Chapter 7, Part 3 – Yet it would be your duty to bear it if you could not avoid it; it is weak and silly to say that you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.

Something’s different, and I don’t just mean my inability to move, though desiccation and memory have finally sapped me into a lazily drifting daze.

I feel less confined, as if I’m undulating, but it’s too dark to see and I spent what little bit of strength I had left in me on one last effort to break free. I don’t know if it worked, but then again, I don’t know much of anything anymore.

Part of me believes that it’s all over and I’ll be trapped here drowning forever. And while that doesn’t much matter to me at this point, I can’t stand the thought of Lilith winning or never seeing Tina again.

Is a memory enough? No, I don’t think so. Like a photograph, a memory will fade into nothingness eventually. And I have nothing but time – time and a dull ache as my broken lungs implode on themselves incessantly.

I don’t feel much of it anymore; my body has nearly shut down to all sensation, which would be a moderate relief if it didn’t mean that my fight is over. But it must be. It’s as if the ocean has finally swallowed me up and I’ve become part of it.

I’m starting to believe that the ocean is where I belong. It’s been theorized that the human race was born of the sea, that one day, one of the sea-dwellers just stood up on two feet and walked out onto the shore.

So, the ocean could be home, maybe even that same home that Tina spoke of. But then all I have to do is think her name, and I know that it’s not true.

She’s my home.

She always was, and she always will be.

But like in all things, what gives life can also take life away. That’s how the ocean is, and I’m losing my life now.

I may have lost this fight, and I may be stuck here, listless and for all intents and purposes, dead, but at least I had Tina for a time. At least I had seen the sun on her face and could be proud of my responsibility in making that happen. At least I had known what it meant to walk with her, our fingers entwined and my soul finally at peace.

I had become the person that was worthy of her and the person that I wanted to be. And at least I had known what it meant to not only have freedom and love, but to be warmed by them… by her.

It would be a lie to say that I’d been lucky in life, but as of now, as the last of my breath is taken, I am willing to lie to myself. I can’t help but think that I was extremely lucky. If I could smile against the coarse current, I would, and it would be smug.

I can say that I was afforded the opportunity to start my life with her, and, for once, I took ahold of it with both hands and wrung all of the joy out of it that I could. And what’s more, is that it only got better and better after I finally woke up and stopped fighting.


The fire popped, sending an ember out onto the leaves that were scattered around us. I watched it scorch through the dried surface and smolder out in the fresh dirt beneath, and idly wondered why we’d even bothered building a fire. It wasn’t like we needed warmth, but there was just something about the flames that was soothing, slightly enthralling, and maybe even dangerous.

Tina sighed in agreement and snuggled back against my chest as she tightened my arms beneath her breasts. A delicate finger played over the skin of my forearm in teasingly random patterns as she rested her head back against the side of my neck. And I closed my eyes as I breathed her in deeply.

Was there anything about her that didn’t sing to me? No. She was beauty incarnate, body and spirit. Her hair was getting lighter the more time she spent in the sun, and her skin seemed less translucent when bathed in its orange glow. She smelled of sunlight and warmth and something markedly her. But something about her seemed different, and I could sense those changes in her on a chemical level.

I attributed it to the sun, but honestly, I knew that it was just my own reaction to her. I noticed her more; I craved her touch, her smell, and her mind so fervently that everything about her jumped out, and everything about me stood at attention.

It was surreal. We were sitting here doing the very thing that I’d seen in her dreams hundreds of times – dreams that I had begun to adopt as my own, and I wouldn’t have believed that it was real if everything in me wasn’t alive with the sensation of her. She was all over me, inside of me, and I was being made new as I began to accept more and more of her in.

It had been about eight months since she’d kissed me at the plantation and let me back into her heart. I had been overjoyed, and I still was, but I was also anxious. I worried for her more than anything, more than anyone, more than myself. I knew that I would never hurt her, at least not intentionally, but I also knew that loving her was an incredible responsibility, one that I could not fail at.

Everything was new, and our physical interactions slightly shy, but it was unbelievably intense. It felt like we’d made love dozens of times, and in all honesty, in a way we had.

I was learning what it meant to love, and I was discovering that it was world-shattering. Once I’d let it in and embraced it, it had taken on a life of its own. It had been an unspoken agreement, our need to know one another and take things slowly, to do this right. But the undercurrent was always there. The indirect but knowing glances and loaded but purposeful touches had created an acute yearning that seemed to crackle in the atmosphere around us. But regardless of that, it was the unguarded access to private thoughts that had strengthened us beyond measure, and it’s in that connection that love truly abides.

I may not have known her body, not yet, but in all of the ways that endured and held relevance, she’d given me everything.

I was thankful that we’d been waiting. I wouldn’t have traded this time together for anything. I grew to know her so fully that it was almost as if sex had become an afterthought. The desire was there, but the real needs had been met. It wasn’t like we’d been given much of a chance to focus on that aspect anyway. We weren’t sure if Lilith had survived, so we’d been fleeing the country. And even if we hadn’t been, there was little privacy to be had.

That was why it came as a shock to me on this night, a night where we were fully ensconced in the Canadian wilds, where there was no running and little chance of exposure, that Alice and Dana had left us at our camp on a high cliff overlooking the ocean just as the sun was about to rise up out of the tide.

We’d settled into one another, relaxed and content in our solitude despite the sword that was constantly dangling above our heads, and we had no intention of forcing anything, despite the tremendous amount of sexual tension.

Initially, we’d broken it with quiet laughter. Alice and Dana’s blatant attempt to give us some time alone had not gone unnoticed, but as the laughter wore off, as we pressed in tight to one another to stare out at the horizon, as I became more aware of her body and her mind, the atmosphere grew pensive and thick.

I raised a hand and played with Tina’s fingers as heavy thoughts rolled through me. Would it be weak or foolish of me to say that I was terrified at the idea of making love to her?

I wasn’t inexperienced with sex. I’d done everything imaginable with Lilith during our time together, but this wasn’t Lilith. This was Tina, the love of my life, someone who would never leave me even when I hurt her, someone to whom I had surrendered because I was safe in that surrender. I didn’t want to just bring her pleasure and take my own, though that was a desperately hungry part of it. I wanted it to mean something more… just more.

I wanted to give myself to her, and I wanted her to give herself to me, but I wasn’t sure about the inherent vulnerability that would come with taking that step. It would mean banishing the darker parts of me once and for all. I was already changed by her love, but I feared that I wouldn’t even recognize myself if I completed that transformation, and as such, maybe Tina wouldn’t like who I would become. Or maybe, just maybe, she’d pull away once she penetrated the last barrier that I had.

I felt her face turn to nuzzle me just beneath my jaw before she left a full, open kiss on the skin beneath my ear. The sensation lingered and I lowered my forehead to her shoulder as a surge of warmth enveloped me, forcing a heavy breath from my lungs.

‘You’re my heart, Bette. You have nothing to be afraid of with me.’

More thoughtful words couldn’t have come at more pertinent time. I knew that she was honest. Everything about her was trustworthy and dependable. I turned my head and kissed her sweetly, pouring all of my need and adoration for her into a singular meeting of lips. That need tugged at me as if the threads of gravity holding me down were about to snap, and I pulled back to catch my breath, feeling conquered and utterly unraveled.

Her breath washed over me in ragged gasps, and I remembered that she could hear me. It wasn’t unusual. I hadn’t put my walls up since that day in the grove, and I was determined not to again. But it was still surprising to me when I’d realize it, especially during such an unguarded moment.

She shifted in my arms so that she could touch my face and lift it to meet her own. I gazed into her eyes. The orbs were deep, shining, open, and soul-stirringly beautiful as they burned with adoration and reassurance. The sun crowned her face as it rose up behind her, and her thoughts, the beautiful landscape that was my own personal sanctuary, my house of worship, pulled me in as she showed me just how much she needed me in return.

I could feel it, me, her, us, living and tangible in the ether of her mind. It was a bright ball of radiant light, and it was like I could reach out and touch it as it soothed and excited, simmered and burned. It oscillated within me like a heartbeat, like a wrecking ball, and I wanted to be consumed by it as it hummed low in my stomach.

I was so lost in her that I barely registered the gentle stroking of her lips against mine. I opened to her, letting the physical actions demonstrate the spiritual revelations as the ball of light grew to encompass us both. This moment was so intensely desperate that I was utterly inarticulate. There were not words to describe what it was like to be inside of her mind and her thoughts, and to know that she knew mine, that she was meeting me with each stroke of her tongue and each throb of her proverbial heart.

Vampyrism intensifies everything: the sites, the smells, the feelings, but this… I not only felt my own responses, I felt hers. And as we each drew more and more from one another, we gave more and more of ourselves.

All of those feelings intensified exponentially, infinitely. They had no beginning and they had no end, and all of my fear was drained away as I realized that they never would.

Instead, I wanted to boast in my weakness. I wanted to bury my armor and never feel the weight of it on my shoulders again. I ached for her so immensely that I could feel myself twitch and swell, and we’d only just kissed.

