Every End Has A Beginning
Panicked, was a good way to describe the city after the explosion that leveled the Sala Tower. Cutting my therapy appointment short I burst out of the building and rushed into the frenzied chaos of the streets. Sirens wailed as Police vehicles, Fire trucks and ambulances rushed by and I felt like my heart had been carved out of my chest. I wrestled my phone out of my purse and found the no signal sign mocking me as the worst of the worst case scenarios went through my head. There was the slimmest of slim possibilities that both of my lovers had been in the building when the bomb went off. The Sala Corporation controlled all things Vampire in the United States. It was headed by Elizabeta Sala, the cut throat Titian haired goddess who had been Mistress in our region until she was promoted to council.
Her promotion had, unfortunately, been the clarion call for a very old organization called The Sun Cross to come out of hiding. Since last year they had been terrorizing the Vampire community while working in tandem with a handful of old vampires who wanted to go back to the old days. Frankly, as a human I was quite content with vampires not being things that we brushed off as myth. I didn’t understand how they expected to get that anonymity back, it’s kind of hard to put spilled milk back into a bottle. Vampires were out and with social media coupled with the celebrity status most of the older ones had it would be extremely hard to walk things back to the way they were. Regardless the Sun Cross fought it, kidnapping people and preparing for hall out war between humans and vampires—which so far had only been them picking on the more public vampires.
I was caught in the middle of it all. Not vampire and not quite human I lurked in between as something more or less unknown. I was the Seer, which meant I had visions of the future, which was why the explosion was so troubling to me. I hadn’t seen it coming at all.
As I sat on the edge of the planter with my ankles cross I fought through my panic attack as I clutched my purse to my lap. Ms.Manners, as punctual as always in times of crisis reared her ugly head. You should have seen this coming. If they’re dead it’s all your fault.
Knitting my brows, I nervously twisted my engagement ring in a moment of utter helplessness. Drawing a quick deep breath to center myself I peeked at my cellphone again. I was supposed to meet my best friend Leslie at a wholesale club, she wanted to price diapers. At almost five months pregnant she was getting ready to dance Aurora in Sleeping Beauty this weekend. Apparently ballerinas did it all the time, but I still got a little nervous when I saw her en pointe these days. I was sure it was killing her husband more but Tristan wouldn’t say anything. Even though he was the beautiful blonde haired charming Master of the Region who also happened to be the director of The Westley Ballet which was the first fulling preternaturally integrated ballet in the world. Vampires, Werewolves and Humans all danced side by side benefitting from the popularity of Danse du Nuit, the original all vampire Ballet Company. They now took a few werewolves with them and a couple of humans, but they continued to do a handful of all vampire shows every few months. Since the big merger there had been three, and each time the Sun Cross had come out to protest and call for a boycott.
My Fiancé was the headliner for all of those shows. People still paid thousands of dollars to see Aleksi dance. Tristan had actually increased the price of the most expensive tickets after Aleksi gave us a scare by appearing to have died. Seeing him dance up close and personal was considered a status symbol now. Little did they know that they were paying all that money to watch a skilled murderer clear his head. I could have minced words and said predator but no, Aleksi was a murderer. He didn’t hunt for food now he hunted and killed to keep me and the region safe.
After years of being accused by many of being ambitionless, Aleksi proved them all wrong by stepping into the role he seemed made to play, the region’s Enforcer. Aleksi’s pedigree was unquestionable now. Vlad—yes, Dracula himself—had stepped up and acknowledged that not only was he Aleksi’s great grandfather many times removed but he was also his father. The Dynastic intentions of the great Dracula were far reaching and Aleksi was determined to have them stop with all the damage that had already been done.
Glancing at my phone again I frowned at the no signal sign. In the distance somewhere another explosion erupted and it felt like my heart was being squeezed. Lacing my fingers back through my hair I let out a long slow breath as downtown Florence, Oregon started to seem more and more like a warzone as more police passed by.
“Please be safe,” I whispered to nothing as I thought about all of the people in my life who could have been effected by the explosions.
