Lillian had shot to Ben in the blink of an eye. His arms had wrapped around her like he could actually protect her. Gabriel and Ezra were closest to the hallway. They both looked at each other, to the hallway, then Ezra lifted his hand in a ‘wait there’ motion, before stepping out of the room like he was about to sacrifice his life for the good of his country. Gabriel wanted to roll his eyes but a bigger part of him was thankful the older vampire had taken charge. After hearing about the curfew, all he could think about was the way humans treated anything ‘other’ in almost every sci-fi movie. Was this the moment right before the three of them were dosed with drugs to knock them out, only for them to wake up strapped to a hospital bed, hooked up to a bunch of machines and tubes?
He heard the door open and he stared at the wall, as if he’d be able to look through it by sheer force of will.
“Oh hey,” he heard Ezra say in a conversational tone, not exactly fit for being confronted by a load of suited up muscle with guns.
“Hi Ezra, is Gabriel home?” replied a familiar voice.
Gabriel looked back to Lillian and Ben. The two of them had loosened their hold on each other. When he turned back round, Becca entered the room with Ezra at her back.
She smiled at Gabriel then paused and looked around. “Have I come at a bad time?”
Gabriel looked back. Lillian grabbed Ben and pulled him towards the door, smiling the whole time. “We’ll give you two some privacy.” On the way out, she pushed Ezra along as well.
When it was just the two of them in the living room, Gabriel hooked his thumbs in his belt loops in an attempt to look casual. “So, what are you doing here?”
Becca tucked a long strand of hair behind her ear. “My plan was to stay away but with everything going on and knowing what you are-” she winced, “I have questions. Like, a lot of questions. And I would really appreciate if you gave me some answers. I just- I need to know what we’re dealing with.”
Gabriel nodded. “Understandable. I can give you all the answers you need.” He gestured to the sofa. “Can I make you a drink?”
She sank down onto the edge of the sofa, her posture stiff but a thin smile on her lips. “Got anything besides blood?”
He returned her smile. “We have tea, thanks to Ben.”
She nodded. “A cup of tea would be lovely. Milky. Two sugars.”
Just how your grandfather has it.
Gabriel calmed himself as he made the brew, focusing solely on the matter at hand. Becca was here. Becca had come here to see him. To talk about vampire stuff. She had come to him. After the way his kind was being portrayed in the media, he had figured she’d be terrified of him. Yet she was currently sitting on his sofa and he was making her a cup of tea. Even when they had dated, she had never come to his place. With Lillian being a new-born, it wasn’t fair to make her hide her nature in her own home so they never had visitors, besides Ben.
Becca’s eyes flew to him when he returned. She was still sitting in the exact same position, her hands clutched together tightly on her lap, her dress smoothed over her knees. The mug trembled when she took it. Gabriel dropped a coaster on the wooden floor by her feet and she seemed grateful to be able to place down her drink.
He took the opposite sofa, sitting as far from her as he could. By the nervous energy she was filling the room with, he felt like it was the best option.
She looked around the simply decorated room. The real fireplace. The leafy wallpaper. Lillian’s collection of jade turtles.
“Your house is so… normal,” she commented.
Gabriel’s lips quirked up. “Not what you were expecting?”
She shrugged. “You were always so adamant that we stayed at mine.”
“I just needed to make sure I left before sunrise. Not that I wanted to.”
Their eyes locked. The way they had back at her grandfather’s house. Like there was still something between them. “I hated that. It made me feel used.”
He gulped. “I’m sorry.”
She held his gaze for a moment, then cleared her throat and picked up her mug. “So, I have questions.”
Gabriel leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “Of course.”
She sipped, her eyes looking faraway, thinking. “How old are you?”
“A hundred and forty-five.”
A small noise left her mouth, something between a gasp and an oh. She rested the mug on her lap, both hands circling it. “I’ve slept with someone twice my grandad’s age.”
