I smelled the leather of his jacket before I ever saw him. It was a welcome respite from the pervasive stench of unkempt bodies in the crowded space. Coupled with the pleasant fragrance of his skin as he swept past me, it was an overwhelming blow to my senses. He might as well have punched me in the face. My hunger lurched inside me and I clenched my jaw against the subtle urge to attack. My nose followed after him and my eyes fell on him, young and slender and remarkably fresh. Such a stunning complexion, that kind of pale that seems to be lit from within, with a hint of amber. It contrasted beautifully with his black hair, which shone too vibrantly to be a mere dye job like most of the mortals there. He idly tossed his hair out of his face, a coquettish little gesture that briefly exaggerated the seductive curve of his throat. I moaned and closed my eyes for patience. I moved closer, carefully inhaling his scent, gauging how he might taste. He stretched to his full height as I approached, tilting his chin upward to better see the band over the heads in front of him. That throat. The hollow ache of desire gathered in my chest. I wanted so badly to put my mouth on that throat. My canines ached and my vision became distinctly sharper as my instincts prepared for attack. I had no intention of killing this enticing young thing tonight, but he was my first drink of the night and I could already tell he would be profoundly savory. I could hear his heart beating, slow but remarkably strong and assertive. He was the absolute pinnacle of health, so I could take more from him than I normally would without really causing harm.
I scanned his immediate thoughts, pleasantly surprised as I was met with vivid images of the Salzburg Cathedral accompanied by the German psalms in his head. He brought his hand up to his brow to brush away the hair that had fallen back into his eyes. Gracefully slender, white fingers. He had a pianist's hands. I caught a glimpse of his wrist over the hem of his sleeve, a red and orange tribal pattern tattooed there, indicative of the indigenous people of the area. I pushed deeper into his thoughts, which were riddled with visits to an old woman on one of the nearby reservations. An Austrian-Native-American hybrid. It certainly explained the alluring hue of his complexion. Lovely.
He stiffened slightly, a subtle reaction that would have gone unnoticed to another human, and his hand impulsively disappeared into his left pocket in a gesture that reminded me of someone reaching for a weapon. He turned and looked directly at me in the same moment, warm cinnamon eyes modestly outlined in black eyeliner. There was a flash of confusion in his glance, followed immediately by concern. What a unique reaction. Oh, I would dine on this lovely gentleman tonight. A fleeting little interaction with him, and I planted the seed in his head. You will follow. I kept my ears trained on his heartbeat as I waited for him, and as expected, he dutifully joined me on the mezzanine. He was so overwhelmingly pure, the general undercurrent to his thoughts one of constant charity and acceptance. There was no way he would taste good, though his scent certainly suggested otherwise.
He came into my arms as willingly as any lover would have, giving a delicious little tremble as I pressed my mouth to his pulse. I toyed with him, teasing myself with the taste of his skin, the increasing throb of his artery against my lips, the soberest realisation in his thoughts as he acknowledged what was happening to him. He was strikingly calmer about it than most. Striking ever still was the first eruption of his blood down my throat, which was more divine than I could have imagined. That flavour, though...I knew it. I'd tasted it before. Guilt. Ah, yes. A devout Catholic. One whose faith was built on more than just ritual and superstition. Guilt at the fact that he knew of suffering in the world but was powerless to do anything about it. Guilt that he hadn't been good enough to have experienced the stigmata. Guilt that he could do nothing about the vociferous extremist zealots of his kind. I deliberated on just draining him to death right there. I immediately decided against it. I couldn't let such a paragon of virtue die in such a vulgar manner. I also didn't want to waste something so delectable in one night. I'd prefer to savour this one for a while. I memorised his scent, attuned myself to the unique beat of his heart so that I might find him when I hungered for him again, and left him safely with no recollection of the event.
"You should have done it."
