Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

"Winds of Change"

by Troy A. Stanton

(Author's note: This fanfic draws off of another Vampire Hunter D fanfic
called "Drawing Blood" by Catherine B. Krusberg. I have obtained her
permission to make use of her work as a source of material, so anything
"new" you see in here about D's past with Doris that didn't happen in the
movie is most likely her original plot material.)

WARNING: This story contains adult content, please do not read beyond
this point if you are easily offended by such things.


It wouldn't have been this way if she hadn't passed out in his arms.

D and Leila had just exited that horrible castle, trying to leave their
dark thoughts and memories behind even as it started to crumble apart. The air
had grown heavy with smoke and dust, billowing up in a massive cloud that had
begun to mask the horizon.

She had asked him for a ride to the nearest town, a good hour away as the
crow flies and even longer by horse. Having just lost the rest of her fellow
hunters and witnessed a true tragedy that would probably scar what was left of
her soul forever, it would have been unconscionable for him to have refused
her, not after what they had just survived together. And so he had offered his
hand to her.

It only mildly surprised him when she smirked and brushed his hand away,
reaching up to pull herself into the saddle without his help. Even after all
that they had undergone, she still retained a fierce sense of independence that
spoke of the fire that still burned in her heart.

And then a white spark had emerged from the cloud of dust, the roaring
sound of heavy thrusters reaching their ears moments later. She had let go of
the saddle to watch, her crystal blue eyes widening as she realized what it
was: Carmilla's spaceship, taking Meier Link and Charlotte up to what had been
called the City of the Night.

He said nothing as they both watched, focusing on the sounds coming from
the thrusters. It was an unsteady mantra, as if the engines were struggling
harder than they should against the pull of gravity. For a moment, it almost
seemed as if it wouldn't make it, and that the pair of lovers who had fought
against everyone to make it this far would not be able to reach their dream.

And then Leila began encouraging the ship, first softly to herself, then
yelling across the landscape with all her human might. With emotions that he
never understood and probably never will, she unleashed her heart to will the
spaceship to fly, to will their dreams to come true.

Even though he was a dunpeal, born with both human and vampiric blood,
despite his countless centuries spent trying to embrace his mother's humanity
and deny his father's darkness, he still had little notion of what to do with
his human emotions or even properly identify them. And when the great ship
shuddered violently before the engines roared to full capacity, whether on
their own or somehow buoyed by the sheer power of a single human's will, he was
completely unprepared for the shiver of emotion that shot through him.

They watched in silence as the spark of light rose higher into the sky,
eventually disappearing from view. His expression had hardly changed at all
during the event, but her face.... it would be tears. He hardly understood
women as a species, understood their emotions even less, and always seemed to
be at a loss when it came to their tears. It usually meant they would be in an
unpredictable mood for some time, which is all that he needed after what he had
just went through....

"Sorry," she apologized quietly as she looked up at him, a pair of tears
trailing down her face. A faint blush tinted her cheeks as she brushed away
the tears and reached up again, grabbing the saddle and hoisting herself up in
front of him. "Let's go," she said, more to herself than to D.

And so they rode, D holding the reins as he set off back down that long,
twisted road leading up to Carmilla's castle. They didn't try to talk, both
simply too tired for words and not sure what to say to the other. They had
walked through their own personal hells back there, she confronting the fires
of vengeance that had burned inside her for so long, and he not only facing
down a powerful evil but also the notion of a human girl willingly loving her
vampire kidnapper, the same kind of love that had led to his own genesis and
had taunted him mercilessly his entire existence.

He knew he was a hunter by choice, and yet it wasn't a choice. He was
caught between two worlds, cast out by one and simply unable to accept life as
a killer in the other. For him, there was only one choice, to eliminate all
traces of vampires and their evil from this world. He would not rest in his
crusade until his blood alone contained the darkness which had destroyed so
much for so long. His rest would come after that, following the last one into
the comforting embrace of oblivion to put an end to the evil forever.

His dark brooding was interrupted by a subconscious nudge, the faintest of
gestures from his left hand. With as long as it had been a part of him, he
still had yet to truly decide what it was. Symbiont? Parasite? In any case,
it was trying to get his attention for some reason, and after what had just
happened recently, he wasn't about to start ignoring it yet.

He looked up and glanced around the terrain, making note of the desolate
condition of the arid land. A pair of pumping stations were visible on the
horizon, which meant that a town or at least a house was nearby. The trail he
was on didn't appear to be used, save for a single pair of vehicle tracks that
led in the opposite direction. Other than what might have been an ordinary
dust-devil a few hundred yards away, there was nothing around him.

He was starting to wonder what that thing had bothered him for when she
started to lean back against him. It was a curious gesture in his view, one
that he wasn't exactly prepared to deal with. Being in physical contact with
humans was hardly new, and there had been the rare instance in which such a
touch had been more than casual, but something in the back of his mind warned
him that Leila didn't seem to be the kind to indulge in such things.

She pressed back harder against him, sending a slight chill creeping down
his spine. He subconsciously let the reins go slack, absently using his knees
to keep the horse on a relatively straight path. Feeling uncomfortable with
the situation more than anything, he started to draw in a breath to ask her if
anything was wrong.

When she began to tilt to one side, it became obvious that something was
indeed quite wrong. He let go of the reins and brought his arms up, holding
her steady as she went limp. A very soft snarl rose up from his throat as he
realized that she had slipped into unconsciousness. He figured that it was
most likely from sheer exhaustion, but he couldn't rule out that would on her
shoulder she had received days ago.

"Leila!" he said, quietly but in a firm voice. "Wake up!"

((D?)) a voice seemed to echo, more in his mind than in his ears. ((She's
out like a cheap light. Exhaustion, poor girl. Heh, I guess they just don't
make humans like they used to,)) it added in a distinctly amused tone. ((Time to
find a place to leave her, eh? Or is that not what you were going to do at the
first polite opportunity?))

He sighed very quietly as he looked around, pondering his options. The
town was still at least an hour's ride down the road, and he wasn't sure if he
wanted to risk it. Even though he hadn't offered her the ride, he nonetheless
considered her to be his guest for the moment and was thus due his protection.
He intended to part ways once they reached the town, but he still had to get
her there first. Preferably alive.

((D? It gets better,)) the voice warned. ((Look behind you.))

Suppressing the sudden urge to draw his sword, he cast a glance over his
shoulder to see what it was talking about. "How bad is it?" he asked softly,
studying the haze of what looked to be a sizable storm brewing not too far in
the distance behind them. Already he could see the winds whipping the dry dust
up into a frenzy, creating a sort of sandstorm that blotted out the landscape.

((I don't want to be in it, put it like that,)) it replied tartly. ((You
might want to look for a place for us to bunker down, this feels like it's a
really nasty one. What's up ahead? Right around that rock formation....))

A second look down the road revealed the edge of a building, most likely
a farmhouse or a barn. Even if it was a simple toolshed, it would probably be
enough shelter for their needs. Or at least keep her out of the worst of the
storm. He wasn't worried about himself, as being a dunpeal meant that he could
withstand a lot of physical abuse before succumbing, and he certainly wasn't
going to be consigned to the grave by a mere sandstorm.

"Let's go," he said simply as he picked up the reins with his left hand,
using the other to keep Leila upright in the saddle as best he could.

((Heh,)) it laughed softly, almost mockingly. ((Time to play the hero once
more and protect our damsel in distress, eh? Some dunpeals get all the luck,
or at least all the blondes. Admit it, she's cute, even by your standards. I
wonder if she'll reward you like the last blonde you rescued...? !!!))

He quickly wrapped the reins around his hands and yanked hard, ignoring
the pain as the taut leather bit deeply into his skin. The strangled screams
made by the thing that had taken up residence in his hand echoed in his ears
long after its voice fell silent. The sound, however loud it was, wasn't as
loud as the sound of his own soul crying out at the sudden memories.

Memories of another young woman he had the chance to meet, so long ago.
Memories of fighting to defend her, to protect her against an elder vampire.
And when the threat had abated and it was just the two of them, the memories
of how she.... no, of how they.... no, not now.

He shook his head to clear his senses and to refocus on the current task
at hand. Leila was unconscious and there was the equivalent of a sandstorm
right behind him, drawing closer with every passing moment. He had to find
shelter first, as without that he would have little chance at reviving her.

Gripping the reins even tighter, D set off down the road as fast as he
dared. Had anyone put a mirror in front of him, the look of grim resolve and
determination in his eyes would have frightened even him.


Lady Luck, for what little he believed of her, seemed to be on his side
for once in what felt like a very long time. The structure he had seen from
around a rock formation on the road turned out to be a small ranch house of
sorts, a modest estate that boasted a sturdy barn and a small guest cabin in
addition to the main house. The owner had been in the process of putting his
own horses in the barn when D rode up. A perfunctory greeting of respect, a
gesture to the unconscious woman in his arms, and a second gesture over his
shoulder towards the approaching storm was all that was required to be given
permission to take shelter in the cabin.

Tying his mount to a post for the moment, D quickly carried Leila inside
the cabin. There wasn't a whole lot to it, basically consisting of a single
room with a pair of what appeared to be closets on either side. Fortunately
for his peace of mind, there were two beds on opposite sides of the cabin.
They looked like they had seen better days, but he truly didn't care as long as
they were clean and were softer than the ground.

He could already hear the first gusts of wind stirring around the cabin as
he laid her on one of the beds, absently fluffing up the pillow. A quick check
of her pulse reassured him that her heart was beating steadily and a simple tug
on her form-fitting top confirmed that the fabric was still dry, meaning her
shoulder wound hadn't started to bleed again.

Satisfied with her condition for the moment, he turned around and headed
back outside to tend to his horse. It snorted with unease as he untied it, no
doubt keenly aware of the approaching storm. He patted it gently to try to
reassure it as he led it into the barn, putting it into an empty stall and
securing it in place.

He returned to the barn entrance, a slight frown crossing his face as he
noticed just how quickly the storm was intensifying. He wasn't entirely sure
if this was a natural storm or an unnatural one, perhaps caused by the great
outpouring of bound energy he had unleashed when Carmilla's spirit was cast
into the abyss of oblivion.

He looked up as he caught motion off to his side, the owner apparently
making his way over to the barn. He stopped when D made a gesture, trying to
indicate that he could secure the barn since he was already there. The old man
nodded his thanks and darted back inside the house, leaving D to handle the
task of shutting the massive barn doors.

Heavy as they were and now fighting against the wind, closing them was an
almost trivial task given his strength. An odd thought crossed his mind as he
heaved the second door shut, idly wondering if he had gotten stronger as the
centuries passed, and if so, just how much of that was truly him and how much
was due to that thing's presence.

((Ooof,)) it protested as he pressed both hands flat against the door and
gave it a final shove, locking them into place. A simple flick of his wrist
secured a bolt, and another gesture triggered the locking mechanism. ((Well,
glad we got that taken care of. Bad enough we lost one horse in this little
adventure, we really would be in a bad way if we lost this one as well. Not to
talk bad about your current mount, D, but I do miss that other one. Hey, the
old man is back, behind you....))

D turned around in time to see the rancher approach him, one hand trying
to keep his straw-brimmed hat in place against the wind and the other holding
a large bundle. "Your barn is secure," he told the old man as soon as he got
close enough to be heard without shouting over the wind.

"Thanks," the rancher said as he held out the package to D. "Here, this
should help your lady friend. You best stay inside the cabin until this one
blows over, it's the season for such storms and they're not kind if you get
caught in the open."

"Thank you," D replied automatically. He accepted the package and went to
reach for the small pouch of coins on his belt. He paused and looked up as the
old man suddenly grabbed his arm, shaking his head slowly.

"There's no need for payment," he said in a quiet voice that was almost
lost to the wind. "I know who you are, vampire-hunter, and I remember what you
did for the best friend I've ever had in my life. You just watch out for your
friend and make sure she's alright. The water and sewer pipes work just fine,
and there should be enough supplies in there to last awhile. See you once this
storm breaks."

D simply nodded, knowing that there wasn't anything one could truly say in
response to such sentimental moments. They parted ways and head off, D to the
relative sanctity of the guest cabin and the old man back to his house. It
seemed that a great gust of wind sliced past him just as he slipped inside the
wooden structure, forcing him to turn his head away from the razor-sharp spray
of sand. The door closed rather solidly a moment later, and it seems, not a
moment too soon.

He stood just inside the entranceway, pausing to listen to the fury that
was starting to rage outside. It was stronger than he had anticipated, the
wind whipping up into a very low monotone howl that seemed to hover just at the
edges of his hearing. It was not a very pleasant sound to listen to.

((D?)) it asked in a very quiet voice, not sure if Leila was awake or not.

D ignored it for the moment and set about dusting off his hat and cape as
quickly as possible. A few random shakes produced a sizable pile of sand and
dirt, making him idly wonder just how much of it was in his boots by now. He
would accept a shower if one was available, but now was not the time. First he
had to make absolutely sure Leila was alright....

((D, listen to me,)) it said quietly, the voice taking on a slight hint of
urgency. ((I don't think you've figured out what you've gotten yourself into
this time....))

He cast a quick glance at Leila before sighing quietly. "What is it?" he
asked simply, glancing down at the palm of his left hand. It had gotten more
skillful at disguising itself over the years, these days appearing to be little
more than a profusion of unusually deep wrinkles in his skin. Those wrinkles
were parted now, revealing a pair of featureless eyes and a rather large mouth.

((We're going to be here for at least a couple of days,)) it warned him, one
eye quirking up as if a non-existent eyebrow were being raised. ((Not to be a
ninny, but you're closer to another collapse than you want to admit. I know
you, D, even after that dirt nap you took in the forest earlier, you've still
spent too much time in the sun lately. Unless you want to wind up in a ditch
again, you need to rest as long as possible while you're here.))

D just looked at it in silence for a number of moments. "Agreed," he
finally said.

((A little recharge wouldn't hurt, either,)) it said, appearing to choose
its words with extreme care and delicacy. Its attempt at tact did little to
stave off D's reaction at the notion, making a very tight fist that made his
knuckles as white as sun-bleached bones. ((Ow, D! Listen to me...!))

"One more word and you will regret it," D said calmly, casting a truly
dark look at the thing. The dark part of him knew it was right, of course, but
the human part of him, the part he struggled for so long to purify and make
stronger, shuddered at the thought. Maybe when the need became too much to
ignore he'd go find another deer to feed from, but until then....

A very soft moan drew his attention away from his dark thoughts, looking
up to find Leila's face twitching gently. He quickly set the package down,
looking around the room to assess his options. A small refrigerator and oven
unit were tucked away in one corner, along with a small cupboard containing a
number of glasses. It was a simple matter to fetch a glass of cool water to
take over to her, carefully approaching the bed without getting too close.

"Leila," he called out to her in a gentle tone.

Her eyelids seemed to part with agonizing slowness, finally opening wide
enough to reveal a glazed pair of blue eyes. He carefully waved the cup back
and forth to get her attention, nodding absently to himself when she blinked
and seemed to focus.

"Wh...?" she seemed to wheeze, her breath rasping in her throat.

"You passed out," he said simply as he moved forward, just far enough to
gently take her hand and press the cup of water into it.

"What?" she moaned as she struggled to sit up, almost spilling the water
everywhere. She blinked as she realized what she was holding, bringing it up
for a closer look. She sniffed at it carefully before seeming to inhale it in
a single motion, greedily drinking down the water to quench the burning fire in
her throat. "Thanks," she rasped, giving him a grateful look.

D said nothing as he edged back and stood up, turning towards the window
set into the far wall. He pushed the curtains off to one side, revealing the
raging sandstorm outside. He stared impassively into it, part of him unable to
tear himself away from the sight of the swirling chaos outside. He found that
he could make out individual grains of sand if he changed his focus at just the
right speed, catching a glimpse of a particle suspended in time for literally
the blink of an eye before it once again became a shapeless blur to paint the
horizon with uniform bleakness.

He heard a soft squeaking noise of protest from the bed as Leila moved
into a sitting position, glancing over to his left just enough to make out a
faint reflection in the pane of glass. Blurred as the image was, he could
still make out the blueness of her eyes as she looked around the cabin, one
hand pressed against the side of her head.

"D, what happened?" she asked aloud, her voice still slightly raw. "And
where the hell are we?"

"You passed out from exhaustion," he said quietly, returning his focus to
the storm outside the window. "It would have been too dangerous to try to take
you all the way to the town. We're on a small ranch, where the owner was kind
enough to let us use his guest cabin until the storm blew over."

"Bah," she grunted as she tried to rise to her feet. "What storm? Oh,"
she added as she glanced out the window, her eyes widening slightly. "Damn,
that looks like a nasty bastard. So how long until it ends? D?" she verbally
prodded him when she received no immediate reply.

"A day at least," he said impassively. "Probably two or three."

Leila frowned as she looked at him, trying to get a feel for the overall
situation. "So we're stuck here together, right?" she asked, her tone taking
on a faint edge.

He cast a sidelong glance at her for a brief instant before looking back
out at the airborne sea of sand. "So it seems," he replied quietly.

"Great," she grumbled quietly, looking around the small cabin. "Not the
most cozy of places to end up, but it sure beats a case of windburn. What's
that?" she added, making a casual gesture to the package.

D turned around to see what she was talking about. "The rancher gave it
to me," he explained calmly. "He said it should help you."

She paused and turned to regard him carefully. "So what's in it?" she
asked pointedly.

"I haven't checked," he replied simply before he once again returned his
attention to the storm outside.

She gave him an irritated look before she moved to take a closer look at
the package. She pulled her knife from her belt and ran the tip along the edge
of the package, neatly slicing it open. "Huh," she said loudly as she quickly
sorted through the contents. "Some gauze and antiseptic, a bar of what looks
to be home-made soap.... what is this stuff? Oh, detergent, and a washboard.
I haven't seen one of these in years," she chuckled to herself as she pulled
out the rather old and obviously well-used antique washboard. "At least we can
try getting all the blood-stains out of our clothes.... Damn," she added a
moment later. "All my clothes are back in the tank, dammit. Oh, hey, what's
this thing? Whoops...."

D shifted his focus again at the sudden shift in her voice tone, using the
glass as a sort of mirror to see what was going on. She was standing in front
of the open package holding some sort of pale blue fabric. It took him a few
moments to realize that it was a nightgown of sorts, and if the reflection was
accurate, a rather sheer one at that.

"Anyway," she said quickly as she finished poking through the package.
"Mmmmph. Let's hope these belong to his wife," she muttered as she held up a
pair of clean panties before tossing them back into the package. She paused as
she realized she missed something, reaching back inside to pull out a pair of
ordinary dull-gray boxer shorts. "Yeeech," she said sourly as she tossed them
back inside, casting a quick glance at D's back. "Well, at least we've got our
asses covered for a day or two. So, what else is in here?" she asked the room
in general as she began to explore the small cabin.

