Okay, so I didn't disappear again. : )
I'll spare you the minutiae, sick kid, other sick kid, sick me etc…etc… long wait.
And I'm not quite finished. But this half a chapter alone was passing 15k, which is well over 30 pages, so I figured screw it, cut the wait and the length and just post another chunk. So here you go. Part 2 of 3, with 3 to follow really soon. (Hopefully)
I've mapped out the rest of the story and as soon as we finish with GPOV, we have another storm, then an E/B split chapter and that folks will be the last split chapter. I really want to do that one first, but I need to get storm buttoned up and if I leave you hanging on the E/B I think I will get hate mail, so there you go.
Thanks to T and S who are always ready to chip in even when I don't harass them and of course super thanks to Dar who has to put up with so much of my crap I am genuinely surprised she still picks up the phone when I call.
The panic grips my chest as the dragon slowly circles behind me. The cold sweat rushes through my body, I can feel the sting of it in my eyes but I know better than take my eyes from his for even a moment. Don't look away first. Don't look submissive. The sun behind him drapes him in shadows, only small patches of his scaled and scared skin sparkle with the deep purple hue of midnight. I eye the distance between the cave walls and his massive body. His entire form is loosely wrapped around me. He is circling, toying with me and enjoying my mounting panic as he teases me with the illusions of escape. I clench my fists and try desperately to ignore the stench of rotting meat and burned flesh that is slowly choking me. He comes back around, playfully sneaking in for another sniff. His enormous head rocking side to side, the curved horns grating on the cave walls shooting sparks to the floor that only encourage him. He huffs, his nostrils expelling a mist of saliva and rot. I try to breathe through, try to keep calm. The growl starts as a rumble, working its way from his belly and drowning every rational thought I have ever had. I hear the catch in his breath, know the fire is coming. I gauge his distance and lunge for the gap between the spiked tail surrounding me and the side of his head. Risky yes, but there is no other way, there is no other route of escape. I can tell before I spring I am too late. I know I'm too late, I know I'm too slow, but I have to try. We both know he is already the victor. He has left me no chance and still I cannot just stand here and submit to being burned alive. I will not give him the satisfaction.
I'm almost there, almost there. I can feel the sharp breeze rushing past as I stretch towards the opening. A sharp sweep of his head and he has me exactly where he wants me. The tail curves around just enough to bring me to face him, I feel the spikes digging into the side of my body, I sense his excitement as I feel the shock of my warm blood soaking through my shirt. The unmistakable stench of death mixes with the sharp tang of my blood and my panic. It is overwhelming. His eyes meet mine and I swear he smiles as I hear the catch again and my world explodes in flames. I bring my hands to cover my face although I know how useless it will be. The heat knocks me back into his tail, the sharp spikes rip from my side as the burning overcomes me. I smell my hair, my flesh melting away as I scream inhaling my own ashes with every breath, until the fire finally overcomes me with a blissful release.
"How long? How long will you let him burn?" The shrill scream hurts my ears. "Do you not see what this is doing to him? Do you not care?"
Still panting, I move the arm draped over my face and crack an eye from my place in the grass. She continues to scream at Elisabeth, wildly gesturing as she switches to a language lost millennia ago. She stomps to the tree line, still ranting, and a young boy follows in her wake. He is younger than she is, maybe five or six in human years. He has the same thick, dark hair, his falling only to his chin. He has the same strong nose, dark eyebrows and same intensity. But that is where the similarities end. She is usually nothing but completely calm and composed, He tends to be anything but. Given his flair for dramatics and wildly fluctuating temperament and attention span, I can see where immortal children get their reputation.
In any other circumstance it would be amusing to see the shift in their usual roles. Him trying to calm her, usually we cower from his tantrums while she soothes his temper. He mumbles the same archaic language and appears to be trying his hardest to comfort her. They disappear into the trees and I place my arm back over my eyes, blocking the harsh sun as I try to ebb the panic and control my unnecessary breathing.
We have been here in Romania for almost a year now. While we have come quite a ways since that first conversation, their mannerisms still remain unsettling, or as Elisabeth so eloquently stated, 'creepy'. The combination of the childish peculiarities they are forced to maintain, thanks to the timing of their change, and the disposition one develops after a few thousand years creates a rather disturbing amalgam of ancient and innocent.
They are both fierce; with impulsiveness that makes them terrifying. And yet I find myself being consumed by his dragon in the morning, beaten to submission by a brunette Shirley Temple by dusk followed by a midnight tea party complete with fine china and petty gossip. The effect is simply…surreal.
After weeks of referring to herself only as 'we' I braved asking the girl her name. She had only wrinkled her brow, spent a few moments in her motionless remembrances and announced it must have been lost to the millennia. And then she simply rose from her seat and walked away. I suppose as far as she was concerned, the conversation was over. So I decided to call her Theresa, a nice Christian name. Suggesting someone who is not a complete sociopath, a worthy goal, not that I believe she appreciates my efforts.
I can hear footsteps approaching hesitantly, suggesting I had not been able to curb the screaming this time as well as I had hoped. I try to compose myself quickly, before she can see the residual terror. I crack an eye again to find Elisabeth's face hovering over mine, her hair a curtain over me as she looks on horrified.
