Backdraught: a phenomenon in which a fire that has consumed all available oxygen suddenly explodes when more oxygen is made available, typically because a door or window has been opened.
Warning: disturbing image, lots of skin/NSFW/ may make your brain explode
Seth had hesitated when Faith had begged him to help her to forget. He had already had to tamper with her recall of the previous night’s events, thanks to her spotting her younger sister on the way to the bloody arcade. He was considering simply clearing the whole twenty-four hours since they’d left the cottage from her memory and starting again.
He had to reassure her, but doing so within the boundaries of truth was impossible. He had designed this scenario to hurt. He needed to know how far she would allow him to push her.
He had his answer and he rued himself for it. He had been too damn impatient to sample this tantalising new offering she presented. He had become obsessed, again. Now he risked losing everything.
Kindness was not his forte and his slick words could not reach her. Swift mental meddling was surely an easier option to regain her peace of mind than hours of concerted physical effort, but restraint was required when Faith was this trapped in herself.
Although, in frankness, he wasn’t sure that he could have reworked her memories, had he tried. Seth would not admit it, but these last few days had been draining from all aspects.
He was on the brink of a breakthrough – he could feel it in his nerves – but Faith was hard work. The rapid escalation of their relationship, the sudden return to socialising after a century of near solitude and the steep learning curve of what in the hell young, modern women expected had been nothing short of exhausting for the master vampire.
The platitudinous pursuit she’d insisted on, a practice he was well-versed in and one that time had never really changed the dynamics of, had actually been as much as a reset button for him as it was for her. Seth rarely ever stopped analysing, he was constantly strategising, always thinking, but he had, briefly, switched off.
Now he was pondering why that was.
Sex was mundane; perhaps it was nothing more complicated than that. He reasoned that he must have had quite his fill, in the wild youth that he couldn’t remember, to be so skilled with his manipulations of the female body and yet so surfeited with the act itself.
He rarely found himself in scenarios that required undress, and seldom desired them, something else he’d had in common with a certain vicious vixen, but when he did, his own physical pleasure was never the goal. His body was merely a tool to garner willingness; a viewpoint most of his previous lovers were more than happy about, and something that, tonight, Faith had finally been content to simply allow.
With her mind and mouth mute and her exhausted body clinging to his own, he idly trailed his fingertip over her healed skin.
She sighed. Mindless, as she’d desired. Mission accomplished.
Now, on to the next chore: disposing of the human girl. He couldn’t say he was looking forward to that.
He didn’t expect Faith to actually want to talk about what she’d done, of course, but he did at least expect that she’d wait until she wasn’t within spitting distance of a corpse before disrobing. Now he faced dredging a cold human who’d been dead for a few hours; it was not one of his favourite tasks.
He would have to subdue Faith first; the last thing he needed was for her to go ballistic when he hacked her leftovers apart. Seth did not have the energy for any more drama.
“Look at me,” he ordered, waiting until her light grey eyes rolled up to lock onto his.
He had anticipated that this ocular connection would allow him to better read her and it did, loud and clear.
What he hadn’t anticipated was the jolt to his heart that accompanied her abashed expression and unfiltered thoughts. In this most unromantic of scenarios, while he was focusing on the next job and planning his night’s hunt, she was truly basking in the afterglow. The wealth of her misplaced affection was so great that, for a moment, he could feel it within himself.
He paused in stunned silence, as he tried to figure out how she was manipulating his emotions. She parted her lips to whisper a sentiment that she likely only meant in the heat of the moment.
Good lord. That broke the spell.
He wasn’t sure what would expend more energy; lying and facing a cognitive caning, or having to talk Faith down from the ceiling if he gave her the truth, so he simply pressed his lips to hers. An answer and a convenient way to compel her subtly into slumber.
Disaster averted, and once more devoid of any kind of forced sentiment towards her, Seth untangled himself from Faith’s fallen form and rose to dress. His gaze wandered back to her periodically as he mused.
She was already becoming so pliable, so trusting; he’d have what he wanted within no time. Soon he’d be nothing but a memory reel of regrets to her; a harsh lesson learned.
The others would take her back. She would survive.
He wouldn’t miss her. Her constant need to shed her skin, her contrary nature and her teenaged attention span were pushing him to insanity.
He did like her spit, her wit. Their aggressive to-and-fro that kept him on alert.
Her casual little threats of violence. They were cute.
And he’d certainly miss how damn attractive and alive she’d made this detestable old reprobate feel.
Hmm. Perhaps, if he played it right, he could keep her.
