It didn't matter how much Nicolae wanted indifference, deep down, he knew that he'd done wrong. It was mostly because he could feel Silena's pain, it tangled itself through his insides like a net snaring and constricting, such was the Bond between vampires.

He led awake in the dark of night, trying to sleep only because most of the Sky Valley residents weren't nocturnal, and it was boring. He looked up from his bed, seeing the tattered wires where lights had been disconnected, replaced by his singular chandelier that he'd borrowed from the home department. He felt his body fighting the desire to sleep, it was against everything he was, but Nicolae was hardly ready to accept his nature anytime soon. He would never accept it, he couldn't, not now that he had recognised the human part of himself, protected within her. He'd wanted her gone because after so many centuries, he thought it was about time he just gave in to what he was. Yes, he fed, only because he had to, and torturing others, it felt like an obligation.

Why should vampires give a damn about humans, about the things that they had evolved above?

As he thought, realising that Silena had confused him, destablised his confidence for the first time in many years, his eyes felt heavy. He traced the crucifix scar on his left arm, the raised memory tingling at his caress. He remembered her eyes, terrified, her brogued voice crying his name to stop, just please, Nic stop! and then the burning that hadn't stopped him. A calmness soothed his unpalpitating chest as he remembered, darkness thrown over him like the arm of a companion...

* * *

There was a chill in the air as there always was in Bucharest this time of the year. It penetrated to the bone, salvation found only in the taverns lit with warm fires piping up through old chimneys. Snow had fallen bountifully on the cobbled streets, soaking trouser and dress hems sweeping through the city. Nicolae felt his past youth flood into him, the memory of being just twenty-four and an apprentice, lowly and happy.

He stumbled through the tavern door followed by his fellows, ale clouding his brain as he gathered his bearings and hugged himself in the night air. He knew his home was close, as was she, but they could not meet tonight. Not until tomorrow. After that...they would part only in death.

"Must you depart so early?" asked an old friend whose face Nicolae couldn't remember. His eyes were shadowed under the rim of his cap, the white teeth of a cheerful smile only visible. They walked together down the main street, past shops and empty market stalls towards the residential area where Nicolae would retire.

Nicolae chuckled as if he couldn't stop. "I fear so. Tomorrow shall be a long day. I must have my wits with me, else I will not hear the end of it."

His friend clapped a hand around his shoulder. "Ah, the constraints of union. I feel men like us are too young to be so early tamed."

"I agree," Nicolae grinned, "but it is how it is."

The hand tightened suddenly, nails digging in so that he flinched. The man stopped them both. "You see it so? God's truth?"

Nicolae shrugged though his arm complained. "I do not doubt I commit myself before I am ready. Certainly I wish I could have more years of frivolity, of freedom -,"

"Then let it be so." Nicolae knew straight away that something was wrong. His friend - whose face seemed like to haunt the corner of his eye, had changed. Gone was the accent that had matched his own. It was of a country he couldn't discern, and had come so suddenly...

"What do you mean?" he asked, guarded. He tried to think back, but his mind ached. He had known this man all of his life, he swore, but only an hour ago, a stranger watching him from the window, with eyes like blood, had looked exactly the same. Fear seized Nicolae, swelling in his gut. Though he knew they stood alone in the early morning streets, he pushed back a distance from this man who stood firm and haunting, and curtly spat,

"Who are you?"

He was quick. Quicker than Nicolae could have ever imagined. He felt his back against the wall, swearing he heard it crack, and the man was upon him, pressed together in an undignified manner so that both terror and humiliation filled him.

"I give you freedom..." he hissed, his voice different again with another native curl to his words, and in a sudden movement, Nicolae felt his neck grow hot, then suddenly numb. His eyes were misted in those moments, he'd been stabbed, he knew it as he felt his own blood wet on his shoulder and something inside his flesh. He would die, and he swore Death had chilled him, trying to force his eyes closed.

No...this cannot be the end. I must live for her. We must live together...forever.

His body was limp yet he fought, his will pulling himself to consciousness even as his legs fell away beneath him, and the stranger who he had thought a brother was gone as if he had never been there at all. Nicolae slipped down into the snow, feeling as if his soul had frozen, and with a final whimper, died.

* * *

"Nic! Nic! Are you alright? God, no..."

Red. Only red.

"Stop it. Begone! Stay away! Nic, please, Nic stop!"

Blood. Everything is blood.

"Please...I beg you..."

"...what...are you?"

Death...I am nothing but Death.

* * *

Nicolae felt something brush through him, so violent that he awoke from the nightmare of his first and last life. In such a panic, his fangs shot through his gums, the skin throbbing for an agonising, split second. He rocketed forth, the sheets falling away from him, his cold skin bright in the night's glow. He would have panted if there was breath, and clutched his heart if there had been a beat, but he sat in the darkness, knowing what this feeling of worry was that had affected him so suddenly.

Sky Valley had an intruder.

The End

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