I scoffed in contempt at the familiar hollow voice behind me, not bothering to face him. I was too focused on finding my next drink of the night. I needed to kill. I hadn't killed anyone in days. I was starting to feel agitated, and I'm sloppy when I'm agitated. I think most of us are. That obligation planted into our instincts by nature; we become useless and weak if we don't heed it.
"He would have been very gratifying," he pressed. "And since when have you ever practised restraint?"
I was pulled from my momentary distraction as I was hit with a vague sense of alarm, and I whipped around to face him, narrowing my eyes. "Where is he? Have you done something with him? I swear to god - "
"Yessss, you swear to God," he hissed with cloying eagerness, sweeping me back into a wall, where he brought his mouth close to mine. "Why don't you ever swear to me?"
I glared at him in annoyance. "That has never been funny or clever. I'm not kissing you. You can back away from me now."
He searched my eyes for a moment, then reluctantly relinquished his grasp on me. I studied him in silence, then snorted and turned away, slowly pacing away from him. His vanity and his capriciousness had recently led him to change his appearance every time he took earthly form, and lately he seemed to have been tweaking it specifically to appeal to me. Frivolous creature. On this particular night he was a masquerade of dark eyes and angular features, mahogany hair pulled back and tied with a ribbon. He dressed in a contemporary high-collared doublet trimmed in red and gold. The very embodiment of a wealthy European eccentric. And tomorrow he would assume an entirely different appearance altogether. I lifted my chin a little, sniffing the air, searching for my Catholic on the light winds.
"You don't trust me," he said flatly.
"Where is he?" I repeated.
"What do I care? You know I'd have no business with him."
"What do you want, then?"
"What I always want. To indulge. To influence. ...To enjoy all the carnal pleasures this form can give me." He was hovering just behind my shoulder, the tip of his nose nudging my jawline.
"You certainly have a penchant for attempting to appease those urges in all the wrong places."
He abruptly stepped back. It was difficult to tell if he was legitimately offended or being facetious. "You weren't nearly this frigid a century ago."
I laughed despite myself. "Yes I was."
He fell into step beside me, and we walked in silence for some time as I listened desperately for someone worth a kill, scanning the thoughts of anyone in the immediate vicinity. I'd become picky in my old age, and I longed for the brutality of the nobles from centuries past. The Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution really did do wonders for the human race, but it also effectively killed the necessity for evil in mortals. Leisure replaced the struggle for survival and it was having a disappointing effect on my lunch. I'd probably have to go out of my way and find some evangelical Christian boot camp in the midwestern wilderness to fulfill my hunger tonight. That lot have always been fairly consistent in primitive, barbaric behaviour over the centuries, regardless of social or intellectual advancement, though they aren't nearly as ubiquitous as they were before the secularisation of society. I could feel my agitation growing with my prolonged hunger.
"Really, though. Why are you here?" I wasn't asking because I cared, I just needed something to distract myself.
"Mmm. I'm waiting for someone."
I stopped abruptly, causing him to nearly trip on me as he kept walking. "Waiting for someone? What, to die?"
"Hmm. You know, the really valuable ones take forever to finally go. I'm too impatient for this kind of cruel foreplay."
"Mephis," I said sternly, clamping a hand on his shoulder. "Here? Someone worth you coming to collect yourself? ...Is he still in favourable enough condition to lose a little blood?"
He laughed at me, a hearty, mocking chuckle at my expense. "She. And she's in relative peak health, though she's liable to self-terminate at any moment. Not for lack of already trying, either. Something keeps...holding her back. I've come to get her twice already and the wench keeps deadlocking to her body. I've been waiting for this one for years, but she just won't die already. It's...frustrating."
I cast him a doubtful sideways glance. "Be a gentleman, show me to her. I could...perhaps speed along the process for you."
That mocking laugh again. He swept his arm around my waist and kissed me, and I made a half-hearted attempt at returning it out of the futile hope that I'd get something out of it.
