When Alice closed her eyes, she could still feel her ribs cracking, the shard of bone driving straight through her heart, and then…
No, that wasn’t true. There was only a split second of nothingness before she was everywhere—the trees, the grass, the fucking molecules. She zipped along the current until she found two little sparks of life. They were sputtering, floundering, begging for help, and she just…she…
“Contacts,” Vlad said softly, his voice grounding her. “Until you figure out how to control your form. No one will know.”
He seemed so sure this was temporary. Maybe because his beast was now tucked away beneath smooth planes of silvery skin. Alice traced a finger over the white spidery pattern that ran down her neck.
“It’s beautiful,” he wrapped his arms around her, kissing her shoulder. “A battle scar, or, if you prefer, a tattoo.”
Alice nodded, but inside she felt numb. What did hiding her new supernatural scars matter when the problem was her? “I did something awful. I mean…I am something awful,” she corrected, voice barely above a whisper.
“You are not.”
“I am! I was in their bodies! I used them, and then I tore them apart. I wanted to…” she bit back a cry.
“You wanted to what?” He held her waist, and even though Alice couldn’t see his reflection, she felt him staring. “Alice, you wanted to what?”
She tried to turn away, but Vlad held her firmly in place. “Did they smell appetizing?”
“What? No, I just—” she clamped her mouth shut.
“Why are you hiding from me?” Vlad nudged her head to the side, exposing her neck, his breath ghosting over her skin and making her shiver. He told her once that breathing was reflexive for young vampires, but he’d lain dormant for so long that it was now a purposeful act. He used it to blend, to express frustration, to seduce. “Why are you acting as if I don’t understand hunger for flesh? As if I don’t think every excited heartbeat is part of a wild chorus calling me to eat.”
“That’s how I hunt,” he continued, his tone almost playful and still tempting, “I follow the rhythm. And if you wish, I will hunt that way for you too.”
She meant to say no. She meant to tell him that she didn’t eat sims and that what happened in the woods was a mistake, but the sentence that slipped out was: “Brains. I ate their brains, and I wanted—I want—more.”
Vlad growled and spun her around, his lips crashing into hers. She leaned into the kiss, losing herself in it until she was gasping for breath, her mind scattered. “Oh fuck, am I a zombie?” She began to sputter, “Oh my llamas, I am a zombie! What if my skin falls off and I start to rot and—”
“Shhh,” he sat back on the bed and tugged her towards him, “I doubt very seriously that you are a zombie, but even if I’m wrong, you are by far the most enticing flesh-eating monster I’ve ever seen.”
She laughed as stepped between his legs and grazed his jaw.
“You kissed me,” he murmured, slightly awed, “On the beach.”
She had, with his face broken open in a garish grin—red flesh, sinewy muscle, rows and rows of needle-sharp teeth. “Because I’m in love with you, especially when you’re a terrifying winged demon who hunts my killers from the sky.”
Vlad sucked in a sharp breath as she slipped out of her towel and tore his off too. She pushed him back, climbing on top of him as he gripped her waist. With a deep groan, he released a full-body shiver, his fangs glinting in the light.
Alice couldn’t stop staring at them. In all their time together, he had yet to bite her. But she was a zombie witch now, he couldn’t possibly hurt her. “Please,” she whispered. “I want you to.”
He gazed up at her, his expression at once hungry and reverent. But instead of sinking his teeth in, he pressed his lips against her neck.
Alice rocked her hips, leaning back slightly so he could slide his hand between them. There were no words as they chased their pleasure. No whispers until his movements became jerky, and a last swipe of his fingers sent her careening over the edge.
And then they were messy and still. Alice panting like she’d run a marathon, Vlad easing out of her with a shudder.
They didn’t talk as they washed up and got dressed, but Alice could see the lines of exhaustion painted on Vlad’s face. He took a seat on the bed and pulled out a pen and paper.
“Why don’t you take a rest?” she asked.
He shook his head, “I’ll deal with the bodies. We’re probably being tracked, so we’ll need somewhere to go. And we should try to get a handle on the extent of your power, figure out your limits or lack thereof.”
Alice couldn’t argue with that. She didn’t want to feel helpless. Still, this wasn’t something for Vlad to solve alone.
“Perhaps Morgyn can help,” he said, though he seemed to be talking to himself. His hand shook as he wrote. “I’ll make some calls.”
“I can make calls. Or do something else. Vlad, I wasn’t joking. You should rest. You aren’t a machine; you’re—“
“Over a thousand years and used to this.” He continued writing. When his hand cramped, he switched to the other, still not bothering to look up.
“And what the fuck am I?” Alice glared. “In this whole little plan where you kill yourself taking care of everything, what do you think I’m doing?”
“Resting. Recovering,” Vlad stood and set the paper down, his eyes a storm. “I don’t know, Alice, I can’t figure all of this out and be responsible for how you feel about it too.”
“I’m not asking you to do everything!” She could feel her pulse speeding but fuck if she could calm down. “I’m asking you to let me be your partner. We were both just taking care of each other, and we’re better for it.”
“Yes, we had sex. It was a lovely diversion. But now there is the reality of this situation—a terrifying, complicated reality that is scarier than a night in jail, scarier than Operation Eternal Flame, scarier than—”
Alice reared back like he had slapped her. “Ok, homeboy, you can pump those fuckin’ breaks. In fact, I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt and say you didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I was upset about Operation Eternal Flame because it was a lot to take in.” She jabbed a finger at him. “Also, I thought I was a witch, so hearing that you basically hunted them to the brink of extinction kind of threw me off.”
“It was a war,” he growled, “Not a fucking hunting trip. And it is irrelevant except that it makes you upset, and I am trying, occult as my witness, not to put you through any more trauma.”
“Do you mean like someone killing me? Because that already happened.”
Vlad stared at her, the muscle in his jaw ticking so fast it seemed to flutter. “Yes. I know I was late.”
“And I know I was a mess,” she shouted, “Is that what you want me to say? I fell the fuck apart. But I don’t want you to do everything because you’re afraid—“
“I’m not afraid,” he snapped. Then scrubbed a hand over his face. “I’m irritable, yes, because I don’t want you to worry; I want—“
“WANT MOMMY!” Gwendolyn’s shrieks rattled the whole house, breaking up their argument.
“Damn it.” Alice clenched and unclenched her fist, trying to calm down. “I’ll get her. Just don’t do anything until we talk, alright? My point is that—” she paused as Gwendolyn shrieked again.
Vlad winced and gripped the side of his head as a slow trickle of plasma began leaking from one of his ears.
“Shit! Are you okay?” she whispered, “Let me get a towel.”
Gwendolyn shrieked again, and he winced harder. “No, Alice”—he pulled away from her when she reached out—”I’m fine…just make it stop. Please,” he ground out.
Alice dashed downstairs, got Gwendolyn fed, and calmed. If her new look upset the Tiny Terror, she didn’t show it. Gwendolyn merely waved and blew her kisses while Latimer carried her down the hall. Grateful for his help, Alice gave him a thumbs up and then took the stairs two at a time but skidded to a halt when she got to the bedroom.
There would be no talking.
Vlad was spread out on the bed, snoring.