"What is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil." – Friedrich Nietzsche, Aphorism 153

Chapter 26

"Ophelia, you can't keep doing this."

I stared fixedly at Rade until he sighed. We'd been having the same argument for the past two weeks and the winner had yet to be determined. Rade might have had the advantage of years, but I had a stubborn streak a mile wide and, once I'd made my mind up about something, I dug my heels in with the determinedness of a horse refusing to cross water.

"It's not your fault, you have to know that," Rade said. Again. For the hundredth time this week.

"If you hadn't helped us, we might all be dead," Lucien added.

Two against one was never fair, even if they were right...mostly. Telling me one casualty was better than everyone dying didn't really make me feel any better. I still felt horribly guilty.

Sorin lay, pale and unmoving, in a bedroom next to Rade's. For two weeks, there hadn't been so much as a flutter of eyelids, a twitch of fingers. His hair, once sunbeam bright, fell dull and lank over his forehead. I kept expecting his eyes to open, for him to look at me with that knowing smile. Every time I saw him, my heart clenched and hot tears pricked my eyes. I had never realized how much the trio of vampires meant to me until losing one of them became a terrifying possibility.

Until he actually died – or whatever it was called when vampires ceased to be animated – Rade refused to give up hope. Gavin explained that Lucy had possessed the ability to suck away the energy that kept people alive – their life force, essentially. Since Sorin was already dead, what she had done couldn't really kill his body. Instead, it threw him into a comatose state. Gavin and Rade had consulted with Izzy Burkhard about Sorin's condition, but she had shaken her head sadly, saying she wasn't sure there was anything to be done except wait. I had thought it slightly odd the two men had spoken with her. It made me wonder, not for the first time, just exactly who she was – or, more specifically, what she was.

I spent my evenings in Sorin's room, curled up next to him and praying to whatever gods who deigned to listen that he would wake up. And when I finally drifted off to sleep, I searched for him in my dreams...

I know he's here, somewhere, maybe lost in the darkness and trying to find his way back. As I have for the past two weeks, I sit in the middle of a faintly glowing bridge, my legs crossed and my hands resting on the wooden planks behind me. And I talk. Not about anything in particular – the events of my day, meaningless stories from my childhood before Raum entered my life. I talk about the how the bond between Rade and I is progressing –

"Slowly," I say, "because I still don't understand what it really means. And the other two seem amused to just let me find out on my own."

I talk about Camille and Dev – who, as promised, spent countless hours picking my brain about demons. I tell him about Izzy Burkhard, who left almost as mysteriously as she had arrived –

"But not before I got her phone number," I say. "I figure there's no harm in making more connections. Rade wouldn't tell me what she is, but I bet you'd be able to help me figure it out. I think you'd like her."

And I tell him my most exciting news.

"I've learned how to shield," I say. A grin pulls at my lips. "Well, sort of. Lucien's been helping me work out the kinks, but I went almost the whole day yesterday without wearing my gloves." I pause. "Okay, really just a few hours. Baby steps, right? I could've lasted longer if Gavin hadn't shown me this set of really old gold torques he owns. I couldn't stop myself from touching them, you know, just out of curiosity. Did you know he used to be a moon god? How neat is that?"

I sit up and run my hands – which look strange to me without their normal barrier of cloth – along my thighs.

"He's still here, you know. At the manor, I mean. He's very worried about you – we all are." I pull my knees up to my chest and wrap my arms around them. "I just wish you could find your way," I whisper. Tears gather and fall. "I miss you."

I sit there for a long time, staring into the swirling darkness, waiting to see a hint of sunshine. Lucien has warned me about crossing fully over the bridge connection, saying I could become just as lost as the unconscious vampire. Lost in someone else's head. It's a frightening thought and stills the urge I feel to try to search for him.

Weariness takes hold and I lay down on the bridge, my cheek against the smooth wood, my fingers tracing a white-gold swirl. I imagine, as I fall asleep, that I can hear Sorin's low chuckle, can feel him stretch out beside me...He whispers into my ear and, for the first time in two weeks, I drift into a peaceful slumber...

I awoke from a pleasant dream to the soft touch of fingers tracing the contours of my face. A small smile pulled at my lips as the fingers slipped down my neck, whispered over the curve of my shoulder and down my arm.

"Rade," I murmured as I opened my eyes, "I'm not – " I broke off as I focused on the cornflower gaze staring intently back at me. It took a frightening second for my brain to catch up to the input my eyes were giving it...and then I sucked in a sharp breath. "Sorin?" I whispered, as though afraid saying his name any louder would make him fall back into his catatonic state.