Tina pressed in against me, her body impossibly closer as our touches grew heated, but the delicious torture wouldn’t last long. I grabbed her, turned her fully, and pulled her leg over me to straddle my hips.

She came willingly, her hands tangling in my hair as she settled into me, and I could feel the moist heat beneath the denim barrier at the apex of her legs.

I sucked in a ragged breath to imprint her scent. My mouth watered as my hands unerringly found the hem of her tee-shirt and I sat up to release her. I couldn’t quite believe that I was doing this, and without fear or hesitation. It was as if my body had taken over where my mind had failed. But it was real. Somehow she superseded everything else and I knew that she always would.

Her arms lifted and she pulled the shirt the rest of the way off, stopping to gaze into my eyes. Her chest was bare and heaving and her thoughts urged me for friction, for satisfaction, for comfort, and for intimacy. It took a moment for me to move past the images and emotions that she was sharing with me, but once I did, I was able to start bringing them to life.

She considered my hands running up the glorious expanse of flushed skin that was now on full display, and I didn’t hesitate to push my open palms up along her hips, following the trail in her mind past her ribs, and taking a few detours to reroute her thoughts as I brushed the underside of her heavy breasts with my thumbs.

I could feel everything that I was doing from both sides of the experience, and it took an immense amount of strength not to be distracted. But as I focused on her – where my hands were going, the doors that had been opened to me, the choices that I’d made that had brought me here – it became easy and natural, a dance that I knew all too well because it was preprogrammed by my love for her.

It was as if I had the map of her laid out in front of me, unfurling thick and heavy so that I could master the terrain. I gripped her in my hands, pushing up to thumb over the peaks of her chest, and watched as pin-dots of pleasure erupted beneath my touch.

I glanced up at her just as she opened her eyes, and shuddered when I saw myself reflected in her thoughts. My eyes were dark and my pupils dilated, but there was adoration and love spilling forth, things that I’d have never thought possible for me. It emboldened me, and I gripped her hips with urgency, pulling her in tighter as I lifted us both.

I needed to pull her in as I escaped within her. I needed to lose myself in her, to forget my past and realize my future. She locked her ankles behind my back and I began to ravage her mouth and neck as I stood and walked us to the pallet some ten feet away. It seemed like it took forever to find the blankets, but as I moved to lay her down, she released me and stopped our motion to stand in front of me.

Her touch was attentive and worshipful as she started with my scalp and my neck, stroking across my collarbones and removing my clothing in strong, fluid movements. The way she touched me was so purposeful and sure that I started to tremble. There was so much of her that I thought I might break apart.

Her eyes scorched my skin as she played over each dip and valley only to be followed by cool hands that soothed the oversensitive expanse. She held my gaze, giving me a world of knowledge and reassurance as she removed the rest of her clothing, and I felt my soul lurch as I memorized the way her skin stretched over each incredible inch that was available to me before adding them to the onslaught of love and vulnerability that she was sharing.

I felt nailed to the ground as she settled herself on the blankets and braced her arms behind her. Her body unfolded before me like petals in the growing sun, and she reached out a hand like a goddess calling me home. I was too overwhelmed to move, but the part of me that couldn’t live without her accepted her beckoning hand, recognizing the undeniable call of my destiny.

I crawled down and braced myself above her to absorb the intimacy of her surrender, to take notice of just how lucky I was in this life, to really feel just how much I loved her.

There was no way to measure it.

It was in everything: a kiss, a glance, a touch, a desire to be better.

It was like everything else in this world that made life worth living – I had to fight for it, and I had. I had fought for her, fought myself for her, and this was my reward and my privilege. I would have sworn that I could see God in her eyes, if such a being existed.

I dragged my eyes over her. She was the embodiment of pure pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, faith, hope, and love. Of all of them, I would choose love because without it there would be no faith or hope or pleasure or joy. Time had proven my love to her and cemented her place in my heart forever, and as she gazed back at me, our ardor burning low and bright with conviction, I knew that she loved me to unspeakable depths.

It took great courage to embrace this life with her when I knew that it might end at any time, but having the faith that it would last forever was what inspired me to move mountains within myself to reach her. And I had, with her patient hand and incredible heart guiding me, I’d reached her.

She cupped my face, her eyes glistening with unshed tears as they pierced through me. Passion and confidence shone beneath the surface as her thumb sneaked out to smooth over my bottom lip, her whispered thoughts calling out to me with such exultant joy that they would have been incoherent had I not been able to feel my way through them.

Some might have said that I had lost myself in her, that I was weak and should be ashamed, but that was part of loving her. The more that I loved her, the more that I lost part of myself.

But I didn’t become less of who I was. No, I’d embraced strength by becoming weak and I’d shed my shame. I’d become more; I’d ended up complete, and it was only the beginning.

I wanted to cry as she ran trembling hands through my hair and smiled through her own tears. I felt free, as if I could leap from the cliff behind us and push out to the sun by my own volition. I lowered myself to her, her mouth and hands languid and sure as they drank me in and pressed us together. Her skin against the length of me felt hot and electric, and it struck me then why I had been so terrified.

I’d never made love before. But I was about to, with my first, last, and forever.

She smiled against my mouth and her thoughts echoed their agreement as her hips ground up against me and her tongue swirled against mine. I could smell how aroused she was, I could see the tint of blood burning beneath the thin membrane of her skin, and I groaned as I felt all of my love and passion for her flood out of me.

She raised her knees and hooked them over my hips, pressing me into her without further preamble, and I had to let go of her mouth to whimper. Her center was hot and engorged as it slid against my own, a slow but steady friction beginning to build as some primal part of us took over and made us one flesh.

I splayed my knees against the blanket, against her, opening myself to her in the last way that I knew possible. The position caused her to claw at my back, our thoughts shut off except for one glaring message – I love you.

That declaration centered me, grounded me, locked me to her like a magnet no longer straining to find its opposite.

The pace increased and I pressed my face against her chest, overwhelmed as we crested and heaved together. I had no idea where either of us began but I knew that there was no end. I couldn’t tell if I was feeling me or her or both of us, but as her body buffeted against me, as her heart poured fourth, as everything else fell away, I pulled back and looked into her eyes. The torrent of pleasure picked up around us and our thoughts became blurry explosions or color, and I knew that I had found my home.

We fell apart, shattered and weary but somehow enervated, and I collapsed against her, breathless shudders continuing to rock through me as my nerves expanded and contracted. I felt her tears against the side of my face as she held me to her and we wept.

There was no pain or darkness left in me in this moment. No, anything left of those aspects was rolling from my lashes and emptying out into her hair to make room for the overflow of what she meant to me.

I would never know anything as precious or as tender as her heart, and I clung to it, to her, as we shed the past and insecurities, leaving us peaceful in the afterglow of our love for each other.


 I want to die again, to pass out and go back to that moment and stay there with Tina for all eternity. But all I can do is float aimlessly in the expansive blackness of my prison. I’m too desiccated to shed tears, and the aching tightness in my chest is always there, but I can tell that this time, it’s my need for her and not just the water.

If I could I’d break down and let it all out, but my body just can’t. I miss her and I need her, and what’s worse is that I know that she needs me too.

I should be with her, but I am so lost here, my mind tattered and slipping away as my body becomes my prison within a prison.

Everything is lost but my memories of her, but at least that’s something. At least I can find home anywhere because home is inside of me. No matter what Lilith does to me, she can’t take that away. I can only hold on to home, to Tina, and hope that my next visit is as good as the last…


I paced perilously close to the edge of the rock face, unable to take in the awe-inspiring vista of lush forest and mountain scape spread out in the distance where the sun was dipping down.

Shane should have been here by now.

I glanced down at my watch nervously before dropping my arm and exhaling an anxious breath.

A small hand settled on my forearm and pulled me to a stop before turning me. I heard her thoughts – soft murmurs of comfort and reassurance that I just couldn’t seem to absorb. They may not have been able to reach me, but I’d have been lost without them. Tina slipped her arms around my waist and leaned back to look up at me with a patient smile as she rubbed semi-circles on my lower back.

I couldn’t help but return her loose embrace, and while I appreciated her attempts, I just couldn’t let go of the magnitude of the situation as three very simple declarations repeated monosyllabically through my mind: Shane’s late; Shane was coming to talk about Lilith; it can mean only one thing…

I gazed down into Tina’s vibrant eyes as she tried again. ‘There are any number of reasons that might have made her late, Bette…’

I exhaled, again, and fought the urge to look at my watch – again, which caused Tina’s smile to grow.

‘You looked at it maybe two minutes ago…’

I narrowed my eyes at her. Her sarcasm wasn’t helping. She chuckled, the sound warm and entirely too pleasing, and I wanted to groan in frustration. We’d been hiding for roughly five years, and for the last three years things had been tense and stilted.

We all fell on different sides of the equation and for different reasons: Alice wanted to live openly, fully believing that Lilith was dead; Dana was more cautious at first, but as time passed slowly, she had begun to adopt Alice’s philosophy; Tina was torn, her focus more on the bigger picture of how to end this; and me… I just wanted Tina safe and knew that hiding was the only way to be certain of that.

