A/N: FIU's University Park campus actually has 2 on-site Starbucks – one in the library (that used to be a Java City) and one in the campus bookstore (which is a Barnes&Noble, natch). The student center - aside from having 2 food court areas with stuff like Burger King, Subway, Einstein Bros., Pollo Tropical, and a Café Bustelo right next to the actual cafeteria – also has a florist, a travel agency, the campus credit union, a dry cleaner, a small movie theater/auditorium, a convenience store, a hair/nail salon and a weird 'wave massage' place that, to this day, I'm still not really sure what they do cuz I've never seen anyone in there.
Plus, there's always little flower cart-style kiosks randomly selling jewelry, bargain cds or tango lessons, depending on the day. Walking through the Graham Center is like walking through Dadeland Mall. Except in GC you can sign up for a socialist newsletter or rush a frat. Quite the capitalist microcosm though, takes a little getting used to. Like just today I realized that the 'Golden Panther Arena' is now the 'U.S. Century Bank Arena.' Stupid state budget cuts - several billion dollars were slashed from school funding last year and shameless corporate prostitution is how my school's making up the slack they need to finish up the new College of Medicine. That and a hefty tuition hike. I'm so glad this is my final term.
Different interpretations of vampire mythology have always been an ambivalent subject for me. Revenant traits can vary widely by culture, historical period, and popular media. Take the garlic allergy for instance - it originates from the medieval period when vampires were recorded as having the stench one would assume a rotting corpse would have. The garlic's equal putrescence was believed to counteract that of the monsters' and thus repel them. It's as insulting as it is inaccurate, the only induction I could venture is that it was authored by shape-shifters or drawn from their comments.
But I digress. The point was Anne Rice. Granted she further perpetrated the sunlight fallacy, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing in terms of public relations, it helped validate anyone seen out in the day without catching fire as being amongst the living. But Ms. Rice was also the first to really portray the undead as seductive and that was what won her my attention for the week or so it took to read all ten novels in the series.
As far as prose goes, I found them entertaining and as far as accuracy goes, I certainly wouldn't begrudge her some literary license. However, I found one construction of hers to be disturbingly accurate. The way she portrayed the stillness - the death-like stupor one can acquire after centuries of motionlessness- in Queen of the Damned strongly invoked my memories of the Romanians, Stefan and Vladimir. Nahuel also had it about him - his unmoving poise, the chiseled immobility, more sculpted than alive. His eyes and the occasional half-smile were the only visible manifestations of his mortality, if it could even be called that.
Aside from practiced civility, he seemed as much unlike me as anyone else, at least on the surface, perhaps over time he, like Maya, would reveal what lay beneath.
The walk to his garage could be described charitably as tense. Very charitably. They way their grips would alternately tighten around mine, the absolute utter silence that met my attempts at conversation. I don't doubt that if a tugging war had broken out they would have rent me in twain, like I was the infant from the King Solomon story.
As taciturn and anxious as Maya was the whole walk to the garage, she still let out a low whistle of appreciation at the sight of his silver Audi Cross Cabriolet Quattro. Polished to a mirror-like finish, the shapes of the overhead lighting slid over it as we approached, giving it the appearance of being coated in flowing, liquid metal, like it was dipped in mercury or carved from a seamless block of hematite.
Still-faced, Nahuel gently disentangled his arm from mine and proceeded to remove the convertible top, as if Maya's reaction was what was to be expected in the course of things and not of any particular note. But when he glanced back and caught me checking out the shiny chrome hubcaps on his giant, car-elevating, off-roading tires, he gave me that smirk of his again. Though I'm not sure that was the proper term for it, it was just the slightest curve of indentation at the very tip of his lips, almost like a dimple, just a hint of shadow on his marble-carved face.
I liked it all the same, a crack in the veneer of his formality. The way it lightened his teak eyes and softened the sharp angles of his cheek bones, made him seem much more approachable, less rigidly untouchable.
