06 Apr It’s Not you, It’s Us
IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S US
© 2021 Leigh Grissom
The Harvest Moon reached its zenith, and the Crow landed on his windowsill, just like he knew it would.
He extended his bloodied hand, the moonlight illuminating the pentacle he’d carved into his palm. The bird squawked as if it understood the gesture.
“Tell her.” he said. “Tell her I’ve renounced the Bargain. Tell her my memory is clouded. Tell her I’m aging. Fast. If she still wants a shot at me, she’d better take it soon. I’m done. Go.”
The Crow fled, leaving him alone with the aching pain in his palm. He thought about bandaging the wound, even icing it to slow the bleeding, but was it necessary?
No one held a grudge quite like her. When she got his message, she’d come, and it would end. Until then, the pain would keep him sharp.
He glanced in the mirror as he paced. Wrinkles, “laugh lines” that no one really found funny, were already forming around his eyes. Streaks of silver crawled through his once dark brown hair, and he wondered if the ladies at the high school would find him “distinguished” now.
He thought crazily about calling the school and leaving a message for the nurse. “Hey, sorry, need a permanent substitute to cover my classes. I’m aging at the rate of a decade an hour and don’t think I’ll be up to teaching again ever. Don’t pick Mr. Leslie. He’s a douchebag. Bye.”
He barked a laugh and looked out the window. She had to have heard the Crow’s message by now. If she picked his last night alive to ignore him…
“Come on, you bitch.” he muttered. “I’m tired. Enough is enough.”
He opened the door. “That was quick.”
She regarded him, her copper eyes showing little emotion. Her blood-red dress matched her lipstick, and he remembered the last time they’d danced—
No. Not now.
She smirked. “You summoned me. Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
He moved away from the door. “You and I both know that’s a myth.”
“Very true, but it makes the mortals feel safer.” She stepped inside. “It’s been much too long, eternal thorn in my side. I thought Crow was kidding when he said you wanted to see me.”
“It’s true. How have you been?”
She snorted. “Oh, save it. You were never good at small talk. What’s your name now?”
“Nice. It sounds very noble.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him. “But I won’t call you that.”
He chuckled. “I know.”
She walked around his living room, taking in what little he had for furniture, and even less for decoration. “Still roughing it, I see. Any hidden weapons I should know about?”
“I was never one for feng shui. And no. I told you in my message I’m done.”
She picked up one of his books and absently leafed through it. “I thought it couldn’t be true, you know. The mighty vampire hunter revoked his Bargain. Relinquished his eternal youth.” She returned the book to the shelf and walked back to him. “Chose to die after all this time.” She touched his face, tracing the lines forming at the corners of his lips. “Mortality doesn’t suit you. Why would you do such a thing?”
He caught her hand in his. “I can’t do this anymore. This needs to end.”
Her ruby lips parted, and the tip of her tongue danced across her fangs. “Oh, it won’t end, my dear. But you really should have called for me sooner. Now you’ll be old forever.”
He breathed in her scent. Sandalwood, with a hint of copper just underneath. Sensual and menacing, just as she was the day they met.
He grinned. Time to argue.
“You couldn’t live with me when we were both mortal. You think I’ll be any less a pain in your ass if you turn me? You sure there’s no other way to punish me for doing what I was told?
Her laughter echoed in the room. Outside, a wolf howled as if in response.
“I don’t believe it! You called me here to kill you!” She placed a hand on his chest and lightly pushed him away. “And you thought I’d do it! You really think I’m that noble?” She whirled away from him and sat down on his couch, wrinkling her nose at the puff of dust that rose to greet her. “Why, after all the blood you’ve shed, did you think I would help you shuffle off this pathetic mortal coil?”
He shrugged. “Wishful thinking.”
“Gods, you are exasperating! At least you still have that ass.” She patted the cushion next to her. “Come, sit. Talk to me. There’s no escape, so we may as well catch up before I make you my slave.”
“As you wish.” He joined her on the couch. “What do you want to know?”
“Tell me about you. What are you in this lifetime?”
“I’m a high school physics teacher.”
She lied. She laughed until tears welled in her eyes. “A teacher. You. And children, no less! Does teaching young ones make up for losing your —”
“Don’t.” he snapped.
She bit her lip. “Oooh, that nerve is still raw. I suppose I can understand. Withdrawn.” She ran her hand along his thigh. “Tell me about the Bargain.”
“He called it a Bargain, but it was really a job offer I couldn’t refuse.” He winced, remembering that day. “The alternative was a lot worse. I had to say yes.”
“Regardless, I didn’t think it could be broken. But here you are, mortal once more. What did it take to cancel it?”
He lifted his bloodied hand. He’d been so focused on her that he’d forgotten it hurt. “This.”
Her pupils dilated, and her expression shifted from amused to hungry. “May I?”
