Guarded

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CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER NINE

Elias

I felt whole for the first time in a long time, but the thought of going to Russia troubled me. The last time we were there, we ran into one of them: the cold hunters that spent their whole lives training to track us down and kill us. One, in particular, came close to taking my life more than once, and then somehow I managed to be the one to technically save his life. Now I just wanted to know where he was today. Was he still alive or after he found out what he became, did he kill himself just to get away from the torment?

I remember the girl coming to me, crying and begging to save the life of the man she loved and the true pain in the eyes. However for the life of me, I could no longer remember the face, nor could I remember if I bothered to look. All I could recall was looking at the lifeless man and deciding that even if he did try to kill me, I should be kind and help him, and so I did. I never saw either of them again, and that was probably for the best. I finished stuffing my clothing into the suitcase on the bed, quickly making a call to Niall before heading out. It went straight to voicemail, which was odd, but I left a message, too focused on the mission at hand to really care.

I made calls as I walked, trying to figure out a way to get us to Russia without having to board a plane full of humans and risk a massacre. Everyone I called within my network of friends was either busy or reluctant to lend me their plane. Frustrated, I was about to give up, scrolling through my contact list for a hail Mary, when the highlight landed on my father’s name. I didn’t want to call him and ask for favors, given that we’d just patched things up between us, but I didn’t have any other choice. It was either this or risk the human lives on a commercial plane. I selected his name and hit dial.

“Whaddya want, Elias?” My father asked with a sigh, picking up on the third ring. I hated that he already knew I needed something.

“I wouldn’t call asking for favors normally, but this is very important and I have no other option. Believe me, I’ve tried looking. I need to borrow your plane.” Even though his house was small and sparsely decorated, my father was as rich as I was, maybe even more so. He just wasn’t one to lead a flashy life, or to revel in the things he’d acquired.

“Where are ya headed?” Riecher asked, and I told him about Ramsey’s vision and our destination. “I’ll allow ya to borrow it, on one condition… I’m coming with ya.” I didn’t know how the girls would feel about him tagging along and I didn’t really want him coming, especially given that we could run into trouble, but I had no other choice.

“Alright. We’re about to leave for Niall’s place now, and we’ll use his plane to get to you. I’ll message you when we’re close to your airport, so you can meet us there and we can leave as soon as we land.”

“Sounds good. See ya, kiddo,” he said before hanging up. I felt relieved knowing that I’d squared away the plans. I headed for the front gate and cursed quietly when I saw Valentina waiting for me.

“Oh, no need to make up a reason for why you’re leaving this time,” she commented, inspecting her nails. “Your new pet already told me everything. You should get a muzzle for that little bitch, otherwise, I’ll know all your indiscretions by the end of the week,” she finished with a haughty laugh that made me want to puke.

“So you know then that it’s not safe for anyone here with you around, and you know that I’m taking Ramsey back to Niall.”

“All the better,” Valentina said, giving me a sideways glance. “Nosy wench made a mess of the library. Not to mention the way she and that guard of yours are two peas in a pod now. Are you sure that Niall is engaged to that girl? The way those two pal around, you’d think there was something else going on… Ahh, it’s best she leaves. I’m awful hungry…” she added, baring her fangs. “Fly safe, darling.” I pushed past her, reaching for the door.

“It’ll be an interesting flight, to say the least,” she said, making me pause.

“What does that mean?” I asked, not looking at her.

“Oh, you know. Your guard and I had a chat of sorts. She’s a very receptive girl, very… pliant. You can’t really believe you can lie to her forever…” She trailed off as she walked away, not finishing her sentence, and a feeling of dread engulfed me. I had no idea what Valentina had done to Noxx, but it worried me. I went to get the car, pulling it around front so the girls could see me. I didn’t have to wait long before they came out, carrying a few bags with them. Lennox had a look on her face, and she seemed lost in thought. It made me nervous. They quickly climbed in, and we were off to the airport.

The first part of the ride there was surprisingly quiet. It felt uncomfortable, given the exchange I’d had with Valentina earlier. I decided to break the silence and get to know Ramsey a little better since we’d had little time together aside from task business.

