"My name is Kieran," he said quietly, and Cameron was suddenly back on the street, staring at the boy who looked so like Christian Redfern, but couldn't be. Couldn't be because that had been Kian, and because the one who spoke was Kian as well.
This was far too surreal.
She shook her head, gestured resolutely for Remy to shut up, and marched toward the door. "This isn't happening," she said in response to Remy's furious protest. "None of this is happening. In fact, tonight simply does not exist. I am going to go home, crawl into bed, and when I wake up in the morning, I'll laugh myself silly over this ridiculous dream." She paused briefly at the entrance. "Good night."
Her back stiffened. "And as for you... you can switch yourself back into the right body before tomorrow morning. Then we'll talk."
Jessa and Remy exchanged an exasperated stare. They nodded, then Remy sprang for the door, drawing Cameron further into the room and preventing any chance of escape.
"She hit her head," Jessa explained to Kian --or was it Kieran? -- and kept her voice low enough that Cameron couldn't hear. "Short-term memory loss, some disorientation. She'll be fine."
"I'll be just peachy," Cameron grumbled, hearing her despite her attempt to avoid this, and allowed Remy to lead her to a chair, where she sat. "I'm not the one having an identity crisis."
Kian raised an eyebrow. "Who's having an identity crisis?"
"You are," all three voices answered at once.
The look on his face was utterly comical. He paused, then he blinked, and finally perplexity stretched taut across his face. "Who am I supposed to be?"
"You're Kian," Cameron snapped, a dull flush rising on her cheeks and anger suffusing her voice, "and if you're not, you should be in *that* body." Her arm whipped out, jerking tensely to point at the body sprawled next to him on the floor.
He followed the invisible line between her fingers and the carpet and raised an eyebrow. "She hit her head?" he said calmly to Jessa.
And then even Jessa was speechless, because Kieran's body was no longer there.
"Mon Dieu," Remy added, while managing to look shocked.
Kieran's body had simply disappeared, stake and all. One minute it had been there; the next it was gone. Not even an imprint had been left on the plush carpet.
His perplexion deepened.
"Cameron, I don't understand. How did I get up in this--" he paused, words eluding him, "this room." A brief pause hung, peppered by hesitation, then he asked, "And who staked Giacinta?"
She stared at him suspiciously. "Who are you and what have you done to my soulmate?"
"I *am* your soulmate," he answered through gritted teeth. "Exactly how hard did you hit your head?"
"Obviously not as hard as you hit yours," she muttered. She shifted on the ornate wooden seat, agitated, eyes sweeping over the tousled hair and sullen curve of his mouth. What did he have to be angry about? He was sitting in the middle of the floor, intact, and playing some sort of hideous joke on her. A *joke,* of all things.
Her mouth tightened so hard she bit into her lower lip before she'd realized. And even then, the physical pain was incidental next to the hurt she felt at his cruelty. How could he do this to her? The question reverberated in her head like the echo of an avalanche in an empty canyon. She would expect this spitefulness from Kieran, maybe, but never from Kian.
The revelation spun through her and shook her to the core.
Maybe he wasn't being spiteful.
He watched her cautiously from where he sat on the carpeted floor, one hand propped carefully behind him, the other rubbing absently over his heart, as if to soothe an absent pain. His mouth twisted wryly. She couldn't help but notice the misery drenching his eyes, or the way he didn't seem to notice it was there.
Dropping her head into her hands, she tried not to berate herself for jumping to conclusions. But then, hindsight is always clearest and the most embarassing. She took a deep breath.
It was a statement, not a question, and from the way he rolled his eyes and from his disgusted sigh, she had a feeling he found this truth to be rather obvious.
"Who else would I be, Cameron?" he asked, exasperation and just a touch of anger curling through his voice.
Her own eyes narrowed. "Well, since you've somehow managed to be resurrected in your twin's body--"
"I don't have a twin!" he shouted. He pushed himself off the floor indignantly. "What is wrong with you? For the last week, all you've done is throw conflicting statements!"
