Maura was on her way to the side entrance that Saturday night to collect cover when Janette caught her in passing. She'd only been on the job for a week but already she sensed her new boss had taken a personal interest. Given the details of their respective lives, it wasn't a surprise.
"Maura, I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine. He comes by the club frequently, and should never be questioned or charged for anything." She indicated the good looking man to her right, medium-tall, dressed in black jeans, white buttoned-up shirt, and black leather jacket. His hair was strawberry blonde, she'd never seen many guys with that color. His eyes were a deep blue-grey, a much darker version of Janette's, and old in contrast to the boyish face that sported a stylish scruff of beard. Though there was no physical resemblance, she wondered if he and Janette were related, and how. She already knew the answer, and she knew what he was even before that.
"Hi, I'm Maura Logue," she said with a smile as she extended her hand. "Janette hired me to manage security but I'm still learning the operation."
"Maura has had extensive club experience in Boston and Vancouver," Janette explained, never taking her eyes off Nick, gauging his reaction, "only a fool would have turned her away. Maura, this is Nicholas Knight, he's a police detective. We go... far back."
He smiled and took her hand, "Call me Nick. I'm glad to meet someone Janette trusts so completely with Raven, there aren't many who can say that."
She held his eyes as their hands joined. His grip was normal male strong/gentle, but his skin was cool. Not what you'd expect during the warmer-than-usual May Toronto was enjoying. Cool as in body-cool. There was something else. A visual "click" in his eyes, one Maura could feel as well as see, a shock of recognition he was very good at disguising. But not entirely. In that one second, each knew who the other was. And Janette knew it would happen. After the merest second of blank cognition, Nick's smile returned as he released Maura's hand. Only they noticed the heartbeat's hesitation.
"Well. I'm sure we'll see more of each other. As Janette said, I pass through frequently."
"Well, a police detective might be a handy ally in my business," Maura acknowledged.
Nick raised an amused eyebrow as Janette commented, "I rather hope not, cherie."
"Homicide," Nick explained, and Maura shrugged.
"Whatever it takes. It was very nice meeting you, Detective Knight," at which point he corrected, "Nick. Just Nick." Maura laughed, and Nick could fairly taste the richness behind it. "Well then, Just Nick, I hope to see you again, but not professionally." With a nod to Janette, she was gone about her business.
Immediately Nick turned to Janette and demanded, "Where did you find her?"
A shrug. "She found me, Nicolas. That is the truth. She came in the door on Monday night looking for a job, and the staff nearly fainted as one."
Nick responded drily, "I can imagine. Does she know what she is?"
"I daresay if she didn't, she would not have lived this long. She knows too well. She knew what I am, what we all are, she had heard the rumors and came here of her own accord. Safety in numbers, perhaps."
"Like a virgin in a men's prison? I doubt that very much." He was watching Maura as she chatted with the Vargo the bouncer, then handed off her take to the Vachon at the bar for safekeeping. She knew all of them were vampires, whatever made her think she could work here safely?
"Are you watching out for her, is that it? Is she one of yours?" The last word held an unmistakable weight.
Janette gave an incredulous laugh. "No, she is not 'one of mine'. I can't afford to be so clouded by desire. She is nobody's, not now. But she has told me… things, about other places and others like us. Not pretty, to be sure. So I let her stay in the office for now. It's safer than anywhere else, since you know she can't disguise herself as we do. Mortals are easy to fool, but she is unmistakable to us. And even immortals would like to keep their jobs, so she is left unmolested. Besides, she fits in rather well."
"Why Janette, have you become a humanitarian?" Nick asked in undisguised amusement.
"Who knows better than we do what it means to be hunted?" she reminded him sharply. "And besides, I needed a security manager, Nicolas. Who better than one who knows us but is no threat? And no competition," she mused, eyes following a young mortal who trailed by, drink in hand. "Excuse me," she followed after him.
