from slate to crimson

For Liz above all…

 

And my college friends who cheered me on…

 

And for everyone who believed in me and gave me help and support. How I wish I could thank you enough.

Chapter One

I call this decision my folly. How can it not be; the entire theater of its outcome was, in my opinion, a sad comedy of errors. Of course, Amelia would say that it was the best thing that could ever have happened to her. I chalk such optimism up to her youthful naiveté, however endearing it is.

Still, it was indeed folly, a grand error of my own design, which brought forth a fledgling that I had created out of desperation and passion.

I often wonder, were I given the chance to re-live the situation, but wiser as to its outcome, would Amelia, my dearest and most precious love, the bride I had been blessed with after nigh on ten millennia of loneliness, still be human? Now like all of my children, her blood is more stimulating than satisfying, but I have needed her no less, nor do I love her less fully.

She lies in my bed, beside my coffin which has gone unused for almost sixteen years, resting in light slumber after a long night of training with my chief lieutenant, Justin, and an even longer night of love with me, her now-ageless body still beautiful, her blood still as sweet as it was as the night I first met her, though it would never nourish me again.

Oh, but how it enflamed me for those few scant weeks! My heart swells with love at the sight of her in repose, and I afford myself a brief chuckle at the many legends that have cropped up about our kind over the centuries.

Contrary to popular belief, we are quite capable of love. It strengthens bonds between even our immortal souls, and is, I believe, the one means by which we are kept connected to our lost humanity. But it is that very capacity for love that led to my folly. Still, as I take one last glance at my wife before I set my pen to paper, I begin to suppose that perhaps my folly was not so foolish after all.

* * * *

It happened at the end of a time of calm in the war: a lull in the cycle of endless violence against our great enemy that defines our immortal existence. These times generate both a sense of elation, and a sense caution for their frailty, for the worst violence comes immediately after. But in addition to accompanying peace, however fleeting, times of calm offer opportunities love among my kind.

Our capacity for love is the one thing that separates us from our enemy, the clan of Lothos: a breed to whom love is alien. They had long ago castrated themselves of their souls’ gentle compassionate side in exchange for the seductive powers of our gift—and curse. Because of Lothos’ ever-present danger to my kind, I approve of those among my clan who find love between each other.

I have eagerly encouraged us to love one another, as well as the human hosts whom we care for out of sacred duty and for their benefit as sustenance. But from time to time, love can spawn potential problems. This is best expressed in the occasions when our kind chances to fall in love with a human. Never has this kind of love not spawned misgivings in my heart when I come to hear of it.

However, my feelings are not born of a sense of superiority or malice; after all, we need humans. Their blood sustains us, and the chemicals in our bodies that are passed to them in our bite benefit them with better strength, speed, perfect health, and long life. Those brought into knowledge of our existence function as our daylight eyes and ears.

We, in turn, care for them, and keep them safe from the depredations of the enemy. Some, we have even trained with relics of my technological marvels in order to assist us in our ongoing war. As we do with each other, my kind are wont to form strong relationships with humans, and once in a while, some form an especially intimate and consummate bond, a relationship forged by an attraction to blood that consumes both our kind and host, irrevocably binding one to the other for life.

And once in a greater while, these consummate bonds grow into romantic love. Rare though it may be, it is potentially dangerous for those involved, as the complications that may arise from such an act are too many to tell.

The flippancy and recklessness of my actions after I met Amelia were born not only of that consummate bond that I could not resist, but also of a selfish nature that I had thought long dead. I was intimately seduced by the blood and soul of a woman who awakened emotions I had thought buried for thousands of years.

* * * *

It was the dead of winter when I first met her, during the death of the old year in the Christian calendar, and the birth of the new. I had taken up temporary refuge in one of our many safe houses, and my children celebrated while I brooded.

It seemed as though the bitter cold had frozen the world, and had led Lothos and his clan to take a brief respite from their own machinations, despite reports from my spies of increased enemy activity. This, however, did not deter festivities for the New Year from being held. But my eternal vigilance kept me too deeply embroiled in planning and strategies to enjoy a party—or so I thought.

Elisa had arrived in the planning room and sat upon the table before me, ready to enlighten me to the error of my ways, her small form, frozen forever in the body of a ten-year-old resting upon books and maps that I had disgorged from their alcoves and laid open haphazardly.