"And for the last two hundred centuries, all you've done is kill me!"
"That emotional rollercoaster crashed a long time ago, my dear soulmate, and you were obviously the front car passenger." His voice was cold, but he kept running his hands through his hair as if it would somehow calm him. From the way he was pacing, Jessa and Remy didn't see that happening. "Of course, I killed you. We established that quite some time ago."
"Why not?" he countered softly. He paused, then shook his head. "You're human. /Vermin./ You deserved to die."
Her mouth dropped open in shock. "You don't really believe that."
A long, measuring glance, then he sighed. "I don't," he admitted, "but if you don't start sounding a little more sane, I might change my opinion."
"I am not the one with a sanity problem," she snapped. She swiveled to face the spot where Kieran's body should be, where instead there was only dust. "You're trying to tell me you didn't even have a twin! That is either a blatant lie, or a severe gap missing in your memory."
He strode over, stopping in front of her and leaning close until his face was only inches from hers. "In the nearly two thousand years I've been alive, I have *never* had a twin. Occasionally, my name has been shortened to 'Kian,' when whoever was talking to me was too lazy to pronounce all those letters, but you are the last person I expect to call me that right now. *What* is going on?"
"You did have a twin," Remy inserted. He didn't flinch at the dark look Kieran sent him. He only seemed amused.
"I believe him, actually," Jessa said, shoving Remy out of the way. She walked to Kieran, tipping his chin up so she could stare into his eyes. He bared his teeth at her.
"Stop that," Cameron commanded from where she still sat with her head buried in her hands. "You're not scaring anyone."
Sulkily, he let the expression drop from his face. Something about this whole thing struck her as odd...
The real Kieran would have snarled and probably done some serious damage, or at least threatened a little. That reaction -- backing down instead of fighting -- fit Kian's personality more than Kieran's. The discrepancy ate at her, gnawing at the pit of her stomach as if she'd swallowed a glassful of bubbling acid. The solution to this equation was almost too terrifying to think about.
Kieran would never back down from a fight.
Kian would never get into one in the first place.
"Maybe I don't." Jessa dropped her hand from his chin. Her eyes met Cameron's briefly, something flashing sharply in their dark depths, then she grinned. "He's acting out of character, isn't he?"
What a wonderful time for Jessa to be amused, Cameron thought scathingly. She didn't find anything funny in his single-personality disorder. In fact, it was rather disconcerting. Never had a twin? Hysteria simmered in her blood. Oh, he had a twin -- a twin who went by the nickname he claimed to have -- who had fought with him, laughed with him, and died for him.
A twin who had hated him, but only with the deepest kind of love.
They were night to day; dark to light. As trite as that seemed, it was true. Each twin had been an extreme in his own way, and each had held his weaknesses, as well as his strengths. A shame that each had found a weakness in her, yet touched some deep part she was sure would never be found again. How could it? He was gone, wasn't he?
Now if only she could figure out exactly which "he" that was.
Only one way to find out. She levered herself carefully off the chair, so scared at what she would find that her knees were shaking. *Shaking.* Talk about acting out of character. Her body was doing a wonderful job. Slowly, she slipped to where he stood, shivering slightly, though she knew he wasn't cold. Seeing it made her angry.
He must have felt her anger, because he drew away, or as far away as he could manage without actually moving. He wasn't scared of her, but... looking in his eyes, she knew that he was scared for her. Her thoughts were drawn abruptly back to the moment she had realized he cared for her, back to that dingy hallway where her back pressed against the railing, and unheeding of any threats, she had chipped through his defenses. In that memory, he had cried for her.
Now, no tears slid from those shattered eyes, but the vulnerability was there just the same.
How easy it would be to grind those splintered fragments into pieces so small they could never be smoothed back together. His lips quivered slightly under her gaze. While he didn't remember what he had lost, somehow he knew he missed it. Cameron would stake her life on it.