“So how did you and Niall meet? He never told me, and it’s not really normal for vampires to seek the company of humans other than for… um…”

“For food?” Ramsey supplied, and I swallowed hard. “It’s okay. You can say it. It’s just a fact of life. I was practicing divining. I didn’t expect to see him, or what was happening. Usually, it’s pretty mellow stuff. I saw him being jumped by a hunter.” I wondered why he never told me about that as she continued. “He was a novice, but still a tough match for Niall. Put up a good fight before he realized he was losing. He hightailed it, leaving Niall for dead in the alley. He was real close by, too. I couldn’t just let him die, vampire or not. I tracked him down and found him close to unconsciousness. I insisted he drink from me because we could both tell he’d die if he didn’t. Of course, Niall had to be Niall, and he refused to drink from me. I was so angry with him about it that as I went to get up to fetch some bandages from my home, I cut my hand on a bottle that was lying on the ground. He got this frenzied look on his face and I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist. So I trusted him and forced my hand to his mouth.”

“And he was okay with that?”

“He did fine. Only drank enough to heal. He was pissed about it after the fact, but it’s not like we could turn back time and undo it. He asked how I knew where he was and what was going on, and I told him. I figured it was better to be honest since he was supernatural anyway than lie to him. He thanked me and asked about my power, so I told him. He said he needed someone with my talent and offered to give me a job. I accepted, and the rest was history.” She talked about my brother with a kind of admiration, and as much as I wanted to poke at her about it, it was something that both she and my brother needed to talk about. Even if the engagement was just a ruse for her to help me unbind myself from Val, clearly there was something more there than just a working relationship. It wasn’t any of my business, though, since I also had a complicated relationship going on. I looked over to Lennox, who just stared out the window, lost in thought.

We pulled up at the airport and hastily boarded the plane. I just wanted to get this all over with. Ramsey chose to sleep the night away on the way there, once again, leaving Lennox and I an opportunity to talk.

“Are you okay?” I asked her, genuinely concerned. “You’ve been quiet.”

“I’ve been thinking.”

“I could see that,” I replied, and she avoided my gaze. “Talk to me, Noxx. What’s wrong?”

“I really want to believe that there’s something between us and that when it’s all over, you and I can have something real, but what’s stopping you from just lying to me about how you feel, just so I’ll help you with all of this? Who’s to say you won’t abandon us all when you’re free? I’ve been left over a lot less. I’ve been lied to over much smaller things.”

“I told you back at the house that I haven’t lied to you since I told you everything, and that what I did lie about before, I told you the truth about it. Why do you think I’m lying?”

“Why wouldn’t you?” She asked, raising her voice. “I’m nobody. I’m a guard. Why would someone like you ever take interest in me, let alone promise to be with me, when you have your pick of the world? For all I know, I’m just another Valentina to you, just another girl you ‘fall in love’ with and then years later decide you hate me and leave me.” Her words hit me like a punch to my gut, knocking the breath out of me.

“Do you really feel that way?” I choked out, my heart feeling like a two-ton weight in my chest.

“Maybe she was right. Maybe I’m just another girl for you to get bored of.”

“Is that what she said to you?” I asked, anger welling in me. I clenched my fist to try to keep calm, but my vision went tunnel. “Is that what that lying bitch said to you?” Lennox looked at me, confusion and sadness in her eyes. “Lennox, she came to me before she left. Said you and her had talked… For fuck’s sake… she compelled you.”

“What?” Noxx asked, tears welling in her eyes.

“When you two talked, she must have compelled you to believe I was faking my feelings. Another desperate attempt to have me to herself. Lennox, whatever she said to you was a lie. Whatever she did to manipulate you, it wasn’t real. I haven’t lied to you and I never will. What do I have to do to make you believe me?”

“Tell me you love me. Say it and I will believe you.”

“Noxx, you know I can’t. No matter how hard I try, it won’t work,” I protested.

“I can say it to you; I love you. Elias, the way I feel about you is unheard of, but I don’t believe anything you say, not when it comes to this.”