There was a rustle of movement from the foliage to the left and I immediately stepped in front of Tina as I focused on the area where the sound had originated. Tina took my hand and stepped up next to me, shaking her head at me as a deer peered through the dense shrubbery, chewing a particularly verdant clump of leaves. The sleek animal went still as it studied us with wide, almond eyes, and I held my breath on reflex, despite the fact that they were large and open, but gentle and seemingly unafraid.

It was strange; Lilith and I had spent much of our lives in forests just like this one, and the animals were smart enough to sense danger and give us a wide berth. But this one, it seemed at ease as we studied one another.

I reached a hand forward and took a step towards it, unsure as to why I wanted to connect with it. It grew nervous but held still as I approached. I smiled as I touched the soft, short bristles of its nose. It was breathing me in, tufts of anxious air tickling my palm as it took in the fact that I meant it no harm.

Tina moved up next to me, reaching out to the animal with slow but easy confidence, and I realized that her gentle nature could soothe any creature; she had certainly helped me.

A realization struck me and Tina grinned up at me: I was different, gentler, kinder, and less threatening. Even the animals could sense it. I just wish I could really believe it.

A twig snapped and sent the deer darting gracefully away as Shane appeared, and I felt a certain satisfaction with what had just transpired, even as relief became my predominant emotion.

She stepped up to us, her attire and hairstyle so strikingly modern that I wondered what in the hell was going on in civilization. I looked down at my own clothing, It wasn’t faring well and to be honest, I was just so tired of hiding and running… always hiding and running.

Lilith hadn’t reappeared since the fire, but we hadn’t been able to find her body, and therefore, our choices were limited. I loved the forest, but I missed the city – the smells, the people, the art, and mostly, just having a world of information and life at my fingertips.

My time in New York may have been tainted by Lilith, but the forest was even more of a constant reminder of her. Mostly though, I just wanted to live in the open with Tina. I could think of nothing more fulfilling than the woman herself, than to attain a normal life with her, if such a thing were possible.

I couldn’t hide some of my annoyance as I pushed away my fantasies and turned to Shane, skipping pleasantries and pretense.

“What have you found out?”

Tina squeezed my hand to stem my frustration and poor manners, but Shane didn’t seem to mind my outburst.

“Same. No one can find her.”

No, but that was the problem. If she didn’t want to be found, she wouldn’t be. She was a master of survival, manipulation, and guise. We wouldn’t even see her coming.

It was possible that she’d died in the fire. Shane and I had only barely recovered, but there was no way to determine her death with certainty, not even from what was left of the ashes. The fire had been intense and all consuming, and that is one thing about vampyrs: even their teeth and bones burn once they reach a certain point.

There would literally nothing left. Just… poof, dust.

If there was thing about Lilith that I was certain of, it was that she’d have lived just to spite us. She was strong, immensely strong, and we would always be living on borrowed time.

Alice’s outburst interrupted my thoughts. “Ding dong, the bitch is dead.”

Alice wasn’t going to give up until we relented and stopped hiding. Why couldn’t she see the danger in being careless? None of us wanted to hide anymore.

I wanted to strangle her.

Tina squeezed my hand to stop me. “Al, we don’t know that.”

Alice crossed her arms over her chest. “We don’t know that she isn’t either. Are we going to hide forever, because I refuse…”

I looked over to Tina. ‘Could I just snap her neck? She’ll wake up cranky, but otherwise intact, I promise…’

She chuckled as she shook her head before addressing Alice.

“Al, it’s been five years. That’s hardly forever.”

Alice glared at our exchange before responding to Tina.

“Tina, she’d have been seen by now, at least by the loyalists.”

Alice gestured to Shane, whose expression was implacable. I decided to try.

“Shane, has she ever disappeared like this before?”

Shane tucked her hands into her pockets and rocked on her heels. “No, even when she leaves to follow a war, she’s still in touch with me. When she made you…”

I clenched my jaw and looked away from her. I didn’t want to remember that time. Those weren’t favored memories and that wasn’t who I was anymore. It was impossible to see myself as that person, but more than that, I wanted to vomit, as if it would cleanse me of my regret.

Tina tucked in against my side, her thoughts less sarcastic in her reassurances, and I forced myself to relax as Shane continued.

“That was the longest I’d gone without hearing from her, but even then, I heard from her every couple of years.”

She must have limited contact to keep me the dark. I’d never met Shane during that time. My voice felt detached as I somehow managed to form a sentence.

“How long have you known her?”

“She made me in the late 1600’s.”

I frowned. As far as Lilith was concerned, Shane had never been disloyal. Why did Lilith even bother making me if she already had her golden progeny?

As if she had heard my thoughts, Shane replied. “She grows bored around the two hundred year mark. You weren’t her first, and if she’s alive, you won’t be her last.”

Shane’s words seemed bitter, almost resentful, though it was subtle. Her eyes were always intense, her pupils almost too wide, and whatever was behind them was either shallow or so closed off that she appeared to be void.

But I conceded that it must be the latter as something passed behind them, and whatever it was, it had hurt and had never really healed. That was the first time I’d seen Shane show any emotion, though our contact had been limited.

Alice and Tina began to argue, well Alice was arguing while Tina was the voice of reason, and I tuned it out as I focused on Shane. I didn’t know much about her; like me, Lilith had saved her and made her cruel. Apparently, Lilith had grown bored and abandoned her.

I shuddered to think what it would have been like if Tina hadn’t found me and I’d have had to go through that. With the way I was… it would have been impossible to pull myself back up from that.

I looked at Shane with a new respect. She must have gone through hell, and yet, she’d still found a way and a will to fight, though I had no idea what her motivation was.

“Al, I get it; I really do. None of us want to hide anymore, but think about who we’re dealing with here…,” Tina reasoned.

Alice’s voice dropped from its normally high pitch as she said, “I don’t think you get it at all and trust me, I know who she is.”

Her voice broke on the last words and she swiped at her eyes angrily. Tina stepped forward to make amends but Alice wouldn’t be consoled.

“Don’t. Look, I get it. You’re afraid that Lilith will show up and kill us in some horrible way, right?”

Tina sighed and nodded.

“Well, I can tell you first hand that hiding only prolongs the inevitable. If she wants us dead, she’ll find us and kill us no matter where we are. We might as well be having some fun and enjoying what little bit of time we have left.”

Dana gaped at Alice, Shane absently nudged a rock at her feet, Tina looked like she’d been slapped in the face, and I considered doing the same to Alice, only in a very literal way. But we were all too stunned to move as the truth of that statement swirled around in our minds. I hated to admit it, but Alice had a point.

I glanced over at Tina. Her thoughts were pained, and when she finally looked up to me, what I saw in her eyes tore right through me. She was accepting what Alice was saying, seeing just how doomed we really were, and that just wouldn’t do.

I cupped her face in my hands as I pulled all of my love and determination up from that place inside of me that I didn’t even know existed.

‘We’ll find a way. I won’t let anything happen to you. I would die first.’

I cringed as the last of that thought poured forth without careful scrutiny. I wouldn’t block her from my thoughts again, and that made it exceedingly difficult when I’d ponder the possibility that I could end this by turning myself over to Lilith. I didn’t blame Tina for hating that idea; I’d have been belligerently opposed to her doing anything of the sort as well, but that didn’t change the fact that I thought it or that I would do it in an instant if I knew that Tina could have a full and happy life, even if it was without me.

‘Bette, don’t even think it.’

I smiled reassuringly and stroked a delicate cheekbone, causing her to tremble and soften. She was terrified, and she felt cornered and helpless, but she was strong. And as she began to consider her options, a steely determination suddenly settled over her countenance that sent a jolt of arousal through my center.

This was Tina at her most natural, her most visceral, and her most desirable. She didn’t cower and she didn’t give up. She was a leader, impossibly hopeful and invincible in that hope.

‘You’re right; I’ll find a way.’

I stroked her face again. ‘We’ll find a way.’

She smiled but I could tell that she was too deep in thought to even realize that she’d done it. She started to pace and I folded my arms as I listened to her reason things out in her mind and start to connect vague dots. We needed a way to draw Lilith out without martyrdom. I was coming up blank. She stopped, and when she looked over at me, a plan sparking to life in her eyes, I swallowed as I considered it and found it wholly unacceptable.

“No.”

“Bette, it’s the only way…”

“Absolutely not.”

“Bette-”

I dropped my arms. “Fine, I’ll do it, not you.”

She crossed her arms and shook her head. “Not going to happen.”

I dropped my voice in warning. “Well, that goes both ways.”

Alice groaned. “Care to clue the rest of us in?”

My eyes were hard and unmoving from Tina’s as I spoke.

“Tina wants to use herself as bait and set a trap and draw Lilith out.”

There was a resounding chorus of, “No,” from all present, and I smiled smugly at the love of my life. She glared at me but I was unmoved. It would never happen while I drew breath.

Dana stepped forward. “Tina, the resistance would be lost without you. You can’t put yourself in danger.”

I chuckled humorlessly and gestured to Alice.

“And yet, that’s what Alice would have us do. We have to stay hidden until we know for sure if Lilith is dead.”

We were all quiet for a moment before Dana started again.