“I’m in no position to deny you.”
She lifted his hand to her lips, and lightly ran the tip of her tongue across the blood pooling in his palm. She shivered, and hungrily licked his hand clean. He closed his eyes, holding back the moan he refused to give her the pleasure of hearing. Maybe being a slave to her bidding might not be so –
No, dammit! Focus!
She sat back and leisurely wiped a drop of his blood from the corner of her mouth. “I always dreamed you’d taste like fine wine. I was right.” She lightly kissed his cheek. “I have missed you.”
She laughed. “Okay, maybe I am still a little mad at you. What happened to … her?”
He scowled. “Can we just talk about us?”
“You’re so touchy in your old age.” She patted his leg, and lazily draped one of her own across his lap. “Withdrawn again. Maybe I should just take you now, so we can leave here and start your eternal damnation early.”
He gave her the little-boy grin he knew drove her mad. “May I have until just before sunrise?”
A sly smile played across her lips. “Why?”
“I haven’t been mortal for a very long time. Give me just a few hours. Please.”
She gazed into his eyes. “Bastard. I never could refuse you. Fine.” She stood. “How long have you lived here?”
“About ten years.”
She walked over to look at some photographs he kept on the mantel. They were all pictures with his students, some at academic events, some of his patented photobombs in the physics lab. He glanced at his palm while she perused his memories. Her saliva had sealed the wound. The scar would remain, but at least the pain had stopped.
She picked up a framed photo of him and the physics team he’d coached the year before. They’d won first place, the first time in the school’s history. The school board had been so grateful that there was talk of naming the lab after him when he retired. He wondered if they would still consider it after he didn’t show up for work on Monday.
“It’s easy to tell how much the students enjoy you. You always were good with children.” She glared at him. “How many of mine have you killed?”
That caught him off guard. “Why ask that now?”
“I need to know.”
“Hundreds of thousands, give or take. I kept telling you to stop turning them.”
She placed the picture back on the mantel. “None of them deserved what you did to them.” She looked over her shoulder at him. “Back in 1775, I heard a legend I didn’t believe for a second. Did you really pretend to be Paul Revere?”
He laughed, remembering the real Paul Revere bound and gagged in his barn. It didn’t take much convincing after he let him go to take the credit and his place in history, especially after showing him the severed head of a vampire. He’d even shared drinks with Revere shortly before he died. Nice guy.
“Yes. Yes I did. Staked fifty that night, including your mate. What was his name? Lionel?”
She stiffened. “So … that was you.”
“Who else would it have been?”
“It’s a shame. I did love him, a little.”
Damn. He’d hoped that would be enough to push her to end him, but it didn’t work. Her expression was still serene, with no hint of the beast waiting just below the surface.
You’re not going to give me a way out…
She turned to him, and her smile chilled and warmed him at the same time. “And yet, you never came for me. Why?”
“You know why.”
“Surely he tried to send you.”
He nodded. “He tried. Many times.”
“What did you tell him?”
He shook his head in mock frustration. “I told him I would. But you were ‘just too difficult to find.’”
She laughed and sat down beside him again. “You’re the only one who could ever lie to him and get away with it.” She traced her fingers along his upper arm. “You’ve been working out. Maybe I’ll wait until you’re the right level of ‘silver fox’ to turn you.”
He took her hand and kissed her palm. “Maybe I can do more than just age in front of you.” He wiggled his eyebrows, remembering how it always made her laugh.
She gasped. “Am I hearing things? Flirting? You?” She giggled happily. “What is it you’re proposing, ‘John Gardner?’”
He rolled his eyes. The bitch even made finger quotes sexy. He slid off the couch and knelt in front of her. His knees ached when he did it. Damn, arthritis so soon?
He took her hands in his. “You’re still just as beautiful as I remember.”
She regarded him with a softness he hadn’t seen in a thousand years. “Keep that up, and I might let you remember your real name.”
He took one of her hands and kissed each fingertip. “I did all I could to please you, once. I didn’t know enough. I wasn’t man enough. Will you let me try one last time?”
Her eyes darkened, and she licked her lips. “I can’t refuse a dying man’s request. And it’s true … I never could stay mad at you.”
“My Queen.” He stood, ignoring the pain in his hip that echoed his knees, and pulled her to her feet. “I’ve had a lot of time to learn new things.”
“Prove it, Hunter.”
He gently placed a finger under her chin and tilted her head up. “I will, your Highness.” He leaned down and captured her lips with his. She moaned into his kiss, and snaked her arms around his neck as his tongue tangled with hers. He lifted her up and she wrapped her legs around his waist.
“Is that a yes?” he whispered in her ear.
“Gods … yes. Show me what you’ve learned.”