"I think I'm growing on her." I say with a smile. My attempt at humor is in vain as she chooses to ignore me and begin a fresh round of apologies.
"I am so, so sorry. I am trying, really trying I swear Garrett. I am so, so, sorry."
I manage to make myself sit up and I let her pull me to my feet. "Don't apologize", I give her hand a squeeze, "I am just fine, see." I make a show of lifting my shirt to illustrate the obviously completely unblemished skin beneath. "I am fine. And you are making so much progress, I saw him shimmer a little this time."
"Really?" She asks wide eyed and so adorably innocent.
"Of course I did", the lies roll off my tongue smooth as honey. I try to project a cool confidence as I bite back the tremors still racking my body. Hopefully this will end today's lesson. There are only so many times a man can stand to be burned to death in a day.
Contrary to all of my expectations, with the obvious exception of my reoccurring death, the training is going incredibly well. While I can't quite imagine why, Elisabeth has become quite fond of the two we have met thus far. They seem to have taken to her as well. They hold their positions as her advisors seriously, well as seriously as the boy takes anything I suppose. Theresa had disclosed that each not only has his or her own ability, but they are infinitely more powerful together and also have the ability to borrow from each other. It does not extend beyond the three as Elisabeth's does, but considering the breadth of their abilities, it is the very best education I could imagine for her.
They insist the key to her ability is control. Not as I expected the control of the power she inherits, but the control of her own impulses. As they have been drilling into her it is not the power that is dangerous, but her complete inability to wield any power at all.
So that what they continue to do, expose her to their abilities and challenge her control over herself. They alter the abilities, alter the situations, alter the circumstances, and alter the strength they give her. The only thing that never seems to change is the victim. The party line may be that by using me they are also challenging her emotionally, teaching her to be impartial, to react without thinking. But after more than a week with the dragon, I have my doubts.
They keep her training daily. Her lessons vary, the focus mainly on her mental control of abilities in various situations, yet they also drill her on her physical control. She is far from a newborn and very well trained, if I do say so myself. But they do have things to offer her. While she is quite a bit larger than even the oldest, she is still rather tiny. And through the years they have certainly perfected using their smaller size to the advantage. Those days have become a highlight; I not only enjoy sparring with someone so skilled but have picked up quite a few new tricks myself. Not that I would ever admit that to anyone.
Days like today I am either the dragon food, or simply in the way. Theoretically I don't mind participating in her training, but remaining here for more than a year is beginning to wear on me. I am not meant to stand this still. I just can't bring myself to trust them enough to leave her. Even Theresa's insistence they use threat of execution as nothing more than a ploy to weed out the insincere does little for my confidence.
I can see them in the trees, but they have gone silent. I can only assume they are continuing their conversation with the telepathy they thankfully only share with each other. It is bad enough to spend every moment with them; I prefer to keep them out of my head as much as possible. She appears much calmer now, but hopefully her tantrum is enough for us to break for the day.
"Do you want something nice?" Elisabeth asks the grass. She has been able to wield his nightmares for a few weeks now. It had not taken her more than a month to be able to create projections at least while maintaining contact with her victim.
She laces her fingers in mine and takes me back to Charles' cabin. I feel the leather armrests of my favorite chair. I can smell the roses from the open kitchen window mixing with the very faint trace of damp earth. I open my eyes and she is shuffling the cards as she gestures to the glass at my elbow. I grin as I take a long gulp, savoring the long forgotten burn of whisky as my reward for another day of suffering. I check the edges of the room, the view from the window and can't see so much as a shiver. I grin again as I pick up my cards. "You really are making incredible progress."
"I just can't stop him" she growls, taking her frustration out on the cards she is tossing to me. "I feel it as if I have it in my hands and the second I try to move it or stretch it… it just dissipates."
The strongest of Theresa's gifts is the manipulation of boundaries. Within only a few days of instruction Elisabeth was capable of creating a physical barrier surrounding herself. After another week, and with contact, she was able to protect me as well. Not for the first time I had been extremely grateful for my resilience. I imagine the vast abundance of items tossed at me that week would have done some significant damage otherwise. As I am constantly reminded, mental barriers are much more complicated and currently she is attempting to shield me from the boy and his abilities.
His primary talent, what he calls dreaming, and I call nightmares means he can create anything. Or as he claims, he can encourage someone's mind to create anything at his bidding, anything at all, and it is realistic. It is precise and perfect and I am entirely unable to escape, no matter how prepared I may be going into it.
"She did warn you that only a very strong barrier could contain him. You cannot possibly expect to challenge him so soon." Her eyes rise to mine and I realize that is exactly what she had expected. "If only you would offer yourself a fraction of the same patience you offer others." I lecture although I know the unrealistic demands she places on herself is a battle I will never win. "Your whiskey is excellent, by the way, precisely how I remember it."
She snorts, as I expected choosing to ignore my admonishment. "It should be – you are the one supplying it, I'm just pulling it from your head."
"I still don't quite understand that one." I admit, turning over a few of my cards.