D did his best to tune out her casual prattle, knowing that if he had to
put up with it the entire time they were trapped together, it was going to be
a very long experience. He thought he understood the human need for company,
to interact with others and be acknowledged, but that still didn't make it any
easier for him. He far preferred solitude, kept company only by his own quiet
thoughts and the transient sounds as he traveled from one region to the next
in search of vampires.

A faint twitch in his hand reminded him of its presence, adding another
layer of depressive gloom to his mood. At least he was used to dealing with
that thing, for the most part. He would readily admit that it had been more
than useful lately, able to see and sense things that he could not. That it
could absorb a great deal of evil without harm, far more than D himself could
cope with, also helped make it worth keeping around despite the grief it gave
him on a regular basis.

"You've got to be kidding me," Leila moaned behind him, causing him to
turn around. She was standing in front of one of the closet doors, only it
wasn't a closet per se but actually a toilet. A very cramped toilet, barely
big enough for the commode itself, let alone any space for an occupant to use
it in comfort. "Well, at least there's toilet paper," she muttered sourly as
she turned around to check the other unknown door.

The other door housed a shower stall, being about as large as the toilet
in terms of available floor space. It wouldn't be an overly comfortable fit,
and it was guaranteed to drive a claustrophobic over the edge, but like the
toilet it appeared to be fully functional if you didn't mind not being able to
stretch your arms out.

"Okay...." she said slowly, clearly nonplussed at the discovery. "Tell me
we at least have some hot water running to this thing."

"Check the sink," D suggested without turning around.

"Thanks, D," she replied sarcastically as she headed over to the tiny
basin wedged in the corner between the refrigerator and the bathroom wall. A
simple twist of a spigot produced a steady stream of water, and it was only a
matter of seconds before wafts of steam began to drift up from the basin.

"That'll work," she cooed to herself, looking around to see if she could
find a towel or two. A few minutes of casual rummaging through every small
cabinet she could find finally resulted in a small stack of clean sheets and
towels being discovered in the cupboard's top-most shelf. "You know, maybe
this place isn't so bad after all. A little cramped for my tastes, but I guess
I could get used to it. D, is there something out there?" she added, casting
a slightly suspicious look at his back.

She waited for an answer, sighing quietly to herself when she only got
silence in response. "Some company you are," she muttered as she reassessed
her situation. A great number of aches and pains had taken up residence in her
joints, and she still was feeling a touch light-headed from earlier. A hot
shower would probably do wonders for her, both in body and mind, but first she
had to find a way into the shower without embarrassing herself....

The shower door swung outward, providing a bit of a partition that she
could use to undress. There simply wasn't enough space inside the shower stall
itself to do so, at least not without adding a few bumps and bruises to her
already painful collection. Sighing quietly, she grabbed the largest towel she
could find and started to edge behind the open door as best she could.

"D?" she called out loudly, making sure she heard him. "I'm going to go
take a shower, okay? And I've got my knife with me, so don't even think of
trying anything funny," she warned him in an edged tone.

He turned around to look at her, his usually impassive face seeming to say
to her, 'give me a break'. He quietly stared into her eyes in silence before
he nodded to her, turning his back to her again and looking out into the raging
sandstorm once more. He simply ignored the low monotone grumble from her as
she began to get undressed, pausing for a moment to set aside the heavy energy
pistol that she had kept strapped to her hip.

The sound of the shower starting up could be heard a moment later as she
resumed undressing, quite obviously waiting for it to warm up before stepping
inside. Even with his attention focused on the outside and not on the blurred
reflection of the glass, he caught a glimpse of her blue eyes taking one final
peek around the door before she stepped inside and firmly closed the door.

((D?)) it spoke up in a very quiet tone. ((Let me see what's going on.)) D
sighed quietly before he raised his left hand, lightly resting his fingertips
against the glass. ((Nasty bastard indeed,)) it mused quietly after several
moments of studious silence. ((Be glad you didn't try to make it to the town,
I don't think any of us would have made it. Not in this storm. Whew....))

D said nothing as he continued to stare out into the storm. He wasn't
exactly sure why he found it so fascinating all of a sudden. Granted he had
seen his fair share of such storms, indeed almost becoming buried alive once
ages ago by a freak storm that had taken him by surprise, but there was just
something so captivating about this particular storm. He just stared at it,
absently trying to track the movement of individual grains of sand as they blew
past him at a terrifying speed.

((D, I want you to listen to me,)) it spoke up. ((I know you don't like me
too well, and I know you've been tempted to cut me off on occasion for saying
things you'd rather not hear, but I'm willing to risk it this time. I just
want five minutes of your time, that's all. Five minutes and I'll shut up.))

He glanced down at the back of his hand, wondering just what exactly it
wanted to tell him. It had no shortage of advice to offer on everything he had
encountered, some of it even worthwhile enough to listen to, but most of what
it said tended to be for its own amusement. The tone it was taking this time,
however, was decidedly unusual. For once, it sounded.... sincere.

"Very well," he said in a low tone. "Five minutes."

He could almost see the window fogging up as it let out a breath, only to
draw in a deeper one. ((Thanks. Look, I'm just going to get to the point with
this, okay? Leila is hurt, big time. Not so much in a physical sense, her
shoulder aside, but in an emotional one. She's a human, of course, and humans
are emotionally fragile creatures. Think.... she just witnessed the brutal
slaying of the Markus brothers, her friends and comrades-in-arms, and watched
the travesty of Charlotte's love for Meier Link play out to a very bittersweet
end. It's enough to sour her taste for vengeance, and you need to help her let
it all go.))

D simply nodded in understanding, having seen most of that himself and
far, far worse during the course of his existence. Feeling the powerful tug of
unknown emotions ripping at him after listening to Charlotte's final words to
Meier, he could only imagine what it had done to someone like Leila.

((First and foremost, you need to be very, very, very careful with her
tonight. I'll bet you anything that she's going to have a nightmare when she
finally goes to sleep, and it'll probably be a violent one at that. I'd ask
her to do something about that pistol of hers so you don't wind up with a large
waffle-sized hole in your chest simply because she woke up in a panic and you
were the first target she saw.))

A soft grunt rose up from the dunpeal's chest, knowing that it was not
making an idle remark about the probabilities of that event. "Go on," he said
in a calm tone.

((I'll be honest, I'm not much of an expert at human psychology,)) it said
in a warning tone. ((But I know this much.... once the anger leaves her, she'll
feel cold and empty inside. She will need something to fill the void. You
know.... like what happened to Doris. WAIT!)) it yelled as D balled his hand
into a tight fist. ((Dammit, D, I'm not being mean, you know as well as I do
that when you helped Doris, you helped yourself! LISTEN!))

It took a great effort for D to get his emotions under control and relax
his grip on the open air. He glanced up at the window, taking a step back as
he caught sight of his own reflection. He breathed through his nose until he
was sure that he had calmed back down enough to regain his normally stoic

((D,)) it said quietly, ((Just listen. You're half-human, and you know it.
You don't like dealing with your human emotions, but that's just the way you
are. Just as you can't draw on the strength of your father's blood to fight
people like Meier Link and Carmilla without incurring a cost that can only be
paid in blood, you can't draw upon the warmth and compassion of your mother's
blood to bring comfort to others without needing some of that repaid in kind.
Deny what you will, you have the needs of both, maybe not as strong a need as
either but you have them nonetheless.

((I know what Doris meant to you. D, listen....)) it pleaded as his hand
began to tighten of its own accord. ((I know why she meant so much to you.
It's because she helped you satisfy your needs as a human, and in a way that
can only be given willingly from the human heart. Are you listening?))

"That's enough," D said, his voice barely more than a whisper.

((You need to get this into your head,)) it persisted. ((You can't bring
emotional comfort to Leila unless you open yourself to her, and that is what
you have to do if you truly want to help her. She's standing at a crossroads
in her life, D, she needs to be shown what its like to have human emotions in
her heart instead of only the bitter ashes of vengeance. You can show it to
her because you've done it before, and it didn't kill you to do it! No, it
actually made you stronger inside, D! How many times have your memories of
Doris kept you going in dark hours?))

"Enough!" he hissed through clenched teeth. He could feel himself on the
edge of truly losing control, of letting his vampiric nature show itself as it
had when he had confronted Carmilla's full power.

((Just think about it,)) it said in a very quiet voice. ((It's too soon for
either of you. Let her get past her anger first, D, then see if you can truly
help her make something of her life. And don't forget the gun.))

He exhaled slowly as he stood up straight, casting a glance behind him at
the pile of clothes next to the shower door. The silver-barreled gun was still
in its holster, lying atop the dark red fabric of her jumpsuit. He was giving
very serious consideration to walking over to see if he could try to disable
the firing pin or at least drain the charging unit when the door swung open.
Sighing quietly, he turned back around to stare out into the storm, trying to
empty his mind of the myriad of dark and heavy thoughts that suddenly filled
what was left of his soul.

He well and truly wasn't trying to watch her, but the eye was naturally
drawn to subtle movements just outside its focus. He was able to make out the
blueness of her eyes as she peeked around the corner, obviously trying to see
if he was going to 'try something funny' while she dried herself off.

His mind's eye suddenly flashed back to the last time he had been in a
situation like this. Doris had just come out of the shower, her body still
dripping water when she came to him, asking if he could turn away from his path
in life to be with her. She had approached him, held him, even offered herself
to him as the robe parted, telling him in all her naked glory that she was in
love with him....

Leila paused in mid-rub as she could almost physically sense a change in
D's mood. His back was still to her, still standing in the same place he had
been in when she went in to the cramped shower, but something seemed different
all of a sudden. He was still staring out at God-knows-what in the storm, but
the look in the reflection of his eyes....

"D?" she called out to him, one hand straying down to her hip by sheer
reflex. She paused as she remembered that she wasn't wearing anything, save
for the webbed holster for her knife strapped to her otherwise bare thigh which
really didn't count as clothing. She quickly edged back behind the door as far
as she could manage, still studying him carefully. "Hey, you alright?"

His head turned slightly to one side, just enough to let him look at her
through the slightly distorted reflection of the window. Aw, shit, I forgot
about that! she fumed to herself, feeling a dark blush rise up to her cheeks.
She knew he had seen her breasts earlier when he had bandaged her shoulder a
number of days ago, but the mere thought of possibly being seen naked while
changing was still more than enough to embarrass her.

"I'm fine," he replied in a monotone as he looked back out at the storm.

She paused again at his tone, a sort of sixth-sense telling her that he
really wasn't as fine as he claimed to be. "You sure about that?" she said as
she absently resumed drying off. She cast a quick glance at both her clothes
and the contents of the package, privately wondering just how she was going to
handle this one.

"Just tired, that's all," he replied truthfully.

She nodded in understanding, knowing that she was pretty worn out from the
whole ordeal and that he had probably gone through far more than she did. She
cast a quick glance at her clothes again and made a snap-decision. "Well, the
shower is yours if you want," she said, making sure to wrap the towel around
herself as tightly as possible. "And I don't think hot water is going to be a

He glanced at her through the reflection for a moment. "Thank you," he
said simply. He showed no signs of moving, however, making her start to wonder
just what exactly the problem was.

She scowled at his back as she knelt down to scoop up her clothes, taking
them over to the sink and dumping all but her pistol holster inside. She put
the stopper in the drain and began to fill it up with warm water, keeping one
eye on him and one hand on the edge of her towel as she gathered the washboard
and laundry detergent together.

"Hey," she called out to him, causing him to glance at her through the
reflection again. "I'm going to try to do some quick laundry scrubbing. If
you want your stuff cleaned while I've got this all set up, you might as well
pass it over now. Dunno about that hat, but I think your cape has seen better
days," she added archly.

She waited to see some sort of reaction to her offer, a nod, a twitch, a
simple gesture, anything. The expression on her face darkened even further as
he seemed to be ignoring her, staring out at the damned storm for some reason.
"D," she said sharply, causing him to physically turn around to look at her.

She raised a hand and pointed to the shower stall. "Let me try it like
this," she growled. "We just went through hell, and I could smell us both on
the road back there. If I have to spend a few days cooped up in this tiny-ass
cabin, that's fine, I can handle that.... but not if you reek. Now either go
take a shower or I throw you outside. Your choice."

His only immediate reaction was a slight raising of one eyebrow, giving
her a look that might have been faint amusement. He very slowly reached up to
grab the sword that hung from his back, causing her to tense up. She relaxed
a moment later when he removed the scabbard and set it next to the bed on the
right, taking off his hat to hang it on the hilt.

She watched patiently as his boots came off next, both of them making a
slight face at the amount of sand and dirt that slid out onto the floor. There
was a similar pile of dirt next to her own boots, but it wasn't nearly as bad
as the mess D was making. A sudden surge of heat beneath her fingertips told
her that the basin was not only filled but close to overflowing by now, causing
her to scramble to turn off the faucet.

She had to reach in to loosen the stopper for a few moments, allowing just
enough water to drain out to avoid a flooding hazard. She looked up just in
time to catch him removing his cape, blinking hard as she realized that he was
wearing some sort of compact body armor. The design was in her opinion nothing
short of genius in the way it flawlessly blended in with the rest of his dark
clothing. Damn, I'd like to get a suit of armor like that, she thought as she
watched him set it on the floor next to his sword.

Her eyes became slightly wide as she watched him methodically strip down
to the waist, removing all sorts of small bags, pouches, tools, and jewelry she
hadn't noticed before. Where the hell did he keep all that? she wondered as he
removed his knife belt and set it aside. That one had been rather obvious, as
was the pouch that he kept his money in, but everything else....

She snapped out of her idle reverie as she felt the weight of his gaze on
her, looking up to find herself on the receiving end of a rather intense look.
She felt the heat rising to her face as she looked away, suddenly realizing
that she had been staring at him as he undressed. She busied herself with the
basin of warm water, stirring in half of the detergent flakes to try to start
the soaking process while actively avoiding that penetrating gaze of his.

"Thank you," D said softly, apparently from right behind her shoulder as
he held out a neatly folded bundle consisting of his cape and tunic.

She nearly hit the ceiling in shock, completely unaware that he had moved
across the room. As it was, she was unable to prevent herself from whipping
around in a blur, one hand grasping her knife and drawing it upward....

His hand snagged her wrist just as it started to come up, his eyes boring
into hers as the combat reflex passed. Her eyes widened dangerously as she
realized what had happened, trying to take a quick step back to put some space
between her and the mysterious vampire-hunter.

"D!" she gasped as she tugged her wrist free from him, quickly putting her
knife back in its sheath. "Damn it, don't DO that! Christ...." she panted
as she discreetly tugged the edge of the towel back over her leg, which she had
rather thoroughly bared when grabbing the knife.

He said nothing as he set his bundle of dirty clothes down on top of the
stove, exchanging them for the clean towel that had been left out. He turned
to head towards the shower when she called out to him quietly, causing him to
stop and cast a guarded glance over his shoulder.

"D, I'm sorry about that," she apologized quietly. "I guess I'm still a
little keyed up from earlier."

"Don't worry about it," he replied calmly. "You have good reflexes," he
added, his tone changing ever so slightly as if he might have considered trying
to tease her about it.

"Thanks," she said, not knowing what else to say. She paused as a thought
came to mind and she turned around, reaching for the open package. "Oh, umm,
one more thing," she said, talking over her shoulder without turning around to
face him. "You might as well fork over everything so I can get this done all
at once. Here," she added, holding up the pair of boxers while keeping her
eyes firmly on the wall in front of her.

It seemed that an eternity passed before she heard a very soft grunt of
what might have been amusement, followed by the muted sound of a zipper. It
was all she could do to keep her focus on the wall, trying to see if she could
spot any seams or chips in whatever it was that had turned it a dull tan color.
A pair of carefully folded ink-black pants were added to the pile of somewhat
dusty and equally dark clothes. The boxers were gently taken from her hand,
and shortly afterward what could only be a pair of underwear joined the top of
the dirty laundry pile.

Black, of course.

That almost prompted a giggle from her as she heard him pad over to the
shower stall. She heard the door start to creak close, and unable to resist
she cast a quick glance over her shoulder....

....and found D looking right back at her, the towel wrapped around his
waist and a faintly reproving look in his eye. The door was solidly shut an
instant later, leaving her standing in front of the sink with a truly heinous
blush rising to her cheeks.

"Damn it," she muttered to herself, feeling her blush only get worse as
she thought about what he might be thinking right now. "How the hell did I
end up in this situation? And I thought trying to deal with vampires was a
rough situation? Damn...."


There was a partial truth to the legend that running water is harmful to
vampires. Crossing it doesn't bother them in the least, and it's only a full
immersion in a large body of flowing water that proves to be problematic. Of
course, it's not the water per se that harms them, but the fact that a vampire
can't breathe while being held under that tends to prove fatal. Aside from
that little detail, vampires enjoyed hot showers just as much as humans did.

D leaned forward to rest against the wall as best he could, bent slightly
at the waist as he did absolutely nothing except savor the warmth as it flowed
over his body. A life spent in constant travel and combat meant that heated
showers were few and far between, rare luxuries that were thoroughly savored
whenever the opportunity arose.

((D, you mind?)) it spoke up in a distinctly relaxed and patient tone. He
lowered his left arm to his side, allowing the heated spray of water to flow
across his shoulder and run down the length of his arm. ((Ahhhhhh,)) it sighed
as it relaxed in the surge of heat. ((Oh, now this is what I call a well-earned
reward. Hey, just take your time, I'm in no hurry.))

He of course had every intention of doing just that, at least for a few
minutes. For once in a very long time, he felt that he could relax his guard
for the most part, knowing that in the extremely unlikely event that anything
tried to enter the cabin, Leila would deal with it. Or at least buy him enough
time to get out of the shower and grab his sword....

((Umm, D?)) it ventured. ((Can you do me a favor and put me up to the shower
head for a moment? Between absorbing that shadow-prison and dealing with that
vampire spirit of Carmilla's, I've got a lingering aftertaste that I would like
to try to rinse out.))

D sighed quietly to himself, reluctant to block out even part of the hot
water for a few brief moments. He raised his arm nonetheless, bringing his
left palm to within a few inches of where the cone of water was blasting forth
with a rather strong amount of pressure.

He could feel it in his arm when the thing opened its mouth, literally
inhaling the entire stream of water. The intake lasted for a few agonizing
seconds before it stopped, letting the heated water rain down on his body once
more. An odd current seemed to ripple inside his arm as it made a sort of
swishing sound before it began to choke.

Frowning, D knelt down as best he could, holding his hand as close to the
tiny floor drain as possible. He blinked in surprise when a torrent of water
as black as the night itself was sprayed out from his palm, swirling down the
drain like so much liquid ink.