“Why are you doing this now, when you know that even if I wanted to say it, I can’t.” The words flew out of my mouth faster than my mind could process them. They hit her automatically, however.

“So you don’t actually want to say them... at least I know the truth now before it's too late. When we land in New York, find yourself a new guard. I can’t do this with you anymore.”

“Noxx, wait...”

“No, don’t call me that. I will give you the keys and the address to my house and you can take what you need and burn the bitch to the ground for all I care.” Her words were cold and I realized Valentina was winning. No matter what I did, Valentina always won. I watched her begin to walk away, and I knew if I let her, she would disappear altogether and I would be the one heartbroken.

“Lennox, stop.” I grabbed her hand, pulling her into me. She didn’t fight, nor did she back down. Instead, she stood there, as stiff as a board, tears streaming down her face. “Don’t leave me, I need you. Don’t go, I don’t want anyone else by my side.” It didn't matter what I was saying. All she wanted to hear was, “I love you, Lennox. Stay here with me.” The words flew from my mouth without me even realizing, and I could tell she was as shocked as I was.

“What?” Like a switch, she snapped out of her trance and her face relaxed. I couldn’t believe that I had been able to say the words, much less that they were what snapped her out of Valentina’s compulsion, but I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth, not after everything we’d been through. Lennox stared into my eyes, and she looked so damned beautiful in that moment that I couldn’t stand it anymore. I bent my head down to kiss her, my lips on fire as they moved perfectly with hers. I backed her up to the wall, not breaking our contact. She breathed me in as we kissed, and everything felt right, for the first time in centuries.

The plane hit some turbulence, causing us to crash into each other and nearly fall, and we laughed about it as we headed back to our seats to buckle in. The rest of the flight to New York was problem free. Imagine my surprise when we found Niall waiting for us on board as we climbed onto his jet.

“I told you I was going to help… so I’m coming with,” he replied after I asked him what he was doing. As much as I didn’t want to put him in danger, he was lending us his plane, and he was the one who came to me in the first place with Ramsey in tow to help. I sighed and agreed, and he gave me a smile, moving past me to hug Ramsey. I introduced Niall to Lennox quickly, and Niall extended his hand to her with a smile.

He stood a few inches shorter than me, with short messy hair and vivid blue eyes. He took more after our mother than our father in that regard, but he had our father’s sense of practicality and quick wit. I could see why Ramsey was interested, even if she wouldn’t admit it. He had an athletic body, the type a soccer player would have. He had an air of charisma about him and seemed like he was the kind of person who made friends easily.

Everyone slept through most of the trip, trying to catch up on some sleep as we didn’t know if we’d be getting much once we landed in Russia.

As promised, I messaged my father to let him know we were near, and when we landed, I was glad to see him waiting for us. He greeted the girls with a hug, and we boarded his plane swiftly. We flew to Moscow to refuel, then stopped twice on the way to refuel again. When we finally landed in Vladivostok, no one had to say how sick they were of flying. It was late afternoon when we landed, with the sun setting beautifully over the horizon. Snow had started to fall, making everything all the more beautiful. Flakes caught in Lennox’s hair as they blew around her, and it warmed my heart even though the world outside was frigid. We decided to stay at an inn not far from her house, worn from the trip. We didn’t know what had become of the house or what condition it was in, so we figured we’d best leave that for daylight. As we settled in, Lennox left, only giving me a devilish grin when I asked where she was headed.

Lennox

I shot Elias a wicked smile when he asked where I was going. He only looked after me as I walked away. I headed down to a local package store to grab a few liters of Vodka, figuring we could all use a break from the tenseness of finding the task. I’d have gotten more, but Niall left us as soon as he unpacked, heading off to deal with some business. The walk back was freezing and by the time I got to the inn, the cold had made my fingers and face numb. One thing I did not miss about Russia were the brutal winters that seemed to last forever. Everyone always got grumpy around this time, because Vladivostok was a peninsula, meaning the biggest source of income was the fishing. With the waters frozen, it became a difficult task.

