A man torn in half by his darkness makes a decision that ends his loneliness.
| I knocked politely and heard her struggling with something. A quick glance through her eyes revealed that she was desperately trying to take off a pair of skin tight jeans. She shimmied them off her hips and they clung to her thighs. She winced in pain and I could feel that she was feeling a deep ache across all of her skin. My stomach dropped in empathetic pain. I knew that ache all too well. It was as though one’s skin had been slowly peeled from the body, trod upon by the largest of all creatures, stretched to its limits and then finally slipped back onto the body. I withdrew from her mind and waited for her answer.
Diana opened the door after a minute and her face was already glowing with a huge grin. She was dressed in a long cream and floral sundress, the blue and violet flowers made the sapphire in the hollow of her throat sparkle. The short cap sleeves cupped her slender shoulders and the deep v neck only drew more attention to the jewel I had given her. She had her pale blond curls, not so different from my own, piled into a haphazard, bouncy bun on top of her head.
“You look lovely.” I said it from a place of honesty but disliked the blush it gave her and the way it made her eyes light up. Would I have to be completely cold to put out her passion?
“You have your hair back.” She noted my ponytail and gave me a winsome grin. “It makes you look more approachable.”
“Can I come in? I’m having dinner brought up soon but I thought we could talk while we wait.” I was keen to distract her from looking at me. Her mind could not stop taking notice of little things she liked: the way the light played in my hair, the deep comforting timbre of my voice, the long thick lashes of my bright doe eyes. Her appraisal distracted me and I shut her out. I resisted the urge to pull my hair down and retreat behind my veil of hair. She nodded and let me in.
The clothing rack had been devastated. She had done what I asked and tried on everything, making three neat piles of the clothes. One, topped with the jeans she had struggled out of, lay on the floor near the rack, one on her chair at the small breakfast table and the third on the bed.
“Not a keep pile?” I gestured to the mound with the jeans and smiled.
“Too small,” she said, shaking her head. I pointed to the ones on the table.
“Too big, but I like them.” She seemed quiet and I looked at her, questioning. “I like the robes you gave me.”
“You need clothing, Diana.” I said sharply. My voice had a hard sternness to it that I had not intended.
“Because I’m leaving?” She whispered and her eyes locked onto mine, pleading.
“We need to talk about that.” I saw her about to interject but I held up my hand. “You’re staying here, but we still need to talk.” Her concern softened and she nodded in acquiescence.
“Alright.” She led the way to her bed and started to clear it off, putting her selected clothing on the small table near the bed.
“No, we’ll sit at the table,” I said, seeing that she intended us to lie together in her bed. With a stiff nod a soft sigh she swept the clothes off her chair onto the floor. She sat and pulled her knee up and rested her cheek on it, waiting for me to sit down, too.
I wasn’t sure where best to start so I sat watching her, pondering.
“Is it that bad?” she asked.
“It is, but it’s also more complicated that you can possibly imagine, Diana.”
“Married?” she guessed and I snorted in surprise.
“No, it’s not like that.” Her mind was still stuck on the mundane aspect of the issue, not knowing the complex nature of everything between us.
“Are you gay?”
“What impact would that have on us?” I asked, frustrated.
“Well, I mean...I wouldn’t mind if you were, but I would like to know if that’s the hurdle.” She was grinning at me and I shook my head at her, my exasperation mounting.
“That’s not relevant and has nothing to do with us.”
“So you are.” she pressed.
“Those kinds of labels don’t apply to me or our situation, Diana.” She was too focused on the sexual relationship she imagined us having now and it was distracting and uncomfortable for me. “It’s less about the carnal aspect and more about the feelings we share now.”
“You have feelings for me?” The hope in her voice was like an arrow in my gut.
“God damn it, Diana! Stop. Let me explain.” My frustration bubbled out in a gruff growl and she looked at me in surprise. “Can I please talk?” She blushed and then nodded.
“Sorry,” she whispered. I softed my frown and pursed my lips.
“I live in a world that is utterly alien to you. Relationships are not defined the same way you are used to defining them, and romantic entanglements between people like me and people like you are not allowed. Just having you here puts us both in danger.” I had decided that the best route would be to explain the seriousness of our predicament.
“Are you in organized crime?” Her guesses were grating on me and I couldn’t help but glare at her. She raised her eyebrows in apology and mimed zipping her mouth shut.
“I belong to a...community of people that are very dangerous. I am an important figure for my people but I am also at the mercy of those around me. I hold a very precarious position and if I am not careful, you could end up dead, simply to hurt me.” The longer I talked, the more relaxed I felt. The worry I had about how to bring her into the fold gently was very difficult.
