Through The Fire

It raged around him, tendrils reaching forward to lick his skin as he ran. The heat was overwhelming, smoke working its way into his throat and mouth. Behind, the cabin burnt fiercely, black smoke against the dark sky. The fire didn't leave him; it followed, each tree trunk ahead catching as he tried to escape the flames.

"Stop!"

The shape in front of him begged until his feet skidded in the mud and he tumbled forward. His eyes darted around, searching for any sign of water. The girl flickered, but he ignored her. There were tears on her face, as she stepped towards him.

"Get away from me!" Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was reminded that men didn't scream. But he didn't think he was a man. He wasn't sure. If he wasn't a man, what was he? "Just...get away!"

"Please...my love..."

His hand reached forward, grasping for the vial in the grass. His fingers wrapped around it and he brought it closer to his chest, fumbling with the lid.

"No, no, don't...it's not...stop! It's..."

X X X

"Poison!"

If he had still been human, he knew he would be drenched in sweat. As it was, his skin was dry as he dragged himself from sleep and faced the girl sitting opposite him. She looked scared, a look he hadn't seen on her in years.

"Jesus bloody Christ, Poison, you were screaming."

He shook his head, running a hand through his hair. Dry. Every detail was slipping quickly away from him.

"I thought vampires didn't dream?"

"Do you dream?"

"Yes."

He grinned. "There we go then."

"It's not the same." She rolled her eyes, standing and crossing the room to the boarded up windows. "You know that." Slowly, she peeled back one of the boards, glancing out.

"What do you dream about?" he asked, watching her carefully. She had been growing more and more restless as the days went by, and he'd noticed how she stared openly at every human that passed the house. Most of them learnt to control their hunger as the years went by. His companion, his friend, the once-teenage girl he had met in a house not too dissimilar to the one they were currently in, was going in the opposite direction.

"A life. A guy. Having a relationship without you or the others chasing after me to ruin it." She glanced over her shoulder at him, and he could see it in her eyes.

She hated him.

Those eyes, one bright blue and the other a swirling mix of blue, green and grey, had once stared at him with awe. At fifteen, she had practically worshipped it. At sixteen, he had saved her life. Now, almost a decade later, she looked at him with nothing but contempt.

But she wouldn't leave him.

She knew he could do nothing but follow.

"You're still pissed off about that? It was years ago, Shadow."

"Four years," she muttered. "And you said it yourself, I was young, naive. I was in love." Try as he might, he couldn't contain the smile at her imitation of his drawl. "I was just never allowed to make my own mistakes, was I?"

"You know how difficult it is for us to..."

Before he could finish, she was gone, and he cursed the speed they had both been graced with. She had no idea how much he hated himself for what he had done to her, but if she had been left alone, there would have been a bigger mess to clean up after.

He climbed out of the bed, moving quickly towards the door though nowhere near as quick as she had gone. He found her downstairs, in the kitchen, sitting at the table as the kettle boiled. Coffee, strong, with just a dash of milk and three sugars.

Shadow took out a cigarette, lighting it up and inhaling deeply. Her eyes fell on him.

"I dream of other things, too," she muttered, watching as he pulled out a chair and lowered himself into it. "I dream of Raven, and New York. And Marcus." Even now, there was a flash of fear in her eyes as she said his name. "They haunt me, Poison."

"I know."

"Do...does it ever stop?"

"The haunting?" He shrugged. "Sure, it does. Well, more like it takes a break. But it comes back at times. Not always the same ones, though."

She dipped her head. "I never thought looking for Theo would end up..." She stopped, shaking her head. "I shouldn't think like that, should I? I dream of other things, too. I keep dreaming of fire."

Poison crossed the room, falling into the seat opposite her. He took her hand, squeezing it gently, feeling just the slightest warmth coming from her skin. He turned her wrist over, placing his finger against it. There, he could feel her pulse. Dull, slow, but still there. "Your heart still beats," he said. "That means you're still alive. You're not grasping onto a straw of humanity, Shadow. You're not like us. And what you feel about them, all of them, you need to hang on to that. As long as it's still there, your heart will beat."

Slowly, she nodded, closing her eyes as she took another drag of her cigarette. "The prophecy..."

"Is bullshit. You're not the end of us, and you're not the bloody saviour either. Bollocks to all that fate crap. It's just a bunch of stupid vampires looking for meaning in a long, meaningless life."

"You never wanted meaning, did you?"

"No."

"And neither did Blake, or Calista?"

"Neither did they," he replied, smiling softly.

