University of Foxbury, Oasis Springs
They sat at the lunch table doing their usual round of banter, but Vlad found himself more irritated than aroused. Ethren had already taken him to task over their divorce settlement—as if ten acres, fourteen pigs, eight hens, a house cat, and all the drinking vessels wasn’t enough—and now he’d started harassing Vlad about his “theatrics.”
“No, please, I’d love to hear which bizarre idiosyncrasy has you wanting to murder everyone at this conference,” his ex purred.
“I am quite capable of being in large groups without murdering everyone.” Vlad pursed his lips, “And the conference is fine.”
It wasn’t. He could hear everything—the AV coordinator arguing with the next presenter about their slides, two tenured faculty complaining about the quality of the food, which Vlad agreed, smelled sub-par, and the hustle and bustle of students. Not to mention it was torture sitting in those plastic chairs for hours on end.
He hadn’t been able to explain to Alice at yoga, but it wasn’t just playing dead that rattled him. He’d been carved out. On the inside, he was just—
You can beg, little vampire, but I have plans for you. Fate has plans for you…
“Are you even listening to me?” Ethren snapped his fingers.
“Yes.” A lie.
“You look antsy,” his ex observed, “What’s wrong with you?”
The list was long. A shattered hip that never healed right, nerve damage so severe that at times he dropped things, blindness in one of his eyes that came and went like the wind—all of it appearing in a constant cycle because it had been decades since he’d truly eaten.
“Nothing,” Vlad bit out, “Continue.”
The opportunity to lecture proved too alluring, Ethren did continue, railing about how the Sages pretended to bring order but really only set spellcasters at the top of the heap.
Vlad was desperate to end the conversation. He smirked, “Sitting atop the heap is endlessly fascinating for those with short lifespans.”
“That is bullshit!” Ethren pounded his fist on the table but annoyingly, did not leave. “Vampires had the council, so don’t pretend quests for power are beneath you. And you are not hearing me. Any fool can see that the Sages haven’t brought true stability. That means someone will be looking for an opportunity to unseat them.”
“Then I wish them luck.” Vlad shook his leg, trying to get the pins and needles to stop. “What do I care if witches want to kill each other?”
“You should care. The last time witches wanted to kill each other, they made werewolves, and in response to that, they created vampires, and in response that, nearly tore the Magic Realm apart.”
“Magic created vampires and werewolves,” Vlad spat. “Witches were merely the conduits.”
“Aw. Does it hurt your feelings to hear that natural-born vampires had witches as makers?”
Ethren’s mocking tone irritated Vlad, ratcheting up what was already a simmering pot of agitation. “Why are you here? It’s certainly not to play stepfather. You never liked that role.”
“You think you’re gonna offend me, carissime?” his ex crossed his arms and gave Vlad a satisfied look, “I said it 800 years ago, and I’m saying it now. I don’t have any interest in raising a batch of screaming brats with you. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
There was no time to do this dance with his former lover; Vlad’s body had about all it could take of being seated. He stood, the pain radiating from his hip so viciously that he swayed. “Go to hell,” he growled, words almost slurring.
He didn’t see Ethren’s right hook coming. Couldn’t. It rocked his jaw, the bones cracking. He stumbled back as the half-vampire hissed.
“Come now, Vladislaus, have you grown tired of foreplay already?”
Despite the pain, Vlad swung wildly, clawing the side of Ethren’s face. Meanwhile, his dark form pulsed under his skin like a living thing—the effort to subdue it agonizing.
—I’ll place a fire inside of you. A hunger—
“Fuck you,” Vlad roared.
“I have been trying, but you don’t return my calls.” Ethren rubbed his hands together, one eyebrow cocked, “Come on, I’ll buy you a glass of nectar, and you can lick my wounds. I know making up is your favorite part.”
Vlad looked at him with absolute loathing, hunger gnawing at his belly. He was supposed to keep this side locked up, but oil slick and tempestuous, it sometimes slipped through.
Devour, it whispered.
“Hey,” Ethren took a tentative step towards him, “What’s wrong? Is it getting harder to control?”
Vlad turned so his ex-husband couldn’t see his face. “No,” he lied, as his jaw began to heal. “Lunchtime is over.”