“Can I ask you something?” She asked quietly when I paused. I searched her mind before answering her and found that she had no ridiculous conjectures. I nodded and crossed my arms, hugging myself.
“Does this have to do with…” she stopped and I looked into her mind. She wanted to know if it was about the way we had communicated without words before. I nodded slowly, my eyes on hers, making sure she understood that I had heard her thoughts and that I was answering them. She blinked rapidly and her mouth fell open.
“The people I belong to are special. We can all do this and more. But I have done something I didn’t think was possible. I have somehow awakened this ability in you and I don’t know how to turn it off.” Telling her was such a relief that tears sprang into my eyes. As they filled my vision, I noted that the red opacity of my tears was back. Diana leaned forward and touched the crimson tracks down my cheeks and then blinked in bewilderment.
“Does it have to do with this, too?” she asked quietly. I nodded and stood, stomping angrily to her bathroom. I wiped my face off with a bright blue hand towel and brought the ruined cloth with me. I tossed it violently onto the table.
“Yes, actually, this is all because of my blood.” She thought I was angry at her and looked away. I heard her thinking about how she could comfort me, what she could say to make me feel better. It broke my heart and I put my head in my hands, feeling defeated. The silence was broken by a knock on her door.
I jumped up again, the jittery need for movement ever-present, and yanked open the door. One of my servants, a man in his mid-thirties, broad and tall, pushed a serving cart into the room. He was thinking about how exciting a change it was, to deliver dinner to both of us in her room. He caught the angry, agitated expression I had and his thoughts shut down. They all knew I would tolerate no gossip. He pushed the cart to the table and left without a word, but I caught him thinking of how much better Diana looked today, healthy and alive, not like a few weeks ago when she looked wan and withdrawn.
I shut the door behind the man and drew in a deep breath. I closed my eyes and relished the smells that had come with the cart, memories from being able to eat assaulting me in melancholy ways. Pasta and chicken, some sort of vegetables and a bright, crisp note. The orange juice. I couldn’t help but smile.
“This is off topic and absolutely unnecessary but would you mind…” I hesitated. “Would you drink the orange juice before you do anything else?” Her mind flashed in an anxious note, worried it was drugged. I hadn’t thought that she might worry about that and I shook my head at her.
“Is it poisoned?” She had tried to sound like she was joking but I could hear the real fear.
“No, Diana. I just can’t drink it myself and I would like to...watch you drink it.” It sounded so horrible and perverse that I groaned. She lifted the glass to her nose and smelled it.
Are you trying to get rid of me? She asked in my mind and the thrill of it yanked a smile across my face before I could stop it.
I would hardly use poisoned orange juice if I was. I sent her images of me savaging her throat, her blood running thick and hot down both of our necks. She shuddered but drank the juice.
I jumped into her mind to experience this one simple thing vicariously. I had done it with my staff before but this time, she knew I was there. She took a small sip and moved it around her tongue. I plunged both of my manus inside her, putting myself into her body so I could imagine it was me drinking the liquid sunshine. She swallowed and I felt my body reflexively mimic her. I was still standing behind my chair, and I put my hands on the back of it to steady myself.
“You get off on strange things, Max.”
“Take another drink.” I commanded. She gave me a half smile and then took a long swallow, not stopping to savor the drink. I felt it running down her throat with the barest hint of the taste touching her tongue. “Slowly,” I said and she did slow her drinking. She took the glass from her lips and licked them clean. I was looking at myself through her eyes and I got to appreciate her view of the situation. I did look like some sort of pervert, locked in rigidity by some priapic curse.
“I don’t feel like you’re aroused by this, just fascinated.” She was right, of course, having that small link to my emotions that she would have until I figured out how to disengage her.
“I am very fascinated. And I guess in a circuitous way, it does have to do with what we need to discuss.” I shook the remnants of her mind from me, falling into my own body with an easy flick of my arcane. She speared a cherry tomato from the salad on the cart with a fork and stuck it into her mouth.
“Then let’s talk,” she said around the bite. I sat and nodded solemnly.
“I can’t eat or drink. That’s part of it, and it’s also part of the reason you’re even here. The people I belong to have exchanged certain portions of themselves for the ability to do extraordinary things.” I paused and wondered if I was being too vague.
“You gave up being able to drink orange juice so you can talk to people in their heads?” The humor in her voice was charming but I worried that she was not taking me seriously.
Not so simply, no.
Then tell me more.
“I brought you to my home that night because I knew I could help you. I had seen in your mind the hurt you carried with you and I have special gifts that let me fix that. I also had selfish reasons for wanting you here.” I held up a finger expectantly. “Nothing sexual, Diana. I know it seemed that way, but that’s the nature of the selfishness of this...condition.”
