Chapter 33 - Choices
Derrick lay on his bedroll and tensely stared at the ceiling when Catherine finally deigned to return from nursing Dina. Although Dina required no more nursing.
Catherine enjoyed the company of the women and stayed when Gunther along with Zaire joined them before dinner.
Their relaxed company, their acceptance of her and their uncomplicated friendship was a novelty to Catherine. She knew she would spend many more evenings with them in the future and she would be welcomed.
They warmed her cold heart in a way words could not describe. Alleviated her loneliness and her feeling of alienation in ways they could not imagine. Catherine was grateful to them.
Catherine avoided going back to the tent for as long as she could because the thought of Derrick chilled all the warm and fuzzy feelings inside her.
The events of the day still left a bitter taste in her mouth, and she was afraid of not being as restrained as she should be.
* * *
Dillon stood pretending to pore over his charts. Derrick’s restless pretense at sleep irritated him. There were no words spoken between them this night.
Derrick was churlish and out of sorts. Earlier he was short with his men and rude to the servants, something Dillon was not used to in his friend, but he understood the reasons.
Derrick knew and understood, just as Dillon did, that with his actions today, Derrick revealed his true feelings toward vampires and his fears.
Worse than that, by acting with his prejudices foremost in his heart, instead of thinking things through with his head, Derrick hurt, insulted and alienated Catherine.
With each passing hour, Dillon noticed how he himself was growing uneasy with waiting for her. Catherine was avoiding Derrick, and he could understand her reluctance.
After what happened today and seeing with his own eyes just how quickly his men turned on Catherine, he wanted her safe under his roof. He wanted her safe in his presence.
Dillon felt stupid about acknowledging this primal male instinct. He knew full well she neither needed or required his help.
Dillon too felt disappointed in Derrick. He made a mistake in putting so much of his trust in his friend, and it hurt to acknowledge that. He gave his right-hand man more credit than he realized.
Dillon could see the potential in Derrick, and he hoped that potential would come to realize itself in a situation like the one today. He counted on it in actual fact.
Derrick should have taken the situation in hand. He should have used his control and his influence over his men to his advantage.
He should have counted on their respect for his authority to calm them and assess the situation for himself. Instead, he gave in to his baser self and escalated the threat almost out of control.
In Dillon’s eyes, the measure of a man lay in such moments. He had high hopes for Derrick, but for now, he would have to rethink his plans. Derrick was further from ready for a position of leadership than Dillon expected.
Now Catherine on the other hand, she would make a great general. Pity, she was a female vampire. His people would never accept her among them, not with the threat of her father in their minds.
* * *
Dillon covertly watched her enter, and his relief was immediate. It was as if some part of him was missing and now it returned. It was difficult not to notice the coolness of Catherine’s expression.
For the first time in months, Catherine was again the controlled, almost distant vampire Dillon first brought with him. The male in him did not like it. The man in him wanted to bash Derrick’s head in, and the leader in him chose not to interfere.
Dillon noticed with some satisfaction and a little unease that the distance in her was laced with anger. Catherine punctuated her rage, by stalking over to Derrick. She picked up her bedroll from beside him and made her way to the opposite side of the room.
It was more than anger, it was a choice. It was a decision made and the only one who didn’t understand the finality of Catherine’s actions was Derrick. He still thought he could apologize and make it right. Dillon genuinely pitied him then.
Derrick was up in an instant, and his hand was almost upon her arm to force her to turn and face him, when Dillon spoke. The boy was obviously not thinking straight, or familiarity may have bred contempt.
“I think if you like that arm Derrick old chap, you better not touch Catherine. In case you haven’t caught on, she’s angry at you. She’s trying to manage her emotions, and she needs some space,” Dillon’s words weren’t mocking, but mockery was not entirely lacking.
Derrick cursed the lack of privacy. When Catherine finally turned far enough towards him, for Derrick to actually see her face, he had to admit Dillon was right. His hand dropped away instinctively, and the derision in her eyes was faint, but there.
Derrick stared at Catherine, and he saw the vampire so blatantly present in her eyes. The differences in them became more than the tally of their similarities.
She felt alien to Derrick then, as she felt foreign to him the first day he met her on the practice room floor. Catherine was different, other and not in any way human. Dangerous, he realized. His mind told him to leave her alone, and his pride would not listen.
Catherine gaze blazed with anger, but mostly she was hurt and disappointed in him. Knowing it and seeing it, wasn’t the same thing.
The connection that she allowed to form between them was gone. The bond was severed. He was no longer her lover, her equal or her friend. The distance between them was a gaping void where nothing lived, and it chilled Derrick to the soul.
Derrick blinked as the last part of his heart withered inside him. Catherine may not have loved him as a woman loves a man, but she had loved him as a friend. She had trusted him and allowed him to see behind the facade of her life.
He proved to her that humans were inferior. He demonstrated to Catherine how his species reacted to a perceived threat with mindless, driven, unbending and intractable instinct.
Catherine saw humanity with too much clarity. She understood what drove their actions was base fear and mindless prejudice. She still gave him the benefit of the doubt, and he wasn’t man enough to handle it.
His reactions were primary and overwhelming. Fear that understood no reasoning and justified itself with anger.
Dillon would not have mishandled the situation, and the knowledge stung Derrick. Dillon would not have rushed in like that, filled to the brim with old memories and old fears.
What made it worse was that Dillon had the right to both. After all, his uncle and his aunt were murdered by a vampire.
“His arm is safe my lord,” Catherine’s voice sounded clipped and intensely cold.
Dillon could feel the distance between Derrick and Catherine stretch until it became an insurmountable barrier. He felt his heart break for them, and he almost pitied Derrick for not being able to read her emotions in the way he could.
Then the boy would know how, underneath it all, Catherine was just hurt and betrayed. She needed time, but he knew she would not let Derrick back into her bed, even if she might be persuaded to return his friendship.
Still, it would not be the same. It could never be the same. Derrick had, in the heat of the moment, discarded something precious for nothing.
Their eyes met and held, those of Derrick and Catherine. She calmed in those few short moments when Dillon was distracted by the ache in his chest. Her composure was worse than her anger, though.