The warmth of the inn made me feel great, and I knew that soon, the warmth of the vodka would feel even better. I grabbed Rams and asked Riecher if he wanted to drink with us, but he decided to abstain, saying vodka wasn’t really his cup of tea. I headed back to the room Elias was in, asking him to come to my room for a surprise. He gave me a look before obediently following me to my room. When we entered, he got a shocked look on his face, seeing the bottles sitting on the table.

“If you keep that look, your face will freeze like that,” I joked, and he frowned.

“Are you sure that getting drunk is a good idea?”

“Wow, dad,” I shot back, and he frowned even more, his eyes clouding. “Just for the night. We need to loosen up, you especially. When in the past like two weeks have we done anything fun that wasn’t tied to the unbinding? I think we deserve this.”

“At least you got the good stuff,” he commented, walking over to the table to pick up a bottle. “I’m not sure if Rams should have so much though… This shit’s like jet fuel.”

“I am a grown woman, thank you very much,” Ramsey argued, opening up a bottle and giving it a whiff. She choked on the smell, holding it as far away from her face as she could. “Okay, maybe you’re right…” We all laughed as she poured each of us a shot.

“Drinking games, drinking games,” Ramsey chanted, and I smiled.

“What, are we all in college now?” Elias asked, and I shot him a glare.

“Better make that two shots for him,” I said, and Rams obliged. “We’ve got to de-grumpify him.” He scowled at me, and I walked up to him, planting a kiss on his frowning mouth. He couldn’t hold it for long, choosing to kiss me back.

“Please,” I whispered against his mouth, and I felt him sigh.

“Let the party begin,” he said, moving to grab the shots for us.

“Nostrovia!” I cheered as we tapped our glass shots together before tipping them back.

“Yuck… What was that you said?” Ramsey asked, making faces at how strong the alcohol was.

“It’s a saying. Means thanks for the drink. It can also be used for a meal. Just a toast of sorts,” I replied, sitting on the bed with Elias. Ramsey pulled a chair up opposite of us, dragging the table between us.

“I’ve got some questions while we drink,” Ramsey said, pouring more shots. “I mean, I know you all are vampires, but… not like novel vamps. Niall has a heartbeat. And you guys are always in the sun. What’s with that?” She asked.

“Not much you humans know about us is true,” Elias said, downing a shot.

“We’re alive, kind of,” I explained. “Our hearts beat and we require sleep. We just need blood to survive is all. We can walk in the sun, and on hallowed ground, and can enter places uninvited.”

“Before you ask,” Elias interjected. “Garlic has no effect on us. We love it. Crosses aren’t an issue for us, nor are holy water or the Bible.”

“We are strong however, more so than humans. And unless someone actually tries to kill us, we live forever. We move faster, heal faster, and have fangs. We can compel, or force others to do just about anything that we want.”

“So if someone wanted to kill you, how would they?” Ramsey asked, genuinely curious. I knew she’d never try to hurt us, so I told her.

“Roses and tulips, as odd as it sounds, burn like hell. So does vinegar. We can be beheaded, or staked in the heart. Silver hurts too, but it’s really just an inconvenience. We can’t heal around it if we’re shot by silver; we have to dig the bullets out before our bodies will heal. That’s pretty much it,” I summed up, and Ramsey looked like her mind was blown.

“Man… I’ve been missing out,” she said, and Elias was quick to correct her.

“Really, you haven’t. Living forever isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. That just means more time to make mistakes you’ll regret forever, more time to suffer. Humans always think that they want immortality until they get it. Then they realize, after a century or so, that it kind of sucks. Everyone they loved will have died unless they turn them. And even if they do, there’s no guarantee that the people won’t just leave them after a few hundred years of dealing with their bullshit day in and day out.” His eyes clouded again and I could tell he was talking from experience.

“So what about how vampires are made?” Ramsey asked, diffusing the situation.

“Well, some are changed. Others are born vampires. Hard to believe, but we can actually procreate with one another. Some are born into human families. Those are the ones I feel bad for. Most end up homeless and without a purpose in life.” Elias commented, brushing all thoughts out of his mind.

“What’s your case, Eli?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Well, my dear Noxx,” he smiled at the nickname. “You already might have guessed: I was born this way. And Lady Gaga says that I am beautiful in my way. Cause God makes no mistakes,” he joked. The room burst into laughter.