Nick shook his head slowly. In 800 years, he had heard about mortals referred to as "prized", but had never met one, had almost come to take them as mere legend. Mortals whose blood was rich beyond imagining, ambrosia, searing the senses with euphoric delights that defied description. A human drug. Nobody knew the why or how, but to find one was to find paradise, brief respites from the hell on earth the immortal existence too often became. Any vampire, it was said, could detect any prized mortal in a crowd of a thousand mortals. Their scent, it was said, was like honeysuckle mixed with amber, and Nick realized that he'd been struck by that when Maura had come within six feet of him and Janette. And during the new moon the power of their blood increased tenfold, triggering a passion and pleasure unknown in mortal or immortal existence. For these reasons and more, they were a favorite prey and their lives were child-brief. Little was known about how they lived, or where, or how they stayed alive at all in a world full of immortals who could seldom pause in their craving long enough to allow one to survive. They could not be brought across, nor could they be controlled hypnotically. For that reason alone, LaCroix had once told Nick, the Enforcers ordered killed every prized mortal that was discovered. They knew a vampire at first sight and could not be compelled to submit to control without their consent, which was of course no control at all. Even LaCroix had never encountered one. How they were created, for they were born only of mortals, was a mystery. For Nick, and Janette too, it was like meeting a unicorn, the rarest of rare. Particularly because this one had survived into adulthood, and appeared to be in her mid-thirties.
Maura told Vachon to take off with his friends, she'd finish the bar work. "Go on, Vash, you can't stay out as late as me." After barely a week she felt comfortable among them, knowing they wouldn't bring her to harm because it was Janette who had invited her into their circle. She sometimes teased her coworkers about getting up at the crack of doom. Besides, they all seemed to like her, and she them. They felt her ease with them, her lack of fear that didn't come from arrogance but from empathy. Everyone here was trapped by who they were, one way or another.
Maura set the last of the cases of empties in the alley to be picked up by the distributor on Monday, or picked clean by the denizens of the neighborhood for deposit money. When she turned to re-enter the club Nick was standing behind her.
"Damn! You all just can't help yourselves, can you, always gotta make an entrance!"
He looked a little sheepish. A sheepish vampire, that was new. "Sorry. I forget sometimes." He savored her scent. Honeysuckle and amber. It was the night before new moon, and it was becoming clear to him that the "legends" were not legends at all.
"So, you come here for a taste?"
Nick started. Could she read what he'd been thinking? "What?"
"You know, taste of nightlife off duty. Like that." She saw his recovery and knew how he'd taken her. "Oh brother, you're not gonna be one of them?"
"Them?" Nick echoed, rather stupidly he realized.
"One of them who just stand around and watch me like some animal in the zoo, or like some schoolboy drooling over the prom queen but no nerve to ask her out. I know I'm no raving beauty, but it's kind of like some guy looking at the most gorgeous woman alive. Naked." She thought for a moment, and added, "Or maybe like dogs in heat."
Nick seemed taken off guard, but his visceral response as she stepped closer was unmistakable.
Maura stood planted before him, hands on her hips. "Look, we know who we are. I could see it on your face the second we shook hands. Let's not play games. These are vampires. You are a vampire. And I am every vampire's favorite fang candy. So why am I here? Or more to the point, how did I live long enough to get here? You're a detective, Detective, so which do you crave more, blood or answers? Well step into my office, and I'll fill you in. I know it's killing you." She paused a beat. "Unless that's redundant." Nick followed her inside with a bemused smile.
Janette's "office" was a sumptuous suite of rooms in the labyrinthine rear of the club, and she had given Maura use of one of the additional boudoirs that had traditionally been used for "entertainment" rather than sleeping. Elegantly furnished, Maura had nonetheless decorated it in her own style as best she could, with Indian silk scarves and the few books she still owned. A small statue of Ganesh sat on one end of an ornately carved Victorian style vanity, a statue of Lakshmi on the other.
"I suppose I'm giving a terrible first impression, inviting you to my room when we've only just met." Maura's smile made the joke obvious.
"Hey, I'm a cop, I can defend myself if I have to." Nick hadn't been in this room in quite some time, and took a look around at the small additions Maura had made. Indicating the bronze figurines he commented, "Covering all the bases, I see."
"Good fortune and money. What more to ask? At least I'm not a Christian."
Nick settled on the velvet sofa. "Would that be so bad?"
She rolled her eyes. "Oh yeah, giving my life and responsibility up to the creation of a book of myths dictated by shepherds millennia ago. Sounds like a plan."
Nick laughed. "But you have these," he indicated the statues.
She was realizing she loved the sound of his voice, low, quiet. Gentle "They guide me. They protect me. They remind me to pay attention. They do not tell me what to do."
