Nightmare (The Noctalis Chronicles #2) by Chelsea M. Cameron
“You look different in the sun,” I say, turning on my side so I can ogle, I mean look at, Peter. I usually walk a fine line between ogling and looking. With his long, messy hair out of his eyes and his shirt off so he can soak up the maximum amount of sun, he's pretty damn gorgeous. With my heightened eyesight he's even more amazing than before we'd swapped blood.
“So do you,” he says, opening his eyes and glancing over at me. One blue, one green, a mark of being a noctalis. He tries to smile, but it's still not quite right. “How was that?”
“Still needs work.” He blinks at me, which is the noctalis equivalent of a shrug, or a sigh, or an, “oh well.” Sometimes it's all three. This feels like one of those times.
Even with the unpleasantness that happened here a week ago, we're sitting outside the mausoleum where I first met him. It seems like it was years ago, but it hasn't even been two months. Funny how time works like that.
“You know she's going to find a way,” I say, taking the conversation to a dark place. He'd told me so many times that we'd worry about it when it happened, but I just couldn't do that. The breeze teases our hair, tossing it around, as if it agrees with me. Peter closes his eyes.
He says the same thing he's said every time I've said it.
“She is not here now, and it will take her time to come up with a plan. Enjoy the sun. Isn't it glorious?” He's so freaking cheerful, I want to ask if he got a personality transplant. Instead I puff my cheeks out and give up. For now. One day this is going to be a problem, but Peter seems content to let it go. Apparently our personalities have switched places like in some magical teen movie.
I'd been the reckless one when we'd first met. The one who, after I knew he could kill me, still wanted to hang out with him. Which I did. Multiple times. Even after he'd physically threatened me; that wasn't a deal breaker. The only way he could have gotten rid of me was to actually kill me. Which he hadn't done, yet.
And then there was his brother, Ivan, who wanted me dead at first, but then decided he wanted me alive so I could destroy Peter. They're not really close, if that wasn't clear when I first met them. But Ivan and Peter had united to face a common enemy. Their mother, Di. The enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that. We'd see how long that lasted.
Normally boys will battle to the death to protect their mother's honor. Di wasn't their biological mother, but the woman who'd made them what they are. Noctali. A word I still didn't really understand. As far as I knew, it meant that Peter had wings and he drank blood. An angel vampire.
His other brother, Viktor, was a vampire werewolf. I don't even know how that works. I had no idea about Ivan and Di. I'd never asked. Ignorance was bliss where that was concerned.
“I really need to go home.” I groan, rolling up to a sitting position. I didn't want to go, but I knew I had to. At least Dad wouldn't be there and I wouldn't be subjected to smelling him. Not that my dad smelled bad. He smelled really good. Kind of delicious, and I didn't want to think about the fact that I'd started smelling other people's blood and it made my mouth water. Nope, wasn't thinking about it.
“Then you should go.” I knew he wasn't human, and didn't see things the way I did, but it still stung that he didn't beg me to stay.
“Okay, then.” I stand up, folding up the blanket I'd been using so my butt didn't get wet. It was nearly May, but the warm air didn't reach Maine until at least June. “Are you coming over later?”
“Why wouldn't I?”
“I don't know.” I'm getting frustrated, which happens quite often with Peter. I brush a bit of grass off the blanket.
“I will be wherever you are.” And then he says things like that, and my heart does this squeezy thing and I get all tingly. I want to kiss him, but don't act on it. I'm wary of anything physical with Peter. Not because I don't want to, or he doesn't want to (I think), but because I don't want him to die.
Peter can't fall in love with me. Which should give him a good enough reason to say goodbye and good riddance. There's just one problem. Neither of us can stand to be without the other one. The Claiming is kind of hard to ignore, what with him only being able to drink my blood and me wanting him to. Also the fact that I think he's the sexiest thing I've ever seen and I just want to sit and stare at him.
I'm still recovering from the last donation. I'd let him take much more than was good for me, because he'd needed it. If I wasn't careful, I was going to get anemic. We already had one sick person in the family. We didn't need another.
“See you later,” I say, trying to tear myself away.
“Goodbye, Ava-Claire.” I smile when he uses both of my names. He and my mother are the only people allowed to call me that. I give him a stupid little wave as I leave, but he just watches me as I walk away. I like the way he watches me. It also scares me.
I prefer to sit in the sun with Ava, but I understand she has activities that do not involve me. I respect her time, as she respects my “noctalis things,” as she calls them. Before I met her, many of those things involved hunting and chasing and feeding and killing. I enjoyed that time, but I enjoy my time talking with her more. Strange how priorities can change in a heartbeat.
I can still hear it, even though she's in her car. I could go with her, but I think she fears being with me too often. Fearing that I will end, even though I have already died. She spends a lot of time thinking about not getting too close to me. I can see it in her eyes. When she leans in and doesn't kiss me. When she smiles, and then puts it away.
If my existence were to end, I would feel peace knowing she was the one to end it for me. That does not mean I want it to end. Not anymore. I want to be with Ava, as long as I can. Even if that is one more second, I will take it.