Gabriel couldn’t help but smile. “I was Turned when I was thirty-five. So, really, I’ve just been thirty-five for a very long time.”
“I don’t know if that’s better.”
Her brows furrowed. “Can you turn into a bat?”
Someone’s read Dracula. “No.”
“Any sort of animal?”
She looked around the room as she delved into her mind. “Can you fly?”
“Unfortunately, no. But we can run fast.”
Her eyebrow quirked up at him.
“I know that sounds lame. But, I mean, we can run exceptionally fast. Like, if we weren’t trying to blend in, we’d have no need for a car.”
“Do you have a reflection?”
She nodded. “I think I would have noticed if you didn’t. And I know you can have pictures taken.”
Yes, because they used to take photos of themselves together. And she would take candid shots of him because she liked to preserve memories.
“Do you need to be invited into places to enter?”
“Only places of residence. And it doesn’t have to be by the owner.”
Gabriel shrugged. “I’m not sure. I’m not sure about anything, really. I think maybe it’s something to do with vampire being linked to the Devil, and they say that the Devil needs to be invited into a body- a life, to possess it. That’s the only correlation I can think of.”
Becca’s face blanched at the mention of the Devil and Gabriel instantly regretted getting too comfortable with this topic.
“We’re not evil,” he rushed, making the whole thing sound ten times worse. He needed to stop saying that to her, but it seemed to be becoming a reflex.
She shuffled on the sofa and looked down at her tea. “Do you have fangs?”
He nodded but she wasn’t looking. After a moment, her eyes found his and his voice came out raspy when he said, “yes.”
“How come I haven’t seen them? Haven’t felt them?”
“We can retract them.”
“Do your eyes do that… thing. Do they go all black like in those videos?”
He nodded. “Only when I’m really hungry and I smell blood. But I have a good diet so it doesn’t really happen to me. Not anymore.”
“Can I see?”
Gabriel gulped; his insides suddenly cold. He shook his head. “I can’t do it on command and I would never want to be in that state around you.”
“What about your fangs? Can I see them?”
“Why?” He hadn’t meant for the word to come out so harsh. He suddenly felt very defensive. Like he was some sort of freakshow entertainment.
Her eyes widened a fraction, but then her shoulders sagged. “I just- I felt like I knew you. And now with all of this new information, I feel like I’ve lost you. I just want to know you again.”
Gabriel’s jaw clenched, and he inwardly chastised himself for thinking anything negatively towards this amazing woman.
“You do know me,” he said.
“I want to understand you.”
He nodded, reluctancy making the movement stiff, and he gestured her over to his sofa. She placed her mug back on the coaster and sank down onto the cushion beside him. Her face was so close to his now. The freckles on the bridge of her nose looked like a sprinkling of brown sugar. He could hear her heartbeat, quick with fear.
“Are you sure you want to see?”
She nodded and placed her hand on his thigh. The warmth of her touch seeped into his bones.
Without another word, he parted his lips and willed his fangs to unsheathe. Their click rang out across the room, impossibly loud. At the sight of them, Becca’s hand pulled away. Gabriel closed his mouth, the tips of his fangs pressing against his lower lip. Her eyes dropped to his chest. He looked to the wall, his fangs receding back into his gums.
He could feel her next to him; her body heat, her shallow breaths, her racing heart. But he couldn’t look. He couldn’t see that terror alight in her eyes.
Finally, she said, “Did you use them on my grandad? Did you bite him?”
He dared to look back. She looked sad now, and she had noticeably moved further down the sofa.
“No,” he said, “I used a needle. In his arm. I told him I needed a blood sample.”
“Why has he never told me about it?”
“Because I compelled him to forget.”
Confusion creased her forehead. Gabriel chewed on his tongue. He really didn’t want to talk to her about compulsion, it was such messy topic. But he’d told her he’d give her answers, and he was a man of his word.
