Kate played nurse while Leo went to his first day of finals. Knowing Henry was determined to visit, I asked her to help me shower so I could stand in hot water long enough to wash my hair out twice, hopefully removing the rancid smell.
By the time I was done showering and getting dressed, I felt exhausted. Kate changed all my bedding and opened the windows to air out the room. We tried to make everything look and smell as normal as possible.
Henry arrived with Will and a huge display of candlelight white roses. Kate introduced herself and, per my instructions, led only Henry upstairs. She settled him in the oversized chair next to my bed and put the roses on my dresser.
“Henry, you’re walking on your injured leg. Doesn’t it hurt?” I pushed the thin blankets aside and made the few steps to where Henry sat. Kate hurried back downstairs to keep Will company.
“No, it’s actually not bad. I’ve got it wrapped, and the hospital gave me some really nice pain killers.” Henry put his hand out toward me. I grabbed his arm and pulled myself to him, hugging him tightly.
“I’m so glad you’re okay.” Images from the night flooded back to me. I found it impossible not to cry.
“Alerie, everything is fine, Sweetheart. I’m fine thanks to you. I’m better than fine. I can see some shadows now. That’s what I couldn’t wait to tell you. The specialists think the trauma caused my optical nerve to reroute a small amount of neural activity.”
I put my hand over my mouth and stifled my reaction. “Henry. I’m so happy for you.”
“Al, what’s wrong? You feel so hot, Honey. Why don’t we go downstairs where it’s cooler and talk with Will? He wants to thank you too.” Henry stood and held out his arm.
“I’m sorry. I can’t make it down the stairs on my own right now. I’m not feeling well.” I crawled back to my bed and pulled myself onto the mattress. Henry followed after me, barely touching my arm to find the bed.
“My God, what’s wrong with you? Have you seen a doctor?” Henry sounded frantic, and I could tell he needed a logical answer quickly.
“Yes, I have. The problem should resolve on its own. The doctors think it’s extreme stress. A total meltdown.”
“Jesus, nobody told me this was happening to you.”
“There’s nothing anyone can do. You met Kate. She’s here to help me.” Leo arrived with a bag of groceries. He introduced himself to Will and started cooking. His deep, booming voice easily made it upstairs.
“Is he the friend you saved from the stalker?” Henry’s voice dipped like he was trying to force himself to sound calm.
“Yes, Leo. I’m sure Will can fill you in on his details.”
“Just tell me the truth. Is that man downstairs, your boyfriend?”
“No, not exactly,” I whispered.
“So exactly what is he,” Henry asked, carefully presenting each word with increased volume.
“Leo is my longtime friend with benefits. Tonight, that benefit is making me dinner because I can’t make it for myself.”
Henry took a deep, measured breath. “I should go.”
“Henry, don’t leave like this.” As he got off the bed, I slid off the edge onto the floor.
“Christ Al,” Henry put out his hand to help me up, but I didn’t have the strength to pull myself off the floor. “Put your arms around my neck. I’ll get you back in bed.”
“I know I’m not in the best shape right now but don’t leave mad.”
“I’m not mad you’re sick, I’m angry you didn’t tell me how sick you are, and I’m angry your fuck-buddy is downstairs making dinner. You’re still keeping something from me. After years of dealing with lies. I just can’t do it with you too.” Henry stood up and felt for the chair back.
“Henry, the stairs.” I reached out to him, but he couldn’t see me.
“I can make it down the fucking stairs.”
“Sit with me, and I will tell you everything.” I wasn’t sure how to start my explanation.
Part of me hoped Henry would leave so I would have time to sort out a good lie. It took him a second, but he navigated back to the chair by my bed, sat down, and took a deep breath.
“Alright, I’m willing to listen, once.”
“I prayed the old Clan fables were true, and I could make your blood stop pouring out on the ground. So, I bit you.”
“You what?” Henry choked.
“The first of my venom, it’s like a mother’s milk, full of colostrum and fat. My venom is what’s bringing back your sight. But it will only progress so far.”
“Venom? This is ridiculous. You don’t have venom. I can hear you’re in pain from the tremble in your voice. Delirium is a side effect of fever and infection. We can get you antibiotics.”
“My body is killing off all my human parts. The high-feeling you have now, it will go away when the effects of my bite wear off.”
“No, I just lived through a near-death experience. I feel reborn. I can see basic shapes now if they’re backlit. It gives me a headache, but it’s progress.” Henry’s voice became breathy and low.