"But my darling," he said as he released me, "you tease me, I tease you...it's a game we play." He turned and continued down the way he'd come, leaving me alone under the waning moon.
Of course not.
I should have just killed the goth kid. It would have been extra work for me, as he surely would have been missed. I'd have to fabricate some story and plant evidence as to why he disappeared and his body was never found. But he may have been worth it. I will see him again soon.
He's so delightfully pliable. The goth ones always do tend to come a bit easier, of course. They're intoxicating in their fascination of us. He's such a wealth of innocence, yet he doesn't shy away from pleasure like most Catholics. It's strange. It's almost as if he embraces hedonism as a gift. He has a strong head for justice. He is perfect, if I were to be completely honest with myself about it. But I won't make the same mistake I did with Adrian.
I took an unsteady deep breath, exhaling slowly as I stared blankly at the vintage script on the page. I couldn't read any more. Admittedly I shouldn't have even been reading it in the first place. I felt terrible, having committed such an invasion of her privacy. The sun was close to setting and she was nowhere to be found, and she'd left me to my own devices in what I'm assuming was an empty house. I'd already marveled at the collection of her library, entertaining the idea of how much more impressive her collection might be in one of her European homes. And then I'd happened across it, a small leather-bound logbook, chronicling various occurrences that dated back two years. I'd only read the latest entries, and wasn't sure if I should feel panic or offense at being objectified as nothing more than an expendable meal. Theoretically, I was very aware of how close to death I'd been in that first moment she drank from me. But seeing how dismissive she'd been about it, how I'd nearly been relegated to a mere appetiser...it was disturbing and insulting. I'd felt such an indescribable intimacy in those moments, a vulnerability I'd yielded to no one, and here it culminated in a basic instance of predator and prey. I felt foolish.
I didn't like the feeling of emptiness that began to swell in my chest, that hollow sensation that creeps up when you're about to be sick. I slowly closed the little book, only just noticing how my hands shook as I held it. It certainly put things into perspective for me, and I had to look at it rationally; I had willingly accepted the company of a killer. I was favourable...to a killer. I wasn't sure how I felt about that. I had an open mind enough to acknowledge that she didn't kill for fun, that it was a necessity. A necessity likely instilled in her by the very god to which I'd pledged my devotion my entire life. But the Catholic in me frequently warred with the rationalist in me, and naturally my thoughts kept wandering to the people she might have killed, who they might have been, what they might have meant to other people.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt her cold little hand on my shoulder. I froze, still holding the diary, and kept my head down as I anticipated what would likely be a furious response. She reached out and delicately took the book from my hands.
"Oh dear," she said softly.
I risked a glance back at her. She was frowning slightly, but didn't look angry. More solemn than anything else.
"My apologies," I said in what I'd meant to be more than a whisper, though I was too panicked to draw breath enough to speak.
"No no," she said hastily, setting the book down on a nearby writing table. "I never told you where not to go and what not to read, you couldn't have known. Besides, it's only fair. I've eavesdropped enough of your thoughts at this point."
I said nothing. I couldn't look at her, and I was visibly shaking.
"Oh, Quinn," she said, a tenderness to her voice that rivaled that moment on the rooftop with Adrian. She warmly embraced me, holding me against her as I shook uncontrollably. For the first time, I noticed she had a heartbeat. I wasn't sure what I'd expected, but I was shocked by it, nonetheless. She has a heartbeat. That was comforting, at least. She laughed softly as she gently stroked my hair.
"Of course I do, Quinn. Our entire existence is dependent on blood. It would make little sense if we lacked a vascular system."
I returned the embrace, pressing myself against that heartbeat and wishing she were just a little warmer. "I didn't realise how casually you might have killed me," I whispered.
