“Tell me about Raven.” Scorch looked sideways at B.D. as they walked back to the hotel. She of course didn’t so much want to know about Raven, as she wondered what the girl’s reactions were.
The request caught B.D. off-guard, and she stuttered a bit when she did speak, her face tinged with a blush.
“He... wow...” She took a deep breath. “He’s intense.”
Scorch nodded her understanding, more than familiar with what the other girl meant. “And us, mon ami? How does the news of our… existence, sit with you?”
B.D. scowled a bit, now being able to fully process the events of the night.
“On the one hand,” she began, “I’m surprised and a little skeptical. Every science teacher I’ve ever had wouldn’t believe this at all, and scoff at me for even talking about the possibility. But on the other hand, part of me wants so badly to believe what Raven tells me, and that there are real Vampires in the world, I just can’t shake it.” She knew that last part was the absolute truth, it was just the kind of escape from normalcy she so often desired. Her companion chuckled.
“We are real, B.D., you can believe it. Most of us had to come to that as well, get over our doubts and our fears and… give in…” Scorch sounded almost wistful as she trailed off.
As with so many other initially off-hand phrases that evening, the words “give in” lingered in B.D.’s mind after they were spoken. Her flush darkened as her memory flooded with the feel of satin sheets, and Raven’s lips and skin against her own.
Scorch looked at the dark-haired girl from the corner of her eye. “Oui?”
“Oh um, just--” B.D. couldn’t help the giggle that wrested its way from her lungs. “I was just remembering how um, Raven seemed to want to--” Her giddy nerves flustered her into silence before she could finish the thought.
Scorch’s raspy yet gentle laugh floated on the night air.
“Of course he wanted to, Belladonna, but it’s not time yet. That will come later, when you are Gifted.”
B.D. cleared her throat and straightened her clothes before she spoke. “Yeah, about that--”
“Not now, Bella,” Scorch interrupted, her voice stern but not menacing. “That too will come in time. Ah, we have arrived, no?”
B.D. followed her gaze, the English on the neon sign looking wrong, somehow out of place in this land of ancient tales. She sighed.
“Yeah. Better get upstairs.”
“Oui. A bientôt, B.D., see you soon.” Scorch smiled and turned to leave.
B.D. watched her, mesmerized by her movements once again. Blinking and shaking herself out of it, she gripped the door handle and stepped inside. Across the lobby, elevator up, and apparently no one noticed the young girl, or cared for the late hour of her return.
B.D. slid her keycard into the slot until she heard the gentle click that meant she’d tripped the electronic lock. She eased to door open, greeted by darkness and silence. She squeezed through the doorway, slipped her boots off, and slid into bed, pushing a pillow out of the way and pulling the covers up tight. Her long-sleeved t-shirt and baggy jeans hadn’t been enough protection against the chill night air, and she shivered for several moments before relaxing. As she drifted off, Raven’s voice still sang in her head.
B.D. was sluggish as she arose to the sound of a voice, and a bit perturbed with herself when she realized it was the clock radio, not anyone speaking to her.
Coulda slept longer, ungh.
She rolled over to shut off the alarm, the last occupant apparently having set it. The time read 3:38 pm. As she realized that nightfall couldn’t be too far off, Raven’s song resumed its playback in her memory. She pulled herself out of bed and stumbled her way into the shower. After a good twenty minutes, she climbed out and set about selecting more appropriate attire for the Irish Autumn climate, heavier fabrics and more layers. She ordered room service, tuna salad sandwiches the meal of choice for the afternoon.
While the T.V. went on with its mindless droning, B.D. finished her sandwich and decided to use the remaining daylight to explore Dublin a bit for herself. She needed something to fill the time until she could see Raven again, after all.
The streets surrounding the hotel were bustling, the expensive boutiques and sidewalk cafes nearly packed with rich tourists. The music and laughter from the night before were still present, but instead of being the city’s melody, they were the back beat, the steady rhythm that seemed to keep the city alive.