I don’t understand. I loved that she felt the freedom to use her mind with me but it was important to me that she hear my words so that later she could not tell herself she imagined it all.
“I need certain things to stay alive, akin to food or drink but much less palatable for someone like you.” The images of red, hot blood flickered in her mind again and she took her fork from her mouth, the piece of chicken uneaten. “I knew that if I had you here and I was taking that from you, I could justify it with healing your pain.” I leaned forward, my elbows on my knees and put my head into my hands.
“It was a fair trade.” Her hand rested on my head. “I’m whole again, Max. You say you see what I’m feeling and you can see the things that haunted me. Then you know what you did by getting me to accept them and move forward. You have to understand that what I was suffering from was not only the memories but the sickness they brought?”
“Yes,” I said in soft resignation. She still could not grasp the dire situation. “But what I have to do to survive isn’t justifiable, Diana. I have worked for over twenty years to deny myself, to circumvent the need for blood. I always come up short and mistakes get made. Mistakes that don’t cost me anything but cost others everything.”
“Max.” she said the moniker so tenderly that I wished I could have given her my real name. I wished with all of my soul that it was my name that fell from her lips with such kind, loving reverence. I looked up into her eyes and she moved from her chair to kneel before me.
“I’m already here, I’m already in this. You don’t really owe me anything but an explanation for what I can do to keep you out of trouble.” She cupped my cheeks between her dainty hands and I felt inside of her with my extra self. Her love was so pure and right and full that I shuddered. The love my brother had for me measured to this standard, but only just. Her devotion was unshakable. What had I done to earn her trust like this?
“I don’t know how to keep you safe.” I admitted and memories of my brother being cut away from me rocked me.
Don’t shut me out, let me in.
I don’t know how to do that, either.
She rested her forehead on mine and I breathed in the bright sunshine of her breath and the hum of our connection made me close my eyes. Her touch, repulsive to me just a day ago, now sustained me.
“What is this called?” she breathed softly. She showed me two strings tied together, unbreakable. I shrugged gently and sent her the images I could think to describe it. I showed her the flow of a river breaking into a million small rivers that all spilled into the sea, a seed drifting on the wind to grow into a giant tree, a match to a candle wick, a child and a mother. I had no words, but I knew the feeling.
“I don’t know if there is a word for it.” The weight of my anguish fell onto my shoulders and I slumped forward, my weight resting on her forehead and my knees, my hands reaching out for her and pulling her closer. I dropped from my chair to my knees, crushing my face into her neck, inhaling the inviting scent she had. Then the tears came and I could not stop the sobs that followed.
She knelt there, holding my body as I released all the grief I could muster, the frustration I had about this situation and how I had no one I could reliably turn to for help. How I felt responsible for her and everything that would happen to her from now on but mostly how I regretted seeding this gift inside her. I regretted that most of all because I knew for her to survive in my world now, she would either have to be converted or become a Conjugate. I had no choice anymore. Her access to the arcane currents inside of her was so shallow and bare that I knew in order for her to survive either of those ordeals, she would have to be more powerful. I knew what I had to do.
As I sobbed, I drove my manus into her mind and scratched at the golden gap in the barrier between her mundane and the arcane just begging to be released. With a different kind of savagery, I split the barrier and wrenched the gap wide. A torrent of energy flushed her body and she stiffened. I felt the electric tingle of the power flowing across her skin and resisted the dark impulse to bite into her neck.
I took one manus and dove deep into my own lux, the only way I knew I could give her more power, and using our bodies as the conduit, I forced as much lux into her mind as I could, as hard as I could. I knew it would either work, erasing her mundane barrier completely, or kill her.
She stiffened even more, her head thrown back. Her hair was falling loose and tears were streaming from her eyes, squinted shut. I wrapped my arms around her waist and pulled her to me, as tight as I dared, and released the last of the lux I had to give. An ice sweat broke across my skin, crystals coursing down my arms and melting when they met the heat from her. I felt the weakening of my own grasp on her and knew I would faint soon. Before I could drop her, I fell forward with her in my arms, twisting to land on my side.
I felt the umbra in my body putting me into shock and I drove my teeth into her neck. I drew her blood into me, now the lava hot blood of someone imbued with arcane. Her blood raced across my tongue and down my throat but I was in control. I knew to stop when the darkness around my vision ebbed. My body didn’t beg for me to go on because a small drink from her powerful blood was all I needed to combat the weakness. The balance returned to me and I pulled away from her neck. I watched as her body healed the wound immediately.
She lay so slack against me that if I did not hear her heart beating furiously in her breast I would have thought her dead. No thoughts came from her mind and a panicked moment flashed across me when I thought I had doomed her to become a revenant or some other unnamed monstrosity. Then my face blazed into her mind followed by the shape of my name.
My real name.