“You can be at the edge of the world, but just so you know, I’ll still be right beside you.”
~ Zachary Nolan (Zakarieus Nœrlaide)
Harvick––Loukianos, rather––cried when he saw my mom. Arthur almost did, too, but I think it was because she reminded him of my dad. Since he now knew she was a vampire, they had a long conversation about the past. Kaydence was a sobbing mess. Hailee bawled and clung to Roman for the next three days. Josephine seemed busy, and Ashlynne had to return to work. Zach and I slipped into the hall.
“You attacked me, remember that?” I said, straining my eyes until they watered.
“Shush,” he grumbled, hand gently cupping my head. I giggled. It’d been too long since I felt his lips on mine, his hands on my skin, his hair tickling my face.
“I’m so glad it’s over,” I whispered, eyelids slipping shut. “I’m so tired.”
“I know, hun. You did great. I’m sorry you had to do everything.”
Drowsily, I shook my head, then felt my feet leave the ground. I snuggled into his neck, and my shoulders sank in complete relaxation. I wanted to sleep for twenty-four hours straight. I swam in and out of consciousness until I felt soft bed sheets envelope around me.
“Don’t leave,” I mumbled.
“I’m not. I’ll be sitting right here.” His voice rang from near his desk.
I flung the comforter aside and smacked the bed space beside me. “Too far.”
I heard him stand, walk over, drop a book onto the nightstand. His weight sank the mattress, and soon, my arm draped over his torso, and his arm circled to my waist. He kissed my forehead. “Good night. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” My body grew heavy with sleep. I felt wrapped up in cold warmth. After that short second of security, he disappeared.
My eyes burst open, and I jolted up. “Zach?”
He was there; he didn’t move an inch. I laid back down. “Oh, nothing. I was dreaming.”
His grip on me tightened ever so slightly. I forcibly shut my eyes and tried to recreate the heaviness earlier. Just as I began to relax, the bed was empty again.
“Zach, where are you?” I yelped, short of breath.
His fingers swiftly laced through mine. “I haven’t moved, hun. Are you okay? Nightmares? I can enter and change your dream if you’re okay with it.”
“Yeah, thank you.” My eyelids were the weight of lead, yet as soon as I felt a hint of sleep, I would be alone. Zach was gone, dead or alive. My entire body’s muscles tensed, fixated that I had to do something, anything, everything to find him.
“You don’t seem to be dreaming,” Zach said. “I think it’s a physical thing.”
I suddenly realized, “I’m still subconsciously nervous about if you’re alive or dead.”
He pressed my hand against his chest as if I could feel a heartbeat. “I’m alive in front of you.”
My fingers curled and bunched his shirt in my fist. Why did he feel so far away? What if he vanished in the next minute? What if there was an ability that could summon someone?
What if he dies?
“Here, I’ll show you what happened. Maybe everything happened too fast.”
Zach’s memories played like a movie before my eyes. Right after directing me to escape, Nœrlaide blazed his highest-level hypnosis. It seemed to be the same as the one he used on my mother, entrancing Zach to think he agreed with their ideals to refresh the vampire race. Zach worked with them, even willingly swallowing one of the pills. He was one of the twenty percent who experienced no backlash and received a significant power boost.
When my wish broke his hypnosis, he and Anderson were in the prison tower, totalling the remaining number of Purebloods. Instantly, he yanked her shoulder and forced eye contact, securing the mind control before she could react. Surprisingly, he blanked for a moment before dashing down the tower. He halted, realizing that simply barging in would be too dangerous and losing the upper hand of surprise. I didn’t know it was possible for Zach to hesitate. His eyes narrowed for a while, and the red rings around Anderson’s pupils became invisible. He strained some extra effort to hide the obvious indicator of mind manipulation. I knew what happened afterward. He entered the lab, pretending to be a hypnotized doll, and purposely stationed Anderson near Ceallakánn. Through his eyes, I realized how longing and relieved my gaze looked. It must’ve taken all his self-control to appear unaffected and remain still until I slammed the table as a signal.
“I don’t think that helped,” I said. “It just reminds me of how suddenly I lost you, and the eighty percent chance––”
“I shouldn’t have shown you that,” Zach quickly broke in, brows knitted. “I want to say that it was a journey, but everything was okay. I’m alright, thanks to you. We’re here together now, so we can stop worrying about the past and what would’ve happened.”
I slowly nodded. “You’re right, yeah. If I could stop those rampaging psychopaths, I can do anything.”
“That’s my girl.”
“But I can’t rest without vividly imagining that you’ve gone far away from me again.”
After a moment of silent contemplation, he hummed in thought. “How can I feel close, then?”
My face seemed to flush. I propped myself up and gave him a long kiss. His half-lidded pale blues pooled into mine. “Are you sure?”
“I want to be closer to you. I want you here forever. I’m as sure as the day I gave my heart to you.”
Zach laughed––one of his endearing ones––and flipped on top of me. “Only you can get away with saying such cheesy shit.”
I stared, dreamily, at his attempt to veil his own bashfulness and anticipation. He nibbled my neck, travelling down to the collarbone. A feverish yet excited heat burned within me, and I wanted him to feel all of it, just as I wanted to feel all of him. I locked my arms around his neck and combed my fingers through his hair, more keenly aware than ever before how deeply our love ran.