“Tina, it’s a good idea. Lilith wants you and Bette.”

Dana looked to me regretfully. “And while I value Bette’s friendship, of the two of you, she’s the only one-”

Tina cut her off. “It’s not going to happen.”

Alice wasn’t going to be deterred. “Tina, it’s the only way to find out and move on…”

“No.”

Dana’s voice was a failed attempt to soothe. “Tina-”

“I said no, damn it! Now back the fuck off!”

Alice strode over to Dana and took her hand.

“You know what; you guys can do what you want. There’s no way Lilith survived that fire, and even if she did, I’ve spent too much of my life hiding from her already. We’re leaving.”

Alice turned to Dana, obviously incorrectly assuming that Dana would go with her, and I watched a short exchange take place. I could tell that Dana was arguing with Alice, and from the way that she kept looking to Tina, it must have been about abandoning her.

Shane took this moment to break her silence. I had almost forgotten she was there.

“Whatever you do, you guys need to stick together. Splitting up would be suicide. The loyalists are looking for you. If you separate, they’ll slaughter you.”

Dana blurted out, “Why don’t we stick together, and still act as bait?”

This time Alice protested, and the two of them started arguing again. I ran my hands through my hair in an attempt to ward off the sense of hopelessness that this situation and circular conversation was becoming. My head felt crowded with Alice and Dana arguing, my thoughts rattling around in search of an answer as Tina’s joined the mental fray. It was making it unbearably loud and difficult to think.

I almost didn’t hear Tina ask Shane, “If we moved to… I don’t know, Los Angeles, we’d need a lot of coverage to be safe. Could you and Adele pull it off?”

I snapped my head toward Tina and stared at her nonplussed. She wasn’t serious. She was on my side with this. We were together in doing what was necessary to keep us safe. I contradicted her with my thoughts and she glanced at me, but otherwise ignored me.

I felt my ire rise as Shane replied, “We’re thin, but since everyone would need to be in one place, and Adele’s been making them daywalkers, I think we could pull it off. Are you set on L.A.?”

I put myself in front of Tina and forced her to pay attention to me, trying again to make her see reason, to see how senseless this risk was.

‘Tina, we just need to hide until we have more information. This isn’t the way…’

She sighed and took both of my hands in her own, kissing each before stroking over the knuckles with her thumbs. Normally, I’d have been infinitely comforted by the sweetness of her gesture, but it wasn’t having the same effect at that moment. Instead, I stood rigid, angry, and stiff.

And it only got worse as she thought, ‘What other option do we have? Dead or alive, she’ll have won and we’ll be living like this. I’m with you, Bette, always, but hiding got a lot of good people killed in Peru and I just don’t see things getting better. We’re reacting to Lilith and that’s not going to fix it. I think it’s time to act preemptively. There’s never going to be a good time or a safe time or enough information. We’ve been chasing her for the better part of a century and it doesn’t work. I have a chance to bring her to me so that I can end this, and I’m going to take it. We’ll be together and we’ll have the resistance ready for when and if she arrives.’

I shook my head and swallowed the lump in my throat.

‘No, Tina. Please, just let me do it. I can draw her out. Hell, I might even be able to track her.’

She reached up and brushed the haphazard curls out of my eyes.

‘I can’t do that. I can’t send you out into that alone. No, we stick together, but no more hiding. We need to finish this.’

I felt my blood drain from my limbs as I realized that I didn’t really have a choice. She was going with or without me.

‘T-”

She leaned up and captured my lips gently before linking her fingers behind my neck and pulling my forehead to hers.

‘Please, Bette. I’m not trying to take away your choice, but there is more than you and me to consider here. The resistance is counting on me. I don’t like it any more than you do. If I could, I’d hide you away until it was over, but you’d never allow that and I have to do this. I need you with me on this…’

I felt sick with anger and panic.

‘And I need you alive.’

She smiled sadly and I exhaled heavily. She wasn’t going to be moved. She had made up her mind.

‘I have no intention of leaving you, Bette.’

I chuckled derisively. ‘And yet…’

She shook her head. I knew that she didn’t want to do this. I could hear her reluctance and fear.

‘We don’t have to do this, Tina. We can hide until we know more. I know you’re tired of hiding; so am I, but this is rash and it’s going to get someone killed or worse.’

She shook her head more emphatically.

‘No, it’s an ambush, Bette. Lilith won’t expect it and we’ll take her off guard. My people are trained and ready. Please have some faith in them… in me.’

Of course I had faith in her. How could she think otherwise? I just couldn’t bear the thought of her in danger or losing her. Even if Lilith was dead, there were still the loyalists to contend with, and that wasn’t anything to scoff at. She smiled as she released me so that she could look into my eyes, this time speaking out loud.

“The resistance will be watching us at all hours and receiving inside reports from Shane. We can’t lose in this if we do it right, and I trust Shane and Adele to make that happen.”

Adele was leading in Tina’s absence since Shane was with the loyalists. She was smart and she was capable, but she was no Tina. She didn’t inspire the rebels like only Tina could. And that’s when it hit me: Tina needed to do this because if she didn’t, it could mean a total failure on a grand scale, and she always saw the bigger picture.

She leaned up and kissed me again, her thoughts echoing a heartfelt, ‘Thanks,’ and while I hated it, I knew that I had to support her.

And I would, but… ‘You’ll take every possible precaution and you won’t leave my sight for an instant.’

She smiled, this one more genuine and causing me to lean in and kiss her again.

‘There’s far too much riding on this to not make certain we can accomplish it. You’ll be there, and I wouldn’t risk you for anything, not even the resistance.’

I exhaled heavily and she kissed me one last time before her thoughts continued casually.

‘Besides, since I know you’ll be watching me so intently, I’ll give you something extra special to look at.’

She grinned before she turned and started plotting with Shane. Alice and Dana stopped arguing to pay attention and possibly contribute, and I closed my eyes as I groaned. This woman would undoubtedly be the death of me.


 I gripped Tina’s hand possessively as we wove our way through the boxes and furniture in the basement of the old coffee shop on 6th street. I felt a little foolish for bringing her here, for doing any of this really. I’d always cursed people for how maudlin they were, especially with grand gestures of the heart. But with Tina I felt oddly compelled, and in all honesty, I couldn’t help myself.

We approached an old table in the back corner and I released her to pull it away from the wall with a shrill scuffing sound. A large metal grate at the bottom of the wall came into view and I wrenched it to the side before standing and dusting off my hands.

Tina raised an eyebrow at me and we were still for a moment as she considered the opening from a distance. Her voice and demeanor were incredulous and I felt myself grow smug with the knowledge that she really had no clue why I’d brought her here.

‘You want to go into a hole… in the basement of a coffee shop…?’

I felt the corners of my mouth curl slightly.

‘What? Not what you had imagined for some time alone?’

She released a short laugh. ‘Not even in my wildest dreams.’

‘Where’s your sense of adventure?’

I gestured to the dark, dusty hole with tangles of spider web in the corners.

‘You’re not scared…’

She squinted her eyes playfully, knowing full well that I was using her pride to trap her. She approached the opening cautiously, her scolding eyes holding mine until the last minute before she finally peered into the ominous confines. I couldn’t help but laugh at the wonderfully disbelieving expression on her face as she looked back up at me. I had the feeling that I should check my shoulders for a second head and my smile became a grin.

‘Don’t you trust me?’

She didn’t say or think a single thing, choosing instead to indulge me and my challenge good-naturedly. She tugged me forward and kissed me sweetly, and just as I was about to take her in my arms and make it last, she ducked and dropped into the narrow shaft. I heard her feet hit the bottom, watched a cloud of dust roll up over the edge, and shook my head when a delicate sneeze followed.

I dropped down next to her and she gestured to our surroundings.

‘Now what?’

I took her hand in my own, ducking down in the too-short space to make the short walk through the substructure of the building with Tina close behind me.

We were, quite literally, in the space between the coffee shop and its neighboring appliance store, a forgotten alcove of history that had been entombed as the modern world sprung up around it. And despite the fact that there were resistance goons inconspicuously positioned all over the street and buildings out front, it almost felt as if we were alone, however much my thoughts hindered me from fully enjoying that idea.

We’d been living in the open for three years, rebel guards always lurking about and reporting to Tina, but Lilith still hadn’t come to take her revenge. She hadn’t even reached out to Shane or the loyalists. And while a part of me was ready and willing to let her be dead, another part of me, the cautious part that loved Tina, just couldn’t seem to believe it.

There was no reason to think that she was alive, but I was stubborn and terrified at the thought of putting Tina in danger, though that was precisely the plan. And it had worked, just not with Lilith.

At first, when we’d arrived in LA, we’d picked out the most ostentatious and attention seeking loft we could find in the center of Hollywood, and the loyalists had seen it for what it was: easy pickings.

They’d attacked us at random times and in small numbers, but as Tina had promised, the rebels were vigilant in not only protecting us, but making strides in ending the conflict. As a result, we’d taken down several of their number, both on our own and via search parties skirting the edges of the city. I hated seeing Tina attacked; it was something that I would never come to be complacent with. But she was quick and resourceful and she was always under my watchful gaze. There was no other assurance to be had in life. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t really have any other options.

