Two strokes of his wings carried Samuel across the world, folding the very fabric of reality around him, time and space the warp and weft that pulled and stretched to accommodate him. One second, he stood in Europe, whispering away the nightmares that had plagued a young girl for far too long. The next, he was observing a newly turned vampire outside a restaurant in a small town in Pennsylvania.
Folding his wings away, Samuel slipped his hands into the pockets of his long, gray coat, and stepped closer to the vampire. He reached out toward the vampire’s mind as easily as he would have opened a book and started reading.
A small shiver ran through the vampire. He couldn’t hear Samuel, not really, not any more than he could see him, but their minds, for now, were linked, making him suggestible to every one of Samuel’s thoughts. Samuel had always believed that, at least at first, spoken words were better received than projections of emotions and images.
“It’s a terrible thing that has happened to you,” Samuel continued in the same calm, composed voice. “You were so young. You had so many dreams.”
Jeffrey’s hands clenched into fists as Samuel came to stand at his side, looking into the restaurant with him. Light poured out of the large windows, and the faces of the customers and servers dressed in black and red were clearly visible. One of the servers, in particular, stood out in Jeffrey’s mind—and Samuel’s.
“Terrible,” Samuel said again with a soft sigh. “For you to be robbed not only of your life but also of your love… very cruel indeed. But she is lucky that you love her so much, isn’t she?”
Behind the glass, Tanya smiled as she set down plates in front of a couple, oblivious to the presence of Jeffrey, so close and yet so far. Her smile was strained, though, with small lines at the corners of her lips and eyes revealing that she hadn’t slept well in too many nights and had cried for too many days. Grief was inscribed on her face as plainly as letters on a marble tombstone, but only those who cared to see it would recognize it; the diners only cared about good service.
“She made you happy,” Samuel continued. “Six years. Six beautiful years. Do you remember the day you met? How pretty she was in that bridesmaid dress?”
A small smile started to pull at Jeffrey’s lips, and his gaze softened. He remembered, of course. Samuel was not inventing anything, merely drawing out memories that were already there, dusting them off, polishing them a little, and giving them back to Jeffrey like so many shiny presents to unwrap as though they were brand new.
Sifting through Jeffrey’s mind, Samuel picked another memory: their first date, this time. Tanya’s laugh had been as bright as the sun shimmering over the lake.
“Was this when you knew for sure?” Samuel asked, although he already knew the answer. “What did it? The way she laughed? How well her hand fit in yours? That little gleam in her eyes? Or maybe…”
He focused on the memory of the end of that evening, when Jeffrey had taken her back home, when she had leaned in for a chaste goodbye kiss that had touched the corner of his mouth, not quite on his lips and not quite on his cheek either. Her lips had been as sweet as the cotton candy they had shared, as warm as the sun Jeffrey had now lost forever.
“Leave her to the sun,” Samuel whispered. He rested his hand on Jeffrey’s shoulder, a comforting touch that Jeffrey wouldn’t feel but that caused him to shudder just the same. “That’s where she belongs. That’s where she’ll be as happy as she can be.”
He could feel Jeffrey faltering, his half-formed desire of turning Tanya, of making her the same thing he now was so they could be together forever, ebbing away, chased by the knowledge of how hard it was to lose the sun.
Any second now, Samuel made himself sure of it because his certainty would pass on through their link, Jeffrey would walk away for good. He’d leave Tanya to her life and find a new one for himself. It wouldn’t be the end of Samuel’s work, far from it; not siring the woman Jeffrey loved was one thing, but the battle would be altogether different to make Jeffrey find a way of life that didn’t require killing. Jeffrey had taken lives already, but only because he hadn’t known any better, only because his Sire had offered him humans and told him to feed. The idea was already there, rooted deep within him, that he could feed without killing. He had heard of non-killing vampires when he had been human, and now that his Sire was out of the picture, the option was there, accessible if he only reached for it. Samuel just might be able to help him find the way.
