Icicles filled the long window

With barbaric glass.

The shadow of the blackbird

Crossed it, to and fro.

Chapter Summary: I'm an easy going, adventurous bloke in the midst of a den of gorgeous, Slovakian female predators. Succubae. A bloody dream come true, right? Yeah…well…not so much.

geophf note: This chapter is entirely written by the author Lion in the Land under my very stringent direction. To say it is an honor for this piece to have a guest author of this calibre is using even more understatement than even the proper Brit (teen) vamp Lilly could manage, so let me allow her awards to speak for her first:

Winner, Twilighted Original Fiction Contest, "Silly, Sexy, Supernatural" category, story: "Impressionism 101"

Nominee, Eddie and Bellie, Best Novel, story: "Add It Up"

LYDF rec: "Add It Up"

So, you are reading her fiction now that you know? Yes? Because it's that good.

So, we know that LiLa, as she goes by, is a recognized and awarded writer. We, that is some very privileged few of us, also know that she is a beta reader and editor at twilighted(dot)net. This is a very heavy responsibility, shepherding writers through the approval process at twilighted, but you wouldn't know this from her, because as an approving beta, she is pleasant, easy-going, forgiving, accepting and efficient. If you publish your works on Twilighted, you should count yourself fortunate to have her as your beta.

This is not an accident, or, in the Thomist sense, it is indeed an accident of her character, because LiLa as a writer is award-winning, brilliant, creative, lively, scintillating, and LiLa as a beta is exacting and efficient. LiLa as a person? LiLa has been a very dear friend.

In a very real sense. I think that's all that needs to be said there.

She's a young girl, unlike myself (that's me: a crusty old curmudgeon), but she has wisdom beyond her years, and this very wisdom permeates her telling of Garrett's peek into this fascinating coven living in Denali. Why is the coven fascinating? Because, in this chapter, the teller himself is just as interesting as the other members he observes, and beneath it all is the authoress' steady and playful and assured hand.

It is my pleasure to present Lion in the Land's chapter of Garrett's chautauqua, this Verse VI of "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," about the Denali coven.

I am Garrett, citizen of the world. I am a vampire and have been one since the colonies won their freedom from the Brits.

A year ago I was in the open ocean air, surfing the swells off the coast of Madagascar, now I'm sitting in a poorly ventilated high school auditorium in Smalltown, U.S.A., awaiting the theatrical debut of the token human in my new clan, my family. I don't know how the humans can breathe in here. It's suffocating.

Of course, their attention's been taken off the poor air conditioning by the appearance of young Lucas and Lilly's reclusive family. We're quite a sight amongst the scruffy beards and flannel of the local Alaskans. The smiles and nods of the bouffant-headed hockey moms are friendly enough as the ladies of our coven walk past them and make a point of saying 'hello,' under Tanya's strict orders, of course. But there's a malevolent spark of envy deep inside the glares of the human women as they look upon the undead females; mothers and aunts in these parts are not supposed to look this good. Eleazar and I get a bit warmer of a reception. But we only nod curtly, again under Tanya's orders, and dutifully slide into the fifth row of metal folding chairs.

It doesn't seem smart to expose ourselves this publicly. The most interaction any of the family has had at the school is Tanya waiting in her car outside to pick up the children, or Tanya's occasional visits to the principal's office to straighten out the rare scrape that the kids have gotten into (always the other kid's fault, of course). Please don't tell Lillypad that I just referred to her as a 'kid.' One thing I have most certainly learned around here is to never refer to our little darling as a 'child.'

Even though she is one. And always will be.

Shhhh! Don't tell her that, either.

But our appearance tonight was unavoidable. It's Lukie's big night, and not one of us was willing to miss it. Lillypad begged and begged us to come in separate groups and to "for the love of God" pretend we didn't know her. Turns out even high school misfits have a reputation to protect. But Tanya insisted that we are a family, and if we want Lucas truly to experience high school, then it's only right that we should show up in public to properly support and embarrass him.