As time wore on, fewer and fewer loyalists appeared, and some had given up Lilith’s cause altogether. By the late 80’s, there weren’t too many of them left, and as much as I didn’t trust that Lilith was dead, I also knew that she’d never sit idly by as she lost her army and the war. She was too proud and too power hungry. She’d have done something to stop the depletion of her numbers if she was alive, but she hadn’t, and that could only mean one thing: she couldn’t.

I had known that Tina wanted to loosen security, fully believing that it was over, and start easing us into a more private life. But because she had been so privy to how I felt, how something in me was always uneasy and uncertain, she’d made sure that we were safe at all times, no matter where we were. She’d also forestalled any planning in coming out to humanity. Even with Lilith gone, we’d have to be smart about it, and until we knew for sure, until the war was truly over, we would wait.

Time was all we had and it would prove to bring closure to the situation one way or the other. Until then, we’d have to suffer the intrusion into our life. But that hadn’t stopped us for an instant.

We’d filled our days and nights with the city and each other, not caring that we were under constant watch. We’d made a home together; a home where we’d watch movies, paint, and make love when the mood struck us. And it had all seemed so surreal, as if we had somehow achieved a normal life, though it was anything but typical.

Mostly though, we’d just enjoy comfortable silence as we did entirely mundane activities. Reading had still been a mutual passion and favored pass-time. Our time reading had evolved though. An onlooker would have found one head in the other’s lap, hair splayed and trickling through loving fingers as a tale spread out on the air.

Despite all of the good things, the uneasiness had never gone away. But I’d allowed myself to sink into this fantasy where we had no worries, where Lilith had died, where our past had been a childish nightmare, and where a future without worry had been spread out in front of us.

Of course I was still the perpetual student and so was Tina. That was one of the things that we would always enjoy doing together. I’d originally thought that it would be yet another aspect of my life tainted by Lilith’s touch, but it had turned out to be yet another aspect that Tina had renewed for me.

We’d been to every museum and local historical site that we could set our feet in. We’d find a scholar and politely set an appointment to ask him questions or observe his processes, leaving him healthy and well. That had been the best part for me, and that was saying something. I had no desire to hurt anyone, not anymore.

I was more interested in art, but Tina loved film, and so we’d toured most of the old theatres that littered Los Angeles as well. And that’s why I’d chosen this abandoned piece of a vaudeville house that few knew about or could gain access to because of how deeply it was buried in the modern world.

We approached the remnants of a steep climb of steps that were no longer operational, and I released her to jump up and over onto the concrete ledge above. Tina followed and I again took her hand as we stepped into the small alcove.

I knew that Tina would appreciate it because of its history and exclusivity, and I would appreciate it because I could share this day with her, a day that was becoming more and more special to me. Both the place and the date were wrecked and slightly forgotten, but that was a part of the appeal. I wanted to give her something special, but more than that, I wanted to celebrate with her.

So much had changed in the way that I saw love and relationships in my time with her. I found myself wanting to be romantic, wanting to celebrate the passage of time and what it meant to have her with me. And as I had begun to grow more aware of sentimentality, I had begun to see the worth in it.

With our circumstances being what they were, I’d never given the anniversary of the start of my life with her much thought, and to be honest, a specific date was so convoluted that I hadn’t been sure what day to celebrate should I want to. But my desire had been growing into an acute need, and so I’d picked a day that I thought would suit us both. It may have been ages ago, but time hadn’t ruined the beauty of it any more than it had ruined the beauty of this place, or my love for her.

And that’s what made it so important. I had been given the one person, all that I’d ever need as little less than a gift from the universe. I had paid dearly in everything else in life, but it was all worth it to have wound up with her. It may have been an impossibly hard road, and time may have meant little in the scheme of forever, but it wasn’t the time itself that I wanted to celebrate, it was her.

I wanted to commemorate her, to rejoice and be thankful for her, because that’s how I felt every day that I spent with her.

I glanced over at her as she stepped fully into the space.  Her deep eyes sparkled with enthusiasm as she turned in a slow circle.

‘Bette, this place is beautiful…’

‘You’re beautiful,’ I countered.

She smiled contentedly. This piece of movie history was small, all that was left of an era long past. The few seats were long gone, only a few wooden supports to prove that they had even existed. Tattered velvet lined the walls that lay in disrepair. Yellowed bits of waybills lay soiled and scattered along the destroyed and mostly missing carpet, and while the lasting, ornate architecture was hollowed out with time and forgetfulness, it was still incredible.

It didn’t take long for her to truly appreciate the space before she realized that there were some items that were slightly out of place.

She approached the old fashioned reel to reel player that I had rigged to run off of a car battery and smiled over at me. It had taken some work, but I’d found the player and most of her favorite movies in small boutiques owned by random collectors all over the area.

She read through some of the titles in the box on the floor before looking over to me with adoration. Her voice was slightly awed.

‘Where did you find these?’

I leaned against the wall.

‘Here and there.’

She shook her head.

‘And what did you do to this reel to reel?’

I laughed.

‘Well, I thought it might kill the mood if one of us had to stand at the player and turn the crank, so I took one of the circuits from that toaster that we got at the bank-’

My thoughts were cut off as she claimed my lips in a heated kiss that left my spine curling.

It went on for long minutes, and it was everything that I could do to let her go when she pulled back to rest her forehead against mine and murmur, ‘You’re incredible, you know that?’

I leaned away so that I could see her eyes, reaching up to stroke a smooth cheekbone. She had no idea how much she inspired me or how much she had given me. Not because she couldn’t hear me think it or feel it, but because there was a deeply humbling desire in our love for one another. Thinking of her first wasn’t a chore or a struggle; it was a privilege and a promise.

‘It’s not much, really. I wanted to give you something special, and…’

She never ceased to make me feel tongue tied. It was like I couldn’t find good enough words; even if I tried to invent them, they’d never fully encompass what I wanted to say.

‘Well, I wanted to celebrate you and what you mean to me… today specifically.’

She puzzled over the date for a few moments before knowing tears gathered in her deep hazel orbs. She knew the date and what it meant, and that not only emboldened me, it helped me to realize that this wasn’t foolish or overly sentimental of me, at least not to her. And that was all that really mattered.

She kissed me again, slowly and confidently this time. There weren’t words for her either, but true to her form, she found a way.

A movie of a different kind flickered to life in her mind, and as she kissed me with passion and purpose, I relived some of the very best and worst moments of my young life.

She was in every one of them, and while I knew them all too well, she was making the story new. I was watching pure, unjaded love unfold from her heart, feeling what she felt, knowing how much I was loved and how much she hated what her family was doing.

It was strange how the darkness that shaded the edges of each scene didn’t seem to matter, how it diminished with time and shrunk away from the light that we’d filled ourselves with.

She was all that I could see, and while I regretted that I hadn’t embraced it all those years ago, nothing had really been lost. She was perfectly and wonderfully made for me, for my soul, and she always would be. She was meant to banish the pain and guilt that would never fully disappear, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Like in all things, there’s a balance. Light cannot exist without the dark. She was my light; we completed each other, and that was to be embraced and rejoiced, not hidden behind shame.

As our movie died away, leaving me with nothing but peace and warmth so deep that my very bones ached, I buried my face in her neck to inhale her, a breathy, “Thank you,” escaping as it was released.

She held me close, impossibly tight, her thoughts scrambling to find a way to tell me just how grateful she was that I had come home to her, but again there weren’t words, and that was just fine by me. I didn’t need them. I didn’t need anything else. I had all that I needed in my arms.

I pulled away and started the reel to reel before holding my hand out to her. The gears whirred and filled the space with a comforting hum as she took my hand without hesitation.

I led her over to sleeping bag and overstuffed pillow that I’d had placed in the corner earlier, and she settled between my legs as the ruined wall became a screen for Charlie Chaplin. She released a satisfied sigh as my arms curled in around her, and it wasn’t long before Charlie was doing something overly exaggerated and awkward, but I didn’t notice. All I could do was look down on her, resting my cheek against her hair as I tightened my hold on her.

She laughed at his antics and the sound of it filled the small space and my heart with hope and promise. Her satisfaction was my own in this perfect moment.

As she calmed, a thought occurred to her.

‘Bette, how did you plan this and keep it from me?’

I smiled into the honey-hued hair as I kissed the tuft at her temple.

‘Alice and Dana helped, and you may have noticed that I’ve been humming Henry the Eighth… a lot.’

She pinched my side before gazing back at me incredulously.

‘God, that was making me insane!’

I grinned unapologetically.

‘I know.’

She shook her head before kissing the edge of my mouth and resettling herself.

‘I love you, Henry.’

I kissed her temple again and another sigh of satisfaction was released into the air, only this time it was both of us.

‘I love you too, Widow next door.’

She shook her head but I could tell she was smiling, and that was the best feeling in the world.

I’d made her smile.

 


 

Alice was impossible to contain in her excitement. She was always high strung; I was getting used to that and learning how to control my impulse to shake her, but she was making my attempts to live and let live exceedingly difficult.