“What about you Noxx?” Ramsey asked, still laughing. My smile instantly faded, thinking about the events that brought me to where I am now. “You don’t have to talk about it.”

“No, it’s fine. I was changed by my first love.” The room went silent, making the situation awkward.

“Uhh well, I think that is enough for me. Ladies and Gentlevamps, I am tapping out.” Ramsey said, slowly rising from the chair. “See you bright and early and hopefully without a massive hangover.” She smiled and exited the room, leaving the two of us to our own little world we created every time we were alone.

“So this love of yours... what happened to him?” Elias asked, not even bothering to hesitate.

“I wish I knew. One minute we were good and I was human; the next he was gone and I was this.” I sighed, shrugging my shoulders trying to fight back tears.

“What was he like?”

“He was my salvation. My mother sold me to a man who turned me into a prostitute after I hit a certain age. Braddock worked for one of the clients I worked for and he kept me sane. He swore he would get me out of the clutches of that horrible man.” I watched his face change but decided to keep going, instead of asking him what was the matter.

“One day he finally tried, but Ronah was too strong and practically killed him. I had no idea what to do, so I carried him to the only person I knew could fix it. There were vampires in the village so I pounded on the door until one of them appeared. I will never forget the eyes, so shocked that a human was begging for their help. I knew it was a long shot, but it was my only hope. Without much convincing, he changed him.” I stopped to take a breath.

“When he awoke, I wasn’t there. I had returned to my master who tried to kill me, but Braddock showed up just in time to save the day. He killed Ronah and the sight was unbearable. Still, I had made him that and through it all I still loved him. We went home and he made love to me like it was our first time all over again. I remember the burning in my neck the blood from his lip and then everything went dark. When I woke up, he was gone and I was like this. He didn’t leave a note or anything.” Finally, I stopped and recomposed myself.

“”Braddock was a vampire hunter, wasn’t he?” Elias questioned after a few minutes.

“Yes… how did you know?” His hand cupped the side of my face while his thumb rubbed under my eye.

“How could I have forgotten these sad but beautiful eyes?” He whispered. “How was I so wrapped up in my own little world that I didn't even notice how breathtaking you were then?” I finally grasped what he was saying, but I still had to say it.

“It was you that changed him...”

“Yes and all these years, all I have remembered were the tears and the pain in these eyes. They have haunted me, and yet I have stared into the abyss that is your deep sea eyes and not known it was you until now. How did I not see it?”

my vidim tol'ko to, chto my khotim videt’,” was all I could say.

“I never was good with Russian,” he commented, still keeping his voice low.

“It means we see only what we want to see. I spent years trying to find the vampire that changed him, thinking that if I just found him, I would find Braddock too, but here you are and I didn’t even know it... and for the first time in 500 years, I don’t even care where he is.” Part of me wondered if by some miracle we were destined to be on this journey now, but I knew destiny didn't work like that for us.

“If I had known he would go on to betray you like he did, I would have let that hunter die,” Elias proclaimed, his eyes stormy with anger.

“You didn’t know. None of us did. It’s in the past, and we can’t change that. All we can do is focus on the now, focus on getting you free from Valentina. I don’t know what we will find at the house tomorrow… but I’m glad you’re here with me.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, Noxx,” he replied, pulling me to his chest. His hands slowly stroked my cheeks as he leaned in to kiss me, and I didn’t fight it. As things started heating up, I pulled back.

“We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow, so I think we should head to bed.” Elias only nodded, hugging me tightly before heading to his own room. I hated seeing him go, but we had a job to do, and we needed to focus.

I barely slept all night, tossing and turning with memories of the night I was turned. I wondered if it would be like that the whole time we were here. Rubbing my eyes, I got up to shower and change, the hot water scalding the bad dreams away. I went down to the lobby to find that everyone was waiting on me.

“Morning, sleeping beauty,” Ramsey jested, and I shot her a look.