It wasn’t long before B.D. happened upon an ornate Catholic cathedral, complete with carved knot work, Celtic crosses, and stone gargoyles at each high corner. Some of her foster families had been more observant than others, and in their zeal had tried to bring her to Christ, but it had never taken. Still, that didn’t stop her from admiring and enjoying the beauty of such old world places of worship, so since the great arched doors were open, she walked inside.
There were a few parishioners kneeling in the dark wooden pews, muttering their prayers as they rubbed the equally dark rosary beads between their fingers. The altar, crucifix, and tabernacle at the front of the church were lit from above by electric spots, but the rest of the room was dim, with only the many dancing flames of the prayer votives giving a soft glow.
Even for someone as non-religious as herself, B.D. felt a sense of awe and peace as she took a seat near the rear of the church, just to bask in the serenity of the place. She closed her eyes, letting the mumbled words of the Hail Marys and Our Fathers, spoken in a combination of English, Gaelic and Latin, wash over her and soothe her senses. Her reprieve was utterly undisturbed for a time, until a familiar whispered rasp came to her side.
“Strange to find you here, Belladonna.” Scorch was dressed a bit warmer herself, the skirt and nylons from yesterday replaced with black jeans. A full length trench coat hung from her shoulders and was belted at her waist. Her curls were pulled back into a loose ponytail and she wore dark sunglasses in front of those perplexing red eyes. She grinned as she peered at B.D. over the rims.
B.D. shrugged, partially to respond, and partially to shake off the minor annoyance at the interruption. “I like old churches like this,” she said, turning her gaze to the dais.
It was Scorch’s turn to shrug. “Walk with me?” she offered.
B.D. stood, and they left the cathedral together
The two girls soon found themselves back on the main drag. Scorch wrinkled her more sensitive nose at the smells of the city.
“It is much less offensive at night,” she explained as she spit to rid herself of the taste.
“Hey yeah,” B.D. said, accusation edging into her voice. “If you’re a Vampire, how are you not, ya know, bursting into flames right now? And how come you could go into the church?”
Scorch let out a full laugh. “Convenient lies, mon ami, nothing more. We are not, how you say, damned, or cursed. Religious expression does not offend us. As for the daylight, if humans believe we are only a threat after dark, we can more easily, je ne se quoi, tend to our affairs… Though it is true we prefer the night; masking those affairs is a less complicated thing then.”
B.D. furrowed her brow. “ ‘Affairs,’ ” she repeated, “So I bet you all were, umm, feeding last night when you left?”
Scorch nodded, the sunglasses hiding the glint in her eyes. “We can ingest human food, but it does us no good. No harm, but no good. We need the blood to survive. We often share blood with other Vampires, our lovers, but that is pleasure for pleasure’s sake. It can heal us if we are injured, most certainly, but it will not sustain us.”
B.D. returned Scorch’s earlier affirmative gesture, taking a deep breath to accept this reality. She looked up towards the sun then and shook her head. “I guess I don’t understand Vampires as well as I thought, even though I’ve read all those books--”
“Storybooks? Ah, there lies your mistake. Nothing but stories those are. Well, except drinking blood, of course that much is fact. But precious little otherwise is written or indeed even imagined about our true nature. It is both a blessing and a curse.”
As the pair passed a pub with outdoor patio seating, a small dog tethered to one of the chairs made no secret he had caught Scorch’s scent. Instead of growling and raising his hackles as B.D. expected, he sat and lowered his head, as though his master had given the command. Scorch flashed a fanged grin over her shoulder at the animal.
B.D. shook her head. “So much I don’t know. Like, OK, so are you immortal?”
Scorch pondered the question, searching for the proper words. “Oui, but not invincible. We cannot die from disease or old age, but we can be killed, such as through dismemberment. And we do age, but it is imperceptible to human eyes.”
She paused, reviewing her answer.
“Well, there is one ‘disease,’ if you want to call it that, that can harm us,” she continued. “If we drink harmful blood, if it contains poison or it is dead, that will kill us. If the human is merely drunk, or under the influence of some other substance, it will intoxicate us as well. We also do not feed on diseased humans, but that is a matter of principle rather than safety; our natural defenses make us unable to contract the illness, but we believe that the human would then need their own strength to heal. They would not be a suitable candidate.”