I stay in the sun for another hour, absorbing as much as I can, feeling it sizzle through my veins, dissolving Ava's blood into fuel. If I'm not careful, I'm going to get drunk on her blood. We can get intoxicated if we have too much. It has happened to me many times, and I would rather not relive the experience. Instead of being slow and sluggish, we crave more and more and will stop at nothing to get it.
I leave my shirt off and let my wings push their way out of my back. I don't worry about someone catching me. It's hard having them away all the time, they feel strangled, constrained. I spread them out, stretching as far as I can. I can't fly until dark, but at least I can run. Tucking my wings back, I take to the woods. One of the things I like about Maine is all the undisturbed wilderness. The leaves and branches grab me, try to catch me as I go. I leave them in my wake, shattered. It is a relief to let my strength out. I have to be careful when I'm with Ava.
It takes minutes to get to her house. I approach slowly, as the building appears like a ghost from behind the trees that line the backyard. I hear two heartbeats. Ava and her mother. Both of them are strong, but her mother's is tired. She has cancer that will take her life shortly.
With our connection, emotions course through me like liquid fire.
It is amazing to me how often they coincide. Sometimes I will feel one way and I receive another from her and we both realize and shift to try and fit the other person. She laughs and I attempt to. We are still working on that. So far, she has told me my laugh sounds like a creepy clown mixed with Lord Voldemort. Having read the Harry Potter series, and also seen a circus, I know this is not a good thing.
I can't practice laughing without her. Things aren't as funny when she isn't here.
I knock politely on the door, waiting for Ava to bound down the stairs. She opens it, face flushed with exertion. A piece of myself that she'd taken with her falls back into place, and it is easy to move my face into what I hope is a smile.
“Not bad.” Her smile shines nearly as bright as the sun. I often wonder if it is the Claiming, or something greater than makes me think these things of her. It doesn't matter, either way.
Ava's mother steps in behind her and gives me a smile as well. Not as warm as Ava's, but it is still a smile.
She makes sure her wig is straight before saying hello. Human vanity is a mystery.
“Hello Peter, it's been so long since we saw you last.” I have grown used to her and Ava's sense of humor which borders on dry.
“Mom,” Ava says, giving me an apologetic look. “Come on.” She doesn't wait for me to follow her into the living room. I am only allowed downstairs when Ava's father isn't home. Claire winks at me as I walk behind Ava to the room where we spend most of our time under her watchful gaze. Ava is wary of being alone in her room. Either worried her mother will get the wrong idea, or she might get too close to me. I am not sure which she is more concerned about. The residue from the night I hurt her hasn't worn off completely. I regret it now, but at the time I thought it was for the best.
“My pick,” she says, going to a cabinet filled with games. We'd played Monopoly, Clue, Battleship, Life, checkers and I'd taught her chess. This time she picks a deck of cards.
“Know how to play War?”
I have seen wars, but I have never played the card game. “Not exactly.”
“It's super easy.” Her delicate hands open the box and her fingers flutter through the cards. Music plays in the background, streamed from her music machine I can never remember the name of. I can also not remember the name of the artist currently singing. But Ava likes her, so I don't mind. I like when she hums along with the song because she does not know she is doing it.
Ava explains the rules of the game, which are easy to grasp. We start playing and she has to remind me to slow my movements, should her mother walk in. It is a struggle to contain my noctalis instincts. The more time I spend with Ava, the more my natural movements come out. My natural noctalis movements, that is. In a way, she makes me both more human and more noctalis at the same time.
We don't speak much as we play, the only sounds are the slide of the cards on as we lay them down, the music and Ava's breathing. I could listen to her breathe forever. I look up and see her concentrating, her forehead wrinkling. I want to take my hand and smooth it away, as cute as it is. I have never used the word cute in my existence. But she is.
Like clockwork, her mother comes in and asks us if we need anything. We always say no. Claire doesn't know about my status as a noctalis, but Ava wants to tell her. Claire looks disappointed as she says that she baked some banana bread. The mention of bread makes Ava smile, but she looks sad as soon as her mother leaves.
“I'm so tired of lying to her.” She leans back against a pillow, her cards fanned in front of her face.
“Then don't.” She lays down a five. I put down a seven and scoop up both cards, adding them to my pile.
“I don't know if this is the best time.” Her eyes are on me, and not the cards.
“Will there ever be a best time?”
“You do have a point.” She lays her cards down and taps her chin with her pointer finger. Her thinking posture. I know Ava well enough to not interrupt her thinking process. She pulls at the key around her neck. The key to the trunk that contains everything from my human life that now sat on her bedroom floor. After I had brought it to her bedroom one night, she had strung it on a cord so she would never lose it. I had been right to entrust it to her care.
“Would you like me to leave?”
She sighs, expelling the air from her lungs all over me. “No, I think we need to do this like Tex. Only less, you know...” She waves her hands. I know what she means. Less swearing and sarcasm. Somehow I knew Claire would take it better than Texas.
“Ready?” I say, standing and holding my hand out to her. There is no time like the present.
“Why not?” She stands and takes my hand without hesitation. I try to send her strength for what is to come. She will need it.