Disclaimer:I do not own any of the Legacy of Kain characters, references, places, etc. Just Darcy. I don't even own cider. Just a work of fiction because I love the games and love to write.

She liked the colors that came with Christmas. Aldercy sat in the main square, her spidery hands wrapped tightly in the folds of her cloak, watching the grandest festival of the year. It wasn't often in this dark life that people really celebrated and came into the streets, but this was the one event when everyone cast off their fear.

So Aldercy sat on the edge of a frozen fountain in the main square of Meridian, drinking in the glistening candles and luminous decorations. There was a grand tree hauled in from the forest, decorated in blown and swirled grass, wooden carvings, and bits of colorful oddities. The top was crowned by an ornate bird feeder, and sparrows and all sorts of birds vied for feeding rights. There were stalls set up throughout the square, the smell of meats and cider perfuming the crisp air, and children scampered about and couples giggled together.

Hanging lanterns were strung over a meticulously shoveled and salted area, and outdoor tables had been set up. A group of minstrels were playing, their steamy breath fogging out of the bells of their instruments, as lively music stirred the young and old to dance. The ladies in their heavy winter dresses and cloaks swirled in a frenzy of rich colors, their hair speckled with the light snow. Rosy cheeked with the lights in their eyes, boys found themselves drawn to the perfect illusion of peace and happiness the holidays instilled. Any young man and woman with good legs were up dancing, sweeping along their cleared dance space joyfully.

Aldercy was tickled as a friend of hers swept by, her hair tumbling all over her shoulders as she laughed louder then normally acceptable. The two girls shared a smile, before the dance partner swept the girl back into the eddies of festivity.

Glancing at a nearby stall, Aldercy realized she had a fancy for some cider to warm her chilled fingers. She reached beside her and lifted the smooth crutch, carved out of cedar in a mitten clad hand. Tightening her scarf, Aldercy levered herself up effortlessly in a practiced maneuver, sliding the crutch under her armpit and setting it confidently on the scraped ground. A few snowflakes tumbled out of her carrot-colored hair, and melted against the freckles on her cheeks.

"Darcy! Darcy!" called a young man, and she turned to see her curly haired brother coming towards her. He took her face in both hands, and kissed each of her cheeks warmly. "Darcy, where are you going? Not home before the festivities are over?" he frowned.

"Of course not," Darcy smiled. "I'm just getting some cider. Have you found Marlene yet?" she asked, looking eagerly over his shoulder for the pretty blond with china blue eyes. Her dark brother smiled and nodded.

"Save me a dance, won't you?" he demanded.

"You'll probably cut a much more striking figure with your girly," Darcy answered brightly. "But a pity dance wouldn't hurt my feelings any,"

"Do you need help getting to the cider?"

"I'm a cripple, not an infant," she sniffed at him, and he tweaked her nose, leaning forward and kissing her forehead. Their eyes twinkled merrily at each other. With a squeeze of her arms, her brother Dorian vanished to go back to his lovely betrothed. They were going to be married in May, and were enjoying the freedom and chess game that was proper courtship. Dorian was four years younger then Darcy, and slated for a happy life. His jaunty step and fine face made him the desire of every young woman, and he had a keen eye for dyes and cloth. He would make a fine heir to their father's business.

Darcy picked her way carefully along the slick cobbles, weaving between the dashing children and crowded celebrators with an awkward grace in her dipping and jerking shoulder. Her attention was on the lighted cider stand, but strayed to the velvety soft cloaks of the rich and wealthy women. Her father and brother made such things, and Darcy even recognized the vendor as one of their own servants. The two women shared a smile, and Darcy took a detour to speak with her.

"Darcy," the servant Rosa smiled. She came from a family of dye traders, and bore a tattoo of a colorful knot just above the low sweep of her bodice. Darcy and Rosa had been conspirators and friends since Darcy had been flung into their camp on the back of a frightened horse. Since then they had been counterparts in all the wild twists and turns of childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Rosa was pregnant again, her third child coming, and was plump with delight and happiness.

"You're positively exuding motherly delight," Darcy nodded. Rosa extended the muffler her hands were stuffed in, and Darcy hobbled in her odd grace to join the pregnant woman by a glowing brazier. They shared the muffler, Rosa warming Darcy's cold hands tenderly. "You're not worried about catching a cold?"