((Bllleeeerrrrrgh,)) it coughed. ((Erk, that was some nasty stuff. Mind
if I try this one again? Yuck, and me without any mints....)) The process was
repeated twice more before the third expulsion of tainted water was markedly
clearer than the first two had been, prompting a quiet belch and a soft sigh
from the thing.

((Thank you, D,)) it said. ((That shadow-spell had actually tasted pretty
good the first time around, but I think absorbing some of Carmilla's poisonous
nature ruined it for me. Now I know what your father put up with,)) it added
with a very subtle shiver.

D said nothing as he reached for the bar of home-made soap Leila had left
in the tiny soap tray. The soap itself was low-quality but it was still soap,
which he began to work through his shoulder-length hair in an attempt to get
all the dirt and trail-dust out.

He lost track of time as he thoroughly washed himself, not sure when the
next opportunity to do so would arise. Oh, there would be dips in rivers and
the like, and he usually made no effort to keep out of the rain whenever it
decided to fall on him, but none of those things would ever come even close to
the sense of cleanliness one felt after a proper shower.

Eventually he decided that he was finished both scrubbing and soaking, and
that further time spent in the shower would only cause his skin to wrinkle up
as it absorbed water. A simple twist of the pair of knobs ended the heated
indoor rain, allowing him to stand motionless to drip-dry for a few minutes.

Drip... drip... drip.... The sound seemed to echo unusually loud in his
head as he listened to the steady mantra. He paused to think about why it was
bothering him so much, why it sounded so.... familiar....

D? her voice had called out as she left the shower. The robe had already
been tied shut at that point, but she had left her hair unbound and it was from
her hair that the stray droplets fell. Are you here? she wondered. D...?

He shook his head as hard as he could, trying to dispel the sound of her
voice and return the memories to the past where they belonged. His violent
motions sent his hair whipping back and forth behind him, slapping against the
walls to sound like a thousand tiny whips working in a discordant chorus.

((Hey, hey, hey!)) it protested as it too was shaken around by his sudden,
almost visceral reaction. ((D, settle down! What the hell's with you all of a
sudden? Easy or you'll give yourself whiplash....))

A deep grunt rose up from his chest as the sound of its voice brought him
back to his senses. He reached up with his right hand, squeezing the last bit
of water out of his hair before tossing it back over his shoulder. He know why
he was becoming haunted once more by his memories of her, to say nothing of
what it would try to do to his dreams.

He doubted that the comforts of sleep would be anything but comforting for
him tonight. More so since he wouldn't be alone, and he hadn't had to put up
with sleeping in the same room with someone else in quite some time. Again he
counted himself fortunate that there were two beds in the cabin, so that he
wouldn't be forced to sleep on the floor. There might have been a theoretical
second option, but he hadn't allowed himself to do that since....

((D?)) it asked as it sensed a rapidly darkening mood. ((What's on your mind
all of a sudden? I know you have mood swings every so often, but they tend to
go from dark to darker and back again, nothing like this. Don't tell me you're
still upset over Charlotte being in love with Meier Link....))

"It's nothing," D replied quietly as he started to wipe the worst of the
water off of his body.

((Come on, D,)) it prodded him. ((Admit it, you're still bothered by the
notion that Charlotte loved Meier and that she just might have gone on to give
birth to their love-child, another dunpeal just like yourself....))

The voice fell silent as D raised his hand his face, staring hard into its
wrinkled features. "But that won't be happening, will it?" he said flatly.

((But it's the thought that counts, isn't it?)) it replied with what might
have been a smirk. The look was promptly removed from what passed for its face
as D reached out to grab the towel hanging on the inside doorknob. ((Hey, now
D, don't go getting all.... OW, HEY!))

He ignored the steady stream of protests as he began to dry himself off as
briskly as he could manage given the close confines of the shower. There were
indeed days in which he was ready to take his sword to his own flesh, to excise
that thing from his hand and be freed from it once and for all. The impulses
usually went away after a few moments as he reminded himself of all the times
in which it had not only helped him directly but unequivocally saved his life
from various gruesome demises.

The motion of his hands started to slow, then cease entirely as something
tickled the back of his mind. It wasn't the half-audible, half-mental call of
the thing in his hand, nor was it the spiritual call of something trying to
reach him. It took him a moment to realize that it was his own subconscious
mind trying to warn him of something.

He remained perfectly still as he extended all of his senses outward, his
dunpeal nature able to pick up on things no human could. A few moments of deep
concentration revealed that he could still make out the low, constant monotone
howling of the wind outside. It was a very haunting sound, at just the right
pitch to avoid being both heard or felt as a vibration by normal humans. But
he wasn't anywhere near to being a normal life-form....

((D, what are you listening to?)) it asked as softly as it could manage.

What indeed? he asked himself, trying to tune out the muted ambient sounds
around him. He could hear an unsteady rasping sound, probably caused by Leila
running wet fabric over the washboard. He could hear the faint gurgle of water
in the drain beneath his feet, carrying it away into the sewer system. And he
could hear the howling call of the storm.

"The storm," he finally said, almost too softly to hear himself.

((What about it?)) it asked after a moment of concentration. ((Sounds rather
deep to me, but most heavy wind-driven storms do that. Resonance caused by it
screwing with the atmosphere. Not exactly my idea of a symphony of the night,
mind you, but it does have a sort of pleasing ring once you get used to it.))

Resonance, D thought slowly. He knew there was something about it he was
missing, but further concentration and focus produced no new insights into it.
He changed the focus of his hearing as he heard a new set of sounds, a pair of
rather light footsteps walking across the floor, shortly followed by the soft
squeaking of a mattress.

((Heh,)) it spoke up, its tone immediately making him wary of what it was
about to say next. ((Sounds like someone's all ready for bed, eh? What do you
think, D, time to wrap this up and call it a night as well? Granted it's only
a few hours past noon, but after the day we've had.... or was it two? Come to
think of it, just how long did we spend chasing after Meier Link's carriage?))

He said nothing as he finished drying off and wrapped the towel around his
waist, opening the door just enough to grab the pair of boxers he had left on
the floor. They weren't the most comfortable fit, apparently having been made
for someone with a slightly smaller waist, but they served their purpose well
enough for his needs. The color was less than ideal, but he didn't anticipate
having to fight in any dark areas garbed only in his borrowed undershorts.

The towel was kept wrapped around his waist as he stepped out of the tiny
shower, casting a reflexive look around to room to see what had changed. Both
his clothes and hers were hanging from a length of rope that had been tied to
both ends of the room, serving as a crude clothesline. The rest of the cabin
was essentially dark, only dimly illuminated by the meager amount of light that
managed to slip past both the heavy stormclouds and the closed curtain of the

Leila was in the bed on the left, curled up in a ball beneath the layers
of blankets. A look of weariness and exhaustion was plainly evident on her
face, but her gaze was still sharply focused as she watched him move over to
the other bed in eerie silence.

"I figured I could use a nap," she said quietly to him, casting a causal
glance at his well-toned body. "And if you don't mind me saying so, you look
like you could use some sleep yourself. I'm not about to tear a hole in the
floor to bury you in the ground again, however," she added archly.

He paused to cast a slightly unfriendly glance in her direction before he
untucked the sheets on his bed, still holding the edge of his towel in his left
hand. "Where's your pistol?" he asked quietly.

A look of suspicion immediately crossed her face. "Right where I can get
to it in an instant," she replied in a flat tone. "You don't exactly strike me
as the kind of dunpeal to take advantage of a woman in a situation like this,
but I'm not about to take any chances."

He didn't even pause in the slightest as he finished making the bed ready.
"Take the firing pin out," he said, his voice tone remaining steady.

"Now why would I want to do that?" she asked, her voice almost literally
dripping sarcasm. She blinked and edged back a fraction of an inch as his head
came up to look at her, his dark eyes seeming to bore straight into her soul.

"I have no wish to die because you woke up from a nightmare and thought I
was a threat to you," he replied in an emotionless tone. "I can try to rouse
you from a nightmare if you want, but not if it means risking bodily harm."

She looked at him in uncertain silence for a number of moments before she
looked away. "I'll think about it," she retorted. She paused and glanced back
over at him as he set the towel down next to his sword and slid into bed, able
to catch only a brief glimpse of his boxers in the process.

A faint blush sprang to her cheeks as she rolled over onto her other side,
turning her back to him. She was wearing the borrowed panties and nightgown,
neither one doing much to counter her feelings of being exposed and vulnerable.
The jumpsuit she had favored as of late wasn't much in terms of outright armor,
at least not compared to what he had been wearing earlier, but at least she was
comfortable wearing that.

The feeling of the knife sheath pressing against her thigh reminded her of
both its presence and D's request that she disable her pistol. Tucked under
her pillow for the moment, the heavy weapon brought her the most comfort in her
situation, knowing that if anything did happen she would be able to defend
herself. Not that she honestly believed he would try anything, but in times
like these, who could you really trust?

She could hear Kyle's words echoing inside her head, cautioning her how
'irresistibly cute' she was while wearing the jumpsuit, and that she needed to
be very careful lest she draw more attention than she would have liked. Now
there's a thought, she mused with a dark chuckle. I'd like to see someone be
able to turn D's head, even if only for a moment. That'd be a laugh....

The faint smile on her face slowly faded into a worried frown as she very
quickly slipped into an exhausted slumber, her conscious mind slowly giving way
to the whispering voices and memories of her subconscious. Just before she
entered the realm of dreams, her hand gently slipped beneath the pillow to her
pistol, absently twisting one of the pins back and locking it open.


"I have to do this to Dan sometimes," she had said quietly to him, her
fingers slowly running over his shoulderblades. He found it odd that her touch
could be so dangerously cold, yet so searingly warm at the same time. It was
that same unmistakable touch that tormented him now, reminding him of how her
touch had evolved into so much more that night.

He knew it was wrong, all wrong, that what happened was in the past, long
in the past, but still it played out in his mind with agonizing slowness. He
could feel his soul trying to claw its way out from inside the dream, trying to
escape the memories that had haunted him for so long before finally, mercifully
falling silent in his dreams.

A voice cut across his mind's eye like the blade of a knife, seeming to
flash with intolerable brilliance as it reflected the light. He bolted upright
before he even realized what it was, the room seemingly cast in a blue haze.
His vision cleared a moment later as he got the equivalent of a strangle-hold
on his darker side, flinging it back to the dark recesses of his mind to return
his teeth to normal and extinguish the blue glow from his eyes.

((D!)) it yelled at him, its voice filled with urgency. ((Wake up, we've got
a problem here!))

He immediately looked around the room, his hand already reaching out for
the hilt of his sword. He paused as he heard a very soft moan, one pitched low
enough that would have raised the hair on his arms if he had any.

"Leila," he whispered, his voice dry and hoarse for some reason.

((Tell me about it,)) it replied. ((She didn't waste any time in having a
nightmare, I'll tell you that. Sounds like a real soul-shredder, too. You'd
better do something about it and fast,)) it warned. ((And watch out for that
first wake-up reflex....))

"Leila!" he called out, trying to raise his voice. He could feel how his
throat was dangerously raw from dehydration, having forgotten to drink anything
before going to bed. He paused for several moments to try to remember when he
had drunk anything in the past two days, only to snap out of his introspection
as she moaned again.

He quickly got to his feet and crossed the room, ignoring the fact that he
was essentially wearing only a pair of somewhat tight shorts with a distinctly
loose fly. It was probably the only reason he disliked boxers, as it was not
a healthy idea to enter highly-energetic combat when you didn't have everything
of importance securely tied down or otherwise held firmly in place.

Deciding he had to risk it, he reached down to take hold of her wrist,
calling her name out again as loudly as he could. Her eyes snapped open the
instant his flesh touched hers, her pupils wide enough to almost completely
block out the vibrant blue color of her irises. Her gaze wasn't focused in the
least, however, and even with his enhanced reaction time he couldn't completely
follow what happened next.

Those glazed-over eyes darted in his direction, and in what had to be less
than a tenth of a second he found himself staring at the business end of her
heavy energy pistol. He leapt back as fast as he could, trying to twist to one
side so that the barrel was aimed at something other than an instant kill-zone.
His motions resulted in his left shoulder being in the line-of-fire when the
trigger was pulled, igniting a spark of energy deep inside the barrel.

Time seemed to come to a halt as the heavy clicking sound echoed in the
still air. It hung there like a veil of fog before fading away into a silence
so perfect that D could clearly make out both their heartbeats, thumping away
at a pace that would startle a hummingbird.

And then Leila finally blinked, bringing her eyes into full focus and her
mind into consciousness. "D!" she gasped as she jerked back, the horror of
what had just happened starting to sink in. "Oh, shit! D, are you alright?!"

He moved back as slowly and as calmly as he could manage, actively trying
not to startle her with any sudden movements. "I'm fine," he said quietly. He
paused for a moment before he calmly added, "Thank you for removing the pin."

"God-DAMMIT!" she panted as she bolted into a sitting position, dropping
the weapon into her lap. The layer of blankets tumbled down a moment later,
confirming D's suspicions that the fabric was extremely sheer. "What...." she
she started to say before trying to slow her breathing. "What happened?"

"You had a nightmare," he said simply as he stood up and started to turn
around. He was nearly yanked off-balance as her hand lashed out to grab his
wrist in an iron grip, holding on to him as if he was all that stood between
her and the grave.

"D, wait," she pleaded. She blinked as she realized what she was doing
and let go, running her hand through her short blonde hair. Her fingertips
came away soaked with sweat, resulting in a mild shiver as she realized that
her whole body was now covered in it.

He said nothing as he stood there, his eyes impassively watching her as
she slowly recovered from the nightmare. It was a pure reflex that brought his
gaze down to her chest for a moment, distantly making note of the obvious fact
that she wasn't wearing a bra. She hadn't worn one earlier either, back when
he had to unzip the front of her jumpsuit to bind her shoulder wound.

The thought of it was enough to change his focus, drawing his attention
higher up on her body. A slight frown crossed his face when he realized that
she had removed the gauze bindings, exposing the still-raw wound to the open
air. The edges were still an angry red color, meaning that it really should
still be bandaged if it was to avoid infection and heal properly.

She looked up as he started to walk across the room, wondering just what
exactly he was doing now. She blinked when she realized that he was removing
the gauze and antiseptic from the package the rancher had given them earlier,
causing her to glance down at her exposed shoulder. "Damn," she muttered to
herself, realizing that she had forgotten to take care of it earlier. She knew
she had been tired, but she didn't think she had been tired enough to forget to
take care of something as important as that.

He knelt down on the hard wood floor next to her, his silent approach once
again taking her by complete surprise. She managed to retain the presence of
mind this time and successfully fought the urge to grab the pistol in her lap.
A quick thought crossed her mind, causing her to look down at it to see why it
hadn't fired when she pulled the trigger. Not that she was arguing it at this
point in time, but still....

Huh, she thought as she saw that the pin had been partially pulled out and
locked in an open position. Now when did I do that? Her attempt at searching
her memories lasted for precisely three-tenths of a second before the white-hot
stinging sensation of antiseptic being applied to her wound shot through her
entire nervous system like a lightning bolt.

"YEOW!" she yelped as she lurched back, her abrupt movements causing her
pistol to slide out of her lap. It would have hit the floor if D hadn't caught
it, his hand seeming to move in a literal blur as it shot out to grab it.

"Hold still," he said impassively as he flipped the weapon around to hold
it by the barrel, offering the grip to her even as his other hand started to
reach out to dab her shoulder.

"My ass!" she retorted as she leaned back, giving him a dark look. "That
stuff hurt like hell. Thanks," she added in a fractionally softer tone as she
took the offered pistol from him.

He just gave her a distinctly patient look before capping the bottle of
antiseptic and setting it on the floor. He left the pile of gauze lying next
to it and stood up, turning away from her once again to head back to his bed.

"D?" she called out to him, surprising the both of them with the sudden
softness to her tone. He paused to cast a glance over his shoulder at her,
again giving her a patient look. "Thanks for waking me up."

"It will be another hour or two until sunset," he said as he crossed the
room and stretched out on his bed. "It would be best if you were to remain in
bed and try to rest until dawn."

"That's a long time to try to sleep," she pointed out as she slipped the
pistol back under her pillow. She received silence in reply, broken only by
the soft rustle of the blankets as he pulled them back over his body. "So I
take it you're going to do the same?" she inquired.

The soft silence seemed to hang in the air for a number of moments before
she finally heard his voice drift back to her though the semi-darkness. "As
you said, digging a hole in the floor is not an option, so I will have to rest
as much as I can. Good night," he added, his tone changing to indicate that he
was finished talking for the moment.

A sour grumble rose up from her chest. "Good night, D," she replied with
a hint of sarcasm as she laid back against the pillow. A faint twinge of pain
shot through her shoulder a moment later, causing her to cast an irritated look
at the wound. She was fairly sure it was finished sealing itself, and that it
would only reopen if she started exerting herself fairly hard.

Bah, let it dry out, she thought to herself as she closed her eyes. She
knew that she would fall back asleep soon, and that the nightmares would likely
come back, but something told her that if they did, D would wake her up again.
A dark knight coming to rescue a damsel in distress, she thought to herself in
a somewhat bitterly ironic tone. Yeah, like I'm really a maiden he'd come to
free from the clutches of evil. Well.... maybe we'd have the rescue part, she
added, feeling a very faint blush cross her cheeks before she quietly slipped
back into the realm of subconscious dreams.


She could remember waking up on at least three different occasions after
that, twice bursting into sweaty consciousness to escape the horrid clutches of
some evil vampire minion and once because her bladder was quietly begging for
some relief. Each time she rose into a sitting position, she could hear the
soft rustle of blankets from across the room as D turned to study her, his gaze
seeming to bore through her very soul as he assessed her condition.

Twice earlier she had made a gesture to him, indicating that she was both
awake and in possession of her wits. Each time he seemed to nod in reply to
her before closing his eyes, never once appearing to have been caught asleep.
She found a sense of relief washing over her each time, somehow feeling at ease
knowing that he was watching over her. It made little sense, to be honest, as
she knew she could take care of herself, but there was just something about the
whole thing that made going back to sleep a little easier each time.

The third incident had necessitated her getting out of bed to head over to
the cramped toilet. She could feel his gaze following her every movement as
she crossed the room, the intense sensation of being watched finally leaving
her as she opened the door to the bathroom. Business was promptly dealt with
and flushed, keeping the door shut until the water was finished sloshing around
so as not to disturb the vampire-hunter any more than necessary.

She took her time crossing the room on her way back, barely able to see
her hand in front of her face in the gloom. She had been able to see just fine
going in, but she had flipped on the light while she was in there and ruined
her nightvision.

She looked around the cabin as she waited for her eyes to slowly readjust,
a slight frown crossing her face as something seemed out of place. She held
still as she tried to listen, realizing a moment later that she could hear the
gentle howling of the storm raging outside. Nasty bastard, she thought as she
edged towards the window, nudging one of the slats aside to peek out at the
landscape. It was absolutely pitch-dark outside, making her wonder for a brief
moment if something was eating the entire cabin. Bah, she grunted, sand worms
aren't THAT big. I hope....