After all, she didn’t understand this retaliation ability of hers. He could build that up, siphon it off, leave her with her allure – he still didn’t want that – and have her company. In time perhaps, if he got used to her, she got used to him, it’d be a shame to snuff that.
“Do you seriously think you’re worthy of love, Seth? That anyone could possibly ever love you?!”
No he did not.
Sage had shut up shop and was putting the finishing touches to her arrangement after what had been a long and tiring day.
Wyatt had made good progress with his potion and, much to her chagrin, would likely create something viable. He was delighted in his naivety, but Sage knew better. The erythrocyte elixir he was making would certainly help to ensure that neither he nor Broof ran out of blood to feed their new guest, but no amount of elixir would speed up blood production fast enough to feed a horde of vampires.
And as for a cure? There was always that one ingredient she could never find. Or, rather, after what had happened to her mother, she was unmotivated to find.
Perhaps she could be persuaded. If April was her granddaughter, that is.
Time would tell.
The shop bell sounded behind her. Sage’s first reaction was alarm; she was sure that she’d locked that door. Perhaps she really was losing her faculties.
“I must have forgotten to lock that, but we’re closed!” she sang, turning on her heel.
“As if you’d ever forget something, Sage,” Lilith said, her voice still that glacial, emotionless cool after all this time. “Wasn’t that the whole problem?” She scanned the florist and the corner of her unlined mouth lifted into a smile. “You look… old.”
“I am old,” Sage returned Lilith’s soft expression, gathering herself. “Here to collect Caleb, I presume? Forgot his boundaries, did he?”
“I did tell you that keeping the boy shackled was the better option,” Lilith rolled her eyes. “Just go and get him and we’ll be out of your crispy hair.”
“Oh, Lilith. What’s the rush?” Sage clicked her tongue. “Stay! Tell me all about your new sister-in-law! April, is it? Was it a beautiful ceremony?”
Lilith’s face was a picture but, as always when presented with any kind of challenge, she defaulted to defence. “I don’t know what he’s told you—“
“Very little,” Sage sang, “but enough. I know that your numbers have multiplied, at least. But that is by-the-by. What I find more intriguing is that young Caleb is missing a great deal of his previous talents. He doesn’t even know he ever had them. He doesn’t know a lot really, does he?”
Lilith chewed her lip, but remained stubbornly silent.
Sage advanced on the vampire, scoping her energy. “Interesting. I thought that you had something to do with it,” she tapped her temple, “but… my oh my. You’ve been sapped as much as he has. Gracious. Tell me, Lilith, can you even hear what I’m thinking?”
Lilith hesitated, licked her fangs. “No, I can’t. It’s because we no longer hunt; that has had a catastrophic effect on our powers—”
“And on your ability to weave a tall tale!” Sage chirped. “So, what has happened? Or should that be… who has happened?”
Sage could see it in the way Lilith’s eyelid twitched, the tight line of her lips. Her old friend was terrible at deceiving her. She always had been.
“Stop protecting him or I cannot keep protecting you,” Sage said gravely. “The others know that there is a vampire on the loose; I’ll have to give them something.”
Finally, Lilith sighed. “I don’t know where he is, Sage. I can only presume that he’s—”
“Dead, yes. So you always maintain,” Sage murmured.
Lilith looked at the floor, stubborn as always. “Caleb needs to get back to April, so if you need to present a befanged head—“
“Take yours?” Sage tapped her chin, thinking. “I may just have to. But apparently, I have been bought a little time. So, shall we catch up over a lovely cup of tea before we discuss the finer details? Or,” she sniffed the air, “is a gin and tonic more to your temptation, dear?”
Night had fallen and Faith had joined Seth at the campfire he had lit. She had stubbornly refused to wear the dead girl’s outfit, choosing instead the ‘Lilith’ method of looking a gift horse in the mouth.
“Hankering for marshmallows?” she asked as she settled on the bench beside him.
“Not quite,” he replied, somewhat relieved when she didn’t push him for a more detailed answer. He subtly nudged the smouldering remains of Megan’s personal artefacts deeper into the embers with his boot and watched as the flames engulfed them.
Faith was also staring at the fire but, since she had awoken, she had been completely unreadable. Seth had no idea what was formulating in that pretty head, although, judging by her face, it looked like a question.
“Seth,” she began uneasily. “Can I ask you something?”
Well, technically she just had. Damn her. She would pick this moment, when he was lacking the mental capacity to endure a lie, to ask him something arduous. She had, so far, studiously avoided any mention of her kill, so maybe it was that.