"Not with this robust thing in me. My husband will finally have his son," Rosa smiled broadly, her plump features rosy. "Besides, it's nice and warm in this corner. You'll never believe the types we've had dropping by lately, not even if I swore by it up and down. Do you want to know?" Rosa's eyes twinkled with mischief and wonder. Darcy leaned in, until they stood forehead to forehead. "I believe your brother will be commissioned for the dyes in Lord Kain's standard," she whispered, and Darcy's eyes widened.

"The Vampire Emperor?" she whispered back to Rosa's excited nods. Rosa came from a people who had lived in defiance and harmony with the Vampires, and Darcy had always admired them. Doing business with a Vampire was as common for them as doing business with a human. If they quarreled or were sometimes eaten, Rosa's people thought of it as something similar to a skirmish or mild blood feud. Since Rosa's kin had come to work with Darcy's, a prominent family of merchants with a good eye for profit and fair in their dealings, Darcy's family had been in the good graces of the Vampires. While Darcy never met any of their nighttime consumers, Rosa interacted with them often.

"Isn't it exciting?" Rosa demanded gleefully, and Darcy nodded, awestruck. "There are an unusual number of them here celebrating with us as well. You'd better be careful in your selection of dance partners," she added with a wink.

"At least it would be someone outside of the family. You know how easily pleased we spinsters are," Darcy rolled her eyes.

"Oh pish posh. You're too wild to stay true to one man anyway. I know how you red heads are."

"Stop superimposing your nature with my uncanny good looks," Darcy tossed her wild hair, tangled about her shoulders in feral curls. Rosa had only married her husband because she'd miscounted her moons. Neither spouse was faithful to the other, and they made something of a game at it, tallying counts and seeing who could rile up a Vampire more. Rosa was, however, careful to only supply children that belonged to her husband.

"Tut, as if we weren't the same person in two different bodies," Rosa clicked her tongue. "What had your eye over here?"

"Cider," Darcy's eyes got large.

"Oh yes, the cider addict. You'd think it was opium the way you pine for those silly spices," Rosa clucked. Darcy laughed. "Well get on with it. And don't forget my warning about dancing," she gave her friend a meaningful look. Darcy only kissed Rosa's cheek and withdrew her hands. She hobbled away as Rosa busied herself with a customer, her round belly layered heavily and staunch features illuminating the evening.

The smell of apples and cinnamon were mouth watering. Darcy leaned on her crutch in line, rubbing her cold hand in anticipation. This was her favorite part of the holidays, when the Church was more lenient on indulging your cravings and she didn't have to repent or confess for another few weeks. As it was, her last confession had finally had her admitting to defiling her body with a small tattoo on the soft skin of her forearm. She had been forced to repent by spending hours on her knees doing Hail Mary's and praying over her rosary. The priests had watched her carefully, recalling the days in her youth when she would sneak to the stables and jump horses over the fences to roam wild and free. Well, those days were gone after the fever.

Three people ahead of her sighed in frustration, and dispersed. She tilted her head as the shopkeeper put up a sign, saying they were out of cider and were waiting on a few more barrels to roll in.

"Aw, how long?" she frowned, leaning on the counter.

"About an hour,"

"I'll freeze to death before then!" she moaned dramatically. The shopkeeper smiled. "Well, maybe my fiery personality will keep me warm. Hmm…" she hobbled back to the stall where Rosa was working, and joined her in selling the cloaks.

The girls came in all their colorful garb to try on caps, scarves, mufflers, an cloaks. They cooed over the colors and buried their fingers in fur trim. Darcy couldn't help but delight in their happiness, as she adjusted ribbons and turned collars just so to best show the garb and girl off. The gentlemen were pleasant to Darcy, flirting as they recognized the lame daughter of the Stark family, and the girls insisted on her opinions of this and that and gnawed for tips about May fashions for her brother's wedding. Darcy only smiled and suggested that perhaps bluer skies were in the future.

"Oh, the lady forgot her muffler!" Rosa sighed, and Darcy slung it over her shoulder.

"Don't worry about it. I'll go after them. I might not be fast, but they're certainly in no hurry," she assured her friend, taking up her crutch and swinging after the feathered cap of a wealthy older woman and her aging husband. "Ma'am!" Darcy called, but the woman didn't hear or turn around. She and her husband continued across the square and into the streets beyond, all the while having Darcy gain on them. She finally managed to catch up as they passed by a crowded inn. "Ma'am, please. You left your muffler," she huffed at last, and the older woman's face lit up.

