A/N I want to sing the praises of Michele, whose constant assistance and encouragement has been invaluable. Any errrors are my fault.
It was some time after the turn of the year when the snows came hard, drifting against the side of the cabin like frozen sand dunes. The winds swept across the lake, howling like wolves and pushing the snow to the shore where it was carved into strange and fantastic curves. There was just a short hour or so in the day when the sun struggled to rise above the horizon only to fall back down into twilight. The air, though, was so crisp and clean, it felt sharp, as if it had edges that scraped as it entered one's lungs.
The sky at night was truly breathtaking. There were times when the aurora borealis threw constantly moving curtains of color across the dark sky like matadors waving their capes. Often, Tanya would slip from the cabin to lie out on the ice to see the heavens turning above her, watching the stars glitter like jagged diamonds and sifting through a millennia's worth of memories.
Hunting was both easier and harder now. The caribou were scattered, but the crust of the snow had hardened enough to support her weight as she raced across it. She kept the woodstove and the fireplace going continuously now; it was as much for the comfort as the warmth.
She had fed Charlie from a caribou and was finishing it herself, the animal half in her lap as she sat on the bed. Suddenly a hand reached out and grabbed her arm. She turned; Charlie was watching her, his eyes a deep, burnished gold. She let the caribou slide to the floor in a heap of fur and spiky antlers, its head falling to its back at an odd angle.
"Hello, Charlie," she said in a soft, even voice.
His eyes flicked around the cabin, examining the surroundings before returning to her face.
"It's just you and I. We're in Alaska, in the north country."
His hand squeezed her arm slightly. His lips below his mustache twitched slightly, while his eyebrows furrowed minutely.
"We met at Bella's wedding. I'm Tanya."
His eyes widened slightly at the memory.
"We brought you here last fall," she explained. "It's January ninth. As near as we can tell, you've been out for just about a year."
His eyes moved around the cabin once more before returning to her face. He swallowed once and then spoke, his voice harsh from disuse. "Why?"
"People care about you, Charlie. You're worth saving," she answered softly.
His eyes closed and he was still again. She watched him for a moment, until she was sure that he had withdrawn again, then took the caribou outdoors.
That evening, at her usual hour, she undressed by the bed, and as she turned to crawl between the covers, she saw that his eyes were open. His eyes followed her, and she struggled to keep a small smile from her face as his gaze finally lifted from her breasts to her eyes.
She settled under the blankets and turned to face him. Even though he had closed his eyes again, he had not lost the habit of breathing, and the movements of his chest told her he was still conscious.
"They call this the age of reason," she said, addressing his still face. "As if everything can be deduced and measured and reduced to equations. But science can't explain everything. There are mysteries that won't respond to cold logic."
His faint breathing continued, but there was no other response. She sighed and rolled to her back. "I suppose it was easier for vampires to accept the change when I was younger. The world was more mysterious, more unexplained. We expected miracles and magic to happen."
She paused, listening to the fire crack and pop in the fireplace. "Now, science is supposed to have an equation for everything. But as they delve deeper and deeper into nature, they're coming to realize that there is randomness, and an inherent need for disorder in the universe."
"I'm glad," she stated contentedly. "The universe must always hold some mystery. We would be poorer without it." She rolled to her side and tucked her arm under her head so she could watch the fire from her place in the bed. He lapsed back into un-breathing unconsciousness, but she knew it wouldn't be too long before he would stir again.
It would be important that as he started to regain consciousness that she help him find some connection to the world, something to 'live' for. Whether that was family, as it had been for her, or being of service, as it had been for Carlisle, or a mate, as it was for so many, the life of an immortal needed structure, a framework. When eternity was staring you in the face, the endless stream of days was daunting until one learned how to deal with it just as one did in any life, one day after the other. She suspected what he needed most would be a connection to the world, to other creatures. Certainly intimacy would help.
