The icy water dripped, sliding down cold metal like a stream of uneven tears. It settled in a murky pool and slowly dissipated into the damp earth. Around him, the air reeked of rot and neglect. The musty smell penetrated his bones and seeped into his heart.
He watched the water dispassionately. His dark red hair fell in greasy clumps across his forehead into passionless purple eyes. His cheekbones protruded sharply from his pale white face and sank into his chiseled jaw. Dark, heavy lashes fell like crescents on those cheeks, forming shadows where none should have been. The shadows only emphasized his pallor. He looked as though he had not eaten a decent meal in months, and in truth, he had not. It hurt to eat. It hurt not to eat. And so, because he could not avoid the pain, he stayed crumbled in his corner like a forgotten doll, tossed and thrown away.
He fought a battle he could not win, scratching and clawing his way from his private black hole. From his personal hell. He'd always taken what life had thrown at him, laughing and throwing it back. He had laughed in Death's face, daring it to crush him beneath its heel.
And he had lost.
He learned that Death played no games and took no prisoners. One mistake and the game was finished, with no chances to regroup and no chances to start over. Death won… and that was it.
His mouth fell open, that gorgeous, full mouth, and he sighed. God, he wished life were like a Monopoly game. A roll of the dice and he could have been back at Go. One turn… and everything could have changed. But somewhere along the way, he'd forgotten his "Get out of jail free" card.
His time was over. Death moved on to play its game with someone else.
He no longer cared that he rotted in this filthy sewer. He was alone. The rats left him to himself and no one else ventured this far underground, not even the vagrants who had nowhere else to go.
He had played his hand and now, he simply wanted to stay here, licking his wounds in peace. Too many crimes and too many witnesses had brought him to this state. Too many deaths… Many of those deaths had been human. Many others had been insignificant. He could not dredge up any regret for those deaths, only for hers.
Only for Her.
He could still see the light fading from her eyes as she died. He could still taste her coppery blood on his lips, warm and rich, sliding down his throat. His teeth stretched and lengthened painfully, remembering. Her silky hair shifting through his fingertips like raw silk. Her sky blue eyes filled with love and hatred…
He shuddered, knowing it was the last emotion he would ever remember seeing. That hatred grew and pulsed in his mind, brushing at the last lucid edges of his consciousness. His mind railed at him, ignoring the old adage of forgive and forget. Seeing only the pain etched across her features and the betrayal in her eyes.
He knew he had been wrong. He was not afraid to admit this. Admitting was the least of the punishment he'd inflicted on himself. Admitting was nothing. Living was where the problems started.
She hated you…
He cringed. Voices whispered through his mind. Her voice, voices he didn't recognize… They were all there. They lived in his head, mocking him, sleek and cold against his pain.
Wincing, his rejoiced in his agony. Without it he would have nothing. Her memory would fade and she would be gone, lost like so many others. And even if meant this, surviving, but not living, he would die before he lost her.
He had played with this idea forever. He had thought about joining her for as long as he could remember. His luck, though, had made a biting turn for the worse. With that in mind, he could only worry about ending up on the other end, burning in scorching flames while she grieved for him somewhere else.
If she grieved. He had his doubts.
His violet eyes darkened, burning pure and clear against his chalk white face. He was putting his faith in a mortal god, in a god that rewarded humans for atrocious deeds. If they could be redeemed, who said that he could not? He idly played with the thought of prayer before he discarded it.
Prayer would not help him now. He could only help himself.
And that meant one thing.
He would go to Jez. She would help him. She would end this unceasing monotony, free him from this useless existence.
She thought he was evil and she was probably right. They would both be glad when he left this world. All he had to do was show her what he had been, hiding what he had become. Then he would be free.
He uncoiled his lanky body, standing for the first time in days, weeks, maybe months. He wasn't sure and it didn't matter.
Life… Life was too long. He had finally stumbled on the way to fix that problem. Hope coursed through his body, racing to his fingertips. He would be free. His eyes slid shut, bloody tears sliding from them for the first time in years. And now, finally, instead of weeping in sorrow, as he should have done centuries ago, he sobbed silently in joy.
He could taste her on his lips. Not her blood this time, but the memories of Her he had lost in his disillusion. He heard her whisper about the future in his ear, telling of time and a family they would never have. Telling of her love and not her hatred.
He only hoped he would end up where she was.