“So… I guess we’re headed to your house,” Riecher said, and I nodded. “Lead the way, then.” Elias was silent, absorbed in thought. I felt bad about denying him the night before, but I couldn’t think about anything but the mission. We drove out of the city, and I remembered how it was before it was formally founded; when it was a nameless town full of things that went bump in the night.

I directed Riecher to my home, and when we pulled up, Ramsey’s jaw dropped.

“You lived in that house?” She asked in awe, and I knew that most people would have reacted the same. The two-story house sat on ten acres, and most of it was buried under feet of snow. Made of dark brown stone, it stood out among the white, a silent giant. “How many rooms does that thing have?”

“Six bedrooms. I liked my space,” I defended, and we got out of the car.

“Let’s hope the key still works,” I said under my breath, digging it out of my pocket. It took a little messing with, but finally, the key turned, the door creaking as it slowly swung open. We came in slowly, filing in one by one. Ramsey walked around, her mouth still open. Elias chuckled, seeing that we shared the same decorating sense: minimal flare, but comfortable upholstery. Dust coated almost every surface, and I knew that was to be expected since no one had set foot in the place in ten years.

“I think I last saw it in my bedroom…” I said, heading upstairs. “You can look around though, just in case I’m wrong.” Elias trailed behind me, which I felt was supposed to make me comfortable, but only made me nervous. I knew what I’d written in the book, and to bare all my past thoughts and emotions about everything to him felt like vulnerability.

I opened the door to my room, and flashbacks hit me like a ton of bricks. I struggled past them, moving to my dresser to look for the book. I was partly relieved when I couldn’t find it, but I was also aggravated. Time was of the essence, and we couldn’t afford to waste any. I searched my bed and nightstand, and then my bathroom, not finding it. I sighed with frustration, and Elias walked toward me.

“Noxx, calm down.”

“You honestly expect me to calm down when something this important is lost?” I nearly shouted, and Elias opened his mouth to speak, but Ramsey’s shout from downstairs cut him off.

“Guys? I found it!” I didn’t bother waiting for Elias, instead sprinting out of the room and down the stairs to where I’d heard her. I rounded the corner into the kitchen, and Ramsey stood with Riecher and Niall, the book resting on the counter like some kind of omen. I moved past them to grab it, my heart beating painfully in my chest.

“I need a minute alone to find it,” I said quietly, and Elias gave me a worried look.

“It’ll be the same format as usual,” Ramsey replied, and I nodded, heading to the one place that I knew I’d be able to keep my cool while having to read all my memories from the past.

I’d refurbished the attic from a storage space to a reading space two hundred years ago, because most of the things in the house belonged to Braddock, and when it was clear that he wasn’t going to come back, I got rid of it all. It was sort of cathartic, but it felt the room empty after that, so I put down a reading nook and a few bookshelves, and the place felt better.

I got to a section I didn’t recognize, and I stared at it for a bit. Apparently, I had scrawled a few poems on the page, but I didn’t remember writing them. I turned the page and found what we had come for. It sat alone on the page, scrawled in black ink.

“Four tasks have been easy, to complete and to find, but the fifth task is different: it’s a race against time. History’s brought you together and torn you apart, but danger is near for those closest to your heart. Defeat a common enemy who played out his part. Only then can you go on to have a fresh start.”

I froze, my hands shaking. I knew exactly who the poem meant, but even if we could find him, Braddock had been missing for five hundred years. Even if we were to find him, he’d had five centuries to train himself and better his killing skills. Our only hope would be to attack all at once, and even then, I doubted we’d be able to take him down. I couldn’t stop my heart from sinking, nor could I hold back the tears. Elias entered the room quietly, and when he saw I was crying, he rushed to my side. I didn’t say a word, just ripped the page out and thrust it into his hands. He quickly scanned the page and then swallowed hard.

“Noxx…” He tried, but I cut him off.

“How are we supposed to do this? He’s been gone for five hundred years, Eli. Five hundred fucking years. You said so yourself that even before he was turned, he was a challenge for you, and almost killed you several times. He’s had so much time to figure out ways to kill every last one of us… We can’t do this, Elias.” I started to hyperventilate. He tried to hug me, but I pushed past him, walking downstairs to show the others what I had found.

