Three days. It took three days for it to really kick in. The knowledge that she was gone, that she was out of my life forever.

Coraline was dead, and I'd killed her.

For thirty-five years she'd haunted me, turned the endless nights of my undead life into a curse. I'd thought about killing her. Almost every day since our wedding—since the night she killed me, I'd thought of returning the favor. In my wilder moments, I considered taking myself out with her, the two of us going down in a blaze of passion more fiery than any we'd shared in the our nights together.

Sex with Coraline was always more like an attack we made on each other. The fangs came out, and the claws. I thought nothing in heaven or hell could compare to the fire between us when her nails shredded my skin over and over, and it healed as quickly as it was torn. As quickly as the wounds in her throat closed when I pulled out my fangs.

Maybe she thought about killing me, too. I guess I won't know now.

So what was it that finally pushed me over the edge? It's going to sound sentimental, but it was the look of trust and hope in a child's blue eyes. Sure, I'd done a lot of terrible things since I was turned. I'd watched Coraline do as bad or worse, and never lifted a finger to stop her. But even a monster has that final line that can't be crossed. And when she took that kid's chin in her hands, and I could see the girl—she couldn't have been more than four—look at me with complete trust, something broke.

Sometimes I hated Coraline, sometimes I loved her. But I could never picture a world without her. Not really. They say love and hate are two sides of the same coin. Maybe so. But she'd finally found the something that got past that. Took it to a whole new level. And it had to be stopped.

So we had that last dance in the dark. Staggering, struggling, slashing at each other. Using every vampire trick we could. Coraline was nothing if not dangerous. And I didn't want to make the mistake of underestimating her. With that little girl cowering in the corner, there was too much at stake.

I'd always liked kids, and the idea of turning one, making a child that would never grow up, it sickened me. It made me want to lash out. It made me want to destroy her. Utterly.

I only remember flashes of that fight. The lantern flickering. Coraline's white dress. The child watching, scared, hiding her face. Coraline's mouth covering mine. And the sick feel of the splintered wood sliding home into her heart. It was all so…familiar. I know I threw the lantern, I know I started the fire. But I can't remember anything about that.

What I remember is that child, a warm weight in my arms, trusting her hero to carry her to safety. To carry her away from the horror of the fire. It was uncomfortable, having someone look at me like a hero. Unfamiliar, anyway.

So there it is. Coraline is dead, and I go on. Go on to what, I'm not sure. And I'd be lying if I said there's not a part of me that's going to miss her. Not just the physical part, the way my body always ached for hers during those times we were separated. The truth is, she is—she was—the only one who knew me, inside and out. I never had to lie to her, never had to pretend I was anything other than the monster I am. In fact, I never had to tell her anything at all. She already knew, even if she didn't understand.

I took that little girl away from the horror, clinging to my neck for dear life all the way. Somehow the feel of it, those arms around me in all confidence, distracted me. Made me forget, for a few short moments, that pleading, hopeless look on Coraline's face just before the fire rose and took her from me forever. Right then, it was a good thing, being reminded I had a job to do.

Once we got in the car, the child relaxed, laid her head down on the seat like she was perfectly safe, and went to sleep like the little angel she was. I covered her with my jacket, but she threw it off restlessly. I guess the smoke smell reminded her too much of the fire, of when the other monster had her. For me, it was like being human again for a few hours, driving down out of the mountains, watching her sleep. But that only lasted until the end of the night. Even carrying her up the steps to her mother's house was like a taste of some other world, but it ended when I pried that little girl out of my arms and got her back where she belonged, with her mother. Handed her back to warmth and humanity and love.

I took the check Mrs. Turner gave me, but I don't think I'll ever cash it. Is it right to take blood money for something that feels like a stake through my own heart? For doing what any human would say was the right thing to do—destroy a monster and save a damsel in distress? For ripping out the last vestiges of love I'll ever know and grinding the pieces into that dirty wooden floor? Beth Turner's mother may have thought she could write a check that would cover that expense. I don't think it's possible.

It was the second night after the fire when my good buddy Josef came by, a pack of freshies trailing in his wake.

"You, my friend, are in serious need of a drink," he said, snapping his fingers to signal them to line up and strike those willing poses that always make my fangs come out in a rush. It had occurred to me that I was starting to get thirsty, and I motioned to one of the freshies, a sweet little brunette named Cherry who had fed me before. For the thirty years I've known him, Josef has always managed to have the prettiest, tastiest, most accommodating girls I've ever run into on tap, as it were. Cynic that he is, he says it's just his money that attracts them, or the rush they get from the fangs, but I've watched more than a few of them as they watch him, and it's not dollar signs I see in their eyes. Not always.

Anyway, Cherry came over to me and slipped into my lap the way I always liked it, and prepared to give it up to me, just that easily. But when she looked in my face and smiled, suddenly I didn't see brown hair and eyes in a grown-up face. I saw blue eyes and baby-fine blonde hair.

"Cherry," I asked her, "does your mother know what you do?"

She giggled. "Yeah," she said, "Mom knew Josef back when she was my age. She introduced us. He's always asking me to say hi to Granny, too."

She almost fell on the floor when I stood up and dumped her out of my lap. That was right before I told Josef to take his freshies and get out.

I don't know that I'll be able to bite a human like that again, willing or not. Not without thinking, this is someone's daughter, this was someone's precious child.

But Josef was probably right when he told me before he left, that I'd better find something to fill the gap. Something to close up that hole in my heart shaped like Coraline.

So here I am, in the shadows, watching Mrs. Turner's house. It's late, and although there are still lights on in the kitchen and the living room, the windows of the child's bedroom are dark. I hope she's sleeping, I hope she's not afraid of any monsters lurking out here in the darkness. She really doesn't need to worry.

Because I've decided. I'm going to be here, watching, just out of sight. Keeping an eye on her while she grows up, safe. When Coraline stole that girl, in her own twisted way she did it for me. So it's my responsibility now. And even if Coraline's gone, there are other monsters out there waiting.

Not me, though. Killing Coraline, rescuing that girl, showed me once and for all where the line was drawn. Even a monster has a final line that can't be crossed. Because what's on the other side is the darkness within. And even a monster can be afraid of the dark.