down. ‘Amy Porter’ it read. When he had noticed it he had wondered how many different names this woman goes by, and why. Did she not tell him the truth because she didn’t trust him, or because she thought he would be disappointed by who she really is? He had kept plenty of truths from her and knew she would be disappointed in his past. In everything about him really.
“I don’t think I left anything behind,” he told her, “And no one else had come asking after you.”
“Oh,” she said, realizing what it meant that he had thought to check that. He obviously read her better than she thought. “Thank you.”
“I’ll let you get dressed,” he said with a nod, “Then come and eat something.” Turning he left the room. She swallowed, he seemed unhappy. She touched the tag on her bag. Another name. he would have seen it. She sighed. He would think she was lying to him. She couldn’t blame him if he didn’t trust her. She never used her real name anywhere she went. He was the first person she had told in years.
Pulling clothes from the bag, she dug her hand around inside until she found a battered make-up case. She almost never wore any, but that wasn’t really what this was for. Upending it onto the bedspread, a small collection of lipsticks, pencils, brushes and mascara fell out along with a number of coins. she pulled an eyeshadow palette, wedged awkwardly into the small case, out and opened it. She let out a small sigh of relief. This was her most valuable possession. Flicking open the lid, she carefully picked a chipped corner with her fingernail until the tray of colors lifted out. beneath it was a stack of money, pressed tightly into the thin space. It was all the money she had, hidden as thoroughly as she was able while on the move.
Putting the make-up case back together, she buried it back in the backpack and began rifling through her clothing. Jeans were her standard option but would be too uncomfortable with her still healing legs. She found clean clothes, dressed and stretched. She felt pretty good considering; clean, safe, healing. she wished it didn’t have to change. When she limped into the kitchen Levi looked up from his cooking. He blinked in surprise. She looked different with her hair pulled back, older and somehow even more elven than when he had first seen her. She would move gracefully, he thought, when she wasn’t nursing injuries.
“Feeling better?” he asked, tipping the steaming eggs onto two plates. He enjoyed eating this kind of food, when he could be bothered cooking, but hunting in his wolf form always gave him the most strength. He would need that for tomorrow night. Perhaps he could sneak out tonight when she was still asleep. He didn’t really want her wondering what he was up to in the woods in the middle of the night.
“Oh so much better,” she declared with a grin. “Um, Levi?”
“Thank you,” she said, softly, “For everything you’ve done for me.”
“You’re welcome,” he told her, his tone full of warmth. He almost didn’t recognize it himself. Ellie thought nothing of it; she saw him as warm, warm and safe.
“Um,” she hesitated, unsure how to bring up her next query, “Well…I –“
“I know, Ellie,” he interrupted. He smiled gently at her. “Tomorrow I’ll drive you to Weston. You can go anywhere you want from there.”
“Weston?!” she cried, shocked, “How long will it take us to get to Weston?” Unless she was much mistaken, Weston was close to 7 hours drive from Vici City. It would take him the entire day to drive her there and come back.
“Hm, maybe 3 hours,” he mused, “Why? Weston’s no good?”
“Um, Weston is fine,” she stammered, “I, well, I thought it was much further than that from Vici.” He froze, his back still turned to her. If he told her the truth, that they were in fact further from Vici City than from Weston, then she would want to know how he had gotten there and back to retrieve her things so quickly. Then he would have to lie, or tell her what he was.
“I know the back roads,” he said, giving her a knowing smile. It was for her own good to keep the truth from her. He wouldn’t put her in anymore danger.
“That’s a lot of travelling for you,” she said, skeptically.
“Honestly, Ellie, I don’t mind. I’ll take you tomorrow.” He didn’t mind, it would mean hours spent close to her before he had to say a final goodbye.
“Oh, well if you’re sure, then thank you,” she said, nodding thoughtfully as she took a mouthful of eggs. Weston would do just fine. She wouldn’t be staying there of course, but it had a major bus terminal and she could easily go anywhere in the country from there. A couple of days, a couple of buses and a couple of switches, no one would be able to follow her. It was exactly what she needed.
She opened her mouth to speak, but the right words wouldn’t come. She wanted to tell him that she would miss him but knew that she shouldn’t. she wanted to tell him that she didn’t want to go but knew that she shouldn’t. She wanted to say something that would tell him how she felt for him, but she knew that she shouldn’t.
“What’s wrong, Ellie?” his voice was soft.
“Some things are better left unsaid, I guess,” she told him, sadly, hoping that he would understand. He did. Reaching across the space between them, he gently stroked her cheek. He said nothing. She was right, sometimes there were no words. Tomorrow she would be gone, and his life would go back to what it had been. When he had first brought her to the cabin he was wishing for that, now he didn’t relish the thought at all; especially with Tristan’s job hanging over his head like a dark cloud ready to break into violent storm.
She sat with her temple pressed against the cool glass, staring at the passing trees. She was ready to run again, the need was like an itch in her veins. Being in one spot for too long irritated her, she found herself more and more uncomfortable as the days passed. She had felt safe in Levi’s cabin, felt as though she was far enough away from the world that no one was coming for her. It didn’t cure the itch though, born simply of the habit of constantly being on the move she supposed.
The hours passed quicker than she expected, the trees gave way to ploughed fields before turning into run down buildings. Suddenly they were driving through the streets of a town that looked as though the bustling city world had forgotten it, leaving it in a poor and dusty decade while everyone else advanced. There was something dreary about the place, something that suggested the end of hope and a way of slogging through life just to get to the next day. Ellie wondered if that was just how she felt about her own life, or if somehow this shabby town represented her feelings.
Levi pulled the truck over to the side of the road, switching off the engine. They sat, minutes ticking past, in silence, their gaze cast through the windscreen. Finally, he spoke.
“Are you going to be ok?” there was something in his voice she couldn’t put a name to, it was lower, rougher. She turned to look at him. His lips were drawn tight, his eyes still focused outside.
“I always am,” she said softly, trying to fill it with certainty to convince him. At this he faced her.
“Not in Vici,” his words were almost inaudible. No, she would not have been alright if he hadn’t rescued her. She could not count on always having him there to save her. It was not his responsibility, he had a life of his own. She shrugged.
