Tough Love

D was as silent as a shadow upon her white-wash colored wall. So silent was he that Amelia wondered if he was still there at all. Yet when she called out to him, her voice so very small in the confines of her bedroom, the hunter would give a throaty affirmation. At least she could still see the moonlight flashing on his longsword…

A shiver darted along her spine as she remembered what he'd been called here, by her, to do.

"The Festival is in two weeks…I wonder what I should wear…" And on and on she talked. The litany of nonsense wasn't to provoke conversation from the stoic hunter—D never so much as hinted at interest—but as idle chatter to chase away the fear flooding her veins.

Any time there was silence her thoughts returned to why she'd hired D and no matter how quiet he was, his presence alone drove that to the forefront of her mind. Amelia folded her hands in her lap. Night's shadows made everything in her room murky. Abandoning her attempts to close off her mind, she said, "D...when he gets here…what are you going to do?"

His hat tipped up, revealing the pallor of his lower face. "Kill him."

Amelia swallowed. She had feared exactly that. Why was there no other option? Why couldn't this talented, intelligent man somehow find a way to bridge the gap to the one he was hired to dispatch and make this a happier ending? She put the question to him. "Isn't there some other way? Can't you help him?"

D lifted his head, affording the girl a full view of his countenance…and it took her breath away. The dark eyes shone as jewels and the shape of the mouth, cheeks, nose and ears were as perfect as a sculpture. She barely heard his next few words. "I can only help one of you and I was hired to help you."

When the words did register with her bespelled brain Amelia frowned. "He's the one who needs help..."

"You both need help but I can only save you."

Tension fell on her nerves like tiny darts, not enough to provoke a cry of alarm or despair but enough to make her visibly flinch, making her freckles more prominent. She took to pacing. A childhood habit and one that, like the annoying chit-chat, helped calm her down. "I don't need help. He needs help. You must help him, please!"

The hunter pushed off from the wall and into a shaft of still moonlight. Again her eyes played over his face and then down to the rest of his statuesque body. She blushed a little at being caught by unchaste thoughts, particularly when they discussed someone who was so very dear to her heart. Valin was the only one who had ever gawking like that.

Valin. The one she loved. The one she had hired D to kill.

"No!" she cried at her own black thoughts. Amelia grasp hold of his arm, shaking it. He was surprisingly strong for one who appeared so light of frame. "You must help him, please…"

D didn't move. Birds might have landed on him had he been outside. "There is no way I can help him. The illness he has is in the mind and from what you told me he feeds off your fear."

"I don't fear him!" Yet if that was so why did her hands twitch and her eyes dart from corner to corner?

D didn't seem to hear her. "I suspect you are not the first girl he has done this to. It's his nature. You are what drives him. You cannot help him. I cannot help him. I can only help you by destroying him."

She longed to pound her tiny fists on his chest in rage. "I don't want you to kill him. I want you to rescue him."

"Yet you called a hunter; not a therapist."

Her mouth slammed shut and her brown eyes teared. D was right, of course. On some level, Amelia knew that Valin held her in thrall with his threats and his love. His influence over her was strong and while he did show remorse for some of his actions occasionally the count would always break his promises never to hurt her again.

Could he be saved? How often had he hit her only to kiss her a moment later? How often had she said "it won't happen again?"

While this war waged in her mind, D's body half-turned to a sound only he could hear. The sword made a magical sound as it was freed from the sheath. His head titled, a shadow cast by his fedora fell over the left side of his face. "I'm going downstairs. Stay here."

D left with not another word.

Amelia closed her eyes, recalling the memories of Valin. Dancing with her. Enjoying a good meal with her. Talking to her. Listening. Loving. Caring. Then a sword in her mind's eyes slashed through the thoughts of paradise. Now she remembered Valin shouting at her, hitting her. All his promises broken like her arm when he struck her too hard one day.

Was the dhampire right? Was she willingly walking into the arms of an abuser? Why would she? What was the matter with her? What kind of fool took injury upon insult and then rushed to the aide of such a man? Amelia sat back down on the bed, little fingers crumpling the beautiful quilt.

A yell from downstairs came from her father brought her train of thought to a crashing halt. Amelia dropped to the floor, shivering in fear, her ear pressed against the carpeted floor both desperate to hear sounds and yet afraid to. Swords clashing. Blood spilling. Something broke. Like her relationship with Valin, she feared the sounds yet also was too frightened to break away from them.

Suddenly large hands lifted her from the floor and pulled her into an embrace. At first she thought it was D, with his long dark hair but she quickly realized that there was no distinctive hat and the sword was a broadsword, not longsword. The eyes were blue, not brown and the skin was several shades paler than D's…

"Valin?" she asked, half-afraid, half-hopeful.

The smile he gave revealed his elongated teeth. "Yes, it's me. Amelia, we must get away. They want to take you, my dear. We must get away!" He released her from the embrace and then closed a hand over her shoulder, leading her to the door.

"…Wait, Valin, no!"

His brow furrowed. She blushed. What was she to do? She loved him dearly, but she knew in her heart that he had not changed, knew it like the tongue was familiar with the inside of her mouth. Sure he smiled now, but what if she should upset him? What would he do then? Threaten her? Hit her? Hurt her once again?