Only one way to find out. Her heart ricocheted in her chest, a thousand hands beating desperately against cruel iron bars, a thousand lives lost at the whim of one. Taking a deep breath, she reached for him, ignoring the small intake of breath as he prepared to lose everything at her touch.
She drew his head down to hers, lips a bare breath from each other, until she could see the tiny flecks of turquoise streaming through the violet and the desperate, whirling navy. And she'd wondered why sometimes his eyes could look so dark. The briefest hestitaion, then she sealed his mouth with hers.
Finally she had her answer.
He was neither Kian nor Kieran.
He was both.
Kieran's mind had been darkness and jagged edges; Kian's soft colors and sloping planes. This was neither. It reminded her of a storm cloud soaked in sunlight, that bizarre precipice where sun clashed with rain and the line was almost tangible, yet somehow blurred. Mellow shades twining with deeper shadows to create a striking jumble of hues. Some peaks glittered sharply as though lightning had been frozen into blazing icicles, while others sparkled dully with only chips of that sultry frost embedded inside.
They melded around each other, shifting like mercury until they were not two separate minds, but only one.
Gasping, she wrenched her mouth away. "Kia -- Kieran," she said, pausing for a moment to get her breathing under control, "do you remember the last time you killed me?"
He raised unfocused eyes to meet hers, the pupils nearly swallowing the iris, and dropped the hand he suddenly realized was tangled in her hair. "Why?"
"Because it's *important.* Do you remember what happened?"
Getting answers out of him was almost as easy as uprooting a cactus. But his response was no more than she expected. An incidental memory washed out by hazy fragments of conversation and events that merged into a blissful pool of reminiscence. Maybe like a painting you recalled years after seeing it, so that the shapes were indistinct and the colors muted. Maybe like a dream that faded once you woke, the details smudged into whispering remnants of awkward wakefulness.
"Do you remember what you said to me?" she asked finally, while he eyed her guardedly.
"No," he frowned, the corners of that full mouth tilting down. Then some spark of memory lit his eyes like fireworks and pulsed brightly through his pupil. "I accused you of lying to me."
She smiled grimly in acknowledgement. "And then?"
He drew away, seeming to shrink into himself. "I killed you."
Light streaming from those violet orbs now, as lethargic as sap dripping its way down rough bark. "I bit you," he snapped defensively, "just like every other time."
"Hmm. And what did you say to me just before you bit?"
"What is this? Twenty questions?" His mouth curled obstinately, and he moved back like he wanted to bolt, which was silly, of course. Kieran wasn't the type to run away.
But from the way he was acting, she was more convinced Kian was standing in front of her. All she needed was his answer to prove it.
"Answer the question, my dear vampire, or face the consequences." Too much glee filled Remy's wicked voice and he sounded all too ready to carry out some unknown threat. Cameron would cheerfully hurt him herself if he followed up on it. She just hoped he knew that.
Kieran glanced warily at her, then said, "I apologized, because I was truly sorry that was going to kill you, but I *don't* break my promises." Once again the hand rubbed over his heart, as if he didn't realize the pain was there. "Are you happy now?"
She stepped forward, brushing one finger over the sharp plane of his cheek, trailing down to where his pulse beat strongly in his neck. The wariness swelled around him like a protective blanket.
"No," she answered, "but I will be."
Dawn streamed headily through the gauzy curtains and skimmed over tired faces, illuminating bruised skin beneath drooping eyes. Cameron yawned, her muscles jerking so suddenly that she nearly dropped her freshly brewed cup of coffee. Jessa sneered delicately at the sludge-like liquid.
"I don't know how you can stomach that stuff."
That statement was nearly an institution now, said every time the scent of coffee wafted through the house. Cameron smiled, relieved that even in the midst of life-shattering events, some things never changed.
"Given the choice between coffee and what *you* drink to stay alive, I'll take the coffee." She raised the mug to her lips, gulping down the scalding fluid.
"I hope you burned your throat," Jessa sulked, when Cameron winced.
