Tahno heard the crunch of tires on gravel, and went downstairs to meet Asami.
His eyes lit up when he saw what she was carrying. She put the bottle of blood in the warmer she'd invented. It was a tricky thing—if the blood was cooked, it was worse than useless, but getting it to body temperature really did make it infinitely more palatable. So it had to be warmed slowly, but it was worth the wait.
His fangs were already out. Apparently his body had been trained to react to the sight of red bottles. He found that rather silly, considering there was nothing for them to bite.
"Hope that didn't set you back too much," he said. Since the repeal of the mandatory donation laws, blood donation was at record lows. It was understandable, but Amon had also left quite a few new vampires, making the whole thing an even bigger mess.
Asami shrugged. "It's not really optional." She sat next to him, looking him over. "You're starting to get that ragged look again," she said. "I need to get more, don't I."
Since blood had gotten scarce a few weeks after the revolution, she'd done an admirable job of finding him a supply, but it always seemed just short of enough. Over time, that deficit had been collecting. But knowing how hard she was trying, he didn't want to say anything.
"Well, as I get older I'm supposed to need less," he said. "Something to look forward to."
"I can't even imagine what other vampires are going through now," Asami said. "I feel bad outbidding them for blood. Of course the Council get theirs. They need to do something for everyone else."
"I thought you were against the mandatory donations."
"Of course I am," she said. "But they could…incentivize it," she said.
"So, no mandatory donations, just push the poorest people into doing it so they can eat," he said. He'd never been one to think much about politics before, but spending this much time with Asami over the past three months was sharpening his skills, and he was coming to enjoy their friendly sparring. This was her pro-bending. He wasn't really a player, but he could go a few rounds for fun in the gym, so to speak.
"Who do you think the vampires are going to attack when they get desperate?" Asami said. "I know it's not a perfect solution. The vulnerable populations always pay the price for society's mistakes."
"That'll be you before long, at this rate," Tahno said. "Hope you're saving some blood to sell."
It was no secret by now that Future Industries was doing badly. The customers that didn't hate it for its past collaboration with Amon and hate Asami for openly dating a vampire blamed Asami for the death of her father and the fall of the revolution. She was the villain of both sides.
"How am I supposed to sell blood to buy more blood with?" she asked. "Silly."
"I thought you might just be selling it for food," he said. "After you gave up supporting my expensive ass."
"Oh, shush," she said. The blood warmer beeped, and she got the bottle and handed it to him.
"Thank you," he said, taking it from her and opening it. He closed his eyes and drank it in one long swallow. It would never be as good as fresh from the source, but he was amazed at how much simply warming it did for it. He gave a contented sigh when he was done. "I don't know where I'd be without you," he said. "I always thought that if my career fell through I could sell my body or something, but I doubt anyone would want it anymore."
"You might be surprised," she said.
"Yeah, there's some weird people out there," he said, raising an eyebrow at her.
Asami picked up her jacket. "Going to the Council meeting?" he said.
"Yeah," she said. "I think you should come with me this time."
"You know I don't like getting involved in that stuff."
"You don't have to say anything. There's just someone I want you to meet."
"Suki. She's a famous vampire."
"Oh," Tahno said. "I don't really…like other vampires." I don't even like myself, he thought.
"That's prejudiced," she scolded.
"Not really," he said. "I know how they think."
"Is that why you haven't looked up your old teammates?"
He looked down. "Yeah. Partly." It was true that he wanted to remember his friends as they were, and hopefully be remembered as he'd been. If he saw that bloodthirstiness in their eyes, he knew it would be there every time he called up an image of their faces.
But there was also the matter that he was relatively well fed in hard times. He knew Asami was struggling to get enough blood for him, and couldn't support two other young vampires. He didn't have any help to offer them, and since he doubted they'd be doing as well as him, it'd just be rubbing it in their faces.
Besides, he didn't even know if they were still alive. They could have fallen to despair, as he almost had, or…he didn't want to think of them starving to death. That was an awful end. But it was possible.
"I really think you should meet her, though," Asami said, breaking him out of his thoughts. "Even if you end up not wanting to talk to her…. Korra will be there, too. Come on, you never leave the house anymore."
He gave her a mournful look. "Will it make you happy?"
She pouted. "Oh, you with the sad puppy-cub eyes. Yeah, I'd like to go out with a gorgeous man on my arm," she said.
"I thought you and Mako broke up already?"
"Now you're just fishing for compliments. Since the mirror thing is a myth, you really have no excuses."
The corner of his mouth quirked up, a sly smile breaking through. "Well, fine, if you need arm candy that much. Though I seem to recall we went out for dinner recently."
She held out her arm, and he linked his in it easily. Despite not doing much but lounge around the house, he was well-dressed and presentable. Asami always saw to that. "That was two months ago," she said.
"Ah," he said.
"You didn't have much fun, did you?"
"Well, I couldn't eat any of the food," he said. "Other than that, it was great."
They got in her Satomobile, and Asami turned the heat vents on for him. It really had been a while since he'd been out. He'd told Asami he just needed the chance to rest, after everything he'd been through, and maybe that had been true for a while, but he knew he was just sinking in place now.