"I don't suppose anybody does," Nick mused with a smile. He really was liking this, meeting someone new who hadn't just had someone near and dear murdered. Her hair was deep red, her eyes a mottled green, her complexion Irish-ruddy. He did enjoy color.
Maura sat down at the other end of the sofa. "Okay I'll bet you're wondering lots of stuff. Like I did when I first encountered one of you. You wonder how I got this way, you wonder if I'm enchanted or something. You wonder how long I'll live, and most of all you wonder why living breathing vampire-bait would choose to consort with the undead." Nick made an unpleasant face. "Sorry. I'm not known for being P.C. How about 'viability-challenged'?" Now he laughed.
"I don't think I've ever heard anyone make jokes about it."
"She who laughs, lasts." Her smile faded a bit. "Anyway, the only difference between a laugh and a scream is modulation."
"So, tell me why, if I'm not prying." The answers to most of his questions were merely a matter of curiosity. But this intrigued him.
"Nah. Most people, dead or un-, couldn't care less who I am or where I came from. Hmm. Why. I guess I could say I subscribe to keeping your friends close but your enemies closer. But that's not really it. These aren't my enemies, they're actually helping me. Protection I guess. I show I'm not a threat to those of you I come to know, and in return you mostly don't drain the tap until I'm albino."
She shrugged. "Well there have been some less than stellar characters. Like any culture, there are the nice guys and the assholes. Of course in the mortal world the assholes aren't usually fatal. So I count on the nice guys to cover my back."
"Does it work?"
"I'm still breathing, aren't I?" She sighed. "Look, I guess some would think it's weird to spill to a stranger. But my guess is we're not really strangers, are we?" She met his eyes. They looked right into her. Something was here, she felt it, something she'd never encountered before.
Nick was thinking the same thing. "I don't suppose we are. And I'm told I'm a good listener."
"Goes with your job, I guess. Anyway," she settled back, stretching her legs out on the sofa, feet stopping inches short of Nick's thigh. "As for the first question, I don't know, but I think it happened shortly after puberty, in Boston. At least that was my 'first time', if you know what I mean. One of you lot popped out of an alley, just like in the movies, and that's all she wrote. He almost killed me, but not quite. Somebody found me and brought me to the hospital and they transfused me to the limit. But whatever it was about me didn't get drained out with my blood. It took a few more 'encounters' before I realized what might be happening every new moon, and sometimes in between. But new moon is always the riskiest time."
"But you were a kid. How could you figure it out?"
"Instinct? Maybe this little gift came with accessories, I dunno. All I know was that in no time at all I could pick you guys out at fifty paces, but you couldn't do the same, not until you got within a few feet. See I started asking questions, between 'high seasons of the month', and found you have to get close enough to smell me which for a vampire is about maybe ten feet or so? No mortal notices it so it's gotta be pretty subtle."
Not so subtle, thought Nick, who was surrounded in her scent and trying not to respond. He'd noticed Maura had made no mention at all of family, but decided it would be better not to ask. In 800 years he'd learned what wasn't shared wasn't meant to be his business.
"Call it a vampire pheromone. Anyway it made me lots of new friends, mostly unwanted but some better than others. Only a couple, though. And they didn't last." Her face betrayed more weariness than sadness. "See, the Enforcers, are you surprised I know about them? They're not allowed to kill me themselves, they'd be tainted or something. So from time to time when they get convinced I'm gonna blow the whistle they send minions who of course have lesser powers. Though they do pretty well at persuasion and deceit. They keep me careful I guess, and moving around, but being a human target makes you cagey. My protectors weren't so lucky. They're bound by that quaint code of yours, but I'm not."
"It sounds like a hard life." Acknowledgment, not understatement, Maura realized, and exhaled in a derisive chuckle.
"At least. In between times, I just have to be alert and careful. I mean I still pack a mind-altering wallop to anyone who feeds on me, but nothing like the new moon. At the new moon, that first night especially, it is open season and I have had to lock myself up and then some. I used to try to get arrested about that time, but found out the hard way it's no guarantee. You guys are everywhere. So since my life is a prison, I do what prisoners do. I become one vampire's bitch to save myself from being everyone's."
The bitter humor didn't register with Nick, he was so focused on her casual description of continual torment. "Maura, I can't imagine," he pictured what she obviously left out, the fact that she probably wasn't entirely successful at hiding herself. "It sounds just like," he didn't finish the statement.