"What a dear! I'm so sorry we didn't hear you," she said in her ancient voice. "Our ears aren't what they used to be," she admitted almost painfully. Darcy smiled brightly anyway, and shook her head.

"My pleasure," she assured the woman, who promptly left.

A group of rowdy young men burst out of the inn, laughing and singing, their faces flushed with drink. Darcy was unfortunately in their path, and ended up being thrown to the ground in the heap of them as she felt the distinct snap of her crutch.

"Sorry 'bout that ma'am," hiccupped a square-jawed brunet. He smiled at her good naturedly, and grunted as his face was planted into her chest by a friend's squirming. Darcy gasped and tried to get out from beneath them, catching her arm along the sharp splinters of her crutch.

"Please get off of me!" she shouted, trying to push the heavy, smelly men away. A thick arm reached down and began hauling the men off of her, as she gripped her broken crutch in dismay. The men were already off into the streets again, accosting more young women merrily. How was she ever to get home?

"A broken crutch is the least of your worries," gruffed a man above her. She lifted her chin and saw her father standing over her, smelling of ale and a bit bleary eyed, but more or less sober. He pulled her up to her feet, and draped her arm over his wide shoulders. "You caught the eye of a blood sucker," he burred softly into her ear, and her insides seized up. She hobbled stiffly alongside him, terror skittering up and down her spine.

They arrived at the clattering and noisy Inn, which Darcy absently recognized as the Boar's Head, her father's usual haunt. He sat her down at a table of his old friends, all of them smoking and playing cards, murmuring something to one of them and hurrying off to find her a new crutch.

"Miss Stark," greeted Giles, a bent old man with no hair and a sparse beard. He smiled at her with his crooked, healthy teeth. "Come to fill in for your old man?"

"You look white as a ghost, lass. This'll put the color back into you," Valence smiled and thrust a mug under her nose. She snapped backwards, shaking her head vigorously, trying to get away from the smell. The men laughed. "Told you!"

"What game is it tonight?" she snapped out of her stupor, scanning the room for anyone who looked like a Vampire. No one stuck out sorely to her, and no one was paying any attention to her.

"Old fashioned Poker," Giles replied. "What card is this? Me eyes aren't so good any more," Giles frowned and showed her his hand. She covered it from Morgan, who was leaning over eagerly for a free insight.

"Giles raises," she said, tossing a few of his coins into the pot. As a girl, her father had taken her often to the tavern and poker matches, teaching her these skills as he never taught Dorian. As a boy, Dorian had been sick for a long time, and Darcy had become the tomboy and son her father longed for, until the scarlet fever had left her lamed. Playing poker and dice with these men was as common to her as it was to tend to the wounded in the dye camps.

"How's life at the camps?" Argus followed her line of thought, his tawny beard and blue eyes a welcome familiarity. He was the youngest of her father's gambling partners, barely forty, and had his own interest in Darcy. She was just twenty four, and while she anticipated being a spinster, Argus had been mulling over their likelihood as a match. He was a widower, after the same scarlet fever had taken his young wife and both children.

"Eventful. There's always someone who needs a bandage," she smiled at him. Her mind distantly contemplated a life with Argus. "The latest game entails scampering over the dye vats. The children will give me gray hairs."

The door opened and closed and the din in the room hushed. A cold sensation swept down Darcy's spine. She looked over her shoulder, and saw the distinct features of an ancient Vampire. Pale skin and impossibly defined features, he moved with a grace peculiar to Vampires, particular to a race that had all the time in the world. He fixed his feline eyes on Darcy as he approached, and her throat went dry. She banished any thoughts of a potential match between she and Argus.

"No…" Argus breathed painfully.

"Shh! You know what'll happen!" hissed Valence. The eyes of the men at the table turned to Darcy, who sat transfixed as the Vampire approached. He stopped before her, and the pair gazed at each other in silent communication. She looked up at him pleadingly, and his expression remained immobile. Begging permission, she turned and made a sweep across the table. The other men were nervously fiddling with their cards, as the room whispered about Aldercy Stark, about to be devoured. None of her father's friends moved to help her, all of them averting her eyes, as if she were an unpleasant corpse.