Sorin grinned wearily. "I hope so," he said, amusement lightly lacing his voice.

"Oh, gods, Sorin."

My hands cupped his face and I leaned up, kissed him long and hard before I could stop myself. When I finally pulled away, a merry glint shone in his eyes and his grin widened.

"What an enthusiastic welcome," he chuckled.

"We thought you weren't coming back to us," I said. I traced a dark circle under his eye. "How do you feel? I should go tell the others," I rushed on before he could answer. I pushed away the covers and then turned back to him. "Do you need anything?"

His eyes slid away from me. "I'm...a little hungry," he said, softly.

"Of course." I shook my head in irritation at my stupidity. Of course he was hungry since all he'd eaten in the past week was what little we managed to force between his lips. I grabbed a small, thin bladed knife from the beside table and held it to the inside of my forearm, near the tiny scars from Rade's bite.

But Sorin's hand covered mine. "No, Lia," he whispered. "I didn't mean – "

"It's my fault this happened to you," I said as I'd told Rade so many times before. "Opening a vein for you is hardly asking too much."

Before he could protest again, I let the sharp edge bite into my skin. Blood immediately welled and spilled down my arm, curved around my elbow. It's never like in the movies – it hurt, a lot. But I clenched the inside of my cheek between my teeth and narrowed my eyes against the tears. A muscle in Sorin's jaw clenched and he stared into my eyes. I sighed, not understanding why he was being so stubborn about this. The longer we sat there, the more pale and pinched his face became. I caught a drop in my hand as it dripped from my elbow.

"If you don't take it, it's going to get all over the sheets," I told him, sternly.

A long shudder ran through Sorin's body. He took my hand, licked away the blood pooled in my palm. And then carefully, as though afraid I might break, he wrapped his long fingers around my wrist, pulled my arm to his mouth. His tongue cleaned away the trail of blood threatening to drip onto the bed, slid smoothly up my skin. His eyes closed as his mouth found the wound. I rearranged myself and Sorin curled into my side, his head resting against my chest. My free hand ran through his sunny curls, marveling at how silky fine the strands were already becoming.

I felt Rade before I saw him, which was how it was between us, now. His presence was a constant, pleasant tingle in my mind. When he entered a room, it was like a warm caress on the back of my neck, a tug of awareness in his direction. I could be blindfolded and find him even if I was surrounded by hundreds of other people. I suspected part of the reason Rade wouldn't tell me exactly how our bond worked was because he simply didn't know – I think he was learning as things progressed since he had never experienced this, either. And that was okay. I wasn't going to call him out on his lack of knowledge if he was uncomfortable admitting he didn't have all the answers.

I lifted my eyes from Sorin's head and smiled at Rade, who stood at the end of the bed. Amazing how, no matter how much I was around him, I could never seem to drink in enough of those delicate features. And my heart never failed to flutter slightly when that small smile touched his lips.

"Hello," I said, softly. Sorin's razor sharp teeth, not fully extended since a thick collar encircled his throat, caught at the edge of the wound on my arm. I jerked slightly at the pain and felt Sorin hum his apology against my skin.

"Are you okay?" Rade asked.

"Are you asking me or him?"

Rade's smile widened. "It's obvious he's okay," he said. "How long has he been awake?"

"Just a few minutes," I said. "I was going to come get you, but this seemed to be the best thing to do first."

Rade's approval flushed through me. He crawled up onto the bed and sat next to me, leaning his shoulder against mine. A tingle of warmth sprang up between us at the contact. "Are you in pain?" he asked.

I tried to smooth away the pinch around the corners of my eyes and mouth. "I'm fine," I said, which was a lie. The truth was, my arm throbbed, not just from the cut but from the constant pull of Sorin's lips.

And, of course, Rade knew. "He's not strong enough to make it more enjoyable," he murmured.

"You can do that?" Rade nodded and I screwed my mouth into a disbelieving line. "You didn't when you..." I made a short gesture toward my arm, "...you know, at the bookstore."

"I was also very weak," he said. "Trust me, Ophelia, if I can help it, that will be the only time it won't be pleasurable."

His voice dripped heat and an answering warmth blossomed under my skin. I shivered. Sorin's grip on my arm tightened, almost painfully. He hooked a leg around mine, as though to make sure I wouldn't go anywhere and then pulled his mouth away from my skin. He rearranged himself on my other side, resting his head against my shoulder. His soft sigh fluttered over my skin and sounded content. Rade slid from the bed and went into the bathroom, presumably to get a bandage for my cut. I scooted down a little and turned so I could face Sorin again.