She was bouncing, literally bouncing, on the balls of her feet with enthusiasm. Both Dana and Tina’s efforts did little to mollify her. I liked Madonna as much as the next person, but Alice… she was losing what little was left of her mind.

“Would it be wrong to compel security to get backstage?!”

She screamed her question to be heard over the cacophony around us, and we all looked to her with exasperation. We were vampyrs. We could have heard a whisper, even in this tangle of people. A few of them stared at her curiously, surely puzzling over her words, and I pinched the bridge of my nose between my thumb and forefinger.

Tina answered her quietly, proving my point.

“Al, you don’t have to yell, especially about compulsion.”

Alice rolled her eyes and thankfully the lights dropped out around us. I could still see everything in graphic detail and I chuckled as the people on stage hurried to their positions under the cover of darkness. But the mass of bodies around us started to writhe and scream, forgetting Alice’s outburst.

She hurriedly tugged on Dana and Tina, clearly intent on shoving her way closer to the stage. Of course, I was holding on to Tina and had no intention of letting go, which brought Alice’s movement to a halt.

She turned back and scowled at me as Madonna’s voice echoed throughout the stadium and the crowd became one giant ball of uncontrollable energy.

Alice wasn’t about to give up though.

“Come on! Let’s move closer!”

I glanced at Tina with a subtle question in my eyes. She grinned and pulled me along, knowing full well that crowds made me nervous. Hell, everything made me nervous. It had been several years, but I just couldn’t shake it. The last time that I was in a crowd this large and packed together, all hell had broken loose. But, it had been the start of a lifelong revelation, and Lilith wasn’t coming. I had to keep reminding myself of that. She hadn’t and wasn’t coming.

Alice bullied her way to the front, gaining us more unwanted attention, and Tina squeezed my hand reassuringly when those around us returned their focus to their excitement. We were here to have fun, relax, and experience a pop phenomenon. It was all Alice’s idea, but I could tell that Tina was excited. And if I were honest, I was beginning to feel part of that excitement.

We reached the front of the stage just in time to see Madonna fling open her blazer and reveal a bra unlike any other I’d ever seen. It looked painful, more painful than the corsets of Tina’s youth, and I grinned at the memory.

I looked over at her, and yes, I gazed down at her chest unapologetically. Her tank top was sleeveless and tight, elegant but casual, the back nothing more than a few thin wisps of thread to hold it together, and as expected, she was still foregoing that particular article of under-clothing. It wasn’t like she needed it.

Gravity would never touch her. Her top wrapped her like a second skin, leaving just enough to the imagination, and I had a vivid imagination. There was a fantastic spread of choice parts contoured in the striking shadows of the low lighting to fill in the gaps, but even the limitless catalog of inspiration in my mind left me wanting… deeply wanting.

Tina and Alice started to dance in sync with the slightly mesmerizing laser lights that were dancing overhead, and as I watched, the noisy crowd fell out into the background. My head felt thick and as if it had been packed in cotton as everything narrowed in on Tina and caught me by surprise.

There was something about this moment that seemed unrepentantly sexual. It sparked in the atmosphere around us. The room practically bowed with packed humans in various states of undress and rhythmic ecstasy, sweating and grinding, and I couldn’t seem to remember if I was at a concert or a mass orgy.

I felt excited, turned on, impassioned; but as Tina danced with Alice uninhibited, the loose roll of her hips soaking up the spatial energy and pushing it straight into me, I considered the idea that it had nothing to do with the music or the energy arcing throughout the room.

It was her. She had this aura, one that I’d never really had the chance to stand back and absorb from a distance because we’d never been in a setting quite like this. She was confident and knowingly desirable, and for a moment I felt young for my age.

It was as if the last one hundred and thirty-four years had never happened. I was nothing more than an ordinary girl who had stumbled into a club after a long shift in some ordinary job, and had been randomly struck by the youthful visage of the one girl in all the world that I’d never forget for no inexplicable reason. I felt like I was having that moment that all of the poets talk about. I’d call it love at first sight, but that wasn’t it, or at least not all of it.

Tina had always been for too evolved for the limitations associated with the antiquated society that she’d been born into. She hadn’t belonged there in that time – a time that I could almost believe had never happened as I watched her.

This gorgeous, uninhibited, untamable creature was who she was supposed to be, in the time that she belonged to. This was that girl that I’d initially fallen in love with embracing life with incredible passion without all of those needless limitations.

I was having a hard time catching my breath. My muscles clenched and my stomach coiled, and it only got worse as it got better.

I felt impossibly hot as she raised her hands in the air, her smooth arms bent at the elbow to muss in the wavy hair that was falling over her exposed back, and her hips continuing their ceaseless sway. I was hypnotized by the motion, wetting suddenly dry lips in anticipation – of what, I wasn’t sure. I felt incurably thirsty, hungry, but for something decidedly other than blood.

I wanted Tina; I wanted her right then and right there, but I couldn’t stop watching her long enough to do anything about it.

I’m not sure how long I stood there raking over her with my eyes, but when the hem of her top rose up over the soft swell of her stomach and Alice put her hands there to guide her hips, I was lost. I had to touch her, to feel the silk of her skin against my hands and tongue and lips. My stiff body finally propelled itself forward to find satisfaction, only to be expertly dodged.

Tina turned to me, avoiding any attempt to stoke and savor, choosing instead to capture and hold my hands behind my back as she ground into me, against me, through me. She knew. She felt it. She was there with me in this moment, another first for us.

She was driving me to an edge and fast, and by the way that she grinned up at me with darkened eyes, I felt as if I was being pulled naked over hot coals and left wet and quivering and ready for more. I dipped my head to try again, to find purchase on any part of her with any part of me, but she wouldn’t give me even a taste. She would wait until I was so wound with need that I’d snap. And I’d surely snap.

We had become experienced lovers in our time together. It was life sustaining, nourishing, inspiring, and something reverently savored. But my desire for her in that moment was not for the gentle coupling of love or a soul thirsty for the connection that fosters enlightenment and growth. This was raw and primal need… simple but honest lust. It existed in the physical, and it was a most potent drug.

Should I feel bad for that – wanting to just take her without all of the emotions so central to our lovemaking?

Would I hurt her?

She held my gaze and shook her head slowly before pressing in hard and scraping pointed teeth over the junction of my throat. There was a slight sting and a gentle trickle, followed by a velvet tongue. I shuddered and closed my eyes as my hands involuntarily clenched into fists and my toes curled. I tipped my head back, sucking in the heavy air that seemed like it would never be enough to fill my overanxious lungs. This was new territory for us, but I was ready and willing, and apparently so was she.

A rush of carnality throbbed through me as her lips tracked a heated path up my distended neck and her tongue swept along my jaw. I felt dizzy; my hips jerked; my airways felt like they would collapse; it was like the darker parts of me were howling inside, begging for one night of freedom from their prison. And for the first time in a long time, I wanted to let them out to play, to feel wild and reckless.

It should have scared me, but it didn’t. Tina was with me, balancing me, tethering me as she raked me over the coals.

I tried to break her hold but it only tightened, stretching my muscles and tendons in stark relief against my skin with a glaring warning. No, she’d never let me go, and I didn’t want her to. The pressure pulled me taut like a bowstring but I couldn’t tell if I was the string or the arrow balanced precariously against it.

I could feel the sharp points of her hips pressed against mine, the friction rough but smooth at the same time. My clothes shrunk against me, my skin felt tighter, and the moisture in the air began to bead up at my temples and soak into my hair. The thumping rush of music kept time with her motion as she released my hands, confident and sure that I had been tamed, that she’d broken me, and she had.

I opened my eyes and gazed down on her; the normally hazel orbs were so black that they shined a midnight blue, and the silhouette of two sharp points was just noticeable beneath parted lips that were swollen red with blood.

I felt the pleasure-pain of transition as my own ferocity surged forward and claimed her mouth lazily, parting bruised lips with my tongue to twine it with hers. I gripped the fleshy parts of her thighs and dragged my hands to her hips, crushing her to me and moaning low in my chest as I finally found purchase on the exposed flesh that seemed to vibrate with vitality there.

Southern nerves constricted, nails scraped, a sea of arousal spilled out and crashed against the pulsing music, and our bodies shifted together in time with the torrential ocean around us.

It was all pressing in around me – the mass of bodies, the earth, and the very sky – and it would all explode soon, sucking me into her like a vacuum. Her hands scraped down my shoulders and across the hardened flesh of my tense arms until my wrists were being gripped and pulled away from my prize.

She tugged my bottom lip between her teeth, smoothing her tongue across mine one last time before releasing me completely, abruptly, and leaving me strangled and heaving.

I swayed as I opened my eyes to find her gone.

‘Over here…’

I turned and my eyes unerringly locked with hers just before she sunk into the crowd and I grinned. I knew this game. It was a hunt. I moved fluidly through the tightly packed bodies, never taking my eyes off of hers. But as I drew closer, she moved further away, and I realized that as much as I was the hunter, I was the prey.

She left through the side door as I pulled through the last of the crowd, and I followed her into the thin night air. It was dry and cool against my damp skin and I took a deep breath, seeking the subtle hint of her arousal, her essence still clinging to the atoms floating on the air. I found her immediately and followed the intoxicating trail she’d left for me.