She studies her hand before turning her attention back to me. "It is really difficult to explain." She offers, "The reason it seems so real to you is because it is real for you. These are experiences you have had, your memories, your realities woven into my story. I am sort of…shopping…for lack of a better term, in your subconscious. I can whisper that it is sunny and your mind responds with the brightness and the warmth of the sun, because that is what you know of it. I say we are playing a game and you bring the cards, I tell you have a drink at your elbow, that it is appealing and delicious and exactly what you need right now. You create a glass of whisky from your memories." She pauses for a moment, looking back to her hand. "It is like a replay, of a drink you had long, long ago in the context I create. I wouldn't know where to begin with that one, but somewhere in there you remember the way that it looks, the way that it tastes. You believe it to be real because it is real, or at least it was at some point."
"The dragon is terrifying because I know fire and I know fear."
"Something like that" she answers with a grin, having never been burned alive and eaten I'm sure the dragon can be a laughing matter. "But you bring more into than that; you bring the feeling of bleeding and sweating, the smell of death, the fear of being mortal. You bring in things you don't even consciously know you remember. That is why it is all so believable."
"I still can't see why it has to be horrible" I grouse into my cards. "Not that he could appreciate it I'm sure, but wouldn't saving me from a beach and a few beautiful women be every bit as challenging to you? I have enough of those memories to spare. I'll remember to scream now and then for good measure…"
"Oh, that is any easy one." She chuckles, pulling a few cards from her hand and placing them on the table. "He hates you."
"How could anyone hate me?" I ask with a smirk and raised eyebrow which sends her laughing again.
"I would imagine calling him Jackie certainly isn't helping you any." She replies dealing us both new cards.
"Well that is hardly my fault. I have to address him somehow, and if 'Jackie' earns me a burning what should I expect from calling 'hey you?' Plus, Jack suits him."
"Well it's your dragon." She replies with a laugh tossing her chips to the table.
I lean on the railing and look out across the open field to the full moon hanging low and think I am finally completely losing my mind.
This place is ours alone. The cool breeze smells like her. Smells like happiness, like home and I can't stop my thoughts of someone else.
I am worse than a mother hen.
This is ridiculous.
Elisabeth is a big girl. She could be someone's grandmother, great grandmother even. I am certainly not her mother and I am here. I am finally here of all places, and I am as worked up as if I had left my babe to be minded for the first time.
I have left her before of course, as she has left me, but never for long and certainly never when one of us was so vulnerable. I still don't trust them entirely. But had she encouraged me to go, pushed even, and my wanderlust had finally got the better of me. I'm sure she is as well protected from Aro as I could ever hope, but I know how little they trust me and would hardly put it past them to try to place a wedge between us.
But would that be so wrong? Can they not offer her for more than I ever could? Is she not safer hidden away with long forgotten fairy tales? Again, she is not my child. Should I cut the apron strings and let her be on her own?
No of course not, it is not as if I had bound her to me forcefully. She has always been free to do as she pleases. It is she who chooses to keep my company. These are her decisions to make, not mine.
But would she, if she knew? Is this still the life she would want? Am I doing her justice keeping her from knowing of him?
No, I mustn't think this way.
Alea iacta est.
The die is cast. The path is set.
It is for her. It has always been for her. I will not, will never stand by and let her fall to pieces again. Why risk the happiness she has for the heartbreak she cannot now remember? What good is the boy who did not want her then, who may not want her now?
But, he may…if he knew…after what he had done in Italy…
No, no, that was the guilt, the guilt of killing her. Charles had said as much.
Anyway, the point is moot. Despite her progress she could not yet stand to be around the boy for long. It is not worth upsetting her for nothing.
Maybe, someday, but not today.
No, she has too much to balance now already. It would be cruel to tell her now. It would be wrong.
Then why does the weight of these secrets sit like a stone in my chest?
I sigh and hang my head. I must admit I do to appreciate the distraction my nervousness presents, at least this time it shouldn't be as difficult to pull myself away.
It has been harder and harder to do so. And it is not simply the leaving that troubles me. I have always thought of Kate, but now? Now it seems as if rarely think of anything else. My time is spent counting the moments until I may see her again, then dreading the moments knowing I will be leaving her soon.
And she…she just doesn't see, or doesn't care…or – god help me – can see just how insane and desperate and madly in love with her I am and pretends not to in an effort to spare me the embarrassment.
Oh god could she?
I cannot bear the thought of her pity. No, no of course not, she would not continue to see me if that were the case. She would never be so cruel. I am surely doing a better job of shielding my feelings than that. No, no I am keeping it simple, keeping it light, keeping it easy. The same as always, giving her only what she has grown to expect of me.
Yet simple, light and easy is starting to make me feel ill. I don't want simple, I don't want light. I want solid, I want real. I want to hold her when she cries. I want to be the ground that holds her up. I want to lay her head on my chest and run my fingers through her hair and tell her the thousands of reasons I love her. I want her to be not the home I come back to, but the home I don't leave. I want to claim her for eternity. I want to be hers and hers alone. I want the fruition of my ancient human fantasies: I want to see her draped in a red dress as swear my life and my honor to her as I had dreamed of doing long before I knew her name. I want…
And Elisabeth wants her boy and Katie wants distraction and I have made a mess of everything.
