In Blood We Trust
They are monsters: Mariah, the reluctant rebel who has become a god to others of her kind, and Gabriel, the vampire, who loves her at his own peril.
They have returned to the Bloodlands, where their story began-to face the horrors of Mariah's past and the uncertainties of Gabriel's future- and to make a final stand, for their lives-and their love.
I woke up that night, my arms and legs tangled in the sheets of the bed that I'd been assigned to in our liberated asylum.
Even during the fog of post-sleep, I felt him right away, on my bare skin. Or maybe I should say through my skinon top, under, in.
As he lay behind me, still in the throes of vampire rest, he didn't make a sound. That was because none of the vampires I'd met so far needed to breathe to survive. Animation kept them "alive" or "undead" or whatever they chose to call it. But those of us in the monster community who lived under the title of were-creature were pretty much the opposite of a vampire, what with our strong ties to the humanity that ruled us whenever we weren't in creature form.
But just listen to me, claiming myself as a were. Hell, ever since I'd messed up and taken part in a brief exchange with the mysterious monster we'd rescued in this asylum a couple of weeks agoa cipher named Subject 562 who turned out to be the mother and father of our blood monster lineI couldn't really call myself a normal were-creature anymore.
I, the stupid and impulsive Mariah Lyander, was now a curiosity for my community. I was even more of a pariah than ever, although the othersthe Red blood-drinking monsters and the Civil non-blood drinkersseemed to respect me for kicking 562's ass in the end with Gabriel's help.
We had psychically joined together and broken 562's sanity, using Gabriel's newfound ability to freeze minds. That full-moon night, when I'd first changed into a form that I could access only once a month, seemed so damned long ago.
I didn't like to think of what everyone had described to me: long teeth, a split tongue, flowing hair, four arms, and cravings that went beyond even a normal monster's.
Yeah, I'd really done it by allowing 562 to exchange with me. Hell, I wasn't even your garden-variety werewolf anymore when the moon wasn't full. I'd been testing myself over these last couple of weeks and, thanks to my origin, I could call up my new nonlunar form at any time, like when I got pissed off. Or when I got too excited.
This one featured big teeth in a huge mouth. Claws. Fast and mean.
No, in any case, I wasn't quite a werewolf anymore at all.
Now, as I lay here next to Gabriel in bed, I didn't move a muscle. I hardly breathed, wondering when he would sense that dusk had fully fallen. I pressed my face into my pillow while his mere presence sent my blood rushing, heating, as if it were waiting for him to put his fingers on my back, where the blood would gather at his touch. His imprint.
Our strange link.
My instincts told me that I should probably slide off the mattress before he did wake up. But when was the last time I'd listened to my conscience? It sure hadn't been present when I'd been off-guard enough for 562 to bite me in a rapid, willing exchange that I had barely even registered.
My heartbeat twisted as I heard Gabriel stir.
I felt his fingertips skim over my spine, and I shivered as the blood rushed there, mocking the shape of his touch.
"I can hear your pulse," he said.
He'd told me once that my body's rhythms sounded like musical chaos to him, that it was like no other's. He couldn't resist the volatility in me; it was what drew Gabriel, but there were times I wondered if that could ever be enough in the long run for us. Or if it was too much, and it'd already led us to places we never should've gone together.
As I pressed my face into my pillow, he slipped his fingers over my back, to my waist, going even farther, inserting his hand between the mattress and my belly. My stomach muscles jerked. My blood did, too, as it tumbled from one part of my body forward, rolling over itself to get to him.
An ache pierced me low, stabbing and swollen. It was almost as if my blood were doing two things at once: trying to get out of me and go to him, as if it couldn't stand to be inside me anymore. Yet it seemed like it was also attempting to bring him into me.
When Gabriel traveled his hand a little lower, my blood jammed to a sharp point between my legs, and I groaned, burying my face in my pillow even more.
His thoughts mingled with mine through our link, which had always grown stronger when we did sex.
Give in to me, Mariah, just this once… give me everything…
No blood, I thought back. Don't even ask for a taste.
His vampire sway should've been enough to get me to surrender, but I was resolute these days. 562's blood had made me stronger than anyone or anything I'd ever known. Even so, I was already damp for him.
I resisted Gabriel, not wanting to lose control of my body, becoming that new nonlunar creature.
Even though the full moon and my more dangerous shape was twelve nights away, I knew that if my passions got the better of me tonight, I'd still regret it.
Got to stop now… I thought to Gabriel.
You won't change form, Mariah. I'll make sure you don't.
He was patient, waiting for my answer. But he wouldn't be that way for much longer if he kept rubbing me like this.
I told myself to pull away, but somehow, I wasn't doing it. I kept thinking that whenever we got together, we always managed to tear ourselves from each other before it got lethal, and we'd be able to do it this time, too. Gabriel would just go for his animal blood-filled flask at the side of the bed, drinking down the sustenance while he slid into me, giving me pleasure in that way while I held back my monster. It was a risky game that we'd won so far.
