“Val…” A voice, husky and grating, soothed her to sleep. Hands reached for Valeria, caressing her arms, serenading her face by the lightest touch. Lips pierced her skin, setting fire to every intimate place on her body.
Her eyes flew open and were caught in the storm of Dante’s eyes. His face wasn’t a breath away as his lips clashed against hers, consuming her escaped gasp. Dante’s hands roamed the length of her body, leaving blazing trails behind.
Just as Valeria reached to touch his face, Dante vanished, leaving her body cold and tense.
Valeria shouted for Dante—and jolted upright in bed.
Through the windows, the sun drifted into the tree-lines on the horizon.
Valeria sighed, wrapped her arms around her legs, and laid her head on her knees as she watched dusk through the window.
Throughout the day, she fell in and out of consciousness; when asleep, she had the most vivid dreams, the one with Dante being the most recent. Most were memories and some were the deepest of her desires.
Now Valeria wondered if her desires were ever to satisfied.
Had anyone come to visit? She looked around the room, noting that nothing seemed to have changed since she fell asleep.
Her stomach growled.
Groaning, she buried her face in her arms.
In the dimly lit room, all alone, Valeria felt a familiar ache begin in her chest. A sob broke loose as she shut her eyes and attempted to force the cry down her throat.
“Val?” A voice rang through the open space of her room.
She jerked up at the noise and found herself staring at Isaac’s specter. He stood a yard away from her bed with his arms crossed, wearing the bloodiest attire Valeria had ever seen, with his crimson eyes studying her.
Valeria’s mouth dropped open.
It had to be the soul-bond. They both held a measure of magic, whether it differentiated in substance, which fueled their abilities to appear to each other. She had forgotten about this.
Valeria stumbled to her feet and held onto the canopy post at the end of the bed for support.
“Isaac…” Valeria wiped at her tears. “You…how did you know I was here?”
“I’m stuck in a cell in the basement,” he said. “I used the time to meditate—and I felt you.”
“How...how are you?” Valeria asked. “I…I’m so sorry—”
Isaac reached out to comfort her and his hands went through Valeria’s shoulders. He grimaced and stepped back, crossing his arms once more. “Val, It’s okay. We’re both alive.”
“Only because you’re alive,” Valeria said. “Kind of. You’re undead, so.”
“What do you mean?”
“To…save you, they had me preform a spell—and it tied me to you.”
Isaac’s face twisted in anger as he turned away from her and muttered a long string of vulgarities.
Valeria winced at the words and dropped her gaze as her brother’s anger filled the air.
Isaac paced beside her, rubbing his chin and growling under his breath.
“Even more reason to kill him,” Isaac said after a moment.
“Don’t—” Valeria stepped in his way. “Isaac, you can’t—”
“You would still protect him, after all this time?” Isaac stopped in his path. His twisted even more, giving him a devilish scowl. “How could you still trust him?”
“I…I don’t—I don’t know. I just…please…” Her voice trailed off. Valeria wrapped her arms around her chest and sucked in deep breaths to calm herself. After such dreams she experienced during her nap, she felt dazed.
“Isaac…” Valeria cleared her throat. “I’m so sorry.”
“What, did he say that he was doing it to protect you? To protect me from myself?” Isaac hissed. “What loads of shit.”
Valeria pursed her lips.
“I’ll fucking kill him, Valeria. He is dead to us,” Isaac howled. “He’s locked you up in here, hasn’t he? Even now, he’s controlling everything. That fucking prick—”
“Isaac,” Valeria said in a hushed tone. “Please—”
“You don’t understand, Val.” Isaac stopped pacing and turned to her. He raked a hand through his hair, pulling at the ends of it so hard Valeria was afraid he would rip strands out of his head. “I spent a century starving, dying, then waking up to do it all over again. I will kill Dante, even if it means killing myself in the process.”
Valeria’s breath caught in her throat. “You…you would want to die?”
“Wouldn’t you—after temporarily dying so often, for so long?” Isaac groaned and dropped his face into his palms. “You...you don’t understand. I’m tired of—of this.”
She watched his ethereal figure strode to and fro. Valeria thought she saw a dark red hue radiate around him as his emotions climbed. He clutched his head as his chest heaved staccato breaths.
“I’ve gone insane, Val,” Isaac after several minutes. “I feel it creeping in the shadows. I think about all the things Dante put me through and I lose it. It’s like a dream that never ends.”