"Would you care to buy a lady a glass of cider in the square?" she asked, turning back to the Vampire. "It seems only fair I get to quench my thirst first." Her voice was steadier then she had even hoped, and it made her smile. Her Vampire host looked mildly intrigued, and she extended her hand to him. "I'm not much on my legs these days. Mind helping me along?"

His three claws placed themselves on her warm palms, and she used him to rise to her feet. Without looking back or asking permission, she tucked her fingers in the crux of his arm and leaned heavily against him.

The Vampire played the part of gentleman with a degree of malicious delight as he walked her through the crowded room and stopped her beneath the mistletoe. His eyes gleamed sadistically as he planted a kiss on her neck, his cool lips sending chills down her body and almost making her gag. She gave him a baleful look, covering her throat with both hands and balancing precariously on her good leg.

"Not until I get my cider," she told him, her face flushed with anger and helplessness. The scarlet of her cheeks became shame and misery as the whole Inn let out a hiss of uncomfortable breath, and she couldn't bear to look back at her father's friends.

"It's a tradition," the Vampire replied, taking her fingers and settling them back on his arm.

"You're horrible." Her eyes darted up to him angrily, and she chewed on her lips. "You can't just kiss a girl you don't even know!"

"Humans do it all the time," the Vampire reasoned conversationally. Darcy scowled, knowing he was right. He pulled her close as he stopped to open the door, and dropped his chin so that his lips brushed her ear. "Besides, we'll be intimately acquainted in less then an hour," he reasoned malevolently. A small, frightened noise escaped from the back of Darcy's throat, and her eyes flashed up at him in terror. His fangs gleamed as he smiled down at her, and his eyes twinkled behind a shock of raven hair. Her heart twisted in disgust.

"I wonder if this is what a cow feels like when it's sold to the butcher," she whispered to him softly.

"Luckily, a cow isn't blessed with rational thought," he patted the small of her back, and ushered her out the door so quickly she had to grasp the fine clothing he wore in order not to fall. She hung on, pressed against his silent chest, as a blast of winter air flung itself in her face. It was already significantly darker, and the lamp lighters were climbing up the high posts doing their jobs. A dreamy haze filled Darcy's mind as the Vampire slowed and allowed her an easier pace.

She turned to her executioner after a moment, determined to keep from sobbing and ruining her last few moments, and studied his profile. It was fine and handsome, with sharp cheeks and an exact jaw line. His high forehead was fringed in ebony hair, flecked white by the listless snow. His saffron eyes found her, lifting his eyebrows and asking her to indulge his curiosity.

"A face like that belongs on a chess board," she told him, and his smile begged further explanation. "You should be an alabaster knight," she ruminated, trying to keep herself distracted by paying overdue attention to him with the expression of an antique appraiser. "Or perhaps Queen would suit you better. With looks like that you could have Lords or Ladies."

"Are you implying I'm androgynous?" his voice bordered on irritation. While Darcy wanted to antagonize him, she knew her fate was already grizzly enough.

"And they say women can't take a compliment. I wish I was so attractive that gender didn't matter. As it is, I'm lamed and freckly to boot," she sighed deeply, trying to imagine what her overly dramatic face would look like, and wishing she was about to be devoured by someone with a sense of humor and not just a mean streak.

"And what would you do if you had looks like mine?" he prompted.

"Run as fast as I could for as long as I could," she gave him a weary smile. "Do you think I'll have legs in the afterlife?"

"My specialization is in un-life, not being either living or dead," he replied.

"What a political answer. Are there bureaucracies in the un-life?"

The Vampire contemplated her question with surprising sincerity, pursing his lips. He mulled the point over as they turned a corner, and Darcy slipped on the cobbles. Without breaking his thoughts, he kept her from falling and they continued towards the distant music. Darcy tossed some snow dappled hair out of her eyes.

"Perhaps you have eternity to decide on the answer, but I've got about a half hour," she prodded him. Amusement danced across his face.

"Emperor Kain has no tolerance for bureaucracies. His schedule doesn't even allow for definite rules," he replied.

"Should I leave orders to spoil his standard? We could dye it pink," Darcy tapped her chin.

"I think perhaps that would be a bad idea."