A black car with tinted windows pulled up to the curb and someone opened the door. All I could see was the tattooed hand that held it. I knew the hand oh so well. Nikolai’s body was distinctive. Covered in tattoos and decorative scars no one else had that body. My heart felt a little lighter just knowing that he was safe.
“Autumn!” He called my name and I dashed to the car, slipping in beside him my skirt sliding on the leather forcing me against him.
“Oh, Niki,” I cried, throwing my arms around his hard body as he reached around me to close the door. It calmed part of my soul to know he was safe, that I’d see those amazingly bright eyes again. Stop being an idiot there are more important people to ask about. Your fiancé for one! Miss Manners chided me as I smoothed hand hands across Nikolai’s shoulders. “I-is Aleksi okay?” I stammered all of the progress I had made with my nervousness went up in flames with the Sala Building.
“Yeah, the security team found the bombs doing a sweep this morning.” He sighed, I could feel his anxiety just rolling off of him in waves. That unexplainable connection between us making me hyper aware of the sheer terror he was keeping just under the surface. There was relief there too, but he was trying to be calm for me. If we hadn’t shared that link, I would have never known that he was on the edge of a panic attack.
Leaning against him, I rubbed my forehead against his shoulder. He was dressed like he had come from Class wearing black tights with a baggy red t-shirt that was that same bright and brilliant red that was Aleksi’s color. That vibrant crimson marked us all as his. Nikolai was not only Aleksi’s fledgling, but also his son.
Before Tristan and Leslie’s wedding neither of them knew about the bond they shared, though it was somewhat hard to believe neither of them had any inkling of it. They looked remarkably similar, both had the same amazing eyes almost the same exact shade of cerulean but Nikolai’s eyes were slightly paler. They even had the exact same straight nose that pointed just enough at the tip to wiggle when they spoke.
Their hair was the same shade almost, though when I had met Nikolai his hair was a deep bronze now it was now so dark it was almost black just a shade or two from the color of Aleksi’s. In life Aleksi’s hair had been that same lively color, or so he told me. The only difference between the two of them was that Nikolai’s mouth was smaller and he had a playful smile. Aleksi’s mouth was in a word kissable, his lips were full, succulent and utterly delicious. The thought that I’d never kiss those lips again frightened me.
“I hate this,” I whispered stroking the polished wood on the door panel.
“Aleksi’s fine… he’s at Crimson Hill. He and Tristan went as soon as the bomb was found. Leslie is going to be crushed though, they’re cancelling the run of Sleeping Beauty just to be safe.”
“D-do you have cell service?” I asked gesturing to the slick black phone in his hand. After glancing at it he shook his head.
“No, not since the explosion.”
“Damn.” Sighing I nuzzled against Nikolai’s firm shoulder, he in turn draped his arm across mine tracing idle patterns against the fabric of my shirt.
“It’ll be okay.” Fright had made his accent resurface in full force, usually Nikolai’s was relatively faint, but now he was getting hard to understand. We had been in some horrible situations and it had never been so prominent. There was only one thing that could scare him that much and it made my hands shake so bad that my engagement ring clicked against the wood accent on the arm rest.
“There was a threat against me, w-wasn’t there?”
Nikolai didn’t say anything at first, he swallowed. I watched that Adam’s apple bob in his throat, it spoke as much as words did. The answer was yes.
“We’ll protect you. Nothing will happen to you. I swear it.” His fingers were cold and clammy—he hadn’t fed. He was running late so he didn’t get to feed from me before leaving, clearly he hadn’t fed at all.
“Why won’t this just stop.” I whispered leaning my head against the window. Nikolai’s body was cool enough that he was leeching my warmth. “I don’t want this. I want you and I want Aleksi but… removed from all of this.” Tears threatened. Stop it, you’re going to ruin your makeup. They make you safe, you can’t change what you are. Regardless of your decisions you would have ended up in a similar place. I wiped just under my eyes and sighed heavily.
Nikolai took a soft little breath and picked at his nails. “Unfortunately for both of us, we got involved in the Vampire world at the wrong time. But I don’t think we’d be here or we’d be together if we hadn’t. And I gladly suffer it all to have you in my life.” He looked up at smiled at me and the world slowed to a crawl.