“You’re vigilant, Father,” she said to me, dangling her legs over the table’s edge and rocking them back and forth as if she were truly the age her body reflected, “but too much so. You don’t take the time to appreciate life when you have the chance. Even we are not
completely
immortal. Our losses in the cause are proof enough of that.”

Her words gave me pause to think, and then I could not help but smile at my adopted daughter. I could never say no to her, and that night would be no different. “You’re absolutely right,” I said, taking her by the hand as she alighted off of the table. Making rapid steps, she moved ahead of me and led me to the party. With no sign of the enemy, and with Elisa’s coercion, I agreed to join the festivities. And for the first time in decades, I forgot about my cares.

I had passed leadership duties for that evening to Justin, who rarely celebrated and had little reason to. Born a Carthaginian slave, Lothos had taken his wife and children. With nothing left, he embraced our war as the means to exact his revenge. Though this purpose had consumed his life for two thousand years, I shuddered to think of what he would do should we win the war.

It was he who later informed me of the human he had found nearby, spying upon us.

“Did Haas trail him?” I asked as he took me aside during the party. I was flushed, and dizzy with the alcohol I had taken from the blood of four host humans, who had been quite inebriated when they gave themselves to me. I yawned in the midst of my question, since I was growing tired with the approach of the sun, and was quite ready to sleep.

“Yes, Master. This makes the third night. We have been keeping a close eye on her.” Justin gestured towards the blueprints of the safe house I had spread upon the table in the room that Elisa had led me from earlier, and drew an imaginary ellipse around the picture with his finger. “She circles the place for about half an hour, and then returns home every night. There has been no sign of the Others trailing her, or visiting.”

“Is that so?” I said, the alcohol still turning my thoughts lackadaisical and pleasant,

“Sir, you are taking this too lightly. This human may pose a danger to us.”

“You don’t say?”

His dark features darkened even more with his countenance. He believed that I was toying with him. He hated that, and I admit that the alcohol was making me bemused when perhaps I should have been more concerned.

“Sir, please,” he stressed. “This could be dangerous. You know Lothos has wanted to find this place for months now. Reinforcements or unwanted attention by humans could—”

“Not to worry, friend,” I said, shaking my head ruefully at his bewildering, yet not at all unexpected lack of humor. “I’ll be the one to take care of this.”

Clearing my head as much as possible, I strode from our safe house and into the streets to search the surrounding neighborhood, hoping to understand more of this intrepid human who had kept my children abuzz with so much curiosity and worry.

The sky was clear, and the new moon had become a waxing crescent, giving more than enough light to see the intruder.

Despite the cold air that cut most of her scent, my senses nevertheless locked onto her blood. As I trailed the spoor, a faint bouquet of rose perfume met my senses as I stalked closer to my target, unseen and silent in the shadows that enfolded me.

It was definitely a woman, as Justin had said, but I had figured that by scent alone. Her form was clear against the white of the snow. The moon’s faint light highlighted the delicate whiteness of feminine legs that formed a striking contrast from the long, black skirt that flowed below the hem of her white, hooded trench coat, boots, and gloves. Her back to me, she stood among the snow drifts, ambling carefully around the perimeter of the safe house in the silent streets.

A sudden gust of wind whipped the formerly still air into motion, carrying with it a fragrance that was all too familiar, yet far, far more powerful than I had expected. It caught me—no, it
grabbed
me, grasping with all its strength, striking my senses like a fist to the face, and overwhelming me unlike any time that the blood scent had ever enticed me before.

It is all but impossible to explain how it made me feel. The scent was beyond delicious. It was compelling, even more consuming than the fragrance of a flirtatious human who had let the pleasures of my drink go to her head and tried to entice me into her bed.

I tried to shake myself back to my senses, but the alcohol hindered me from gaining full control of my faculties. And so, though I tried to hold it back, the sensation pierced me through, utterly overpowering me, suffusing every fiber of my being in a way I had been completely unprepared for, and could not control, pushing me out of myself, and into a fevered stupor, where I surrendered to a pull stronger than gravity, drawing me inexorably to her.

All but my focus upon the woman who stood in my sights, unknowing, had vanished, as I was drawn her way like a June bug to a porch light. My feet moved of their own accord, utterly silent across the snow drifts, or so I thought. I felt the focus of her mind shift abruptly to me as I approached, despite the almost uniform whiteness of my body amidst the snow drifts.