A slight whispering noise her caused her to turn around, one hand straying
down to the webbing on her thigh to touch the hilt of her knife. She blinked
hard as she realized it was D, seeming to be muttering something in his sleep.
Curious, she edged a little closer to his bed, straining her hearing to the
limit to try to make out what he was saying.

Hmmm? she thought with a mental blink as she heard a whispered name. A
physical blink followed a moment later as she could make out the shadowed lines
of his face, seeming to be twisted into a dark grimace. Her grip on her knife
tightened as his lips parted for an instant, giving her a brief glimpse of what
could only be the elongated incisors of a vampiric entity.

"D?" she called out in a hesitant tone, unsure of whether waking him up
would be a wise idea. She gasped and jumped back as his eyes snapped open an
instant later, revealing a very faint but noticeable blue glow to his corneas.
He blinked and quickly refocused, the luminescence vanishing from his eyes as
he looked over at her.

It took her a second to snap out of the hypnosis of the moment. "D, you
looked like you were having a nightmare," she explained in a hesitant tone as
she edged back. She blinked as he rose into a sitting position, able to see
the haunted expression on his face a little more clearly.

"Thank you," he rasped quietly as he focused on the far wall. He seemed
to stare at it, almost as if he was trying to burn a hole in it through sheer
willpower alone before blinking and looking over at her again.

She noticed his expression changing in a subtle way, one eyebrow moving
upwards a fraction of a millimeter as he studied her. It took her a moment to
determine that he was looking at the knife sheath tied to her thigh....

....which she just realized was clearly visible because the entire right
side of the nightgown had been pushed up to her hip when she had grabbed the
weapon's hilt several moments ago. Which meant the borrowed panties were also
out on display as well. Oops.

"What are you looking at?" she demanded in a flat tone as she tugged the
nightgown back into a more modest position as quickly as she could, feeling a
dark blush rising to her cheeks.

"Triple-folded carbon-edged titanium," he said calmly, looking up into her
eyes with an utterly unreadable expression on his face. He watched in silence
as her expression underwent an amazing evolution, displaying no less than four
distinct emotions all within the span of less than a full second.

"It's served me well," she said acidly, doing her best to get the blush
off of her face and knowing she was failing quite miserably. She paused for a
moment as he simply nodded in understanding to her before lying back down, one
arm moving back to briefly fluff the pillow before being folded against his
bare chest once again.

What the hell? she raged on the inside, not able to even guess at what he
might have been thinking. Okay, so you can tell blade types by looking at them
in pitch-darkness, good for you. You honestly expect me to believe that's all
you were looking at? Bad enough you had my top open earlier and took your time
leering at me, but that's all you're going to say about it? Just casually make
a remark about my knife and try to go back to sleep? What the hell?

She fairly stormed over to her bed and sat down, casting a poisonous glare
over at his dark form. She snorted softly in contempt and laid down, absently
bunching the sheets up around her. She cast a final glance across the room
before turning her back to him, drawing her knees up to her chest and wondering
just what the hell she was getting so worked up over.

It took her a long time to fall back asleep, her thoughts continuing to
quietly simmer even as her state of exhaustion pulled her once more into the
realm of the subconscious. The dreams would return later, of course, but for
the moment all she could think about was him. The look in his glowing eyes in
that first instant she woke him up, the glimpse of his darker side she caught
when his lips had parted, and look on his face as he studied her in the faint
illumination of the storm-shrouded cabin.

And, oddly enough, the single name she thought he had whispered....


There came a point in which the body, worn out as it was, simply wouldn't
accept further sleep and forced the mind back into full consciousness. Leila
could tell that was the case as she slowly drifted back into awareness, able to
almost physically feel the veil of sleep falling away from her and knowing that
it wouldn't be returning anytime soon.

"Great," she moaned in a near-whisper as she tried to move. Her body felt
unusually stiff as she forced her muscles to cooperate, eventually rising into
a sitting position that immediately prompted a lengthy yawn. The smell in the
air hit her a moment later, seeming to be the stench of something that had been
well and truly burnt to charcoal.

"Yeech," she muttered as she looked around the room. An icy chill crept
into her blood as she realized that the other bed was completely empty. "D?"
she called out, unconsciously reaching for the pistol under her pillow. She
cast a quick glance at it and flicked her thumb over the firing pin, shoving it
back into place with a deep click.

She wasn't sure which bothered her more, the heavy smell in the air or the
fact that D wasn't anywhere to be seen. She had seen what both Meier Link and
Carmilla could do in terms of altering their bodies, turning flesh into steel
in Meier's case and disassociating her body into a cloud of bats in Carmilla's,
and was deeply worried about what D might be able to do. "D?" she called out
in an even louder voice as she carefully edged out of bed, holding her pistol
in a tight grip.

She blinked hard as she heard the muted sound of a toilet being flushed,
shortly followed by the bathroom door being opened. You stupid fool, she told
herself as she sagged back down onto the bed, her breath leaving her lungs in
a mad exodus of relief. She looked up with a sheepish expression on her face
as D left the bathroom, still wearing only the form-hugging boxers and giving
her a slightly curious look.

"Sorry, I.... didn't know where you were," she apologized quietly, feeling
the heat of a mild blush rising to her face. "I thought you had left or....
whatever," she said, waving her pistol in a gesture of dismissal. She paused
as she realized that she was still holding it tightly, the blush on her face
deepening as she discreetly set it aside.

He looked at her for another moment before turning around and moving over
to the oven. She blinked as she realized that he had apparently been cooking
something, leaning over to one side to try to see around him. "Hey, what are
you making?" she called out, wrinkling her nose slightly as she caught another
whiff of the heavy carbon smell. "Smells like you burnt the hell out of it,
whatever it is."

"It's just something previously spilled in the oven," D replied calmly.

She nodded her head in understanding, absently running her fingers through
the tangles in her blonde hair. "Okay, I can buy that explanation," she said
languidly, idly studying the muscular curves of his arms and back. "So what's
for breakfast?"

"Meat and potatoes," he said simply.

She waited to see if he would explain further, a disgruntled look crossing
her face when she realized that he wasn't going to elaborate further. "Sounds
good," she said in a neutral tone. "You cook often?"

"When possible," was the unemotional reply.

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "You're not the talkative type,
I see," she said in a sarcastic tone, drawing a brief sidelong glance from the
dunpeal. "If we're going to be stuck here together until this storm finishes,
we can at least try to get to know one another. I don't know about you, but I
know I'm going to get really bored, really quickly if there's nothing to do
aside from stare at the walls of this place."

"Tend to your shoulder," he suggested calmly as he took a step back to
check on how things were inside the oven.

She stared at his back for a number of moments before looking down at the
wooden floor, grunting very quietly as she saw the bottle of antiseptic right
where he had left it last night. Or was it still night? she wondered as she
cast a quick glance up at the window.

D had opened the curtains again, revealing the same pitch-black desolation
she had seen the last time she had gotten out of bed. "Hey, what time is it?"
she asked as she bent down to pick up the bottle and the gauze padding.

"Probably a good two hours before sunrise," he replied as he grabbed a
hand towel and opened the oven door. He pulled out a flat baking tray and set
it on top of the stove before switching off the heating element.

So a new day begins, she thought to herself as she sat back up with a soft
sigh, not looking forward to this in the least. She removed the cap and soaked
a gauze pad in the pale yellow solution before bringing it up to her shoulder,
closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.

D turned to cast a slightly concerned glance over his shoulder as he heard
her harsh gasp of pain. Even from across the room he could see the color in
her face draining away, leaving her with a deathly pale countenance. The soft
words that followed were decidedly unfeminine at best, but he had learned long
ago that what constituted 'feminine' was widely open to interpretation.

"Yeah, that's going to leave a nice scar," she muttered to herself as the
worst of the searing agony faded down to a more tolerable level. She continued
to dab more of the antiseptic on the wound until it quit stinging, indicating
that any germs or whatever that had been present were now thoroughly deceased.
Of course, it also meant that the nerves were now shell-shocked into numbness,
but they would wake back up soon enough.

The cap had just been screwed back on the bottle of antiseptic when a dark
shadow fell across her lap, causing her to jerk her head up. The sight of D
standing less than two feet away startled the hell out of her, almost causing
her to drop the bottle on the floor.

"God DAMMIT, D!" she fumed once she was sure that her heart was fine and
her bladder still had a firm grip on things. "If you sneak up on me like that
once more, I swear I'm going to shoot you!"

He gave her a neutral look as he held out a plate. A sizable chunk of
meat sat next to a pile of seasoned diced potatoes, both steaming slightly in
the still air of the cabin. A knife and fork rested on one edge of the plate,
both the utensils and ceramic plate seeming to have had better days.

The aroma wafted up to her a moment later, seeming to tickle her nose in
a most tantalizing fashion. Her mouth immediately began to water as her empty
stomach reminded her that she hadn't eaten much of anything within the past day
or two. She had no idea what kind of meat it was, but it would have been an
outright lie to say she really gave a damn at that point.

"Thank you," she said gratefully as she set the gauze aside to accept the
offered plate. A faint twinkle of amusement appeared in her eyes as she looked
up at him, the corners of her mouth twitching into a ghost of a smile. "It's
been awhile since someone served me breakfast in bed," she said coyly.

Her mood evaporated somewhat when he turned away from her without saying
a word, apparently heading back to the stove for a second plate. Shaking her
head to herself, she carefully balanced the plate on her knees and began to
devour the meal with ravenous hunger. The mystery meat turned out to be rather
tender venison, while the seasoning applied to the potatoes was a decidedly
delicious blend of ground peppercorn, paprika, basil, and rosemary.

The soft sound of the other bed creaking beneath a heavy weight startled
her, her reflexive tensing coming dangerously close to dumping the plate onto
the floor. She reached out to steady it with both hands, lifting her head up
to give D a venomous glare.

"Look," she said testily, "Will you quit moving around like a ghost all
the time? Start making some noise or something so I know where you are."

He looked back up at her, his face impassive as he regarded her coolly.
"Vampires have far better hearing than humans," he pointed out with just the
faintest hint of an edge to his otherwise neutral tone. "When hunting them,
one learns to make moving as silently as possible an unconscious and automatic
action. I apologize if I keep disturbing you."

She blinked as his words made perfect sense to her. "Oh," she replied in
a quiet tone, her cheeks taking on a very light blush. "I guess I can see your
point when you phrase it like that." She paused before she added, "This is
good stuff, by the way," making a gesture with a potato-laden fork. "Family
recipe or something?" she said without thinking.

It immediately became obvious that it was the wrong thing to have said.
A dark, almost haunted look seemed to cross his face for a split-second before
it vanished, being replaced with a distinctly cold veiled look. "No," he said
in a level tone. His voice had remained the same, but at the same time there
had been an undercurrent of emotion that she wasn't able to identify.

Leila blinked and seemed to wilt slightly, knowing she had just made a
tremendous error. "D, I'm sorry," she apologized quietly as she set the plate
aside. "I know you're a dunpeal and all, but.... I...." She sighed heavily as
she realized that she was only digging herself deeper, trying to think of how
she could switch tactics to ease the situation.

"I know I told you about my parents," she said quietly, looking away from
him as she tried to find the right words. "About what drove me to become a
vampire-hunter like yourself. I know we haven't talked about ourselves much,
but I feel like.... like you know me better than I know you. After all that we
went through together since we met.... I almost feel guilty that I don't know
very much about you, almost like I haven't bothered to take the time to stop
and get to know the person who.... who saved my life."

The silence stretched on before he finally spoke up. "You know all there
is to know about me that is important," he said quietly. "I am a dunpeal and
a hunter of vampires. You know why I hunt them. Nothing else matters."

"Actually, I don't know why you hunt vampires," she countered, looking up
at him. She blinked as she again saw the haunted, almost forlorn look cross
his face for a brief instant. "I understand the need to exterminate them, but
you never told me why you decided to pick up a sword. Tell me, D, what is it
that drives you to pursue those blood-thirsty creatures of the night?"

She blinked as he suddenly set his plate aside and stood up, appearing to
try to cross the room in her direction. Her hand was already halfway to her
pistol when she realized that he was merely moving over to the window, staring
out into the featureless gloom of the sandstorm.

Even with the reflection slightly distorted by the glass, she could still
see the look of concealed pain on his face. It suddenly occurred to her that
her choice of words might have been taken the wrong way, seen as an affront to
his vampiric heritage. She was about to try to call out to him, to apologize
for possibly hurting his feelings when she saw him start to take in a breath.

"I have no choice," he said simply.

She frowned as she remembered him saying something like that awhile ago,
back when she had buried him up to his neck in the ground when he needed to
recover from extensive sun exposure. She had said that the rain had made her
sentimental, which was why she had told him about her past. "D, that doesn't
make any sense," she spoke up. "We all have choices in our lives."

"You have choices in your life," he countered gently, still staring out
into the utter darkness. Perhaps he could see something she couldn't, but it
didn't seem to matter at this point. "You can be whatever you want to be. A
hunter, a farmer, a wife, a mother."

"That'll be the day," she muttered dryly.

"You're human," D said in an even quieter tone than usual. "I'm not. I
will never be accepted into a human society because of my father's blood. You
sought to exploit that yourself when you stirred the sheriff and the townsfolk
against me."

He had said it in a calm tone, but hearing the reminder of how she had
tried to delay his pursuit of Meier's carriage brought a fierce rush of shame
to her. She glanced away from the window, feeling her face become unbearably
warm as her complexion turned crimson.

"Yeah," she said sullenly. "About that one.... I'm sorry I did that to
you, D." She paused as the memory of what she had heard back then rushed back
to her, causing her to glance over at him. "I heard what that old man said
about you, and about what happened in that town ages ago. D.... just how old
are you?" she asked carefully.

The silence seemed to stretch on for an eternity before he sighed softly,
almost too softly for her to hear. "I don't remember," he replied. "Time has
little meaning to me anymore. My end will only come through a deliberate act,
when I either lose my battle against the vampire menace or when my blood alone
holds the blood-curse and another hunter finishes the task for me. All that
passes before are merely steps along the path I must walk."

He cast an impassive glance into the window as she stood up, crossing the
room to stand behind him. It seemed that she might have tried to reach out to
him, to touch him or hold him, before she looked up to see his visage in the

"D?" she asked in a shocked whisper. "But how.... how do you cope with
all that? With the constant loss of friends over time or.... or even family,"
she added in a very soft tone. "How do you deal with all that pain?"

"The pain of what?" he inquired calmly. "I don't understand."

"What about the people you meet, the lives you've saved?" she said. "I
know you're not heartless, D. You helped me several times when you didn't have
to or even when it wouldn't have been in your best interests to. You bound my
shoulder wound when we were competing against one another," she pointed out.
"Surely that means something to you.... or does it?" she added as she received
only silence in response. "D, tell me you've made friends somewhere in your
life, however long it is...."

She fell silent as he very subtly shook his head, his gaze focused on the
outside world rather than her reflection in the window. "There can't be," he
said. "I am a hunter, born from two worlds and rejected by both. Humans fear
me and vampires know what I've done in the past. There can be no bridges to
tie me to either, no-one to try to do so."

"So you're saying you can't have friends, is that it?" she asked softly.
"Can't meet someone who might accept you for who you are, rest of the world be
damned? I think that's bullshit, D."

He glanced at her reflection for a moment before looking away in obvious
dismissal. "Believe what you will," he said in a calm voice. "I know what my
existence is, and what it must always remain."

A wave of anger seemed to bloom in her blood as she looked at the back of
his head, not believing that he was simply dismissing the idea out of hand. A
memory from earlier surfaced in her mind, and it took her a moment to decide if
she really wanted to risk the delicate understanding she thought she had. "I
think you're lying," she said in a low tone. She waited until he glanced at
her reflection as she expected before adding, "If you really believe all that,
then explain to me who Doris is."

He turned around to look at her so quickly that she literally did not see
the rest of his body move. One instant he was staring out into the storm, and
the next she found herself staring deep into his eyes.... eyes filled with an
amount of pain the likes of which she had only seen in fleeting glimpses on the
faces of the dying.

The look in his eyes was veiled a moment later as he blinked, but the mere
memory of his pain was more than enough to leave her chilled to the core. He
seemed to stare deep into her soul, not even seeming to breathe for a number of
moments before his lips finally parted.

"Where did you hear that name?" he asked in a very low tone. It wasn't
delivered in a threatening manner, but she nonetheless got the impression that
she would be in considerable trouble if she didn't answer him.

"I heard you whisper her name in your sleep earlier," she replied in a
frank tone, returning the penetrating stare with a level look. "I figured she
must have meant something to you somewhere along the line. What's the problem,
hunter?" she said as he started to turn away, causing him to halt in mid-motion
and glance back at her. "Don't tell me this whole spiel about not wanting any
friends is because you were hurt by a woman...."

She had intended to prod him into taking the bait, to rise to her verbal
challenge and explain that particular part of his past. The momentary wave of
visible anger crossing his face she expected, having a measure of faith in his
self-control to not rip her throat out or anything like that. What she didn't
expect, however, was to see his wall of isolation visibly crumble, exposing the
depths of his innermost pain to her.

"Doris didn't hurt me," he said in a hoarse whisper. "I.... I hurt her."

She blinked hard and edged back from him, her blue eyes clearly revealing
the wide range of emotions running through her. "What?" she asked, suddenly
not so sure that prodding him had been a good idea. She remained silent as he
turned from her, looking back out into the darkness once more. "Tell me," she
finally whispered, fighting the urge to reach out to touch him.

An eternity seemed to pass before she finally heard his voice drifting up
from his chest once again. "Very well," he said, taking a deep breath before
beginning to speak of a part of his past which he had never dared to reveal to
anyone else before....


"She came to me as I passed by," he said very quietly, the steady tone of
his voice belied only by the haggard look on his face. "She had been bitten by
a vampire, Count Magnus Lee, and wanted to hire me to kill him. I accepted and
she took me to her home so that I could prepare us both for the coming ordeal.

"She told me many things that night, about the vampire and about herself.
I knew that the Moon of Blood would be full on the horizon the next day, and
that Count Lee would likely try to take her as his bride that night. I put her
into a deep sleep to resist his summons before I set out into the night.

"I met the Count's daughter Ramika and her mutant escort Rei Ganci as they
attempted to attack Doris' house. I drove them back and waited for the sun to
rise before entering the castle. While I was inside, the Count had several of
his minions kidnap Doris in broad daylight, bringing her to the castle even as
I fought against his traps and minions beneath the castle catacombs.