“I stay out of trouble when I can,” she offered him a smile, “If it catches up with me one day, so be it.” An odd kind of growl sounded in his throat, but he didn’t say anything.
“Thank you, Levi,” she told him, reaching out to put her hand over his, “for everything you’ve done. And I’m sorry, for disrupting your life the way I did.”
Now he smiled at her, turning his hand to grasp hers.
“Be careful, Aurelia,” he whispered, “I don’t know what you’re up to, what your life involves, but take care, ok?”
“Of course,” she gave his hand a little squeeze before pulling hers free and turning, pushing the door open. She needed to leave before any more feelings passed between them. Stepping out of the truck, she dragged her backpack up onto her shoulders and stretched out. turning back toward Levi she saw him watching her. Neither of them spoke, no one likes goodbyes. She gave him a little wave and closed the door. It was done, he would drive away and she would never see him again.
He knew as he pulled away from her, standing there on the street, that he would come looking for her. She didn’t need to know, he wasn’t sure if she wanted anything else to do with him. He needed to know though, that she would be alright, he needed to be able to make sure. He knew that she was running from something, that she wouldn’t be in Weston for long, but he would be able to follow her. He was exactly the kind of thing that people like her usually ended up running from.
As soon as Levi had driven away, Ellie was turning in the direction of the bus depot. She wasn’t even going to stay in town long enough for anyone to notice her. Places like this everyone remembered strangers who came through and spoke to anyone, ate anywhere, bought anything. What they didn’t notice, was the large number of people who simply got off a bus at the depot only to immediately hop onto another, using this desolate town as a transfer station. It was one of the busiest bus stops in the country, but nobody stayed. There was nothing worth staying for. It was too small, and small minded, here for Ellie’s purposes. She needed a big city she could get lost in, like Vici. Preferably with less creatures trying to eat her.
She had needed Levi to think she was surprised by the Lycan attack. To be honest, she hadn’t known exactly what they were, only that they were not entirely human. She was more familiar than she would care to admit with creatures that were not entirely human. If she was being honest, she would admit that she was pretty sure she was not entirely human. Strange things happened around her and she wasn’t stupid enough not to realize that sometimes she caused them. The ways that she escaped from those chasing her was too often ‘lucky’ in a manner that defied the constant coincidence. There was more than human nature at work. One day she would figure out what they wanted from her and then she would turn and fight. She couldn’t do that yet, as far as she was aware, she had nothing to fight with.
She stared up at the departure screen, watching the times and destinations roll over. She had a number of options, she simply needed to decide how far she wanted to go. She sighed; the fact was it didn’t really matter because she couldn’t stop. She would zigzag her way across the country and back again as she had been doing for years now. She could go back to Vici, if someone had followed her this far then that would throw them. Unless they had only followed her as far as Vici and were still looking for her there. Why did her life have to be like this? From the moment her father had taken her from her home, they had run. He gave her away and she found herself locked away, no clue where she was in the world and no way to leave. Once she escaped, she had believed, far too briefly, that the horrors of her life were over. She had breathed easily and tried to live. But her past had returned for her and people she loved had suffered for it. Had died for it. A terrible stabbing pain lanced through her chest at the memories. Before she knew it she was back to running and she couldn’t imagine living any other way but she was so desperate to be able to just stop, without feeling that itch to go and be anywhere else.
Canon, that would do. Canon was a small city, there would be enough people coming and going that she could grab another bus or hitch a ride out of town and no one would take any notice of her. The bus for Canon was leaving in 10 minutes. She headed for the ladies’ bathroom and went into a cubicle, digging through her bag. Pulling out the makeup case, she shoved enough cash for a ticket and something to eat into her pocket before tucking the rest back into hiding. She could go a couple of days without eating if she had to, but small snacks along the way had proven cheaper and just enough to keep her comfortable. It wasn’t the healthiest lifestyle, but she didn’t always have a choice. Healthier than living in Wyatt’s basement and being his plaything.
Something strange washed over her, a heaviness tugging at her chest and bringing a strange urge to cry. She tried to shake it off. She didn’t cry, there was no point. Despite that resolution tears pricked at her eyes, one slipping down her cheek. She brushed at it with a finger and stared at the dampness on the tip. Levi had taken care of her, he had seemed to want to take care of her. No one had ever made her feel protected like he did. Not even her father had cared for her in such a way, interested in her needs and making sure she was well. She had been the one constantly trying to take care of him, with the innocence of an adoring child. A lot of good that had done her, in the end.
With her bag on her back, a ticket in one hand and a bag of chips and a bar of chocolate shoved in jacket pocket, she climbed on to the bus. She flashed the ticket to the driver and found herself a seat toward the back, tucking her backpack beneath her feet and tucking herself down as much as possible. She pulled the hood of her jumper up, keeping her face from the window. These were moves of habit now, protecting her identity every step as much as she could. The only form of ID she had was an out of date student card, from a university she never attended. University would have been a dream, but it wasn’t one she ever actually entertained. What would she do anyway? She’d never even gone to high school. She loved to read, she learned from her reading, and because of this she knew she wasn’t stupid. Wyatt had given her textbooks and novels, when he felt like it, from them she taught herself as much about the world as she could. That was something she tried not to dwell on thought because the thought that she might have potential that had been wasted made her sad. Better to think that she never would have amounted to anything even if her father and Wyatt hadn’t destroyed her life.
The bus rumbled to life beneath her, still more than half empty of passengers. She frowned, the more people who got off the bus in Canon the less likely that anyone would notice or remember her. She popped open the packet of chips and settled into her seat. She would worry about that when she got there, it was several hours away. There was nothing she could do in between except think and reminisce, two past times that she both relished and despised.