Besides, he couldn't think of anything he really wanted outside. He wasn't hungry enough to worry about being a danger to people, but he still didn't enjoy the way his senses seemed to classify them as food first and people second. He couldn't go to the gym and practice, and all his friends had been part of his old life as a pro-bender. There wasn't much else to do, other than wander around aimlessly, and that seemed like unnecessary effort. It was much easier to just lay about in Asami's home.
It occurred to him that he wasn't exactly living for anything. If he died right then, there wouldn't really be anything left unfinished, and he wasn't looking forward to anything, either. He was just sort of…existing. Not for the first time, he wondered what Asami could possibly see in him.
They arrived, and ran into Korra on the way in. Her face lit up at the sight of him. "Hey, Tahno," she called. "You look great!"
Great was a relative term. The shadows were creeping back under his eyes since the blood shortage had begun, but considering he'd been a complete wreck most of their time together, he could see how she would think this was pretty good. At least he was clean and groomed, anyway.
"Are you cool with hugging now?" Korra asked.
"Yeah," he said. "Of course." They hugged tightly, Korra nearly lifting him off the ground.
"How have things been?" he asked.
Korra rolled her eyes. "Oh, you know. I'm losing my patience with this bullshit. Did Asami tell you about the time I almost got kicked out of the council meetings for punching Min in the face?"
He laughed. "We talked about almost nothing else that week."
They walked in together, Asami and Korra talking about issues to be brought up in the meeting. Neither were official councilmembers, but Korra got special privileges for being the Avatar, and had insisted on having Asami on as an advisor. From what Asami had said, the two of them and Tenzin were all that was keeping Republic City from complete chaos.
As they entered the lobby, Tahno saw a figure clad in dark green clothes and armor in an archaic style, standing out like a museum piece amongst everyone in their modern dress. She turned towards them, and her face was painted bone white, save for the red streaks above her eyes and her red lips. A golden headdress sat upon her head like a crown. There was a flicker of recognition on her face, and she looked at him more closely.
Tahno didn't have a word for what he felt, with her looking at him like that—something between awe and irrational terror. That she was a vampire was obvious, but he'd never met another vampire like her, even Amon hadn't been close. The breath left his body in a little gasp, and he forgot to take another.
She was ancient. He couldn't guess how old, just that he felt the weight of her years crushing him. She hadn't been much older than Amon had when she'd been turned—fifteen, maybe sixteen, but her eyes were so much older. There was something else about her, even deeper than the immensity of her age that he felt, a power she held over him. He couldn't explain it, but…his blood knew her.
"Tahno? Are you all right?" Asami's voice snapped him out of it slightly, and the other vampire turned and walked to the inner chambers.
"I just…think I need some air," he said, going back out the door, and leaning against the wall outside.
What just happened, he wondered. What was that.
"What's wrong?" Asami asked. "You just got all weird when Suki looked at you."
"What is she," Tahno said.
"She's a vampire."
"I know that," he said. "She's…." Not natural, he thought, but that rather went for all their kind. "How old is she?"
"She said she was four hundred and seventy-two," Asami said.
"I thought you'd say she was like three thousand or something," he said.
"She's the oldest known living vampire," she said. "I mean, think about it. She's old enough to have known the Air Nomads."
So the oldest known vampire wasn't even five hundred. He wasn't sure if he was surprised or not. Vampires didn't age and didn't get sick, but it was still a dangerous life. He remembered Asami showed him some statistic saying most new vampires died within the first five years after the change. The demands for blood were at their highest during that period, and many starved, or were driven to attack people and killed in self-defense. They were also at their most vulnerable to vigilante justice, which had shown a resurgence in the wake of the revolution. And then there were the ones who took their own lives, a temptation he wasn't unfamiliar with.
Amon, for all the damage he'd done, had only been in his forties. He'd probably have lived longer as a human. Now that he thought about it, four hundred and however many years Suki had lived since she was turned was an awful long time to be a vampire—to continue to find blood, to make enemies and survive them, to find a reason to live. He'd only made it three months, and that felt like twenty years already.
"I have to get back in, they'll be starting," Asami said. "Come with me?"
Tahno glanced back in the direction of the door. "I…can't."
"Come on. I talked to Suki on the phone before she came here. She seemed interested in meeting you. I thought that maybe she could help you."
He shook his head. "She…scares me." That wasn't quite the word for what he was feeling, but it was close enough and would have to do.
Asami took his hand. "I'll protect you, I promise. And Korra's there too. What could possibly happen?"
He wasn't afraid of anything happening, specifically, but didn't know how to explain that to her. Tahno thought he must look ridiculous, balking out there like a child afraid of their first day of school. Embarrassed, he swallowed his unease and followed her back inside.
They sat down at the long, crescent-shaped table. Originally, seating at that table had only been for councilmembers, but Korra had changed that, Tahno remembered Asami telling him. 'A table of equals,' though 'equality' had come to be something of a dirty word these days.
There was a new representative of the Northern Water Tribe, replacing Tarrlok, and now the only other human on the Council aside from Tenzin. She was around fifty, her gray hair cropped short, and she wasn't a bender, making her also the only member of the current council not born a bender.
Tarrlok was still in jail. His trial was ongoing, but the courts were slow due to the burden of sorting out the mess the revolution left behind. Tahno doubted he'd get much more than a slap on the wrist, considering he'd already paid for the crime of bloodbending more harshly than the law provided for. Then again, he supposed that depended on how angry the Council were about him bloodbending them.
