When Gabrielle roused completely again, the pain was still there, but the smallest involuntary movement quickly proved that her body was bound tight. She cracked an eye open and when her vision adjusted she could see that it wasn’t ropes that bound her as she had first thought.
Her chest, right arm and left thigh were bandaged, the cloth tinted red in places. The sheet tucked tight under her that prevented her from rolling to her side was also, faintly, stained in blood. Recognition struck, and she looked around. Not only her sheets, but her bed, her bedroom, her home.
It was only a modest house, deep in the forest, that she had found by accident while traveling one night. Its previous occupants had probably been chased off by demons. There were only two rooms to it, the bedroom and the common room, and a small barn outside. She never lit the fireplace, unwilling to give herself away with smoke.
When she had kept a horse, she had used the well outside to water the animal; now, she only used the water to clean herself after hunts. After living for more than three centuries in a proper lair, the change had been abrupt, and appropriately humbling.
But how had she ended here? Had she been weak again and fled in front of the sunrise? No, it couldn’t be that, she couldn’t have taken care of her wounds like this, nor could she have reached the house in time before the sun had appeared.
She tried to sit up, but flares of pain in her body quickly made it clear that it was a bad idea. More blood seeped into the sheet, and she watched the growing red circle as she tried to remember.
She had gone out. Ready to put an end to it all. And found exactly the kind of attention she had sought, her current state was proof enough of that. But then… What had happened?
A flash ran through her mind, an angry storm of gray, and the memory was back. Erik. The younger vampire was the reason she wasn’t dust. She remembered, now, episodic and broken pieces of the trip home, Erik’s silence even as Gabrielle had pleaded to be left alone, the pain of the bones being set and bound, a wrist pressed to her mouth…
She could still recognize the taste on her tongue, which meant that it hadn’t been so long ago. And yet, there was no trace of the other vampire.
“Erik?” she called out, not bothering to make her voice loud, knowing that Erik would hear her if he was in the common room.
There was no answer. She repeated the name, annoyed now, with the same lack of result. Grinding her teeth, she once again struggled to sit up. She could tell that it was night; she must have slept the whole day. If she was going to heal, she needed to go hunt for more blood. If she wasn’t, she still needed to get outside, to find a clearing to wait for sunrise.
She wasn’t sure yet what her destination was; she would figure it out on the way. But she hadn’t even reached the bedroom’s threshold when her legs gave out under her, and she fell, face first, crying out in pain when she caught herself on her injured arm. She fought to stop her instinctive and so-painful breathing, and within seconds, she was staring at a pair of soft leather boots.
“What are you trying to do?” Erik demanded harshly. “Paint the floor with your blood?”
Erik seemed almost brusque as he picked her up and carried her back to bed, but she barely felt a twinge of pain as he did, proof if need be that his lack of gentleness was nothing more than a façade. Gabrielle stared at him as he took a couple of steps back, her eyes attracted despite herself to his bare chest, and in turn he stared back at her.
Many times, in the last centuries, she had wondered if her Childe was still in the world or if he had found peace yet. Many times she had missed him. Many times she had regretted the way they had parted after what should have been the greatest accomplishment of their clan. Regretted, also, the way she had left the younger vampire without a goodbye. It was good to see him, but it was almost frightening to see how cold his eyes had become.
“Hungry?” Erik asked.
Gabrielle nodded, unable yet to articulate a word. It was her Childe in front of her, a man with whom she had lived and shared a bed for more than a century. But at the same time, with each unfeeling word, each cold look, she realized she was in the presence of a stranger.
“Going to get yourself dusted as soon as you’re good enough to walk out of here? ‘Cause if you’re going to, there’s no sense in wasting good blood on you.”
The contempt in that voice was painful, but the smallest bit of anger belied it, and Gabrielle felt a trace of relief. If Erik was angry that she had tried to find her final rest, if he had saved her, brought her here, then that meant he still cared about her.
They hadn’t been on the best terms before the battle; Erik had argued every time Gabrielle had been close enough to hear that the risk wasn’t worth the reward, that they ought to contact other clans to organize their defenses against the demons rather than try something so dangerous by themselves. He had even suggested teaching humans how to defend themselves.
Gabrielle hadn’t listened, and she had demanded from her Childe total obedience, something she hadn’t done since they had stopped sharing a bed, and rarely even for years before that.
But if Erik did care… Gabrielle fought the smile that was pushing to her lips, the first of its kind in many, many years.
“I won’t,” she promised quietly.
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