I didn't mind being carried all that much. It was the feel of the wet shirt that creeped me out a little. And his facial expression was slightly off-putting. Disgusted but resigned, like someone taking out rank garbage. He, however, smelled great. If colognes were trying to duplicate something, it was this. Feeling a little punch-drunk, I leaned into his chest and breathed it in. I hadn't thought it possible for him to go any stiffer, but he did. Probably thought I was a lunatic. Well, he was technically impossible, so we could call it even.

His long strides never varied as he took me the long way home. I'd gotten lost just before I was attacked, and I imagined that my rescuer was taking less traveled roads. We did paint a strange picture. He carried me lightly, more like a stack of books than a bride. When he got to the front door, he easily gripped me in one arm to free the other to push it open. He didn't actually put me down until we got in the elevator. I noticed with removed annoyance that the blood stains had ruined the borrowed dress.

"Are you going to tell me anything?" I asked when the elevator doors slid open.

"Only what I have to," he replied, beckoning me to move forward. He loomed over me as I unlocked the door, and without permission, entered ahead of me. I shook my head in amazement at the fluidity of his movements. One minute he was in front of you, the next he was… elsewhere.

"And what would that be?" I called as he moved through my apartment, performing a quick and efficient search of every possible hiding space. He didn't answer.

"How about your name?" I asked again, my voice dropping off when I suddenly found his face directly in front of mine. I gulped. His eyes were like thunderclouds.

"The only thing you kneed to know about me," he pronounced slowly, menacingly, "is that I am what keeps anything from killing you before I get to." He advanced on me, and I pressed back into the kitchen cabinets, mesmerized by the way his entire body seemed to ripple, one giant muscle. Had he been checking for assailants… or witnesses? I could feel the steel handles bruising my back.

He opened his mouth wide, deliberately revealing his fangs again, before it turned into a lazy yawn. He looked slightly disoriented for a split second, before pulling away. Then, he was gone. The only evidence of his exit was the sound of the door.

I slid down to the floor, gasping as the motion pulled on my bruised side. I was going to look a real mess tonight. The strange thing was, I didn't feel it. I'd just been attacked by something out of a horror movie, seen its throat ripped out and its chest impaled, then forcibly escorted home and threatened by the second killer, who hated my guts and had very sharp teeth. And yet, I felt remarkably calm. A little happy, even. Some part of me which I will call slightly-suicidal Chris was yawning and rubbing bleary eyes as she woke and stretched. It was a sensation of beginning, like a wheel having been slowly twisted backwards for an eternity, and only just now being released.

So that's why not knowing a vampire's name bugged me more than his death threat, violent kill, and his, well, existence. Also, there was the strange matter of his familiarity. I'd seen those hazel eyes before, framed by the fire of an autumn wood…

I needed to start painting before this image, particularly slippery, was lost, but my dress hung heavy. Taking time to change might sacrifice the clarity of a second. Slightly-suicidal Chris made one of her more harmlessly bizarre suggestions (though they all seemed that way). I slipped out of the dress, leaving it crumpled on the wood floor. My mind was already weighing tone values. I stepped forward and began to paint, the wedding dress casting pretty shadows on my bare skin.

I had a dream that night.

I blame slightly-suicidal Chris. It was one of those dreams that you have to keep reminding yourself never happened, never was. But when you think about it, you can't concentrate. You try, but ten minutes later you realize you've just been staring at a wall, and even though no one can see you, flush down to your toes.

In my dream—I can't think of that word, it was too vivid, like a second, simultaneous life—I was in the autumn wood of my painting. Only, the house was gone. I knew where it should be, but it wasn't. I saw that the little valley in which it lay had a slightly blurry quality, like paint that had been overworked. I had no desire to venture closer, knowing instinctively that I might not like what I discovered.

Instead, I marveled at the trees around me. Their leaves rustled silently, touched by a breeze I neither heard nor felt. To every side, their russet tones spread out infinitely far. It was impossible peaceful.

The moment I began to think of the emptiness of this world of mine, I suddenly felt horribly alone. This was all I knew, which was the sleepy peace of nothingness. Just the leaves that rustled in the wake of my own breath.

The leaves disappeared before my eyes, replaced by barren branches and a sky an impossible shade of blue-black fluorescence. I felt the winds now, ripping through me as if I wasn't there. They screamed with human voices, all around me, suffocating.