He glanced around the table, only daring to look at Suki out of the corner of his eye. She wasn't paying attention to him, her focus intent on the three vampire councilmembers.
They were arguing over the current hot-button issue—what exactly 'lifetime appointment' meant, with regards to vampires in the Council. The newspapers had been hyping it, and anti-vampire groups were saying that it meant that vampires could not serve, or at least that their appointment had been terminated upon their deaths. Other, more moderate people said that it was fine for them to serve, but perhaps there should be an expiration put on their terms, in case they themselves did not expire.
The counterargument, of course, was that vampires, while theoretically immortal, were far from it in practice, and on average lived no longer than they would have as humans. Additionally, councilmembers could be removed by a majority vote of no confidence from the rest of the council, but considering vampires were the majority, that didn't seem to help things much.
Tahno risked a direct look at Suki. She was leaned forward on the desk, chin resting in her palm, and she heaved a sigh. It was not only such a human expression, but such a teenage one, that it caught him off guard. Four hundred and seventy-two years old, and she's bored, he thought incredulously.
"Is this what you waste your time with?" she said. She didn't raise her voice.
"What it comes down to is that we can't get anything done while the people question our stewardship of the city," Min, the Fire Nation representative said.
"Well, what have you done for them?" Suki asked.
"We—lots of things. We're the ones that keep this city running."
"Then why do they have a problem with you? On Kyoshi Island, the Kyoshi Warriors have the support of the people because we serve them first and foremost. If the people doubt your claim to rule, flimsy excuses and justifications aren't going to help. Either show them how you serve them, or accept that you don't serve them, and step down."
The table erupted in an uproar, the Councilmembers shouting over each other. "Enough!" Suki said. "Quiet, all of you!" The voices thinned almost immediately to Tenzin's and the Northern Water Tribe representative's, with Korra just finishing a sentence. They looked at each other, startled.
Tahno hadn't been saying anything, but all the same had an oppressive sort of feeling, like an invisible hand clamped over his mouth. With mounting terror, he realized he didn't think he could speak if he tried.
"I'm sorry," Suki said, and the feeling relaxed somewhat. She was slumped in her seat, looking at her hands. "I came here today because…this is all my fault."
"How is it your fault?" Tenzin asked. "I remember my father telling me about you, but you'd already left for Kyoshi Island before I was born. I was under the impression that Kyoshi Island had stepped down from world affairs, considering the embargo, and their isolationist policy."
"We did," Suki said. "Because of what your father made me do." She shook her head. "That isn't fair of me. He may have asked it of me, but I was the one who did it."
"You mean turning Yakone," he said.
"It went against my beliefs," Suki said. "The sacred blood of Kyoshi was never meant to be used as a punishment. We never turned anyone against their will, much less giving it to criminals. The first time he asked it of me, with Ozai, I was disgusted. My first answer was no. But…he was the Avatar, a position I'd come to respect very much. If Kyoshi had asked it of me…." She trailed off, distraught. "He was only a child, afraid to take responsibility for protecting the world if that meant taking life. I did it for him, under the promise that it would only be this once. But then, years later, he asked me again, with Yakone. I don't know what his excuse was that time. He was no longer a child. He begged me, calling in every debt and favor, invoking his title as the Avatar….and I did it, but told him our friendship was over. I was too soft."
She looked around the table, her eyes lingering a moment on Tahno. "He promised me Yakone would never walk free. But he has, and look what his blood has wrought. This is…a travesty, the blood of Kyoshi used to intimidate and condemn. And it's my fault, and I don't know what to do to fix it. Hiding from the problem on Kyoshi Island was cowardly. I have a duty to set this right." She searched their eyes, one by one, her gaze deep blue and piercing, settling finally on Korra. "I won't follow you blindly, Avatar," she said, "but if your counsel is good, I will listen."
Korra was silent a moment, thinking. "Thank you for coming, and for telling us this," she said. "There's just one thing I don't understand—if Aang built Republic City, and he was friends with you, how come there were so many laws that worked against vampires?"
"That," Suki said, "is a mystery to me as well." She glanced at Tenzin.
"But things work differently on Kyoshi Island," Korra said. "You have peace between humans and vampires there."
"And have, for hundreds of years. But we've earned the trust of the people, with honor. Here you have common, petty criminals, and people who never wanted to be vampires, of course it's a disaster."
"To be fair," Asami said, "it's not like it's all the vampires' faults. They've been marginalized, and several Triads have taken advantage of that, offering money or blood for hits on people. That's how they hide gang assassinations, since a vampire always has a plausible motive."
"It's a delicate balance to maintain," Suki said. "Once humans and vampires have a reason not to like each other, it is difficult to repair."
"Well, restoring balance is what I'm all about," Korra said. "I've even made a big deal of donating blood, so that people get the idea that it's okay to do that again. Last time I went, I got heckled for it—both by people angry that I was donating, and by some vampire that was angry that I'd killed Amon and said he didn't want my blood."
"And then there's the black market," one of the other Councilmembers said—the Southern Water Tribe representative. "Most of it is just people looking to make a few quick yuans, which is fine if they sell their own blood, though there have been reports of Triads draining people. And on top of that, some of the black market blood has something in it that's made vampires very sick—three are dead already." Asami glanced at Tahno nervously at this.