B.D. smirked and chuckled. “Vampires with ethics. Usually they’re considered weak… in the stories, I mean,” she corrected herself.
Scorch just grinned. “Oui, we have rules that govern our conduct. We are not indiscriminate killers, you see. In fact we rarely kill, only taking enough to curb our hunger. We prefer to have willing donors that are also lovers, for the act of feeding is an intimate and sensual thing, for both parties. And neither are we indiscriminate lovers. We do love, and love deeply.” Scorch sighed then, tucking a lock of her hair that had come loose back behind her ear.
B.D. narrowed her eyes at the redhead’s expression. “You said before that you came to Dublin following love. What love was that?” B.D. was surprised at the hint of jealousy in her voice as she contemplated that it might have been love for Raven that drew the girl from her homeland.
Scorch heard the suspicion, and knew it did no good to lie. “Yes, B.D., I do love him. We all do. And yes, I have been intimate with him. But it was not a lasting thing, in our case. My love for him is like that for a brother. He took me in when no other would. He made me what I am, in so many ways. He has taught me more than any parent or school master ever would dare. Sil vous plait, do not look ill upon me for this. You will understand better, in due time.”
Scorch pricked up her ears just then, catching a trace of something that meant she should make herself scarce. She was a little saddened that her consolations had done nothing to improve B.D.’s now sullen mood, but yet it was a comfort that she was still resisting. It meant that Raven truly had Touched her mind, that the proper progress was being made. Scorch thought it best to leave things as they stood. It would all be remedied soon anyhow.
"Bon, mon ami. I shall see you later?" she said to B.D. as she turned the next corner and disappeared.
After nodding her begrudged agreement and watching Scorch’s rather hasty retreat, B.D. stood perplexed under a street light that was just beginning to flicker on for the coming evening. From Scorch’s confession she began to wonder if Vampires were sterile like in the stories, or if they could produce children in the more natural way. Sudden thoughts of birthing Raven’s Vampire children overtook her, and her emotions became even more confused.
She didn’t have much time to consider these feelings though, for as she stood there an old fashioned stage coach, drawn by two stunning black mares, thundered up to the curb. As it jerked to a stop the door popped open, and Raven’s beaming visage appeared, his hand outstretched.
“Come now, Lass, get in!”
Nothing could’ve stopped the look of pure elation that spread over B.D.‘s face just then, Raven’s mood and energy being so infectious. Plus, the fact that he appeared out of nowhere when she was feeling blue was too romantic an action to keep her in that morose state of mind.
The coach was moving again before B.D. had the chance to sit down or pull the door shut behind her. She was thrown into the chocolate-brown leather seat by the unexpected force of the renewed motion, and Raven let out a gleeful laugh as he caught her with his right arm. She giggled as he pulled her close against him.
“I told you it wouldn’t be long, didn’t I?” he said, his face as joyful as ever. He reached across her body to secure the door, and hovered over her once that task was completed. With one hand then under her chin he guided her lips to his, planting a brief but passionate kiss there.
As the kiss ended, B.D. sat back, running her tongue over her lips to savor the taste of his; musky yet sweet. She looked him over as he lounged back against the wall, his eyes closed as if in repose. He now wore a floor-length black velvet coat and a tight, blood-red mesh shirt. The leather pants were similar to the night before, only these had loosely cinched cord lacings up the outside of both legs so that his graceful muscles showed through. The black boots on his feet were also a touch fancier than he’d worn last time, cleaner and polished to a dull sheen. There was something else new about his appearance that noticeably strained against the fabric of his shirt; shiny black rings horizontally bisecting his nipples, each with a black captive bead. Watching the rise and fall of the jewelry as he breathed slow and deep made B.D.’s heart skip and her own breath come short.