She whipped about towards me, a heart-shaped face framed in short-cropped black hair that fell in wisps across slate gray eyes that were rimmed in small glasses. Her soft, pink lips framed a mouth that was frozen open in an “O” of surprise. I felt fear spike in her mind at the sight of me, and she turned and ran.

I headed her off, moving at preternatural speed. Still looking behind her, she slammed into my chest and fell, backside first, into a snow bank. I stood, towering above her, possessed by her blood, trying to hold on to my eroding restraint.

Her breathing was shallow and rapid, and I could hear the delectable liquid pulsing in her veins as though it were the roar of rapids. God, its scent would have driven a pious man to sin! Even in the snow and chill, she exuded beads of sweat, each suffused with the compelling aroma. I recall a blaze of erratic thoughts from her, but amidst the overpowering feedback of terror, two observations echoed within her mind.

Not human!

Vampire!

She scrambled back to her feet as I struggled within, and tried once again to run away. This was the seal upon her fate, and the undoing of my restraint as my hunting instinct drove its serrated sword into the last vestiges of fight within me. It was only the shock of her thoughts that forestalled the inevitable. Her blood had overpowered me, seduced me completely. I had to have her!

Unfortunately the range of our powers does not include knowledge of the future. Had I known how deeply I was to become involved with this woman, I would have perhaps fought all the more tenaciously. But alas, it was not to be.

“No! Please! Stay away!” were the only words she uttered before I bore my fangs into the soft flesh of her neck. She did not scream; few mortals ever did. The euphoria set in too quickly for that.

Instead, she emitted a choking gasp, perhaps expecting the initial pain of the bite, which either never came, or was washed away so quickly by pleasure that none ever remember it. Her slender body tensed against me at first, prepared to fight futilely against my titanic strength, and then quickly gave into the devastating pleasure, falling limp in my arms. The beginnings of a cry of terror melted into lilting moans and sighs of delight as her blood poured hot against my tongue and down my throat.

God…so
good!

Her blood was like sweet magma bursting from a gash in the earth, setting me ablaze with a feast sweeter than any human from which I had
ever
fed! I was compelled to drink deeper, the burning pleasure of her blood a pulsing flame, subsuming me, pulling deeper into bliss, gout after gout.

I was content to drink my fill, to fall into the void, and die figuratively in that throbbing bliss as she died literally…

…and then, my head began to clear as her pure, untainted blood began to offset the crippling fog of the alcohol of my previous meals. I began to feel again; I began to care again. And I wrested back control, realizing what I was doing for the first time.

Stunned at how reluctant I was to do it, I released the suction of my mouth upon the wounds of her neck, and licked over them, the chemicals on my tongue speeding the growth of cells to heal her in an instant.

I looked upon what I had done, and my insides knotted with utter horror.

I did not know what had happened to me. I gazed at her, my own horror and revulsion subsiding for just a moment as I was caught in wonder, entranced by her beauty, and still drawn powerfully to her blood. Despite my feelings, I wanted nothing more than to feed from her again, to drown her in bliss until death would part us. I wanted her no less desperately, no more completely than before. But my crime screamed in my heart far more loudly than my desire for her blood. I had forcefully taken from a human.

What have I done?” I whispered to myself as the woman gazed blankly upon me, blinking as an innocent child, the euphoria of the drink having momentarily robbed her of any fear or terror. My voice came out in a choked quaver. “Good God…what have I—?”

The woman began to sway where she stood. Her eyes rolled back, and she went limp, toppling to the ground. In a burst of preternatural speed, I caught her, berating
myself for my foolish moment of introspection. This had been her first time, which meant that she would need food and rest. I would have to sort out the consequences later.

“Forgive me, please,” I said, picking her up and carrying her back to the safe house. She was no challenge for my strength, nevertheless, my body felt like a lead weight, heavy with the implications of my act. The surrounding darkness subdued her features, now in placid repose, but I could not remove from my mind the sight of her fear at the moment that I had taken her. “I’m so sorry.”

Elisa was puzzled, and then, to say the least, terribly dismayed when I returned with the woman in my arms. I had no need to explain my actions to her; she possessed a way of understanding me that none of my children had.

