It was the sort of too-bright place where a person coming off the street at twelve could get breakfast without any questions. There were three waitresses, two older, one younger. They all looked wide-eyed and worn-out. Even at this hour, there was a pot of hot coffee on the counter, and the grease-stained cook in the back was frying up something on the burners. I ordered three pancakes, three eggs, a side of bacon, a banana, grapes, orange juice and milk, and the waitress hardly batted an eye. It came back to me in about five minutes, seeing as I was the only other customer in the place. The waitresses, seeing nothing more to do, retreated back into the kitchen, like creeping spiders waiting for fresh prey.
It reminded me too much of what a vampire might act like, so I put them from my mind.
Halfway through my meal Raven came in. His plain white shirt under his black jacket didn't have a spot on it.
"You vamps," I said quietly as he sat down. "You certainly know how to keep a kill quiet."
"We can't have the prey knowing of us," he said, smiling slightly.
The waitress, spotting a potential customer, swept in and asked if he wanted to order. Raven politely declined, and the waitress slunk away, visibly annoyed.
"So it's all hush hush now, huh," I mused as she disappeared back into the kitchen. "Last I'd heard from a vampire informant, the wave of the future was vamp-human integration."
Raven rolled his eyes. "Personally, I don't see the road turning that way anytime soon."
"Well, I know about you guys, and I'm doing okay," I pointed out.
"But you're a part of the whole magic scene. You know because you're a member."
I snorted. "A member. If I'd known what I was getting into when I became a witch…" I shook my head, taking another bite of bacon.
"But regular people, they won't understand the circumstances, or the consequences," Raven said quietly. "When people realize immortality is possible, think of how many will want it. They'd do anything for it. Then there'd be a huge batch of new vamps out there, all of them dealing with the skills, the strength, the thirst, all at the same time."
I took a bit of pancake and thought on his words as I chewed. "You make a good point," I said. "But what about the young people dying of incurable cancer, or some sort disease? They would have a second chance after all."
Raven shook his head. "If a vamp is weak in human form, they remain weak in vamp form. It's not like how they portray it in the movies and books, Sirea. Everything isn't fixed when you're changed. True, a vamp is born again after the death of the bite, but young vamps are weakened from the change. They grow into their strength and talents as they grow older, and have to keep draining people as they do. Only when a vamp hits about one hundred can they start letting their victims walk away."
"So your vics have been walking away from you for some time?" I guessed.
Raven cracked a smile. "Correct, Sirea. After a hundred years of killing people almost every night, it is a great relief to take a sip and leave them alive."
"I can understand that," I said, chewing on some rubbery eggs. "I wonder what the human equivalent would be, you know? Like, what do we need now that we can grow out of?"
"Perhaps…" Raven paused, his light eyes going from the table top to me. "Human affection?" I raised an eyebrow, startled to hear such a cold-hearted thing from him.
"Well then…" I muttered stiffly.
"Wait, let me explain," Raven mused. "We grow up smothered in a cocoon of love and warmth. The world is perfect to any young child, since their entire world is everything that they can physically touch and see. Then the world gets real, and we are cut off from most childhood bonds. We are forced to accept this new reality, or get killed by it."
"But others develop more into their families after they grow up," I pointed out. Then I paused, reflecting on my own past. "Maybe not me in particular, but some do."
"Then what do you think is the human equivalent?"
I took a long moment to think, reflecting on my life experiences and comparing them to the undead. A vampire's life is one full of flight and secrecy, with death lurking at every corner. They were creatures born of a terrible and painful death, with only the strongest able to wrestle free from death's embrace back into the world of the living. They drank blood to sustain their cold bodies, fed from the warm to catch a taste of what life was once like. Even after a hundred years, to only take what was needed to survive would be like a human going years in complete isolation, with the only human contact a quick hug. It would take intense control, incredible discipline, and the sort of concentration that only comes with meditation.
Raven was staring at me blatantly. Sleek brown hair fell sideways into one pale blue eye, darkening his gaze. His long fingers stayed flat on the nicked white tabletop, and there was a humming tension to his movements, like an alley cat poised on a fence above an enemy. To imagine this pale creature going through hell and back, then being shoved, unfeelingly, into a world filled with supple prey, unable to take more than a sip lest your conscience forbids you, would be a cursed life. A life of misery.
"A vegetarian?" I asked, my voice with a slightly lilt.
It made him crack a smile, and I smiled in return.
"A good comparison," he said, "and a good, considerate silence."
I smirked. "I enjoy a good silence."