The rest of the summer flew by. I spent days and days talking to my mother and showing her the changes in the outside world. I thought it a bit awkward to share my memories since Zach was a big part of them, so I told her about my life in the past twelve years leading up to my eighteenth birthday.
“You really went and did that, huh? Joined the hunters, almost killed the love of your life, but then transformed.” She gasped. “When you were born human, we were relieved and fearful at the same time. We hoped you’d have an ordinary life and no need to fight. Who knew this hybrid business was so complicated?”
“Yeah, I was in denial for the longest time.”
“How did you grow fangs?”
My phantom heart skipped a beat. I had left out that part. “On the last night of the transformation month. It was painful. I was unconscious for like, half an hour, and I demolished a room.”
She laughed, lightly hitting my arm. My faint childhood memories coined her as a motherly, gentle, and soft character, but in fact, she was caring yet assertive, fun, and emotional. I must’ve distorted her image according to my friends’ moms since I was too young. Unlike any other mother I knew, she spoke to and treated me like a best friend, rarely lecturing or nurturing. And it felt natural since she looked no older than twenty-something. I later learned this was the parent-child dynamic of most vampire families.
“But, wow. Think about what would’ve happened if Zach never read those vamps’ memories. And if you never noticed the peculiarity,” mom reflected.
“Pretty scary. Nœrlaide might’ve wiped out the current vampire race with a ‘superior’ one and enslaved all of humankind,” I said, pouring some red-hued tea into two teacups.
“Can’t believe you made that stubborn old gramps change his mind, even after killing his closest friend.”
I chuckled, handing her a cup and gesturing to the table of red-tinted tea snacks. Hailee had picked up Crysanthė’s cooking skills and had since reproduced many of his classics. “I don’t think he and Ceallakánn were friends, per se. They just happened to hold the same mindset when the progenitors divided. Personality-wise, they’re pretty different.”
“True. Ceallakánn was so easily irritable. Nœrlaide never showed it, but maybe it bothered him. Oh! This scone is amazing.”
I stirred my spoon in the cup for a while before speaking, “Hey, mom. There’s one more thing I’m curious about.”
“How did you and dad meet?” I asked, knowing I was treading on her wound again. That was the one question I wanted answers to ever since I found out she was a vampire.
Mom smiled wistfully. “It all started when I couldn’t mind my own business and tried to revive a boy on the brink of death.”
“Wait, I thought your mom… passed away?” Sophi questioned.
“Nope, it turns out she was hypnotized by a group of mad scientists as a researcher for a doomsday plan to enslave all of humanity.”
She stared in a daze, then burst out laughing. “Dawson, why are you like this? Okay, I get it. When you said she’s ‘not here anymore,’ you meant she was away, like, on a trip or something?”
“Yeah, you got it. She was working overseas. Sorry about that misunderstanding.” I grinned back.
“I’m so smart.” Sophi nodded. “I haven’t seen you all summer! I’ve been craving shaved ice for days. Let’s go!”
I complied, deciding I’d pretend to get a stomach ache after a few bites.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked Roman, eyes wide. I ran into him on my way to Zach’s room.
He raised his eyebrows, head tilting––an Ashton mannerism. Since returning, Roman’s acted like nothing ever happened.
“Hazel,” he started, deadpanning––a Roman mannerism. “Nothing’s much worse than blaming your twin brother, your only family’s, murder on yourself and spiralling into split personality for a decade because you can’t accept that you’ve become truly alone until an accident forces you to come to terms with it, which improves your mental state but permanently erases any trace of the only person you’ve ever loved.”
I gulped. He’d gotten so sassy. “Understood.”
Roman’s gaze softened. “I’m kidding.”
“About which part?”
“The last part,” he stated, then teleported away. His coming and going as he pleased was the most difficult aspect of conversing with him.
“What was the last part again?” I mumbled to myself. Just then, Zach darted from down the hall and grabbed my wrist. His orbs were black and red, looking ready to shoot laser beams.
“Fuck, that bastard disappeared.”
“Roman? He always does that.”
“He hid because he heard me coming,” Zach said, ears straining to listen if Roman was nearby.
“Why? Did something happen?”
Zach’s mouth popped open and closed. He sighed. “It’s nothing. Small thing. Doesn’t deserve your attention.”
Before I could react, he snaked his arms around my waist and weighed down on my shoulders. I shifted my right foot back to adjust. He seemed a bit clingier than usual. I hugged him. “Wanna go back to your room?”
He moved to press his forehead against mine. “You’re mine, right?”
I inwardly chuckled. He’d only ever show these vulnerabilities to me.
“Right?” he asked again.
“Yes, of course. All yours. Only yours.”
He hummed, satisfied. “And I’m yours too, remember. You gotta take responsibility.”
“Yes, you are. And yes, I am. You big baby.”
His eyes swirled back to a mischievous glint of pale blue. He laughed quietly. “How dare you.”
“Am I wrong?”
With one swift motion, his left arm hit the back of my knees, and his right arm caught my falling shoulders. He ran to his room and kicked the door shut behind him, tossing me onto the bed. Before my weight even fully sank in, he was hovering over me.
“Take that back,” he whispered huskily, half-lidded pale blues pooling into my hazel ones.
My lips curved to mirror his sly smile. “Make me.”
And that he did.