It's rather ironic, really. Once upon a time I fought to free America from a King's oppression – only to end up in one of the new territories under the rule of an entirely different kind of monarch, Her Majesty, Queen Tanya, almighty ruler of the Denali clan. But she's a whole lot prettier than King George, I'll tell you that. And I have to admit that I've lit a firecracker under her more than once just to see those eyes flash and feel that wicked-sexy fury cascade off of her. If circumstances were different, I can't say I'd find the idea of kneeling at her feet with a thick collar and chain around my neck altogether unappealing.

But I belong to Katie. She's my girl. And what a girl she is! She caught me with my defenses down as she strolled onto that beach in Madagascar with her flirtatious waves bouncing around her shoulders and her mischievous eyes dancing. I'd only been there on a pit-stop, a reprieve between adventures, but Katie had come to discuss private business with the trio of beatnik vamps who called that place home. It seemed odd to me that the Madagascarians, who'd pretty much dedicated their existences to peace, love and ripping waves, would be involved in anything that could be remotely considered business, and I was curious. But Katie's curiosity about the uncharted territory – me – quickly overwhelmed my own.

Wish I could say I'd put up more of a fight, but when the voluptuous vamp cornered me on a thick branch high in the jungle canopy, I didn't see much point in resisting. Our frenetic activity caused our supporting limb to snap, and we tumbled and crashed into the earth. Without missing a beat, Katie flipped me over, pinned my hands above my head and expertly finished me off. I was impressed, to say the least. I'd never before had a woman so completely grasp hold of the reins and keep them like that.

Later on, when our hosts baited me into asking Katie to demonstrate her special power, she struck me motionless. No other lassie had ever been able to accomplish such a seemingly simple task: getting Garrett the Wanderer to stop. For the first time in my existence I was completely helpless under someone else's power. I'm not gonna lie – it was a complete turn-on, and it seemed to me that an adventure in the wilds of Alaska was in order.

Katie never asked me to come with her, yet she never showed any hesitation on the matter, either. That's the thing about her: she doesn't tell you. She smiles and she moves along, and she seems content and happy, but she'll never tell you that; she'll never express it in words, so it's all a guessing game with her. A game that I eventually won…

Cripes! Could somebody open a window in here? This is unbearable. The stuffiness is making the humans sweat, and as they shuffle impatiently in their seats, waiting for the show to begin, they are sending their various odors of feet and armpit through the air. Human scents that inspire venom to pool in my mouth, readying my body for just a taste. I lean in closer to Katie, hoping to neutralize the enticing human scent with her sweet, cinnamon one. She's chiding Lilly to stop glaring so vehemently at a gaggle of human girls who are nervously giggling at the photos in the program. Naturally, Lilly imagines they are ogling the very handsome snapshot of Lukie.

I lean across Katie and say, "Aww, come now, Lillypad, our Lukie is a real life Troy Bolton – basketball player turned High School Musical star. He's the next Zack Effron. You can't expect him to give any of us the time of day after this."

"Garrett!" Katie laughingly admonishes.

"Oh, Lillypad knows I'm only joking, don't ya, Lil? Anyone who's seen the way that boy pays homage to the very linty bits that collect under her toenails knows that she hasn't got a thing to worry about."

Lilly scowls at me and sticks out her tongue, but I see the tiny smile that she can't suppress.

She's actually got quite a bit to worry about. Lukie is still human. Sure, he adores the girl now, but the human heart is a fickle thing, and the boy is growing older, while Lilly stays perpetually the same. His tastes may change; he may get bored; any number of things could happen to draw his attention elsewhere.

Not so with vampires.