She tightened her embrace on me, her lips brushing against my neck. I might have cringed, but somehow I knew she wasn't going to bite. She merely kissed me, letting her lips linger there as she was no doubt delighting in the way my pulse felt against her. "Yes. I won't lie to you. You very well could have died that day and I wouldn't have given it a second thought. But things have changed. It's personal now. I've seen inside your head, I've seen your beauty. I don't think I'd be able to do it, even if I was starved and delirious and you were the only human for miles. Quinn, my lovely Quinn. It would break my heart if you feared me."
But I did.
In my childlike fascination of the idea of her, in my longing to see her again when she'd been gone, I never quite understood the reality of what she was and what that might mean in relation to me. I had to genuinely think about how I wanted to die, and if I was okay with it being because I happened to be convenient to a predator. I had a habit of romanticising everything, even death - whether that was a byproduct of me being a goth kid or a Catholic, I knew not - but I'd always assumed I'd end up dying doing something stupidly heroic. Now I was faced with it in a very realistic setting and I found it remarkably unpleasant.
I delicately pulled out of her embrace, and I was still unable to look at her. "I think...I don't know if I can do this." My voice wavered a little. I probably would have been close to tears if I hadn't felt so numb. "If I asked you not to come to me anymore, would you honour it?"
I caught a glimpse of her expression from my peripheral vision, and she looked mildly troubled. She inhaled slowly and nodded. "Of course," she said quietly. "Of course I would."
"I'm just not sure I'm - "
"I know." Her tone was calm and reassuring. "I understand."
I could feel my heart breaking as I turned and left. I wanted to turn back and say something more, but I knew if I looked at her, it would break my resolve and I would never be able to leave.
Her driver was of course instructed to take me anywhere I wanted to go, and I returned home. My house never felt so empty. I sat at my piano in the dark, the piano on which I'd learned to play when I was five, idly playing one-handed arpeggios just as a way of numbing my mind. I did this for a straight hour, and had nearly effectively hypnotised myself into catatonia when my phone buzzed abruptly on the bench next to me, startling me into mashing the keys in comical dissonance. I snatched the phone up and glared at it in frustration, my demeanour immediately softening when I saw it was Em. I smiled to myself, then went to the door and opened it for her. She was leaning casually against the post on my front porch, a bottle of prosecco in her hand.
"Really?" I said, standing aside so she could enter.
"Liquor rep was giving them out. Told me to push it. I figured I'd share it with you."
She was already familiar with my kitchen, and went straight to the cabinet I reserved for glassware. I came up behind her and took the bottle from her, popping the cork off and shutting the cabinet door before her.
"Fuck glassware," I said, taking a drink directly from the bottle. She furrowed her brow, slowly breaking into a devious grin, then took the bottle from me and followed suit.
"Fuck glassware," she repeated matter-of-factly.
She leaned against my countertop and we stared at one another in silence, then I firmly took the bottle from her hand and set it down beside her, lifting her up onto the counter and pulling her thighs up around my waist. I kissed her a little too sincerely than our casual arrangement might have permitted, but it wasn't so uncharacteristic of me that it raised alarm. Her body was warm and I appreciated the way it felt against me. I pulled her against my chest and playfully bit her shoulder, evoking a light chuckle from her.
"You've seemed a little disturbed lately," she mumbled, resting her forehead against my chest as I continued nibbling at her shoulder.
"You wanna talk about it?"
She nodded and left it at that. It's what I always loved about her, that she could be there when being alone wasn't ideal, but wouldn't pry if it would have been difficult to be entirely forthcoming about one's own demons.
"Mmm. Fuck me, Quinn."
It was a polite, nonchalant request, but it incited the primal male in me and I grabbed her about the waist and swept her off the counter, hauling her toward the bedroom as she instinctively reached out to grab the bottle of prosecco before I could drag her away from it.
It was a much needed reprieve. The physical contact alone was therapeutic. The warmth, the basic carnal connection with another human being. I always took it for granted, but in that moment, I really, really appreciated it. I appreciated that I could get a little rough with her and she could take it.
And that was a particularly gratifying bottle of prosecco.