“You
fed
from her?” she asked, following me to my chambers, “Right on the spot?”

I could do nothing but nod.

“That couldn’t possibly have been wise.”

“Perhaps not,” I replied with a calm that belied my true feelings, “but what was done is done.”

Justin, who had waited for me at the safe house entrance, was understandably much more incensed. I fought hard to hide my emotions from him, knowing now that should have let him handle the situation, in the condition I had been in.

“Sir, with all due respect, I must protest your actions. Why didn’t you erase her memory, instead of feeding from her? If we return her home, the enemy will smell us on her, and think her to be under our protection.”

“Then she will be under our protection,” I said, once both Elisa and Justin were calm enough to await my response. I had had enough time to formulate a good cover story, and wished to get her into a bed as soon as possible. “Are you not even curious as to how she found out about this place? This house is quite off the beaten path, you know. I, myself, would like to know how she discovered us.”

“What if she is working for the Others?” Elisa said, “or for Lothos directly?”

I shook my head. “No. I tasted her blood. She had never been fed from before, neither by Lothos or his clan, nor by any of us. There is no way to hide or erase the scent or taste of someone who has been fed from. Still, she somehow learned of this place, and I intend to find out how.”

The ensuing silence between my daughter and lieutenant communicated their temporary satisfaction.

“Bring food to my chambers,” I said to Justin. “She will be in a fragile state when she recovers.”

“More than you know, Father,” Elisa warned. She frowned, and I could feel her concern. I also knew that her foreboding words were truer than I had liked.

Justin, though no less disconcerted, was fewer of words, and more servile. “I obey, Master,” he said, and bowed before heading off to do my bidding.

* * * *

I had barely been alone for five minutes, the woman lying asleep in the bed beside my coffin. I had removed her trench coat, gloves, and boots, revealing the white button-down blouse and black skirt she wore underneath as she slept peacefully.

I heard the door open and then close. I turned to see Elisa sitting atop the edge of my dresser, her short legs and feet rocking back and forth as they dangled. Her tiny fingers played with the locket I had given her long ago, when she had been a child in mind as well as body.

“Please be careful with her,” she said.

“She isn’t the first human whom I’ve bitten for the first time.” I replied, not fully understanding what she meant. The minds of my kind are naturally more guarded than those of humans, but I could clearly sense ever-growing concern from her.

“Is there something you wish to tell me?” I asked, prompting her. She alighted from the dresser, and I knelt down to her level. “You know you can tell me anything.”

“You’re only this quiet when you are upset,” Elisa said. “Did you take her blood without asking?”

I could not help the look of pain that mush have flashed across my face. Even though none of my children could, Elisa did not even need to read my thoughts. She was just that perceptive.

“I did,” I admitted after quite some time of silence.

“Oh, Father…” Elisa’s tiny voice lilted downwards with disappointment, and the sting of my shame grew deeper.

“Please,” I said, nearly hissing the word in my annoyance. “Could you not make things worse than I already feel?”

“Father, you have more control than that,” she said, making no attempt to hide the disbelief from her voice. “F
ar
more, in fact. How did it happen?”

I said nothing, for she already knew the only way that it could have even been possible.

“You were drunk,” she said flatly.

“Yes,” I admitted, and could not help but look away from my daughter’s accusatory expression.

“But…even when that happens, we can resist the scent of blood. And you had already had a good meal before. You could have just charmed her. What happened?”

“I wish I knew,” I said hoarsely. Damn her insight.

“Father, the only way that could have been is if she was—”

I stopped her right there, speaking more forcefully than I had wanted. “No. Not her.”

“You don’t believe that,” she said softly.

For a long time, my rampant emotions stole away my words, and I could only be thankful that none of my children could read my mind as I could read theirs, or they could read one another’s. My eyes were tightly shut, and my face was drawn and tense. I think I was trembling with the strain of it all, combined with my roiling thoughts when I felt my daughter’s slender arms encircle my neck.

She was dismayed, and a little disappointed, but there was no accusation or judgment in her heart. I sighed, and felt the tension release, and the tears run down my cheeks as I relaxed and held her to me.

“I wanted her…” I whispered, “…and I hurt her. And now, I don’t know what to do.”

Our embrace lasted for a moment more, and then Elisa released me. I felt a handkerchief wiping the tears away, guided by her tiny hand.