I made my way down the alley, following her trail to the rooftops where I could kick in with extreme speed. Just running felt good as I tracked her, leaping over several stretches of seedy nightlife, until I found myself on the outskirts of an industrial graveyard. The abandoned warehouse where her trail ended was like a square, metal giant, looming large, empty, old, and forgotten against the backlit city.

I fell through one of the missing panels in the roof, and I could feel the hum low in my stomach that always gave her away. She was there. She was close. She was waiting, but most importantly, she was mine. I landed easily on a crate and jumped down to the floor. It was spacious, the air stale with the smell of oil, dust, and time, and the floor was littered with debris and items from a long forgotten past.

The upper portion of the walls had a large band of windows that ran the entire length of the building and as I moved further into the middle, I noticed that there was the hollowed out portion of an old airplane up on cinder blocks, the cargo area at the bottom broken open and old tarps and luggage strewn inside.

The gnarled propeller was spinning with a gentle creaking noise and I grinned. She was toying with me and I enjoyed it.

The rattling sound of metal on metal echoed through the space and sent pigeons scattering from the rafters, and I made my way toward the wooden scaffolding that lined the back wall, dust still trickling down from the ledge above.

Something soft caught on my foot as I stepped forward to start climbing and I looked down. A thrill rolled through me as I saw a small pile of clothes, Tina’s clothes.

Small hands slid tight around my waist and slipped under my blouse. She lifted and I didn’t hesitate to let her pull the thin barrier up, helping her with the last few inches. Those same hands slid down my arms, nails dragging over my shoulders and across my ribs as they wound their way to the base of my spine.

I tried to turn, to face her, but she stepped in close to stop me.

‘No, not yet…’

I felt her uncovered breasts press against me, the tips of the soft swells gliding sharply just beneath my shoulder blades and causing my skin to prickle.

‘You have the most incredible back…’

My head fell forward as she released the lace of my bra to explore each inch of oversensitive skin her hands, lips, and tongue.

‘Strong but soft…’

I gripped the supports in front of me, barely able to deal with the knowledge that if I were to turn around, I’d have her, all of her, uncovered and ready. I could smell her; I could feel her, and I didn’t know how much more of her torture I could relish.

‘This is my favorite part of you, not just because it’s beautiful…’

Her breath washed over me and I felt my eyes dilate and my nostrils flare.

‘It is beautiful, but it shows just how far you’ve come, how your past will never own you… it’s there, but you’ve conquered it.’

Something powerful ripped through me with her words and I realized that it was me, that part of me that never really gave up, even when I wanted it to, even when it should. It was expanding, puffing out its chest and bearing its teeth. It was strong; I was strong, and for the first time, I really felt it.

Her hands snaked forward, wrapping her around me in the most erotic of ways as the buttons of my fly were sharply and deliberately released one-by-one. She was claiming me, all of me, but her interest was in that part of me that she was determined to unleash, that she’d fed and loved and fostered with her own determination.

My grip on the wooden supports in front of me became so tight that I felt the surface splinter. The rig groaned, or maybe it was me.

Tina slid her hands into the opening she’d created, nails tugging across the fabric beneath to further incite me. I could feel how she desired me, but she wouldn’t take it. I had to give it to her, and the only way was to let go, to let it become me and then ravage her. All of the tension and raw need was peaking, and my stomach fell into my toes as the descent back down the other side began.

Her hands, her mouth, her thoughts, they were relentless, and I snapped, taking the scaffolding with me. It collapsed onto the floor along with my control, but I had already turned and hefted her up, securing her legs over my hips before slamming her hard into the adjacent wall and attaching myself to her mouth. The metal surface dented and warped behind her and my fingers found her sex dripping shamelessly, open, and engorged. So, I thrust into her roughly.

She cried out, breaking away from my mouth as her head snapped back and her heels dug into my ass. Her hips slammed down into my hand only to lift and impale her again. Her fingers dug into my shoulders, hair, and neck. Her whimpers and cries began an intense cadence that matched her plunging, and I felt it, that power. It surged and ebbed and broke inside of me with each deep penetration within her.

So much of her was spilling out that I felt my tongue swell in my mouth. I couldn’t decide what I wanted more, to keep thrusting into her or taste her. It was with slight grief that I pulled out and gripped her thighs crudely, hoisting her up against the wall. Her eyes implored and her hips jerked, seeking the contact that I’d just cruelly taken from her, but I was unapologetic. I knew what I wanted, and I’d have it.

I gripped her securely and pushed her higher, pressing her into the cool metal of the wall and holding her still before plunging my tongue into her. Her hands twisted in my hair and the guttural moan that echoed through the room vibrated against my mouth.

She was seeping thick and hot, and I was drinking her in, pulling her into my mouth to find and stroke each nerve and gather every last bit of her offering. Her feet found my shoulders, and my left hand snaked upward, gripping her breast and squeezing it as the other shot up to again plunge into her while bracing her.

It took every last ounce of my strength to hold her still as she jerked and poured out her climax. It seemed like it wouldn’t end, and I didn’t want it to. I curled my fingers up and began thrusting with inhuman speed, and this time she screamed, a renewed spring of arousal gushing out onto my waiting hand and tongue. She released my hair and pressed her palms against the metal behind her to hold herself steady as it tore through her. Her legs were quivering uncontrollably and I still wasn’t ready to let it be over.

She wanted me; she wanted a taste of my power, and I was determined to show her, to feel it, to give into the part of myself that was unconquerable even as it pledged itself to her and her alone. I pushed in further, faster, harder and turned my face, fangs snapping out to bite into the flesh near the crux of her left leg and drink of her.

Her blood was unlike anything I’d ever tasted, especially with the remnants of her passion still lingering in my mouth. She was flooded with endorphins, and I tasted the sweet musk of another orgasm race through the steady stream pouring out against my teeth.

She couldn’t withstand it. It was too much, and I couldn’t hold her. I was forced to release her as her legs fell from my shoulders and she slid down the wall heaving. I braced my arms above her in a fight to stay standing, to stay near. I didn’t feel ready for this to end, not yet. I wasn’t sure I ever would. As much as I knew of her, as much as she’d given me, this part of me, this power, it was incurable, insatiable.

She was everything in this world to me and she gave me everything in return. But as much as I wanted more, I couldn’t catch my breath long enough to take it. But the knowledge that when I did she would be there was overwhelming. She’d always be with me and I would always be with her. Nothing could ever change that.

Her beautiful mind was a jumbled array of colors and explosions and I leaned into her, seeking some contact until she could regain her senses.

I hadn’t counted on the fact that she didn’t care to rest, or that she wouldn’t need good sense to know what she was doing. Her hands were fast and focused despite her inability to think coherently. She was running on pure, unadulterated instinct, and it told her everything about me that she’d ever need to know.

Her hands were everywhere, groping and eliciting sounds from me that I didn’t even recognize. It was all a blinding blur of white hot pleasure branding my skin. I felt myself crash into one of the support beams behind me and the building shook, or maybe even the earth, as the wood splintered against my back. My pants and underwear were nearly torn from my body and she was thrusting into me.

I didn’t remember her fingers being that long, but I could feel inch after inch of them as they thrummed over every open nerve like a masterful musician over her strings. She pressed into me harder and I felt the wood behind me shift. We were going to tear this place down around us, but I didn’t care as my stomach fluttered and I released all of myself into her hands.

Another movement so fast that the world blurred, my thoughts blurred, and I found myself on my knees and bent forward over the inside of the airplane, my hands instinctively bracing as a strangled moan escaped my diaphragm.

A warm, velvet tongue stroked slowly through every fold and crawled up the length of my spine. My hair was gathered at the base of my neck, my head pulled back and to the side, and she entered me again, her breath hot on my ear, her breasts tickling over me as she picked up her momentum.

‘You’re so fucking wet.’

Just as the words died on her lips, her teeth were sinking into my shoulder and a renewed surge of eroticism flooded me. I clutched at nothing and bucked against her, another release coming quickly and unbidden, my spine melting and running out around her hand and down my thighs as I cried out.

But that wasn’t going to be it. It wouldn’t stop; how could it? Her teeth released me and just as quickly, her face was pressed deep into me, her tongue parting me and writhing against me, catching the last wave of the orgasm only to throw me into another… and another. She wasn’t going to stop; but did I want her to? I couldn’t decide, so she decided for me, giving me one last intensely shuddering climax that left me crawling forward on the will to survive and collapsing into the cargo hold of the plane which then collapsed from the cinder blocks onto the floor.

The movement jostled me, but I was in and out of consciousness for several long minutes, just lying there in a state of euphoric coma. I faintly felt the soft body crawl up in front of me to hold me. I faintly heard the loving thoughts of joy and gratitude, but they were all that could reach me. She was all that could reach me until eventually the world again came into focus.

I opened my eyes, blinking them several times, only to close them again when a hand stroked the haphazard curls from my face.

‘Are you okay?’