"When it's appropriate."
He looked at my half eaten meal, pushed off subtly to the side. The corners of his mouth were still pulled up in a lazy half smile, but there was a shadow of sadness in his eyes. I took a drink from a glass, letting an ice cube slide down my throat.
"It's not the same, I know," I said quietly. He blinked at me. "Just… I don't like you drifting off into these quiet little moods."
Raven blinked again, and seemed to just realize what he was doing.
I swirled the water in the glass. "You more so brood."
He coughed, putting up his hands. "Please, do not call me the typical brooding vampire. I don't think I could stand myself if you did."
"Well, you do brood," I said sulkily.
This time, he was the one who smirked. "Maybe… But perhaps I am just dwelling on the sadder years. While on the other hand, I have had some good ones."
He nodded, a lighter smile on his face. I felt a sudden, unexpected joy at that smile.
"My life's story would take a long time to dole out, Sirea."
"It's not doling if the person enjoys the doler."
The smile was creeping up into a grin. "I am pretty sure that is not a word."
"It's like Scrabble," I said. "You can challenge, but if you do, you lose a turn."
"Really?" His eyes were bright. "So what would you lose?"
"Silly vampire, tricks are for kids," I whispered back.
A plate in the back of the diner clattered, and we both started. Raven and I both sat up straighter. I had the vague feeling of just coming up from very deep water.
It had been easy to lose myself in Raven's words, and we'd both forgotten we were in the small brightly lit diner. Any one of the waitresses could have been wiping down the tables around us and I wouldn't have noticed. Raven probably would have noticed if one of them were trying to listen in to our conversation, but I still felt uneasy. I'd forgotten where I was, and that could get dangerous among certain company.
I looked at the unfinished breakfast, then met Raven's pale gaze. "We should be getting back to Ethan," I said. Raven nodded. I started to stand.
"Aren't you going to pay for that?" Raven asked quietly. I blinked, looking down at the check on the table.
"I wasn't planning on it," I whispered. "Dine and dash and all that."
Raven smirked before laying a twenty down on the table. I raised an eyebrow at him.
"Hey-" I started, but he drug me out of the diner. Outside, once more in the cool, fresh air, everything about that evening came crashing back, and I felt the stresses that I'd so easily left behind earlier come pressing down. It made me feel bristly all over again. The constant drain on my power didn't help; it was like a straw was sucking up all the energy I was trying desperately to hold onto.
We stepped out of the light from the diner, down towards the line of old majesties on the street. It was a dark, cool night. The moon had shrunk from last night, like an old woman tightening her belt in preparation for a long winter. Even the stars, her constant companions, were absent; hidden, as they were, by a low gray mist that cast a veil over the sky, and left the moon hazy in her perch.
"Would you rather rip off those poor ladies tonight? It was a good meal, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, I guess," I grumbled. "But, if you're going to be waving money around…"
He moved towards me. "What, a young business woman like yourself needs cash?"
"Not yours," I shot back, unnecessarily rude. I shook my head. "The shop's doing fine. All the thrifty-ness is a left over asset from my childhood days where we had to work for the food on the table."
I begged the night air to take the edge off my hostility. The smell of autumn, just around the corner, helped my strained nerves unwind.
"Your parents raised you by the old fashioned laws?" He guessed. I only nodded. My parents were firm believers in hard work, and beat that ideology into me at a very young age. I'd just barely escaped to college, but when I'd become a florist at the shop, they'd officially rejected me, saying I'd thrown all my schooling away. Even thinking about my parents brought back the gnawing annoyance of things left half-finished, and sent my frustration back up again. I dug my hands into my pockets, walking slowly and silently, breathing deeply, and willing myself to relax.
"I can relate with the old ways," Raven said quietly. I glanced at him.
He was nothing but a silhouette in the darkness, but he had such a presence about him that it was impossible to ignore. As we passed in front of a street lamp, I got his full profile. He had fine features, even as vampires go. I wondered briefly why I hadn't noticed this when he'd first entered the shop a few nights ago. He noticed my gaze, and tilted his head to the side. The light, as we passed it, caught in his eyes, reflecting the barest hint of icy blue before casting them back into shadow.
We walked silently down the rocky street to the place he called home. He tried, more than once, to start up a conversation, but anything he said fell flat in the compressing night sky. I remained silent, until he gave up and walked beside me in taciturnity.
I would have kept walking in my habitual quietness had he not caught my sleeve and pulled me towards the sidewalk. Recognizing the three grand oaks, I obediently followed him towards the house.