Raven noticed the change in the girl and opened one playful eye, his pale cheek tugging up the corner of his mouth. “You like them?” he asked with deceptive nonchalance. “As I dressed for this evening, Phoenix suggested them, saying they’d made a striking addition. As he’s more attuned to this time than I, I trusted his judgment. It seems he was right, although even if he hadn’t been, I rather like them and would have kept them regardless. But it pleases me to know you approve.” Both of his dark eyes were open now, a full seductive smile curving his lips.
B.D. couldn’t decide whether it was absent-minded or on purpose the way he began tracing the circumference of one ring with his fingertip, but did decide she didn’t care. It wasn’t until he spoke again that she was brought out of the visual stimulation and opted to watch the slim shafts of light from the setting sun dance on his curls instead.
“Scorch tells me you’ve been studying the Celts at University.”
As she nodded, B.D. tried not to let the slightly renewed hurt from her last conversation with the other girl show. A slight tilt of Raven’s head told her she wasn’t quite successful, and she bit her lower lip. His words were soft as he continued.
“How much more schooling is left for you, Belladonna?”
She sighed. “Well, this is only my Freshman year, so technically at least three more, just for my Bachelor’s. But this first semester only has about a month left, it ends just before Christmas.”
“Ah, Yule.” Raven voice held touch of sadness as he used the old name. He pondered her answer for a moment, then said, “May I make a suggestion? Return to America, finish this semester, then perhaps come back to us. Give yourself time to consider what t would mean to accept what’s been offered to you.”
B.D. nodded again, but more slowly this time, mulling over the advice. It seemed prudent, far less reckless than most of her other life choices thus far. That thought made her scowl, as she hated the idea of changing who she was, but it occurred to her then that at least she should try her hand at college a bit more. She owed that much to her mother, after all. Her nod became more emphatic as she resolved to follow through with Raven’s suggestion.
The Vampire’s face melted into a broad smile. “Very good. True, I shall be sad to see you go, but for tonight, let us enjoy Dublin together!” He popped open one of the small windows on his side of the coach then, and called out to the driver in Gaelic.
Pulling his head back inside, he slipped his arm back around B.D.’s waist and drew her close. He nuzzled into her black hair, purring into her ear.
“Do you like to dance, Belladonna?”
The girl shivered. “Yes.”
On demure instinct she lowered her eyes, and realized her state of dress was in no way suited to a night out. “Uh, Raven wait. We can’t go dancing if I look like this.”
He leaned back again to look her over while still keeping his arm around her. “I suppose I am overdressed by comparison. But all is well, I prepared for the possibility.” He leaned forward the slightest and retrieved a large garment box from beneath the coach’s bench seat and placed it in B.D.’s lap. “For you, Bella.”
With giddy intrigue B.D. opened the box and pulled away the folds of tissue paper to reveal a strapless boned corset, vertically striped turquoise and black, that came down to a V at the waist in the front. Also in the box were a long, straight black skirt with slits up to mid-thigh on both sides, black heeled ankle boots, and a black and turquoise choker, the stone matching those set in a pair of silver French-hook earrings. The gifts left her breathless.
“Raven, I… I don’t know how to thank you…”
“Just wear them for me tonight. Seeing you dressed so beautifully will be thanks enough.” His head gave a slight gentleman’s bow before he opened one of the doors, and with masculine grace swung himself out of the carriage into the seat beside the driver.
Though it proved challenging against the rough movement over the road, B.D. managed to change and even pull her hair up into an elegant bun on her own. The only issue then was tying the lacing in back of the corset. She had slipped in on over her head and gotten it into position all right, but there was no way she could tighten and secure it. As she wondered if they’d have to reach their destination before she could be completely dolled up, Raven slid back into the coach with eerie timing.
“Allow me, please,” he breathed over her shoulder, his fingers already drawing the cords taut against her curves. As he tied the final knots at the small of her back, he pursed his lips and blew out a thin stream of cool air, causing the hairs on her neck to stand on end.
He held her in equal distraction over the last stretch of their journey, pulling her back against him between his legs and tracing the low, plunged neckline of the corset with his fingers.