“I’ve never known the pull of a potential consummate host,” Elisa said, “but even I know that what you did is not unheard of.”

“It doesn’t make it any better,” I said.

“I know,” Elisa replied, “and she may hate you for it.”

“I know.”

“Perhaps you should alter her memory?”

“It’s too late for that.” I shook my head. “Too much has happened. I’d never be able to erase it all. The memory of the drink, the first one, especially, is very difficult to remove.”

“I doubt you would give her up if you could,” Elisa said. “We’ve both seen what happens when our kind is taken the way you’ve been.” Earnestly, she looked me in the eye. “Would you give her up?”

I opened my mouth to protest, but found myself unable to speak against the wisdom of her words. The memory of that first drink, entrancing, bewitching, and beyond the sweetness of any feeding before overtook me, and I shivered inside.

I looked away from my daughter’s face, forever frozen in its youthful roundness, but heart-shaped with its pointed chin, and surrounded by brown curls. I was humbled, and even more afraid than before at the implication of her words.

“No.” I whispered it almost subvocally, but knew that she could still hear it.

“Then it seems you know already what you need to do.”

“Will you help her?” I asked.

Elisa smiled. “Of course I will, Father.” She kissed my cheek.

Chapter Two

My guest awoke as I received the large food tray from two of my children, who had brought it to my chambers. Elisa was with me, seated atop the night stand on one side of the bed, I on the couch upon the other side as the tray was set upon the table beside the bed.

My insides knotted as I saw her stir, moaning as her eyes fluttered. She smiled, wide and drunken, as her thoughts stirred to wakefulness, still high from my drink. She laughed low and soft, her voice coming out dissonant and breathy.

“Oh, Gary…I had the weirdest dream. I dreamed a vampire tackled me and then drank my blood…but it didn’t hurt at all! It kinda felt like that thing you did to me the other night.
Y’know, with the Vaseline and the rotating…”

Her words slurred into incomprehension, and then faded into soft whispers as she turned her head to the side…thankfully, Elisa’s side. My daughter had been reading a book—her copy of
Alice in Wonderland
, which she had preserved excellently since I had first bought it for her nigh on a century ago.

Her thoughts were weak and sluggish, as I expected they would be after being fed from for the first time. I saw Elisa smile at her, and I felt the woman smile back. Elisa closed the book and scooted off of the nightstand, landing softly upon the carpeted floor. She placed the book carefully atop its surface.

“How do you feel?” she said to the woman. “We’ve been wondering when you’d come to.”

“I feel really strange,” the woman replied, her voice still low and slightly hoarse. “It’s like my body weighs a ton. I can barely move.”

“That’s only temporary,” Elisa assured her. “Your strength will come back soon enough. It’ll help if you eat something. Are you hungry?”

Elisa’s manner was always overtly friendly, especially with people whom she was acquainting herself. Perhaps this was due to her appearance of young age, but it was nevertheless one of her more endearing traits.

All that came to an end, however, when I detected a realization in the woman’s thoughts. She had not even turned her head towards me yet, but immediately, she realized that something was wrong. I felt her concentration rest upon Elisa’s eyes: catlike slits for pupils, surrounded by red irises like all those of our kind, which she had not bothered to disguise as usual. I did not know if she had done this on purpose, and had no time to ask, as she rounded the bed to the table where the tray of food lay.

“We brought food for you,” Elisa said, and reached for the cover atop the tray. “Because of how weak you are, I may have to feed you. I hope you don’t—”

“Wait a minute. What are you?” the woman said. I felt her suspicions rise like weeds in her mind. Elisa’s thoughts, however, remained as placid as the surface of a lake on a clear, windless day.

“Something’s not right about you. You look like a kid, but you don’t talk like one. And what’s with the eyes? They…”

I saw her stiffen, heard her breathing become shuddering and rapid. Elisa frowned, and placed the lid back upon the food tray.

“You…” the woman said. She still was not looking my way, and I sat perfectly still, not wishing to register myself in her peripheral vision. “You’re...”

“No,” Elisa said with a vague, but nevertheless revealing shake of her head. “It wasn’t me.” I then noticed her eyes move towards me indicatively.