Being the Seer had certain drawbacks. The visions I had often formed on reflective surfaces which usually wasn’t a problem. Time to time however I’d end up with an entire vision in a very inconvenient place if it was a random occurrence—like now. The car we were in was going to crash. I watched the whole thing on Nikolai’s eye as time creeped in slow motion. I clung to him for dear life as time sped up again.
“Aut—” BANG. He curled himself around me as the car careened off the highway and rolled into the ditch. Neither of us wore seat belts so we rattled around in the back seat as shards of glass and metal went everywhere twinkling like stars in the darkness. I shut my eyes as we were thrown around like rag dolls.
The Way We Used to
Pale white hands slid over my stomach right before I was lofted high into the air. Everything from the chaos of the last few months bled away to nothing as we danced. All of the weight of circumstance didn’t exist as my focus was on those precise graceful movements I had been practicing every morning since the Westley and the Sala building explosions. Sweat beaded on the back of my neck in spite of the October chill that still somehow seeped into the building. I was set down and after a few quick fouettes I raised into a shaky arabesque while en pointe.
His hand curled around mine as he slowly walked around me, turning me like that ballerina in every little girl’s jewelry box—only I wasn’t really a ballerina. I looked at myself in the mirror and my partner. Evan never knew how to move with me and there was always a certain tightness that seemed so utterly opposite of the malleable nature of everything else about him. Perhaps it was that I was the reason for the tension that had settled between he and Garrett. Their relationship persisted, but they fought a lot—as in every time I seemed to see them they were screaming at each other.
“Better,” Garrett assessed with a little nod. “You still look like you’re afraid to touch her before the lift.”
Tristan had choreographed a ballet for the Amateur company before the vampires withdrew from society for all intents and purposes. Those explosions heralded a tense capitulation. The Westley ballet was no more, they took up their old mantle of Florence Ballet Theatre and pruned the preternatural from their rosters. You’d think Danse Du Nuit would be no more too, but that wasn’t the case. They performed at Crimson Hill’s Petite Trianon, but the shows were no longer public and Leslie was forced out, but once she finished maternity leave she had an assured place as a Principal with FBT. That capitulation however had only lead to further demands, which they also gave in to. Co-habitation was now not only frowned upon, but punishable. Families were ripped apart more or less and I was left painfully alone. Oh, Nikolai and Aleksi didn’t leave me and I was still engaged but I couldn’t help but to wonder how much longer that would last.
Werewolves, however, didn’t give in like the Vampires. On the contrary they declared open season on all known associates of the Sun Cross and because of it, Florence, Oregon turned into something akin to a warzone, and it had torn my life to bits.
“Autumn?” Evan breathed my name with those pale brows furrowed. My lips turned to a frown.
“I’m sorry.” I shook my head and Evan wrapped his arms around me. Instead of pressing my face to his chest I stared at us in the mirror. He looked so young with that dusting of orangey freckles speckling his nose. I still hadn’t told him about the bound the we shared, but I was starting to think he suspected.
“Don’t be,” he whispered rocking me, savoring the closeness he was so afraid of while dancing. Garrett didn’t clear his throat, and he didn’t make some smart Alec comment.
“Oh, Angel Face!” Garrett sighed his nickname for me as he joined the embrace wrapping his warm around both me and his ginger lover.
They held me like they thought I was crying—I wasn’t. No, I was out of tears for my situation. The fear and loneliness had passed the point of tears long ago. It was a cocoon of numbness that I wrapped myself in now. Because I knew that if I allowed myself to feel everything I’d fall apart. My phone beeped in the corner and I groaned, but I didn’t wriggle out from between the vampire and werewolf.
The governor had declared a state of emergency and there was a strict curfew in effect of nine o’ clock. I had to catch the eight twenty D-line to get home on time, which meant I had to leave essentially at that exact moment.
“I… I have to…” I slipped from between them. “I’m sorry but…”
“Yeah, we know. Want me t—” Garrett started and stopped. “Be safe, Angel Face. Call me when you get in?”