"Damn it…" I mutter to myself as I try to alter the obvious impression of my fingers on the railing. I cannot afford to fall apart this way. I cannot lose everything because I am far too weak to hold myself together. Elisabeth is better off this way, she is happy, she is fulfilled and Katie… This is what she wants and I am lucky to have this much of her.
Alea iacta est.
The die is cast. It is as it is. And on all counts what we have is far better than all we stand to lose.
I hear her light footsteps coming up behind me and despite the tumult in my mind I can hardly help the smile on my face.
"I was wondering where you had gone." She snakes her small hands around my waist and places a kiss on my shoulder. "I thought maybe since you had gotten what you came for, you had run off without saying goo…"
I turn and scoop her up before she can finish her goading. She tips her head back and laughs, blond hair spilling down my arm as I swing her legs up and hold her to me. I place a light kiss to her forehead, letting my actions say the things I cannot. "Woman, I am far from finished with you yet."
"Promises, promises…" she teases as I turn back towards the balcony door, kicking it closed behind me.
"You can tell me anything, you know." She pulls herself up, her head resting on the knees pulled to her chest.
I bite back the snort, a terrible habit I must have picked up from Elisabeth. I can't even begin to imagine the length of the list of things I could never, ever tell her.
"It is just…" Her nose crumples like a bunny, the way it always does when she is concerned. I avert my gaze in an effort to ignore how adorable it is. "You just seem so…distracted.
"Is that a complaint?" I turn back to her in mock outrage. It has the intended reaction as she laughs and reaches over to smack me.
"Hardly," she laughs again before making that little nose scrunch. "Really Garrett, Is everything alright?"
"I am fine." I smile back, "you worry too much."
Her head goes back on her knees. "It is just; you have been rather scarce of late. And it is not like you to be so serious."
It stings more than it should and I try to freeze the look on my face in an effort to not give even more of my insanity away. That is still how she sees me then, not serious, never serious. Not that I had genuinely believed her feelings had changed…
"As I mentioned before, I would have much rather been here but I have had commitments I could not abandon." My tone sounds harsher than I intended and I can't help but look away again. "And I can be serious Kate."How much longer can I endure this? The blind hope, the crushing disappointment of reality. I am worse than an addict. I am slowly killing myself and doing so willingly to be in her company in any measure I can.
"Not here you aren't," she counters with a smile as if it were nothing more than playful banter. As if she was not tearing me apart with her casual observations. She leans back on her pile of pillows, not breaking her gaze.
"Well, fine then." She adds, taking in my expression. "But if you need anything, whatever it is…"
I look over towards her, her head now propped up on her hand, the messy tangles of her gold hair glowing in the moonlight. She is so sweet, so beautiful it hurts. A dull empty ache in my chest the size of the heart she has held for so long now. Would she really be there if she knew of Elisabeth? Would she trust me enough to believe that she is the only one I have ever wanted? Would she forgive me for not breathing a word of her for so long? Would she not go running If she knew how I deeply I feel for her? Would she ever, could she ever, possibly love me the way I love her? Would she ever give them up for me? Can I give up what I am for her? Can I take these chances? Is she not worth anything, everything?
The words are on my tongue. I swear, as impossible as it may be, I feel myself break into a sweat as I look down on her and feel the words coming. The declaration caught behind my teeth as I take a single breath and feel the earth shift and I can do this. I can do this. She is worth this risk, she is worth anything.
"Above all else Garrett, I am you friend. I will always be here if you need me."
The air escapes my body in a huff. Of course, of course she is my friend, of course. "Of course," I barely manage to choke out.
I rise and start to search for my things, or at least whatever it is that may be salvaged. "I should go." I say without looking at her. I can't look at her, not now. Not until I get a better grip on myself.
"Now?" she asks, her surprise obvious, "so soon?"
"I am needed back in Europe." I reply, my head under her bed still searching for my other shoe, stupid shoes, stupid airport and their stupid shoe rules. "It was rather unwise to leave when I had, but you know me," never serious.
I sit back on my heels, where the hell could it have gone? I look up to see my shoe dangling from her fingers. She had attempted to dress, throwing on one of my shirts as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if it were already hers. As if it were keeping space beside hers nestled in her dresser, as if it belonged here, belonged to her.
Wonderful - more evidence of my insanity, I now find myself jealous of my clothing. Granted, it is well founded jealousy, the shirt she has no qualms claiming…
Her sleeves are rolled up and only a few buttons are done. I find myself unable to decide if her intention is to make me regret leaving, which she certainly is - or - if she is seriously trying to kill me, which she just may yet.
"I am worried for you."
I reach over and grab my shoe with one hand and ruffle her hair with the other. "Do not worry for me little rabbit; you know nothing keeps me down for long." I attempt a smile hoping it comes out less sardonic than I feel and fear yet again I am showing far more than I mean to.
She sighs and looks up at me in a way that will keep my delusions alive for months. How could she look at me that way if she feels nothing at all?
