I haven’t slept in more than twenty four hours and given what has been happening before and after, it is nowhere near enough. I am trying to concentrate on what Gabriel is saying but my mind keeps wandering.
I have been to the infirmary a hundred times today and in the end I know that even Darian’s perfect patience ran out with me. I can’t help myself I would be there the whole time if they let me. I hung around for most of the day, just in case they needed someone to go outside.... but they don’t have a clue. They just get more and more grim and I get more and more hopeless.
I listen to what they say and none of it sounds good to me. I can’t believe that Marc is going through this without me. He has no one to hold him, no one to shield him, to tell him that everything will be alright, to care for him, to tell him that he is loved, that he has to fight because I so so want him to live.
I know why he is doing it, I know he is trying to spare me pain but he isn’t. I wish so hard that I could have the opportunity of telling him how wrong he is. This pain is almost too much to bear, the pain of separation, of knowing that somewhere he is suffering alone.
I get to my feet and then realise that Gabriel had still been speaking.
“I’m sorry, I can’t concentrate. I am going to go for a walk. I need exercise, something to keep my mind busy.”
“Do you want to hunt again?”
“No. Last night it was what I needed. Tonight I need quiet, time to think, time to.... I am so tired, but there is no rest in me.”
“I understand. Do you want company?”
“No. Sorry Gabriel but that is the last think I want right now. I just want to be by myself.”
“Be careful bro. It’s not safe out there if your mind is pre occupied.”
“Maybe that’s what I want. Maybe I need the danger, something to focus on.”
“We’ll find him Kai. I have thrown everything I have into this, everything. He can’t sneeze out there without someone hearing him.”
“But he isn’t sneezing Gabe, and by the time he does it will be too late. I’m not a fool, I listen I hear. By tomorrow night....”
“Perhaps he is fighting it, they say that if he is fighting it then...”
“It could be the night after, or even one more, and not one of them can tell me what kind of a life he is having in he meantime. What if he is suffering? What if he is in so much pain I wouldn’t WANT him to fight? I’m sorry, I have to go. I can’t sit and think.... I’m sorry.”
The night air is cool. It is so welcome. I have been feeling trapped, enclosed, almost feverish. I can hardly bear this. Doesn’t he realise that he is only making it harder on both of us? Ah Gods, the stupid, stupid fool. If he dies on me, if he leaves me before I can find him.... I will track down his soul in hell and drag it back just so that I can... so that I... that I... I....
I can’t think of that, can’t bear to think of that possibility. It is too raw, too painful... too much to bear. There is a stiff wind on the sea front. It blows my hair across my face and tugs at my clothes. The last time I was here it was with Marc. I stood looking out over the sea with May but it was not with longing, not as it had been before, because I knew he was behind me, I could feel his eyes on me, feel his love all around me..... this time I can feel nothing but the wind and the deep cutting pain of loss.
It seems that I stand there for a very long time. The sea has come in and my feet are wet but I don’t notice. When I feel someone approach I don’t even turn. They are shielding their presence and their identity which is never a good sign. Ordinarily I would probe. I would at least try. I would turn. I would put up my defences, prepare to fight. Tonight.... I just don’t care.
I whirl, not at the touch of the hand on my arm but at the sound of the voice.
There is so much unsaid in that one word.... it is all in my eyes and she smiles and nods.
“He’s alright....well no, he’s not alright but... at least he’s alive and he wants you.”
Hope flares like a beacon on a dark night. He wants me.
“Did he ask you to come and find me?”
“He wasn’t ready until now, and neither was I. There was something.... there was something that I shared with him, that made him see things more clearly. Until tonight I wasn’t ready to offer it and he wasn’t ready to hear it. Tonight it was time.”
“Where is he?”
“I will take you. It’s not far.”
“How.... how is he?”
“Sick. He wasn’t... until today. It seems to have hit him hard, very fast. I couldn’t wait any longer to talk to him. He is..... fading. I don’t think it will be very long before he dies. Have they found a way to help him?”
I am reeling from the blow her directness caused me. Well, I did ask and I did know. “Um... no, no they have found nothing. They are not even close.”
“That’s a shame. He is my friend. I don’t want him to die.”
“No, neither do I.”
“We won’t be able to stop it. No matter how much we want to. I know that. It has happened to me before. Wishing and praying and holding on doesn’t work. In the end... we have to let go.”
“I will never let go.”
“You will. He’ll help you to. He is that kind.”
“I won’t let go. I will never let go.”
“You will. Because if you don’t you will hurt him more than you could imagine. If he looks into your eyes and sees that... then he will not let go and you will cause him unimaginable pain... he will die with no peace in his heart.”
“Beth. Stop talking now. You are making me want to kill you.”
“I know. But you will know I am right.”
“Maybe. Is it much further?”
I don’t recognise the streets through which we are walking. I have no idea where we are or where we are going. We move swiftly and silently through the darkness. The sky will begin to lighten soon in the long sweep towards dawn. I always loved that time of the night... when the sky turns pink. It was the closest I had come to watching the sun rise for a very long time. And now... now I can see as many sunrises as I please.... and I will have no one to share them with.