“Y-yeah, sure.” Flashing them both a smile I pulled off my pointe shoes, stuffing them in my bag before slipping on my heavy red pea coat and heading out of the little practice studio in the basement of the Harker theater. I wouldn’t be dancing with Evan come next month, but he had a closer build and height to that of my partner—some guy who had dropped me three times in the last week alone. I was half convinced he was doing it on purpose, but I was far too polite to call him on it.
As I sat on the empty train, thoughts of my similarly empty apartment filled my mind. The Sala Corporation politely suggested that all humans should leave their buildings or sign waivers to the effect that they could not be held liable for damage or destruction of personal property etc. Before Nikolai and I were even out of the hospital Aleksi moved me out of my place and into a tiny apartment just on the edge of downtown. And since my first night out of the hospital I had slept alone.
So I when I reached the door, I anticipated another solitary night when all I wanted to was curl up against Aleksi and awake to the sensation of his fangs sinking into my neck. Just thinking about it made my toes curl in my Uggs. I could almost feel his damp breath against the thud of my pulse as I stood in front of my door with key in hand. The very thought of it made a tremor ride my spine and my keys slip from my fingers to clink against the tile floor.
Drawing a wispy warbled breath, I smoothed my hands over the front of my coat gathering my composure before retrieving the keys from the floor. I paused bent over remembering when Aleksi had been there to snatch them up and open my door. It seemed so long ago now. Back when my life was normal and Vampires were something I only gave a passing thought to when waiting for the bus or train after dark.
Standing back up I stared at my door for a time, what was I going home to? Tea and sleep. I raised on to my toes, my feet and calves ached a bit. And a bath. Now stop lingering in the hall and open the damned door like you have some semblance of sense. Swallowing I hastily did as Miss Manners instructed.
Once inside, a hand was quickly closed over my mouth and I was forced back against the door making the wood rattle in the frame as a body pressed to mine and fangs found my pulse. There was a moment of panic that quickly melted away as the vampire’s hand moved from my mouth to lace his fingers with mine as he fed. As always my knees went weak as I trembled against Aleksi and the familiar pain laced with pleasure of his feeding.
“I’ve never been good with following orders when told to stay away from you,” he whispered to my throat between lazy laps of his tongue as he tapered off. I remained quiet, I couldn’t quite find my voice as he stared down at me with those unbelievably blue eyes. My mind was too preoccupied thinking of that last time he had defied orders because he had to be around me. Last time we found ourselves viciously ripped apart because of it. This time was different though, I was his official servant. These circumstances aren’t like before either, official servants usually live with their vampires. Does Aleksi live here? No. Do you live with Aleksi? No. Miss Manner’s astute observation of the current situation made my lips turn in a frown which was quickly kissed away by Aleksi. I could taste my blood on his lips as he kissed me deep and hard making me light headed, and causing me to gasp when he finally deigned to break it.
“Tristan thinks we should send our servants away. He proposed it to Elders and the Patriarchs and Matriarch a few hours ago. Said it would be safer.” He stepped from me, letting me tremble from far enough away to take in my quaking form. “No one is taking you from me again.”
“Didn’t council hand down the judgement that the vampires were supposed to stop cohabitation?” You’re rehashing the obvious.
“Mhm. Come to the bedroom.” Just like that he disappeared down the small hall, leaving me to stand there in front of door and stare at him. I glanced down at my engagement ring and twisted the smooth, jewel encrusted metal for a moment before stripping out of my coat and following as ordered.
As I walked into the bedroom I started to say something, but words and thought fell away as I crossed the threshold and found Aleksi already naked and waiting for me. Staring at him nude, as always, made my mouth dry. He was well proportioned, his perfect near fatless body looked more like a diagram of a dancer than something flesh and blood with every muscle group well defined. His skin was so startlingly pale in moonlight even with the fresh feeding, and he still looked like someone in their early twenties, his handsome face lineless and beautiful. His lips seemed so dark against the starkness of his skin, fresh feedings always made him look like something utterly ethereal. The nudity wasn’t about sex; it was something he did casually when we were alone. Possibly because he knew the effect his body had on me and Miss Manners.