Setting the mug gently on the table, Cameron cradled it between her hands and let its warmth seep through her bones. "You'll get over it eventually."
Jessa sniffed, but didn't say anything else. She watched her friend -- her charge -- silently, wondering at the secrets that whirled through her head like shooting stars, and burned just as bright. Their journey home had been silent, characterized only by the soft fall of footsteps against cold pavement and the slight rustle of fabric as they walked. Remy and Jessa had avoided staring at Cameron and Kieran's clasped hands, twined in a bond stronger than life itself.
And, Cameron had stated quietly, in a bond stronger than death.
Remy and Kieran now slept upstairs -- although not together, much to Remy's dismay -- and dreamed away the tragedy that only one remembered. They had both wandered away moments after entering the apartment, each stumbling to their respective rooms. Or in Kieran's case, into Cameron's.
Cameron, unable to sleep, had wandered into the kitchen. Jessa had followed. They sat opposite each other, Cameron drinking her coffee and Jessa nursing a glassful of what looked like water, although Cameron would guess otherwise.
Abruptly, she shoved the coffee away. "I suppose you figured out what happened."
Jessa tossed her long, blond hair over her shoulder, tucking a stray strand behind her ear, and played dumb. "What do you mean?"
The wry look Cameron bestowed on her said she knew what Jessa was doing. "What happened with the twins. You know... why Kieran was resurrected in Kian's body."
"I have an idea," she answered after a moment. "Nothing certain, of course, but definitely some theories."
Cameron looked down briefly, the corners of her mouth curving in a smile. Then her face sobered. "Kieran wasn't lying when he said he never had a twin. They were never meant to be two separate people, but something happened..." She shrugged. "I don't know how to explain it, but something went wrong when they were born. The soul split and entered two bodies instead of one. So when they died--"
She let her voice trail off and the sentence hang in the air.
"When Kieran died," Jessa corrected. She took a large gulp of the clear liquid in her glass and then propped her chin against her hand.
"Right. When Kieran died, he didn't really die, because, well... I guess, because only half of his soul had been injured. Or whatever happens to a person's soul when they get staked. So they fused back together in the body that *hadn't* been maimed."
Jessa nodded, chewing thoughtfully on her lower lip. "So how do you explain the part where he calls himself Kieran?"
"Kieran's was the dominant personality?" Cameron suggested, shrugging. "It would make sense, wouldn't it? While Kian played the victim rather well, Kieran was always more industrious. Finding me, killing me... let's face it. He orchestrated this whole thing nearly from the beginning."
"True," she acknowledged. "For two thousand years he managed to murder you repeatedly and make his brother's life hell. Don't you feel safe knowing that *this* half of their personalities survived?"
Cameron laughed. "It's different now, Jessa. Kieran's personality might be more dominant, but Kian is still a part of him. They never really were two different people. Kieran doesn't even remember Kian."
Jessa sat back, her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "And how does *that* work? It's not like they were never in the same room or having a conversation. I'm curious, but I'm not about to ask him. He'd likely knock off my head."
"He wouldn't know anyway." Cameron reached for her coffee, swirling it in the cup, and took a long swallow before she answered. "I'm not even really sure. That's why I asked him what happened last time he killed me. The answer was something only Kian would have known and I wanted to -- to be sure of what I'd seen. He remembers everything, but I'm not sure how his mind has organized the time to accomodate for dual lives."
Jessa yawned, stretching lazily in her chair. "I'm not sure it matters," she murmured, then yawned a second time.
Cameron fought back a yawn of her own. "Probably not. The important part is that this is finally over. Finally."
Some indistinct sound escaped from deep in Jessa's throat, her eyes trained where shadows fell just beyond the doorway. A faint smile traced her lips. "I think your presence is being requested, Cam. Perhaps you should take yourself off to bed."
Jerking around to face the doorway, Cameron saw Kieran's distinctive features framed in those same shadows. He hesitated there, and she had to remind herself that this was the big, bad, evil twin who had made her short lives filled with fear and hell. Now he only seemed uncertain and wary.