"I was able to rescue her before the sun set, making sure that they would
be unable to immediately follow us. I brought her back to her house and made
her comfortable, knowing that things were far from over. The trauma of being
kidnapped and rescued must have taken a toll on her, but she somehow overcame
it all and expressed a desire to remain by my side.

"The next day, her younger brother Dan was kidnapped by Rei and I left to
go find him. Ramika laid a trap for Doris in my absence, turning one of her
closest friends into a vampire to lure her out into the open. I was able to
return with Dan in time to spoil the trap, but the loss of Doris' friend had
already hit her fairly hard.

"She came to me that night, asking me not to put myself at risk for her
any longer. She said that she was in love with me and wanted us to escape to
a place beyond Count Lee's domain where he couldn't pursue her. She persisted
when I refused her, seeking to embrace me for comfort. I...."

Leila remained silent as D trailed off, clearly having a difficult time
trying to tell that part of his story. "I was still exhausted from earlier
events," he finally said quietly. "Weakened, I almost bit her by accident as
I held her. She knew of my hunger and offered herself to me, but I refused.

"Rei Ganci returned in the morning, bearing an enchanted candle that was
harmful to vampires. Even though I was a dunpeal, the searing light and the
choking scent of its incense was still strong enough to paralyze me. He drove
a wooden stake into my chest, thinking that it would kill me. It nearly did.

"Night had fallen before I was able to recover with the aid of.... a part
of what I have become. Count Lee himself had apparently come to claim Doris,
taking her back to his castle in order to make her a vampire. I pursued him
across the barren lands as fast as I could, barely making it in time to stop
him from taking her blood once again.

"He was an ancient vampire over ten thousand years old and possessing a
level of power that I had never encountered before. My own vampire blood is
strong because of who my father was, but even it was almost not enough to kill
the Count. He grabbed my sword as I went to strike, snapping the tip off and
throwing it into my chest.

"Barely healed from the battle with Rei, I was again brought to the brink
of death. I was able to impale the Count against the wall, however, piercing
his dark heart up to the hilt. Doris and Dan helped me leave the castle as it
crumbled around us, much as Carmilla's castle did when she was truly destroyed.
Ramika remained behind to die in peace, having learned that she herself was a
dunpeal and not wishing to continue her existence.

"It was dawn by the time we returned to Doris' house, but I remember very
little of the day as it passed. Night had fallen when Doris came to me, saying
she couldn't sleep. She tried to comfort me after all I had gone through for
her, knowing I was still badly wounded. She offered herself to me again....
only this time, I couldn't refuse her."

Several moments passed in heavy silence before D was able to speak again.
"She offered her blood to me to restore my strength, and I accepted. I knew
doing so hurt her, but she insisted that it was alright, that she wanted to
help me after I had helped her. She held onto me, and after awhile I carried
her upstairs to put her to bed.

"It hadn't been my intention to stay, but she bade me to do so.... and I
could not refuse her. The call of her blood was too strong, the call of her
woman's blood as it flowed with the phases of the moon. She offered herself
to me as a woman, telling me she wanted me there before she kissed me. And as
before, I was unable to resist her deepest desires."

Again a heavy silence surrounded him for a number of moments, his eyes now
closed as he struggled to retain what little composure he had left. "I will
not say I didn't want to take her, but blood calls to blood and so I could not
have resisted the call her moon blood even if I wanted to. It was the first
time for the both of us and the only time for me.

"When her blood had cooled, I told her the truth about why I had yielded
to her. I should have told her earlier, before this all happened, but I failed
to do so. The truth behind it hurt her, causing her pain in a way that could
never be bandaged and treated as easily as a mark on the flesh could. I was
ashamed of myself, ashamed that I had not only allowed her to come to harm but
that I was the one that inflicted the most harm upon her.

"She bade me to stay with her that night, to hold and comfort her. The
call of her moon blood had faded by then and I was free to deny her request as
I wished. I stayed with her that night, but I left before the sun began to
rise the next day. I....

"I never saw her again," he said, his voice barely a whisper now, "But the
shame and the guilt of hurting her still remains with me. Her memory will be
with me until the end of my existence, and her pain will haunt me until it is
erased only by the embrace of oblivion. I simply cannot allow that to happen
to anyone else again. I will not allow it."

He continued to stare out into the darkness for a number of moments before
reaching down to his side, picking up the scabbard of his sword. The well-worn
metal made a soft hissing noise as he withdrew it part-way, exposing about a
foot of the blade above the hilt.

"This sword once belonged to her father," he said quietly, studying the
heavily distorted image of his own reflection in the metallic edge. "She gave
it to me after I had lost my sword killing Count Lee. I have kept it with me
since, using it to put an end to all the evil that I have encountered. I keep
it not because of its use, but because it makes me remember what I have done
and serves as a reminder that I must not allow it to happen again."

He fell silent as he studied the blade, watching as the dark blur of his
reflection disappeared inch by inch as he slid it back into the scabbard. He
didn't look up into the window again until he had set the weapon back down to
lean against the edge of the bed, making sure it wouldn't fall over.

"D?" he heard Leila whisper behind him as he saw her reflection in the
window once again. He felt the light touch on his arm just as he saw the lone
tear in her eye, leaving a faint glittering trail as it fell across her cheek.
Part of him immediately wanted nothing to do with this anymore, knowing that
once a woman started to cry her emotional mood became dangerously unstable and
completely unpredictable. And given the events of recent days, he wasn't in
much of a mood for surprises.

He didn't know what it was that allowed him to yield to her touch, to let
her turn him around to face one another. He could clearly see the sorrow in
her blue eyes, a second tear in the process of forming as she looked up at him.

"D?" she repeated softly. Her lower lip started to quiver for a moment
before she suddenly took in a deep breath. "What a crock of shit."

The only thing D could possibly think of was the warning given to him by
an elderly man in the past who had only sought to dispense some sage advice.
Remember, my boy, once those women-folk start crying, anything goes.


"How can you think that you hurt her?" Leila went on, her voice slowly
firming up with each passing moment. "She told you that she wanted you, told
you several times it seems. How in the hell is giving her what she wants like
that hurting her?"

"It shouldn't have been that way," he replied quietly.

"No, it shouldn't," she countered firmly. "What you should have done is
opened yourself up to her to give her the kind of comfort she really needed.
And I know you're capable of that, D, I KNOW you are simply because of all
the compassion you've shown me. Or are you going to try to stand there and
tell me to my face that you were just doing your duty and it wasn't your human
heart telling you something?"

He just looked at her, trying to figure out what she was getting at. He
was starting to get the sneaking suspicion that there was far deeper meaning to
her outburst than was readily apparent. He felt a very subtle twitch from his
left hand, causing him to reflexively ball it into a fist to keep it quiet.

She stared into his eyes before sighing quietly, seeing that he really
wasn't getting it. Not knowing what else to do, she gave in to the impulse to
hug him, gently wrapping her arms around his waist and lightly resting her head
on his bare shoulder.

"It's a human need, D," she tried to explain to him. "We need to be held
by others now and then, just as we need to reach out to hold them. It helps us
realize that we are not alone, that we are never truly alone. I believe your
human side knows that, even if you don't...."

He remained perfectly still as he mulled over the wisdom to her words. If
what she said was true, at least about him as he didn't doubt it applied to
humans, it would explain a good measure of the conflicting impulses that filled
his mind every so often. His decision to bind her shoulder wound after her
foolish assault on Meier Link's carriage had been made after a brief struggle
against just such an impulse. The hunter in him had wanted to let Darwinism
take its course, but something else had urged him to help her regardless of the
impact it would have on his odds of successfully rescuing Charlotte.

He gazed at her impassively as she lifted her head from his shoulder, her
blue eyes studying his face with a look of guarded curiosity and faint hope.
He could easily follow the very subtle movements of her pupils as they changed
diameter when she let her gaze wander over his features, seeming to study his
own eyes before moving slightly to examine his ears.

He knew that he had changed since his entrance into adulthood and that,
eternal lifespan aside, he would continue to change as the centuries passed.
His skin had become noticeably pale from spending less time exposed to the sun
than a human would, and the constant use of the innate powers of his father's
dark blood had started to mold him into the physical shape of a vampire. It
had bothered him at first when his ears had developed the hallmark points of a
true vampire, but that too was eventually accepted as just another price of the
sin of being born with a vampire's blood in his veins.

"Anyone ever tell you that you're rather handsome?" Leila murmured in a
very soft tone, still studying his face intently.

He looked at her for a moment before nodding, a simple and subtle gesture
of his chin that might have gone unnoticed if she hadn't been watching him.
The vast majority of the people he had managed to save from a fate worse than
death at the hands of a vampire had been women, and more than a few had felt
compelled to comment on their rescuer once the threat had been dealt with. It
was something he took in stride, chalking it up to an overwhelming abundance of
gratitude rather than genuine interest. There might have been a little of that
as well, but he had paid scant attention to whatever they might have wanted.
Even when it had been made clearly obvious, as he remembered a pair of sisters
brazenly doing in the not-too-distant past after he had rescued them from an
unusually sadistic vampire....

Had he not allowed himself to reflect on that situation, letting his focus
of the present briefly slip into his memories of the past, he might have been
able to notice the warning signs sooner. The tightening of her embrace around
him was enough to refocus his attention on her presence, but by then it was
already too late to take any pre-emptive action against her.

He couldn't tell if she had moved slowly and he failed to notice, or if
she had moved quickly to take him by surprise. Either way, his mind had just
finished processing the meaning of her movements when he felt her lips lightly
brush against his, a gesture as warily cautious as it was tentatively curious.

She immediately froze as he tensed and jerked his head back from her, his
eyelids barely seeming to twitch as they blinked faster than she could follow.
The expected reaction of surprise was swiftly replaced with action, both her
arms suddenly going numb as his wrists clamped down on her upper arms with an
incredible amount of strength. A look of ferocity seemed to flicker in the
depths of his eyes before they cleared, being replaced by a piercing glare of

"Hey," she said very softly as he edged away from her, his breath audibly
rasping in his throat as he inhaled. "Easy, I was.... just...." Words failed
her as she stared into the depths of his eyes, whatever hints of openness or
pain she might have seen earlier now hidden behind a chilling veil of silence.

The silence seemed to build in intensity as they looked at one another,
growing so heavy that she soon found it difficult to breathe. She was giving
serious consideration to stepping further away from him, to try to open up the
air between them so she could get some oxygen, before he moved back on his own
and let go of her.

A very faint tingle promptly coursed through her nerves as the flow of
blood was restored, running the full length of her arms from her shoulders down
to her fingertips. It was a distinctly odd sensation, seeming to be a blend
of fire, ice, and electricity that somehow warmed her even as it left behind a
chilling numbness. She discreetly flexed her hands as he turned away from her,
staring back out once more into the impenetrable gloom that existed beyond the
panes of glass in the window.

"D...." she said, her voice barely the ghost of a whisper. She wanted to
plead with him not to turn away from her, not to reject her offer of comfort
and solace. The words about his past continued to burn in her mind, not the
story itself but the deep pain that clearly haunted him over his actions. All
she wanted to was to help him as he helped her, to try to ease that dark pain
and bring peace to the voice that no doubt resonated inside his skull like the
rattling chains of a ghost bound to his very soul....

"You should finish eating before it gets cold," he said, his somber tone
seemingly devoid of any warmth or emotion. The reflection of his eyes in the
window, however, told her all she needed to know about his mood.

She didn't know what to say, knowing that she had pushed the limits just
one step too far. She looked up at him before nodding in understanding, one
hand coming up to briefly squeeze his elbow. The gesture had been automatic,
happening before she even realized she was doing it. She wasn't sure if she
caught a change in his expression at the contact or not, but she knew that it
would only make matters worse if she pressed the issue.

At least.... for the moment.

Sighing quietly, she returned to her bed and sat down, absently reaching
for the all-but-forgotten plate of venison and potatoes. Her mind seemed to
shift into an auto-pilot mode, letting her body tend to the motions of eating
without conscious thought or even retaining a discernable memory of doing so.

She knew he had opened himself to her, probably in a way that he had not,
could not have done so to someone else before. The pain he revealed to her had
been immense, a dark and secret burden that no human could have borne for so
long by themselves without being driven mad or worse. It made her own troubled
thoughts seem trivial by comparison, and deep in her heart, in a place she had
only recently rediscovered with D's unintentional help, she felt a need come to
life, a need to reach out to this dark and lonely hunter to comfort him, to
help him heal what no bandage could protect, to make him whole.

The only question was how. Not if she should, or if she would, but only
how she could go about doing so. The thoughts continued to swirl in her mind
even as her body finished its automatic task, setting the empty plate down in
an out-of-the-way spot on the floor and laying down on her side. Her eyes
remained open but unfocused, seeing something on the inside and thus failing to
see the blue glow briefly return to his eyes.


D simply had no idea how much time passed between when Leila had laid down
and when that thing in his arm began to twitch with restlessness. His mind had
simply disconnected itself from his surroundings as he thought, all the input
from his sensory organs going into his short-term memory for processing being
promptly disposed of the nanosecond they registered. What finally snapped him
out of his darkened thoughts was the psionic humming it started to make, not
loud enough to be audibly heard but still strong enough to be mentally felt.

It continued to try to get his attention even as he made a fist, the usual
indication he gave it to shut up and leave him alone. Sighing in resignation,
he cast a brief glance at Leila's idle form before heading over to the bathroom
for a private conversation, trying to remain as silent as possible so as not to
disturb her from the thoughts that he could almost literally read for himself
as they passed over her unfocused eyes.

((D, listen,)) it said the instant the door was closed. ((I've been saying
all along what she just said, you didn't hurt Doris. !!!))

D said nothing as he wrapped his right hand around his fist, putting as
much pressure on it as he possibly could. He could feel both the knuckles and
the tendons in his hand start to reach the breaking point, coming dangerously
close to imploding beneath the pressure.

"Enough," he rasped, his vision taking on a blue haze as his vampiric side
started to break free from the controlling grip of his willpower. He could
feel his teeth changing, elongating into sharp fangs intended solely for the
purpose of piercing soft flesh to draw forth the crimson nectar of life....

((D!)) it pleaded with him, the voice audibly fighting to function as its
physical form was twisted into a shape it wasn't designed to be in. ((LET....
HER.... HELP.... YOU.... BE.... HUMAN...!))

He didn't know why he relented his bone-crushing grip, easing just enough
to remove the danger of imminent bodily harm to both himself and the thing. It
wasn't the pain searing his wrist, or the sound of his blood echoing in his
ears at a near-boiling point, but perhaps the realization that there just might
be the faintest hint of truth to what it was saying, the tiniest spark of hope
yet for that which he knew was beyond his reach but nonetheless kept fighting
to grasp.

((That's.... all she.... wants to do,)) it panted, an undercurrent of pain
discernable in both the audible and mental aspects of its voice. ((And that's
all.... what Doris wanted to do as well. D!)) it cried out as the pressure
began to increase again. ((I'll make you a deal! Just listen! D!))

"What?" he whispered in an utterly flat tone, his lips curling back of
their own accord to bare his fangs. The blue glow in his eyes was pulsating
now, dimming and strengthening in time with the rapid beating of his heart.

((If you let her help you and it doesn't ease the pain of Doris' memory,
I'll tell you how you can be rid of me without killing yourself,)) it said in a
subdued tone. ((Yes, I know it'll kill me, but your pain will end up killing
you first from the inside if you don't do something about it. D....))

The offer focused his attention in ways few things had in life, seeming to
grab him by the very core of his soul and slam him into a very solid object so
that he had no choice but to focus on it. "What?" he said, clearly taken by
surprise at its words.

((I know you're kind enough not to think of me as a parasite too often, but
we both know that's what I really am,)) it explained quietly. ((I attached to
you out of a need for survival, D, and I've been with you ever since. I know
you better than any sentient entity who ever existed, past or present, and I
know your guilt over your encounter with Doris has eaten away at your soul. If
nothing is done, it will consume you entirely and that will be it for the
both of us. I have no wish to die, but when given a choice between a quick
death and one that's drawn out over centuries, I know which one I'm going to
choose without hesitation.

((And now you have a choice, D. You can either let your memory of Doris
destroy you, or you can try to do something about it. Yes, I realize that it's
a gamble to let Leila try to help you, but that's a damn sight better than not
having any chance at all. Open yourself to her again, just like you did when
you told her about Doris. Trust her, D, trust in her humanity to be able to
help you, to ease your pain at the memories. Like I said, if it doesn't work
out, I'll tell you how to remove me. Either way, I'm just as good as dead as
you will be if this doesn't work, so tell me why I shouldn't give this one a
fighting chance?))

He knew that if he thought long enough about it, he would never truly wish
to be free of it. It was simply too useful an ally to discard, despite all the
less-than-pleasant moments it brought him. Still, to even have the knowledge
of how to get rid of it if he ever truly had to, one that didn't involve his
own death or permanent mutilation of his arm, was simply too tempting of an
offer to simply dismiss out of hand. Such as it were....

"I'm listening," he said calmly as he relaxed his hand, opening it up just
to look at. The glow in his eyes had started to fade away, but there was still
enough of it left to remind him that he was still on the brink of losing both
his temper and his control.

((Just go back outside, D,)) it replied in a weary voice. ((You don't have
to say anything to her. If she is truly intent on trying to help you, she will
approach you again. And when that happens, all you have to do is let her do
what she wants. You know her, D, you know she won't hurt you.))

"Intentionally," D reminded it in a very soft tone.

((That's the risk I'm asking you to take, my friend,)) it replied as the
wrinkles in his hand opened up, fully revealing its face. ((Open up to her and
give her the opportunity to touch your heart with the warmth of her human soul.
Do what she asks of you, even if you don't understand why, but most importantly
D.... don't be afraid to be yourself, the true you instead of the dark hunter
you've used as the armor for your soul for so long.))

He looked down at it in silence for a long time, part of him able to see
the wisdom in its words but at the same time doubting it would be of any real
value. He knew what he was deep inside.... or did he really?

((D?)) it asked gently.


((Word of advice, assuming you haven't run out of tolerance for me?)) It
waited in uncharacteristic silence to see if he would respond before adding,
((You're thinking too much. Humans think with their minds, but they just as
often feel with their hearts instead. It causes trouble, yes, but that's just
what makes them human. Now either get on the toilet and do something or get
out of the bathroom so she doesn't start to think you're hiding in here.))

The softest of grunts of amusement rose up from D's chest as he nodded and
started to reach for the door handle. He knew it was right, that the time for
thinking was finally past and that it was time to do something.

((Uh, D?)) it added quickly. ((Don't forget to flush. Manners, you know.))


Leila had apparently been waiting for him when he emerged from the cramped
bathroom, rising to her feet a moment after the door closed behind him. She
gave him a quick glance that he couldn't read before she moved past him, one
hand casually brushing against his arm as she went inside and closed the door.