Levi drove faster than the speed limit all the way home. He hated driving, he felt restrained, in a metal cage. He would rather run, or even better, fly. He also hated what he was returning to; Tristan’s mission. It wasn’t that he was afraid of what he would have to walk into or would feel any particular guilt over taking Marius from the world, the vampire was a creature of evil who had caused far more than his fair share of torment in his time. He was tired of being a pawn in Tristan’s game and he knew he could do little to change his fate. He could try to walk away, but Tristan would find him and punish him. If he wasn’t willing to cooperate he would die, it was that straightforward. He had wondered more than a few times if death wasn’t the better option. He had lived more than two lifetimes by most peoples’ standards, he had lost everything he’d ever loved or cared about, there had not been any real reason for him to live on for many years now. Something, something he couldn’t pinpoint, had convinced him to hold out though. As though there was still something waiting for him. An image of Aurelia flickered through his mind with that thought but he dashed it away. She could never belong in his world, it was too dangerous. And there was clearly far more to her world than she was willing to let him in on.
He stood on the front porch of his cabin, watching the orange glow of sunset creep through the forest before him. Darkness fell quickly and his heart raced faster and faster. Was he really going to do this? It was not the action required of him that scared him, it was the consequences. This assassination would start a war; he would start a war if he followed through with this plan tonight. He stretched slowly, feeling the change come over him, feeling the world as it seemed to morph around him. A wolf leapt from the deck and raced off through the forest.
Tristan had told him to get to Marius before he arrived at the party but Levi had an alternative plan. It would be much harder to get anywhere near Marius when he was surrounded by his private security. Getting into a party, however, was much easier, especially for a shape shifter. Levi made his way up the sloping drive with other intending attendees, slipping off into the shadows of a hedge that bordered the fence between the front and back gardens of the huge property. He noted several vampire guards near the door, assessing each person who came through. Human, fine. Fellow vampire, acceptable depending on allegiance. Lycan, definitely not. Anyone recognized as Tristan’s crew, which Levi certainly would be, no way. Tristan’s crew mostly consisted of wizards and witches; low level magicians who’s access to magic came from siphoning the life force of another being. If that being happened to be supernatural then the siphoning would produce more power. He also had a small assortment of allegiant Fey, those who had been locked out of their realm when they barrier went up and now had no choice but to survive in the mortal realm. Mostly Levi felt sorry for them. The Fey were good hearted, as a race, but time in the human world darkened their spirits very quickly and their loyalties generally fell to the evil sides. Tristan also had Levi and Blair, his shape shifters, like himself. Shape shifters, for the most part, kept to themselves. They lead their absurdly long lives in as much solitude as possible and tried to stay out of the always twisted affairs of the other supernaturals. Shape shifters knew better than to take sides, than to let themselves be manipulated. Well, most of them, Levi thought bitterly. Here he was, doing Tristan’s bidding, in eternal debt for a live saved. Blair wasn’t much better off. Tristan knew how to get what he needed, nothing he did ever gave from a desire to truly help another.
Finally, levi spotted what he had been waiting for. A lone wandered, a young man making his way up the long drive. He stared at his feet when he walked, and no one paid him any more attention than he did them. As he approached Levi’s place by the hedge, Levi stepped out into his path. The young man glanced up, a look of surprise on his face. Without a word, Levi snapped his arm forward and struck the man’s jaw with the heel of his hand. He dropped like a stone and Levi caught him as he fell, quickly dragging him into the shadows. He pulled several supplies from his pockets, a small plastic bag containing a chloroform-soaked rag and a reem of thin, strong chord. He quickly bound the young man’s hands and feet, then held the rag against his face for several breaths.
“Sorry, man,” he muttered, “Wrong place, wrong time.” Holding the young man’s head in his hands, he stared intently at his face for long moments. Releasing him to ground and tucking him securely under the hedge out of sight, he stood and gave himself a small shake. He hated taking another person’s form. Animals felt natural and easy, he was not infringing on another being in any way. But walking around as another person, it always felt wrong. Even the change was more difficult. He had no mirror, no way to ensure that he had got it right. He was shorter, that much he could tell, and slimmer. As he walked out onto the drive his movements felt more awkward, this man was not as strong or fit as Levi and he didn’t move with Levi’s ease. Levi sauntered up to the wide front steps and tried not to eye the guard with any kind of trepidation. They glanced him, gave a slight sniff in his direction, and waved him through without any further speculation. He smelt human and certainly looked harmless. Good choice, Levi thought. The huge house was crowded despite the early hour. Marble floors spread from large room to large room and chandelier and decorative sconces lit the ceiling and walls. Levi whistled, impressed. Whoever designed this place seemed to have desired to splash as much money around as possible. They had succeeded, he thought. Everything looked expensive and classy, and felt cold and clinical. Not his style at all. A waiter passed, dressed elegantly in a crisp white shirt and black vest. He offered Levi a flute of champagne on a tray. Levi took the glass with a nod and continued to move through the various first floor rooms. Chairs and uncomfortable looking couches had been pushed back to line the walls, leaving ample space in the centre of each room. Music blared from somewhere toward the back and people danced half-heartedly as they carried on conversations over the din. Levi deposited the still-full glass on the first table that he passed. Alcohol would not help his mission tonight. If he survived it though, he was sure he would need a strong drink.
Marius had not arrived while he was watching, and Levi had known he would likely not make an appearance until late that night. He wandered the house, biding his time, trying to remain primarily unnoticed. As several hours ticked by, he noticed the vampire presence within the crowd increasing. He accepted several drinks from passing waiters, but left them, untouched, in different places around the house. His alertness crew as more vampires trickled in. if he was caught in his attempts to get to Marius, he was going to be very dead very quickly. He wasn’t sure if he regretted doing this for Tristan or hoped that it all went wrong and served as his escape from Tristan’s crew. Finally, he saw him.