The house is nondescript, an ordinary terraced house in an ordinary street. The front door is ordinary, the neatly kept garden is ordinary and the interior decoration is ordinary. The only thing about it that is extraordinary and so much so that it ascends this house, this pile of bricks and mortar so far beyond the realms of the ordinary that can never return there again, is that in this house, there is an angel asleep on the sofa.
For the longest moment I can do nothing but stand in the doorway and look at him. Beth has vanished, I cannot even sense her moving around. She has some tact and thought for the feelings of others then. He is so beautiful, so pure and so perfect; my angel.
My heart is beating so fast it hurts. There are tears streaming down my cheeks and there is nothing I can do to stop them even though I do give a cursory attempt. I am aching to hold him but afraid to touch him. I am afraid to wake him, afraid that I might frighten him, might drive him away again, afraid that I might see him changed, afraid that I will not be able to cope with his pain.
I have to force myself to walk forward, although it is easy to let my battered body sink to the floor at his side.
I curl up tight against the sofa and simply watch him sleep, my face so close I can feel his breath on my cheek. I have longed for this moment so hard, so deeply and now it has come I don’t know what to do with it.
While I am struggling with my inner demons, my fear, my anger, my doubt he opens his eyes and the smile that breaks over his face is so golden there is no room for shadows and my demons flee.
The sound of my name spoken by his voice is like music and I am lost in the harmony. I cannot speak so I caress his cheek. I move my hand to brush away his hair but it is so soft and so precious that I get lost in it and forget to disentangle my fingers and so they stay there while I am lost again in his eyes.
We don’t speak, not with our voices or our minds, only with our eyes. With our eyes we speak volumes and it is all poetry.
At last he breaks the spell, lifting his head from the cushions to touch my lips with his. The kiss is so sweet that it brings tears to my eyes again and they spill, salty against our lips. He pulls his head back and licks his lips. He is so beautiful, so sexy, I want to take him in my arms, I want to hold, him, to make love to him, to touch his body and wake it to fire again. He sees it in my eyes and smiles.
“I think....” he smiles lazily. “I think maybe... maybe we should go to bed.”
“Steady on. Perhaps we should talk first.”
“What is there to talk about? I was wrong. I’m sorry I tried to run away from you. I was cruel to you and to myself. I thought it was the right thing to do, that it would spare you pain. I really thought it was the right thing to do.”
“What made you change your mind?”
“Beth. She made me realise that it’s wrong for me to take away your choice, to stop you, both of us, from making the most of whatever time we have.”
“Marc... I’m not.... I won’t let you....”
He touches my lips and smiles. “What will be will be. We can’t change that, we can only do what we can with what we have.”
“No. I don’t accept that. I won’t let you go.”
“At least tell me you are fighting this.”
“I.... I...” he closes his eyes. “There is something that somehow feels... right... about it. It is almost as though... as though I am moving in the right direction. I don’t want to fight it.”
“Marc, please... please don’t give in.”
“It isn’t that. I am not giving in... it’s... it’s....” He opens his eyes again and blinks at me. “It’s going to be alright. It will Kai, I know it is.”
“Sssh. It’s alright Kai. I don’t want to talk about that now.” He sits up making room next to him on the sofa and I take him into my arms. He rests his head against my chest and, despite everything it feels wonderful.
“Marc....about what happened.” I feel him tense in my arms.
“I don’t want to talk about that either.”
“That’s okay... but.... but I need to tell you something.”
“Okay.” He sounds doubtful, reluctant, but it is too late to stop. If I don’t tell him now I will never tell him and he really needs to know.
“What Merticus did... what he did to you... he.... he did the same thing to me.”
He sits up, pulling away from me and stares, his eyes wide and shocked. “It’s why I ran away, why I left Gabriel.”
It hurts. It hurts so much. Even after all this time, to look into his eyes, his beautiful innocent eyes, to remember the way they have looked at me as though I am something special and now to admit how flawed, how damaged I am. I can’t look at him.
“Merticus was my friend. At least I thought he was. When I met him he was nothing, just another lost boy in a city full of them. But there was always something different about him, something that I thought was special. At the time I didn’t realise that it was madness.
“I didn’t fall in love with him. It was never a physical relationship, at least not from my point of view. I was fascinated with him. He looked so sweet and innocent but was anything but. To see him hunt...” I allow myself a shudder. It was an experience I have never forgotten, sometimes it comes to me in my nightmares.
“I introduced him to Gabriel and he immediately charmed him. He became part of the inner circle very quickly, even got a minor position on the Council. He very soon lost interest in me... for a time. He was infatuated with Gabriel, who of course was entirely oblivious. I suppose you might say that it was cruel but it wasn’t, it was just the way he was.
“He, Merticus that is, he became obsessed with Gabriel, he wanted everything that he had... and that included me. He tried seducing me but I wasn’t interested and then... then one day....” I take a deep breath. It has been a very long time since I have spoken of this, even thought of it. I have told no one except Gabriel and May.