"You could blame it on me. It's not like he can drag me back from beyond to dole out retribution. Can you imagine our deified Vampire ruler in baby pink?" Darcy couldn't help herself and giggled nervously, muffling it behind a hand.

"You think that's funny?" the Vampire asked.

"Why? Are you Kain?" she asked merrily, smiling.


"I'm still going to laugh. I'm too scared to do anything else." He waited obligingly until Darcy had laughed the initial burst of fear out. "You're a lieutenant then," Darcy smiled at him, wiping the glistening tears out of her eyes. "Why are you here to eat me?"

"My selection was arbitrary, based solely on not wanting too much trouble. I had you singled out while you were at the fountain."

"What kept you?"

"It was too bright out. Then I had to track you all the way across the square so you could return that muffler to the decrepit ones." He sighed, as if put out.

"Perhaps you suffer from arthritis in your old age as well. Is that why you waited for me to return the muffler?" she tried to sound sophisticated as she psycho analyzed him.

"I thought it might be fun to see how long it took you to realize you were being followed. As it is, you're oblivious enough to make a cow envious of your blissful absence of mind," he replied evenly.

"So then, why are you humoring my last request?" she asked the question that had been gnawing at her since the Vampire had agreed to take her for cider. He stopped, and turned to face her, untangling their arms and standing apart. His eyes went over her critically, and she balanced precariously, waiting.

"Should we get down to brass tax then?" he queried, and Darcy shook her head.

"I want my cup of cider. If you had just ambushed me, this wouldn't be a problem. Now humor my company and tell me why you're humoring me," she replied obstinately. A few passers by skirted around them, and the street quickly emptied. The sleepy silence of deep winter folded thickly about them, and Raziel began to pace around her. She left him to it, burrowing into her cloak, and trying to keep from sobbing in suspense of his next action.

"Humans make no sense to me," he sighed as he came around and stood before her again.

"Try understanding a Vampire," she shot back, demanding his arm as she caught his sleeve for balance.

"Vampires are easy. Everything is about being stimulated," he obliged, steadying her.

"Is my question so strange? I'll be dead in a few minutes anyway, so why not answer it?"

"After seeing the same faces for almost a millennium, you might get bored with them too," Raziel answered wearily.

"You have a strange way of making friends," she said after a moment. They fell silent, and Darcy didn't feel the need to interrupt. She focused instead on the difficulty of hobbling along without her crutch, and found herself sorely missing the smell of boiling dyes and even burned skin. She wanted to be sitting in her hut, sleeves rolled up, grinding healing salves and watching the colorful bodies of her charges as they went by, their sleek skin gleaming beneath a hot sun.

They emerged into the bustling square, and the Vampire pulled the hood over his head and shoulders, so that perhaps he wouldn't draw such attention. It worked more or less, and in the artificial lighting and the myriad of color and noise, the odd pair blended in well. Raziel had to slow down so he wouldn't lose her in the crowd, and looped an arm around her waist to ensure her capture. It was a bit less effort to walk this way, and they pushed towards some of the concession stands.

"Oh look! That's my brother!" Darcy pointed in glee, seeing Dorian and his fiancé whirling around, still dancing. They vanished in a swell of the crowd, and she jumped up and down eagerly, trying to catch a glimpse of them. Raziel aided her, taking her slim waist and lifting her up, until he situated her on one of his broad shoulder. She cried out in surprise, gripping his claws and taking a fistful of his hood, trying to balance. He looked up at her with a smirk, and draped an arm over her legs to steady her, before pushing further through the crowd.

From this vantage point, Darcy could see her sibling, along with all the other dancers. The noise of the crowd seemed just a bit less, and the music carried better from the raised platform where the minstrels were still playing. She smiled, delighted, and sat in rapt adoration of her unimpaired view of lights, snow, ice, and people.

When Raziel nudged her leg, demanding attention, she was in the middle of capturing snowflakes with her tongue. She looked down as he provided her with the largest cup of apple cider she had ever seen. Gleefully, she accepted it.

"Where would you like to sit?" he asked her, adjusting her so she wouldn't slide off of his shoulder. She gripped his other arm uneasily, until her confidence in her perch returned. She scanned the area.

"I haven't done this since I was a little girl!" she smiled. "Can we sit on the docks over the ocean? Is that okay with you?" He looked at her, and she remembered that water was like acid to a vampire. She waited to hear his reply. He said nothing, and decided to oblige her once more. He continued back out of the square. There wouldn't be anyone around the docks during the winter holidays, so no one would witness her demise.