Dismissing it, he returned to the window and looked back outside, able to
see just the faintest traces of illumination tinting the landscape as the sun
began to rise. The terrain would remain quite dim for awhile, as the heavy
clouds of the storm would filter out most of the light. The hauntingly low
howl of the wind was still audible to him, brushing at the edges of his hearing
like the caress of an insubstantial ghost.

He frowned as the back of his mind started to nag him again, trying to let
him remember something. He closed his eyes as he concentrated, letting the
spectral sound flow through him as he started to sort his memories. It came to
him a moment later, that he had heard that exact same sound a very long time
ago, caused not by a storm but by the tidal influences made when the two moons
passed so close to one another at a specific point in time....

The curtains had been easily brushed aside, giving him an unusually clear
view of both celestial objects. They had been low on the horizon, the optical
illusionary effects of the atmosphere causing them to both seem larger in the
sky than they normally were. They were both nearly full at the same time, an
event that didn't occur with great frequency. Situated between them had been
the dark shadow of Count Lee's castle, and even as Doris told him what she knew
of the vampire noble, he had been focused on the panoramic view, enthralled not
just by the spectacular vista but also by the softest of whispering hums in the
air, almost mistaken as the sound of the shield generator but far softer and
deeper than any mechanical or electrical resonance....

D opened his eyes as he felt more than heard a presence behind him, a
simple glance in the window revealing Leila's reflection. He almost nodded to
her, indicating his satisfaction that she could move as quietly a true vampire
hunter could when stalking her prey....

He felt the lightest of touches on his bare back, almost as if a butterfly
was landing on him instead of the caress of her fingertips. He almost turned
to look at her, knowing that she was going to try to reach out to him again but
still too hesitant, too unsure of himself to try to take the initiative.

"What do you see out there?" she asked quietly. "I can't see a damned
thing myself, but seeing how you keep looking out there I figured there had to
be something that keeps getting your attention."

"The wind," he replied quietly. He glanced over at her reflection, able
to see the brief veiling of her blue eyes as she blinked hard.

"You can see the wind?" she asked incredulously.

"No," he replied with just the faintest hint of reproachment in his voice.
"I'm not looking at it, but listening instead to the way it resonates in the
storm. You won't be able to hear as I can. Humans can't hear that low of a

She made a soft noise to herself as she drew close, almost enough to press
her body against his. "So what does it sound like?"

What indeed, he mused as he listened for a second. "It is.... almost like
a call," he found himself saying, surprising himself with the realization that
it truly did sound like a call, a siren's song that lured him to do little else
but listen to its haunting melody. "It's not music, but it is.... pleasing in
a way I can't describe."

"Sounds like you know how to find beauty after all," she said softly, a
faint smile crossing her face.

"Was that ever in question?" he asked, more out of a compulsion to have
her continue to speak rather than honest curiosity at how she thought of him.

"That depends on how you look at it," she said, a hint of playful coyness
creeping into her tone. "I know vampires are attracted to beautiful people,
since they tend to be carted off more than someone more plain-looking. Meier
Link obviously found Charlotte to be beautiful, right?"

He said nothing, knowing that there was both a solid ring of truth to her
words as well as something designed to entrap him somehow. At least, that's
what he figured she was trying to do....

"Tell me something, dunpeal," she said in an openly curious tone, very
softly tracing the muscular curve of his shoulderblade with a fingernail. "Do
you find women to be beautiful?"

"I do," he replied calmly, suddenly wishing that the proverbial lights he
was seeing up ahead didn't mean he was about to encounter a truck.

"That's good," she whispered. "For awhile there I was starting to think
that you were the kind to like guys and that you wouldn't.... well, no matter.
You told me about your past already, so I guess you put that one to rest."

He remained silent as she continued to idly trace various muscle curves on
his back with her fingernails, pressing just lightly enough to be felt without
really scratching the skin. He figured he knew what angle she was trying to
take with this, idly wondering if it would be worthwhile to accept.

"Not to belittle your past, D, but honestly.... was she the only one you
allowed yourself to end up in bed with?" she mused. She had been prepared for
some sort of reaction from him at the jab, but even so she wasn't able to fully
follow along as he turned around to face her, seeming to be only a blur for a
split-second before he was staring into her eyes.

She did her best not to let her surprise show or allow her courage to
falter. "Tell me there haven't been others," she said in a soft, almost husky
tone as she reached up to brush a single fingertip against his cheek. "Other
women who looked at you and liked what they saw. Strength, power, grace. Tell
me none of them who looked at you like that didn't try to reach out to you, to
share a few special moments with you...."

"There have," he finally said, unable to lie to her or remain silent.

"Why, D?" she asked in a mere whisper, her finger coming down to lazily
trace the curve of his jaw. "Why have you never taken them up on their offer?
Did you not find them pretty enough, or womanly enough for you? What stayed
your hand from their willing bodies?"

A decidedly icy shiver ran down his spine as her other hand came up to
lightly caress his chest, her fingertips brushing across his collarbone before
very slowly sliding down the length of his abdomen to his waist. Her eyes
never left his, seeming to twinkle with playful coyness as she continued to
whisper softly to him.

"You know what I think?" she breathed quietly, her fingertips still idly
brushing along his jaw and abdomen. "I think you're afraid. You fear them,
don't you? You're afraid that you might.... hurt them, hurt them as you come
to them in the heat of the night to lie with them, to fill them with pleasure
and take some in return. You're afraid of a woman's power, aren't you, D?"

A dark tingle shot through his body as her fingertip brushed across his
lips, pressing lightly against them. Even as removed from her heart as her
finger was, he could still keenly feel the pulse that gently throbbed beneath
the delicate pad of flesh in her fingertip.

"Tell me you don't desire women, D," she said quietly, edging her body
closer to his. "Tell me you don't look at them sometimes and feel it in your
blood.... a desire, a want, a need to be with them, to hold them, touch them,
take them. Tell me you don't ever feel these things, that you don't ever have
a yearning inside, a yearning to be inside...."

He came dangerously close to biting her fingertip as her hand slid down
further to caress him through the boxers. To deny that her words were having
an effect on him would be laughably futile, as the proof was plainly evident to
them both. No, he would not deny that there had been moments when he had cast
what might have been a lustful glance at a beautiful woman, his conscious mind
squashing the thought out of existence the moment he became aware of it. He
was a hunter and a dunpeal, and he didn't have time for....

His train of thought became briefly derailed as he felt her hand move. A
single fingertip gently slid past the loose folds of the boxers to touch him
directly, provoking a far more definitive reaction that he could have hoped to
contain. He soon realized what she was doing, trying to reach out to him not
as a human to a dunpeal, but as a woman to a man.

"Well, well, what have we here," she breathed huskily as she very gently
stroked him through the boxers. "If I didn't know better, D, I'd say that you
like this. Care to try to prove me wrong?"

"Leila...." he said, his voice rasping so hard as to almost be inaudible.
There simply wasn't anything else to say at that point, other than to indicate
that he wasn't going to do much of anything at that point.

"I want you to do something for me," she said softly, tilting her head
back at a slight angle to look at him through partially-closed eyes. "Just a
small thing, that's all. I want you to remove my knife holster for me. It's
starting to chafe all of a sudden."

It was hardly a subtle suggestion, or at least it wasn't from where he was
standing. However, he knew it didn't matter right then who he was or where he
was from.... when someone had you by the genitals, even if it's with a light or
welcome touch, you simply don't argue. At least, not right at that particular
moment in time.

He started to lean forward to reach for the webbing, barely moving a full
inch before the pressure of the fingertip on his lips drastically increased.
"Not so fast, tiger," she purred gently. "Two things. First, I want you to
take your time. You know, to make sure you do it the right way."

He cast a reflexive glance down as she brought her leg up, very lightly
resting her knee against the hard lump that was starting to stress the fabric
of his boxers. The edge of her nightgown had been pulled up slightly, exposing
both the webbing and the edges of her panties. The webbing was secured to her
upper thigh by two simple velcro straps, which meant that a pair of gentle tugs
would be sufficient to remove it.

He looked back up at her as she brought the rest of her fingers up to his
face, gently brushing across his lips to join the first fingertip. "And the
second?" he asked, making sure to speak carefully so he didn't accidentally
eat any of her fingers as he talked. He tried to keep his tone neutral, but he
couldn't completely mask the undercurrent of suspicion at what she was asking.

A distinctly playful smile brushed her lips as she stared at him, staying
silent for a number of moments before finally speaking up. "Second.... I want
you to remove it for what you feel are the right reasons."

That caused him to hesitate for a moment, not sure of what she meant. He
realized a moment later that he must have failed to mask his confusion as her
expression changed slightly, seeming to lose most of her casual playfulness.

"I know what hurts you the most, D," she said in a soft, somber tone as
she moved her hand to caress his cheek. Her other hand remained where it was,
continuing to touch him intimately but otherwise remaining still. "You said it
yourself, you didn't want things to happen the way they did. I can't change
the past for you, but I can give you a second chance."

"I don't understand," he finally said, suddenly aware of the warmth of her
body only a few inches away from his own. Her hands almost burned him where
they pressed against his skin, luring him, tempting him to bring them even
closer to him. Her knee suddenly moved, a very subtle movement of increased
pressure that made his pupils widen just slightly.

"You have a choice, D," she explained, continuing to rub her knee against
the swelling in his shorts. "You can remove it because I asked you to.... or
you can remove it because you want to take it off. The result will be the same
either way and I won't mind why.... but you're the one who will have to live
with it. Wasn't that the problem last time, D? You did what was right, did
what she truly wanted, but for what you felt were the wrong reasons?"

The realization didn't so much sink in as slammed into his mind with all
the grace and brutal force of a moving truck hitting a mosquito. It was an
undeniable fact that Doris had wanted him, had well and truly wanted him to be
her first lover, but that he had yielded for the wrong reasons. Yes, that had
mattered to him.... but did it matter as much to her? Of all the things he had
done to her, the taking of both her blood and her virginity, leaving her with
the doubt as to why had hurt her the most. It had hurt her....

....but did it as badly as he thought? Or as much it had hurt him? He
would of course never know, as she was gone now. Had he not felt so much of a
repulsion at the thought of an eternal afterlife he might have dared to hope of
seeing her once again, once his business in the mortal world was finished in
one fashion or another....

The soft feel of her lips brushing against his jolted him back into full
consciousness, almost literally. The sensation was decidedly electric, seeming
to send his entire nervous system into a frenzy of tingles that he had rarely
experienced before.

It also jolted awake the absolutely last thing he needed right now.

Her startled gasp echoed sharply in his ears as he brought his hands up,
grasping her shoulders to push her away from him before his instincts could
wake up enough to react. His world was suddenly veiled in dark blue, able to
see the faint glow of his own eyes reflected in hers as they became dangerously
wide. He did his best to remain perfectly still, closing his eyes as he tried
to get his suddenly labored breathing back under control. The impulse had come
quickly, almost too quickly, and even though he had fought it off as quickly as
it had come it had been a battle that was entirely too close for comfort.

"So that's it," she said softly, the tone of her voice causing him to open
his eyes to look up at her. He was startled to find a soft smile on her lips,
an odd look of understanding clearly discernable in her eyes. "I take it that
fighting both Meier Link and Carmilla took a lot out of your other half, hmm?"

"Leila," he said very softly, his tone laced with warning.

"Let's be honest, D," she said, some of the coyness returning to her voice
as she leaned a little closer to him. "We're both adults here, after all. You
apparently need blood, right? I think I can spare some for you. Depending on
how it's done, I might even like it. I doubt it, though. Having a hole poked
in your body probably won't be the best feeling in the world, but again, let's
be honest about it. With as much blood as we've both shed during this little
adventure, what's a little more pain and blood between friends?"

He couldn't have talked if he wanted to, remaining silent as her hand went
down to her thigh to retrieve her knife. "I'll even give you a choice," she
offered, bringing the blade up to rest lightly on her arm. "I can make a small
cut for you, or you can do it yourself if you think I'll make too much of a
mess or ruin the taste for you. But first thing's first, dunpeal," she cooed
as she gently rubbed her knee against his groin again. "We can discuss this
one after you remove the holster for me. Remember.... slowly to do it right,
and doing it for the right reasons," she said with a soft purr.

It took him what seemed to be entirely too long to get his mind back under
control, letting him think properly. She was openly offering herself to him,
in more ways than one, and he had every reason to believe she knew what she was
doing. Taking her blood would hurt her, but if she was willing to hurt herself
to help him.... would it be wrong to accept her offer? Would giving her what
she apparently wanted, even at a cost.... would that be wrong?

He looked into her eyes, trying to understand the emotions staring back at
him. A cold chill gripped him as he suddenly remembered seeing the exact same
look in Doris' eyes, back when she had suggested that he didn't need to wear
his boots in bed. Or anything else....

It's happening again, he thought before his conscious mind suddenly froze
in place. Or was it? Leila's words started to gently echo in his mind's ear
once again, trying to reassure him. I can't change the past for you, but I can
give you a second chance.... I want you to remove it for what you feel are the
right reasons....

His hands seemed to move of their own accord, very slowly moving down to
caress the smoothness of her thigh. Her skin was warm to the touch, the solid
muscles seemed to quiver beneath his fingertips. He allowed himself to linger
for a moment before moving down further, grasping the velcro strap and gently
pulling it apart. The material made a steady ripping noise as it was undone,
eventually falling silent as the two halves were separated.

A sudden frown crossed his face as he realized that she had secured the
holster just a little too tightly, as there was a red mark of abused skin where
the strap had once covered it. Realizing that she had been serious about being
chafed by the webbing, he wasted little time in unbinding the second strap with
a simple yet gentle tug of his wrist. A second red line was revealed as the
holster fell away from her leg, twisting slightly as he held onto the strap.

"D?" Leila asked very softly as she noticed the change in his expression.
"What's the matter?"

He said nothing as he tossed the holster behind him, reaching up with both
hands to very lightly massage her thigh where the marks were. The marks were
shallow indentations that would likely disappear on their own within a few
minutes, but he continued to gently minister to them anyway. He kept his touch
as light as possible, acutely aware of the fact that every subtle motion of his
hands on her legs sent a slight vibration to the kneecap still pressed against
his crotch.

The motion of his hands slowed, then stopped entirely as he became aware
of her pulse beneath his fingertips. A strong, steady, vibrant drumbeat that
called to him, beckoned to his dark nature. He realized that he would have to
feed soon, either from her or something else. He needed to, as much as it made
his human side sick to think about. Perhaps he should let her use her knife to
open up a small vein, so as not to leave a bite mark that could be....

But what if it couldn't? Could he? Should he?

Her eyebrows arched up slightly as she saw his expression change again,
wondering what he was thinking. It had to be something of importance, as his
gaze had suddenly unfocused for a number of seconds before he blinked, looking
back up at her with a studious expression. She would have asked him what was
on his mind if she thought she could have gotten an answer. That, and the feel
of his hands on her upper thigh was starting to make it really difficult to
think straight all of a sudden....

"D?" she half-whispered, half-moaned as his fingertips started to roam
across her entire leg. She forgot what she was trying to ask him when his head
came up, his lips suddenly melding to hers in a kiss that literally raised the
hair on the back of her neck. The intensity was electrifying, but the sudden
hardening of his kiss sent an icy chill creeping into her blood. Not that the
pressure on her lips had increased, but that she could feel the indentations in
his lips caused by his vampiric fangs.

She closed her eyes as his fingertips suddenly glided upward at a steady
pace, pushing the edges of her nightgown up along with them. A soft moan rose
up from her throat as his hands paused and reversed their motion, very lightly
snagging the waistband of her panties to take along with them. It seemed to
take both forever and only a short instant for the resistance to be overcome,
the cotton-like fabric sliding across her skin. The soft sound of them hitting
the floor seemed to echo in her ears, eliciting another quiet moan that she was
unable to completely suppress.

His fingers briefly explored the newly-bared curves of her lower body,
running along her hips to knead her backside before sliding back around to her
lower abdomen. His thumbs brushed along her nether lips with a feather-light
touch, tickling the soft downy mass of pubic hair before beginning a very slow
migration upwards again.

Their lips continued to remain in light contact as the nightgown was very
slowly removed, pushed up higher and higher until his hands were sliding over
her breasts. She sighed and leaned back slightly, breaking the kiss to give
him the space he needed to finish the task. He seemed to move with deliberate
gentleness as he raised her arms, allowing him to take the knife from her hand
even as the nightgown was pulled over her head.

She opened her eyes once the gown was completely off, looking at him with
what could only be described as breathless anticipation. She blinked as he
seemed to frown, glancing down at the blade in his hand with what might have
been a look of disgust. "D, what is it?" she whispered cautiously.

"I was wrong," he said quietly, his impassionate words flooding her veins
with a deep chill. "It's only double-folded carbon-edged titanium."

She blinked for a moment before laughing softly, not sure what else to do
at the situation. She had just let him undress her completely, and even as she
stood before him wearing nothing but a soft smile and a blush he was focused on
a mistake in identification made during the middle of the night. "Like I said,
it's served me well," she murmured. She hesitated before asking, "Do you want
me to...?"

His hand moved faster than she had thought possible, suddenly reaching up
to grasp her wrist. His eyes widened slightly as a look of revulsion crossed
his face, his other hand sending the blade spinning through the air to bury
itself in the wall behind him. "NO" he said in a whisper, his voice rasping
from the sheer force of emotion. "No, that...." he said in a far more gentler
tone, "Not.... like that."

His outburst of emotion surprised the hell out of her, but at this point
she was starting to get used to controlling her combative reflexes. "Alright
then," she said, trying to keep her voice soft and steady. She brought herself
close to him, gently pulling her wrist free from his grasp. She then ran her
fingertips across the expanse of his chest, studying his skin carefully. It
was as pale as the rest of him but was silky smooth to her touch, appearing to
be without scar or flaw. "So how are we going to do this?" she whispered.

Her eyes closed of their own accord as his hand came up, gently tipping
her head back. His lips brushed against hers a moment later, again in a soft,
almost ethereal kiss that made her tingle from head to toe. Her hands seemed
to respond of their own accord, sliding down to his waist to slip inside the
tight elastic band of his boxers.

All it took was a simple tug before his underwear joined hers in a puddle
on the floor, exposing him to both sight and touch. She started to explore him
as he had her, marveling at the softness of his skin before carefully toying
with a distinctly harder part of his anatomy.

She couldn't help the soft whimper that rose up from her throat as his
lips started to slide across her cheek, very slowly migrating down to her neck.
She knew he would take her there, as it was both an easy target and a strong
source of blood. She could feel his fangs pressing against his lips as he took
his time kissing her throat, waiting for them to part so she could feel the
sharpened points directly....

....but instead, felt only his lips sliding down to her collarbone with
all the tenderness of an experienced lover. It took her a moment to realize
that he hadn't bitten her yet, wondering if she had missed something. Those
soft lips continued a very slow descent, working their way over the top of her
chest to caress the swells of her breast.