I kiss her forehead once more, breathing in the smell of her, of home and pretend for just a moment I have all I want so badly. I flash to the door, not giving myself the chance to look back. I leave her the shirt. One more piece of me left behind and as I walk under the pale moon I wonder how much more of myself I can leave with her before there is nothing left to take with me.
Elisabeth must catch sight of me first, I barely see her at all before she is practically on top of me.
"Guess what I have learned?" She asks in a rush a moment before I find myself frolicking towards her, practically skipping with arms stretched wide as if I were in some ridiculous old love story. It really is fascinating. Well, it would be fascinating if it were not so disconcerting. It is not painful, just unsettling to no longer be in control of oneself. My limbs are moving entirely on their own. It is less concerning than the first time yet again I am powerless to break the hold as my body reacts exactly as it would if it were my mind directing it.
"Isn't it fantastic?" she asks as I turn into an involuntary pirouette.
"Lovely." I manage, turning into a back flip. She releases me suddenly and it is enough to knock me off my feet. Sitting on the damp earth I flex my fingers, move all my various pieces to ensure they are back in my command.
"You have been busy." I laugh looking up to her as she reaches down to help me up.
"It is so easy!" She crows with a smile. "Really, it is as if I were commanding myself to move! I can understand why they had held this one back." She laughs.
"And why is that?" I ask absently, heading back for the pack I had abandoned in her choreography.
"It takes so little effort to use, but quite a bit of concentration to direct properly. I can imagine someone could cause quite a bit of destruction if not in complete control."
"It is how they defeated them, you know?" She continues, euphoric with her new skill and someone to practice on I suppose.
"How is that?" I ask mindlessly, dusting my pants although I am in horrible need of a shower.
"Rome," she clarifies. Still rambling excitedly, "Together they are strong enough to project whole battlefields! The shields would block the forces from view, the control kept them stationary and the visions kept them distracted! She said half the time there was no opposing force at all; the Romans stood stock still with the sheep and lost a battle in their minds! I wish I could have seen it..." She drifts off, imagining the battle in her own mind. A battle with no bloodshed, no losses, it would have been something to see.
"Could you imagine? Winning a war no one fought? Brilliant isn't it?"
She suddenly cocks her head, her eyes narrowing as they take me in, really looking at me for the first time since catching sight of me. She studies me carefully for a full minute, top to toes. I am beginning to guess I wear my heart on my sleeve more that I would like.
"You are a coward and a fool." She accuses, turning on her heel and stomping away.
"Wonderful to see you again too, my dear," I call out to her, letting her go back to the clearing and her lessons without another word.
I hardly need her to remind me of the things I know all too well.
I decide to skip the shower in favor of a swim down in the river. I spend the next few hours lying at the bottom of the river, letting the current wash away the dirt and tension I have carried back with me.
I return to the house right before daybreak to find another small girl awaiting me. The elusive completion of the trinity, she is no older than the boy, five or six maybe. Who knows? She is wearing the same sort of almost toga like simple dress Theresa favors. Yet hers is a jade green, complimenting the long auburn plait running down her back. Copper coils decorate her forearms as well. She turns with a smile.
"The master puppeteer I assume." I say entering the room.
"Guilty as charged." She allows with smile.
"What moniker will you grant me?" She asks, seemingly out of nowhere, managing to catch me entirely off guard. I am beginning to think it a hobby among them.
"A name, as you had granted the others?" She prompts, not losing her smile.
"Oh," I reply looking her up and down. Her hair is a much muted shade of Maggie's. "How about Maggie?" I offer.
She scrunches her nose in response. "Well then how about…Siobhan?"
She shakes her head with distaste.
Sh…sherona, shelly, shannon
The smile returns. "Sharon," she says with a nod. "That is acceptable."
"Well then, I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, Sharon." I bow to her as she erupts in giggles and I flinch back in surprise. I cannot begin to imagine either Theresa with her elegance of Jack with his temper doing something so, well…appropriately childish as giggling.
"You are every bit as strange as expected," she continues to laugh.
"You really should be the welcoming committee," I tell her sincerely. She manages to exude happiness. "You are much less…severe…than your counterparts."
Her jaw twitches as her eyes narrow and I find myself frozen again. Well this will get old quickly. She comes close enough to practically be standing on my toes. Still barely reaching my waist she looks up into my eyes with a look completely devoid of any discernable emotion. To my great surprise she, this tiny wisp of a girl just may be the most terrifying of the three.
"Do not speak of that which you do not understand," she says quietly, carefully. She stares a moment more and apparently convinced her message is received she releases me with a wave of her small hand, her bracelets tinkling as they fall together.
"Shall we go and find your progeny?" she asks with the same lighthearted tone she held only moments ago.
"Elisabeth still hard at work?" I ask in surprise, momentarily distracted from my unease. "It is rather late for them, is it not?" Usually the evenings are reserved for hunting and recreation.
"You are well aware how persuasive she can be when she wants something badly enough." She laughs. "She will sit out there for days if that is what it takes to get him back."
"Him?" I mumble, I have no idea what she could possibly be trying to do, only that I cannot allow it to happen.