Entering the brightly lit front hall surrounded by several loyal guards, was Marius. Levi turned away, making his way up the stairs. Marius would make social rounds before retreating to a quiet room up here and Levi thought it best for him to already be in place when this happened. So far, no one had said more than a few polite words to him all night and he could only assume that that meant, thankfully, that the body he had impersonated was a nobody. He hoped the poor man would be found tied under the bush, for his own sake. The vampires would immediately suspect Tristan of the murder and as Tristan was a shape shifter, it would tie up neatly. The innocent man with his identity stolen should not get blamed. Of course, that was a hopeful assumption on Levi’s part and there was always the chance that the stranger’s unlucky timing would cost him his life. Levi didn’t like that, but it was a calculated risk he had already chosen to accept when he made his plan and followed it through. It was not the first time he had made such decisions. He was not a good person; his past was only proof of that. Someone like Ellie should definitely steer well clear of him. He shook his head roughly, as though to shake out the thought of her. He made his way down the carpeted hall, eyeing rooms as he passed. Where was Marius most likely to make himself comfortable and entertain his favoured guests? Favoured most likely meaning women, Levi thought. Library, he decided. A fireplace had a small flame blazing within, though it wasn’t truly cold enough outside to be necessary. Several couches littered the room, looking far more cosy than the fancy ones he had seen downstairs. A large leather chair sat regally by the fireplace and Levi could almost see Marius in it, lording his position over the rest of the room. Levi scoured the room, taking note of the furniture and layout, memorizing the exits and windows. Standing in the doorway, he heard the footsteps and murmurs of people coming up the stairs. He made his way further down the hallway, past the first entrance to the library and slipped into an empty room. It was a bedroom, some sort of guest room he figured. He left the lights out, hovering just inside the doorway. Shifting only his eyes to those of an owl to improve his vision in the dim light, he focused on the group coming down the hallway.
Marius lead a group that included three other vampire and two young women that Levi was sure smelled human. Only three guards? This seemed much easier than Levi had anticipated, almost too easy. Marius entered the library, as predicted, leaving two of his guards at the door. Levi remained in his darkened doorway, watching silently. The door closed. Levi waited. Maybe 20 minutes passed before the door opened and the third vampire exited, heading back down the stairs. Levi sprang into action, now was his opportunity. He walked straight past the guards and the door and followed their companion down the stairs. He moved through the ground floor, clearly searching for someone. Levi followed close behind him, glad that the crowd kept the vampire oblivious to his presence. The vampire guard must have seen his target because he suddenly made a beeline across the dining room. Taking a young woman by the elbow, his leaned down to speak in her ear. She nodded, eyes wide, and let him tow her up the stairs. Levi followed them, as they rounded the bannister at the base of the stairs. Stepping up behind the vampire guard, Levi struck, driving his elbow hard into the base of his skull. The vampire fell forward and lay motionless on the steps. Before the girl could scream her shock, Levi grasped her arm and hauled up the stairs with him. By the time they reached the second floor, Levi resembled the vampire he just knocked out. The girl stared at him, eyes wide and lips trembling. Levi paused, looking her in the eye.
“You will be absolutely fine, if you follow me and do exactly as I say,” he informed her, voice low and intense, “Do you understand?” she nodded vehemently. Keeping his grip on her arm, he towed her down the hall and to the guarded library door.
“Stand here, do not move, do not scream,” he told her, and she nodded again. He hoped she would do as he said but knew he couldn’t count on it. Stopping before the guards, he released her arm. One of the guards reached to open the door for him, they had been expecting him back after all. Once he engaged one of them it would be a fight, he could not dispatch both with the ease he had their lone companion or the young human man out in the hedge. He stepped forward, kicking out at the guard who reached for the door before he could turn the handle. These two were vampires, they were fast, but Levi was well trained and knew exactly how to use his shifting abilities to his advantage. Right now, he was a vampire too. The second guard quickly moved in to help his partner and the fight became two on one. It became quickly apparent to Levi that disabling them would not suffice. Pulling a knife from the waistband of his dress pants, he sliced across one vampires throat. The vampire fell to his knees, blood pouring down the front of his shirt. Before he could recover, Levi slashed with the knife a second time and removed the vampire’s head. His knife was sharper and stronger than it looked. At this point, the girl behind him gave up any thought of obedience and screamed. Levi didn’t want to kill her, but he wasn’t ready for any further attention. Turning, he lunged toward her with the knife.
“Shut up!” he warned her, angrily. Falling to her knees, she did so, her scream trailing off and becoming hysterical weeping. He hoped no one had heard her over the pounding music. The second guard tried to take advantage of Levi’s distraction, leaping on him from behind. Swinging around, Levi pulled the man over his shoulders and slung him to the floor. Burying the knife hilt deep in the vampire’s chest, Levi stared into his bulging eyes as he reached his hand into the open wound. With a twist of knife and fist, he removed the vampire’s heart. He stood, shoving his now bloodied knife back into his waistband. His mission was no longer about stealth, now he would need speed. Reaching down toward the sobbing girl, he yanked her to her feet and dragged her to the library doors.
Throwing the doors open before them, he tossed the distraught girl into the room ahead of him. She slumped in a heap on the floor in front of Marius, who looked up to Levi, startled.
“What is this?” Marius cried, leaping up from the leather chair. His eyes cast around the library, panicked. He looked to the open doors, obviously seeking his guards.
“We have a problem,” Levi informed him brusquely. Counting on his disguise as one of Marius’ vampire guards, he moved forward. The two women being entertained by Marius backed away, clinging to each other, shooting terrified glances at the girl huddled on the floor. Marius stared at the blood on Levi’s hands and Levi noted his rapid breathing and darting eyes. So, used to relying on guards, Marius was not confident in defending himself and appeared to be deciding on fight or flight.
“I’m going to handle it,” Levi informed him, confidently, stopping before Marius and nodding assuredly at him. The room seemed to freeze, momentarily, as each of its occupants attempted to assess the situation. Knowing Marius was at least twice the age of the guard he had killed at the door, Levi knew he would need to move fast and strike with precision in order to have the upper hand in this fight. In one swift move, Levi pulled the knife from his waistband and lunged for Marius’ throat. Marius dodged, grabbing Levi’s arm and using his moment to throw him to the side. Landing on a small coffee table, Levi rolled and came to his feet on the other side. Using the table for leverage, he leapt back over it and tackled Marius as he made a beeline for the door. The music from downstairs seemed to have increased in volume and the party grew more raucous and Levi was grateful, it would cover the sounds of the fight.
With the Levi’s weight on top of him, Marius speed was no longer an advantage and he was forced to pit his strength against his former guard’s. Marius was spurred by desperation and self-preservation, but Levi operated with steely determination and a callousness born of many years of executing vampires and Lycan for Tristan. Marius landed a punch to Levi’s jaw and attempted to follow it with a second shot, but Levi blocked the hit and crushed Marius’ nose with his elbow. Marius thrashed, trying to throw Levi off him, but his movements are wild, and attention scattered. With his single-minded focus, Levi slashes Marius throat with the knife, once, twice, driving deeper each time. As Marius chokes on his own blood, staring up at Levi with angry eyes, Levi clenches his jaw, ready to deliver the final stroke.