“That doesn’t sound good…” Ramsey said, reading the task.

“How about you, Elias, and Niall talk over some plans?” Riecher spoke up, surprising me. “I’d like a moment to speak to Lennox, alone.” The three of them nodded and moved to the living room to talk, leaving me alone with Elias’s father. “You seem a little stressed out.”

”Yes sir, I am. This is impossible and your son seems to think that he can kill this 500-year-old very skilled vampire that even as a human almost killed him several times.”

“My son has lived in nothing but darkness for centuries, as you well know, and I think he needs to believe that he can do this without fail. I have never seen him more determined to do anything since the summer after his mother was taken from us.” His eyes fogged with a pain he kept hidden. “He was so determined to try to bring her back that he didn't realize what he was doing to himself. The dark path almost consumed him entirely.”

“Eli told me he never loved anyone the way he did her.” I shifted in my seat.

“Eli huh?” he chuckled. “Does he know that you call him that?“ I knew where this was going and thought back to the moment I called him that and the look when he said it was my nickname for him now and my nerves began to calm.

“Yeah, after he told me it was what his mom called him, he didn’t go into any details, just that she was the only one who was ever allowed to call him that and since her passing no one has dared to call him it again.”

“They had a special bond those two. It was almost as if their brains sang the same tune, ya know what I mean? Whenever he was in trouble or hurting, she would be able to fix it all with that look she gave. She was a wonderful person. When she was taken, all the boys went nuts but of course he took it the worst. Nearly going to hell an’ back trying to resurrect her and he almost succeeded until the price for that was the soul his mother worked so hard to have stay in the light. So before the shadows consumed him, I made him stop.” He paused for a second, scratching his neck. “He was never the same again.”

“How did she..” I started but couldn’t bring myself to finish.

“Endaro flu.” He answered. “It's like the flu for humans, only ten times worse and extremely deadly. First, the fever sets in, throwing your body through horrible flashes of hot and cold, then you go into a coma. In that coma, you almost live in another world, but that world is hell. If you survive there long enough for your organs to heal from the whiplash of the fever, you wake up, but if you don't... you die. We had every witch we knew try to get in there with her, but it was all in vain. They couldn’t push through the barriers.” His eyes watered and my heart broke. I wondered if he even tried to move on after she died, but I didn't dare ask.

“Listen… all I’m saying is that for the first time in centuries, I see him coming back. I see what he was like before she passed surfacing. It’s not going to be easy. Nothing worth it ever is. But he’s getting there, and you’re the reason.” I looked to the floor, my heart beating hard. I’d known from the beginning that there was something between us, but I never imagined it would be something so monumental like this.

“She would have liked you,” Riecher said, and my eyes began to water. Before I could respond, Elias entered the room.

“Sorry to disturb you,” he said, and it took everything in me not to run into his arms. “We talked about the task. At this point… it’s a game of cat and mouse. We need to find Braddock and come up with a plan on how to take him out before we get to him. We think it’s best if we play the cards close to the chest. He doesn’t know we’re coming, so we have that in our favor. Niall said he could have a spy trail him for a while once we find him, to learn how strong he is. And once we know that… it’s just a matter of figuring out the best way to kill him.”

“So where do we begin looking?” Riecher asked.

“The last time I saw him was here in this house, five hundred years ago. He never came back after that night. He could be anywhere,” I said, feeling like we were getting nowhere fast. How we were supposed to find him was beyond me.

“What about Ramsey?” Reicher asked, and Elias and I exchanged looks. “Isn’t she some sort of seer?” I felt the hope blossom in my chest. She’d been able to find centuries old tasks and one witch to help us out of eight billion people on the planet… would it really be that difficult to find another person, especially given that we knew who to search for? Before either of them could react, I ran out of the room, heading for the living room.

I rounded the corner and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Niall had Ramsey pushed to the wall, obviously engaged in some kind of weird makeout session. My eyes burned as I took it in. And that’s when Elias appeared behind me. He kind of choked, and that’s when Niall and Ramsey noticed us there. They split off from each other faster than I had thought they would, Ramsey’s face so red it reminded me of a lobster.