Raziel carried her on his shoulder until they reached the other end of the square, where he bent and had her slide onto the ground. He was careful not to spill her cider, which she hadn't yet been able to take a sip of. Blowing on it, she carefully took the first drink, and the rich apple and cinnamon taste exploded in her mouth. The heat rolled down her throat and seemed to fill every cell in her body. Raziel had bought her an expensive mug, and had it filled to the brim.

"This is the best cider I've ever had," she sighed mirthfully. It was true. Darcy had never realized how much she enjoyed the spices and apple rush of cider. "Do you want to try some?" she offered.

"I can't," Raziel answered, and she frowned. "As a Vampire, there's only one thing I can consume without poisoning myself."

"So you haven't had apple cider before?" she looked at him severely, and he shrugged.

"Perhaps in my other life. I don't recall."

Darcy shook her head, and tugged on his arm. "I want to sit by the water." He looked her over, and then walked her to the end of the pier. Their feet left crisp imprints in the heavy snow, and Darcy settled in the shallow blanket over the wood with her legs dangling over the edge, a few feet above the water. Raziel hesitated a moment, and she cleared snow off of the place beside her with an arm. He sat when she patted the roughly cleaned place.

"It saddens me that no man at that table – my father, my hopeful betrothed…" Darcy trailed off, her breath fogging before her. Her dark eyes traced the bleak horizon thoughtfully, and she took another drink. When she reached the bottom, her life would expire. Rather then making the cider bitter, it made it all the sweeter.

"No one crosses a Vampire and lives," Raziel consoled her. "My decisions haven't been disputed by humans in centuries."

"What's it like to have eternity ahead of you?" she asked. Raziel tilted his head and again considered her question seriously. He kicked his legs like she did.

"Glorious," he answered at length. "There's no end to your possibilities. Everything becomes a game of strategy,"

"Like chess?"

"Almost, except you begin manipulating your own pawns against each other."

"Kind of like an older child does with her younger siblings?" she smiled.

"Similar, but meaner." He nodded, amused.

"I'm the oldest in my family. I have a younger brother, and I used to get him into all sorts of trouble. That was back when I could run fast enough to get away from him. You have five younger brothers, don't you?"

"Unfortunately." A growl accompanied the word. It sent a shiver of fear down Darcy's back and spine.

"I guess it is meaner," she smiled weakly, and looked back over the ocean. "Doesn't it bother you to play with your food?"

"For someone who's last request is being obliged, you try my patience sorely," he admonished, although Darcy felt it was more playful then dangerous. She peered at him over the rim of her cup, and lifted her eyebrows. Raziel sighed and leaned over his knees, scanning the bleak ocean in the darkening evening. A single torch was flickering over their heads, throwing golden shadows over them. "No, it doesn't bother me. I like to see the caliber of man I'm devouring."

"Woman," she shot back, and he smirked at her. "How'm I ranking?"

"Very well. I like a woman who can stare death in the face and laugh at him."

They fell silent. Darcy quietly preoccupied her mind with the quiet snow and distant music. She focused on the lapping waves and the cold, salty air rolling along the surface of the water. A semi blanket of snow had collected on her red hair, and she was cold and warm all at once. The cider fell down her throat slowly. Raziel didn't shift or interrupt her thoughts, and he paid little attention to her movements, rather then study her like a starved wolf. She was grateful for that.

Darcy realized with a sudden drop in her stomach that her mug was empty. She left it on her lips for a moment, tipping her head back, desperate for more to come. One bittersweet drop slipped passed her lips and dropped on her tongue. Slowly, she brought head and mug back down, the moment of reckoning coming at last to meet her. Her heartbeat sped up. Shutting her eyes tightly, she drew in a strangled breath and wished with every fiber of her being that this was not her reality. Peeling her eyes open, she saw the blue-gray haze ahead of her.

Someone was pulling on her lifeline, the cider mug. She tightened her grip, and claws settled on her arm. The touch sent a shudder through her, and she jerked away as if burned. A sharp pain shot through her arm, and looking down, she realized she'd caught his claws with her reaction. The tip of her tattoo was visible. This time she didn't flinch when he took the mug away from her and set it down with a soft plunk beside them.