“This was Tristan,” Levi tells him, knowing it doesn’t matter whether he knows or not. It will be assumed that it was Tristan’s doing when the vampires find one of their leaders dead here. Marius made a final attempt to dislodge Levi, hands slippery with the blood pouring over his chest. Levi grasps Marius hair, hacking with knife at the remains of his neck until he holds Marius head in his hands. He stands, still gripping the vampire’s head and gazes around. The girl on the floor is deadly white and trembling, mouth and eyes wide. Of the other two, one lay prone on the floor after fainted and the other stands screaming, hands pressed tightly over her mouth. There would be no calming her and there was no point in trying. Levi tossed Marius’ head onto his limp body and strode to the window. Attempting to leave the party covered blood would draw attention. The wide window pushed open. Levi stepped back and focus on a new form, he needed wings. The world shifted and seemed to grow around him. His clothes fell to the floor in a pile. Wriggling his way out of the shirt, a pigeon leaps from the ground and takes off through the window. As he departs the house, Levi slowly morphs into the form of an owl, better suited to an easy night flight home through the forest. The screaming diminishes behind him. It won’t be long before someone finds the gory scene he has left behind.
Levi paces his bedroom. The restlessness he has been feeling since leaving the scene of Marius’ murder last night is unusual to him. In the past he has been able to put any thoughts or feelings connected to completing an assignment for Tristan out of his mind. This time it continues to plague him, and he hasn’t been able to pin point why. His gaze keeps drifting to his bed, not through any desire to rest there, he keeps seeing Ellie there. He has to wonder if she is the source of his distraction. She is gone now and there worrying about her serves no purpose, he kept her from Tristan, and he left well out of Vici. There was nothing more for him to do for her. There is, and never was, no place in his life for her. ‘What is wrong with you’, he scolds himself, ‘get your mind back on business because you know what you just did is far from the end of it’. He couldn’t focus his thoughts, he needed to know if she was alright. He turned toward the bedroom door and froze. Tristan stood in the doorway, frowning into the dark room.
“Why are you brooding, Levi?” Tristan asked, his voice amused rather than concerned, “We were successful, Marius is dead. The vampire factions have already begun accusing each other. No doubt they will discover it was my doing soon enough, but the in fighting has begun.” Levi growled, there was no ‘we’ about it. He had done the dirty work, as usual, and Tristan would take the credit. Not that Levi wanted credit for what Tristan was involved in, he just didn’t want to be involved in it at all anymore. Somehow, since he had met Ellie, his desire to get out of Tristan’s game had grown even stronger. It wouldn’t change anything, there still could not be any sort of relationship between him. It had just made him questioned his life, he supposed.
“It’s time for the next step, my friend,” Tristan informed him, gesturing to Levi to follow him from the room. Walking into Levi’s kitchen he pulled a bottle of Bourbon from a cupboard and reached for two glasses. Shaking his head, Levi collapsed onto his couch. As usual, Tristan was happy to help himself to whatever he wanted, and Levi would go along with it. There was nothing else in his life, there was nothing worth fighting for.
Ellie stepped down off her fifth bus in the space of two days. Her legs trembled, she was tired and hungry. She made her way to the back of the tiny bus stop and dropped her backpack. She scrubbed at her face with her hands, then pulled her hair from its ponytail and shook it out. She waited until the people milling about the stop had boarded the bus or moved away. She had to consider her options. She had taken five buses since Weston, moved through two cities and now found herself in a small town in the cold north. Small towns were risky, people tended to take notice of newcomers and some of them might remember her if she spent time here. It was hard to blend in and be anonymous. On the other hand, small town residents were generally more hospitable and generous, meaning she was more likely to find herself some temporary work and somewhere cheap to stay. She needed more money. She chewed her lip as she considered. She hoped that her rapid exit from Vici and her recent cross-country journey would have put her ahead for the time being, she couldn’t see how Wyatt would have kept track of her. By the time he found her here she could have moved on, she needn’t stay long. Making her decision, she hoisted her backpack and followed the main road into the centre of town. She came across a small diner style café attached to a service station. ‘Well, if that’s not luck I don’t know what is’, she thought, eyeing the handwritten sign in the front window stating, ‘Help wanted’.
Despite the convenience of the situation, she hesitated. As much as possible, she tried to avoid making contact with people on her travels. She was pretty sure she had not spent as much cumulative time speaking to people in the last five years as she had conversing with Levi in the few days they spent together. The way in which she had so quickly grown comfortable with him still scared her. Meeting people meant they were more likely to recall her when Wyatt came through seeking her whereabouts. Yet, she had trusted Levi, trusted that he wanted to care for her and that they would not betray her safety if the opportunity came to him. Taking a deep breath, she tried to suppress the wish that she was still with him feeling safe and protected. She had known not to get used to such an unfamiliar feeling. With another deep breath, she straightened her crumpled clothes as much as possible and headed into the diner.
“Can I help you, hun?” a young waitress asked her from behind the counter. She poured two cups of coffee and slid them to two men sitting with overflowing plates of eggs and bacon. Ellie tried to ignore the hunger inducing smell. She hadn’t had a bite of real food since she had left Levi’s place. Ellie looked at the waitress. She was tall, with thick dark hair, a bulging chest and a genuine smile. There was something motherly about her demeanor.
“Actually, I was hoping maybe I could help you,” Ellie told her, trying to return the woman’s smile, “I saw the sign.” She pointed to the front window, the woman’s gaze followed her finger and her face brightened.
“Oh, that’s perfect,” she cried, “We were just started to think we’d have to make do on our own. Eddy!” she called behind her, into the kitchen.
“What?” a man yelled back, leaning his head through the serving window. He looked to be in his forties with a clear family resemblance to the young waitress. The woman motioned toward Ellie.
“This pretty little thing here wants to talk about the position,” she told him cheerfully, obviously not bothered by his stern look. His eyebrows rose as he scanned Ellie up and down.