She held a hand out to him and invited him to come closer. After a few seconds of indecision, he moved forward and closed his fingers around hers. She pulled him closer and let her arms sprawl over his spine, resting her head against the hard planes of his stomach.
"I know," she interrupted, "and I can't explain. You probably wouldn't believe me anyway."
Amusement reeled through his eyes and he leaned back, his lips curving. "What exactly did you think I was going to say?"
"You don't want to know," Jessa answered for her. "Just thinking about what she was thinking about makes my head hurt." She rose unsteadily from the table, weaving from fatigue. "I think bed would be a great idea. Everyone coming?"
Both Jessa and Cameron burst into laughter at the stunned look crossing Kieran's face.
He grinned suddenly, realizing his mistake. "It's been a long night and I've already had to fend Remy off twice. I have every right to jump to conclusions."
"We only tag-team with stakes," Jessa assured him, laughing. She and Cameron exchanged amused glances.
His head tilted slightly as he considered the image that brought to mind. "That sounds almost dangerous," he said thoughtfully. "I didn't think you were the type to go for that sort of thing."
They were silent a moment, then Jessa cleared her throat. "Right. So about sleeping... I think I'm going to do that. I would suggest you do the same." A pause, while she watched them watching each other. "Or whatever you plan on doing there."
"Mind your own, Jessa," Cameron scolded, mock severity dancing through her voice.
Her roommate grinned, chocolate eyes melting iniquitously. "Night."
"Morning," Kieran countered, a beautiful smile lighting his chiseled face.
They both watched her glide down the hall to her bedroom. A light clicked on, briefly glistening on the carpeted floor before the door slammed shut behind her. They were -- finally -- alone.
His hand stroked over the silken strands of her hair. "I couldn't sleep," he admitted, frowning, while his fingers absently slid to massage the soft skin at the base of her neck. "Every time I heard a noise, I thought Remy was coming for me."
"Oh, you poor thing," she teased and sagged into his touch, letting his body support her weight. "I do love you, you know."
Those fingers stilled, just a small exhalation of time whispering through the air, and then he dropped his hand. He was quiet.
She didn't know what she had been hoping for. A profession of his undying love? That he wasn't trying to kill her now had to mean *something,* didn't it?
But still, that silence hurt.
A soft sound escaped him, somewhere between a sigh and a groan, then he knelt beside her. "I need you," he said simply.
And that said it all, she realized. His hands slipped from her neck to tangle in the heavy fall of her hair, drawing her against him until her head rested in the cradle of his shoulder. His pulse beat erratically against her cheek, the pressure strong and reassuring to her tired mind. His fingers tightened briefly.
For a moment, it felt strange to be here like this, his arms curled around her, without the massive blood loss to accompany it. No fighting. No pain. Nothing but that curious sense of security drilling itself into her heart. All her sorrow seeping slowly through the hole it created, disappearing quietly.
Funny how losing something that was so much a part of her was so painless. The anguish gone, replaced with this dream-like contentment. Centuries of bloodshed washed away by one slender, jagged splinter of wood. And perhaps she needed to think back on those lives that had been cut short to truly appreciate what she had been given, and what had been taken away.
Maybe it had been necessary for her heart to bleed -- whatever the cause might have been -- in order for her to gain this boy pressed so tightly against her. He was hers now, completely and irrevocably, and she would never, ever let him go. Those bonds forged in blood were always the hardest to break, especially when shrouded in love.
Joined together in heartache and thoughts Kieran didn't and couldn't understand. He would never hurt her, physically or emotionally, and any outside pain wasn't pain at all. Merely something insignificant and surreal. All that mattered was what she had found in the death of one, and the birth of another.
Together at last, their souls twined so tightly that it was hard to determine where one began and the other interposed. Not two halves of a whole, but One. One person, bound by memories that shouldn't have been and separation that had lasted too long.
But she didn't care and it didn't matter. Nothing did, because her heart would never bleed again.