He carried her down the hall to his bed and laid her across it. He stood back, admiring her body. “My beautiful queen…”
She raised herself onto her elbows and smiled up at him. “Mmmm … flattery will get you everywhere. Undress for me.”
He obeyed, pulling his T-shirt over his head, and took the time to trace his fingers down his chest. Even his few chest hairs were already gray.
“Skin for skin … your turn.” he told her.
She stood up and turned her back to him. “Some help, vampire killer?”
“As you command.”
He moved her hair and slowly pulled the zipper down. He slipped the crimson dress off her shoulders and kissed his way down the side of her neck. She sighed softly, and let the dress fall to the floor. He reached around and gripped her firm breasts, running his thumbs over her nipples.
“Our time is short, lover.” she said, her voice hoarse with arousal. “Take me.”
He bit down on her ivory shoulder and she moaned with pleasure. He guided her back to the bed and quickly shrugged out of his jeans. “Lie back.”
She pushed herself back on the bed and he gently pushed her legs apart. One touch stole a whimper of need from her. Without thinking, he offered her his wrist.
“Not yet … I want this time to last.”
He smiled. “I have hours, my Queen. I intend to use them.”
She smirked. “Hours? Can you hold out that long?”
Ouch. “Let’s find out.”
She giggled. “I love this new you, ‘John Gardner.’”
He almost forgot himself and took her quickly, the way he did when they were together, before immortality claimed them both. Several deep breaths calmed him, and he willed himself to wait as she writhed under his touch. Moving too quickly, not paying attention to her needs, was the reason she ultimately left him so long ago.
That wouldn’t happen tonight.
He climbed onto the bed and lay next to her, lazily running his tongue over her nipples. His fingers explored her, stroking, touching, lightly scratching, until she whimpered again.
“What went wrong?” she whispered. “How could you have picked her over me?”
He tickled her ribs until she pushed his hand away. “I didn’t pick her, remember? It was arranged. Assembled. And you left me.”
She huffed and rolled her eyes playfully. “Oh, I suppose that’s true. You were a self-absorbed man-beast.”
He kissed her softly. “You’re right. I should have worshipped you like the goddess you are.”
“Ooooh … you called me a goddess! Saying that will make your boss angry.”
He held up his scarred palm. “He isn’t listening now.”
“Sometimes I still miss you.”
He wavered, tempted, but…
No. Time’s up.
Finally, he managed to say, “It’s my fault. I should never have taken the Bargain. I would have died and been out of your hair thousands of years ago.”
She smiled. “Did you just say, ‘It’s not you, it’s me?”
He grinned. “Oh, part of this is your fault, too, your Highness.”
“I guess I was kind of a bitch.”
“I won’t argue that.”
She playfully slapped at his chest. “Jerk. Take me before I take you.”
“As you command.”
He rolled on top of her. Her body tensed with pleasure as he slid inside her slowly, and he knew it had to be now. It didn’t matter that she’d given him until sunrise. He had to do it now, while her guard was down, while his love for her was greater than it had ever been.
We would have made it. We would have lived, grown old, died together … if I’d been a better man.
Now his time was almost over.
He leaned down to kiss her, thrusting deep as he did, pushing her to the edge. She gave in to him, her eyes closed, her hands gripping the headboard of his bed so hard the wood splintered.
He slid his right hand under one of the pillows, almost hoping it wouldn’t be there. But it was.
I’m so sorry…
“I love you!” she cried.
“I love you, too.” He pushed himself up to his knees to get the leverage he needed.
She opened her eyes and saw the stake in his hand. “What – no!”
He drove the stake into her heart, using his weight to drive it all the way through her body. She screamed and fought to pull it free, but it was too late. She looked up at him, her eyes clouded with pain and surrender.
“Adam … how could you?”
He pushed himself off her with rapidly-fading strength. He could feel his body breaking down, crumbling to ash as she lay dying beside him.
“I had to, Lilith. We’ve gone on too long.”
“We could have gone on forever.”
“No we couldn’t, and you know it. The world has to heal from us both.”
“You’ve killed me. You’ve … killed all my children.”
He could feel her blood seeping into the sheets underneath them. No matter. There’d be no sign of either one of them soon.
“He put you up to this, didn’t he?” She felt for his hand. Her grip was weak. “Adam…”
“Nope. This was all me.”
Her laugh was cut off by a gasp of pain. “Bastard … I did love you.”
“I’ll love you always.”
She fell silent. He lay there, watching the ceiling fan spin, and wondered how long his death would take. As his heart slowed, he knew it didn’t matter. He’d done what he had to do. He’d freed her from her darkness.
He’d freed himself from his own.
As the pain finally left him, he hoped, if the whole Heaven thing was real, they would find each other again. Maybe she wouldn’t hate him.
But then again, after the whole apple incident … Adam wasn’t sure he’d be allowed in.