“You got any waitressin’ experience?” he asked her.
“Yes,” Ellie told him. She had worked a few brief stints in diners and cafes like this across the country.
“You got anywhere else to be?” he asked, stern tone remaining. Ellie took this to be a question about her availability.
“No,” she replied. She would work as much as they would let her for a couple of weeks and then vanish without a word. She always felt some guilt over it, but it was what she needed to do to survive.
“Alrigh’, then,” he nodded, seeming satisfied, “What’s yer name?”
“Maddie,” she told him. The woman grinned, taking a plate that Eddy shoved through the window.
“Welcome, Maddie,” she told Ellie, grinning, “I’m Jessie. Let me show you round then.” She moved from behind the counter, depositing the plate in front a customer with a friendly smile before reaching for Ellie’s hand. Ellie tried not to flinch at her touch. Strange, she had never felt a need to flinch away from Levi, intimidating as he was in appearance. She gave her head a slight shake, trying to dislodge that thought and any memory of his touch. That was in the past and it needed to stay there. Jessie tugged Ellie through a side door and motioned to the steamy kitchen they stood in.
“This here’s the kitchen,” Jessie told her, as though it wouldn’t obvious. Pointing to boy in his late teens she added, “That’s Joey, he’s my brother. You met Uncle Eddy.” She pushed a second door open and showed Ellie a small room that resembled a locker and changing room, with a bathroom attached it.
“You can stash your stuff in here and there’s a shower through there,” Jessie continued, pointing. Ellie smiled herself, that she would definitely be able to make use of. She was already desperate to wash the travel off herself. “That’s bought it for this place. You wanna start for dinner time tonight?” She glanced at her watch. It was far too large, slipping around on her slim wrist. It looked like a man’s watch.
“Sure,” Ellie replied, trying to sound confident, “That sounds great. Does it get busy?”
Jessie shrugged, “It’s just a Monday so won’t be too bad, probably a good night to get you settled in. Wanna come back, say about four?”
“Ok, sure,” Ellie said, again. Where was she going to go until four? She didn’t have anywhere to stay yet, and she didn’t think she had enough cash left to find somewhere. She would need to rough it out for a couple of nights until she could pay and hope that none of her new workmates noticed.
“See ya then,” Jessie said, cheerily, giving her a little wave, “Oh I’ll scrounge you up a uniform, you look like you could probably fit mine.” Jessie eyed her up and down. Ellie was clearly shorter and a bit thinner, but that wouldn’t matter too much.
Ellie wandered through the town, what there was of it. Two main streets with store fronts, cafes, a mechanic, grocer and to her surprise a small move theatre. On the next block over there was a school, gym, fire station and a doctor’s surgery. From what she could tell, the rest of the streets were residential. She found herself in a park, tucked away from the street, filled with tall oak trees and prettily carved wooden benches. This would probably be her hide out for the next few days she figured. There was a public toilet block, not very sanitary but sufficient. In a city it would the lair of drug users and any other sinister characters with no where else to be, but she figured that Rockport probably didn’t have enough of those kinds of people for her to worry about. Choosing a grassy spot in the shade of one of the large oaks, Ellie collapsed on the ground, stretching her arms and legs and relishing in the room to move. She was definitely an outside person, but a life in hiding meant a lot of hiding inside. One day, when she didn’t have to run anymore, she would live in the mountains far away from prying eyes and spend all her time outside in the sun on the grass. She tried not to think about the fact that she had no idea how she would ever achieve such a lofty goal. She didn’t really know why she had ended up on the run in the first place, only that she needed to stay ahead of Wyatt at all times. She sighed and felt her chest squeeze as she released the air. Breath in, she told herself, keep breathing, don’t let it overwhelm you. That was all she could do, one breath after another, one foot in front of the other.
As Ellie stepped down off the bus, a terribly familiar movement, the rain pelted her. She pulled her hood further around her face and hurried off toward the depot entrance. As she walked through the revolving glass doors and onto the linoleum floors, her battered sneaks slipped in the wet and she tumbled through the entrance, landing in a heap.
“Graceful,” a deep voice said, as a hand gripped her elbow and helped her to her feet. A strange tingle shot through her arm from the contact and she jerked away from the tall man at her side. He held his hands up, a demonstration of innocence, and she blushed.
“Just thought you could use a hand,” he told her, not seemeding overly offended.
“Yes, sorry, thanks,” she stuttered. The seven-hour ride from Rockport had been rough and noisy, crying infants and prattling women. She was exhausted, in more ways than one.
“New in town?” the stranger asked her.
“Um, I don’t know,” she replied, thrown by his attempt to continue the conversation, “Probably just passing through actually.”
“That’s a shame,” he told her, sounding as though he really meant it, “Thought we might have been able to get to know each other a bit better.”
“uh, no thank you,” Ellie told him, trying to sound as polite as possible as she turned away. She needed to get herself on another bus and get out here, quickly. She had spent two weeks in Rockport before suddenly feeling desperately restless, knowing it was time to move on. She had boarded the bus that same night and now, at five o’clock in the morning, here she was in at a busy transit depot in an even busier city. She could go anywhere in the country from here.
“A real shame,” the man continued, “I enjoyed getting to know your father, see.” Ellie froze. She glanced over her shoulder, taking the man in. He wore a dark coat over dark jeans. Everything about him was dark, except for his absurdly blue eyes.
“I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else,” she told him, voice trembling despite her attempts to sound flippant.
“Oh no, I haven’t,” he assisted with a grin that was definitely not friendly, “I know Cillian Delaney very well, you see.” Ellie swallowed, her heart suddenly racing. This man had not made a mistake, Aurelia Delaney knew that for sure. Without hesitation, Ellie turned back toward the entrance, diving past the man and back into the revolving door. As it spat her back out into the drenched street, she took off running, without looking back.