I steeled myself, and met the woman’s gaze with my own. I saw myself through her thoughts; the wreath of raw fear that encircled my image through her mind’s eye nearly forced me out, reeling, but I held her gaze, my own expression passive, while fear boiled over into terror within the woman’s mind, and finally, blessedly, overwhelmed her. Her gray eyes rolled back, and she went limp in the bed.

“That could have gone better,” I managed to say after an uncomfortable few seconds. I then went to place the woman in a more dignified and comfortable position for when she would wake up.

“It’s not surprising,” Elisa remarked, and I agreed. “There is something you can do about it, though.”

I scowled at her unvoiced suggestion. I had considered the idea before, but later dismissed it. “I took her blood without asking,” I said. “She doesn’t need more manipulation.”

“She will hate and fear you, most likely, if you don’t,” Elisa said. “Even I can’t stop that. At least she will have a moment to listen to reason, and then she’ll see when you release her, that you only did what was necessary to calm her down for a moment.”

“And if she refuses?” I asked.

“Then she refuses,” Elisa said. “Even some humans have rejected us. God knows they’ve rejected me.” I felt her resentment, and could not blame her. Even humans
who were raised among our kind found Elisa’s appearance more than a little off-putting. “Father, you know as well as I do that sometimes, it doesn’t work out.”

I had no need for her to remind me. In truth, that was what I was most afraid of. The pull of a potential consummate host was so incredibly powerful that if the human who was the source of the attraction rejected the vampire, it was not unheard of for that vampire to pine and waste away to a feral state for lack of blood.

My poor daughter; her dismissal was easy for her to say; she did not know what it was like. Even now, her blood threatened to wrench my humanity away. I wanted nothing more than to taste her again, just for a moment…just once.

Grasping hard to my resolve, I shook myself free of that avenue of thought. “Very well,” I said, “I’ll do it. But I already hate myself for it.”

* * * *

I sent Elisa away before I finished the deed. It was difficult to do, and shameful, and I did not wish for her to see this part of me. I instructed her to let no one near the room until I gave the okay. If the worst were to happen, I would simply make the woman sleep again, and alter her memory to the best of my ability, as Justin suggested.

My daughter bore me no ill will, and obeyed with a last kiss on my cheek. Once finished, I sat to write in my journal, waiting for my guest to awaken. At last, she did.

“That…wasn’t a dream, was it?” she asked, her voice much clearer, and less groggy.

“No,” I replied, swallowing against the thirst that rose in me anew, despite my having over-indulged on her blood not but an hour before. Her rose perfume and intoxicating scent again greeted my senses. The memory of her blood’s sweetness nearly caused me to bite my tongue.

Her beauty was delicate, subtle, something that most men would overlook, like a librarian that either inadvertently or purposefully tried to subdue her attractiveness with unflattering clothes, but brought out her inner beauty through grace and eloquence.

“I’m in a strange room.” Her tone was almost calculatingly casual as she seemed to narrate her thoughts aloud. I held back my disgust at the sterile detachment in her mind that my meddling had produced “I feel like I got chased down by a dump truck, and then hit by one…And there is someone with skin that is white as paper and red cat eyes sitting right beside me, saying that it all wasn’t a dream.”

I waited.

“I know you,” the woman said, her expression brightening with understanding, her voice still soft, calm, and even. “I was terrified when I first saw you. You jumped me; you sucked down my blood. But…”

Her voice trailed off as she gazed at her hands, marveling at their steadiness. “But now I’m not scared in the least. Why? I was…I think…I mean I should be; I
know
I should be. Hell, I should be pissing myself right now! What is…? Have I gone crazy?”

“It’s not strange at all,” I answered. “The toxins have a calming effect on humans.” I winced inwardly with chagrin. “Well, usually.”

“Toxins?”

“Not what you think,” I assured her, seeing the worry make creases in her once smooth brow. “You haven’t been poisoned. But I am keeping you a bit calmer than you ought to be.”

“So you’re messing with my mind?” the woman asked, her face growing into a mask of disgust despite the lack of fear, thanks to my holding it back within her mind. She did not like this, and I could not blame her.

“Only to keep your emotions from clouding your judgment,” I said. “I wanted you to clearly understand what has happened to you…and why I now must ask for your forgiveness.”

She fixed me with a shrewd, almost distrustful look. “Forgiveness? For holding back my fear? To be honest, I think I ought to be thankful for that.”