I am halfway to the clearing when I hear her reply. "Of course, that boy she is always talking about…"
I calmly walk to the crest of the hill. I don't want to overreact. I don't want to alarm her. Dear god, what should I do?
I find them in the middle of the clearing they use for training, Elisabeth, Theresa and Jack. They are hand in hand, a small circle lending their strength to her. The various weapons from the day's training lay abandoned around them serve to make me more uneasy. Not that she has need of weaponry, not if she were angry enough.
I hear him using the same quiet and hypnotic voice he uses to lure me to the dragon. I can recognize the prompts he is giving her. He is describing one of the very few clear memories she has.
"He is staring at you. He is angry and you are confused…"
Her eyes still closed, her head dips down; using her hair to shield her face as she takes on a look of shyness so accurate of her human self it steals my breath.
"Fascinating, isn't it?" so caught up in Elisabeth's vision Sharon has managed to sneak up on me.
"But I thought he was unable to affect her." I reply not taking my eyes off of Elisabeth.
"That is true, but this is something they have been working on for a while now. We believe the strongest memories one had lost in the change are never truly lost. Have you ever seen the brain of a vampire?" she asks so casually and again devoid of emotion, I fight the urge to take a step away.
"I cannot say I have."
"Well, it is also fascinating. Like many of the physical attributes we now posses, the brain is also altered and enhanced through the change. Humans have a great dependency on primitive autonomic actions and therefore great dependency on the hindbrain." She begins one of the random tangents I have grown to expect of the others.
"And this has what to do with her memories?" I practically snap, dragging my gaze from the clearing down to the girl.
She stares back with a look of annoyance, "The majority of a vampire brain is entirely restructured from its human origins. As you know, you no longer sleep or do primitive things such as breathing involuntarily." She begins, the look an open challenge, daring me to interrupt her again.
"In the hindbrain for example, through the change the medulla oblongata and pons are essentially rendered impotent. There is a great increase in available space and nerve signals for the cerebellum that controls movement and spinal cord which carries the tasking of movement to the body. This additional space and nerve signal is what is responsible for our greatly enhanced physical capabilities." She pauses, looking up to me with an all too innocent smile. "Do you need a diagram?" She asks and I have to bite my tongue to control my temper.
"I believe I can follow unaided." I manage mildly, my annoyance overshadowed with wariness. I really, really do not want to know how she knows these things.
She smiles widely at my discomfort. "As far as memory is concerned, the hippocampus is the main storage center of memory for both human and vampire alike. As the change occurs and the hippocampus is altered and enlarged extensively to accommodate our photographic memories, the damage is usually adequate to permanently destroy the majority of the existing hippocampus and therefore the human memories it contains. But, and this is the important part, so pay attention." She orders, noticing my attention had drifted back to the circle in the field.
"But, the amygdala is the area that stores and classifies emotionally charged memories and the physical responses tied to them. The amygdala is rendered mostly ineffectual during the change, as we no longer have need for the physical and stress hormonal responses such as racing heart or sweating that it produces. It shrinks as necessary to accommodate a larger hippocampus. But it still exists in our brains. It is a shadow of its former self, but it is still there."
A racing heart, sweating. And fear and bleeding I would assume. "The dragon," I mumble, my head snapping back to the field and Elisabeth. "He can access it."
"Indirectly, but yes," She replies. The pride is evident on her small face. "It is another reason the dreams are so realistic. By being able to access that very specific store of emotional memory and responses in the brain the dream is able to not only use the subconscious memory, but also the accompanying residual physical response the original event triggered."
"How" I demand, "How does he do it?"
"How do we manage any of our gifts?" She questions in return.
"Okay…but again, he is unable to affect her." My saving grace, the sole reason I am not dragging her away this second.
"There is no need."
"Are the cryptic answers meant to slowly drive me mad," I snap looking down to her. "Or is the need to be vague and mysterious an indulgence of age?"
"Perhaps a little of both?" She returns with a chuckle. "But in this case there truly is no need, she is simply being guided in an effort her to trigger the ability within her own mind."
My hands come up to rub my temples as I try to make some sense, any sense of this. "And that works?"
"So far? Not as much as she would have hoped. As I am sure you know by now, the most effective dreams are ones with a basis in solid memory."
"But I have never fought a dragon," I counter, unable to mask the bitterness, "and I assure you he is most effective."
"Obviously," she replies, rolling her eyes. "You are far too young for that."
The retort falls from my lips as I take her in. I pause and study her closely and can only shake my head. For some reason I truly don't believe she is kidding.
"But you have fought to the death, have you not? As you have been bleeding and sweating and panicked. That is what the dream is founded on, what is being suggested to you, not the dragon. It is simply standing in as the courier of those long stored emotional responses. It is exceptionally difficult for her. Not only is she essentially attempting to cast the dream on herself, she is trying to use the very small emotional response she can recall to release the cache of memory in the amygdala." She finishes with a sudden sadness and I turn to Elisabeth. She is still sitting on the ground, now turned towards the moon with the boy's hand on her shoulder. "It would appear to be insufficient yet again."