Eyes on me and smiling slowly, he gave the slightest tilt of a bow, like a chauffeur would for a rich client, and opened the front passenger side door. And before I could lift my foot high enough to climb in, he slid his arms beneath my thighs and boosted me up. He didn't handle me anywhere inappropriate and it was just the barest of touches, just enough to help me lift myself smoothly, effortlessly. But he was so invitingly warm, his arms strong but gentle, almost reverent, that it was almost intimate when his trailing fingers brushed the curve of my pelvis as I slid into the seat.
He lingered, straightening leisurely, smiling softly, and when his eyes met mine I had the distinct notion that he had felt something as well. And appeared to have liked it. That realization shot straight to my stomach and twisted it voraciously, my pulse sped in something that was akin to fear but wasn't as scary as it was something entirely nameless and wholly discombobulating. Presumably hearing my racing heart, he leaned back in slightly, his heat sliding up my right side like a blanket. "Are you-?"
Maya yanked him out of the way and, using him as a launching point, hopped into the car and firmly onto my lap, giving Nahuel her back as she closed the door behind her. Wrapping her arms around my neck and tucking her legs over mine, she sat facing the driver's seat, acting for all the world like what she just did was perfectly acceptable social conduct for a normal person to abide by.
She sighed loudly and grasped me tightly as Nahuel easily swung himself in front of the steering wheel, fluidly dropping into the seat and starting the car in the breadth of breath. The motor hummed to life and the dashboard lit up with all manner of statistical output.
The energy panel specifically caught my attention. A hybrid car, how ecofriendly. I was impressed with his environmental conscientiousness and was on the verge of saying something to him to that effect several times but at each instance Maya kept shifting her weight distractingly, her fingers fidgeting with the collar of my shirt, my hair.
As a concession to her obviously intentional interference, I spent the rest of the ride practicing the thoughtlessness that we'd established Maya couldn't hear, the inner silence of strictly existing. Nahuel said nothing, vision trained on where the headlights traced Venn diagrams over the dips of the rocky road, and the shadowy trees and foliage lining it, drawing white circles through the inky, encroaching darkness. Maya remained reticent, only speaking to voice the directions back to our hotel without specifically addressing them to Nahuel. More like she was making an announcement than talking to him. I did my best to ignore it and was quite glad to be out of the tension of the car when we finally reached our intended destination.
I was really looking forward to calling it an early night and getting in as much bed time as I could. The fluffy queen-sized mattress was so soft and so not the hard, cold dirt I had been becoming accustomed to. I could hardly wait to indulge myself in it while I could.
Maya got the door open and helped me down before Nahuel could. Which irritated me because I knew that she, unlike him, was fully aware that I could do it by myself, that I wasn't helpless anymore, and yet she made a show of doing it anyway. Something about it rang false, like it was all just for Nahuel's benefit, that she was warning him off in some sort of territorial competition.
His face was blank as he met my eyes. "Renesmee, might I use your phone if it is not too much of an imposition?"
"Sure," I replied before Maya could. She glared at me but when I said that I would reimburse her the expense, she heaved a martyred sigh and led me hand-first into the cabin, our houseguest trailing a respectful distance behind.
"Phone's in there," Maya directed him to the kitchen as she pulled me to sit in the far room, away from him, settling both of us on the loveseat and finally relaxing a bit, though tension still quivered through her as she reached into the pocket of her pack.
She pulled out a cigarette and lit it, inhaled deeply and released so fully that her torso folded in on itself a little at the end of the exhalation. After three more puffs like that, her eyes swung back and lit on me, "We are going to try something, a breathing exercise."
It seemed innocuous enough and I had found myself missing the capoeira session we had foregone that morning to get an early start on crossing the glacier. Interesting that I should have conditioned to it so quickly that I was already feeling it's absence, like a mild withdrawal.
"Take a deep breath. Good." Her tone was encouraging as I complied. "Now hold it." Ribbons of smoke followed her hand through the air, tracing her thoughts between us as she spoke them.
"And release, lentamente. Bien. Again, slowly. Sí. Now hold it in as long as you can." She said 'you' with a thick, almost francophonic accent, pronouncing it somewhere between a 'cha' and a 'juh.'