Three days later, she caught a moose. It was too big and ungainly to bring into the house, so she tied it up by its heels and bled it on the porch. Steam rose out of the bucket she set underneath to collect the blood. When she brought it into the house, Charlie was watching her. He had rolled to his side, his head on the pillow, looking quiet but watchful.
"Hello. You're awake," she said, closing the door behind her. She sat the bucket on the floor and shed her jacket and mittens. "Perhaps you can sit up to have some of this?" she asked, setting the bucket by the side of the bed.
He pushed and struggled to rise while she plumped the pillows behind him. The sheet slipped down to his waist and her eyes flicked over the muscles of his chest that were becoming toned again. He leaned back against the pillows and modestly raised the sheet higher. She pretended not to notice.
"Once you start moving around, you'll get your strength back," she said, fetching a tin ladle from the kitchen shelf. She dipped the ladle into the bucket and raised it his lips. His hands met hers as he steadied it and took a sip of the dark red liquid. "It's good," he whispered hoarsely, before taking another sip.
"It's moose," she said, lowering the ladle into the bucket again.
He took another larger sip, before slumping back onto the pillows. He cleared his throat slightly. "How can something so repugnant taste so good?" he rasped, smiling.
"Repugnant?" she asked, puzzled, looking down at the shimmering, dark blood. She frowned, her brows drawing together. "There is a magnificent animal hanging on my porch whose death gave you this blood. Blood is life, Charlie. There is nothing repugnant about it."
Chastised, he was silent again. She gave him another sip. "Have you ever been to Alaska?"
He nodded. "Just around Juneau, though." His cleared his throat, swallowing.
"Well, we're in Kobuk Valley. That's way up north, above the arctic circle."
There was a pause as she set the bucket on the floor and stirred its contents. "I love this area because of the caribou," she said. "They remind me of home." She glanced up at him, smiling, before glancing down again. "I was born on the western shore of the White Sea, where today Norway and Russia meet. My people were fishermen and hunters." She raised the ladle, shimmering with red liquid.
He carefully took the offered ladle from her hands. "May I ask how old you are?" he asked, taking another drink.
"How old do I look?" She shifted back and raised her chin. Her skin was clear and unblemished, pale but beautifully so, matching the light blonde strands of her hair. She possessed classic Nordic beauty with strong cheekbones, and almond eyes which were the color of sunflowers. She was dressed in a plaid flannel shirt that bloused over a white tee shirt and form-fitting jeans. On her feet were a pair of heavy hiking boots that showed a good amount of wear.
He paused, gazing at her, realizing just how beautiful she was. He swallowed once and dropped his eyes. That kind of beauty was intimidating; it made him tongue-tied. "M-mid-twenties?" he stammered, bringing the ladle to his lips to cover his sudden embarrassment.
"I was made when I was twenty years of age. That was over a thousand years ago."
He stopped in mid sip. Staring at the blankets that covered him, he was completely still. She waited for him. Finally, he said," I can't even imagine…"
She chuckled ruefully. "Oh, I can't either. It just seemed to happen." She dipped the ladle in the bucket once more for him before rising from the bed. She crossed over to the fireplace and threw another log on before feeding the wood stove as well. She stood back up and turned to him. "The days pass so quickly for me now, it seems I barely blink my eyes and a year has gone by. I turn around and a decade has passed. I can still remember when a year seemed like a long time…" She paused, her gaze sliding off to right.
She sighed, and came back to herself. "Perhaps you'd like to rise?"
He turned to the side of the bed and let the ladle slip back into the bucket on the floor. "Um, okay." He looked around the room, pulling the covers a little bit further up his chest from where they had slipped. "My, uh, clothes?" he asked. Tanya almost laughed out loud. If he'd been human, he would have been blushing a bright shade of red.
"Over here," she said, turning to one of the chests against the wall that she'd brought with her. She pulled some jeans and a flannel shirt from it and tossed them on the bed.
"Thanks." His eyes glanced around the cabin, obviously looking for a place to change.
"I'll step outside, if you'd like," she offered.
