Lilith settled on ground beside the wonky tent, in the dry grass and baking heat. She could just about remember how Seth had taught her to start fires a century ago, something that had finally been useful.
But thinking of her ex in any way whatsoever was guaranteed to put her in a bad mood.
She stared into the flames, watching them take hold as a long-ignored memory swam to the surface. Seth was behind her, where he had always seemed to be, like the devil at her shoulder. His hands were on her waist; never higher, never lower. His lips alternated between tenderly kissing her neck and whispering encouragement into her ear, while the scent of burning human flesh filled the air around them…
No, she wasn’t going to think about it.
Breakfast. That’s what she was doing. She was preparing Broof’s breakfast.
Broof had tried for a good twenty minutes to get his miserable trickle of magic to accumulate enough to generate a decent flame and had failed. He tried lighting the fire using matches, and had still failed. Lilith had watched him as he grew increasingly despondent at the barely singed kindling, before offering to step in. She had framed it as a peace offering following her outburst the previous night, but it was really nothing more than an attempt to speed him up. She’d already waited six hours while he’d slept; she wanted to get him fed, get herself fed and get back on route before she lost all the will to go.
Broof had excused himself to take care of his business, but he was taking a long time. She wondered if she should go look for him, imagining that he’d fallen in a ditch or been attacked by a skulk of foxes, when an unmistakeable stench filled her nostrils.
Ugh. Great. He’d definitely be a while. Bodily functions made people so damn… slow.
Lilith questioned again why she was even bothering. She could have cruised through her glamourous façade of a life for a few years more. Three months ago, she was rubbing shoulders with the Del Sol Valley elite, earning more money than she knew what to do with. Now she was kneeling in the dirt listening to Broof taking a dump in a bush. What had gone wrong?
Caleb. Caleb is what had gone wrong, she thought with that deep pang of guilt she always tried to ignore. A shadow passed over her face, and a small splash sounded somewhere in her vicinity, but she barely registered it over the thudding in her ears, the sinking feeling in her chest. The painful knowledge that she’d given so, so much to change her little brother, to protect him and everyone around him – but had failed on all accounts.
Oh, how she’d longed for the day when she could rest easy. The day when Caleb would finally reach a place where he’d no longer be a danger to anyone. Tamed, if not human.
She had wished for her freedom for centuries, but not like this. Never like this.
It was a bitter pill to swallow.
Almost as if he could sense her sinking, Broof emerged from the bushes, red in the face and clutching a depleted a toilet roll, but with a clear expression of relief. Lilith hastily shifted her face into her usual frosty gaze so he wouldn’t ask what was wrong.
And then she wouldn’t have to talk about it.
“Oh!” he exclaimed as he walked over and saw her mindlessly stirring the pan. “You don’t need to make me… uh… what the heck is that?!”
Lilith followed his gaze to the end of her spoon. She was preparing a pack of his instant noodles, but in her distracted frame of mind, she hadn’t noticed that something had added itself to the pan. She plucked at the mystery item, coming away with a few loose hairs.
“…It’s a mouse. At least, it was,” she blinked as she tried to establish how it got there, recalling the shadow and the splash. “I think a bird might have dropped it in. Will you still eat it, or… no, never mind, I’ll start over,” she said, wishing that statement applied to her whole life.
Broof sucked in a breath through his teeth as he stared at the half-eaten mouse. “I appreciate the gesture but… I’m suddenly not that hungry. I’ll have a prune bar for breakfast.”
“Fine,” Lilith shrugged and emptied the watery noodle and mouse entrail mix on to the fire, extinguishing it. She poked around in the embers, ensuring that the flames were definitely out as Broof munched on something that looked like a foil-wrapped twig.
She was waiting for him offer her breakfast, but he seemed distracted, throwing furtive glances her way. Eventually, with his meagre breakfast eaten, he began packing their kit away, in silence.
“Yes?” he asked quickly. Too quickly, as if he’d been waiting for her to speak.