Her backpack bounced heavily against her shoulder blades as she ran, and the rain felt like needles against her face. She could barely see ahead of her, but it didn’t matter, there was no other recourse but to run. She turned down street after street, paying no attention to her direction and marveling at the number of people bustling about in the cold and soggy weather. The crowded footpaths were to her benefit though, it was much easier to get lost in a crowd. She slipped into a slim alley way and paused, looking back around the corner. She could not see anyone who was clearly following her but that didn’t mean she was safe. With a deep breath, she stepped away from the wall and moved toward the row of traffic crawling along the street in the rain. She would cross to other side. As she stepped off the curb, a hand closed around her arm, bringing her to an abrupt halt. She cried out, both surprised and outraged. How could she have let this happen? She had slipped up somewhere, wherever it had been she should have known better.
She gazed up into the dark eyes of the man from the transit depot. Her mouth felt dry.
“It’s time we talked, Aurelia,” he told her, and her breath hitched in her chest. He knew her name, knew who she was, he had to be working for Wyatt.
“Please,” she whispered, her heart thumping in her chest, “He’s taken enough. Please let me go.”
“He?” the man enquired, “Who is he?”
“Don’t take me back to Wyatt,” she begged. The man cocked his head, staring down at her. People passing in the street stared at them, standing on the curb with her arm tightly in his grasp as she begged him. He took no notice of them and it seemed that no one cared enough to intervene.
“My name is Keiron and my purpose here is not what you think. Come.” With that, he dragged her with him. The rain seemed to fall heavier as he pulled her along as though she weighed no more than a feather. She had paid little attention to her surroundings as she ran and now, she could make out even less in the dark and the rain and they walked. She was hopelessly lost. She waited for a moment in which any distraction meant his grips lessened, even slightly, and she could attempt to escape. But the moment didn’t come and each time she contemplated breaking free it seemed as though his grip tightened. Her arm throbbed.
Keiron turned suddenly, pulling Ellie through a stone archway, and down a short flight of stairs. Ellie tripped along after him, her terror growing as they entered a concrete tunnel and she realized that no one would hear anything that happened down here, and her chances of escape were diminishing quickly. He stopped before a large, steel door and pounded on it with his fist. A response was pounded from the other side before Keiron pounded again. A code, Ellie realized, her heart pounding its own rhythm against her chest. She wondered if Keiron could feel her shaking, he would recognize it for fear, surely. The large door was pulled open just enough for them to enter. As they did, Ellie’s gaze shifted frantically around the room. It looked like a warehouse, but with no windows that she could see. She searched for exits, any other door. There was only one, on the opposite side of the big space. She could see the huge, heavy padlock from where she stood, and her trembling increased. She was trapped. Several tables sat haphazardly around the room, surrounded by chairs and littered with a variety of objects from papers and coffee mugs, to maps, rocks, a strange assortment of carvings. She counted four other people, all dressed in dark clothes similar to Keiron. All eyes were trained on her and her captor. He finally released her arm and she could not help but flex and rub it, trying to restore the blood flow.
“Sit there,” he instructed her, gesturing to a high back chair near the closest table. She gulped, but did as she was told, dropping her sodden backpack on the floor beside her. Keiron marched across the room, pulling a fat yellow envelope from inside his coat and tossing it down on the table in front a young woman with waving blonde hair. Her fair skin and hair were a stark contrast to her dark outfit and the dark demeanor of the room. Ellie blinked in surprise when she smiled brightly up at Keiron.
“Oh, brilliant,” she cried, snatching up the envelope and peering inside, “I bet Ray you wouldn’t get it.”
“Thanks,” Keiron muttered, sarcastically, “Would have thought you’d have a little faith in me by now.” He moved toward a coffee machine in the corner and filled a mug with a steaming coffee. Taking a long drink, he sighed. Turning toward Ellie, he lifted the mug in gesture.
“Coffee?” he asked her. She stared at him in shock. He had chased her through the city, dragged her to some kind of hidden lair by force only to offer her a hot drink. He waited, patiently as she struggled to form an answer. She was at a loss as to what was going on here. Nothing she saw here in anyway seemed to reflect Wyatt’s level of disorganization and cruelty.
“Um, yes?” it didn’t sound like an answer, “Thanks?” she couldn’t hide her uncertainty. Picking up a second cup, Keiron poured the steaming coffee again.
“Cream?” he asked. She blinked.
“Yes, please,” she said feebly. He brought the cup, holding it out toward her. She took it, tentatively, wrapping her hands around the warm ceramic. She was soaked through and cold. Being the mug to her mouth, she let the hot steam rise in her face for a moment before sipping. The hot liquid burned down her throat, warming her chest. She took a deep breath, relishing the soothing feeling, before drinking again.
“Better?” Keiron asked, his tone much less threatening now that it had been when he found her in the street. She nodded, still uncertain. The woman rose from her desk and moved to stand beside Keiron, looking down at Ellie.
“This is Taya,” Keiron told Ellie. He pulled a chair over to sit directly in front of Ellie. Two other occupants of the mysterious room, a man with dark hair and round black glasses and a with a tight black bun and very stern expression, carried on with their task as though no one had even entered. By the steel door through which they had entered stood a young man, maybe in his early twenties. He looked different to the others, somehow, despite his matching dark attire. He watched Ellie with curiosity, an eagerness in his expression that Ellie realized was probably what set him apart. He noticed Ellie’s eyes on him and smiled her, sheepishly.
“Sorry,” he told her, his voice light, “Didn’t mean to stare. It’s just, I’ve never seen one before.” Ellie frowned, what an odd thing to say she thought, even in a circumstance like this. She looked to Keiron, hoping he was about to make some sense out of all of this for her. Her fear was ebbing slowly, but she thought that might just be the coffee.
“I’ll let you get some dry clothes on soon,” he told her, “but there’s a few things we need to know first.”
Ellie said nothing, watching him with apprehension. What could she possibly know that would be of use to people like this?
“Where is your father now, Aurelia?” Kieron asked.
“Wh-“ Ellie swallowed. How much could these people know about her, about her life, if they thought that she knew where he was. She shook her head. What would they do with her when they found out that she couldn’t help them?
“I-“ her voice sounded strangled, she tried again, “I don’t know. I haven’t known since –“ she hesitated, more for herself than for them. Remembering what he had done, the choice he had made all those years ago, was still painfully raw for her considering what it had led to.
“Since I was thirteen years old,” she finished, softly. Keiron and Taya exchanged a glance.