"D?" she whispered, whether in confusion or anticipation or simple delight
she couldn't say. She reached up to caress his neck, running her fingertips
through his shoulder-length mane of hair. Her breath left her lungs in a soft
exodus a moment later as he began a very gentle assault on the underside of her
breast, his lips roaming across the supersoft flesh with an intensity that left
her breathless with desire.

The sense of anticipation only grew stronger as his lips started to move
in a circle, brushing the outermost edges of her areolae. She had to bite the
edge of her lip a moment later as his head suddenly dipped lower, leaving her
throbbing nipple untouched. What the hell was he doing? He was right there,
and even a blind man could see that she really wanted his lips to....

"Hey!" she protested gently as he suddenly stood up, sweeping her off of
her feet in a single fluid movement. The world around her suddenly became a
blur as he moved forward, and before she could even blink she found herself
being gently laid down on the bed. "Wow...." she breathed in awe as her senses
started to catch up to her. How fast had he moved, and with her in his arms?
She knew she wasn't exactly a lightweight, but he had seemed to have carried
her as if she were little more than a very bulky feather....

His lips return to her abdomen, disrupting her thoughts. They seemed to
be moving with a purpose now, pressing slightly harder as they roamed around.
She could still feel the presence of his fangs as he kissed his way across her
body, still kept concealed behind his lips for the moment. They would come out
to play soon enough, but if not up at her throat, where?

D heard her soft intake of breath as he dipped his head even lower, very
gently nudging her leg aside to kiss her honeyed sheath. The scent of her musk
was almost overpowering, calling him, whispering that she was more than ready
for him. The dark hunger in him was also fully awake now, restless with its
own needs and yearning for that sweetest of tastes.

The glow was back in his eyes, veiling everything with a blue tint. He
moved closer to her, letting his lips part to bring his tongue into play. A
very gentle pressure was all it took to glide the tip past the velvety folds of
her sheath, lightly flicking against the pearl of her womanhood. The call, the
lust of her blood sang out to him, begging him to slake his thirst, but there
would be no drinking here. No, he was on the holiest of grounds, and not even
the darkest part of him dared to try to take her in that most sacred of spots.
He lingered there for as long as he could, very gently lapping up another kind
of life-giving essence, one that neither force nor fang could ever acquire.

It was time now, as he barely could keep himself under control and simply
could not wait any longer. He lifted his head from the soft tangle of hair,
giving those supersoft lips a final kiss before twisting to one side to brush
his lips against her thigh. He found what he was looking for, coincidentally
nestled between the two marks where her knife holster had been. He tried to
resist for one final moment before giving in, mentally whispering a prayer of
forgiveness as he parted his lips.

She couldn't see straight anymore, the onslaught of raw pleasure making it
all but impossible to focus on the ceiling. A bolt of horror had shot through
her when he began to use his mouth, fearing that his bite would follow next.
A sense of relief strong enough to rival the tidal waves of intense pleasure
washed over her as he finally turned his head away. He wasn't going to bite
her there, thank God, but where would he.... on her thigh? Of all the....!!!

Her left hand was still on his head, gripping him tightly as she held him
in place. That only left her right hand free to move, crossing the gap to her
mouth in the blink of an eye to jam between her teeth. The pain was intense,
oh dear Christ, it was like being shot in the leg, bad enough her shoulder had
hurt like a royal bitch, but.... ow.... well.... okay, it was starting to fade
just a little bit, maybe it wasn't that bad after all, but still what the
hell was she thinking when.... oooooh.... what the hell? What was he doing?

Licking? Yes, that was his tongue she felt, very slowly brushing across
the twin punctures in her thigh. What the hell? Vampires suck the blood out,
they don't lick it. She know, she had seen it happen in front of her, when
that one had taken that poor young girl.... oooooh, that felt weird....

She allowed her thoughts to fade out as his right hand came up, sliding
across her stomach up to her chest. She pulled her hand out of her mouth and
grabbed him without thinking, clutching his hand tightly. Their fingers wound
up intertwined a moment later, pressing their palms together as they held on to
one another. The pain her leg was rather tolerable now, seeming to fade ever
so slightly with each brush of his tongue. You know, he seemed to know what he
was doing earlier, and if he doesn't wear out his tongue just yet....

She released her left hand from the back of his head, bringing it up to
join her right in holding his hand. She gently guided his fingers over to the
swell of her breast, letting go of him just long enough to press his palm flat
against the supertight point of her nipple. He very slowly began to respond,
working his palm in a slow circle that send electrical tingles screaming along
the nerves in the upper half of her body.

She had no idea how long he remained at her thigh, lapping up the blood as
it flowed freely. She didn't know when it stopped flowing, the river becoming
a stream before abating to a trickle, then finally drying up to little more
than a pair of faintly-oozing marks. What she did know, however, was the exact
moment his lips and tongue were finished with her leg and started to play with
her once again.

Her back reflexively arched as his tongue dove into her, not the gentle
explorations from earlier but a serious intrusion into her innermost garden.
Tiny sparks began to form in her vision as she was stimulated in a way she had
rarely been in the past, the onslaught of pleasure threatening to cut off the
breath in her lungs.

"D...." she whispered softly, knowing that she was as ready as she would
ever be, that if he didn't take her now she'd have to make him take her. A
sudden thought came to her then, wondering out of the blue if raping him would
really be all that of a bad idea. It'd give him something to think about for
a very long time, that was for certain....

One thing was for certain, the back of her mind thought. He needed to
quit doing that. Not what his lips were doing to her nipple right now, the
sudden contact really making her see and feel sparks, but the whole part about
moving so fast that she couldn't follow. One instant his tongue had been down
there, probing her depths with passion, and the next her breast was under a
most delightful siege from his lips. His weight settled against her a moment
later, the hardness of his manhood pressing against her just inches away from
where she wanted him, where she needed him to be....

....And with a simple movement of his hips, her wish was fulfilled. She
was fulfilled, feeling him inside her in a slow, gentle thrust. The slow and
gentle part lasted for a few moments before the pace picked up, leaving her
feeling utterly breathless at the feeling. It became even harder to breathe
properly as their lips met, pressing against one another in a primal urge of
lust and passion and need.

Time once again seemed to bend in on itself, seeming to take forever to
pass even as it passed all too quickly. She felt him tense, his head moving
down to press his face against her throat, struggling to keep himself in check,
to avoid from losing control. It was too soon for her, even with all of the
pleasure he had given her so far she knew she wouldn't, she couldn't reach that
peak of almost divine power before he did. But that only made her decision all
the easier to make.

She took as deep a breath as she could manage and forced her eyes open,
looking at him as she clenched her internal muscles. It was something she had
rarely practiced doing, but like riding a bike one didn't forget certain skills
once acquired. Time to meet the true power of a woman, she thought.

His reaction was almost comical in the way it played out. He was on the
downstroke when her muscles grabbed his manhood in a vice-like grip, causing
his body to lurch forward in a sort of stumble. His head was a blur as it came
up, his pupils widening rapidly as he stared into her eyes. His irises seemed
to suddenly explode outward a moment later as he orgasmed. The effect was so
powerful that she could actually see it crossing his optic nerves even as she
felt him pulse hard inside her, filling her abdomen with a curious warmth. His
breath left his lungs a moment later, seeming to roar past her with the force
of a concussive blast before he slumped against her chest.

Damn, she thought to herself, clearly impressed from her point of view.
She couldn't stop herself from giggling quietly as she reached up, running her
fingertips through his hair and along the broad expanse of his back. She began
to squeeze him gently on the inside, a series of gentle tugging and grabbing
motions that produced a very soft grunt from the dunpeal.

"D?" she whispered softly when she was sure his breathing had calmed down
to a more biologically-feasible level. "You okay?"

He slowly lifted his head up to look at her, his expression seeming to ask
'are you kidding?' while seeming to wonder what exactly had hit him. "Leila,"
he whispered, his voice rasping loudly. "What.... what did you do?"

She giggled again and squeezed his shoulders. "Nothing, really," she said
softly. A wicked look entered her eyes as she added, "Just thought I'd try to
put a smile on your face, that's all."

His eyes closed briefly, and she honestly couldn't tell if he had smiled
at her words or not. "Leila?" he whispered, and it became clear from his tone
that he was far from smiling. "I'm sorry.... I.... couldn't...."

"D," she said gently, a genuine smile of understanding on her face. She
couldn't have set this one up any better if she had tried. "Do me a favor."
She waited until he looked up at her with a faintly guarded look before she
explained what she wanted. "Just hold onto me as tightly as you can, okay?
Hey, don't go anywhere!" she added quickly as he started to withdraw from her
depths. That was the last thing she wanted right now, as she was far from
ready to call it a night.

He gave her a curious look before nodding, sliding back deeper inside her
as he slid his arms around her waist in a tight hug. She leaned forward to
kiss him deeply, wrapping her arms around his shoulders as tightly as she could
manage. She held still for a moment, basking in the warmth of his body before
she took a deep breath and flexed as hard as she could.

D blinked in surprise as they both twisted to the side, eventually ending
up wedged in the corner between the wall and the bed. He figured out after a
moment what she had really intended to do, but apparently had misjudged just
how much free space she had to play with.

"Sorry," she muttered, casting a disappointed look at the wall. Her eyes
went wide as he adjusted his position, thrusting his hips up to scoot his butt
over a few inches before likewise letting his back move. It was a very odd,
almost caterpillar-like evolution, but it was only a matter of seconds before
D was lying in the center of the bed with Leila still impaled on top of him.

"Yeah, that'll work," she said quietly, suddenly breathless from the way
his manhood had pressed against her when he had flexed. She made sure her legs
were in a comfortable position before she shifted her weight, edging forward a
bit before rocking back. Her eyes almost popped out of her head as she felt
him press right there, right at where she was the most sensitive.

Are you kidding me? she thought in awe as she adjusted her weight again
and repeated the motion. Oh, my god, he was right there, apparently he was
just the right size, the perfect size for her when she was on top like this.
If she had doubts earlier about this, they were bat-out-of-hell gone now.

"Well, D," she purred at him as she reached down, taking his hands in hers
and pressing them against her breasts. "I think it's safe to say that you had
your fun with me, right? I'm sure you enjoyed it. But guess what, hunter?"

He frowned at the sudden shift in her demeanor, suddenly wary about what
she was trying to tell him. He blinked as she leaned forward, resting the
weight of her chest against his palms and squeezing him tightly with those oh-
so-wonderful muscles on the inside, muscles he never even knew women had.

"It's my turn now, D," she whispered, her voice turning predatory. "And
I suggest you hold on, because I am going to ride you until I get tired. I
won't hurt you, of course, but I when I am through with you, you will never be
afraid of being a man ever again. Prepare to be owned, vampire hunter D," she
she breathed huskily as she started to move at a steady pace.

Oh, shit, was the only thing he could think of before things suddenly got
interesting. She was using her internal muscles to squeeze him as she moved,
her hips rocking back and forth in gentle motion. The feeling was well beyond
any descriptive words, making rational thought all but impossible.

Part of him could still think, however. That distant part of him, always
seeming to be disconnected from the strain of reality, told him that he was now
in the best of all possible trouble. The tables were very much turned, as he
was now the one being used, the one having to lay still while he was dominated
by the rising passions of lust. He understood now what she had gone through,
what they had gone through, Leila and Doris both, when they drew him down to
them, when they beckoned him to take them, yielding themselves to him as he now
yielded to Leila's ministrations.

He cursed himself long and hard for being a fool of a man, even as he was
gripped in an almost painful embrace by Leila's orgasm. How could he have not
understood this earlier? He had hurt her with his dark kiss, hurt them when he
had taken their blood, and that simple physical pain could never be denied,
would never be forgotten. But yielding to their desires, coming to them in the
heat of passion and even lust, hadn't hurt them. No, far from it.... if he was
feeling what they had felt, the pleasure, the joy, the simple exhilaration of
giving, then perhaps he indeed had been too hard on himself, that perhaps he
could be forgiven for taking their offered blood to sustain himself, to make
him strong enough to please them as they had wanted him to....

She continued to ride him at a steady pace, her movements quicker now than
they had been a short time before. Her sweat was raining down on his chest,
his stomach, his legs, dripping from her face and hair. Her skin was flushed
with pleasure and her breath labored in her lungs, her hands braced against his
chest. His hands were still on her breasts, kneading them strongly, almost
painfully as she rested her weight against him. A second orgasm rocked her,
the waves of pure, indescribable pleasure making every single muscle in her
sweat-soaked body shiver and twitch like a puppet having her strings cut.

And yet she continued to ride him, relentlessly riding the waves of her
own passion to even higher peaks with each thrust of her hips. He could feel
his own body reacting now, his own pressures building from being a part of her,
feeding the white-hot fires of her pleasure. It didn't matter if he was giving
her what she needed or if she was simply taking it from him, he was with her in
a way he had never felt before. How much had he missed out over the years,
the decades, the centuries of denying the urges he didn't know how to handle,
simply casting them aside with sheer force of will?

He was close now, close to bursting within her once again. Yet he could
sense that so was she, despite two orgasms only minutes apart and probably one
step removed from complete and utter exhaustion. He had been ashamed, even
mortified as how easily he had slipped over the edge earlier. Surely as a man
he should have seen to her needs, to at least bring her to an orgasm of some
strength before losing himself. But this time it would be different....

He closed his eyes lest he frighten her, deliberately reaching inward to
tap the darkest part of his psyche. He could feel the change a moment later,
his eyes starting to luminesce and his fangs emerging once again. He had no
intention of biting her again, but what he needed was a strength of will that
he long ago realized his human side lacked. The human part of him could only
resist for so long before the vampire part of him stepped in, and now he sought
to use it in a pre-emptive strike.

"D?" she whispered to him, able to see the change as he breathed hard.
Words failed her a moment later as she felt him start moving against her, his
hips rising up to counter her movements and his thumbs gently crushing her
fiercely-aching nipples against his fingers. The pleasure seemed to triple in
intensity as he worked with her, the tip of his manhood firmly gliding past
that magic spot time and time and time again, relentless in a pace that seemed
to set itself. The vast increase in sensation helped blot out her worry about
his visage, now openly vampiric and clearly entering a lustful frenzy.

Everything went blue, his breathing seeming to thunder in his ears in a
mad cacophony. His focus, his entire being, was narrowed down to a single part
of his body, a single purpose in mind. He had to control himself, he had to
hold off until her passion broke first, he had to, he HAD to, there was no
other choice, no other acceptable alternative, had to had to hadtohadto....

What was blue became white, a brilliant, blinding white as she cried out
in a half-gasp, half-scream. Her muscles tightened up around him, gripping him
so firmly and so suddenly that he had little doubt he would have gotten a bad
case of friction burn if she wasn't so deliciously wet. The feeling was beyond
description, and as before he found himself flooding her with what felt to be
his entire life-force.

The white glare slowly faded back to blue, then even that faded away as he
once again became aware of himself and his surroundings. Leila was collapsed
into a quivering pile on his chest, her breath audibly rasping in her lungs as
she tried to calm down enough to remember her name. Her whole body shook with
spasms and tremors of pleasure, her skin searingly hot where it touched his.

Everything became gray after that as he slid into what might have been a
very shallow sleep. He was dimly aware of his surroundings, the coolness of
the air on his naked skin, the frantic throbbing of her heart in her chest as
she lay on top of him, able to keenly feel her pulse around him where he was
still deeply buried inside her. And above all, the look on her face....

Doris had had the exact same look afterwards, too.

Maybe I didn't hurt her after all, was his last thought before everything
became a cool, comforting shade of black.


He returned to full consciousness when she moved off of him, just enough
to slide him free of her sheath before seeming to carefully edge off to one
side. His eyes responded a moment later, parting enough to let him see what
she was doing.

"Sorry," she whispered as she leaned forward. A soft kiss seemed to sear
his very soul a moment later, bringing with it a kind of warmth that he could
never truly remember feeling before. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"I'm awake," he replied quietly, almost managing to make it sound like his
usually reserved demeanor.

He was answered with a quiet giggle and another soft kiss. "Yeah, sure
you are," she teased him, her blue eyes twinkling with amusement and something
else. "I'm overheating here, so I hope you don't mind if I hop in the shower
for really quick rinse. I'll be right back, I promise."

He simply nodded back at her, wondering if she thought it was possible for
him to refuse her anything at this point. She patted his chest as she got up,
pausing to lean over for another deep kiss. He wasn't used to kissing, as it
simply wasn't in a vampire's nature to kiss when you weren't using your fangs,
but he was starting to feel that it was something he just might be able to get
used to. Maybe.

Only his eyes moved as he followed her trek across the room, making a stop
at the cabinet to get a clean towel before slipping inside the shower. That
she didn't wait for the shower to heat up before going inside told him that she
hadn't been kidding about needing to cool down. Granted her skin had felt
warmer than usual as she laid next to him, but he didn't think it had gotten
that hot. But then again, he had just discovered how wrong he had been about
so many other things....

((D?)) it spoke up in a very cautious tone.

It took him a moment to decide if he wanted to impale his hand on the
nearest solid object or not. He finally settled for turning his left hand
around, gazing impassively at the thing embedded in his palm. "What?" he asked
in a soft but flat tone, indicating that this was not the time for it to
start anything.

((I'll ask you about the details later,)) it said with a soft chuckle, the
wrinkles looking even more wrinkled than usual. ((Just tell me one thing, D.
Was I right or wrong?))

It galled him to say it, but he had to say it nonetheless. "It seems you
were right," he said very quietly.

((Heh,)) it laughed softly. ((Amazing what a little trust can accomplish.
Something tells me you're not done yet, D, but that's between you and her.)) It
seemed to hesitate for a moment before continuing. ((D, I don't want to rain on
your parade or ruin what you seem to have going here.... but remember what I
said about needing to rest?))

"I know," he replied simply.

((Just saying. Oops, that was a quick shower, wasn't it? Like I said, D,
don't be afraid to open up to her and be your true self,)) it said, the voice
dropping to a whisper as the shower door opened up. It seemed to melt back
into his palm in an instant, the face-like features smoothing out until it was
little more than a collection of deep wrinkles.

He dropped his hand to his side as she approached, toweling her blonde
hair furiously. She paused to move the towel lower, giving her body only the
most perfunctory of passes before dropping it on the floor entirely. She sat
on the edge of the bed, leaning over to kiss him soundly once again before she
stretched out.

She made a soft noise of protest as he scooted away from her, giving him
a slightly disturbed look. She paused as she realized that he was only trying
to make a comfortable space for, letting her stretch the full length of her
body out against his. She snuggled up to him as she reached down, drawing only
the bottom sheet up to their waists. Her head rested on his arm as she stared
into his eyes, the soft smile of satisfaction seeming to be been permanently
implanted on her face.