"So if none of you believe in fate," she said, her voice slow, carefully choosing her words, "why can't you just let me live?" Her head snapped up, her eyes locking on Poison's. He could see the anger there, the pain. "Why can't you just leave me alone?" Her voice rose into a screech, before she was up. The chair flew back and she stood over the table, staring down at him. "Why do I always end up caught in the middle?"

Before he could stop her, she whirled around and left, the back door swinging shut. He groaned, lifting his hands to his face. She would be back, he knew she would. But that wasn't what worried him.

He was scared of what she would do in that state.

X X X

"You need to keep a better eye on your charge," Calista drawled, standing at the door. She was holding Shadow's ear, practically lifting her off the ground. Shadow was whimpering, as Calista shoved her forward. The girl fell to the floor, but scrambled quickly up, glaring at the vampire. "Have you fed?" Calista asked, ignoring the girl and focusing on Poison.

"No. I...I didn't know when she would be back."

Shadow shrunk against the wall, looking like a sullen teenager. He had hoped it would get easier, over time, that the impulsive, moody teenage girl would melt away to reveal a mature woman.

It seemed that if it was ever going to happen, it would be a long way off.

"Go to your room," he said, watching as she huffed and stamped up the stairs. Calista reached out, placing a hand on his shoulder. She squeezed.

"She has had it harder than most of us did, Poison. She's struggling, that's all."

"I don't know what to do. I never thought it would be so hard."

She smiled softly. "Being a parent is never easy, and there's a reason we tend to go for the, well, older humans."

"It's the half..."

Calista laughed. "The human in her? Yes, I suppose it is. Go, feed. I will keep an eye on her. And you know I will be more strict than you. She won't stop foot outside this house."

"Thank you." He bowed his head, before edging past her and out into the night.

X X X

The town wasn't far, and soon he was eyeing a simple terraced house, with just a single light on in the living room downstairs. He knew there was only one person inside, a teenage girl left for the night while her parents celebrated their anniversary. Decent family, decent neighbourhood and a decent girl.

He had tried in previous years to avoid these situations. Instead he had tracked killers and rapists, people who cared little for the society around them and preferred to see it burn. Of course there had been a time when he had not given much thought to who he killed. Anyone walking late at night would do, anyone on their own. But the guilt had grown until he had made the decision to choose more carefully.

Something strange had happened in the last year or so. The streets had seemed to clear up, and the humans, it seemed, did a fairly good job of dispensing justice their own way. He blamed it on technology. Either that or the crooks and devils of the world had grown smarter.

So he had no choice but to go for whatever he could get.

He straightened his back and headed for the door. Inside, the girl – sixteen, maybe seventeen – was watching TV. A typical Saturday night entertainment feast, easy watching that was purely there to allow the viewers to tune out.

Quickly, he cast his eyes over the street. No one else around, everyone either out or watching the same shows in almost identical living rooms. Poison lifted his hand and knocked.

Moments later the door opened, revealing the girl. Her blonde hair was tied back with a black band, and she surveyed him quickly with a pair of light brown eyes. A look of pleasure appeared on her face as she smiled at him.

"Can I help you?"

He wondered if her parents had ever told her not to talk to strangers, if she and her girlfriends had stayed up swapping stories of madmen and dogs in baths when she was little. Shadow had told him that one, once, in among a bunch of 'urban legends' designed to keep kids towing the line.

"Car's broken down," he said, trying to inject an air of 'cliché, right?' into the words. "Left my phone at home – could I use yours?"

"Sure." She grinned. It faltered, as she glanced over her shoulder. "I don't mean to be rude, but would you mind if I bring it out here? It's cordless and I shouldn't really have strange people in the house." She shrugged, as if to emphasise that it wasn't really her choice.

"No problem."

"You can wait in here, if you like." The girl gestured to the small porch, and Poison stepped in with a dip of his head. She moved away from him, turning to the right and into the living room. After a few seconds, he followed, moving silently. She didn't hear him as he came up behind her, reaching around, one arm grabbing her across the stomach, the other hand clasping over her mouth.

He felt her tongue as she tried to scream.

The muffled sounds as he dragged her back, forcing her onto his lap as he sat on the sofa, almost brought the guilt flooding back.

Almost.

Before she could fully register what was happening – she thought he was going to rape him, her mind screamed loud and clear – he dug his fangs into her neck. Soon she was limp in his arms.

It was only a matter of twenty minutes before she was buried in the back garden, the fresh young blood allowing him to move even faster. In the darkness of the bottom end, no one saw him, and he was safe in the knowledge that if she was ever found, it would be her parents, maybe another family member, who the blame would fall on.

Moving even quicker, he went back inside and headed upstairs, checking her room for a laptop.

Even better, he found her IPad.