"You're a coward, Kian Redfern," Giacinta mocked. "Why not just end it yourself? Why leave it to Jez?"
He glared at her from beneath spiky black lashes. "You don't know what you're talking about," he answered coolly. "I came back to get the rest of my clothes. Now I'm leaving."
She shook her head and strutted to a high-backed, forest green armchair, where she sat. She never looked away from him, her black eyes fathomless. "Running away again?" she wondered, her tone still mocking.
"No," he replied flatly. "But I'm not staying here."
She shrugged, one elegant shoulder lifting negligently. "Then, go. Nothing is stopping you."
He turned to go, but curiosity made him face her once again. "What made you think I was going to Jez?" he questioned.
"I can see it in your eyes," she said, contemplating him. He felt like she was judging him and finding him sorely lacking. "You're ready to die."
"Two thousand years isn't long enough to live?" he asked and his voice was bitter.
"Is that your reason?" she returned. "Or are you just tired of watching your soulmate die?"
The last was said with a small, triumphant smile. Giacinta always won—always. He stared at her, his eyes narrowing. A spark of challenge flared inside him. Giacinta never failed to inspire that feeling—the feeling that made him want to beat her, that made him want to keep living just so he could see her fall. The feeling that kept him thriving throughout the centuries.
He quickly reined his anger in. Why give her what she wanted? "Sometimes," he snapped, "I think that's the only reason you keep going."
"Oh, mon cher," she laughed throatily. "You have no idea."
He spun to walk away. She rose from her chair, moving toward him like a snake slithering toward its next meal, stopping him. Her hand reached out to gently rest on his arm and she smiled. "Kian," she started softly, persuasively.
He froze. It took everything he had to remain still instead of jerking out of her grasp. "Don't--"
"Don't what?" she asked quickly. "Don't touch you? Don't try convincing you to stay?" Again the throaty laugh came. "It's far too late for that now."
He slowly slipped away from her, slowly enough that she didn't realize what he was doing until it was too late. Her hand fell to her side. Anger flooded through him, building up inside so fast no words would come. All he saw was a thick red haze. Dimly, while he tried to gather those thoughts into a biting retort, he heard a door yanked open and then slammed shut. Hurried footsteps sounded across the entranceway's tiled floor.
"'Cinta! 'Cinta!" a tiny voice chortled. "I brought you a present!"
His vision cleared enough to bring the owner of the voice into focus. A tiny four-year-old child scampered toward them. In her hands, she carried something, but she clutched it too tightly for him to be able to discern what it was.
Giacinta frowned down at the child. She took the object from her gently, then brought it higher, peering at it. "You drank all of its blood."
The child's eyes watered. "I was hungry," she whispered. "I didn't mean to drink it all."
One of Giacinta's eyebrows raised. "Haven't I told you about drinking from animals, Morgan?"
Morgan looked on the verge of tears. "I'm sorry, 'Cinta."
She smiled brightly and patted her on the head as if Morgan was a faithful dog. "No matter, ma petite," she said. "Just don't do it again."
Morgan nodded. "I won't. I promise." Then she turned to look at Kian, cocking her head and staring at him much as Giacinta had. "Who is he?" she asked.
"Il n'est personne d'importance. Tu dois nous laisser, d'accord? Je serai bientôt en haut," she replied rapidly in French. She watched Kian while she said this.
Kian thought perhaps she looked for a reaction, but he wouldn't give her one. Even though he understood every damn word of what she'd said. He waited until the child darted forward to kiss her on the cheek and left the room.
"No one of importance?" he asked her mildly, when they were alone again.
She smiled uneasily. "The child wouldn't understand, Kian. Our relationship is-- complex, to say the least."
"That's one way to describe it," he admitted. "I could think of ways that are better -- more graphic -- but why bother wasting the energy?"
She shrugged. "Indeed. Why bother? I see no need to involve the child in something so base."
"Where did you find her?" he asked suddenly, curious.
"On a street corner in San Francisco, where her human parents had left her to die. She was so adorable," she remembered. "Just a little thing, malnourished and frightened nearly to death."
Kian stared at her. "She's an illegally made vampire, not lamia?"
"You know how much I love to break the rules," she said, not truly answering his question. Then a small smile played on her lips. "It didn't stop you, did it?"
"You weren't four years old," he pointed out.
"True," she acknowledged. "But is there really a difference?"