"I don't understand," Suki said. "When you say blood donation, and selling blood…you don't mean directly from the vein? A vampire must bite into the vein themselves, or they will become sick from it."
"That's not true anymore," Asami said. "We can add anticoagulants now. Blood can be collected, stored, and distributed within a reasonable amount of time."
Suki looked dubious at this. "I wouldn't trust blood if I couldn't see where it came from. How do you know the donor was willing, that way?"
There was a nervous silence around the table. Much of the blood circulating through Republic City's markets was not, in fact, willing, and everyone there had been complicit in it in some way.
Suki put her head in her hands. "What a mess this is."
He found her sitting outside on the steps, looking somehow small and lost against the lights of the city. Kyoshi Island was said to be a place untouched by time, without electricity or radio or these towers of glass and steel. He wondered why he'd even come out here. He wanted to let Asami drive him away from this place, crawl back into their bed, forget as much as he was ever allowed to forget.
But she looked at him, and he knew—she was lonely. He didn't even think she'd done it consciously, but whatever strange power she had over him, it had called him to answer her need.
He sat down next to her, not knowing what to say, almost feeling as though he were awaiting a command. And if it came, and he didn't like it? The awful, queasy feeling of powerlessness ran through him. Amon hadn't had this power over him, and look at all he'd managed to take.
"I'm sorry about what happened to you," Suki said at length. "It was my blood that was abused like that. I shouldn't have allowed it."
Tahno just nodded. Why couldn't you have come sooner. Why couldn't you have stopped him. He didn't think Amon would have stood a chance against her.
"Perhaps you will come to understand someday," she continued, "that even in such a perverse way, you were given a great gift."
"No, I…" he started to say, and even speaking against her seemed difficult, his words and thoughts sluggish, as though he wanted nothing more than to agree so she would smile on him—"I don't think that's likely."
"You don't seem too badly off," she said. "Perhaps you could eat a bit more, but you're not starving. Miss Sato takes care of you. Are you…not happy?"
Tahno found, with surprise, that he hadn't really asked himself that question before. He hadn't considered it possible, that he might be happy. "I'm…fuck," he muttered. "What are you doing to me?"
"I'm not doing anything."
"Yes, yes, you are. From the first moment you looked at me. Or when—when you told us to be quiet, in the Council. What the hell was that." The words flowed a bit more easily now, calling her out, but it did not quell the terror that she would be angry, that she would look at him and wish for him to die and he would die.
"Ah," she said. "I think I know. You're just very young. Don't worry. It will pass."
"What do you mean, I'm just very young. That doesn't explain…."
"Do you remember when you were a small child?" she asked. "How big all the adults seemed, how they could make you feel very safe or very afraid. It's a bit like that. You're…a child, of my line. You're just sort of impressed by me, I guess." She seemed rather amused by that, as though she found it cute or something.
"So you're like my great-grandmother," he said.
She smiled. "In human terms, I suppose. Oh, what have I let become of dear Kyoshi's blood. I started it, I forced Yakone, and he forced Noatak I'm told, and that poor bastard forced so many…. Yet Miss Sato tells me you came out all right, that you were brave. I'm glad of that."
He looked down, feeling a bit of a blush. "I'm not, really…." He'd been hiding away in the mansion for months. Even against Amon…. He thought of the moment when he'd had his chance to stake him, and been unable.
"You stood with the Avatar. Fought by her side. As I did, once." She sighed. "There will never be another like Kyoshi. You'll understand someday. There will never be another like Korra, either. You'll look for her in some stranger's face, then another's. Maybe even trick yourself into seeing her there, for a moment. But secretly, you'll think none of them are as good as her, that she was the real Avatar, your Avatar."
He tried to imagine that—Korra's soul behind another set of eyes. Korra growing old and dying and him going to her funeral just the same as he was now. He couldn't, not really. Korra was the Avatar. Some of the older people in the city still meant Aang when they said the Avatar, but to him Aang was a statue.
"You never said if you were happy here," Suki said at length.
"No," he answered. "I don't even know what 'happy' would mean for me now." He slumped further. "Please don't tell Asami I said that. She does so much for me…it seems ungrateful."
"Perhaps when I've done what I can here, you should return with me to Kyoshi Island," she said. "You can't be a Kyoshi Warrior—we only take women—but you would be our honored guest. The people of Kyoshi Island would show you great hospitality. I need only tell them that you are a warrior who has fought by the Avatar's side."
He tried to imagine what that would be like—some bizarre world where people loved vampires, and everyone dressed like a piece of living history. "Asami would never leave Republic City," he said.
"Did I say she was invited?"
"I don't…I don't want to leave her," he struggled to say. "At least I can…at least I can disagree with her without feeling like I'm ripping my own heart out."
"But if you aren't happy here…."
"I don't really hope for 'happy,'" he said.
She frowned, and brushed some of the hair out of his face. "It can't be that bad."
"Don't…." he said. "Just because you don't want to feel guilty…doesn't give you the right."
"All right," she said, drawing back with a sad look. "The least I can do is offer guidance while I'm here, though," she said. "I'm told Noatak wasn't even there for you when you woke up."
"Thank the spirits for small mercies," he said.
"I mean that you had no guide at all, not even a bad one. And he took no responsibility for what he had made."