"Rape?" she finished for him. "Yeah." She sighed painfully now, and was unable to suppress a shudder. "More times than I can count. The only time I'm sort-of safe is in the daylight, so that is the only time I sleep. When I can." Nightmares were a given.
Unconsciously Nick had wrapped a hand around Maura's crossed feet. "I'm so sorry. I guess I always thought the worst that could happen to mortals at our hands was death, or betrayal, or to be brought across. But those things only happen once."
She smiled wanly. "Guess I got the gift that keeps on giving." She glanced at her watch. There were no windows in the room. "Hey it's getting early. You'd better get back to where you go. Tomorrow's new moon and it's time for me to hang them religious symbols I laugh at the rest of the month. Thank goodness for immortal superstition." She withdrew her feet from Nick's grasp and rose.
"Nice talking with you, Just Nick. Really. Not often I get to think out loud to an understanding audience."
"My pleasure. But Janette appears helpful," he waved his hand around the room and was surprised by Maura's cynical bark of laughter.
"Oh, yes, Janette. Don't get me wrong, I genuinely like her, and I am grateful for the job and the digs. But I haven't lived this long on naiveté. She'll get bored playing mother soon enough and then it's time to move on again, if she hasn't offered me up as an employee bonus. You know of course she set you up tonight."
He looked puzzled, then annoyed as reality broke. "She wanted me to meet you, not the other way around."
"Janette believes that I should mix more with the not-quite-mortal."
Maura shook her head knowingly. "She thinks you'd enjoy some magic blood." His eyes narrowed. "You do know, don't you. Well no illusions among the not-quite-mortal, huh?"
"Perhaps," Nick suggested tightly, "I need to have a talk with Janette," then added more reasonably "Don't sell her short, though. She's capable of more than you might give her credit for. Even if she is fond of meddling."
Maura stopped short at the door and turned to face him. "Oh, don't make anything of it. She really does have your best interests at heart, even if she is completely wrong. And believe it or not, I trust her. Anyone with that kind of power has no reason to lie."
They stood inches apart. Nick was still trying to ignore her scent. "Tomorrow is the new moon."
"Don't I know it. I have the next two days off, and I'm gonna spend 'em locked up here and hope for the best."
"I have the next two days off as well. You could stay at my place." He couldn't believe he was saying it. Being the host even for a few hours was not his strong suit, even when everyone went home after, and they had met less than two hours ago. Damn. What she was pulled at what he was, sure. But even the part of his mind that was clear told him she'd be safer with him.
She regarded him carefully. "If you're offering to play protector... I guess I could do worse, seeing you're a friend of Janette's." She clicked into the evaluation mode, weighing the risks against the benefits. This one seemed different, but they all did at first, didn't they?
Nick shook his head. "No, not like that. I'm offering a safer place than here, as someone who's got eight centuries' experience consorting with and dodging 'assholes'." She knew he was right. She also knew it could be a bad idea. She was drawn to him, to his quiet voice and open manner. No. It was too soon after the last betrayal.
"And by the way, I don't 'play' at anything." His steady gaze and gentle voice convinced her, in spite of herself.
"Okay. But you're proposing something that could be, uh, risky for both of us, you know? You could end up a little over your head." As if she couldn't.
He smiled wryly. "Better me than the whole neighborhood. Come on, I'm parked out front."
She packed up her things into a couple of travel bags and joined him as he left the room, feeling slightly more impulsive than she believed was smart.
"Janette," he called to her as they crossed the bar, "Maura will be visiting with me for a couple of days."
Janette looked insufferably pleased with herself, Maura thought. "Be careful, Nicolas, don't let her get... in your blood."
Janette's smugness annoyed Maura. As they were leaving she pulled Nick around and shoved him against the doorframe, kissing him hard. "Might as well give her a show, huh?" she whispered, and he laughed quietly and pulled her tight against him, kissing her equally hard, mouth open, his tongue velvety cool in her mouth. It was a lame excuse for them both, but that first contact threw out Nick's last pretense of detached concern. Like a teenager curious about drugs, he wanted to know prized blood was like, and he wanted to know with her. He inhaled deeply before letting her go. "Sweet," he told her as they left Janette staring after them.
Maura was laughing that rich laugh he could almost taste. "Not bad for a dead white guy," she teased.