I laughed sardonically, and even that tiny bit of movement exhausted me. She joined me in it and I could tell that she was just a weary. It was bone deep, soul deep, but only in the best of ways. I felt like I could sleep the age away, nothing but her embrace and the quiet solitude of this strange place that we’d sheltered in. I was home. I always was when I was with her, but this… this was the satisfaction of truly knowing it.

‘I’m better than okay.’

I felt a tender kiss on my lips, but my nerves were too overwrought to feel how sweet it was. It was no matter; I knew it without feeling it. I buried my face in her neck and pressed in close to her. Her arms wrapped around me and our breathing synchronized as it evened out, carrying us out into a dreamscape that paled when compared with reality.


 

I just want to go home. It’s impossibly dark and hopeless being so far removed from her, so far removed from my own body. I need her now more than ever. I just wish there was a way to go to her.

I wish…

I wish…

A wish will get me nowhere, and maybe that’s why I’m stuck here.

The water feels warmer, but that could be desiccation sapping away the very last of sensation. It’s as if reliving my life with her has somehow warmed my grave and made it more bearable. And in reality, it has.

If I have to succumb to helplessness and weakness, at least I know that I wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I realized what it meant to be strong and embraced it. She gave me that gift, and so many others in the time that followed.

The 80’s ended, and we spent our time living in freedom and pursuing knowledge. The Loyalists were still fighting – what was left of them anyway, but Lilith was dead; I’d come to accept that fact.

Our guards dispersed and we moved from city to city, attending universities and absorbing culture, and for once, we were alone. Dana and Alice had gone to travel, following major performing artists and just generally being with one another. And it was the time alone with Tina that was the very best part.

I spent all of my time with her, and never once grew tired of her. Of course, we occasionally had our spats, but the make-up sex was worth it and the issue never persisted for very long.

That’s the beauty of love: when it’s real it’s unconditional, and ours was the only kind that I’d ever want.

As we settled into the 90’s, Tina had started to put key items in place to slowly bring vampyrs into the light. She knew that it would take a considerable amount of time, but she worked at it diligently.

Within the first ten years, she’d stepped her activism up into politics, placing people in high positions to bring injustices out into the open, all in the hopes of preparing humanity for the shock by making them less apathetic. And it was those plans that brought about an amazing change in society.

Humanitarians started taking up causes; people started rejecting rhetoric and judgment and pursuing kindness and tolerance. It wasn’t an overhaul by any means, but the spark was ignited, and it was spreading slowly but surely.

Of course, everything good is met with resistance by those with an agenda. The Loyalists that remained fought back, twisting those civil pursuits into civil wars. Evil would never be fully stamped out, but the more people could see what was happening in the world, the more that they saw just how what they believed differed from reality, the more they began to fight.

Women’s rights gained momentum, gay rights gained momentum, and even while war broke out because of those things, and because of the power struggle that surrounded them, it was still a hopeful future.

That’s right, the ‘F’ word.

It took twenty years, but I finally considered the fact that everything I had always wanted to have with Tina wasn’t just possible, I already had it.

We had a future and there was nothing stopping us. More than that, it was a good one, and I hadn’t even seen it before.

So hope begat future, and future begat marriage. That’s right, the other ‘F’ word.

Gay marriage had been an ongoing debate for a long time. Bigotry had never stopped Tina and me from loving each other openly before, but I was having an awakening of my own. And that’s when it struck me: I’d never given a single thought to marriage, but the more time that I spent with her, the more I watched others like us struggle for something I’d never given much thought to, the more that I realized that she was, in fact, my wife.

I’d just never used that term. In fact, thinking it now while I’m choking to death might not be the best time, but I can’t help it. I’d wanted that with her, and I can’t even explain why.

It wasn’t even legal in most of the world yet, but I wanted it. I just did. I already had her and a future, but I wanted to call her my wife and know that it was true. And I tried, I tried so hard to make that happen…


 

 Afterglow – it’s an incredible feeling. It has a smell, and a taste, and sound, but all of them really come down to this one incredibly complicated ball of something forbidden, rich, sacred, and sweet.

Tina shifted her leg over my hip, sticky curls warm and wet against my thigh as she pressed into me with a satisfied sigh. I kissed the crown of her head, closing my eyes as I pulled the last of the afterglow lingering around us in and imprinted it on my soul.

We’d spent several hours making love and just enjoying one another at home. It wasn’t atypical to any other day, but this day was special and it always would be.

It was that time again. It happened every year, and even as it grew to be expected and taken for granted, it never ceased to give life meaning and happiness.

One hundred and fifty-three years ago on this day, I met a girl and she saved me. And I loved her for it.

If I ever wrote an autobiography, that’s how it would start, and I’d dedicate its pages to her. Why does it matter when you have forever? Because forever without meaning is pointless.

So here we lie, sated and vulnerable, sexy and in love, and for all that I had, I wanted more. I wanted the stars and moon and the secrets of the mundane. All I had to do was ask, but I couldn’t seem to bring myself to do it. What if she didn’t want to or even just found it foolish?

She was listening to me, as always, and I found it pertinent to stop thinking things that I should not think around her.

‘I’m Henry the eighth, I am. Henry the eighth, I am, I am. I got married to the widow next door-’

She pinched me and I yelped out a laugh as she rolled over on top of me, folding her arms across my chest to rest her head on them and glare at me.

‘If you sing that song one more time, I’m going to…’

Her thoughts hung up and her mind whirred, trying to find something threatening but kind, as was her way.

I smiled and merely tried to be helpful.

‘Bite me?’

Her eyes squinted and I laughed again, causing her head to bounce. She raised herself up on her arms and crawled up over me. I lifted my knees to make room for her and ran my hands over her waist as she settled down on top of me. Her eyes were gleaming with warmth, love, and mirth, and it made my chest expand with love for her.

For vampyrs we were relatively young, but as I looked into her eyes, I felt as if all hidden things were opened up to me. No one would know the limitless wisdom I found there. I reached up and smoothed some of the hair that was cascading around us behind her ear, stopping to trace the delicate curve of it.

‘Ask me.’

It was a simple request really, but I was puzzled all the same. I’d been careful, hadn’t I? No, she was bluffing. She leaned down and kissed me so tenderly that the impact of it bruised my insides. She pulled away and I felt more vulnerable than usual at the unguarded expression on her face.

‘Ask me.’

I considered her, the way she was looking at me, the way her mind warmed and comforted me, the way her touch made me quiver with need and peaceful with complacency all at once. And while I’d envisioned something grander and more ostentatious, I realized that the perfect moments weren’t the most lavish, but the most soul-rending.

I couldn’t think of a more perfect moment and yet my tongue wouldn’t move to speak the words and give my overly romantic desire for her physical form.

But it was real, regardless of words or lack thereof. She could take my love for her, multiply it by infinity, take it to the depths of forever and she’d still only have a glimpse of how much I loved her.

She kissed me again, even sweeter, making the bruises inside ache.

“Ask me.”

We rarely spoke openly, at least not when alone, but the plea in her voice and sentiment of the action wasn’t lost on me. I’d give her anything, anything at all, and I knew that she’d give me no less.

I slid my hands down her hips, gripping her and pulling her into my lap as I sat up. I brushed the honey-hued locks from her eyes. I wanted to see them, drown in them, as I laid my insides out for her.

“Marry me, T-”

My voice choked on her name and what she meant to me, and tears gathered on her lashes. It was the best that I could do, but my best was enough for her.

”Yes…”

She kissed me again, so gently that my insides bled.

’Yes…’

By some miracle, I had the credibility and believability that I needed to convince her to spend not just the rest of her life with me, but the rest of eternity. And while marriage was only a piece of paper, the promise that it represented was an unbreakable vow, an unspeakably tender oath, a blood pact that would crumble all regrets and shame with little more than a feather-light touch. There was nothing left but love, but I was aware that love was enough; it was everything.

No sooner than she pulled back and rested her forehead against mine, did I realize what was happening. Everything that I’d built, hoped for, dreamt about, protected, nurtured, and loved was being ripped from my arms.

It all happened too fast, even as it seemed to be in slow motion: the door crashed open, a haggard-looking shadow from my past stepped into the room brandishing a gun; several rounds were fired into me, and the love of my life was torn from my embrace.

Bullets – they hurt, but they were bearable. These bullets weren’t normal. They left me in paralyzing agony as several of them tore through my torso and at least two through my skull. All of them missed my heart, but that didn’t stop the long-silenced organ from falling apart when I dazedly realized that Tina was fighting for our lives and Lilith was stronger. She also wasn’t alone.

I couldn’t hear clearly and my vision was failing, but I knew that I was trying to shout and I could hear my name. I kept trying to move, flailing my arms and legs, but I could do little more than writhe and jerk.

It only took moments for them to subdue Tina over the bed next to me, her face just inches from mine as her screams died into sobs and her clawing hands were captured.

Her eyes tore through me with blinding pain, far more acute than any bullet. The fear and longing in them seeped into my soul, a soul that was dying as it watched the light in them fade out with a violent snap of her neck.

I could only watch as her body was pulled from our room. She was gone and the last thing that I saw was Lilith, disfigured and menacing as she descended on me before the world went black.


 

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Continued in The Art of War.

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