Valeria sucked in a breath. She couldn’t possibly understand what Isaac had gone through all of these years. Her heart ached for her brother.
“I was asleep the entire time.” Valeria’s lips upturned in the weakest of smiles. “I…I was just like sleeping beauty.”
“At least you didn’t have to experience that.” Isaac was grateful for his sister—but jealous. Why did he have to suffer when she hadn’t at all?
It was strange, this projection spell. He stood both in the cell and in her room. He felt his body breathe in and out, but his whole mind was where she was, watching as she clutched at herself with fidgeting anxiety.
“Isaac, why are you visiting me?” Valeria blurted. “You should hate me. I’d hate me if I were you.”
“I was bored,” Isaac said. “And I guess…I don’t know. I had to, I guess.”
Valeria nodded and continued to fiddle with anxiety, watching as he sat down on the ottoman. His body looked strange against the contrast of the solid room. She could see through it like a thin sheet of tissue paper.
“Look, I—” Valeria was cut off by sharp raps on her door. She stood up just in time to watch the door fly open.
Dante stepped in. Lines of stress creased his forehead. His jaw clenched and through the thin set of his lips, she could see that his fangs were unsheathed. His eyes surveyed the room.
Isaac’s apparition still hovered over the ottoman and Dante seemed to not see Isaac.
It was hard for Valeria to swallow past her dry mouth and throat.
Isaac moved toward Valeria, keeping his eyes on Dante as he shut the door behind him.
Dante watched as Valeria looked in the empty space to her right, frantically clutching and stroking her hair. He studied the area beside her. His eyes made out a thin line of an aura of a body which stood a foot taller than Valeria.
A growl began in his chest.
“Isaac?” Dante hissed his name and darted toward Valeria.
Valeria watched as it all happened so quickly: Isaac, thinking that Dante was going to attack her, stepped in his way, only to have Dante fall through his ethereal form.
Isaac moved out of the way as Dante took Valeria in his arms, shielding her from Isaac.
“What is he doing?” Dante asked.
She trembled in his arms. It had been so long since she was held by him, it seemed she couldn’t get over the fact that she was indeed in his arms.
Where he had been a warm blanket of security, now he was frigid stone.
“Val? What did he do?” Dante asked.
Her eyes flickered to Isaac, who stood a few feet away with his fists clenched and fangs bared.
“Isaac,” she breathed his name. “Please…go.”
Her brother focused on her face, his own eyes widening with apprehension.
“What has he done?” Dante asked and looked toward the thinly frame silhouette that stood just a yard away from the two.
“Nothing,” Valeria whispered. “Please, leave, Isaac.”
Isaac let out a strain of profanity, then pleaded, “Why are you siding with him, Val?”
“I’m not,” Valeria replied. “We’re going to talk.” Which was true. There were many things that Valeria and Dante needed to talk about and if Isaac stayed, not much could be said.
“Talk?” Isaac let out a loud, harsh laugh. “He’ll take advantage of you, Val! You’re weak—and he’s a fucking vampire—”
“So are you!” Valeria shot back. Exhausted, she slouched against Dante. “Get out, Isaac. Please.”
Isaac looked between the two, dumbfounded, and dissipated into the air.
Dante tightened his grip around Valeria and pulled her to the bed to rest. His eyes kept searching the room for a possibility of Isaac appearing again.
“Val,” Dante whispered. “What happened?”
“I woke up and he appeared to me,” she replied and held her forehead. Her body ached with nervousness. It was difficult for her to breath. “I guess because of the soul-binding and our magic. We just talked.”
She looked at him through her fingers, then pulled her hands through her hair, smoothing it out of her face. “Why are you here?”
“I needed to check on you.” Dante didn’t seem to want to elaborate. He scooted a few inches away from her, giving her space, but kept his hands around her waist. “Are you hungry?”
“I’ll call someone to bring in food.”
“Why didn’t you do that before? Wasn’t Lottie supposed to bring me food?”
“She didn’t? I will look into that.” Dante pursed his lips. “I needed to check on you…you’re growing ill, Val.”
“Yeah…I think so, too.” Every time Valeria woke up, she felt ill to her stomach. She broke out in cold sweats throughout the day. Something feverish took over her.
“Val…” What was Dante supposed to do? He had an inkling that this wasn’t just an illness—that it was something more. He inched his hand to her face, giving her ample opportunity to move away.