"Still preferable to the alternative. If Amon had been there…. I'd have tried to kill him. Well, I did try to kill him, actually. I couldn't even touch him with the stake. Then I'd probably have killed myself, just to…just to get away—fuck." He wiped at his eyes. "Why couldn't I kill him? Why did it hurt so much when he died? I hated him. More than I've ever hated anything."
"Killing your maker is…the hardest thing in the whole world," Suki said, and the way she said it, the weight of her words….
"You…but your maker was Kyoshi, wasn't she?"
"I loved her," Suki said. "More than I've ever loved anything. Maybe that's why I could do it. Noatak also killed his maker, Yakone, and I think in some twisted way, he also loved him."
"She asked me to. I…hope she didn't know what she was asking. I hope she wouldn't have asked, if she'd known how it would hurt me." Suki looked out into the distance—south, towards home. "The Avatar needs to die, in order to be reborn. Since vampires don't necessarily live longer than humans, she didn't worry about it at first. She did her best to be a good Avatar, despite not being able to bend without calling on the Avatar State, which was painful for her. But when she reached her two hundredth and thirtieth birthday, she told me that this had gone on long enough—that it was time for the Avatar to be born again in fire. That part of being a good Avatar was knowing when to stop." A tear slipped down her face, and she wiped it off with her fingers and looked at the red smudge, startled. "Still," she muttered.
"Are you happy?" he asked.
"Well, I'm not happy about this mess in Republic City," she said. "But in general…yeah, I am." She saw him looking at the smudge of her tear. "Oh, you can be happy and sad at the same time. When you get old enough, you're always going to be sad about something. But that doesn't make the happiness any less real."
They fell silent for a bit, and he chewed on that. "Actually…." he said hesitantly. "Can I ask you about something? It's a bit of a…personal problem."
Suki's eyebrows raised. "I think I might be the only person you can ask, if it's a vampire personal problem."
She smiled. "Then tell your great-grandmother."
"Yeah, that's…not helping. Okay. It's just that, uh, after I you know, drink blood, I get kind of…aroused."
"Well, how do I stop that from happening?"
She laughed. "Oh, Tahno, how do you think a vampire reproduces?"
"What, I can get people pregnant?"
"No, no. I mean, vampires make more vampires by turning humans, right?"
"I'm not going to turn anyone," he said quickly.
"Of course not—you're not ready for that. But drinking blood isn't just sustenance, it's also the first step in our reproduction. So of course it's associated with…certain drives. You might find it more controllable later…in some ways becoming a vampire is like being reborn, but in other ways it's like going through puberty again. Until then, when it happens, why not just take care of it yourself? It won't hurt you."
"Yeah, I tried that once," he said. "It was…weird. I couldn't think about normal stuff."
"I'm guessing it was normal stuff for a vampire."
"So you're saying that turning someone is like sex for vampires," he said, thinking with disgust of what Amon had done. As if he didn't already feel violated enough.
"And like birth. And not like any of those things," she said. "When I was brought over by Kyoshi…." She got a dreamy, faraway expression.
"What, you enjoyed it, being bitten and drained?"
"It makes all the difference in the world, being willing."
"Yeah, I…guess it must."
There was a long silence between them. He sensed anger from her—on his behalf, he thought. Hoped.
"I can't even kill him," she muttered. "That's done already. I just have to clean up his mess. That's a lot harder."
"What will you do?"
"Spirits help me, I don't know. I wish there was a way to take back the blood."
"No kidding." He caught Asami's scent and turned, seeing her standing at a distance. She waved at him. "That's my ride," he said. "I should go."
"Come and see me again. I can train you in the fighting style of the Kyoshi Warriors."
The last time anyone had trained him in a fighting style, it had been with waterbending. His mind briefly went through the forms—useless, now. "Yeah. I'd like that." He got up and started towards Asami, then suddenly turned back. "Oh, one more thing. Is my hair gonna grow?"
Suki laughed. "Yeah. Slowly, though, so think before you get a haircut."
"Good to know, thanks."
"Anytime," she said, and waved.
"Did you work out whatever problem you had with her?" Asami asked him as they drove off.
He smiled weakly. "Turned out it was on my end," he said.
"So, what did you think of her?"
"She absolutely terrifies me," he said. "So, I'm going to see her again for fighting lessons."
Asami looked pleased. "That's good."
"I guess," he said.
"I thought she'd be good for you," Asami said. "She can help you with things I can't."
"Some things," he said. "Some stuff…I don't think she can really understand."
"Maybe you should talk to your teammates, then," Asami said.
"No," he said. Not yet.
"They might need you, too."
"I don't think I'm strong enough to help them."
"You might be surprised how strong you are." She took her hand off the shifter and held his, and he ran his thumb over the raised scar her father's fang had left.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, but it doesn't really help," he said.
"What about…." she began hesitantly. "What about your family?"
He shrugged. "What about them?"
"Have you thought of seeing them?"
"Yeah, that'd be…awkward and unpleasant. No thanks."
"I just thought…I don't know, maybe they could give you some support, or something." There was a bit of longing in her voice. She was the last Sato. "You never talk about them. I wasn't even sure you had a family until just now."