"Ahora, try to copy me and hold it in for as long as I do." Indicating her cigarette she continued, "Try not to let go until after I give you the signal." The smirk she gave me was challenging and I found myself cocking my brow at her in playful competitiveness.
"On three?" I half-grinned back.
"Uno," she began, leaning in slightly.
"Dos," I continued, releasing air, preparing to inhale to my fullest capacity.
On the breath that should have been 'Tres' we both started inhaling instead. Her eyes twinkled as they locked with mine, proud that we had jumped the gun in sync, that I had both anticipated her cheating and replicated it flawlessly.
Breathing in as slowly as I could, I held her gaze and tried my hardest not to laugh. The match appeared to be as much a staring contest as it was a competition of pulmonary endurance. Her face twisted in exaggerated contortions and it took all my willpower not to giggle and lose my breath to an unfortunate slip of the diaphragm.
My ribs flexed as my torso expanded leisurely, lungs swelling in tandem with my tricky vixen of a friend. As the seconds slipped by I could see the pride growing in her expression as I met her inch for inch but after what felt like several minutes, I began to feel my chest tightening, my limit nearing. Just when I was on the verge of forfeiture, she held her hand up vertically, flat palm facing me, as she paused and held her breath.
Clenching my lips together, I mimicked her, holding on as tightly as I could, though I could feel every bit of the differential of atmospheric pressure within me and without, like a diver that was surfacing too quickly. Even though the miracle of modern science is capable of sending rovers to the very depths of the ocean to study the isolated alien biome that is the ocean floor, it is still thus far impossible to collect a single specimen. The pressure is so great on the sea bed that the life down there was forced to evolve an internal pressure of an equal degree. Whenever marine biologists tried bringing a sample back up to study, it literally exploded once they surfaced.
Just when I felt a similar force about to burst forth from me, she dropped her hand and I exhaled in a single, encompassing rush. But even as I took a couple short pants to regain my respiratory rhythm, she held fast, eyes crinkling in victory, flashing me as huge a smile as she could while retaining her breath. Nodding at me, she gave an inquisitive thumb's up, silently asking if I was okay. Letting out one last big breath, I gave her a nod that was both agreement and a concession, impressed with her continuing endurance.
And that's when she took my face in her strong, smooth hands and crushed her mouth to mine, using every muscle at her disposal to keep my head from pulling away. Not that I was trying to resist because it wasn't her tongue she was shoving forcefully down my throat, it was her secondhand smoke.
Gripping my head gently but demandingly, she exhaled compellingly into my mouth. Having inhaled immediately on contact, surprised by her sudden onslaught, I had given her the opening she needed to force her air into me and she did not remit until we were both breathless. Releasing my mouth but not my cheeks, she languidly opened her eyes and pressed her forehead against mine, staring deeply into my eyes.
From my vantage point of cross-eyed observation, her eyes appeared as if they were one, a single cycloptic orb of milk and jade. The normally sharp definition of the ridges in her iris, the defining borders of the sclera, blurring into a softness that blended into the shadows and stars dancing at the edge of my vision.
Breathe, mijita. Just breathe.
What did you do?
Smoke is a sacred cleansing element. It purifies. Smiling mischievously she added, And it worked the other night.
Was the kissing necessary? I thought you weren't into that.
No, I said I was not into you in that way.
Shaking my head, I sighed aloud. Either way–
Breath is like blood, mija. It is a life force moving through the body. To take it into yourself is to take a piece of who it came from. A Cheshire grin split her face as she pulled back to look me properly in the eye, one hand still cupping my cheek. You have taken both from me and it has strengthened our bond. You see, you and I-
Suddenly her face went slack mid-sentence and she turned her face away from mine, every muscle lax except her forehead, her dark, arching eyebrows rising nearly to her hair line. But her eyes were cast down and distant, unfocused. As soon as I formulated the thought of asking her what was wrong, the sound of the wind blowing against the eaves and the chittering of animals scampering amidst the trees outside receded into the background, fading into an ambient silence as the muted whisperings of Nahuel's telephone conversation in the other room that I had previously been ignoring focused into crystal clarity. "… problem that must be eliminated first. I'll do what I can to get rid of her before your arrival. I won't take Renesmee by force unless it becomes necessary…… Yes. See you soon."
