How long Kristian had spent sitting at the table, numb, frozen, she had no idea. The insistent rumble of her stomach finally pulled her from her daze, accompanied by a headache that made it more than clear that she had gone far too long without eating. She blinked, looking at the livingroom windows and realizing that it was far later than she'd thought. Hours had passed rather than minutes. Hysterical laughter threatened when she thought of the fact that usually it was the other way around, that time seemed to stretch onward and yet the true passage was only moments. Not so this time.
Her knees were stiff as she pushed herself from her chair, shoving the mass of her wavy red hair back and out of the way. A strand caught on the ring in her eyebrow and she forced herself to slowly and carefully free it. She could have ripped at it and probably would not even have winced, but it was a matter of exerting control. She had to bring herself back together. Slow, careful movements. Concentrating on each and every single action.
Time slipped, and she realized she was standing at the counter, one hand on the door of the fridge. Somehow she had lost herself again. It had been her refuge, this place that was not a place, time that was not time. Slipping into that was how she had gotten through her time with Dwayne, the endless days in which there was nothing to occupy her but cleaning, cooking, mending. All those days spent alone had left time distorted, bent out of shape. She had lost herself and it had taken serious effort to find it all again, to make herself anew.
All it took was one simple letter to break her back down.
Her jaw clenched at the thought and her knuckles tightened on the handle of the refridgerator. No, she was not going to let this happen. No more trying to run and hide. No more letting him do this to her.
A pretty resolution, but the thought of encountering him again scared her down to her core.
Yanking open the door, she grabbed a container of yogurt then carefully closed the door. Then yanked it open again and let it slam shut. He had always wanted things done quietly. Yanking open a drawer she clattered around until she managed to wrap her fingers around a spoon before banging the drawer shut again.
A hot shower. That would help. She popped the top off the yogurt and dug her spoon in, shoveling the food between her lips with little thought or concentration. All her attention was on not thinking about what was to come. Instead she absently walked to the bathroom, still emptying the yogurt container into her mouth by the spoonful. By the time she was ready to turn on the water she was left with only an empty plastic cup.
The sound of running water filled the bathroom as she adjusted the temperature. The rattle of the rings holding the shower curtain seemed louder than usual to her and she winced slightly. Too loud. She needed more noise, something to drown out the thoughts in her head and let it all just blur a little, but something that would keep her in the here and now.
Music. Her solace. She left the water running and padded out to the living room. A few pushes of buttons and the stereo came on. Too mellow. She pressed a few more buttons, flicked through playlists on her mp3 player, and picked just the right one. Apocalyptica thrummed through the speakers and she felt the cellos shiver down her spine.
Letting out a breath, tension starting to ease just a little, she returned to the bathroom, leaving the door open to allow the music to filter in more loudly. She checked the water temperature and, satisfied, tugged off the t-shirt she'd slept in the night before, then shucked the worn pair of boxers she'd appropriated from a friend. The clothes formed a pile on the floor as she pulled back the curtain, stepping into the steam and the spray.
The heat was soothing and she drew in a few deep breaths. She even started to relax. That was the mistake. She should have kept herself tightly controlled, but she had thought she could handle it, thought she could hold it together.
Her body shook. A hard, uncontrollable shudder. Her voice locked in her throat, right when she would have needed it. Feet slipped - she had been meaning to get a tub mat but had never managed it - and there was nothing to hold onto. She grabbed the curtain but it was cheap and ripped from the rings. Her feet skidded, hands grabbed at the air.
She fell with a loud crash and the sound of displaced water, followed by a thick thud as her head connected with the side of the tub. Then there was nothing, only the sound loud music, of water hitting flesh, the trickle of blood, and the pinkish swirl of water running down the drain.
The day had passed and outside the sun slowly sank past the horizon. With its descent a man stirred, eyelids fluttered, a hand rose to push back the bedcovers. The day was fading and his vigil would begin again.