"For good reason," he muttered. "Well. Let's see. I never knew my dad. Like Beifong, you know? Mystery man. I'm guessing Water Tribe, because I had to get it from somewhere, right? My mom and I got along great until she got married when I was ten. My stepdad, well, he's a real asshole. He's got seven brothers and sisters, all firebenders, but the bending passed him over, so he just compensates by being angry at everything. He'd get mad and find excuses to punish me if he saw me waterbending—said I was making a mess, or whatever. Mom saw this going on and didn't say anything, so things got kinda strained between us too.
"Then my sister came along. Spoiled rotten brat. It seemed like she was always screeching or something. Mom said she was no worse than I was at her age, but I don't know. She has her dad's temper. Got her grandparents' firebending, too, and my stepdad indulged her even when she burned my stuff, because that wasn't making a mess.
"I got out of there when I turned sixteen. Took odd jobs for a while, wasn't very good at them. Usually got fired or quit within a week. Then I got into pro-bending. Haven't really talked to them since then. But I mean…they've gotta know what happened. It was broadcast live on the radio, and in every newspaper for a week after. My stepdad used to go on rants about vampires—he'd go on rants about anything, really—and my mom never talked about it, but she never disagreed with him, so she must have thought the same. Knowing my stepdad, he's probably training my sister by having her burn newspaper pictures of me, telling her to firebend first and ask questions later. And my mom…she'd see it, and do nothing."
"You don't know that," Asami said.
"Well, it's not exactly a secret that I'm staying with you now, so if Mom wants to make nice, she knows where to find me. Just promise me you aren't going to contact her or anything. I don't…I don't need that, all right?"
"Okay," Asami said. "I won't do that. It should be your choice, anyway, if you want to talk to her."
He lifted her hand and kissed it, feeling the scar against his lips. "This is why you're the best," he said. "I trust you."
She took her eyes off the road a moment to look at him, warm and kind.
Tahno got changed into comfortable nightclothes, and paused, looking at himself in the mirror. By reflex, he found himself sort of mentally editing the image he saw reflected back at him, looking at it askance to see something more like what he expected or hoped for. He tried to look at it plainly, to detach himself from any reaction to what he saw.
Since the revolution ended and Asami had started taking care of him, he had cleaned up pretty well. A stranger might not have noticed much difference between this version of him and Tahno the pro-bending champion. But his color was still a bit off—maybe not off for a vampire, he thought, but not where it should be for a healthy human. The scar of where Amon had bitten him was still very visible, a livid purple mark on his neck. He'd taken to wearing high collars to hide it. Amon had bitten on the side where his hair was shorter, and it didn't quite cover it. Maybe it would grow in time.
He hadn't had the heart to style his hair the way he'd used to, and it hung in shiny, loose curls around his face. He just cleaned it and ran a bit of one of Asami's creams through. Nothing that took too much effort. Still, not a bad look for him.
Now for the real test. He extended his fangs, leaving his mouth slightly open. A vampire looked back at him, cold as the mirror glass. He still felt some horror and disgust at this, and some anger, but only weakly, dimly. He was so tired. He pulled his fangs in and crawled into bed, turning the heating pad on.
Asami had quickly learned his liking for anything warm that wasn't sunlight, and fitted his side of the bed with the sort of heating pad they used in hospitals. He imagined it was better for her too, if the hand that wrapped around her in the middle of the night wasn't cold as the grave.
Being a vampire meant he didn't actually suffer from the cold, in the human sense, but he still definitely felt it, and found it uncomfortable. Getting his body up to a human temperature still felt…right. Normal. He definitely slept better.
Sometimes he did pretend he was human, which helped him relax. He didn't think he'd ever go so far as to try that thing that looked like a medieval torture device Asami had found in her father's study, which supposedly Hiroshi had used to give himself an artificial pulse, but heat and a little imagination went a long way.
Asami came in, holding a glass of wine. "Sleepy?" she asked.
"Not really." It was natural for him to be awake at night, though he tended to resist that for the sake of spending time with her.
She sat down in bed with him, and sipped the wine. "I was thinking we could share this," she said.
"Ah, that's mean," he said. "You know I can't."
"You can't drink the wine, but you can drink my blood after I drink the wine. It'll be in my bloodstream."
"I don't know. What if that poisons me or something?"
"I talked to Suki about it, she said it would work."
He hesitated. "But if it does make me drunk, what if I lose control?"
"We'll go easy on it the first time. Just a little bit." She finished the wine and set the glass aside, and he sat up.
His fangs sprang into his mouth as she untied the silk scarf at her neck. It fell away, and he saw the scar her father had left. It had healed better than his, he thought, but it was still quite visible. It dampened his ardor considerably.
He tried to smile at her, close-lipped. "It's a nice thought, but you don't need more scars."
"That's up to me, isn't it?"
Not for the first time, or the last, he remembered his ordeal in the ring. If he had survived that, he couldn't imagine ever being okay with being bitten again, under any circumstances. "Won't it remind you too much?"
"Oh, sweetie," she said, touching his cheek gently. "No. I don't feel afraid when it's with you." She paused, looking at him. "Does it remind you too much? You can bite somewhere else, if…."
"I think I'm all right," he said, staring a bit more than he'd intended at her neck.
She lit a candle and turned the light off—a compromise, and perhaps even a romantic sort of ambiance to her eyes. He got out a bandage from the nightstand, and she shrugged off her robe and sat between his knees, facing him, her legs crossed over his.