Vampires are eternal on this earth, and so are their passions. Once they've been snatched by love's sweet tentacles, they are no longer their own. They belong to the object of their affection, and all decisions for the rest of their eternity are aimed toward the welfare of that individual. It's the same with succubae…except that it's different. They can and do attach to one mate for eternity, but that doesn't mean that they give up their, er, extracurricular activities.

Succubae, like Katie and her sisters, prey on men's passions. It's their nature. It's who they are. Of course, feeding on the blood of humans is part of who they are, too, but they gave that up. And even though it sure seems easy for them, a lot easier than it is for me, I know they struggle with it, so who am I to ask Katie to cut back on the blokes, too? It'd be like asking someone who quit smoking to cut back on the gum, or the potato chips, or the coffee, or whatever it is they've replaced their addiction with. If she stops going for their Magic Johnsons she'll start going for their throats, and I gotta admit that option A is the far more humane…even if it kills me. Which it doesn't. Not anymore.

It's not that I fancy the idea of my Katie getting it on with anyone but me, and at first, when I realized that she had no intention of giving it up, we had many a row. I didn't understand why I wasn't enough for her, why she couldn't prey on me alone. But for a succubae to be truly satisfied, she must drain her victim of his essence. Repeated sessions in the frequency that Katie requires would leave me drained, weak, and listless, so she only 'snacks' on me as far as her succubatious needs go. She leaves me with enough energy to function, yet she's able to stave off her need to 'feed' on others for a bit longer than usual.

Still, every few months or so, she must join her sisters on their usual 'girls' weekend' foray. They go far enough away so that I won't have to wonder if the guy I'm looking at knows my Katie. It's not a perfect arrangement, but it works for us.

And I certainly do reap benefits from my lovergirl's excursions. Katie is a wildcat, and at times our lovemaking is downright ferocious, but when she returns from her trips, with her pale silvery eyes and her appetite satiated, she's a different woman. She nuzzles into me like a soft little pussycat and peppers my chest with baby kisses, and I stroke her hair as we lay quietly together with no sense of urgency. She lets me assume control, and I savor every sumptuous inch of her as I slowly take her back as my own. I know that I'm the only man that gets to see her like this.

To keep my mind off the other men, I go on my own walkabout while she's gone with her sisters, grasp a temporary taste of my old life, the days when there was no one but me to concern myself with. But these are celibate adventures, in case you're wondering. I don't have the succubus excuse to justify cheating on my Katie. And I wouldn't want to, anyway; she's all the woman I need. She's all I need…

The curtains slide apart just in time. They reveal another world behind them and open up this close auditorium that's beginning to press in on my chest like a boulder that wants to squash my incapacitated lungs. The play is Grease, and I smile when I see Lukie strut out in his greased-back hair and T-Birds jacket as he and the gang rib Danny about his summertime romance.

In this scene, it's Sandy's first day at a new school, and I feel for the little thing as she tries to assimilate and fit in. Been there, sweetie, I think to myself: I'd expected Denali to be cold, but I hadn't anticipated the brittle frigidity of my reception here. Walking into the Denali residence for the first time was like walking into a frozen museum filled with exquisite ice sculptures. No one moved, and everyone stared.

"Oh, relax," Katie had chided them. "He's not going to bite." Then she'd rolled her eyes at me, and we'd laughed at the vampire humor, just the two of us. But the statues stayed frozen, staring.

Tanya was the first of them to speak. "I'd appreciate a bit more notification next time you plan to bring home a stray, Kate," she said crisply. "The house is getting a little crowded."

"We can stay somewhere else," Kate offered hotly.

"Don't be ridiculous," Tanya answered. "You're family. You stay here. Garrett, welcome. You do realize that you won't be allowed to feed on humans for the duration of your stay?" she said, cutting to the chase.