As if the wasteland had never been, the autumn leaves returned, the screams silenced, leaving a palimpsest if what lay under the surface. I shivered. So these were my options. A false quiet or madness. I treaded consciousness like water, and the expanse below me was fathoms beneath darkness. Despair washed through me, and I gave a silent call for an answer that didn't exist.

I felt his breath on my neck first, and then his body pressed against my back, arms wrapping around my waist. It was wonderful, though he offered neither warmth nor chill, like being submerged in water your exact temperature.

"So when I can't deal with my problems I conjure up a man?" I complained.

"I'm no man," he murmured into my ear. My subconscious had perfected the sound of his deep voice, which felt like I heard it in my chest, not my ears. It rumbled, weighed down with nuance.

I had easily settled into his arms, a hug I'd badly needed, but now his arms shifted as he pressed his hand to my side, and slid them down, applying delightful pressure to my waist, then tracing my hips. I realized with a start that I was dressed the same way I had been when I went to bed. His finger pressed down underneath the sides of my lacy underwear, stopping to massage up and down in delightful circles. My breath caught as his hands began to move to meet in the middle.

"Christina," he pronounced, and I was shocked by the degree of sorrow he had infused those three light syllables. I turned around so that I could see his face. His smooth features, hardened by the years, warred with a kind of desperation.

I felt inexplicably guilty. Wrapping my arms around my already too-bare figure, I stepped away.

"Look, I know this is my dream, but I'm not going to make you do anything you don't want to…" I babbled, even as my brain registered the nonsensicalness. I wasn't going to dream-rape the vampire that wanted to kill me?

In the time it took for me to raise my heel, I was back in his grip. He kissed me with the force of an avalanche, breaking between my lips, cracking the skin. He bent me so far back that I lay nearly parallel to the ground, cradled in biceps the size of my waist. His lips were relentless, kneading mine until I was sure they must be bruised. I didn't feel it. Most of my attention was focused lower down, where I was sure most of my blood had rushed.

He broke the kiss first, pulling away as I fell to the ground, moving as if through oil. His body, which had been so delightfully substantial, had begun to blend into the trees.

"Christina," he called as he disappeared.

I decided right then that he was the only person I was going to allow to use my full name.


It took me the entire walk back to the manor to straighten out my head. I'm ashamed to say I lashed out a couple times, like a newborn, starting a couple of domestic fights in nearby homes and one shoot-out on Maple street that undid a year-long gang truce. Its easy for us Malvacci, in out nature, like stretching might be for you. If I'd wanted, I could have had the entire city in flames, neighbors raping and looting neighbors. This was enough. From each little destruction I soaked in a little energy, which eventually brought me near above the fogginess that being around the Bonpecci blood induced.

By the time I camd in the parlor door, it was clear that the coven had been convened a while. They stood around the body, which had been fastidiously lain on a sheet, so as not to damage the rugs.

"It was just chance," Nicolas was arguing. "No one knows about her. How could they know?"

"I'm inclined to side with Nicolas," Pierre rumbled.

"She knew him," I announced as I stepped within. "He had been at the club she dazzled. But this was a month-old, possibly two months. Someone turned him."

John's brow furrowed.

"This speaks of a plan," he said. "Not a shot in the dark. Presumably this man was first tapped for knowledge…"

"And with his description, someone might be able to put together the pieces" Rosalyn speculated. But she sounded unconvinced. "If only dear Isaac hadn't been quite so eager in defending the pet…" she bated. I wasn't falling for it tonight.

"I think it was a test. Anyone who knew that we were involved would know that it would fail. Why not do the deed yourself? No. Someone wants to know either about her or about us."

Pierre nodded. "I think what Isaac speaks is true."

We all looked to John. His eyes were fixed on a spot above our heads, finally, a slow grin spread across his face.

"The time has come," he murmured. "The days that will decide our ends."

There was no denying the chilling words, though I had trouble connecting the frail and imbecilic Christine to an apocalypse.

"Sarah," John said, "You must become her caretaker. Restore her memory as much as you can, while guarding her from further harm."

Sarah's eyes shifted to me.

"How much have you told her?" she asked.

"Almost nothing, except the obvious. She thinks I'm a vampire," I admitted.

Sarah nodded.

"It must be revealed slowly, patiently, or she may go mad."

"I've washed my hands of it."

"Oh no, Frowns, it takes blood to wash these hands," Nicolas chuckled.