"Just give it time, puiut." The boy says down to her, barely having to lean down to kiss her on the head before turning to join Theresa, heading back towards the house.
"Multumesc," she mumbles without breaking her gaze on the moon.
The girl turns back to face me. "Who are you?" She asks, again devoid of emotion.
Looking down to her, I don't bother with a response. Lord knows the tangent she is off on now.
She takes me in for a moment, her gaze betraying her youthful appearance. "You are in a very precarious position patriot," She says finally. "The time is come for you to decide."
To my great surprise I am spared another long and strange conversation I can't follow. With one final glance to the clearing she turns and runs after the boy leaving me alone with my never ending confusion. I turn my attention to Elisabeth. Her back may be to me but there is no mistaking the set to her shoulders. She looks defeated and I feel the weight of her unhappiness in my chest. Again, the guilt overwhelms me. I wonder if this is what the girl was alluding to, the decision to be made. Yet despite the guilt, there is no decision. The defeated girl before me is a pale shadow of the ruined child she was. I have sworn to protect her and that is what I shall continue to do, even if I am only protecting her from herself. I debate leaving her to her thoughts, but know if the roles were reversed she would come to me. I approach slowly not wanting to startle her.
"Granted my Romanian leaves much to be desired," I say, lowing myself to the grass beside her. "But did you just thank him for calling you a chicken?"
"It isn't that bad," she chuckles, still staring blankly towards the sky. "And you know it would be perfect if you bothered to put any effort into it at all. Besides, little chicken is an old term of endearment."
"Are you alright?" I ask, leaning into her bumping my shoulder to hers.
"I am…" She sighs as she leans over and lays her head on my shoulder. "I am…tired."
"Say the words and I'll grant your reprieve, somewhere warm and sunny, perhaps?"
"No." She says too quickly. "I can't leave, not yet." She sighs again, "I need to know who I am, Garrett."
I take her small hand in mine. "You know who you are. You are chasing the ghost of a girl you were for barely a moment."
"I am chasing nothing." She snaps, finally meeting my gaze. "I am only seeking to claim what is mine."
"And if you find things better left dead and buried?" I ask calmly, not letting her tone bait me.
"That is a chance I must take." She settles back into my shoulder.
"Is it?" I lean down and tip her chin up to face me. "And if I were to tell you that you will surely find things much better left dead and buried?"
"You couldn't possibly know that, you don't even know who…" She jumps to her knees and pulls me forward. "Do you know him? Have you known him? Why would you… Oh god, oh god is he dead? Is that why you would never… Is he? Is he?" She is shaking me by the collar so hard I am surprised my shirt hasn't given in to the abuse. "Answer me!"
"I know that when I had found you, you were begging for death." I sidestep the question fairly easily given how well practiced I am by now. "You begged me to kill you, Elisabeth. You begged for death rather than spend one moment more as that girl you are so desperate to reclaim. So if you are choosing not to trust me, can you at least trust enough in yourself to believe there are things you do not want to remember? "
"I deserve to know my past." She says after a pause, settling herself back down on the ground. She laces the grass between her fingers. "It may be ugly and painful," she says not looking up, "but it is mine to claim."
"But you do not understand what you are asking for." My tone pleads for me. How can I possibly illustrate what this knowledge will do to her? Yet I know her stubbornness knows no boundaries and if she is that committed to walk this path there will be no stopping her.
"I will not stand here and watch you fall apart again, Elisabeth. You were suffering so badly, love. I made that choice all those years ago that I would not stand by and watch you suffer so if there was something I could do to save you. I will not stand here and watch you throw that away. I may not have the right to disallow it, but I do not have to see this."
I rise to my feet and turn back towards the house when she catches me by the hand. She looks up and despite her unnatural beauty, her age and our familiarity I can still see the scarred little girl in her eyes.
"Do you love me?" she asks.
"What sort of question is that?" I reply, feeling my temper spark. "Of course I love you. Whether you believe it or not, I have shielded you from every single thing I could out of my loyalty and love of you."
"I do believe that." She replies, pulling on my hand again until I sink back down beside her. "But if you really love me Garrett, help me get them back."
"I couldn't do that even if wanted to." I admit, grateful for this one honesty. "For all of your talents combined you and your tutors cannot even begin to do that."
"But you have what we do not..." She looks up at me, meeting my confused look with her puppy dog eyes, "You can give me yours…"
"Give you mine, my what now?"
"Give me your memory, Garrett." She says lacing her hand in mine. "Show me who I was then. It may be enough to see it through your eyes. Give me the prompts to take you back and I'll go with you. Take me to the day I asked you to kill me. Maybe that is all I am missing. Maybe that will finally be enough to bring it all back."
Despite my convictions it hurts to deny her anything. "I… I'm sorry Elisabeth. I can't do that."
A spark of fierceness lights in her eyes, "technically I don't have to ask."
Her response is so unexpected I am momentarily rendered speechless. Although the rational side of me truly believes her harsh threat is nothing more than bravado masking her frustration, I cannot suppress the outrage borne from her insolence.