He wanted to hit her, to wipe that smug smile off her face. Anything to hurt her. "You were old enough to protect and take care of yourself," he said coldly. "She wouldn't survive a minute on her own."
"You'd be surprised. Morgan is resourceful, to say the least." She ignored his censuring glare. Meeting his eyes, she said, "You really should be going. I do have company, you know. It isn't polite of me to ignore my guest."
"I wouldn't really refer to myself as company, Giacinta," a deep voice said from the doorway.
Kian froze. The voice invoked memories he'd forgotten he had. Memories of hot summer days and of swimming in the still icy river. Memories of laughter and sharing, of joy and pain, of heartbreak and separation.
He knew that voice. He hadn't heard it in years… Not since the last time his soulmate had died.
Steeling himself, he turned to face the owner of that voice. Cold violet eyes met his, mirrors of each other, and the owner of those eyes smiled. "Hello, brother," he said.
"Kieran," he acknowledged with a short nod. He said nothing else, waiting, trying to drag his tumultuous emotions into check.
His brother continued to smile that hungry smile, replying, "I go by the name Christian now, brother. It's so much more modern, don't you think?"
Kian didn't know what to make of this casual conversation. He didn't know how his brother could act like nothing had happened. But then, his brother hadn't been the one who had been hurt.
"What are you doing here?" he asked abruptly.
The smile dropped from his brother's identical face. "I came to see Giacinta," he said, all pretense of unity lost. "There were, of course, the other, less important reasons -- killing people, torture, destroying any happiness you might have found -- the usual."
Kian's shoulders sagged. "It won't work this time," he replied. "There's nothing to destroy."
Kieran didn't reply. He watched his brother thoughtfully, cruel violet eyes running over every haggard line of his face. Finally, his voice almost casual, he said, "I've found her you know."
They both knew who he meant. Aeshli. Soulmate, Old Soul, friend, lover, and enemy. She was all these things and more.
"Don't torture me for the hell of it," he warned.
"I'm serious, brother dear," Kieran continued, as if Kian hadn't said anything. "She was in the hospital. I was visiting the patients -- out of the goodness of my heart, of course -- at Massachusetts General Hospital. The one off Fruit Street. She was here," he finished.
Kian knew better than to hope. His brother would only tell him this for one reason. Aeshli was dead. He would wager his life that Kieran had killed her. Not that it was such a large price to pay. He would rather be with her anyway. His younger brother was ruthless, cruel, and destructive. Especially when it came to Aeshli's life.
Still, he couldn't stop himself from asking for clarification. "Was here?"
Kieran smiled, mock sadness playing across his face and in his eyes. "Yes, was," he sighed melodramatically. "It's funny how humans can't live without blood, isn't it?"
He didn't even think. He launched himself at his brother's throat. All he knew was that his brother needed to pay for what he had done. What he had done countless times. He slammed Kieran against the wall, knocking an armchair over in his haste. Pictures flew off the wall and there was a loud thud as Kieran's head snapped back.
"Why?" he snarled. His eyes were a deep purple color, speckled with red flecks, anger and pain etched deeply on his face. Flushed cheeks flamed against his supple white skin. Giacinta stood up, shocked and alarmed, but they ignored her.
"Why not? She was human. Vermin. Do I really need a reason?" Kieran never lost his calm expression.
Kian took a deep breath and forced his fingers to loosen. He stepped back. He wanted to kill him, but he knew better than to try.
His brother brushed himself off almost fastidiously, then smiled. "She never even woke up, brother," he mocked softly, "but she died thinking it was you."
Kian saw red -- a deep, dark red like the color of his brother's hair. Not quite the color of blood. Too dark and deep and full of danger. It washed over him like a tidal wave and he had to stop himself from attacking his brother again. He didn't trust himself to speak until he was calm.
"Play your games, Kieran," he advised bitterly, "but remember that one day I'll return the favor."
His brother nodded, acknowledging this. "Of course," he replied softly. "I expect no less of you."
Kian nodded briefly to both of them and walked to the door with his head held high. He stopped there, picking up his bag and slinging it over his shoulder. He never looked back. He simply walked through the door and kept walking.
Down the steps. Past the overgrown flowers lining the path. Around the bend in the sidewalk. He knew better than to show them fear, than to show them how much they'd hurt him. He was out of sight now, trees blocking any view they might have. He made it all the way to the street.
Then he ran.