“The shooters were pointed toward you and Will. I chose to push you both out of the way. My transformation began the moment I traded your lives for the others standing behind you.
“The eyesight change and your speedy recovery began when I bit you. You are still completely human. If you want the effect to continue beyond your body’s limits, I need to bite you again before the gains from the other night wear-off.”
“I know you like to joke, Al. This is starting to sound clinical.”
“Sounds crazy, doesn’t it. I know it does. I can’t show you proof but listen to my heart.” Henry slowly put his head on my chest.
I slowed my breathing and stopped my heartbeat. Henry couldn’t see my deeply bruised skin or my gray pallor, but he could hear my heart shutter to a silent stop.
“My God, Alerie, you’re soaking wet, and you smell like death. Your friend out there, does he know what’s going on. Is this some kind of drug overdose?”
“Leo’s like me. We are from the same Clan. He won’t let me suffer alone.” As I explained, I knew my relationship with Leo wasn’t helping my cause.
“My doctor commented one of the wounds on my leg was shaped like a bite mark. He said it was an impression from the concrete planter.”
“Henry, you were dying, bleeding out faster than I could stop. There were no tools or supplies. Help wasn’t coming fast enough. I could hear your heartbeat skip and slow like a jug of thick syrup pouring out on the floor.
“The old myths came to my mind. Rationally I knew they were bullshit, but I thought. At worst, you would die anyway, and at best, I would need a plausible story for the miraculous recovery. You don’t owe me anything, but I couldn’t let you die without trying everything in my power to save you.”
Henry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Let’s say you have venom, and you bite me again. I can’t imagine the wound won’t get infected, but what happens in your myths?”
“According to Clan lore, you would live another hundred years. I doubt your human body will be as strong as two oxen and one bear like the fable says, but I assume your body will become as perfect as your DNA will allow.
“In the fable, the man was mauled by a bear and run over by a two oxen cart. Eventually, the man was transported to the woods, and the ancestors bit him twice and stuffed him into a fallen oak tree so they couldn’t hear his screams of pain. We can find you a bottle of hydrocodone.”
“You think you are not entirely human, and one of these stories applies to you and to me specifically. That’s why you are sick right now?” Henry’s tone changed to light and compliant. I could tell he thought I was completely insane.
“You can leave after the process stops, but if you stay too long, you won’t have free will to leave my side,” I explained.
“With this logic, you would never know if I truly love you or if I was just enslaved by your venom.”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Al, do you think possibly all the stress from school, a new relationship, strife with your parents, and the shooting have led you to a total but somewhat functional mental breakdown.”
“I really hope so, but there is one last part of my myth. I must walk into this certain part of the forest outside my family land called the White when the moon is in the right phase, with several people and kill demons. I think you are one of those people Henry. You’re my armor, the man in the log. If I survive, I’m cured. I get to live.”
“I understand the monster component of the story. It’s well cemented in our cultural allegories. I’m willing to let you bite me just so I don’t have to leave you here with your friend with benefits.
“And I see no problem walking into the forest to kill demons. No judgments at all there. But if this plan doesn’t work, you will let me find you a suitable treatment facility.”
“I think that’s only fair.” I could feel my body start to weaken and tremble. It was almost an hour since I last ate.
“Now I’m going to opt-out of the second bite. Not because I don’t believe you, Honey, but because I would rather stay blind than be enslaved by a werewolf.”
“I can understand your choice.”
“Now, when do we walk into the forest. Who all do we need to bring?” Henry’s calm questioning reinforced his crazy theory. He was willingly entering my reality.
“Saturday around midnight. We can stay overnight for the party Sunday and drive back Monday afternoon. Leo is my soldier, Kate is my witch, you are my armor. I know vampire Emma who will bring her people to pick off any demon stragglers. She’s a phlebotomist.”
“Of course, why wouldn’t she be? It’s a perfect career choice for a vampire. Alright then, should we bring Will. He desperately wants to meet your sister Lila.”
“Oh sure, Lila’s a true half-blood. They will be fine back at the ranch together.”
“Alright then, I’m sending Will to grab me some clothes so I can stay here with you. Or if you like, you can stay with me, but I don’t want to leave you here alone.”
“Stay here with me Henry, the apartment is small. I don’t think it will take you long to map it out.”
“Doesn’t concern me right now, Sweetheart.” Henry patted my knee for a few moments before heading downstairs.
Will was given instructions and tore himself away from Kate’s upbeat banter. Leo introduced himself to Henry and asked him if he would be staying for dinner. I could feel the tension rise from the kitchen below. I hid in my room to avoid them all.