It’s only when his fangs scrape against my tongue that the reality of Nathan’s transformation truly hits me. When coppery blood fills the kiss, we both pull back. Nathan extracts himself with a gasp and steps back a few feet, looking at me warily, like I’m the vampire.
I swallow. My mouth tastes like blood.
“Liam,” Nathan says my name, his voice shaky. He looks like he’s ready to bolt, and I can’t have that, not now that I have him back.
“You’re alive,” I say again. I’ve said it ten times, but I can’t quite get it through my head. I’d held out hope, of course–there was no body, and while vampires aren’t known for leaving bodies behind, I’d wanted to believe–but even Nathan’s parents had accepted he was dead. They buried an empty coffin and everything.
Nathan doesn’t move. His brown eyes are colder than they used to be.
“This is an interesting place.” I gesture to the clearing with the dilapidated church and its forgotten little cemetery. The full moon casts a soft blue light that reflects off the headstones. The dead tug at my awareness, trying to pull my attention. I ignore them. When he first appeared, I was afraid Nathan was a ghost, too, just another spirit reaching out to me. I don’t love that he’s a vampire, but as far as dead boyfriends go, a corporeal body is a plus.
“I didn’t want to meet in public,” he says. “I tend to scare people.” His face softens and he looks sheepish, like Old Nathan, the boy who sat in a dusty bookstore studying the arcane because he lacked any power to be part of it. He was a fool for wanting to be and sometimes, fools get their wishes.
“You don’t scare me.”
“I can hear your rapid heartbeat,” he says.
“That’s not fear.” I’m scared of vampires on principle, but it’s hard to fear Nathan, even this new version of him with his hair neatly styled and his icy touch. He’s still gorgeous, with high cheekbones and dark skin that the vampirism has paled, though not to the bone-white of Caucasian vampires. It makes him look like a living sculpture in muted tones. His clothes are his usual style–slacks, vest, collared shirt–but they’re no longer worn and frayed.
“I only came here to say goodbye.”
I shake my head. “Don’t give me any of that ‘I’m a monster now; I’m incapable of love’ crap.”
“You have no idea what it’s like.”
“Then tell me.” I close the distance between us and put my hand on his shoulder. When he doesn’t shrug me off, I run my fingers down the soft fabric of his sleeve and take his hand in mine. It’s cold but he squeezes back before pulling away.
“I’m always hungry.” He keeps his fangs concealed as best he can but the words send a shiver through me. “And I’m always aware of the life around me. It’s like television static I can’t turn off.”
“I know the feeling,” I say. Even now, the ghosts who roam this little cemetery call out to me, a constant buzz of whispers and pleas.
Nathan flinches, realizing where he called me to. “I didn’t even think…”
“It’s okay. I would have gone anywhere for the chance to see you again.” He smiles faintly and the fangs poke out. “I thought I’d lost you.” A small lump forms in the back of my throat.
“That’s why I arranged this meeting. You had a right to know.” He sighs. “You’re the only one I can tell.”
I trace his jaw with my fingers. “I’ve missed you.”
I kiss him again. He doesn’t part his lips at first, but then he kisses me with equal passion, sliding his arms around my back. The fangs cut my tongue again and Nathan jerks, but I hold him steady, urging him not to pull away. His arms tighten around me. I tug at his shirt until it comes untucked. His lips trail down my jaw and then land at my throat.
He goes still. I don’t move. The hair on the back of my neck stands up.
Nathan’s lips trail up over my cheek and land at my ear. “You should run now.” His breath is hot and his voice is low, full of desire. I should probably do what he says. Instead, I gently extract myself, pushing him a few inches away, and even that takes all of my will power.
“I’m never going to run from you.” I’m shaking. I feel unhinged, desperate not to lose him again.
“Don’t be stupid,” Nathan says. “The Assemblage will–”
“Screw the Assemblage.” My tone is vicious. I’m technically a ward of the Assemblage until I turn eighteen, but that doesn’t mean that they own me. “I love you.”
Nathan looks stricken. “You loved me. That boy is gone, Liam.”
I roll my eyes. “Just because you’re a vampire doesn’t mean you have to be so melodramatic.”
“The other vampires don’t want me getting close to mortals. Especially ones I used to know.”
“Well, sucks for them.” I smile at the bad pun. Nathan doesn’t.