“Vampires can compel humans. We can make them forget things and manipulate what you see or feel,” he explained. Becca crossed her arms over her stomach, an unconscious reflex from feeling exposed. “I can only take away a few minutes, maybe a specific memory if it’s not too engrained into the person’s being,” he added, not knowing if he was making things better or worse. “Ancients can do more. They can wipe away whole years, whole chunks of a person’s life.”
“Ancients?” Her voice was barely a whisper now. Clearly this was far too much information to receive at once.
“Very old vampires.”
She slouched to the back of the sofa. Her eyes flickered to the closed door. “Ezra and Lillian, are they ancients?”
He shook his head. “Ezra likes to think he is, but no.”
“Did you ever compel me?” When her eyes met his, tears shone in them.
Gabriel’s throat tightened. He shook his head. But when a tear fell down her freckled cheek, he added. “Never. I would never do that to you. I promise you that.” He reached for her and she let him take her hand. “I am answering every question you ask me. If I ever even thought that compelling you was an option, you wouldn’t be here right now. I would have compelled you back in the church when you saw Lillian get burned. I would have made you forget there and then. But I would never do that to you.” He was shaking. His voice was coming out wet like he, too, was on the verge of tears.
Her eyes were locked onto his, so impossibly green and beautiful. Her lips were trembling but she didn’t look away. She wanted to believe him; he could tell.
“I compelled Julian just enough so he didn’t remember the pain, that’s it. I promise,” he added, needing her to believe him.
Her eyes searched his. Tears gathered on her lashes. He just watched her watching him, trying to be as open to her as he possibly could. He wasn’t hiding anything, not anymore. It was so freeing and so terrifying.
“Should I be scared?” she finally asked.
“Of me? Never.” He looked down at her hand in his, so pale and fragile, and he knew he would never so much as leave a bruise on her skin for as long as he lived.
“What about the others? The ones on the internet? The ones with the eyes.”
“The three of us are the only vampires in Hicklesbury. So as long as you’re here, you’re safe. And those vampires on film, they won’t be around for much longer.”
“What do you mean?”
He released her hand and returned to his elbows on knees position beside her. “Vampires have a strict code to not do anything to expose our secret. So, vamps going around attacking humans in places where they will be caught on camera-” He tsked, “They will be taken care of.”
“You mean killed?”
She gulped, paling. “By who?”
He shrugged. “Other, more dedicated vampires.” Like Ezra’s blood family.
She thought about this for a moment. “But what about now? Now that, well, the secret is out.”
“That’s a good question.” He locked eyes with her. “And it’s one I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to.” But I fear it won’t be good.
They both fell into a thick silence. Becca’s eyes were chasing her milling thoughts around the floor as Gabriel wrestled with his own unsettling uneasiness. But he couldn’t think about the uncertain road ahead right now. Becca was by his side and there were still so many unsaid things between them.
“I’m sorry,” he rasped. The two words so heavy between them. “I’m sorry for everything. For leaving you alone in the mornings. For constantly going to the bathroom when we went out for meals, but you have to know that everything I ate when we were together would just come right back up.”
She laughed at that. It was small, and she tried to hide it by chewing on her lip, but the joy was back in her eyes – even if it was just for a second.
“I’m sorry I was never one of those boyfriends that surprised you at work with, I don’t know, a box of cookies.” She smiled and he smiled back, laughing at himself. “All of my knowledge on twenty-first century relationships has come from watching sitcoms, if you haven’t already noticed.”
He dropped his chin on his knuckles, gazing up at her. “I was never meant to fall for you. I’ve been so good. I usually keep my distance, never get too involved with humans. But with you, I just couldn’t help it. I tried. I really did.”
Her cheeks flushed and she averted her eyes. “Well, I mean, we did see each other almost every night. It was just a proximity thing. I was-” She shrugged, “there.”