“What…” Elias started, but he didn’t bother to finish. Niall kind of gave us a look. Ramsey wouldn’t meet our eyes.

“It’s… stress relief… you know,” Niall tried, and Ramsey took a swing at his arm. “What was that for?”

“You are an ass, that's what it was for.” Ramsey grew angry.

“Babe, chill out. I just didn’t think you wanted people to know.”

“Know what?” Elias interjected, making it more awkward than it already was.

“Your brother, after months of trying, has finally persuaded me to jump on the Reinhardt crazy train. We are... umm... well…...”

“For heaven's sakes. She is my girl. Any of you have a problem with that?” Niall bluntly put it.

“Took you long enough, son,” Riecher said, walking into the room and breaking the awkwardness, replacing it with laughter. “You have been talking about her since the moment you met her. Maybe now you will finally stop yammering on about it. Feck!” For the first time I’d ever seen, Niall actually blushed. “Now then… I believe we’ve got work to do. Niall, have you contacted your spy yet?”

“He’s been too busy making out,” Elias joked, and Ramsey shot him a glare.

“I’ll go do that now,” Niall replied. He took off with Riecher trailing behind, giving Ramsey a smile that made her light up like a Christmas tree.

“Rams, we may have a task for you,” Elias asked, and she nodded.

“Anything for you guys,” she affirmed.

“We were thinking that since you can see things, maybe you can look for Braddock for us.”

“I could try,” she said, frowning. “I’ll need something of his if you still have anything,” she told me, and I started to mentally go through everything in the house. “There’s no guarantee it will work… but we’ve got a time coming up in about ten minutes.”

“I have got something. Will a t-shirt work?” I asked, noticing Elias’s face fill with questions.

“Was it something he wore?”

“It was the shirt he was wearing the night he disappeared.”

“It will work.” She smiled. I watched as Elias took a step toward me.

“You kept his shirt?” He questioned, almost jealous.

“I loved him and even if he deserted me, that shirt reminded me of happier times so I used to wear it to bed.” The jealousy was seeping through his pores. “Is someone jealous?” I teased, watching him squirm.

“No, I am not jealous. I just don't like the thought of you with him.”

“You so are,” I laughed, punching him in the shoulder. He grabbed my wrist and with one swift tug, he had me engulfed in his arms.

“I am not jealous.” He growled and I melted right then and there. “You would wear my shirts if I gave you one.”

“So confident for someone that is so jealous he is growling like a lion about to eat its prey.”

“Oh, I can think of a few things I want to eat right now.” He leaned down whispering in my ear.

“Elias, behave for once in your life,” I said, trying to gain composure as his fangs scraped my neck, but it wasn't working. “I have to get the shirt for Ramsey.” The fires in his eyes weren’t burning out anytime soon. I knew this, but I had to walk away. I headed upstairs for the shirt, and I froze when I heard the bedroom door close behind me.

“I wasn’t finished,” Elias murmured, his voice low and gravelly. I swear that I would have become a puddle if it were possible. He moved to stand behind me, wrapping his arms around my stomach to pull me to his body. I could feel his hot breath against my neck, and it made me shiver. He smiled as he pressed his lips to my neck, and I lost all control.

He spun me around, lifting me to sit on the dresser. I wrapped my legs around his waist as his lips crashed to mine, lighting me up like a match to gasoline. He threaded his fingers into my hair, pulling hard to keep me where he wanted me. I gasped against his lips at the sensation, and he smiled wickedly.

“You like that?” He growled, leaning down to my neck to run his fangs gently along it. I couldn’t breathe. I pushed him off of me, gasping for air.

“The shirt,” I said dizzily. “We have to get the shirt.”

“All work and no play makes Noxx a pent up girl. I hate it when you’re right. We’ll finish this later…” he promised, sending shivers throughout my body. He helped me down off the dresser, and let me grab the shirt with no more incidents. We rejoined Ramsey in the living room, and I handed her the shirt. She gave me a look, probably because of my messed up hair, but she didn’t say a word.

“I’ll let you know how it goes,” she said, prompting us to leave.

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