“Can I… you know?” she motioned between them. After centuries of simply taking what she needed, she found it strange to ask for permission to drink his blood and had yet to form a suitable proposal. He looked perplexed for a moment and then it dawned on him what she was asking for.
“Oh, right, of course.” He dropped what he was doing and walked over, looking around at the space with some confusion. “How should we… um,” he did that weird thing he did where he started to move, then changed his mind a few times, giving him the impression of glitched robot. “Where do you want me?”
Despite how it might’ve appeared, Lilith was a good head shorter than Broof, so taking a drink while standing was out of the question. On a regular day, she’d have him sit on the sofa, propped up and comfortable, positioning him to ensure minimal physical contact, bar the steadying hand on his head and the anchor of her fangs. But there was no sofa here, so she’d have to improvise.
She dropped back to her seat on the earth, motioning for him to sit. He hesitated, no doubt worried about his white shorts, which were miraculously still clean, before tentatively lowering himself to join her.
What followed was an awkward to-and-fro as Lilith tried to find a spot where both of them would be comfortable. But no matter how she tried to keep him as far from her as physically possible, it soon became evident that in order to have her drink, without the support of a sofa, she needed to get closer than she wanted to.
He realised it before she did. Broof watched her passively, like a puppet, as she manipulated his limbs to suit her. She found a space where he could support himself and leaned in to tap a vein, but he held up a hand, stopping her.
“That won’t work. I have no upper body strength,” he murmured. “Especially not when all the blood is leaving my body.” He looked around the space, ruling out options one by one. “Hm. Maybe if we lie down together, side by side? There’s nowhere to fall if I’m already lying down.”
“I’m not spooning you, Broof,” Lilith snapped.
“I didn’t mean… all right,” he sighed and scratched his head. “Maybe if I… I guess I could… maybe sit like this? Or this?”
Lilith shook her head, watching him doing his strange yoga. This was ridiculous. It was a drink, nothing more.
She crawled behind Broof, stopped him in his tracks, and propped him up with her own body. His question of her intention became a gasp as she manhandled him into position with relative ease, and a whimper as she reached around his bearded jaw, angling his head and offering her the access she needed.
“This’ll do,” she murmured. “Lean into me.”
He could only gulp and comply.
She closed her eyes, allowing her other senses to guide her as she traced his skin with the lightest touch of her lips, seeking the sweet spot. Broof’s breath hitched in his throat and, as she punctured him, released in that noise, the strangled little cry, that satisfied on her a level she hated to acknowledge.
The fingers of her one hand laced into his hair, the palm of her other firmly placed on his chest, her entire torso pressed neatly against his back, trapping him against her as she began to drink.
The summer sun was beating down from above and the fading cinders still emitted a gentle glow but it was Broof’s own heat permeating her skin and the lava from his veins that warmed her. In that moment, her most monstrous, her most primal, she felt so… alive.
She never wanted it to end.
She felt Broof reach up to cover her hand with his own, a gentle but sure sign that he’d reached his limit. Only then did she become aware that the tremors she was feeling were from her companion.
Broof was shaking like a leaf. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his breath had become erratic. He opened his mouth to speak, but only a relieved sigh passed his blue lips.
With the shame of losing control looming over her, she swiftly withdrew her fangs. She pressed her fingertips against the neat wound in his neck until she was sure the bleeding had stopped. Without a plush sofa for him to sink into, she allowed him rest against her, his eyes closed, as the elixir he took daily slowly did its thing, replenishing what she had taken.
And wow, she had really taken. She hadn’t felt this full in a long time. She’d never seen him so pale.
“Are you all right?” she whispered.
He nodded, but didn’t open his eyes. She watched him carefully, guiltily. He still held on to the hand she’d placed on his chest, gripping it firmly.
He was not all right. At least, not yet.
Somewhat annoyed that she’d caused more delays, Lilith watched the shadows from the tree canopy above move across his face, monitoring him for improvement. Broof’s errant forehead curl had unfurled and was tickling his eyelid. It looked irritating, so Lilith attempted to poke it back in with the rest of his hair only for it to slip straight back out, like it a had a mind of its own. She tried again, accidentally raking her fingernails lightly against his scalp, as he, almost asleep, sighed contently at her touch.