Only moments later he was again approaching a familiar place, a vantage point that allowed him to observe her windows, to be near enough for his hearing to detect her heartbeat, one among many. And yet he always knew it, it stood alone for him.
Listening, he crouched in the dark like some forgotten gargoyle. Quickly he honed in, searching for the one particular sound he expected. She should not be at work, she should be there. No lights showed. He did not hear the heartbeat he expected.
There. It fluttered, and faltered.
In the flick of an eyelid he was at the door, a deft movement revealing the quick glint of lockpicks before he pulled open the front door and slipped inside. A blur of motion, and he was outside her door. He listened again, but something spurred him on, something he had not felt in a long time: fear, not for himself, but for another. Fear for this girl who had claimed his fascination. He could not wait, could not risk the snuffing out of her life as he heard her heartbeat become fainter.
He picked the lock to her apartment, wasting precious time. Better than answering questions later about broken doors. Irate neighbours were the last things he wanted to deal with. Then he was inside, shutting the door and locking it again.
Inside the bathroom the picture of chaos told its own story. Chilled fingertips brushed her cheek and it was cold. Too cold. The water had long since lost any vestige of heat, the chill seeping into her flesh as it pounded her still body. Carefully the intruder lifted her head, palm cradling her skull familiarly as though he had longed to do it so many times.
The contusion on the side of her head was clear. A tiny trickle of blood ran down her cheek, the edge blurred and smeared by the rush of the water. She was so cold, her breath so faint. Another shock of fear rushed through him and he lifted her, cradling her against his body as he strode to the kitchen.
He saw the coffee cup, its contents as cold as her body, but there was no time for being too picky. He adjusted her to sit on the countertop, her body still cradled against his chest with one arm securing her. A yank, and the cutlery drawer scattered its contents across the floor. He took a moment, paused to gather himself. A knife. He grabbed one, heedless of the way the blade sliced into his fingers. Instead he wrapped his palm around the blade, clenching his fist until blood sluggishly flowed down the blade and began to drip. Holding his hand above the cup he let the dark red drops splash into the coffee. Perhaps a tablespoon, but it would be enough. He hoped it would be enough. If he still prayed he would have prayed it would be enough.
The knife he dropped, letting it fall where it may amid the forgotten utensils. With a finger he stirred the dark coffee, then held it to her lips carefully. His other hand slid up from her side, fingers splayed along her jaw until he could exert just enough pressure to part her lips. Coffee trickled into her mouth, a bit dribbling down her chin.
She had to swallow. What if she was too far gone? He tilted her head, fingers stroking along her throat. There. He had felt it. More coffee into her mouth as anxious stillness held him. More. She swallowed it, making soft sounds of protest.
After the last swallow he waited. It seemed an eternity, but slowly he realized that the contusion on her head was receeding, that the split in the skin was smaller. Knitting together until it was gone.
She made a sleepy sound of disgust, mingled with a lazy movement to snuggle closer against him.
It was that tiny trusting movement that was his undoing. Had she not done that he could have returned her to the bathroom, could have had things put back before she regained consciousness. He could have been gone.
He should have been gone.
Yet there he stood, cradling her body in his arms as she stirred, rubbing her cheek against his chest the way a kitten does. It humbled him, that this woman who had found so much strength and had so few reasons to trust would instinctively understand that he would be the last to intentionally harm her.
Conveniently he forgot that what he had just done to save her life might just be considered harm. It would be considered to be such by many. She was tied to him now. At least she would survive. It had been necessary, better than the alternative. Her heart still beat, she still drew breath. No longer was she quite as cold as the grave, although she was colder than she should be.
He needed to warm her, and his own body was hardly of use for that. Neither was the shower. More coffee would be good, and blankets.
Procuring either one, however, was going to have to wait. He would have to release her for that and he was not quite ready to do so.
Her eyelids fluttered and she winced. He felt it in the clenching of her jaw, the slight movement of the muscles of her face against his chest. Felt it even through his shirt.
The shirt that was damp. The shirt that was clinging to her body. Her naked body.