One night, though…
As I started to tremble, my mind kept grabbing at logic, even though it seemed as if emotion and need were eating it right up.
Gabriel had changed so much during these last months, just as much as I had, his bloodlust growing and growing as a maturing vampire. What we had wouldn't end up in a good place.
I'd first met him in the New Badlands, out in the nowheres, when he'd been able to masquerade as a human well enough. He'd contained his thirst, holding on to his humanity as best as he could back then. He'd even been a hero to our secretive were-community, going up against the Shredder who'd wanted to slay every last one of us.
But even as he'd been so noble and honorable, he'd met me, and I'd brought out the worst in him.
Maybe that wasn't altogether true, though. Since coming upon other vampires here in the urban hubs, Gabriel had been schooled proper. He'd learned that vampires eventually let go of their humanity, anyway, and his escalating need for blood and the lack of caring about it was only natural.
Yet something inside Gabriel was still fighting his instinctsI could feel the push and pull inside him even now through our link as he pulled me backward, closer to him, where I could feel the buzz of his bare skin. His remaining humanity was the only reason he still drank from that flask instead of sinking his fangs into me. Besides, he knew that if he tasted the blood of 562, he might get even nastier than any regular old vampire.
Obviously done with all the waiting, he coaxed his fingers between my thighs. I held my breath. Then, even though I should've stopped him, he delved between my folds.
Up, into me.
I sucked in that breath while my blood flooded and tingled, hurting in such a nice, scary way. He churned his fingers in and out, and my hips moved to meet every stroke.
I clung to my logic while I still could, but the heat was taking me over, a pounding that would lead to a burst, an explosion into my new form…
From the back of me, his stiffness probed between my thighs, and I knew that this was the time to leave that bed, but I didn't. I parted my legs, because I was his already.
My blood was his blood.
Thudding in every place that his skin touched mine, I started the change I so wanted to hold back.
First, there was a blue-tinged wanting…
Then something that had been building for the past couple of weeksa bigger hunger that just got redder and redder by the second.
A craving unlike any I used to feel, and it split me down the middle in a streak of cruelty, a need to hurt… especially those who'd hurt me.
But somehow I shut out that hunger, angling my head into Gabriel's arm, where my cheek met his skin.
Smooth. Cool. No scent.
I bit into him, not rough enough to break his harder-than-human skin. Just enough to warn him that we were getting to a point of no return.
He growled, and if I turned round, I'd see that his eyes had gone from their usual silver to a blazing red, that his fangs had popped, changing him from a seemingly human drifter to a seething devil.
He pushed his fingers into me harder, and I groaned, trying to hold back the meanness that was about to come out in me in a series of boiling, stretching, agonizing pulls.
His fangs scratched my shoulder.
"No," I said out loud now, my voice low, garbled.
God-all, he wanted a bite. I wanted it, too, but I wouldn't be limited to sinking my teeth into one of his veins. My bite would rip, tear, decimate.
And I had the feeling it wasn't regular blood I wanted, either. That split of cruelty prying me apart needed a certain sort of blood tonighthot, violent, brutally earnedand I pushed back at the craving as Gabriel took his fingers out of me, using his hand to spread my legs even wider.
He probed at me from the back again, and I winced. At the sound, he teased a little more, slipping against me, sliding until I couldn't take it any more.
"Gabriel." My voice on the edge, a warning. My vision gone to a pulsing violet.
Laughing low in his throat, he thrust into me, and I clutched at the sheets, yanking them off the corners of the bed, rocking my hips back against him, wanting him to go deeper so I would forget everything else.
But that was the human side of me, fighting this other… thing.
He rammed in again, and I moved with himone drive, two, more, again…
My blood buffeted me from the inside out, forging toward him, beating against my skin like fists even as I drew his own blood to my skin.
He bent to my neck, fangs scraping my flesh.
"No!" I grappled for his blood flask, not really knowing where it was, only knowing it had to be close.
But then he drew himself back, in striking position.
I tried to move before he could bite, yet he was faster than I was in my mostly human form, and his fangs needled my neck before I dodged out of the way.
In a crash of white, our mind connection went blank, like a lightning strike that had wiped out all power. But I didn't need to read his thoughts to sense the anguish in him.
He had reared back from me, as if something had jerked him away, and when I got to my knees, one of my hands pressing against my slight neck wound, I saw that he was tearing apart the bedclothes on his way to where he'd stored his flask near the edge of the mattress.
My body rhythms were shredding me, my breath like icicles puncturing my lungs as heat wrestled with the coolness of my will to stay strong.
He spit out my blood, gulped from his flask, spitting that out, too, then drinking more. His back was to me, and I hunched down, shamed. A power within me was pressing outward, as if my monster didn't want to stay in. My gaze was still violet, beating and fuzzy.
No, I thought again, but this time it was to myself. Just stop…
He finished draining the flask, then slowly looked over his shoulder at me, his gaze a little less crimson, but not all the way back to its humanlike appearance. His short hair was tousled, his face a wounded scape boasting a nose that had been broken and hadn't healed correctly back when he'd been human. All in all, he was a bruised, haunted revelation of all the remorse he could muster.
