Halt made no noise as he slipped into the room. It had not been the longest without her as far as time went, but Morgarath's domain had a way of sucking the time away, until it felt like he'd been gone for years and years. So when he padded across the rug, he could not help himself thinking that this delicate beautiful room was untouched by the outside world.
The first night back from a mission was always a restless one, made more so tonight by his vampire needs. When he found he could not sleep, Halt was compelled by an invisible force to come here. He eased her bedroom door open. Her silken hair was fanned out over her pillow, her lashes wickedly long and dark against her pale skin. He stepped over to her, behind her, and pushed her hair out the way to find the best vein on her neck.
"Crowley told me," Pauline said. He stopped; a chilling shock settled over him. Halt withdrew his hand and folded it with the other. He closed his eyes briefly. What to say now? He supposed this could hardly be normal behaviour for a ranger and he struggled to think of a proffessional reason he was hovering over her in the night. And then what she'd really said hit him, not the simple fact that she was awake, what she'd said. Crowley?
"Is that so?" he said cautiously. He could not tell how much Crowley had given away. Maybe the idiot corps commandant had told her Halt was in love with her, not the other thing. Which wasn't much better, he thought as he realised what she might think of him in her room in the dead of night in that case.
In a slow, deliberate movement, Pauline raised herself onto her elbows, gazing at him thoughtfully. She brushed her hair over one shoulder. His eyes were drawn to the exposed vein there. "Is it blood you need?" she asked, and she didn't seem disgusted by the question.
Halt took a deep breath. The bed dipped under him as he perched on the edge. Without meeting her eyes, he said, "you should not offer blood to a vampire."
"I should not," Pauline agreed. "But if it's you, then I will." She pinched her blanket, twisting it between her fingers. "Haven't you already been taking it?" He stiffened. She found his hand and took it, turning it over, tracing the veins on his palm. "If it's you," she said again, "I don't mind."
He watched her with dark eyes. "You would give blood willingly to a vampire?" He couldn't understand the peculiar chuckle she gives him.
"Halt." She said his name like an inside joke, like a secret. "I would give you my heart."
A thin spiral of smoke lingered above the ranger cabin, the scent of coffee in the air. Will nursed his cup, blowing on it to cool it. He had bandages covering all his cuts, and his cracked bones were less painful now- though he hadn't been able to ride since they'd returned. It was great to be clean and comfortable again.
And among friends of course. Gilan sat on the veranda beside him, his bandaged foot stretched out in front of him. Until it healed, he was staying in Redmont. He'd been spending some time with Jenny, Will had heard tell, and he regarded the elf with a smile. But there were times too when he noticed Gilan rather aggravated. He'd seen the rangers argueing when Gilan wanted to start taking on more responsibility around the fief while his foot healed and Halt snapped at him that if he didn't settle down and stop fussing it'd never heal and then where would he be? Around the campfire on the trip home, Gilan had told Will that there was a real possibility his foot would never heal fully. His eyes had been very sad when he said that.
Alyss was on the veranda too on this fine evening. She'd thrown off all her annoyance towards him when she heard the perils he'd lives through and she'd been sympathetic towards his injuries. When Lady Pauline gave her time off, she kept him company as he recovered. Mysteriously, Halt also disappeared on these hours off to deal with urgent business up at the castle and Will hadn't picked up on this until Alyss pointed it out.
"Jason Barre's brew is the best," Gilan said with a sigh, sipping at the coffee. "I missed this."
Horace, another companion of the evening's get-together, shook his head. "I can't believe you did all that while I've just been doing drill after drill at the battleschool."
Will had been having trouble getting his head around it all as well. At night, he saw Glendyss and the other miners, and the rocks and wargals and the ape-beast, which he'd since found out was a kalkara. Apparently Morgarath paid them silver and they did his bidding. Halt hadn't seen fit to mention it because Sir David, Gilan's father, had killed two of them in the past.
"It's how he earnt his way into the royal battlemaster position," Gilan had added in here. "As you should know, most magical creatures aren't trusted, certainly not enough for positions like that. Kalkara have a weakness to fire which made it quite handy for a fire elf like my dad. After he killed them, no one disputed whether or not the king should promote him."
"We weren't aware there were any more than two," Halt had said. "Our intelligence network never had any reason to expect there were more. Otherwise I would have told you about them." He had sounded almost apologetic. Then he'd continued with a question. "How did you avoid its stare?"
Gilan watched him expectantly too. Will stared at them blankly. "It's stare?"
"The gaze of a kalkara renders the one it looks at completely immobile with fear," Halt had explained. "It can't be that you never looked at its face and felt its pull."
Will had shrugged. "I was terrified as it was. I suppose I was just so afraid I didn't noticed."
"Believe me, you'd notice," Halt said. "This reminds me of the mermaid. Her charms didn't work on you either. I wonder..." he'd let the thought trail off.
The other part of this discussion that stuck in Will's mind was when he told them on scrambling up the building, and carrying Glendyss. Halt said it was possible he had more resiliance and strength because of his lyncanthropy, but he liked to believe it was willpower. Gilan let out an immature snort of amusement at this. They'd talked about the raygem and moongem too and how the luscentanians in the far north knew more about such matters.
Will was roused from his musing by soft footsteps on the porch. Halt joined them, settling between his two apprentices. He had his own cup of coffee with him and stared thoughtfully at the woods for a moment before turning abrubtly to Will.
"I have something for you," he said. He fumbled inside his jerkin and produced a chain with a bronze oakleaf. Gilan was beaming. "This is yours."
"Mine," Will repeated. He held out his palm and the oakleaf was dropped into it. It was warm and he curled his fingers over it. "What is it?"
"It's the rangers symbol. That's the apprentice colour. When you graduate, you'll receive a silver one." Halt and Gilan both showed him theirs. He'd seen the glimmers of silver around their necks before, but he'd never before known what it meant
"Thank you," he said. Will grinned as Alyss did up the clasp for him. The metal fell against his skin. It felt natural: right, as if he belonged to something. Which, he realised as his grin widened, he did.
"I'm proud," Alyss said, kissing him on the cheek. The tips of his ears flushed crimson. It didn't help when Horace and Gilan took it upon themselves to start clapping and cheering like buffoons. He mimed a swing at Horace and the young knight laughed at him.
"You deserve it," Halt said simply, not one to take part in the boisterous mucking about. "Good job." Will flushed, delighted. He started to laugh and then he couldn't stop. So he got up and chased Horace around for a bit, tussling as boys did and then sat back down, beaming at the sunset.
There would be a war soon- he could hear the clangs of steel at the battleschool and army as they prepared for it, carried faintly on the wind. Morgarath was fuming in his kingdom. Even now, that made him shiver. Tommorrow was the full moon and he'd be transforming- Alyss still didn't know about that- and perhaps people saw him in the same way he saw the wargals and the kalkara; bloodthirsty terrible monsters. The True Guard was still out there, trying to kill all magical creatures and as Halt says 'generally being a pain to anyone sensible.'
For now, Will was content in the warmth of the evening sun. He turned to his mentor and said, "there's nothing I'd rather be than a ranger."
Thank you to everyone who reviewed, favourited, followed and read this story. Especially those of you who reviewed almost every chapter: you know who you are.
Kisses, hugs and cookies for you all! And for everyone who read this far: thank you for sticking with me.
This isn't really the end though. I will be uploading a sequel at some stage, so if you want to be an epic person and stick with me for a while longer, that'd be amazing. I haven't finished playing around with werewolf Will and vampire Halt yet. They're too fun to fiddle with ;)
The next one will be about the war with Morgarath, some stuff about Halt and hibernia, and Cassie will be in it.