“Where have you come from?” Taya asked her, her voice was musical and motherly somehow.
“What do you mean?” Ellie replied, carefully.
“Before you came to Amsten today, where did you come from?”
Ellie hesitated again. Revealing details about her life was very foreign to her and she found it difficult to consider letting these people any truths about her.
“Rockport,” she answered, finally. Taya frowned.
“How long were you there for?”
“A couple of weeks.”
“And before that?”
“Why does this matter?” Ellie demanded.
“I’m sorry,” Taya told her softly, resting a gentle hand on her wet shoulder, “We are just trying to retrace your steps, it seems we might have got something wrong.”
“Have you been following me?” Ellie whispered, evident fear creeping back into her voice.
“Sort of,” Taya told her, sounding apologetic.
“Not very well,” Keiron responded, his tone amused. Ellie put the cup down on the nearby table, regretting the loss of its warmth but not wanting to spill it all over herself with shaking hands.
“Ok, what is going on?” she demanded, glancing between Keiron and Taya, trying to inject anger into her voice. She would rather they thought her angry than afraid. Truthfully, she was both. They shared another glance, this time showing far less confidence than before. Keiron ran a hand over his face, suddenly looking weary. Ellie knew how he felt.
“Alright, but it’s kind of a long story,” he told her, “Do you want to change first? Maybe have something to eat?” Once again, she was caught off guard by their hospitality.
“Why are you being so nice?” she blurted. Taya laughed, her laugh as melodious as her voice. Gazing at her, Ellie decided the woman was definitely beautiful. She had delicate features and warm brown eyes.
“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry that Keiron scared you the way he did. He did think you would come with him if you thought you had a choice. We aren’t going to hurt you, honestly. We just need your help.”
Ellie puzzled over that information.
“So, I have a choice?”
“Of course,” Keiron told her, “but if you really don’t know where he is, I imagine there’s a few other things that you don’t know and probably should.” Ellie contemplated that. If she had a choice, did that mean they would let her leave whenever she wanted to? More importantly, how much did she want to know? Most of her life had been a mystery, not a pleasant one. What if they could explain that to her? They knew her father, that meant that had to know something about her past, right? With a deep breath, Ellie made her decision.
“Alright,” she said slowly, glanced down at her bag, “but I don’t think I have any dry clothes by now. Let’s get to the point.” She was starting to find the looks exchanged by Keiron and Taya a bit annoying.
“Here goes,” Keiron muttered, looking at her skeptically. “Stop me if you have any questions, I really don’t know how much you know. Our informant was obviously wrong.” Taya nodded at this.
“We,” he began, indicating himself, Taya and the others in the room, “are all Fey. We have been working together since the barrier went up, trying to keep track of the other Fey that were trapped here with us. Those willing to accept it,” he inclined his head slightly, a resigned look on his face, “we have helped settle in as much as we can. It’s hard for our kind, the longer they’re in the mortal realm the more they –“ he hesitated, his tone changing, “change their character.”
“The mortal realm darkens a Fey heart,” Taya told Ellie, sadly, as though this was some kind of explanation, “The longer a Fey lives here the further they drift from a good path, most of them become pretty evil in the end. For a Fey, there’s really no way back. It’s pretty devastating.” Keiron nodded slightly, agreeing and sharing her understanding of the degree of tragic that this knowledge was to them.
“Knowing your father,” Keiron continued, “What he had been through, the power he possessed-“ he indicated Ellie, but stopped speaking when he noted her expression. Ellie stared at them, wide eyed and speechless. Her stomach seemed to have dropped out completely and their words sank heavily in the empty space.
“Aurelia?” he asked, glanced worriedly at Taya, “Are you alright?” Ellie tried to answer, tried to phrase at least one of the many questions marching through her mind. Her mouth moved; no words came out.
“Fey?” she finally managed to squeak, “What – what are Fey?” It was Keiron’s turn to look shocked at speechless. He turned to Taya, expression expectant. She studied Ellie for a long moment, turned to him and shrugged.
“I think it’s worse than we thought,” she told him, “The beginning might be a bit further back.”
“I don’t understand,” Keiron told Ellie, blankly. He no longer seemed threatening or intimidating. Instead of a kidnapping, the situation had become an opportunity for Ellie to learn everything she needed to know to make sense of what her life had been, had become.
“Keiron,” she said softly, intensely, leaning toward him, “Who do you think I am?” He swallowed; he hadn’t thought he would be the one revealing this to her.
“The daughter of Cillian Delaney and Mariah, a human,” he whispered, “The half-Fey child with the power to break the barrier.” Ellie blinked, slowly, blinked again.
“What?” her voice was little more than a breath. Keiron and Taya waited in silence, anxious for her reaction. Long moments passed as she stared ahead, eyes unfocused, breathing slow. But her mind raced, using this information to drop decades worth or senseless puzzle pieces into place. She was half-Fey, she was supernatural. It explained why Wyatt had needed her, why he had held her. The power to drop the barrier, what did that mean? She wondered. She didn’t know a lot about the Fey, except that they were from a different realm and possessed certain magical powers. She had never realized what her father was, but the knowledge shed a light of understanding on so many aspects of her childhood. She also realized why they could track her, follow her, no matter how far or hard she tried to outrun them. Finn surfaced in her mind and she wondered what all these things meant for him, for his survival. She pushed deliberations of him away, all she could have in that regard was hope. If she focused too much on his fate it would break her and that could not happen when she was so close; to what, she wasn’t sure.
“Aurelia?” Keiron asked, again. He looked concern. Her attention snapped to him and he blinked, startled.
“Ellie,” Ellie told him firmly, “People call me Ellie.”
“Ok,” he responded, uncertain as to how to proceed.
“I need more information,” Ellie said, bluntly, looking from Keiron to Taya, “I need to know everything that you can tell me about me, about my family, about this ‘power’ I apparently have.” Keiron continued to look worried, but Taya’s motherly tone returned as she leaned down to pat Ellie’s hand, reassuringly.
“We’ll tell you everything that we can,” she promised, “Though I think our information has a few holes in it as well. Let’s get you dried out and warmed up first, this won’t be a quick chat.”
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