"D?" she murmured softly, one hand coming up to caress his face. A soft
sigh rose up from her chest as he looked up at her, realizing that he wasn't
going to reply verbally to her just yet. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," he replied softly, almost instinctively.

She laughed softly to herself as her fingertips meandered across his face,
stroking his jaw, brushing his lips, caressing his chin. "You don't know what
exactly I'm thanking you for, do you?" she inquired lightly.

He said nothing as he stared into her eyes, the barriers of isolation no
longer present but part of his reserved persona still evident. "No," he said
after a brief silence.

"D.... why did you take off the knife holster?" she asked gently.

"Because it was hurting you," he replied without hesitation, causing her
to blink in surprise.

"Really," she said slowly. "I know it was chafing me, but you didn't see
that until you already removed the first strap," she pointed out. "So why did
you do that much?"

It was a long time before finally answered her. "You asked me to."

She nodded in understanding to him, a faint hint of sadness springing to
her eyes. She thought she had been prepared to hear him say that, but part of
her wanted it to be the other way, that he had truly wanted her. "Thanks," she
whispered to him.

"Leila...." he asked softly, almost hesitantly. He saw the deeply curious
look in her eyes and pressed on with the question he was almost afraid to ask.
"Why did you come to me like this?"

She laughed softly at the question and leaned forward, melding her lips to
his in another deep, soul-binding kiss that he found he was really beginning to
like. "I guess I just needed a reminder that I was human," she replied. She
paused and tilted her head at a slight angle when he saw the confusion in his
eyes, studying him like a bird might examine something of avian interest.

"I don't understand," he said after trying to think about it.

She sighed quietly and leaned against his arm, closing her eyes for the
moment. "It's part of being human, D," she explained in a very soft voice.
"It helps comfort us in a time of need. It reminds us that we're alive, that
we haven't lost our hold on our humanity like so many of those creatures out
there. We know we have needs they don't, needs they can never have. The need
to touch and be touched, to hold and be held, to love and be loved. A need to
make love, to take and be taken," she added in a soft whisper, reaching up to
hold his hand gently.

"I think I understand," he replied quietly.

"I hope you do," she murmured, squeezing him gently. "I really do. D....
I want you to promise me something."

He waited patiently for her to continue, suddenly feeling uneasy at the
look on her face and her hesitation at speaking further. "I'm listening," he
finally said quietly.

It seemed to take her a moment to find the courage to speak, her blue eyes
focused down on the hand she was holding and not him per se. "If in the future
you happen to escape another nightmarish situation like what you and I did back
in the castle, and.... you're in the company of a woman you had to rescue or
had fight by your side for awhile.... if she comes to you once the dust settles
and seems.... interested in you.... promise me you won't refuse her," she said
softly, finally looking up at him with a deep sadness in her eyes.

He remained silent for a few moments, trying to figure out what previously
unidentified part of the human psyche was being tossed in his lap this time.
"Why do you ask this?" he finally inquired, unable to fathom her motives.

She sighed and curled up tightly against him, suddenly appearing to be on
the verge of crying. "D.... I know I can't keep you," she whispered, the pain
clearly evident in her voice. "I know that you will leave here when the storm
is over, go collect your reward for saving Charlotte's soul, and start hunting
for the next vampire on your list. I want to go with you, but.... I...."

"Leila," he murmured softly, tilting her chin up. He silenced the pain in
her voice with a soft kiss, a surprisingly tender gesture that seemed to calm
her down. "I understand more than you realize. They destroyed your family,
tainting your soul with the fires of revenge, and for awhile you allowed that
darkness to burn inside you. But even the strongest fires will run out when
there is nothing left to burn, and it seems that you have reached your limit.

"I do not know how many vampires you killed, but after how you helped me
back in the castle, none can say that you have not done your part in ending the
vampire menace. You have earned your rest now, indeed you must rest, or you
will only fuel the black fires of vengeance with the only thing you have left
to offer.... your humanity."

"D, I don't want to lose you," she whispered, the tears starting to fall
now. "Not after I've lost so much, not after finding you."

He said nothing as he held her tightly, ignoring the acidic stinging of
her tears as they dripped across his chest and arm. It was no worse than being
splashed with holy water, which meant it was still tolerable. What bothered
him beyond words was the fact that her tears were scorching him, making him
realize that being in the presence of a crying woman was even more dangerous
than he had thought possible.

"D?" she asked very quietly sometime later, once the tears had finally
dried up. "How long do you think it will take to finish the job? Of killing
the rest of the vampires."

How long indeed? he wondered to himself. He had been at this for far too
long to remember how long ago he had first picked up a sword to kill the first
one. Hundreds of years, certainly. Thousands? Maybe. Their numbers had been
vast then, and targets had been plentiful. It was only recently that human
vampire-hunters had risen to prominence, first one or two, then several, then
entire groups of them banding together to purge the vampire plague. Perhaps
they had just needed a little emboldening first, perhaps he had even inspired
some of them to pick up the sword or gun or whatever they chose to use.

"I don't know," he finally said with genuine honesty. "Their numbers are
not what they used to be, and those that are left have started to take great
care to make themselves difficult to find."

"Do you.... do you think you can finish it within my lifetime?" she asked,
almost too softly for even he to hear. She looked up at him as he glanced down
at her, their eyes meeting in silence for a minor eternity. "I.... I know this
is selfish of me to ask, D, but if you do finish them off once and for all....
would you return to me if I was still alive?"

He stopped to think about how to answer her. If a miracle happened and
every single vampire suddenly turned to ash tomorrow morning, both on Earth and
in the City of the Night, it would be a lie to say he wouldn't then sit down
and think about remaining with her. It was likely, however, that it would take
at least another two hundred years to purge the planet of them, both vampires
and dunpeals alike, before he could set out to finish the job in the City of
the Night. Two hundred years in which he wouldn't appear to age a single day,
but for a human like Leila....

"I will try," he said quietly, knowing that it would be enough to put her
at ease, if only a little bit.

"Thank you," she whispered, a soft smile touching her face once again.

"You didn't answer my question," he pointed out a moment later. He saw
the slight look of confusion in her eyes and added, "About you wanting me to
promise you that I wouldn't refuse a future companion."

It took a moment for her to remember, a sudden blush spreading across her
face at it sank in. "Oh, that," she said demurely, glancing away. "I just....
thought that if I couldn't keep you, I'd at least try to give someone else the
chance to.... get to know you like I have."

He raised an eyebrow as the crimson blush darkened to an almost painful
intensity. "What do you mean?" he prodded, thinking he had a decent idea of
the meaning her words but not wanting to chance a misunderstanding.

She glanced up at him, her cheeks now a solid sheet of red. "D.... you're
the best lover I've ever had, and I mean that," she admitted. "You're the kind
of lover women would kill for, and when you add your reputation for being alone
and mysterious, a sort of noble hunter.... well, what girl wouldn't be tempted
to have a little fun with you?" she purred coyly. "You know how women are...."

No, I don't, he immediately thought, keeping his expression neutral.

"...When they gather together, talking about this and that, and eventually
telling one another about their boyfriends," she continued, her tone starting
to grow husky once again. "I kind of like the idea of being able to listen to
them for a bit, then saunter up to the bar for a refill and say, 'That sounds
nice, girls, but let me tell you about the night I had with a legend, the night
I had with none other than vampire-hunter D himself....'"

He closed his eyes as she pressed herself against him, her leg coming up
to rub against his in a slow and seductive manner. Her lips brushed against
his ear, her teeth very lightly nipping at the pointed end before whispering,
"And it was the best night of my life...."

There was little he could do except turn to face her, his lips seeking out
hers with a gentle hunger. It wasn't a hunger for blood this time, but a new
kind of hunger, a desire for her, for her lips, her softness, her taste, her
warmth. They were all new things to him, not because he had never encountered
them before.... he would never forget Doris, or now Leila.... but because he
had never stopped to identify them, to see what they were and to open himself
up to the experience.

You don't know what it's like, Meier Link had softly told him before their
final battle, cradling Charlotte's body in his arms, you who have never loved
a human before. He had brushed aside the vampire's statement, replying that he
had never killed a human, either. At least, not a genuinely innocent one....

Perhaps Meier had been right after all, that he didn't understand the
other side of the equation because he hadn't felt it for himself. Would that
change things? Did that mean that vampires could truly love, could truly be
sincere in their desire for change? Even if it did, would it be enough to stop
him from hunting the vampires to extinction? What if they were to leave as
Meier had, to abandon the planet for the City of the Night, never to return?
Could he live with that?

"D?" Leila whispered to him, bringing him out of his brooding thoughts.
"What's on your mind?"

He said nothing as he looked up at her, studying her intently. If a pure-
blooded vampire could love a human, true and genuine love, didn't that mean a
dunpeal like himself could love as well? To draw off of not just half of his
nature, but the whole of it? Even if it was possible, could he do it, after
spending his entire life steeped in darkness and vengeance? Would he even be
able to recognize it if he ever encountered it?

"D, please," she implored him gently. "Don't close yourself off from me.
Tell me what you're thinking about. Please," she whispered, one hand coming up
to stroke his cheek.

He heard her soft voice as she spoke, but he also heard her voice speaking
from before, laced with soft emotions he hadn't recognized then but knew about
now. I can't change the past for you, but I can give you a second chance....
Slowly to do it right, and doing it for the right reasons....

Very well then, he thought as he decided he was finished thinking. He
slowly leaned into her, kissing her deeply with a softness and tenderness that
took not just her breath away but his as well. His right hand gently caressed
her body in slow motion, tracing the soft curves of her neck and throat before
moving down to toy with something far more softer.

She made a soft noise to herself as she reached up to hold him, leaning
back to let his lips and touch explore her. Their eyes met for a moment when
he pulled his head back, able to see the wide array of emotions reflected in
her eyes. Surprise, amusement, desire, curiosity, passion.... and something
else. Yes, that one.... he had seen in Doris' eyes as well, but as he hadn't
then, he still couldn't identify it now.

D figured it could wait, as he had something a little more important to
try to identify first.... the unknown emotion burning in his own chest. If she
could help him with this one, great, and if not.... well, at least this one
wasn't going to hurt her. Or him.

He bent down to nuzzle her throat gently, using just the softness of his
lips. He dared not press any harder for fear of reawakening his dark nature,
content for now to listen to her soft intake of breath at the contact and even
softer sigh of pleasure. His hand very gently massaged the ultra-softness of
her breasts before moving down further, caressing the muscles of her abdomen.

Her other hand responded in kind, sliding beneath him to brush against his
chest. She turned her hand over to rub her knuckles against his stomach, her
fingers making a rippling motion that made the bony nubs perform an unusual but
pleasing dance against his muscles.

The whispered sounds of pleasure increased in volume as he edged down, his
lips peppering her skin with kisses as he blazed a trail down to her breast.
The slightest parting of his lips allowed the throbbing point of her nipple to
slip into his mouth, giving him the opportunity to experiment with it in ways
he had occasionally overheard being discussed. It seemed there was some truth
to all that had been said and that he was doing something right, as she readily
responded to his tender attentions.

Her hand continued to mirror his as he slid it down even lower, spending
a few moments marveling at the soft patch of hair framing the gentle pucker of
her sheath. He was almost distracted from his oral task as she returned the
favor, her fingertips lightly intertwining and toying with the sparse patch of
hair that surrounded his manhood.

He very carefully leaned over her, letting his mouth and tongue caress her
other breast as he brushed a single fingertip over her nether lips. He could
already feel the warmth, the wetness, the scent of her musk calling to him as
it had earlier. He didn't doubt that he would have reacted on his own without
her gentle touch on his manhood, but it just felt so right to be with her
like this, gently giving her pleasure and gently receiving pleasure in return.

He stroked her gently, parting her lips just enough to let the tip of his
finger dance over the pearl of her womanhood. Her breathing was still steady,
but he could feel how deep it was becoming, feel the tension in her body as she
stroked his shoulder-length mane of hair with gentle urgency.

His mouth moved back up to hers as he edged himself away from her touch,
very carefully shifting his weight. Her lips melded to his as she leaned back
into the bed, pulling him down to her. The searing kisses went on until he
started to move, bringing his lips down to her neck as he entered her.

The sound she made was music to his ears, a sighing gasp that was neither
but was something far more instead. He moved with deliberate slowness, taking
his time easing into her fully. He let himself rest for a moment, marveling
at the sensation of being inside her before just as slowly and gently starting
to withdraw.

"D...." she murmured softly, her voice filled with so many emotions that
he literally couldn't tell one from the next. Another soft moaning rose up
from her chest as he filled her once again in a slow and gentle thrust. "Oh,
god, D, what are you doing...."

There could only be one answer, only one right answer. "I'm doing it the
way you told me to," he breathed softly in her ear. "Slowly to do it right,
and doing it for the right reasons."


He stilled her lips with a soft kiss and a gentle movement inside her.
"I wanted to make love to you, Leila," he replied quietly, almost inaudibly.

The tears took him by surprise, seeming to well up without warning as her
arms tightened around him. "D...." she started to say, trying to look up at
him through the watery veil. "I love you," she finally whispered.

And then it became clear to him, absolutely crystal clear, what that last
emotion had been, what he seen in both her eyes and Doris' eyes. He had every
reason to believe that she was sincere in saying so, that her human heart was
indeed in love with him.... And yet....

"I know," he said quietly, not knowing what else to say before kissing her
once again. A deep chill ran down his spine as he suddenly remembered saying
those exact same words, those same two hollow, empty words to Doris after she
had confessed her love for him.

He was being given a second chance, and the past was repeating itself.

The thought was thrust from his mind with as much mental force as he could
muster. Not now, he couldn't deal with that thought now. He was with Leila,
inside Leila, not just having sex but making love to her. It wasn't with his
body.... well, yes it was.... but he was taking her with his heart, with the
human part of him that she had just showed him how to open, how to use, how to
enjoy. And most importantly, how to live with.

He did his best to empty his mind of everything but his thoughts of her,
trying to keep his pace slow and steady. He managed to do a good job of it
too, at least by his standards. He wasn't sure at which point the slow and
steady pace of gentle love-making had become a little more passionate, a little
more energetic, a little more alive, but neither of them cared.

All that mattered was that they were together. Alive.

And gloriously human in their love for one another.


She had no idea when she woke up, having fallen asleep in his arms after
the slow and lengthy bout of passion. She knew he had fallen asleep as well,
which didn't surprise her in the least. Three times in a single day was more
than enough for a man of any species. And so she slept next to him in utter
contentment, dreaming a very nice dream for the first time in years.

She carefully opened her eyes at the sound of something metallic, not sure
what to make of it. It seemed her eyelids took their time in parting, bringing
the darkness into a semblance of focus that took another few moments of effort
to refine.

The sound had been made by his sword as it was secured in place against
his back, the tip of the scabbard almost brushing the floor. His dark clothing
seemed to blend in well with the near-darkness of the room, only the paleness
of his head and hands standing out in stark contrast.

He must have sensed her shift into consciousness as he suddenly paused in
mid-motion, turning around with his wide-brimmed hat in his hand to look over
at the bed. A deep look of sadness seemed to cross over his face before he got
it under control, his expression once again returning to the stoic, impassive
mien she was quite familiar with.

"D...." she whispered, knowing that he was getting ready to leave.

He said nothing as he set his hat down on the bed and walked over to her,
kneeling down next to her. He reached out to her, taking her hand in his and
giving her a gentle kiss that almost made her whimper.

"The storm has broken," he said very quietly.

"D," she said quickly, grabbing his hand in a grip of desperation. "You
don't have to go just yet, please don't...."

"It's night now," he replied calmly, bringing his left hand up. "You need
to rest until the morning and take care of those wounds."

"D" she breathed as she started to sit up. His hand touched her bare
shoulder and suddenly everything became hazy, very very hazy....

"Sleep, Leila," he whispered to her as her eyes closed despite her best
efforts at keeping them open. She could feel herself falling into a void, a
place where dreams and reality intersected and she couldn't truly tell one from
the other. She could still hear his voice, however, soft as it was and laced
with pain. Not the pain she had heard earlier, but a new kind of pain.

"You know why I have to do this, to return to the hunt I have devoted my
entire life to. If I quit now, while I am so close to ending this, it will
mean that I have thrown my past away for nothing. I can't do that, Leila, not
for you, not for Doris, not for anyone.

"Maybe one day soon I will be victorious, and that none who walk the land
will be contaminated with that dark evil. Should it be within your lifetime,
I will try to find you once again. I couldn't promise Doris the same, and so
I can't promise that to you either, but I will try.

"What I will promise to do is what you asked of me earlier, to accept an
offer of human love and warmth should it be given to me again in the future.
I didn't know what it would be like, no idea how it might have affected me and
not understanding the force behind it, and so I always pushed it away. You
changed that for me, however, you showed me just how much of a fool I was for
ignoring the potential out of distrust and fear. For that I can never thank
you enough. I will never forget Doris for how she helped touch my humanity,
and I will never forget you for how you touched my human soul.

"I do not know where my travels will take me, but I will always take some
comfort in knowing that at least one leads back to you and the warmth of your
love. I do not look forward to having to keep my other promise to you, but I
will bring you flowers one day. I can only pray that you do not surrender the
warmth of your heart to the void in my absence, that you can keep it burning
long enough until someone else touches your heart as you have touched mine. To
not love is a travesty, but to know love and then lose it is even worse, as I
believe Meier Link understands now.

"I must go now, Leila. I only hope that you can still show me your love
in your smile when I deliver the flowers to you. Farewell, my friend."

The words faded gently from her conscious mind as the dreams rose up to
claim her. The ethereal images were of a hopeful future, one in which he would
only be gone for a short time before returning to her, a bouquet of soft white
flowers in his arms and that look in his eyes again, a look she had only seen
once before as he held her near the end of their love-making.

She wouldn't discover the ring on her finger until the morning, the gold
band that had once belonged to Charlotte and was now the only proof of her sad
passing. The letter resting atop her knife holster wouldn't be spotted until
she had finished crying and had gotten dressed, informing all who read it that
the vampire hunter known as D had finished his task as promised, and that his
assistant would who bore the ring as proof would be accepting the payment of
twenty million dollars on his behalf.

For someone who had next to nothing, the gift was almost more than she
could bear. The tears started anew, only to be replaced by a gentle smile on
her lips as she truly realized what he was giving her: A chance at a new life.
Twenty million would be more than enough to get her started on whatever path
she wanted to walk in peace. And walk it she would, unable to prevent an odd
smile from crossing her face whenever someone asked her about her past and how
she had gotten to where she was now.

The smile inside her, however, the gentle smile of love engraved into her
heart and seared to her soul, would only be quietly visible on her face when a
storm would rumble past her, teasing her hair with gentle winds that always
reminded her about a special man who had touched her heart and changed them
both forever.


Note: This story has been reformatted to comply with fanfiction net's engine.
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