She jolted her hand back and froze. In his daze, he instinctively moved his head into the space she’d vacated, seeking her hand, her comfort, her reassurance.
It was a small thing to give.
“You’ll be fine,” she cooed softly, watching the goosebumps rise up on his skin as she stroked his face.
“We need to get going,” he mumbled.
“We will, later. Take your time.” She bit her lip and whispered. “Thank you.”
He nodded, but could manage nothing else. She listened to his heartbeat slow, to his breath deepen, felt his body sink into her as he relaxed into sleep.
He might have been a dopey mess, but Lilith felt invigorated. She rocked him gently, her world was warm and softened at the edges, blissful and hazy like a summer’s dream as it always was, following a drink from the bearded witch.
In this intoxicated dream, Lilith allowed herself a moment to be grateful for him and all he did for her, without questioning his motives.
Without questioning if she was worth it.
The sun had risen.
She hadn’t come.
Seth groaned inwardly and conceded. He had spent most of the night thinking, as he often did, raking over his musings and growing more impatient and frustrated as the night wore on. With no sign of the pregnant police officer, and his thirst beginning to rage, he could no longer afford to wait it out atop the crypt.
Perhaps his directions to Jessica weren’t clear or she hadn’t known how to interpret them. Perhaps Jessica had allowed her fear to get the better of her and decided not to pursue this clue. Or perhaps Jessica hadn’t seen the route at all.
Perhaps this ‘problem’ of his was some great illusion; that he thought he was losing control and going haywire in the heads of his prey, but he wasn’t. Perhaps they were seeing exactly what he’d intended them to, and this was all some side-effect of whatever it was he’d managed to siphon from Faith, amplifying and reflecting his own insecurities back at him.
Or perhaps his current turmoil was purely due to Faith herself. Perhaps her departure had wounded him deeper than he cared to admit.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
Perhaps he was simply too weary to function. Unsteadily, he clamoured down from the crypt and paused a moment to let his spinning head recentre. Was it worth returning at nightfall, to wait again? Should he pay Jessica another visit?
Should he give up?
Could he give up? Everything he ever did, he did for justification, for answers. For the one key that would unlock the reasoning, the final piece of himself. He had begged, tricked, stolen and killed for his pursuit, and he was so close to closure, he could taste it. Could he let Jessica go without first wringing her of every drop she had, every clue she could offer? Could he let this chance, to reach out through the veil to Angeline, slip through his fingers?
Could he cope without confirmation that he and Angeline had created a child? Would the idea that she had harboured a small part of him after he was gone ever be confirmed, or denied? Had she ever thought of him or had she moved on?
Had their child ever known that he’d existed? And if so, was he remembered with any fondness, or was he known only as that bastard who’d vanished?
Did they think he’d abandoned them?
Despite being usually fine with sunlight, the brightness peeping through the tree canopy, coupled with his fatigue and rapidly descending mood, was giving Seth a chronic headache. As the pressure built rapidly in his temples, he took stock of his energy reserves. He had just enough energy to mist somewhere for breakfast – which would spare him the trudge up to the bar to dine on a drunken sot – if he stopped wasting it chasing ghosts.
He’d find prey, spend the morning on the bluffs, clear this fog within his thoughts.
As he misted from the scene, he didn’t notice that he’d had company.
That she’d heard every word.
2 thoughts on “Chapter 4.11 – Chasing Ghosts”
I love these flashbacks to the past. It makes the characters a little more real.
I also love the tenderness that exists between Lilith and Broof. A glimmer of light in a dysphoric and chaotic world ❤
The realization that Seth may have left the seeds of an heir with Angelina seems to make an impression on him.
Other than that, he always seems to attract bad news 🙄
Oh, I do enjoy a good flashback. Or in this case, a bad one…
I promised you beeps! They are very few and far between, but they are definitely there. Sometimes. Most times. No, sometimes. I don’t know what I’m on about.