"I have my moments." He ushered her into the caddy, and drove home.
She explored his loft with interest, lingering over his paintings and books and expressing pleasure in his choice of color in the former.
"You miss the sunlight, don't you?" she asked him. "Most of you guys don't, or pretend not to, but I can tell by these paintings you're trying to bring it home."
He'd come down from putting her things in the bedroom. He'd use the couch. He could sleep anywhere, after all.
"Even after this long I try to remember what it felt like," he admitted. "I got a sun lamp once, but it wasn't the same. Still I stayed under it too long and got a very mortal-style sunburn." A rueful smile. "Sometimes I open the shades a bit during the daytime, to watch the light move about, as if it were a live thing."
Maura jumped as she heard the window blinds slide and lock into place.
"Custom made," Nick explained. "Daylight-proof."
"Asshole-proof?" she asked hopefully.
Nick replied with an apologetic shrug. "Remains to be seen. But they couldn't hurt."
She was rooting through the kitchen.
"Do you always rifle the kitchens of strange men?"
She turned to challenge, "Do you always invite strange women home?"
"Some 'stranger' than others," he shot back, and with a wave of his hand invited, "go ahead. I have nothing to hide, from you anyway."
She pulled the fridge door open and discovered the endless Bordeaux bottles that did not contain Bordeaux, and smiled.
"Ah, the reluctant vampire. You know I've heard a bit about you already. From Janette. And the others."
Nick was seated on the sofa now, feet carelessly propped on the coffee table. "Naturally. Immortal gossip."
As she returned to the living room Maura elaborated, "Yeah, they've told me all about how you're trying to redeem your past 'sins' by way of your police work and, uh, mitigating, your nutritional needs. You're obviously at great pains to mix with mortals, and not for the usual reasons. Janette told me, in fact, you have a friend who is helping you to shed your fangs, so to speak." She didn't intend to sound dismissive, but somehow that's exactly how it came out.
"Well, we all have our goals, n'est-ce pas?" he answered shortly, and rose to turn on the stereo. Dvorak filled the room.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. I think in just a few days I've picked up Janette's lousy habit of making every real concern sound droll." She approached where Nick stood, back to her, examining some cd's he already knew by heart. "Really, I find it remarkable that it has even occurred to someone that they might be able to change, let alone that they'd want to. I think I've been dealing with you guys for so long I think of you as some sort of ethnic group, you just are who you are, like an Arab or an Eskimo. Different history, different customs. I mean, you do have your own shared cultural heritage in a way, don't you? And you do bring such things along with you to add to the mix! I can't imagine being of so many different places and times and people, knowing the limitations of life but being immortal."
When he turned abruptly to face her, there were pulses of gold in the blue eyes. "Maybe I'm just trying to have it both ways." He reached a hand to her waist. "After all, my version of life does have its advantages. Late nights, pleasant company," he leaned in close and his nose barely touched under her ear. She didn't want to step back, but she did, and his eyes returned to normal. He shook his head as if to clear it. "I'm sorry. I invited you here to be safe, not seduced."
"I've had worse offers." She was remembering their kiss at the club. "Don't be sorry," she patted his arm and went back to slouch on the luxurious leather sofa, her feet on the coffee table where his had been. "There's really nothing I can do about it, so I've learned to live with it. Even the best of intentions have their limits, I've seen that before too and I don't take it personally. Really, Just Nick," and he smiled at what he now recognized as his permanent nickname, "you're not betraying my trust or your honor or anything." Seeing her stretch and yawn, Nick realized it was after 3 a.m.
"Why don't you get some sleep. I've fixed things up for you upstairs." She followed him up and was impressed with the sleek decor of the bedroom. Spare lines, blacks and reds. "Wow," she bent to run a hand over the red silk velvet comforter, took in the black lacquer furnishings. "Very classy." He shrugged, but she continued, "No really, I've never met a broke vampire, but you don't all have the best of taste."
"Call it 'timeless' elegance," he laughed softly at his own joke. "I think you're having an effect on me. Your things are there," he indicated her bags in the corner. "The bathroom is down the hall on the right. I'll be downstairs if you need anything. Sleep well." She was bending to her bag when he hesitated in the doorway. "May I ask you something? Two things really."
"Sure." She stood and faced him, tall and lean silhouetted in the light from the hall, a red-gold halo around his head.