"So that is what it comes down to?" My anger thinly reigned in my voice is quiet but filled with malice. "You would turn on me so easily? Have I not done everything for you? Do you know what I have sacrificed, for you? Out of my duty and loyalty and love, for you? Have I not stood by you every moment? Christ have I not been eaten by dragons for you! And you are threatening to go rummaging around in my head uninvited to satisfy this morbid curiosity?"
"For me? For me?" She shouts jumping to her feet the spark of fierceness becoming an inferno. "I am no longer a child! Do you think I am too innocent, too stupid to realize you use me as some sick substitute for your dead sister and Katie?" she bends down to my face, brandishing her finger and continuing to scream. "I am your repentance." She says with a snide. "I am the surrogate, someone you can pretend to care who doesn't have the power to tear you to pieces. You sacrifice and you stand by me so you feel like you are doing something worthwhile, so do not have to face the things you cannot accept."
"You think you do not have the power to destroy me?" I shout jumping to my own feet, adopting both her tone and posture. "You question my loyalty, my devotion? You know nothing of how deeply my devotion to you runs!"
A cruel laugh pours from her lips. "It is you who needs to learn the depth of your devotion! Tell me Garrett, two weeks with Kate and did you once have any sort of meaningful conversation? Did you tell her you love her? Did you even ask her on a date for god's sakes? Don't you dare keep my life from me because you are desperate to shield yourself from your own!"
"Do you not realize the gift this is?" I counter, the passion born from a jealousy I hadn't even realized I harbored. "You are so focused on that stupid boy; you are willing to sacrifice everything for a shred of him! You are ready to ruin yourself, all we have built for a shadow. You are willing to lose your sanity to someone you don't remember. You are so focused on him that you cannot appreciate the things you do not have to live with!
"Do you think I would not sacrifice my memories if I could? You want to come into my mind, Elisabeth? You want to see war and the things I cannot forget? You want to 'remember' the screaming and the begging and the bleeding? Do you need to feel the panic and the sickness and the hopelessness, and opening your eyes on a new dawn and thinking that today will be the day you die? You want to look out on the broken bodies of the men you have killed? Good and honest, family loving, god fearing men whose only crime was wearing a red coat? You want to remember them and the look in their eyes when they realized today was their day? You want to feel that unrelenting ache knowing everyone you ever loved; your only family and know they are now nothing but dust in the earth forever beyond your reach? You want your regrets, every word left unsaid burned forever in your mind?"
I trail off as I come back to myself as the rage fades and take a step back from her. The fire in her eyes is long gone and the pity I see there is revolting. I am disgusted with myself for anger and my confessions. For all our years together I have never before lost my composure this way. I cross my arms, an unintentional gesture of closing myself off to her and turn back towards the field. The moon is low and full, this land unspoiled, the air as clean and true as these places and times buried in my memories. Why would she sacrifice this perfect innocence?
"These are the things I live with." I whisper, not turning back to her. "Four centuries Elisabeth and nothing but the promise of an eternity in front of me… I am haunted by things I can never, will never forget.
I forced you into this life Elisabeth. I alone cursed you for eternity. Let me spare you now. Let me love you that much."
"I'm sorry," she sighs.
"I don't want your pity Elisabeth." I say, turning and taking her hands in mine. "I just need you to think of the implications of what you are trying to do here. This is Pandora's Box you are attempting to open."
"I know…" she begins before I cut her off.
"But you don't…"
"I do, Garrett. I get it." She snaps pulling her hands from mine. "But that is a chance I have to take. I need to know. Things are different now, I am different now. Maybe I can see those things and move on. And I won't have to wonder."
I turn away from her and rub my temples. This is my precarious position. This is the decision to be made. Who am I? Am I Amun? Am I her keeper, her master who will decide her actions? Or am I her champion, the man protecting her from the things that will hurt her? And who am I if either leads down the same path?
"Will you help me?"
Will I? Will I help her reclaim the things I have tried so hard to bury? And what becomes of the sacrifices made to this end? What matters more, her free will or her happiness? Can she ever truly be happy with these things, this ghost hanging over her head? Do I love her enough to spare her or do I love her enough to give her the things she wants so desperately?
"You are awfully stubborn" I say without turning back.
"I learn from the best." She says coming to stand beside me.
I reach down and take her hand in mine. "I need you to promise me something, "I say still not facing her.
"Anything," she replies too quickly.
I finally turn to face her. I close my eyes and bring my forehead down to hers barely believing what I am planning to do. "I need you to remember that however misguided, I have never had anything but the best of intentions towards you. I have loved you and however wrong I may have been, I only tried to do what I thought was best for you."
"What have you done?" She asks quietly, pulling her head from mine.
"Just promise me." I say pulling her into what may be the last hug we ever share. I take a breath and grab tightly to the truth. It may be a different sort of love, but is she not worth anything, everything I have to give?
"Promise me and I will take you back."
A few notes:
Garrett's reference to Kate in a red dress is based on a revolutionary war era custom of brides wearing red dresses instead of white as a tribute to the patriots. (Which is weird when you think about it considering the Brits wore red coats but whatever.)
All of the brain stuff is as accurate as a few nights of casual internet research allows so apologies for any inaccuracies.