“No.” The word was so delicate from his lips but it startled her. Her wide eyes found him. “You are incredible, Becca. You’re so caring and loving and strong.” She laughed, shaking her head. He took her hand once more, and slid across the sofa so their knees touched. “The way you took it upon yourself to take care of Julian after your Mum disowned him, you didn’t even know him growing up, you owe him nothing. Yet you found him, you built a relationship with him, and he loves you so much.”
She smiled and tucked her hair behind her ear. “I mean, he may have been a bad dad to my mum but he never did anything bad to me. I’m just doing what any granddaughter would do.”
Gabriel shook his head. “You don’t give yourself enough credit. You amaze me.”
She took her hand from his and hugged herself, clearly not used to being so heavily complimented.
“It’s not like I did it all by myself. I had you, and Claudia.”
She peered at him. He gazed back at her. And for a moment, everything was simple. He liked her, she liked him. They were so close now. He saw himself cupping her cheek and kissing her like he used to. She’d melt in his arms for a moment before grabbing him back and holding him close.
But the truth was out there now. It had simultaneously brought them closer and pulled them apart.
“I’d better go.” She got to her feet and Gabriel was quick to follow.
“Are you sure you don’t have any more questions?”
She laughed lightly. “Oh, only like a thousand more. But that’ll do for now. And with the curfew starting soon, I’d better be home.”
“It’s not started now?”
He followed her into the hallway.
“No, it starts Sunday officially, but with everything going on, I don’t want people talking.”
Gabriel nodded, understanding. If everyone else was locked and bolted behind their doors, Becca walking around alone at night would sure have some net curtains twitching.
“How is he, by the way, your grandfather?” he asked.
“He misses you.” She smiled sadly.
He missed him, too. That old man never failed to make him laugh.
“What did you tell him?”
She shrugged. “I said you got a different job.” She rubbed the back off her neck and winced. “I hate lying to him.”
“Who’s looking after him now?”
“He’s got another care nurse. Paul something. He seems nice. Grandad hasn’t complained about him- yet.”
Gabriel smirked. “I’m glad he’s doing okay.”
They both said their goodbyes, not holding eye contact long enough to want to make it linger, and he watched her from the door until she was out of sight.
When he closed the front door and turned, Ezra appeared from the kitchen with a smug look on his face.
“Were you listening the whole time?”
Ezra shrugged. “I was in the kitchen, not my fault I have exceptional hearing.”
Gabriel moved to head back into the living room but the other vampire blocked his way. “So, you told her everything, huh?”
Gabriel’s gut twisted. “I had to.” And here comes the tongue lashing.
“I get it.” Gabriel blinked in shock, to which Ezra shrugged. “I’m not saying it’s gonna be easy for you two but, she’s clearly into you. I mean, she willingly came into a house full of vamps. And with everything going on right now, we need as many humans on our side as we can get.”
Gabriel’s eyebrow quirked up, unconvinced. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. And I did a background check on her back when you were going out anyway so she’s fine.”
“You did what?”
Ezra seemed offended by Gabriel’s outrage. “Just to check she wasn’t some secret government spy trying to infiltrate us. And she’s not, so no need to worry.” He smiled. “Did you know she made her money as a teen breeding ferrets?”
Gabriel pulled a face.
“That was also my reaction.”
Gabriel shook his head, trying to rid his mind of this conversation. “If you think we need more human allies, does that mean you’re going to ease up on Ben?”
“Our lives may be in imminent danger but he still wears socks with sandals. We really need to think about the types of people we want on our side.”
Gabriel laughed, shaking his head. Ezra spun around on the banister like it were a dancing pole, before heading up the stairs. “I shall bid you adieu, laundry calls. And then I’ve got to get ready for work.” He paused on the fourth step. “Do I even go to work with this curfew thing going on?”
“Apparently it’s not starting until Sunday. I guess it’s your call.”
Ezra pulled a face. “That makes no sense.”
Ezra continued up the stairs. “Curiouser and curiouser.”