His thoughts were slow, but they did come. Too beguiled with the body he held, the life it contained, to realize that the situation would make her more uncomfortable than she was already going to be at finding herself in the arms of a stranger, an intruder in her home.
He could not explain.
He should have gone.
He managed to get his shirt off with only minimal damage to the fabric caused by his haste and wrap it around her.
Eyelids fluttered again, lashes tickling his chest. His muscles flexed and he felt her smile. "Whah happ'n'd?" she asked blearily, her fingertips idly finding his collar bone and brushing against his skin.
It was all he could do to concentrate. Now, without the fear to keep him focused, the feel of her body against his, the warmth even faint as it was, the scent of her - her blood - he had to fight not to tilt her head back and take his reward.
"You had an accident." His voice was low, just a tiny bit rough. A voice that held no identifiable accent and might just fit in anywhere with some minute adjustments. It rumbled in his chest and she found herself cuddling closer to enjoy it.
Something was missing though. Something important.
She puzzled at it as she frowned. "Accident? Don' 'member. Was in the show'r." He had to stop her, keep her from remembering too much. He had noted the letter on the kitchen table and had a suspicion that whatever had happened had been caused by the terror that letter would engender. He hadn't been there to tell her he would protect her. Not that she would have believed him when she was rational.
"Shh. It's alright. You're fine now." He smoothed back her hair, brushing away traces of the blood as best he could. He did not want her any more frightened than she would be when she recognized....
"Let go of me! Who the hell are you?"
... that she did not know him.
Only his strength allowed him to keep a grip on her as she squirmed and fought, allowed him to carefully settle her feet back on the floor, leave her leaning against the cupboards as he took a step back.
He saw the fear in her eyes and felt it lash him for being a fool. He was a fool, he knew it. And yet he was still here. He should run, even now, but he couldn't. Instead he spoke: "Please. Kristian, you have to believe me. I am not here to hurt you. You had an accident in the shower. You'll be fine now, but..."
His mistake was recognized too late. "How do you know my name?" she choked out, rising horror clear. Thoughts flitted past behind her eyes and he was aware of the moment she truly looked at him.
Dark hair, appropriately mussed, longer than might be standard. The shadow of facial hair along his jaw. Thick, dark eyebrows slashed above his eyes, dark lashes framed eyes of some unknown colour. It could be blue, it could be grey, it could even be green. A goatee blurred the line of his chin, clipped short. A couple holes in his ears but nothing overly surprising or interesting, at least in Kristian's world. Based on the face he could fit in anywhere she spent her time now.
He saw the moment her eyes sank lower, the moment she recognized his lack of shirt. The moment her hand clutched the shirt she now wore and connected the two. The expressions that flitted over her face were almost comical. In another situation they would have been, but not now. Not like this. He saw her confusion, saw it replaced by horror as she recognized that she was wearing his shirt. That she was only wearing his shirt.
"Get out! Get out!" Normally she would have done more than just shout at him. She would be grabbing the bat she kept under the sink, calling the police or at least a guy a floor up that was a friend of a friend. She was off balance, however, and none of that occurred to her. All she could do was cling to the countertop and shout at him.
Then his hand was over her mouth, his face close, his body hemming her in. "Shhh. Please, Kristian. Just calm down. I know you are afraid, I know you have no idea who I am. I promise I am here to help you though. I just want to assure myself that you are fine, and then I will be gone." Something in his expression made her pause as she sucked in the breath to scream. Something stilled her lips against his palm.
As odd and wrong as it was, she felt safe.
"Whoh ur yuh?" she mumbled against his palm, her voice soft. It was utterly irrational, but at this moment nothing seemed quite real. It could be the result of the loss of blood. It could be the result of her earlier shock. It could be the result of drinking some of his blood.
It could simply be the result of destiny creeping up on her.
"You can call me Mark." He let his hand slowly fall from over her mouth, careful, waiting to make sure she was not going to try to scream. In that moment, the vampire offered her a slight smile, just a tiny curve of one corner of his lips. It was, however, the beginning.