"Yes," I'd answered. "Katie explained. I'm perfectly prepared to oblige." Prior to this, I'd abstained from humans for brief periods in my existence, when I'd been far from civilization with no humans in sight. But that had only ever been for a few weeks at the most. My stay here was more open-ended; I'd stay for as long as Katie'd have me. At least, that's what I'd professed to her the whole way home…

I unbutton the collar of my shirt. What the bloody hell is going on here? I'm vampire! I don't get uncomfortable. I look down the row at the vampires I'm with. They're fine. Cool as cucumbers. Why is my throat constricting? This is something more than the enticing human scents swirling around me. Why do I feel like I need to inhale gallons of clean, crisp air? Something … anything other than the thick shit that is clogging my throat in here.

Danny and Sandy run into each other on stage, and the games begin. Romantical troubles of the young. He likes her, and she likes him, but he's got his rep with the T-birds to worry about, and she's got her dignity to preserve. Grown-ups play games, too. Even centuries-old grown ups. I'd poured my heart out to Katie on the way up here, and every day since we'd arrived. She smiled, and she wrapped her arms around me and rubbed her pretty nose on mine, and never said a damned word in reply. She never told me she wanted me here, never begged me to stay when I told her I felt unwelcome and that it would be best for me to move on.

I suppose you could say she said it with more than words. But existence here is hard, damn it! I've given up my entire way of life to be here. I'm giving up human blood! Sometimes a guy needs to know he's not being played the fool. Sometimes a guy needs to hear the words. And then, just a few days ago, I hit the jackpot. We'd just finished a particularly fun hunt – wolves. Katie loves hunting wolves, because they often prey on the gentle elk and caribou that she's far too fond of for a 'vegetarian' vampire. After we drank our fill, she leapt on me from behind and stunned me so that I fell flat. She teased me a bit and then set me loose.

Overcome with the spontaneity of the moment, I'd raked my fingers through her hair and kissed her all over her lovely face. "Katie girl, you know you're my whole world. And I know you love me, but I've gotta know – am I your one? Am I the one you see yourself with for the rest of eternity?"

I'd never asked before, because I was afraid of asking too soon, before she felt it, and I was afraid that even if she said 'yes,' she'd only be telling me what I wanted to hear. When a vampire falls in love, they are changed, as if branded, until the end of time, but that change isn't instantaneous. It can take a while – vampires fall in love, as with humans. If I asked too soon, I could ruin everything. But I'd already foolishly acted on the impulse, and there was no taking it back.

I held her face steady and stared into her golden eyes. She returned my gaze steadily and answered in her rich, honeyed voice, "Yes, Garrett. Yes. You are my eternity." And she'd pressed her lips together in the sweetest smile and held my eyes, and I knew. She wasn't merely telling me what I wanted to hear. She meant it. Every word. I'd won. Katie had fallen completely in love with me, and she was mine for eternity. I smiled back at her.

And that smile was the finest piece of acting that I've ever done.

When I should have been raging with joy, I was filled with an overwhelming panic. Katie had made the change, but I hadn't. I thought I had. I honest to God thought I had! Katie is wonderful, the most wonderful woman I've ever been with, the only woman to have kept my attention for this long, the only woman I've ever followed across the world. Then why at that moment did I have to resist the urge to shove her off me and run away? When a vampire makes the change, there is not doubt, no second guessing. Am I defective? Incapable of making the change? How can I not be in love with her?

Stop being stupid, Garrett. Of course I'm in love with her. I'm just a little resistant after being on my own for so long, so I had a temporary setback. That's all. I'll get past it, and life in Transylmayberry will go on. Everything will be fine.

Lukie's up on the stage again, belting out "Greased Lightnin'" with the other boys and shaking what his momma gave him. He is on the cusp of being a man. Until I came along, he was a boy growing up in the midst of a den of ladies and one, uh, Eleazar. Nothing against the Spaniard: he's a great person, but his reticent personality and guarded mannerism make him a less than perfect mentor to guide a spirited boy like Lucas into his manhood. Lukie was the first in the extended family to warm up to me, and it was almost immediate. He'd been well on his way to turning out to be this little math nerd that all the bigger kids picked on, but now I'm proud of that boy! He's turning out to be a fine young independent man, just like me. It's obvious that he'd been craving a little more testosterone in the household.