"Why do you trust me?"
She shrugged. "I don't know, Just Nick. I have so little left to lose, and have gotten used to picking the least threatening port in a storm, regardless of the fee. I hope you're not offended."
He leaned against the doorjamb. "No offense taken. And there's no fee here."
"Excuse me if I say that would be a first. But what's the second thing?"
He took a step in, then seemed to stop himself. "That fragrance, it smells like,"
"Honeysuckle and amber," she finished. He nodded. "I don't wear fragrance, it's just me. But you knew that, didn't you?"
"I suppose I did. Anyway, someone should bottle it. It's lovely."
"To you, maybe. To me it's the mark of Cain. I'd give anything to be rid of it. But maybe you're right, we'll get some chemist to bottle and mass-market it. I'll call it... 'Camouflage'."
Nick laughed kindly. He couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed so much in one evening. "Perhaps my friend can help you. We'll go see her tomorrow. Sleep now, I've taken enough of your time."
"Thanks. It's been a while since I've slept in a real bed." When he'd left she undressed and put on a too-large t shirt with the words "The dark is afraid of me" on the front. A stupid play at bravery, she'd had it for years. She crawled into bed and was immediately overwhelmed by the feel of the black silk sheets, the warmth of the comforter. It was so hard for her to stay warm for very long, given the frequency of her blood loss. She was asleep in seconds.
The dreams came. They always did, night before the new moon. Every lie, every betrayal. Every useless run and hide, every discovery and attack. Pain, and confusion, and the awful inevitable repetition. It was always only a matter of time, til next time. No matter what she did or who promised to help. This time would be no different. She was trapped now in a strange place, in a strange room, and the only one who knew the way out is the one who would hand her over in the end. They always did. A figure in the doorway made her scream in desperation, in futility. It disappeared, and she fell back in bed, weak with relief, only to see it reappear. Now she wailed in resignation, in recognition of what would come next. Pain and terror, helplessness. That was the worst part. She scrambled off the bed, and the figure pursued, it was saying something she couldn't hear over her own screams. Crouched in the corner, back to the wall, nowhere to go, her cries turned to gasping breaths as it came closer. Again. And again. And again. It would never stop, never. But then the figure stopped short, and she heard her name spoken in a quiet soothing voice, calling to her, trying to calm her. "Maura, it's me, it's Nick, don't be afraid. You're safe here. You had a dream. I know, I have them, too. Don't be afraid, I won't hurt you." She shrank back as far as she could, but a hand touched her, grasped her wrist, her shoulder, touched her hair. Strong. Warm. Warm? If it was warm, it would be okay.
Nick had heard Maura's first scream as he sat reading on the sofa downstairs. She hadn't been up there for very long. He considered the upstairs to be secure in an everyday sense but since meeting her he doubted everything he'd been sure of. He flew to the bedroom door, seeing nobody but Maura, cowering in bed and crying out in fear. He took a step, and realized the cold in him would only terrify her more. Back in the kitchen he seized and hastily drank a full bottle, barely pausing to swallow. It would warm him for a while, long enough to keep him from being added to her list of terrors. When he returned to the bedroom with a bright candle she was crumpled in a corner like a hunted animal. Which was, of course, what she was among his kind.
"Maura, it's me, it's Nick, don't be afraid. You're safe here. You had a dream. I know, I have them too. Don't be afraid, I won't hurt you." He reached out to take her hand, to touch her and wake her and let her know he was no stranger come to harm her. She shifted and fought, "NO, no, no-no-no-no," less words than a series of panicked yips. He let her go.
"Maura it's all right, you're all right, you're safe. It's me. I won't hurt you. You're safe here."
The room was pitch black but for the pool of candlelight from the dresser. He could see every angle of her face, her eyes so wide they seemed to fill it, barely seeing him. "Safe?" she hissed, disbelieving. "Safe?" He moved closer and she seized the front of his shirt, "Safe!".
"Safe," he whispered, sighing with relief when she came to him. He held her tight, kept talking to her, "Safe Maura, I'm here, I'm watching, don't be afraid." She held on with a power that surprised him yet didn't, as if he were salvation itself.
"Safe?" she kept repeating, incredulous, "Safe?"