He brushed the hair away from her neck, on the side that was unmarred, and leaned in close, his arm over her shoulder, and kissed her neck. For a minute or so, that was all he did—just kissed her, breathed in her scent, his fingers tangling in her hair.
He'd bitten her only one other time since the time in her Satomobile, in the sense of having more than a few drops. Blood took time to replenish, and she was sensible about it. He was glad of that. If she didn't look after herself, he wasn't sure he'd have managed to. He'd even have understood if she didn't want to share her blood at all. She didn't really need to, and he'd have been fine with that being their relationship.
Her blood pounded hot against his lips, through her fragile skin. He opened his mouth and half-licked, half just sucked at the skin without breaking it. Asami gave a little moan.
"Are you trying to turn me on?" she asked. "Because it's working."
"I just don't want you to feel the bite," he said. He kissed her neck again, tender, lingering, willing her to feel his affection for her, to feel only that and not the pain. Finally, he bit down, and felt the slight jump, the quickened breath. So she did feel it after all.
He could taste the wine in her blood immediately—a sharp burn, surprising, not unpleasant. It spread through him fast, barely even waiting to get to his belly before tingling through his extremities.
But the alcohol had nothing on the blood itself. He closed his eyes, his hand kneading at her hair like a kitten at the teat. He went slowly, resisting the urge to suck, just letting her heart pump the blood into him, feeling that steady, primal drumbeat as though it coursed through his veins too. He'd chosen carefully, a smaller blood vessel, less danger for her, more time for him.
She spilled over into him, warm and wonderful, and the pleasure pooled and thrummed in him. He never wanted to stop.
But he knew he had to, and did it without being told. He'd taken plenty; it would have to be enough. He pulled back, almost sated but never quite, and pressed the bandage to her neck. For a moment he hung there, his eyes hooded, his thoughts thick and slow-moving, applying pressure to stop the bleeding, licking his lips for any last trace of her, mindful of his fangs. He tried to tie the bandage off, but his fingers fumbled with it, uncoordinated, and she took over.
Tahno fell back on the bed, on his heating pad, feeling the warmth radiate up through him, mingling pleasantly with the warmth of Asami's blood in him. The candlelight seemed oddly iridescent, everything it touched haloed. He smiled, open, unhindered, not even caring that his grin was marred by fangs.
"Worth it just for that," Asami said.
"You're beautiful," he slurred. "I love you."
"You're drunk," she said.
"Oh," he said. "Well, it's still true."
"It isn't fair. I barely even got tipsy, and you're completely smashed."
"Am not," he said. "Just kinda…" he tried to remember what it felt like to get drunk as a human, to compare the experiences, "buzzed."
Asami smiled at him. Her hand was on his leg, and she moved it up—slowly, deliberately giving him time to see what she was doing and react to it. He put his hand over hers to stop it. "Is that why you wanted to get me drunk," he said.
"I don't understand," Asami said, pouting. "I know it turns you on. Why don't you ever let me…. Are you just not attracted to me?"
"Because it's not…I'm not…." He trailed off, frustrated. "It's a real shame we weren't friends when I was human," he said. "I would have made love to you for a week straight."
"Now it's…messed up," he said. "My body doesn't even feel like it's mine anymore." The words were choked out of him. "It's all…wrong, and…my mind goes places I don't want it to. I'm so sick of it, I'm so sick of this ruining everything."
She lay on the bed next to him, her green eyes wide and meeting his. "Shh. It's okay. You don't have to."
"I want to, though," he said, his voice very soft. Officially, he was her boyfriend, but he was really a failure at that, wasn't he? He'd tried to go down on her once, but his saliva had only numbed her, and he'd given up when feeling her hot pulse under his tongue had brought his fangs out, not wanting to nick her in a tender area. Even kissing got a bit awkward if they went at it too long, for much the same reasons.
She leaned in closer, just next to his face, almost kissing him but giving him the chance to show if he was uncomfortable. "Just be careful," he said, and met her lips gingerly. She went slowly with him, though when her tongue touched his lips, he wondered if she tasted her own blood, if it would bother her.
Asami ran her hands down his chest, and he leaned towards her, inviting the contact. "Don't think of anything," she said, "don't go anywhere, just stay right in this moment with me. Can you do that?"
Tahno nodded, taking her in with his eyes, seeing every contour of her face as though both new and familiar. He felt her hand slip the loose waistband of his sleeping pants down, exposing him, then her warm, gentle fingers on his cock. He gasped, moving his hips into her hand slightly. It felt even better than he'd expected it would. It's been so long. For a moment he closed his eyes, and she hesitated, but then he surfaced again and looked into her eyes, letting her ground him.
Just stay right here with me. He wasn't going anywhere. He didn't even let himself linger on the taste of her blood in his mouth, or let his eyes trail down to her bandaged neck. Right now there was only her beautiful face, and her hand on him, and it was good. He could smell her arousal, thick and heavy.
Her hand moved faster on him, and his breath quickened. He didn't think about the fact that he didn't actually need to breathe—it felt right to do so, so he did it. It was a very human thing he was attempting now, so he would go about it in the human way. The pleasure mounted quickly. Apparently he was paying for the neglect of the past few months. How embarrassing. I was never this fast. He bit his lip, forgetting his fangs, and with the bitter taste of his own blood, realized he'd scored it deeply. Asami's brow furrowed in concern.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said his voice breathy. "Just don't kiss me." He didn't think she could be turned just from that, but he wasn't taking any chances by letting his blood near her after he'd fed from her. "I didn't say stop."