“You shouldn’t be,” I said, as calmly as she had been. “You might not like it when I release you from that restraint. It’s another thing that I must apologize for, to be honest. But that’s not the first reason.”

“Then what is it?” she asked.

“The first drink is usually voluntary,” I explained, my voice cracking with my grief. I swallowed hard, and reached out for her hand, which was limp in my own, but comfortingly warm. “We normally never take a human by force. A human must make a deliberate choice if he or she is to become a host. I robbed you of that choice. I couldn’t help myself.” I felt the tears stream down my face, no longer able to prevent them. I lay upon the pillow in her lap. “Please…forgive me. I beg of you!”

I felt the woman’s hand touch my head, and run itself through the thick curls of my hair, as white as my skin. Her lap shook as distantly, I heard a gentle laugh.

“Boy…the movies and books never say anything about this. A vampire with a conscience, begging me for forgiveness for drinking from me without permission? Who’d have thought?”

She touched my cheek, and I looked into her face. My vision was clouded with my tears, but I could still see her gray eyes wide in confusion and wonder behind her glasses. “God, and you’re even crying! I should be the basket case here. I should be disgusted; I should be scared to death. If this isn’t a dream, then this is too crazy for words.”

I kept still, feeling her roiling thoughts and emotions trying desperately to sort themselves out. Then at last, I heard her sigh.

“I…I guess I forgive you. I mean you look sorry enough. And you seem so nice, despite what happened.”

“I’m not a monster,” I said. “And if I had been more in control, I would never have done what I did. Nor would I have had the need to hold your fear back. It’s the only thing keeping your thoughts rational…but it’s immoral for me to keep that restraint on you.” I stood and stepped back from the bed.

“Then why did you?” she asked, consternation leaked into her voice, and I felt it flow into her thoughts. “Now that I’ve had a moment to think about it, I can’t say that I like having my mind messed with.”

“As I said, it was only so that you would understand what happened,” I replied. “And now that you do, I will release that restraint.”

Before she could speak, I let go of the wall that I placed in her psyche, allowing the floodgates of her fear to flow free. I could only keep a desperate hold on the hope that she could see through the irrationality of that resurgent fear, and remember our conversation.

The fear burst forth from the woman’s heart like the wails of a thousand banshees. I winced as I heard her scream, and saw her shrink away from me, and curl herself tightly against the headboard of the bed, her gray eyes wide with the terror that I remembered from when I first fed from her.

My shame grew, and I collapsed into the chair, burying my face in my hands as the grief returned, drawing me into myself with self-punishing torment. I guessed that I had failed. I would have to alter her memory, as dangerous as it would be, and then set her loose. Afterwards, I would have Haas set one of his thaumaturgists as a temporary guard until I could be certain that no harm would come to her.

I wallowed so deeply in my sorrow that I had not even realized that the woman’s screams had long since ended. I believe it was the silence that drew my attention at last from my thoughts, and before I could raise my head, I felt a soft, warm hand touch my own. The blood scent from this human was indescribable, and it shamed me even more.

“You can…cry?” I looked up from my hands, and she shrank back.

“I can,” I said.

The woman was terrified, and yet she swallowed back her fear to come to me…to touch me. And then I looked into her heart to see the hidden depths of her courage. An admiration grew within me, in spite of my shame.

“You said you were sorry.”

“More sorry than you will ever know,” I said.

She knelt before me and removed a handkerchief from the breast pocket of her blouse. She presented it to me, and I accepted.

“You didn’t have to let go of my fear, did you?” she asked. “You could have kept it from me?”

I nodded.

“But you didn’t.”

I felt a great deal of her fear melt away.

“Then I forgive you.”

“Thank you,” I whispered, and the guilt fell away like a leaden cloak. I wiped the tears away and smiled at her, laughing in spite of myself. “You’ll find that there are many things about us that the books and movies never told you about. I can teach you, if you’d like.”

The woman was silent for a long time. I felt her consider my words, the intense curiosity and courage that had overpowered her fear now wrestling with her baser instincts.

“I want to know more,” she said at last. “This is something new, even if it is
kinda creepy. But I find it compelling, and, well, don’t ask me why. What you did showed me that you’re a most likely good person on the inside, and I think that’s what made me overcome my fear. And though I’m still a little weirded out by all this, I’m already in it, aren’t I? I’m actually intrigued. After all, how much worse can it get?”