"Are you ready?" He took her shoulders and turned her to face him. It was getting hard to breath and her fingers began to tremble. She couldn't look at him, and tears were springing to her eyes. Raziel lifted her chin. She swallowed hard.

"Do you have to kill me?" she asked.


"Why me?" her breath hitched and she shivered as his hair brushed by her cheek. Her fingers curled into fists as they hung limply at her side.

"It's all happenstance and chance. There was no plotting or even the faintest shadows of interest beyond a meal."

Somehow, Darcy wished he'd lied to her and said something gallant or romantic. Every woman wants to be desired. After the silent acceptance of her death by her father's friends, and the subsequent lack of attachment, Darcy finally accepted it. She accepted that as one human being, there was little value placed on her existence alone. The world would keep on turning, her brother would get married and move on, her father would continue with the dye business, Rosa would keep having children, and everything would go on perpetually, into infinity without missing her. There would be no gaps that time couldn't fill for those she was leaving.

Darcy stopped begrudging Raziel for what he was. She opened her hands and placed them on his shoulders, wincing as his fangs pierced her skin. He shifted so they sat closer and nursed blood from her throat gently. Tears swelled in her eyes, and she focused on the dark cloth he was wearing. She was getting cold, and the world was growing quiet. Darcy noticed how pale her hands were as they rested lightly on his back and shoulders, and smelled the cider on her breath as it poured onto him.

Her eyes strayed to her forearm, where the cloth had slipped away from her tattoo. The image of limp and broken wings hung before her like the tattered sails of a ship. Just as her childhood had been torn asunder, now her life was destroyed. She strangled a sob as she turned her nose into his hair, her eyes following the sooty strands along his scalp. Numbness was spreading through her limbs, and the tingling pain on her neck vanished.

She gave a sudden shudder, hissing her final breaths. Her eyes closed, and she only saw those broken wings, shrouding her life in hard luck. A winding tension gathered in Raziel's chest, as the memories and emotions in her blood washed over him in a manner he was unfamiliar with. A sense of foreboding filled him so deeply that he pulled away from her cold body as if she had poured acid down his throat. He tried to push her away from him, but her fingers still claimed a hold on his shirt. Moving to dislodge her, he was visibly shaken when his eye caught the strange mark on her forearm.

The image of mangled wings draped like a fallen standard, and he had to take a deep breath to soothe the sensation of loss and betrayal. It felt as if his life had been snatched away from him and altered irrevocably in an instant. Searing pain moved through his back, and he pushed her corpse away so forcefully that the cloth on his shirt went with her. The flash of horror vanished after that, and he backed away, disquieted.

The sun suddenly burst through the clouds, and Darcy stood again in her youth, both feet planted on the ground. She smiled, feeling the warmth on her skin, and the light cottony dress hanging on her shoulders. Stretching her legs, she shot down the winding country road, cutting through the fields with her feet pounding as hard as they could.

On her right were the fields where Argus' horses grazed, and they looked up at her as she swept past them. Her legs pumped harder, chest heaving, as she passed by the chestnut trees in widow Harkenson's yard. The warm, springy earth sent her bounding onward, and she scampered across the decaying bridge over Layman's Creek, jumping across the collapsed portion and cutting down the mossy banks on her left, winding up the hill towards the old swing.

She reached the brow of the hill and kept going, hopping over the roots of the massive tree supporting the plain wood plank of the swing. Darcy threw herself onto the ground and proceeded to roll down the hill, and tumbled to a stop. She hopped back up, covered in grass stains and dirt, and ran further, towards the old mill over the pond.

Darcy ran, and ran, and ran. She kept going until the shadows gathered over her, and her lungs emptied a breath of luscious air and choked on smog and filth. Her foot caught on something, and she landed heavily on the ground, scraping her hands and knees and sliding through decaying leaves. She looked up, and saw herself in an orchard, the trees neatly ordered and so vibrantly red in contrast to the dull orange and brown of the leaf covered ground. The burned ruins and charred stone of what had been a building lay scattered to her left, with one wall gazing at her with vacant windows for sad eyes.

In the shadows of the ruins, she spotted the luminous, cataract eyes of a corpse. Her insides jittered nervously, and she sat transfixed, well aware that the viciously abused form was looking back at her. They were warily silent, and her eyes fell to the standard wrapped about the shoulders of the crouching cadaver.