Way back when, he had to be careful, studying their handwriting and painstakingly trying to imitate it. The advance in electronics made everything so much easier. It wasn't hard, when kids left their social sites logged in, to convince the world they had killed themselves. But sometimes a simple letter for their parents was enough, and Microsoft Word had become one of his close friends.

There were standard words and phrases to use in these situations. Always, I'm sorry was included somewhere. And, usually, please forgive me.

Her e-mail account was logged in, and in the address book, he found the one marked 'Mum'. Poison shook his head. Kids were so careless. Quickly, he wrote the e-mail.

I'm sorry, Mum. I just couldn't hide any longer...

He stopped, frowning at the words. He was grateful Shadow had taken the time to show him how to use the contraptions, and he was quickly jumping through her social media apps and sent e-mails, until he had a handle on the way she wrote.

She was not the type of girl to write in proper English, that much he could tell.

Vampires were good at adjusting, they had to be to survive, and though it took him longer than writing things out fully, he managed to compose an e-mail in short time that sounded like it would come from her.

Sorry. I cudn't hide it n e longer. I lv him, mum, i really do. We knew u and dad wouldn't like it, even less so when you find out the reason i had 2 run. He stopped, glancing over it and changing the parts where he had slipped into a more 'formal' mode. An underage pregnancy was enough reason for a girl to run away, especially if scared about what her parents would think or do. Quickly, he added something else.

I met him on the internet.

And finished the 'letter', moving the IPad and putting it in the master bedroom, on the bed. That done he left, whistling to himself as he walked down the street back to his own home.

He wondered if Shadow would be up for going to the cinema soon. It would be good, he thought, to get her out of the house for something other than hunting.

X X X

Poison had decided to take the long way home. He didn't think Calista would mind a bit of extra time with his fledgling; she was the only one Shadow would listen to, and that was only because she was scared of the blonde ex-pirate.

He could never instil that sort of fear in her. She knew all too well he would never do anything to hurt her. Ever since he had met her, he had done nothing but protect her. Maybe that was his problem. Maybe he should have been more terrifying when he had come across her.

Poison stopped, fear tingling through him. It wasn't his. Seconds later and he knew the reason she was scared. He could feel it, as much as he could feel the pure, overwhelming terror. Although the weather was cold, he felt hot. Too hot. He could almost feel flames licking at his skin.

His legs carried him forward, as he sped towards their home.

Home.

He hadn't had a home in years, decades. Maybe even centuries. Home, to him, was a foreign, unknown place where he did not belong. But since he had met Shadow...

It was cheesy, but there was a reason he couldn't just leave her alone, a reason he followed he and couldn't let her live her own life. And it wasn't jealously for the man she had loved like she once suggested.

He lived now, it seemed, to protect her. She was a part of him, and she had become home.

He couldn't lose her.

The roar of sirens echoed in the distance. Someone had noticed, someone had realised something was amiss but he knew they would arrive too late.

Poison sped up.

He saw the flames before he reached the street, flickering up towards the sky. The dead organ sitting in his chest seemed to thump, though he knew that was impossible. It was simply her fear, her reactions that made it feel, for once, like he was still alive.

As he came up the path, he couldn't help but notice the bright burning coming from every room. His eyes darted over the front of the building, watching as curtains fluttered outwards, sending embers flying through the air.

Her scream filled his head, slamming against his skull. This time, it wasn't just in his head. Behind him, a few humans stood, watching the building and shaking their heads. Wearing little but dressing gowns and pyjamas, they gathered but only watched.

They must have heard her scream, he knew that, but none of them would ever think of rushing in to save the girl.

The houses around him seemed to melt, replaced by trunks and branches and leaves, stretching towards him, trying to draw him back to the fire, back to the building where he had woken, confused and with no memory of who or where he was.

He had run, then, not looking back, desperate for water until he found the vial, the small glass bottle containing a misty liquid.

There had been a girl there, with dark hair and a pale face and eyes that seemed to shine as they looked at him. He had never found out who she was, never been able to place her, but she had saved him. In his state, he didn't realise what she was saying. He had taken it for his name, the first word he had heard, and it was only years later that he found out what she was really saving him from.

His dreams confused the girl with Shadow.

Shadow, Theo's sister, so desperate to find her brother. Shadow, who Raven had tried to kill, who he had saved, turning her, but not completely.

Shadow, who he loved, but not in a way most would understand.

Calista and Blake, even, were confused when he told them he and Shadow had never been lovers.

"But you love her," Blake had said. "Don't you?"

"Not in that way."

Even he didn't understand it at times, but there was something in him that drove him forward. He burst through the flames, feeling them catching on his clothes. He slipped out of the jacket easily enough, leaving it smouldering behind him as he called her name.