Jeffrey was just moments away from pulling away, turning his back to Tanya and his old life, when the very last thing Samuel wanted happened. Tanya raised her head to look out, like she had done half a dozen times since Jeffrey had approached the restaurant. So far, Samuel had managed to divert her attention. He couldn’t actively be in two minds at once, but he could skim the surface of her mind while he dived deeper into Jeffrey’s. Her mind had just closed to Samuel, though, and when she looked out, she saw Jeffrey.
This time, rather than seeing a vague shape too dark to recognize, Tanya saw the last person she had expected to see. The coffin at the funeral had been empty, but she had buried Jeffrey just the same. And yet, she still loved him so much. Her eyes grew wide and wet. In only seconds, she ran out of the restaurant. She stopped past the door and stood on the sidewalk for a few moments, watching Jeffrey with all the incredulity and hope of someone who had lost everything, only to find it all again. When she ran to him, Jeffrey remained perfectly immobile, as though afraid to go to her—or was he afraid to startle her if he moved as fast as his vampire nature now allowed him to?
Samuel cringed when her arms closed around Jeffrey for a tight hug. Jeffrey remained very still for a moment, then wrapped his arms around her, too. He pressed his face against her hair and breathed in deeply. Samuel could feel the pangs of hunger that slammed into Jeffrey when he took in her scent in a way he never had experienced before, could hear that little voice in Jeffrey’s mind that was purely vampire whisper that her blood was there, just beneath skin so easy to tear that she wouldn’t even feel a thing. Jeffrey’s fangs were already extending.
“You love her,” Samuel reminded him, his tone urgent now. “You love the life that radiates from her. It would be terrible to lose that, wouldn’t it?”
Jeffrey closed his eyes very tightly and made a conscious effort to retract his fangs. His hold on Tanya loosened a little, and Samuel allowed himself to hope. From experience, he knew that this moment would be what changed everything. If Jeffrey controlled himself now that he was close to Tanya again for the first time, the odds of him never killing her were much better. The fight was far from over, but it was a good first victory.
Still clinging to Jeffrey, Tanya drew him to the diner’s door, then inside. Samuel didn’t need to remain close to keep his connection with Jeffrey’s mind, but he wanted to see what she did, and more than only through Jeffrey’s eyes.
Samuel went with them, mindlessly passing through the glass door as it closed behind them. He followed them to a booth in the corner of the diner, sitting at a table near them and keeping a very close watch on Jeffrey’s mind and his reactions, much less concerned with what they were saying than he was with how Jeffrey was affected by being with Tanya, by seeing her come to terms with what he was now. They were holding hands on top of the table, and even when one of the other waitresses brought them two steaming mugs of coffee and told Tanya to take all the time she needed, they didn’t let go of each other, didn’t break eye contact.
Samuel could already see that this would be even more difficult than he had first thought. For a moment, outside, Jeffrey had been ready to promise himself he wouldn’t turn her. But now that they were talking, now that Jeffrey could see how much she had missed him, the idea was already starting to worm its way back to the surface.
The realization neither surprised nor disappointed Samuel. He had been doing this for so long that he had seen every possible outcome to every possible situation. It made him feel old, even older than he really was, but he hoped that it made him better at what he did, better at guiding his charges toward the best decision.
He was still immersed in Jeffrey’s thoughts when Rowan appeared. Even as busy as he was, Samuel couldn’t fail to notice her approach, nor could he fail to recognize at once who she was, even if the last time they had met Rowan had been male.
Sometimes, over the many centuries they had battled against each other, Rowan had remained male, or female, for decades or more at a time. Sometimes, he switched back and forth without rhyme or reason that Samuel could decipher. For all Samuel knew, it was only a way for him—for her, today—to alleviate boredom. Not that Samuel cared why Rowan did anything.
Rowan sat at Samuel’s table, across from him, as though he had been reserving a seat for her. Resting her chin in her open palm, she leaned in over the table to tell Samuel in a confidential tone, “They’re such a cute couple.”
… continued in Losing His Wings