He looked toward the window. The frost covered the panes in a kaleidoscope of ice, and the wind moaned low, swirling around the cabin, trying to find entrance. "It's got to be minus twenty out there," he protested.
"Minus twenty-two actually."
"Maybe if you just turn around." He gestured with his finger.
"Certainly," she said, stifling a smile and facing the fireplace.
He struggled with the clothes for a moment, his long unused muscles cramping with the sudden movement. He struggled into the jeans and slid them up his thighs. "Am I a prisoner?" he asked, pulling on the shirt.
She laughed out loud. "Oh gosh, no, Charlie." She turned around, chuckling.
"Why am I here?" he asked, sitting back on the edge of the bed and concentrating on the buttons.
"Carlisle asked me to bring you. You needed a place to heal."
"So you brought me to the North Pole?"
"Why not? There's a huge herd of caribou just outside our door."
"It's minus twenty-two out there. You can't do much hunting in that kind of cold."
"Humans can't, you mean."
He stopped. "Oh, that's right. I keep forgetting."
She turned back to the trunk and fished out some boots and socks. She knelt down on the floor in front of him, and taking his foot in her hand, started slipping on his socks. "The cold won't hurt you. You can't get frostbite. The extreme cold gets uncomfortable after a while, so I do recommend a coat."
Her hair was the color of corn silk, he noted as together they worked his foot into the boot. He couldn't remember the last time a woman, especially a beautiful woman, touched his foot unless he'd been in a shoe store. He watched as she laced a boot. "Carlisle."
"That's right, the whole family was looking for you."
"Oh, Jesus," he said exasperatedly. "I just keep fucking things up worse-I mean messing up things worse than before." He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, face in his hands. "You should have left me there."
She finished lacing the other boot, and set his foot gently on the ground.
"You have no idea what I've done," he said, shaking his head.
"I think I do," she said, matter-of-factly, coming to sit on the bed next to him.
He looked at her from the corner of his eye. "What do you think?"
"I think you violated every rule, every moral you hold dear. I think you behaved like an out-of-control animal."
He winced at her words. "Don't sugarcoat it for me," he joked half-heartedly, stung by how true her words were.
"I think the thought of living like that frightened you so much, you shut down."
He looked her in the eyes, his face drawn with the lingering effects of starvation and his own eyes haunted. "I can't…" he whispered.
She put an arm around his shoulders and leaned her head against his. "You don't have to." She rubbed a circle on his back with her hand. "But it's time you let others help you."
He stilled, lost in his thoughts. She stood up and held out her hands. "Come sit by the fire."
She took his arm as he walked slowly toward the rocking chair set by the mantel. A fire burned low in the hearth. He sat down heavily in the chair.
She pulled the other straight back chair and sat next to him. She stretched her legs out and leaned back.
Charlie looked around the cabin, noting the lack of modern amenities. "I should probably let them know I'm alright." He looked particularly unhappy at the prospect.
"I already have," she said.
"Oh," he said, exhaling. "Thank you."
She shrugged her shoulders. Rising off her chair, she threw a log on the fire, sending a shower of sparks up the chimney. "Would you like to hear the circumstances of my turning?"
He nodded. "Okay."
She stared into the fire for a moment, her golden eyes reflecting the flames. "As I said, I was born on the coast of the White Sea. It was one of the larger villages of the people that would come to be known as the Lapps. I was fourteen when I was married. My husband, Atil, was a few years older than I. The son of a chieftain." The ghost of a smile crossed her face. "It was considered a very good match."
"Fourteen," Charlie whispered.
She smiled at him. "We married young then. Of course, we died young, too. My amma was considered an ancient before she died and she was sixty-one."
She came back to her chair. "I gave birth to two sons. A girl, also. She died as an infant."
Tanya's face was calm as she said this but with his improved vision, Charlie could see the tiny muscles around her eyes tighten. "I'm sorry," he murmured.