Asami grinned. "Well, aren't you getting demanding," she said, resuming her attentions.
"Hnn," he said. "Yes, okay, good." Asami smiled—laughing at him a little, maybe, but he didn't mind at all. That was what sex had been like. Laughing at each other and silly smiles and the goofy faces they made. None of this serious, solemn business, like virgins trying to conceive an heir. The feeling came back to him, like finding an old trinket in a drawer he'd forgotten he'd had anymore.
"Asami…I'm gonna," he panted, and she just nodded. The spasms of pleasure ran through him, and his face twisted up, and he wished he could ask her if he made the same stupid face when he came as he had before, but of course she wouldn't know.
He spent a few moments catching his breath, before realizing he wasn't actually out of breath, and that was a great pity. His fangs retracted, the afterglow passed, and Tahno sat up, surveying the damage. It seemed he had released a great deal more volume than that time in the Air Temple basement—about the same amount as he'd been used to ejaculating as a human, which he supposed was due to not starving to death at the moment. He groaned. "Of course it's blood. It's always blood."
"But that's normal for you, right?" Asami asked, looking at the reddish stuff on her hands.
"Ugh, don't touch it," he said, grabbing a clean bandage from the side of the bed and wiping her hands off on it. He didn't know if the stuff he came was the same as what was in his veins, but he didn't like it anywhere near her. On that note, blowjobs might be out of the question, he thought mournfully. He'd have to ask Suki about it, anyway. Well, that was going to be an awkward conversation. He couldn't help but laugh a little to himself at that as he slumped back down on the pillows.
"What's so funny?" Asami asked.
He shook his head. "Nothing. Seems I've just made another mess."
"That's why we have dark sheets."
He smiled wryly at that. "Always practical. Well, now you see why I didn't want to—it's not very good, is it? I'm really sorry. I used to be a fantastic lover. I used to be a lot of things."
"You're telling me I wasn't good? You seemed to like it a moment ago."
"Oh, no, you're not the problem," he said.
"Well, you got me really turned on," she said. "Here, feel." She guided his hand between her legs, and he found her heated and wet. He wasn't actually surprised, given her scent, but it was a welcome feeling just the same. He tried to work at her as she had done for him, but his hand was fumbling, awkward.
"I never actually got good at this," he said, embarrassed. "Well, I mean, I did, but I used a little waterbending. That worked every time."
"You can get me off without waterbending," Asami said. "I manage it myself all the time."
"I can try, anyway," he said. He was still a bit uncoordinated and fuzzy-feeling, and didn't seem to be doing much more than teasing her after maybe fifteen minutes or so, despite his attempts to follow her suggestions. It also wasn't helping that the urge to sleep after an orgasm was no less strong. Of all the things to keep, he thought bitterly. Ruin my entire sex life, but keep the refractory period.
"I'll show you, here," Asami said at last, and started to demonstrate. He watched, entranced, the deft movements of her fingers, the deepening satisfaction in her face.
"You can finish if you like," he said apologetically. "Otherwise we might be here a while."
She leaned towards him to kiss his forehead, and he only flinched for a moment when he thought she might have forgotten and tried to kiss his lips, with the bit of blood still beaded on them. "I don't mind being a while here with you. I hope you're not going anywhere."
"Wouldn't be anywhere else," he said, and watched her bring herself to orgasm.
Afterwards, he started to pull her close, but realized his area of the bed was still stained from his come, and he felt revulsion towards that. So they slid over to her side of the spacious bed, but he realized, torn, that that meant leaving his dear heating pad behind.
"I'll keep you warm," Asami murmured. "Come here."
He curled his body around hers, and was not disappointed in her warmth.
"We should do this more," Asami said softly.
"And here I thought you were going to kick me out after that performance," he said. "You were the only one who knew what you were doing."
She touched his hand that was wrapped around her, stroking it. "Don't be so hard on yourself. You've had to go through a lot of changes. It must be like having to learn how to use your body all over again."
"Or maybe…this body's just not meant for this sort of thing," he said, voicing the fear that had been on his mind.
"I don't think that's possible," Asami said. "Anyway, it seemed to work fine when I was playing around with it."
He kissed the top of her head, and breathed in the scent of her hair. She smelled amazing post-orgasm. "That'd be nice," he said. "If you were right." Just to have one thing this body was good for other than drinking blood and taking up space.
"Of course I'm right," she murmured sleepily.
The candle guttered into the wax, flashing and flickering. Neither of them wanted to get up to blow it out, so they let it die the slow way.
Tahno drifted, feeling Asami's pulse slow and regular against his chest, the steady rise and fall of her breath, lost in the rhythm of it. As he was on the cusp of sleep, he felt himself release a breath and not bother to take another one, and felt Asami relax against him further, as if that was the most natural thing in the world. It seemed good note to go out on.
Thank you so much for reading. If you enjoyed this, you might also be interested in Ask Vampire Tahno, my Tumblr-based askblog based on this. (askvampiretahno at tumblr) Check it out!