“Kolenka sends his love,” Aleksi mentioned almost in passing as he approached me and peeled the tank top from my body. Aleksi hadn’t called Nikolai by his name or even the nickname he preferred since he had awoken. Truthfully he hadn’t even been himself since then, but I didn’t really expect him to be. It was silly to think that someone wouldn’t be changed by a near death experience. He slid his hands under the waist band of my leggings and pulled them down. It might not have been about sex to him, but I was quivering fiercely as he stripped me bare. My teeth set into my bottom lip as he traced his hands over my nude body and pulled me back against him trapping me with his arms. “We’ll take a bath and then sleep.”
“O-okay,” I breathed as he placed a quick kiss over the bite from earlier and released me to walk into the bathroom. I followed him submissively, I was often able to anticipate what he wanted without him having to speak a word of it.
“Earlier I was thinking about when the Sala building went up,” he spoke as he sat on the edge of the bathtub testing the water. Aleksi had picked out my apartment so needless to say it was an architectural wet dream. The bathroom had a shower big enough for three as well as a massive tub that seemed to dominate most of the room. Everything was black marble, chrome and glass. Very modern in its simplicity and very monochromatic. “You’re all that matters to me, Autumn. And anyone who tries to come between us deserves exactly what they get.”
“You found the person who hit us?”
“Mhm,” he clipped out, his voice tense I could have read more into that little grunt but I didn’t, instead I nodded. He avenged you. He might have, but I didn’t want to hear the gory details, I had enough of those in my visions. “I ripped his throat out and left his body in front of that church the Sun Cross operates out of.” He turned off the water and slipped into the tub. I followed him, relaxing back against his body, pressing my cheek to his chest. “I’m done with playing nice, Autumn. Fuck Council, and Fuck the Sun Cross. They haven’t the slightest inkling who they’re screwing with and I believe it’s time to show them.” The anger that bubbled just below Aleksi’s placid exterior as he spoke made Miss Manners giddy, but terrified me to no end. I had seen what Vlad was capable of and something told me Aleksi was just as terrifying as his father if not more so.
“I…” I quieted myself and he shifted behind me, kissing my shoulder.
“I won’t let anything happen to you,” he whispered to my hair.
I wanted to point out everything that had already happened but instead I said, “I’m worried.”
He fell silent for a time and brushed his lips against my neck, his tongue lapping lazily at the bite that had already scabbed over. Every pass of that deft oral digit made me shake as he caressed that spot that made my toes curl. “Leslie is going to stay with family until the baby comes. Do you think you’d be safer with her? I can’t pretend to understand what it would be like to be mortal in a situation like this. We share two marks but you’re still so fragile. Leslie has all four and she’s still leaving.”
“I’ll stay.” I glanced back at him. “I just…” Shaking my head I looked down at the bright red polish on my nails. “This is scary.”
“We could publicly sever ties.”
“But…” I trailed off and looked at the ring I had left on.
“Only publicly. In private you’d still be mine, but to everyone else—including Evan, Garrett and even Tristan and Leslie—we’d be over.”
“And Niki?” Stupid question.
“I’d imagine he’d figure it out when he saw my bite at your throat. So yes, he’d be the only one who’d know.”
“But your color?”
“Your continued public relationship with Kolenka will be explanation enough for most vampires. The Sun Cross won’t care. You will be slightly safer for it but you’d be safer still if you left the region with Leslie.”
“I love my friend, but…” I fell silent again, slipping into that trap that seemed to dictate my life. I still had issues with making decisions like this. Aleksi wasn’t giving me anything on the matter really. He could have commanded me to stay but he didn’t. He held me, caressing my arms as we tried to relax together. There was no sound, other than the lazy sloshing of the water against the sides of the tub with every slight motion we made. “I want to stay.” Wrong answer. This is dangerous, him being here is dangerous.
“Good, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
The rest of the night was calm and not at all what I thought it’d be. We spoke a bit about banal things, the upcoming productions we were both going to be in and the defense of my dissertation which was a few months away. Afterward, we fell asleep in each other’s arms and I got my first good night’s sleep in months.