"This won't bind you to me, will it?" I asked, softly.

"No, you share that with Rade alone." He chuckled when relief filled my face. "Besides, we already have a connection. I knew you were there," he said. "In my dreams, waiting for me. Guiding me back." He pressed a soft kiss against the corner of my mouth. "Thank you."

For a moment, I just looked at him, brushed his hair from his eyes, let my fingers memorize the contours of his face, the smooth, silky texture of his skin. To think I'd almost lost him before I realized how important he'd become – how important all of them had become. Just a few months ago, I wasn't even sure I counted the vampires as friends. Now, I couldn't imagine a day without them. And it wasn't just because of the link with Rade; even without that, losing Sorin, losing any of them, would have felt like losing a piece of myself.

Sorin caught my wrist, staring at my hand. "Your gloves, Lia." There was a small amount of alarm in his eyes, but mostly surprise.

"I guess you didn't hear me when I was in your dreams," I said, smiling. "I have it under control now." Slivers of the dark place he had been filled my vision. I sternly pushed them back. "Well, for the most part."

He stared at me for a beat. Then, with a laugh of delight, he pulled me over him. His kisses began as quick, fluttering presses of his lips against my cheeks, eyes, nose. When they found my mouth, he slowed down. Deepened the kiss. A surprised moan of pleasure slipped from my throat. And Sorin's hands were tangled in my hair, his thigh spreading my legs so I straddled him. He pressed his hips up, groaning into my mouth when he rubbed against me. All it would take was a little maneuvering to move the thin cotton separating us aside, to feel him slide right into me. His hands were already drifting toward my hips, slipping between my legs, hooking around the edge of my panties...

Jealousy prickled over me and then was gone, replaced by desire shivering down my spine to pool hotly between my legs. I pulled in a sharp breath through my nose and pushed away from Sorin. Rade stood in the doorway to the bathroom, silhouetted against the light. Dark memories of a demon watching me rose. A thin tremble of fear made my stomach clench.

And then Rade stepped into the bedroom, allowing the light to touch his face. I caught a flicker of concern in his bottomless eyes at the thread of unease he felt from me. I took a deep breath, let it out slowly, letting the fear flow away. When Rade reached the bed, he made a short gesture with his hand and I obediently held out my arm. He silently cleaned the sluggishly bleeding cut and wrapped it with gauze. A hint of a smile played around the corners of his mouth.

"I'm sorry," I blurted.

Rade's gaze never left his ministrations. But his smile grew. "For what, Ophelia?" he asked, softly.

I glanced down at Sorin, whose fingers curled around my other hand where it rested on his chest. He gave my hand a brief squeeze.

"This isn't...We weren't..."

Rade's eyes met mine for no more than an instant. But the heat smoldering within them made my breath hitch, made me glad I wasn't standing. "You're free to do whatever you like," Rade said. "With whomever you like. The bond between us isn't a promise of monogamy."

I squinted at Rade, as though seeing him more clearly would help me better understand what was he was saying. Surely he didn't mean he wouldn't mind if Sorin and I... "Are you saying it's okay for me to...to...?" I was so surprised I couldn't even finish the sentence.

"That's up to you," Rade said.

I blinked. "But you'd be okay with that?"

He shrugged. "I'm always reluctant to share," he said. He taped the gauze down to my arm. "But if you want to take all of us as lovers, I'll respect your decision. Also, you should keep in mind that we can't reproduce – at least, not in the strictest sense. So, if you ever want children, you will have to find someone else."

Find someone...else? Someone else to...to...oh, Blessed Mother.

"I think Gavin would be the wisest choice."

I stared at him, unable to form any coherent thought. Rade looked back at me, his face as stoic as I'd ever seen it. Oh, gods, he was serious.

"You don't agree?" he asked. When I remained silent, his mouth pulled down slightly at the corners. "I figured he'd be the best choice since you already know him and are attracted to him. And I'm told gods are highly fertile so the chance of conception would be very good."

The chance of...

I was going to faint.

Amusement scented the air between us. My mouth opened. Closed. My eyes narrowed. "That's not funny," I said, even though a smile pulled at my lips.

Rade's low chuckle wrapped around me. "The look on your face was a little funny," he said. I shoved at his shoulder, which was completely ineffective. He caught my hand in one of his, kissed each of my fingers. "It's something you should think about."