But there was a terrible slant to his mouth that negated that.
"The way you taste…" he said.
He ran a bewildered gaze over me, and for a moment, I thought that maybe I had started to turn without having realized it. But with one scan of my body, I saw that I was still as human as I could be, considering the circumstances.
As I calmed my pulsedon't think of the blood, think of breathing, just breathingI watched as Gabriel tossed the flask away.
"I can still feel your blood on my tongue," he said. "It… numbs me."
I still didn't get it. Not until I thought about the word numb.
"Like a poison?" I asked. My muscles ached a little, and not only because I'd tempted my body to change. It was because I wanted him back inside me.
"Like a poison," Gabriel repeated.
I didn't think I'd heard him right, and I retreated to the wall, near my pillow. Before I'd turned into this new creature, he'd taken my were-blood. It had bolstered him, and I'd even thought…
Well, I'd thought that maybe I might be the only being in this world who could make him feel that way. But that was before I knew better.
Before I'd exchanged with 562 and become real poison.
My mind spun as he wiped the back of his hand over his mouth.
God-all, poison. Were-creatures worked that way with one another. We didn't yearn for each other's blood, because it pained us to taste and digest it. That was a good thing, too, because it kept the more powerful creatures, like the wolf I'd been, from attacking the weaker ones, such as the were-elk, were–mule deer, and were-scorpion who'd been a part of my Badlands community.
Had 562's blood changed the composition of mine to the point where Gabriel couldn't stomach it now?
I wasn't sure how I'd even been able to digest 562's blood in the first place, but maybe it had something to do with the way 562, my origin, had quickly and deceitfully taken my blood before I'd taken it from her/him.
Gabriel stayed on the other side of the bed, having turned away from me again. I wanted to reach out, run my palm over the lean muscles of his back. "I don't get it," I said. "The night of 562's rampage, she/he kept mentally appealing to you with the notion of feeding you with blood. Why would 562 have done that if it would've poisoned you?"
"Maybe its blood just tastes bad enough so that none of us would try to drink from it. 562 offered it out of love. That's what it kept thinking to me, anyway."
I'd always thought of 562 as more were-creature than vampire, with its snout and fur, its copse of long teeth and its response to a full moon. Maybe that was why it had chosen me to be the drinkerbecause for the rest of the Reds, mother's milk wasn't healthy.
Besides, now that I thought about it, I had gotten sick on 562's blood, just as if it were a poison. But I'd swallowed it. I'd taken it right in, unlike Gabriel.
"Why did you take it from me?" I asked. "You knew that my blood could be dangerous in other ways."
His shoulders slumped, and the sight of such a strong man weighed down did the same to me.
"Whenever I'm with you," he said, "I tell myself I won't give in. But I did this time."
"Maybe we should…" What? I was out of ideas, and I couldn't stand the thought of never feeling Gabriel again.
"Tonight," he said, "it was a prick on your neck from my fangs. Next time…"
Next time he might get even more violent, and I could see… feel… that the part of him still clinging to humanity might survive only if he was miles away from me.
My blood gave one last desperate stretch in my core, then began to cool. My vision went from violet to blue as it turned back to normal.
When he stood, I looked away from him, hardly able to afford for my body to heat up again. I couldn't stand to see how beautiful Gabriel was, pale and streamlined, his belly flat, his legs long. And his skin…
I liked the coolness and hardness of it. I'd grown so used to it.
He gathered his dust-worn clothesthe beaten white shirt, the jeans, the boots that had always reminded me of a lost cowboy from the movies of yore. He put the articles on, one by one, seeming so far away already.
"I need to go to the cells," he said, as if we'd only been in the middle of some discussion and were just now taking it right back up again. "I've got to talk to Stamp."
"Me and the other vampires have to keep at it. We've got to chip away at him until he brings down his mind blocks to let us know if there're other security threats outside the hub, just biding their time to come in and attack. And Stamp will break. The old ones tell me that all humans do it at some point."
Johnson Stamp, the Shredder who'd tried to kill us more than once. He'd even chased our group out here to the hubs, although he'd gotten his due in the end.
When I didn't say anything else to Gabrielwhat could I possibly utter?he turned round, all dressed now.
I held a sheet in front of my body. I don't know why when he'd seen it all more than once.
When he came over to me, it seemed as if he were going to bend down, kiss me softly. But all he did was touch my neck, healing my faint wound just before he headed back to the door, walking right out of it.
I should've told myself that it wouldn't be the last time he would need to leave me hanging, either. Not if we wanted to keep ourselves—and probably every one round us—safe. I was so easily riled, and I had caused enough trouble in the Badlands to know better than to cross lines now.
Reassuring myself with that mantra, I set about getting ready for the night, aimless, restless, and even now under the thumb of a hunger that Gabriel had brought out in me but hadn't assuaged.
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