He braced himself. “Go on,” he said through gritted teeth, hoping that evasiveness would see him right and that devil bitch wouldn’t have to make an appearance.
“Do vampire children grow up?” Faith asked.
Seth blinked at her. What an inane question. “Yes,” he replied. “However, know that growing and maturing are very different things. If you wish to turn your sister, you would do well to wait, lest she end up like the Vatores.”
“How do you know that I—? Wait, you mean… holy shit,” she shook her head, “Yep, definitely not gonna turn Joy yet. Don’t want her being a backwards idiot her whole life, like Fringey or a control freak, like Fun Vacuum.”
“Good to hear it,” he muttered.
Faith opened and closed her mouth a few times. Seth rolled his eyes; this small action almost tipping from his seat. His head was thumping. The second the flames died down he would walk, because misting was way beyond him, to the village for sustenance. Devil help him; he’d probably need three just regain his base functions.
Faith was still hesitating, dancing around her next question. She really was going to be his downfall. He groaned, hoping this was another vapid enquiry.
“Spit it out, Fledgling.”
She pouted. “I know you told Blondie that you don’t remember, and you got pissy about it, but,” she said, “do you remember who turned you?”
He wondered why she wanted to know that, right now, what she was hoping to get out of his answer, so he could best phrase it.
“No, I don’t remember. Although, I can assure you I was not a child when it happened. And, interestingly, I gather from recent events that my sire may have been a woman.”
“A woman,” Faith repeated in that overly cool tone she used when she was trying not to show her jealousy. “So why did she turn you? Was she your girlfriend?”
He should have known that allowing her to ask questions would open the damn floodgates. Now she thought she had permission to ask him a hundred.
He rubbed his aching temples. Willing the fire to burn faster, he barely noticed his answer.
“No,” he replied. “Kitty was nobody’s girlfriend. She didn’t belong to anyone; that was her whole purpose, her whole style.”
“Kitty?” Faith scoffed. “So you do remember.”
“I… wait, what?” Seth sputtered, wondering where his answer had come from and what had prompted it. “I… apparently I do?”
“You fucking bastard,” Faith hissed. “You’re still hung up on her, aren’t you? Wait, is she still around? Is that where you keep disappearing to; home to Kitty? Next you’ll be telling me you have a mansion and a load of kids. I’d better not be your bit on the side, Seth.”
He laughed. “Faith; putting up with you is more than enough for me. I assure you, she is long gone—” he started, but Kitty interrupted.
The word splintered his brain into a hundred pieces.
He shook and gripped the bench, fighting for control. As the fog began to lift and his quivering mind calmed, he saw Faith staring at him.
“What the fuck— who was she?” she gasped.
“You… you saw her?” he managed, still reeling.
“Yeah, I saw her,” Faith whispered. “Is that Kitty?”
Seth reached out to Faith. “It must be. Stop. Stop talking. Her name, all this; it’s new information. I need to think.”
Something was swimming back through the tar inside his head. Where there had been only black, there was now illumination by two glowing, green orbs. There was the creak of a chair beneath him, the sensation of needles at his throat, of cold, damp air on his skin.
Within the depths of him erupted a seductive purr that had taunted him in his waking hours of solitude, that had haunted his sleep, that had owned him, controlled him and ultimately dragged him under.
Faith lips were moving, but all Seth could hear was the roar of a hundred fires igniting at once; the backdraught as door after door exploded open. Thousands of fresh pieces littered his fragmented memory, falling into the cracks, filling in the blanks.
It had been a single act. One snap that had dubbed him an outcast for three hundred damn years.
Faces swam back with associated names, with backstories and with intermingled lives. Each snippet he recalled reminded him of ten others, crossing and tangling until they had woven together in his mind into a tapestry that he knew but yet felt completely alien.
In this crowd, everyone he once knew was jostling for space to be acknowledged first, but one voice rang out above the others. Her melodic timbre teased him, soothed him and gave him life. She laced her fingers with his. She felt like coming home.
With all sense of reality lost, Seth had to kiss her.
He ignored the sirens, the warnings that he was pushing himself too far, too fast. He was so close; her name was on the tip of his tongue as it danced with hers in a long-forgotten rhythm.
A hard slap to the face broke his reverie, sending him spiralling into the abyss. He pressed his hand to his stinging cheek, the hazy summer’s night dissolving before him, depositing him back in the overgrown garden of the dilapidated cabin.
“Her name is Angeline,” Faith snarled, swatting his hand away as he reached towards her in his confusion. “Start talking.”