He lifted her and set her on the bed, tucked the covers around her and continued to hold her and whisper to her. Her fragrance enveloped him like a vapor. "Safe," he told her and finally, finally kissed her cheek and hair, not like they kissed at the club but gently this time, gently, to soothe and comfort her. Or so he told himself. She reached around him and pressed tighter against him as if offering herself in payment, anything, anything, "Safe, keep me safe, I'll do anything," she promised in a low desperate voice, "whatever you want, just help me, don't leave me to them." She bent her head back to expose her throat to him, and it struck Nick like a blow.
"No," he told her fiercely, holding her away from him, angered by the ugliness that drove her to such a bargain. "No more. You don't have to do that, you don't have to give yourself up anymore. Not to me, not to anyone, I won't leave you to them." The words came out without effort, and without regret. A bond was forming already, quite different from what Janette had imagined. She was beginning to calm down, focusing on his voice. How she loved that voice, already.
"I wish I could believe you, I want to believe you, I need to," she told him in a rush, "but there have been so many promises, so many lies, I want to believe you..."
"You will," he promised. She wound her arms round him again, this time pressing her face into his shoulder.
"Make me believe it, make me believe."
He whispered into her hair, passionless kisses and passionate words. "I won't have to. You'll see. You'll believe all on your own."
Something was different this time, something she couldn't name, something that reached inside and told her he was the truth, even more than the few others who tried and failed. But part of her still fought it.
"You'll leave me to them, you will, you'll leave me or kill me or give me away, like the others. I've known them all," she protested, but still held tight to him. Wanting to believe. Waiting.
"You haven't known me." He was still, as quiet as he could be, "Maura Logue, you haven't known Nicolas de Brabant, Knight of the Second Crusade." Only he knew what a hollow title that was. "I won't leave you, I won't kill you, I won't give you away, you're safe here," he clenched his hand in her hair to hold her head against his shoulder.
"Nicolas de Brabant," she repeated in wonder, understanding now his tremendously long life and the torment he must have collected, and broke his grip on her to look him in the eye. She was slowly regaining the inner strength that had faltered in the dark. She took a deep breath, looked away to the candle, and back to his eyes.
Nick ventured a smile as he peered into her face. "Better now?" She nodded, a little hesitantly, a little sheepish.
"Yeah. I just, I have these dreams, the night before, you know..." she trailed off.
"I don't wonder."
"I'm not usually like this. I'm a strong person, really," she felt the need to explain. He hushed her.
"If you weren't, you wouldn't be here to tell me. Do you think you can go to sleep now?" He read her uneasy nod and added casually, "I'll stay for a bit, okay? Do you mind?"
She tried not to sound too eager, too desperate. "Sure. Which is your side?"
Before she could move he assured her, "You're fine where you are. I'm flexible." He waited until she was settled down on her side in bed, then went into the adjacent dressing room to change. When he returned in sweatpants and t shirt he caught her smiling.
"I dunno, it just seems that some stuff is universal 'guy', you know? Sweats and t's for bed, mortal or im."
"Ah. Well, 'creature' comforts make for comfortable 'creatures'." He was beginning to get the hang of this vampire humor.
"You're catching on."
When he slid into the bed next to her without need of explanation, she relaxed completely, feeling drained of everything that had happened for the past months. Years. Safe. She felt safe here, and the feeling was so blessedly welcome she didn't bother to wonder why.
"You really don't have to do this, you know." She was sufficiently recovered to be a bit embarrassed by her display of abject dependence.
He was leaning up on an elbow as she spoke. Like a goddamn sleepover she thought. It was too weird to get her head around at the moment, but she felt oddly at home and at peace. For once.
"It's okay. Besides, you warm up the bed. It's nice." He leaned toward her a bit and told her as if in confidence, "And you smell nice."
"That's my problem," she responded woefully. He reached out a hand to smooth her hair back from her eyes.
"Not with me. Sleep well, Maura. Don't be afraid. I won't leave."
He settled down on his back, facing the ceiling, hands folded on his stomach. No reason really, it was just his most comfortable sleeping position.
"You wanna lily or something?" she ventured, her humor creeping back to cover the strangeness of the situation.
"Don't push it." But he was smiling.
"Sorry." She reached for his hand, and was surprised to find lingering warmth there. "I am trying to believe." He gave her fingers a squeeze.
"Don't worry, you will." He kissed the back of her hand and released it. "Good night."
"Yeah, you are." Pun intended.