The smell of cider suddenly overwhelmed Darcy's senses, and she drew a deep breath of it. Rich and earthy, tinged with the smell of fermenting fruit, she recognized this misshapen beast as all that was left of Raziel. His beautiful face and proud features were no more, tortured instead into this moldering rendition of his former glory. He seemed to recognize her as well, and they sat and stared at each other.

From the shadows, he watched as the washed-out coloring of her specter began to return to the vibrant pallet of life. The rotten apples scattered about her seemed to dye her back into the woman he'd devoured, allowing the color to soak up her arms and legs, until even her hair was saturated. It was a surreal affect, and he recalled with a jolt of despair the tattoo that had heralded his own fall.

He stood. He wanted to see it again, that horrible insight into his own future he'd been too blind to recognize. Crossing the distance between them, his face drawn into anger, he reached out for her. She scrabbled backwards, frightened, her translucent essence remembering the human fear of being prey. He extended his claws and captured her arm – the right one he recalled – and pulled it towards him. It almost felt as if her soul gave way to the pressure of his grip in the likeness of skin and flesh.

There it was. Those horrible wisps of what had been wings, the image emblazoned on her arm, akin to the actual scraps draping down his back. He could smell her suddenly, the same scent of cider hanging about her along with damp hair and cold winter. They stood frozen together a moment, before Raziel released her.

"Did you know it would happen?" he asked, and Darcy swallowed her heart, searching his face frantically for mercy. She recalled with sudden forcefulness that she was dead…he had destroyed her long ago. Expelling a shaky sigh, she passed her hand through her hair.

"What would happen?" she asked him, looking between him and the tattoo on her arm. He took her arm again, gently this time, inspecting it in disbelief.

"What vicious irony…Fate has only seen fit to laugh at me."

"This? I selected it in life, after I'd lost my freedom…after I'd been lamed…" she glanced at her feet, and saw she was barefoot. Each toe was perfectly formed, just as she remembered them. A sudden realization dawned on her. She had heard stories of the deep power associated with blood, and of a Vampire's sensitivity to emotions and blood memory. "You gave me legs again, didn't you?"

"I only steered you towards your memories," Raziel shook his head, releasing her arm and dropping his claws to whatever was left of his side. She studied him, trying to understand the significance of her tattoo to him.

He turned to leave too quickly, as she was left groping for comprehension. In her haste, she reached out and grabbed for him. Her hand closed around something limp and fleshy, and he jumped and recoiled from her. The movement pulled the rank flesh taught, extending from his back. Darcy's heart skipped a beat and she felt sick, her eyes growing wide.

"My God…" she whispered, her grip tightening. "Fate has switched our places…" Darcy remembered the sense of yearning and loss, and he gazed back at her with ironic humor.

"You won in the end," he told her roughly.

What could she say? Darcy could think of nothing. There was nothing that could undo that horrible loss, no way for her to rectify his grievance.

The smell of cider intensified around her, and she tasted it again on her tongue for the first time in what must have been centuries. Standing up slowly, Darcy didn't ask for permission this time. She leaned forward, and put her arms around his ribcage. He shifted backwards uncomfortably, but did not try to remove her. He stood motionless, humoring her again.

Darcy willed him to taste the cider, the gift of simplistic pleasure and stolen moments he had so amusedly provided for her. It could in no way restore him, but she yearned to reach out to him.

Raziel was still a creature who fed from the essence of humans, and it was strange to suddenly taste the bittersweet of human sustenance on his tongue. The warm spice rolled down his throat. It settled in his absent stomach, and the storming rancor within him subsided. His frame relaxed and accepted the offered solace.

For just one instant, Darcy and Raziel relished the exact same feelings, with the exact same sense of peace. The autumn air was filled with rotten apples, chilled lightly by impending winter, and pleasantly radiant as the sunlight dipped through the smoggy clouds.

Wordlessly, Raziel removed Darcy from him, and let his face remember how to smile. Darcy returned the favor, it coming much more naturally to her. He left her, a pervasive sense of tranquility lingering, and only looked back once at the edge of the orchard. She was still there, hands clasped before her in a summery yellow gown, as vibrant as the day he'd met her. A bit of wind caught her hair as he turned and it flashed in the sunlight. It was the same color as cider.