Lucas and I talk endlessly about basketball; we wrestle and break things, and although I'd never unleash my full strength on him, I don't take it easy on him, either. I've gotten Lilly to release her death grip on him, reasoned with her and helped her to see that a guy needs a little space, and I've introduced the kid to a crapload of TV – can you believe he'd never even seen "Jackass" before I came along? And I will be the one to take Lukie out for his first beer. The jury is still out on exactly when he'll be transformed, but no matter his age, I'm making sure the boy takes advantage of his last chance to drink a cool pint of ale without it tasting like piss and then having to retch it up later.

The girls in the front row squeal as my boy's skinny pelvis rocks back and forth, and Lilly grinds her teeth together while a soft growl rolls from the back of her throat. Katie pokes her teasingly, and Lilly swats back. They both start giggling, and the people in the row in front of us shoot irritated glances backwards. Tanya leans forward from down the row and raises a warning eyebrow. Katie shoots her a mock salute, and all attention is back on the stage.

Queen Tanya, snapping the troops back in line. That pretty little filly has an arduous task, guiding this ever-growing family of vampires surreptitiously through their existence. I'll admit that a group this size requires leadership, but I've never been one to take kindly to being told what to do. The first time I stood up to Tanya and questioned her direction, she didn't snap my head off like I'd expected. She'd merely glared at me, stuck to her guns, and later took me on a private hunt to discuss it. She actually listened to me, and the next time she handled things a bit differently. After that, she'd occasionally ask my opinion on weightier matters, and I realized that she didn't want to be a tyrant. She hadn't seized control of the clan – it had been forced upon her, and the others had been content to leave her in charge.

Irina pitches a fit at every decision, but she's all smoke and no fire, and rarely has a constructive counter suggestion. Eleazar offers council, but he's timid in his opinions – conciliatory. I tell Tanya what I see, exactly how I see it, no punches pulled, and she seems to appreciate that. We've become sort of like the Godfather and his conciliary. From what I understand, Tanya has done a damn good job for all these years, but no sane person wants the welfare of an entire coven on their shoulders, especially with the addition to their numbers in the last century. I've been able to alleviate a tiny bit of the pressure on her.

So, you see, Katie's not the only one I've got obligations to around here. Obligations. What a hideous word. How in the hell did I get here? One pretty face, some amazing sex, and I'm as trapped as a beaver in a snare…

I can't breathe. I don't need to breathe, but I want to breathe, and I can't. I can't draw a bloody, damned breath in here!

I lean over to Kate and say, "Excuse me, sweetheart."

"What is it?"

"I dunno," I answer. "It's the heavy scent in here, I guess. I need some clean air to clear my head."

"I'll go with you," she offers.

"No! No, I'll be fine. I just need a little free space, okay?"

"Yes, fine," she answers, looking at me with a slight furrow in her brow.

I excuse myself through the row and bust out the front doors of the school. Blessed blasts of icy air hit my face, and I suck it in gratefully. Get yourself together, Garrett.

A blackbird shoots suddenly over my head, and I'm startled for the first time in over two hundred years. My attention snaps to the airborne creature as it flies off…off to distant places…alone…free as a, well, bird. It swerves from its path and stops in a tree. My insides sink. I really wanted to see that little bastard fly on. Why did it stop? It's got the whole wide world out there, no one to answer to.

Unencumbered, limitless adventure awaits.

I sigh and turn my head to glance over my shoulder at the cramped building behind me. There's a wonderful woman inside who loves me…waiting, expecting me. And there's an open world spread out in front of me…waiting, calling to me. I am Garrett, and I don't know which way to run.

geophf note: So, do you think you have a take or a voice to express a view of the Denali coven? I'm all ears.