He reached the door just a step ahead of me, but laid his hand on the doorknob without turning it. I stood half a foot away. Suddenly, the front step seemed very small.
"We're here," he said, his voice just a whisper on the wind.
The whisper moved strands of hair across my face, blinding me from him. I raised my hand to push them away, but he beat me to it, his finger tips tracing fire across my skin. It was suddenly hard to breath, hard to stand. I turned away, eyes downcast, wholly ashamed that I enjoyed the feelings he brought out in me.
"Ethan," I said, and I felt him grow cold.
The door to his room was closed, but there was low snarling coming from behind the wood. Raven flicked the overhead light on as I approached the door. Something heavy threw its weight against the wall, hard enough to shake it.
"Ethan?" I called softly.
The snarls stopped.
"Ethan, it's me, Sirea, I said. I only want to talk to you. Do you remember anything? Like… who I am?"
"Sirea," a low voice whispered. It didn't quite sound human.
I rested my head against the wood in relief. "Yes, that's me. How are you? Do you need more of the solution?"
"Sirea." His voice was almost frantic. "Sirea, I'm scared."
"Shh shh," I crooned through the door. I laid my hand on the door and imagined him on the other side. How badly my heart cried out for him! My hands reached for the doorknob…
Someone caught me and quickly pulled my hands away.
"Raven!" I protested. He pressed a hand over my mouth and glared at me. Ethan started whining as he scrabbled at the door. "He needs me," I whispered.
Raven's eyes narrowed and he shook his head. "He wants to see you, Sirea. But he's in wolf mode."
"But he's remembering!"
His hot gaze raked my face. "Yes," he said pointedly. "Yes he is."
Then it hit me. The Lust.
My breath caught in my throat as I looked at the door with new eyes.
It was always said that forsaken wolves could passably appear sane when needed, had heightened senses, and would pretend to be normal around friends and family; all to catch the witches they wanted. I'd even heard that they picked up slight telepathic senses of what their prey wanted to further ensnare them. I didn't know if I believed that, but at the moment, all the fears of what the Bloodlust would drive a werewolf to do was suddenly fresh in my mind.
"Raven, he's not safe," I gasped as he led me away from the door and up the stairs.
Raven shook his head. "He knows what I am. I can fight him off. Go upstairs and wait for me. I'll give him more of the potion, and I'll meet you up there."
"Go, Sirea. I can handle him." Raven slammed the door at the top of the stairs and the locks turned, efficiently shutting me out.
I stood there for a second, but Ethan's noise reached my ears, so I headed to the stair case and sat.
I heard the door to Ethan's room opened, and the eeriest part was the normality. I could hear Ethan and Raven speaking softly, like Ethan didn't lust for my magic thickened blood, or that Raven wasn't there to make sure Ethan kept drinking the potion, even if he had to force him. I shivered on my step and looked out the dark window.
It seemed like hours of silence stretched out as I waited for some new sound. As I waited, every possible scenario passed through my mind of what might be happening. I hardly believed that Ethan had just laid down peacefully in bed to take the solution like a good little wolf. Or, maybe he'd do just that to throw us off. I thanked the stars Raven was so observant. Or maybe he'd been prepared for such a reaction. Hopefully, as more of Ethan's memories came back, he would become more like himself.
There was the softest tread across the floor, and the slightest hitch of breath to alert me to his presence. I jumped to my feet, my heart pounding, my hands shaking as a dark figure crossed the threshold into the room.
I gasped in relief as I saw the vampire in one piece. "Couldn't you have knocked? Or something? Is he alright? What did he say? Has he remembered anything else?"
Raven put his hands up. "Whoa, one question at a time, Sirea."
I clamped my jaw shut and forced myself to be quiet.
Finally, Raven spoke. "First of all, Sirea, I don't think Ethan has the Lust."
He cut me off before I could speak. "No, just listen," he said. "I don't think it's the Lust, yet. He's started remembering some of the former desire for the witch's blood, but it isn't the full Bloodlust yet. I think… I think you should talk to him. You being near him would help bring up more memories, and I would always stay near so that he never attacked you."
I blinked as what he was saying settled in. "What, you mean tonight?"
He sighed. "The sooner the better, Sirea."
I swallowed, the protests ready to flow from my mouth like the complex chants and incantations that had brought me here, but I couldn't. Yet I couldn't leave Ethan now, either, just when he was starting to recover. Bearing this in mind, I found myself walking calmly down the stairs and opening the door to his room, praying that Ethan remembered enough to refrain from ripping my throat out.