"The funny look on my face?"

He laughed. "There's nothing funny about your face, Ophelia," he said. "It's perfect."

"Hmph," was my response.

He gave my hand a light tug and I allowed him to pull me out of bed. But not before I gave Sorin a parting kiss, a light brush of my lips against his.

"I'm so happy you came back to us," I murmured against his cheek.

The blond vampire nuzzled his mouth against my neck and then pulled away as the door to the room opened. Lucien quickly crossed the room, barely sparing a flash of a smile for me and Rade before he crawled between the sheets and began smothering Sorin with affection. I let Rade guide me out of the room and into the hall where we met Gavin, who I had a hard time looking fully in the face. Rade told him the good news and he almost sparkled with joy. I watched him take ground-eating strides toward Sorin's room, wondering if it was a good idea to let him have so many visitors so soon.

"He'll be fine," Rade said, following my train of thought. "Gavin and Lucien will probably exhaust him, but he'll enjoy every minute of it."

"I bet he will," I murmured.

Rade and I settled in his room, curling up on the plush couch near the fireplace and looking out at the fading afternoon. Thick clouds gilded in golden sunlight drifted by, the sky between them starting to turn a brilliant tangerine. The scent of metallic honey surrounded me and I let out a soft sigh of contentment.

"Do you want to be a father?" I asked.

Rade was silent for a moment and I could feel him seriously contemplating the question. "I don't know," he said. "I always thought I would be, but that was before I was turned." He paused and then asked, "Do you want to be a mother?"

"No," I said, honestly. "Not yet, anyway." I rearranged my head on his shoulder and slid my fingers through his – my bare fingers. I still marveled at being able to feel his smooth skin against mine. "I'll think about kids later," I said after awhile. "And I'll pick out my own baby daddy, thanks."

Rade shifted and tilted his head to look down at me. "Gavin isn't suitable?" he asked, sounding surprised. "I thought you liked him."

I rolled my eyes. "I do like him," I said. "But thinking about him like he's a...a stud...is just weird."

Rade chuckled and I nestled a little closer to him. As his arm tightened around me, I realized the dark emotion usually hidden just behind my heart was gone. Fear of Raum, fear of myself, had weighed me down in heavy shackles for so long. Now, without those fears, I was slowly realizing just how paralyzing they had been. I no longer strove to be a normal person. Without my gift, I realized, the vampire next to me would have never fallen into my life. I would never have met Dev or a real, honest to goodness living and breathing god. Camille insisted my coming to work for her was fate, but I never believed in such things. Because I made my own path, decided whether I would hole myself up like a frightened rabbit in an empty apartment or sit exactly where I was now, in a house full of people I held close to my heart.

I closed my fingers lightly around Rade's and allowed a tendril of my gift extend out to touch him. What I Saw made me smile. I leaned up and brushed a kiss over his mouth.

"Me, too," I murmured.

Final Notes: So, I've kinda come to realize that I really need to work on endings and climaxes – that last chapter felt a little dull to me and this ending is kinda meh. Also, I'm a little bummed because I never got to use my "Fear is the mind killer!" quote from Dune... :) Ah, well, I'm currently in the process of editing this and chopping up the chapters so they will fit into book format, so maybe I'll get a chance to slip it in there. What do you guys think? Should I keep the quotes at the beginning of chapters in the final draft or get rid of them? Are they just taking up space and generally annoying?

I've been working on this story for...Holy moly! Two years! o.O For those of you who have been right here with me since the beginning, a humongous Thank You!! That's quite a commitment! For those of you who came in a little later in the game, I'm still astounded you took the time to read and hope you've enjoyed the journey as much as I have. Super big thanks to everyone! Hope you'll enjoy future stories (which, incidentally, I'm in the process of. Skylight Castle is brand spanking new and centers around Izzy Burkhard, the mysterious woman who appeared at the end of this. Ha! Shameless plugging :) ).

STUVme: You know, I was going to try to work the action between Rade and Lia into this chapter, but it started to just feel like smut for smut's sake :) I'm so glad you've enjoyed the story so much! Thanks!

Miss Bitterbiscuit: Under-reviewed?! I'm just grateful this story has as many reviews as it does! Especially since it could use some serious work! But it's very nice of you to say so :) You've been that most awesome sort of reviewer (I think you were my very first review on this story! :) ). And don't think for a minute I'll ever forget you nominated this for an award (which may not be a big deal for most, but I still grin like an idiot when I think about it, lol). Thanks for all the support!