She only closed her eyes, leaning into his touch as if she needed it.
As if she needed him.
God, he couldn’t lose her.
Dante caressed her face and checked for a fever, but felt dampness on her cheeks.
She cried before he came. Had Isaac made her cry? He gritted his teeth in anger and held her face in his hands.
“Val,” he said again. “I…I love you. I’ve missed you so much.”
Her eyes, though closed, blinked and a few tears dripped from them. His thumbs brushed them away.
His heart twisted in his chest.
“I love you—”
“Don’t.” Valeria shook her head. “Please…Dante, I’m so sorry. But please, don’t.”
His heart froze for a mere second before it picked up momentum in his chest. “Why? You’re finally awake. We can be together now.”
“You said that before.” Valeria jerked out of his soft grip and scooted out of his reach. She brought her knees to her chest, closing herself off to Dante. “Before I casted that spell.”
“I meant it.” Dante let out a shaky breath. He needed to compose himself. For so long, he had kept his composure. Now that he let it go, he found his reservation hard to replace. It was so fucking long since he was able to say “I love you” to her. Now, he could. Now, he did—and now, she rejected it.
“I meant it, Val.” He repeated. “I love you and I’ve wanted to be with you since we were kids. I didn’t know that you would fall into that sleep. Now, I’m not going to make that mistake again—I’m not letting you go.”
Valeria pulled her face into the comfort of her arms, hiding her expression from him. She wanted to believe that he was being honest. Maybe in some way, he thought he was telling the truth. From everything that happened, Valeria gathered a deeper understanding: whether Dante knew it or not, he was a dangerous force that inevitably destroyed everything around him.
Being close to him was not a mistake she was willing to make again so easily.
Dante planned to kill Isaac, for God’s sake. He and her brother were pinned against each other, now even more than before.
By the end of this feud, one of them would be dead.
Valeria felt the bed shift. She peeked through the holes between her arms and her legs. Dante had faced forward. His expression was cold and calculating, setting deeply into the lines of his face.
Over the course of the time Valeria was awake, she had seen him gone from a stranger, to a cordial gentleman, to a lovesick puppy, to this: a man who stared ahead with his fists clenched in his lap.
“Do you love me?” He asked after a few moments of silence.
“I’m not going to tell you that, Dante,” she mumbled through her limbs.
“Why not?” Dante hissed through his teeth. “I just told you that I still love you.”
“I don’t trust you anymore,” Valeria whispered, almost too afraid to speak that truth. She twisted her head to other way, hoping to not catch his reaction.
The bed moved as Dante stood up. He knelt down in front of her, looking through the small holes to see her face. Tears fell once again from her cheeks.
Valeria was right. Dante had yet to give her a reason to trust him. Hell, he wouldn’t trust him if he were her.
Dante sighed, leaning back on his heels. At the corner of his eyes, the moonlight shone through the uncovered windows. It was serene and motionless; a stark contrast to the hectic turmoil that radiated in and around Dante.
Sighing, Dante closed his eyes.
“Isaac will be subjected to the Prince.”
“Who?” He heard Valeria whisper.
“The Prince is the leading vampire of this state. There are laws for the vampires,” Dante said. “I must lead an example and follow these rules.”
“What is the rule for Isaac?”
“We can’t kill each other. Not unless we are allowed to,” Dante replied. “He’s allowed a trial, but we must take him to the Prince for this trial.”
“Do you think the Prince will…execute him?”
“Yes. Without hesitation.”
“I see.” That was all Valeria had left to say. She buried herself further in the comforts of her own arms, shielding herself away from Dante and his life.
What she wanted was to get back to her old life. She let out a sigh that shook her whole frame.
He leaned over to her, grabbing a hold of her arms and moved them away from her face in a deliberate slowness.
Valeria seemed to fall in his arms as she gave no resistance, accepting his comfort as best as she could.
“I don’t want him to die.”
“I’m sorry.” Dante whispered. He wished that things had ended up differently, that he hadn’t fucked up in the first place, nearly a century ago.
But Dante had already contacted the Prince, who would be there in Independence in a day or two.
“Why has this happened?” Valeria mumbled. “Why did you do this to us, Dante?”
It had been so long that Dante couldn’t remember clearly the reasons. He had no answer to give her, so instead he tightened his arms around her and closed his eyes, dwelling in the sweet bliss of the moment’s embrace.