“One day he invited me over for a drink, just the two of us. We had fun. For once it was light and open and I remember feeling relieved, thinking that he had finally let go, that we could go back to being friends. But then... then I started to feel weird, everything was getting unreal and I wanted to get out of there, to get some fresh air and he wouldn’t let me. He had drugged my wine and I passed out to the sight of him laughing.
“When I woke up I was tied to the bed and.... and he... well I guess I don’t have to go into too many details. He didn’t have the snake things with him then so he used his freaky friends to feed off me while he was abusing me.
“Damn nearly killed me. Brought me to the edge a couple of times then made me feed and rest and start again. He kept me there for three days. In the end he let me go and I crawled back to my room and hid out for three days more. I was.... I was more... experienced than you are so he didn’t damage me physically but I was hurt emotionally, oh so badly.
“I wanted to die. I thought that it was the end of the world, that I would never feel ‘normal’ or clean again. In the end May came to me and I told her what had happened. She persuaded me to go to Gabriel. She convinced me that he loved me and would take care of me and make sure that Merticus got what was coming to him. So I did.”
Even after all these years I can remember it like it was yesterday, that conversation and what followed. I had been such a precious brat when I was changed and a lot of that personality remained in me. Why wouldn’t it have? I was spoiled, cherished, powerful. I was arrogant and proud and I had never been humbled, never given cause to believe that I was anything but special, unassailable. And now...
I can still remember the look in his eyes when he saw me, how it changed from laughter to concern to... something else, so quickly.
“What did he say?”
“He didn’t believe me. Oh, he believed that it happened, but he didn’t believe that Mericus would have been able to subdue me if I had really wanted to escape. He said that there must have been at least part of me that wanted it, that wanted Merticus to do that to me. He said that I had disappointed him, that because of me he now found himself in a difficult situation with Merticus and the Council. He said that....he said....”
He had said a lot more than that but, even now it is too painful to face, too painful to remember the terrible pain in my heart, the confusion, the shame, the loss. I have to close my eyes and take a deep breath before I can go on.
“He left me sobbing on the floor of the meeting hall. Two members of the council found me there an hour later and I was so embarrassed, so ashamed I just ran. I left everything I had behind and ran. I had no idea where I was going or what I was going to do next, all I knew was that I had to get far away from there, so far that none of them would ever find me again, that Gabriel wouldn’t find me.”
“I‘m sorry Kai.”
I look up and there are tears running down his face. I pull him into my arms and he starts to sob. “I... I thought... I thought that you would never be able to understand, that you would never know what it felt like to be used like that. I knew that you wouldn’t hate me, that you wouldn’t turn away from me but I couldn’t believe that I would be able to bear to look into your eyes and see that doubt, that pity, that disgust.”
“You would never have seen that.”
“No, I know. That’s why I am so sorry, Kai. I didn’t trust you and I should have. Yet again I didn’t give you the chance. I am such an idiot. It seems I am good at underestimating you.”
“That’s alright. As long as you’ve learned your lesson now.”
“I’ve learned a lot of lessons Kai.”
He is calming now, relaxing in my arms and I stroke his baby soft hair, gleaming with highlights that are red as blood in the dim light. There are signs that dawn is coming, if not already here. Suddenly I feel boundlessly weary and I let my head sink forward, to rest my cheek on his hair.
“Are you ready to go to bed yet?” His voice sounds as weary as I feel.
“It depends what you want to do when you get there.”
I feel him chuckle. “Not really capable of doing much right now. I’m so tired Kai.”
I push him away from me and look at him, really look at him. I have been avoiding it. He looks ill. His eyes are sunken and heavy, the area immediately around them including his eyelids are somehow translucent but, at the same time dark and bruised looking. His skin seems to be stretched, his cheeks hollow.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have put you through this.”
“But it was good Kai. It made me feel... I feel... clean.”
“That’s good, because you are, you always were and always will be. Our bodies are just receptacles for the soul within. Merticus never touched that, could have if he’d tried. It is sacrosanct, pure and good and clean. You are my angel.”
“And you are mine.” He frowns, as though trying to remember something.
“What is it?”
“There was an angel....a .... a painting on the wall of a church. I was looking at it and.... and.... someone came... it was Shade. He said... he... I didn’t understand, I don’t understand but I think it was important.”
“You spoke to Shade? When?”
“When I was in the church, where Beth found me; before she came, he came. He said... he said...” Marc frowns, narrowing his eyes as he struggles to remember.
“I don’t understand.”
“No, neither did I. But he said that I had to call you tonight and that by tomorrow I will be ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“I don’t know. To die; to live... to complete our transformation. He said I have to be ready to let go.”
“No. No, not that, don’t do that. Don’t let go. I’m not ready to let go.”
He smiles at me and then sighs, closing his eyes, looking inestimably weary, so fragile, like a china doll.
“Can you walk?”
“I don’t know. I feel.... weak.”
“Then I’ll carry you.”
He feels curiously light in my arms, lighter still when he stares up into my eyes, his face filled with so much loving tenderness it almost breaks my heart. He puts his arms around my neck and nestles his head into my shoulder and I hug him close. I will not let him go, I will never let him go.