“They’re dangerous. If they find out I’m spending time with my ex-boyfriend, they’ll kill you just to teach me a lesson.”
“There’s no ‘ex.’” I point myself. “Boyfriend. As in, currently.”
“You thought I was dead.”
“But I never stopped loving you.”
Nathan exhales deliberately and puts his hands in his pockets. “I stopped loving everything.”
My insides churn. I start to protest, but a woman’s ghost appears at the corner of my eye. “Not now,” I hiss at her. The ghost vanishes in a huff and I clench my fists.
“See?” I demand, even though Nathan can’t actually see the ghosts any better than most mortals. “I’m already up to my neck in the weird world of the dead. What difference would a vampire boyfriend make? And don’t tell me no vampires do it. There’s that Alric guy.”
“He’s over five hundred years old. He can control himself.”
“So can you. You’re a control freak.”
Nathan smiles faintly. “That’s not the same thing.”
“You won’t hurt me,” I say, like insisting will make it true.
“In twenty years, when I have more control, it might work. But right now, it’s too dangerous.”
“In twenty years, I’ll be thirty-seven and you’ll still look seventeen.”
“That’s another strike against us.”
I tug at my red hair and make a frustrated noise. The ghost voices get louder. I shout for them to shut up and Nathan–patient, understanding Nathan–doesn’t react to me shouting at empty air. He knows what the dead demand of me.
“Nathan.” It’s a plea in the shape of his name.
I kiss him. He pulls me close, and I think I’ve won, that finally he understands. I run my hands beneath his vest and over the thin cotton of his shirt. He tugs at the waistband of my jeans, a growl rumbling in his chest. I help him shrug off the vest. As we kiss, we stumble backward until we reach the ruined church. He spins me around, pushing my back against the rough, crumbling brick. He kisses my chin and mouth, yanking my sweatshirt over my head. He discards it in the dewy grass.
I pull his cool body against my burning skin. I rake my fingernails down his back. His mouth moves over my shoulders. I’m focused on unbuttoning his shirt when the fangs pierce my throat.
It’s like hot needles jammed into my veins. I gasp and let out a small cry. Nathan stills, his mouth frozen on my neck. Warm wetness trickles down my collar bone. I skim my hand over his sides, encouraging. “It’s okay,” I whisper, hoping I’m that right.
Nathan unfreezes, his lips move rhythmically over the wound, his hands holding me fast. My heart slams into my ribs. It shouldn’t feel good but it does, because I haven’t lost him. I’m no longer staring into the void of a life without him.
He finally tears himself away, panting even though vampires don’t need to breathe. He wipes my blood from his lips with the back of his hand, his eyes never leaving me.
I grab his arm. He hesitates, eyes flicking to the wound, but I lock my lips to his before he can argue. His mouth tastes like blood but I need him to understand it doesn’t freak me out. I still need him.
When we break apart he whispers, “You idiot.” He steps backward, picking up his vest and buttoning it up over his mussed shirt, not bothering to tuck it back in. Now he looks as rumpled as the Old Nathan. He touches the wound on my neck with a single finger. It’s already healing, thanks to the powers of vampire saliva. He swallows, making an effort to hold himself together. “That was stupid.”
“It was hot,” I say, smiling at him. From the way he’s looking at me, resigned and exasperated, I know I’ve won. “Admit it.”
“I could have killed you,” he says. “This death wish devil-may-care attitude is way less attractive after what I’ve been through.”
“I don’t have a death wish,” I snap. “I know how miserable the dead are.”
“Then you probably shouldn’t throw yourself at vampires.”
“You’re not dangerous. Not to me.” He doesn’t look so sure, but I am now. “I have work to do here,” I continue, indicating the gravestones. “Should you need to find me. Like, this same time next week, for example.”
“If anyone finds out…” His gaze lingers on the bite mark on my throat.
“No one will. The Assemblage thinks you’re dead.”
After a long moment, he says, “We’ll see.” And then, in a blur of motion, he’s gone.
I pull my sweatshirt back on, though it’s damp and I’m too hot. My head aches. I probably need juice and a cookie. But there aren’t vending machines in the middle of the woods so I settle for deep breathes of damp, earthy air. I step over the dilapidated little fence into the cemetery and sit on a disintegrating stone bench.
“Okay,” I say to the dead. “Who’s first?”
Stay tuned for extra content this week from Jen. Return next Monday for Audrey’s answer to this prompt.