"Up here!" Calista yelled back, and even she was frightened.

He had never seen her scared.

The fire raged around him, and he smelt, beneath it all, the gasoline.

Hunters.

Or vampires who thought she was going to bring about their end.

Sprinting up the stairs, he didn't have time to dwell on it. He found them in the bedroom, Calista cradling Shadow in her arms, burns stretching over both their bodies. Smoke filled him, though it wasn't the smoke he worried about. Smoke killed humans; it was the flames that could kill them.

They were in the middle of the room, the fire, so far, on the walls only. He moved forward, scooping Shadow into his arms, Calista grabbing his shoulder as he bent and leaning on him as he stood. She stood close to him, trembling as she glanced around.

"The window," he said, nodding his head towards it. "Go."

"Poison, the flames..."

The wood they had used to block out the sun sat beneath the window, burning fiercely. He shook his head.

"Just go," he barked, holding Shadow close to him, feeling her heart still beating. If she had been full, he wouldn't know if she was dead or alive.

Calista sprinted forward, leaping through the window. The fire caught her foot, and he saw her trouser leg catch as she sailed out. He glanced down at the girl in his arms. They would need blood, all of them and lots of it, and not just human blood, either.

He shifted her, throwing her over his shoulder before running for the window. He sailed out, stumbling as he landed and falling on his knees, keeping hold of Shadow.

"We have to move," he panted, getting to his feet. "Now."

Calista nodded, glancing at the house. To the humans on the other side, it was abandoned, left when its owners packed up and moved away to some foreign country. Or so they thought.

The house backed onto a field, with a gate in the fencing around the garden. They moved quick as they could, knowing they could find shelter beneath the trees at the other end of the field. Calista was whimpering, glancing over her shoulder every so often, the fire dancing in her eyes.

"Stop it," he said, shifting Shadow slightly. "Stop looking."

"I can't help it. We almost died."

"I don't think it was meant for you."

Their gazes caught, before hers darted to Shadow. She nodded, slowly, before speaking again. "Has it happened before?"

"It's the first overt attempt on her life," he replied, moving the girl to carry her in his arms instead. Her heartbeat was growing weaker. "I do not think she realises the danger she has been in before, though."

"They really believe the prophecy, don't they?"

"Even vampires can fall for the same folly as humans. I have avoided until, Calista. I've kept her out of it, but..."

A few minutes of silence, before Calista broke it.

"You think you should take her to them, don't you?" she whispered, as they passed under the trees. "To the vampires who think she will save us."

"Blake seems to think they would give their lives for her."

"And what do you think?"

Poison sighed. "I think taking her to them would drag her deeper, and we're on the brink of war as it is." He glanced around, trying to pick up any signs that there were humans in the woods. There sometimes were; couples trying to get away from parents, teenage kids daring each other to spend the night in the place where, according to local legend, predators prowled.

It wasn't the first time the vampires had made their temporary home near the woods, and every so often the spate of killings under the trees would spark the rumours again, if the murders in the town itself weren't discovered. But, after a few decades, a new generation would brush them off, unable to remember the fear and tension that would prevail even after the deaths had stopped.

Every town had its legends, every town usually had a group of vampires or werewolves who would sometimes make their home there.

"I think she's getting dragged in, anyway." Calista paused, becoming still as they heard the laughter. Poison gently lowered Shadow to the ground, before giving the woman a quick nod and disappearing between the trees.

Before long he returned, dragging a barely alive couple. Poison dropped them near Shadow, before kneeling down beside her and lifting the wrist of the boy. He tore the skin with his teeth, holding the wound above Shadow's mouth. The blood dripped down, and he watched as her tongue lashed out, licking the blood. Her lips pursed, she lifted her head and, with eyes still closed, clasped her mouth around the cut and began to suck like a newborn baby at the breast.

"Calista." He gestured to the girl and Calista gave him a curt nod, before jumping on the teenager, clamping her teeth on the girl's neck.

Shadow reached up and grasped the wrist, holding it against her mouth, leaving Poison to feed on the boy alongside Calista. While he fed, he kept a close eye on Shadow, watching as the burns slowly started to heal. The marks wouldn't disappear, not completely, not yet, and she would still feel the pain for days, for longer than either Poison or Calista would.

When the three had their fill, Shadow sat up, eyes open as she panted. She glanced around, like an animal caught in a cage, before realising she was safe. She scrambled towards Poison, throwing her arms around him.

"You scared me," he whispered, holding her tight against him.

"You saved me," she whimpered, as Calista wiped blood from her mouth, watching the pair. "Poison, don't...don't leave me, please?"

"I won't," he replied, stroking the hair back from her face, kissing the top of her head. "I promise."