She waved a hand. "Last time I counted, I had one hundred seventy-three thousand, five hundred seventeen descendents. I could pass them on the street and never know." She cocked her head. "Do you have any Scandinavian blood?"
"No," he said, taken aback. "My people were mostly English and Scotch. At least I think so."
"Hmmm," she murmured. She stared into the fire a bit longer. "Well, I was made by a passing nomad when I was twenty. And at that tender age, I was a matriarch among the villagers and a mother of two sons. The vampire snatched me from our yurt in the dead of night and carried me up into the hills, where I burned for three days. Perhaps he had been hoping for a mate. But I was so angry at what he'd done, I burned him in his own campfire."
Charlie struggled to keep his emotions from his face. He understood violence, but he'd never condoned it, and the thought of this handsome, young woman ripping someone apart was incongruent with the image he'd had of the blonde beauty he remembered from Bella's wedding.
"Unfortunately for me, I'd incinerated the only creature I knew who could give me answers as to the nature of myself. I tried to go back to my village. I murdered three kinsmen before I realized it was impossible. I couldn't go back to my family, so I began to wander."
Three hours later, she was stretched out on the rug in front of the fire, lying on her side, and her head resting on her hand. She'd paused, and was lost in her memories as the fire crackled behind her. Charlie had found it a fascinating story so far, but his weakness was starting to creep up on him, and he found his head resting against the back of the chair.
She looked like a picture out of a magazine, he thought. The penultimate beer commercial. A beautiful blonde stretched out on a fur rug in front of a fireplace. Yet behind the flawless face and youthful mien, there was a mind as old as Methuselah, sharp, watchful and unafraid.
"How do you do it?" he rasped.
She raised her head. "Do what?"
"Stay alive." He gestured with his hand.
"You mean, want to stay alive?"
She raised herself to a sitting position and wrapped her arms around her knees. "The first years were the hardest. It took a while to get used to the idea I'd become a predator of my own kind. There are decades, centuries even, I am not proud of."
She swung around and prodded the fire that had burned low, stirring the ashes into flames with the poker before setting it against the rock hearth. "It was my family for a long time. Watching the generations. Helping them grow and prosper from behind the scenes. I even occasionally introduced myself as a lost cousin."
Her eyes stared off into the distance and she became very still. "For a long time, it was Stefan. He was my mate." Her eyes flicked toward Charlie. "We only get one, you know."
He hadn't breathed in minutes. He had the feeling she was telling him things she hadn't spoken of lightly; these were secrets she kept trapped in her heart.
"I lost him in the Volturi-Rumanian Wars. It was the seventeenth century. Unfortunately, we were on the losing side." She sighed and whispered softly, "He had hair the color of burgundy wine." She laid her cheek on her bent knee. "Four hundred years and I still miss him."
A log in the fire imploded on itself, sending a spray of sparks into the room. She came back to herself and shook her head. "You must be tired. Why don't we get you back into bed so you can rest?"
He was too tired to do anything but what she suggested, so she helped him back into bed. Again, she knelt at his feet to remove his boots as he sat on the edge of the bed, swaying with exhaustion. He didn't even protest when she removed his clothing with a gentle pragmatism. Finally, he was under the covers and closing his eyes, he slipped back into unconsciousness.
She didn't join him in bed that night. Instead, she spent the time in front of the fireplace with her memories. She wondered at the impulse that had made her mention Stefan. He was something she shared very rarely.
His face floated in front of her, and she felt the shadow of his hand on her face. It was a form of self-flagellation, re-living these visions that were as sharp and clear as if they had happened yesterday. She'd pay tomorrow, when the reality of Stefan's loss would weigh on her heart like an anchor. But for tonight, she allowed herself to wander among ghosts, embracing the memories like long-lost friends.
Yes, I am still updating this, and the other stories as well. You may have noticed that I changed Tanya's background from Slovakian to Nordic. That was on purpose. More to come.
To all my readers and reviewers, big bunches of flowers!