Her eyes swung swiftly back to mine as we heard the click of him setting the receiver back into its cradle. Still trust tu amigo, mijita?
Which one? You or him?
Scowling fiercely, eyes blazing with emerald fire, she grabbed my chin and pulled my face almost to her lips, her fingers puckering my mouth open like a fish. You are warm. You do not reek of their poison as he does. Nor do you taste of it. Yet you feed on blood. And you ignore my warnings because you already know what he is. The thin, razor edges of her fingernails pressed into my skin, close to slicing in but not quite. Why should I trust you?
A spark of indignant fury rose up within me and my inner voice sharpened and resonated enough that it reverberated deep within my tympanic membrane like a car jamming a heavy bass song in the next lane over at a stoplight that you feel more than hear. I did nothing to force this upon you, quite the opposite in fact. You're the one that wanted to come with me, might I remind you. And it's not like you have been exactly forthcoming yourself, Ms. Shaman. How do I know that the tobacco smoke wasn't a spell to let you talk inside my head so you could con me into thinking that we were mystically bonded by the power of friendship or some other such nonsense? How do I know that was even really Nahuel I heard just now and not just one of your conjurings?
Right on cue, the clicks of Nahuel's smooth gait across the hardwood floor announced his arrival.
Beside me, Maya plastered on a fake smile and her hand slipped into mine. Speak of the devil.
Posture perfect, he thanked Maya politely for the use of the phone and said his goodbyes to her before turning to me. "Renesmee, if you'd be so kind as to walk me out, I have an important matter which I need to discuss with you." He eyed our joined hands and frowned slightly but significantly as he quirked a polished brow. "In private."
Rolling her eyes and tightening her grip, Maya's opinion was obvious even if I hadn't been able to hear the raging river of vulgarities churning through her mind.
At least there weren't any 'I told you so's floating around in there. Then it struck me all at once; his father, Bolivia, the Amazon.
Maya's hand clenched around mine. ¿Dónde?
We could get a parrot in Bolivia, right? La Paz is right on the edge of the Amazon. I'd prefer to go there on my own terms and, for that, I'll need your assistance.
¿Es tiempo para que nos vayamos? A triumphant grin of smug victory cracked her face and Nahuel's eyes narrowed in thinly veiled suspicion when we stood in unison, hands still tightly clasped.
Teaser: "What is it already? Ness? Billy? You're killing me here, Doc."
"No, Jacob. Actually, it's your results."
¿Es tiempo para que nos vayamos? – Is it time for us to leave?
Sí, absolutamente – Yes, absolutely.
miztrez, I like the peppermint white chocolate mocha myself. I've been having withdrawals since Christmas :)
OAT, that was my fav part too ;)
Lil, thanks, chica. Hope you liked this one too :)
Jenna, angry angst is fun. To write anyway ;)
WaK, I really like how you analyze the way you interpret the story. It helps me more than you realize, so thanks :)
sonia, thanks so much for all the feedback :D there's a bunch of links in my profile, including one for a Swiss chalet, though the one I pictured was a different color and nestled on a mountain top, this was the closest I could find.
my hubby, lol XD I got a big kick out of your story, glad I could provide some incentive. I like to chug a Red Bull and blast classical music on my housekeeping days.
Medicat, LOL :D
crackfic, uniforms bite the big one, my condolences. And a good one to you too :D
Jutey, yeah, he has some severe anger management issues and elements of an inferiority complex. I wanted Jake's feelings about being one-upped by Edward to be somewhat analogous to Ness's insecurities over Bella :)
Curious, I picked this teaser based on your comments about last chapter ;)
Courtney, there was a lot revealed in this chap and it was on the long side. Hope it didn't disappoint ;)
Kyzyl, round and round it goes... ;)