He must have read the worry shadowing her eyes for the count said, "Amelia, you know I love you. How can you doubt me…again? We've been over this. Your mistrust is in your mind. For what little I've done wrong, I've done a hundred things right! I've protected you, been there for you, and loved you. Please trust me and come with me!"

The murky cast of fear did not dissipate from her eyes. "Valin, I don't know…I hate it when you hit me…I hate you when you hit me…"

"Don't you think I hate myself when I do that?" She didn't answer. "Amelia, you must believe me! I swear I'm never going to hurt you again. How often did I comfort you after your father hit you? How often did I whisk you away to see some beautiful sights to relieve you of your pain? How can a few mistakes compare to the times I've been there for you!?"

Now the tears slid down Amelia's cheeks. Valin spoke truly. Her father often struck her when he was mad and always was the count there to soothe her. So what if Valin had his own temper? At least he could concede to the harm he did to her and make amends, unlike her stubborn, hateful father.

She extended her hand. "Take me away from here."

Valin smiled as he took it.

"Stop right there."

Amelia squealed and Valin growled as they took in the sight of D in her doorway, sword held lightly in his right hand. There was blood on his ebony cloak, making him appear menacing though his face held no malice. Thrusting the girl behind him, Valin spoke coldly, "The woman goes of her own free will. Leave us in peace."

There was a slight deviation into mirth in D's tone. "Funny how often I hear that line. Would she be so willing if she knew that you murdered her father?"

"What?" Like a flash of lightning overhead Amelia shook. She turned on Valin and demanded, "Did you, Valin?!...Did you kill him?"

Valin's eyes burned crimson. His mouth worked but no sound came out. Finally he gave up all pretenses and snarled, "What does it matter? I did you a favor. You're rid of him!"

Instinctively, Amelia backed up against the wall, not far from where D had stood earlier. "No…I didn't want him dead. I wanted to be away from him. How could you do this?"

The blue eyes sharpened. "Shut up. You're coming with me!" The count made a grab for her but Amelia let out a cry and ducked. Valin's long tapered fingers scrapped on the wall, leaving a trail of paint on the floor. Again he tried to get a hold of her but was halted in mid-try as a sword slapped onto his shoulder.

"Leave the girl alone. It seems she no longer wants to go with you."

Swords clashed as Valin drew his broadsword and twisted around to bring it to bear on the dhampire's blade. Again and again the blades slammed together, leaving bright sparks that made Amelia jump. She watched the violent theatre of swordplay as the two men ducked, spun, swirled and slashed.

Valin swung a wide arc but D leapt into the air. Amelia screamed as she saw the image of D being stabbed…and then gasped in relief, realizing that it was only the after-image of the dhampire. The hunter lightly landed behind Valin and made a swift sideways slash but scored only empty air as the count knocked it back with the flat of his blade. Again the vampire and the half-blood locked swords, faces inches from each other, blades turning red from the friction.

Her cries for the two of them to cease didn't garner a response let alone caused them to stop. As the two clashed right in front of her, Amelia cowered in the corner, his thoughts as fast-moving as the fighters. Who should she help? The hunter or her lover? Her eyes darted from one to the other, then fell upon a tall lavender vase on her nightstand. A single well-paced blow could disable either of them...

It all felt so strange. How silent her steps. How quiet her breathing. How calm her heart.

She plucked the fragile glass off the nightstand and walked over to the two still struggling before her. She lifted it….and brought it down on Valin's head.

Amelia fell away, tears blurring the sight of her lover collapsing to the floor and D spinning his blade around to drive into it Valin's chest like a stake through the heart. The pieces of the glass mixed with the blood spilling from the count's chest and he gave her one utterly hateful look before gazing at the ceiling unseeing now and forever.

She did not answer his cries of "Why?". She didn't have an answer for him.

D drew out the sword, flicking the life-fluid with a forefinger from his blade. The sight of the blood, the glass and Valin's body was too much for the girl and she dropped to her knees, blotting out her sight with hands clenched over her face. For several moments she remained as thus, deaf to sound, sightless to the images, numbed to everything but the pain of having the long-time bond irrevocably severed.

Then there were arms around her, holding her, comforting her. From that she drew strength. Though the dhampire was cold to the touch there was a warmth to be had from his compassion, a compassion she knew was not custom for him. It would not last so she rested in his embrace for as long as he allowed.

"I loved him."

D didn't answer, his hand stroking her hair. It was the only answer she really needed.

She swallowed. "It's ended, isn't it? He can't hurt me or control me again. Isn't that right, D?"

"That's up to you." The voice was placid like a lake but Amelia felt the significance behind those words. Somehow she knew what he meant. Her father hurt her. Her lover hurt her. She hard borne the pain and walked back into her personal hell of her own accord. D could kill every single man or woman who endangered her and it would never be enough if she let herself be caught in the spider's web time and time again.

"Never again…" she said softly and D let her go, let her stand under her own power.

Silent as the body of her lover the dhampire lifted that body in his arms with one hand and slipped his sword back into its sheath with another. He said not another word but walked out of her room, leaving Amelia to pick up the pieces of her broken vase.

Pick up the pieces of her broken life. She's get a new vase and a new life.