Sara Dobie Bauer © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Edmund tries desperately not to shiver, but he forgets himself every minute or so and allows a full body shake that vibrates the wet edges of his hair. We’re back on deck after our desperate leap into the ocean, my sailor and I. A half-hysterical Michelle wrapped us both in the heaviest fabric she could find once we were both safely lifted back onboard with our new passenger: the Elder.
He sits across from Edmund at a large table in our ship’s common area while I stand and glare. Michelle and Felipe linger silently to my left and right.
This Elder is nothing more than a rotting skeleton, covered in loose, hanging flesh. He smells of dead fish and refuses to take his dark eyes off the man I love.
“You are dying,” the creature says, his voice like the swinging of a rusted gate.
Edmund chuckles. “Yes. So you understand why I need your help.”
“Why do you want this gift, dead man? Power? Prestige?”
The creature’s gaze momentarily swings up, and I stand straighter. For the first time since we escaped the rolling waves, the Elder addresses me: “How frustrating for a strong vampire such as yourself that you cannot save the one you adore.”
I’m about to respond when Edmund speaks first. “I would prefer to keep this conversation between the two of us, if you don’t mind. It is, after all, my life we discuss.”
The Elder studies Edmund and says nothing. For a long moment, he merely observes. Although the blanket covers Edmund’s black, infected flesh, it’s impossible to miss the green pallor of his skin, the purple circles around his eyes, and the color of his lips, now practically white. All signs of the healthy young man I first met are gone.
“You have no fear right now, dead man. Strange for one with so little time left. I tasted it underwater, your fear. Quite a strong bouquet.” A tongue like a slippery snail pokes out from the Elder’s mouth to lick cracked lips.
“You tried to pull me under.”
“You offered yourself.”
“I needed to get your attention.”
I’m not sure, but I think the Elder smiles. He shows his teeth anyway—long, pointed fangs bigger than any I’ve seen. “And now, you have it, dead man.”
“My name is Edmund. And you?”
Again, those eyes—so dark as to be almost black—glance at me. “Brien.” He growls the R. “If the world is still how I recall, Edmund, nothing is free. You woke me with your dying flesh because you need something.” He opens his hands before him, skin wrinkled, sharp fingernails like weapons. “What do I get from you?”
Edmund shivers and groans. When he bends over in pain and rests his forehead on the table, Michelle stops me from rushing forward. “What do you want?” Edmund asks.
As my darling struggles to find the strength to sit, Brien watches with interest—I assume. It’s difficult to tell with the sagging, wet flesh. Logic says the Elder should be dry by now, but he continues to drip foul water as though made of the stuff.
“You can have anything,” Edmund says.
Brien leans forward and sniffs, seeking Edmund’s scent. “I want to kill you.”
I step toward them. “No.”
The Elder stares at me. “No?”
“Edmund requested I do that.” I could say more about how I want to taste his soul, how I want that moment to belong to me and me alone. I want him in my arms the moment he takes his last breath. So many things do I want, and this monster of the sea would steal it all.
“Dead man?” Brien practically purrs.
“Damn it.” Edmund closes his eyes. “Fine. My life is yours.”
“It is better than the alternative, love,” Edmund mutters. “Is that all you require?”
“I will travel with you wherever you now go.”
“Michelle?” Edmund says her name but doesn’t turn. I don’t think he’s strong enough to move anymore.
My old friend—once enemy, now leader—steps forward in her sweeping skirts. “Of course, Elder Brien. We are at your service.”
“You might want to…” Edmund coughs. “Find something to wear. They frown upon naked corpses walking around London.”
Felipe laughs—one short burst of amusement.
“Do we have a deal?”
Brien lowers his head. “Yes, Edmund.” He looks up and shows his teeth. “Ah, there it is—the smell. Now, you are afraid.”
Edmund’s eyes are red. I don’t know if he cries from pain or from the thought of his own murder at the hands of a hideous monster. Perhaps he found comfort in the thought of me doing it because he knew I wouldn’t let him hurt. Brien appears liable to chop off each of Edmund’s fingers before letting him die—but I will not let that happen. I will be at his side. I will hold Edmund’s hand as his heart stops beating. Thinking of this, my own chest begins to ache.
My God, what if this doesn’t work? What if the Elder kills my darling and jumps back overboard? What if these are the last moments I have with the only creature I have ever loved? I lean down quickly and kiss Edmund’s forehead.
His hand finds my face. “I’m ready,” he whispers. “Are you?” He smiles at me.
I pick him up and carry him to our room. The others follow close behind. In fact, the entire crew stands in the hall, watching us pass. What’s about to happen hasn’t happened in centuries, and I suppose everyone wants a view.
By the time I rest my shivering love in the center of our bed, someone has given Brien a cloak, although it does little to hide the emaciated ground meat of his face. Michelle comes in but locks everyone else out, for which I am thankful.
I kiss Edmund, and Jesus, he smells almost as bad as the Elder. I kiss his lips softly as he whispers he loves me.
“I love you too. I’ll be right here.” I squeeze his hand and kneel on the edge of our bed.
From across the room, Brien watches me again with what I suspect is delight. I want to bark at him and ask what on earth could be so funny, but I bite my tongue. Now is not the time to provoke the only man who can save Edmund. As he leans forward, I lean back, paying the Elder respect.
He looms over Edmund, but strangely, instead of beginning his feast, he rests on his side and touches Edmund’s hair with his pointed nails. “I am going to kill you now, but I will give you a new life. One without sickness or death. Do you accept this gift I give?”
“As I feed, I want you to think. Picture yourself healthy—the way you were before this. Perhaps, the way you were when you first met your vampire.”
“Half drowned on a beach?”
Although I can’t help but smile, the Elder seems confused. “Perhaps not. Picture yourself how you want to be, and in a little while, it will be so. Do you understand?”
Edmund nods again and flails for my hand. I entwine our fingers.
“Thank you for your offering,” Brien says. He then moves faster than even my eyes can manage to follow.
Edmund whimpers when fangs break flesh. For a second, I think he’s going to fight back. His arm tenses as though he might rip his hand free and start punching, but he doesn’t. He gasps and sucks more air into his lungs than I would have thought possible. His heels dig into the blankets, and his last moan sounds like my name.
Then, he’s gone. I feel it as if I myself have died with him. His body is an empty space in the room, and I want to start screaming, but Brien holds his hand out as though to calm me. Maybe he feels my panic, my pain. God knows what strange powers he might have.
I’m so busy staring at Edmund, gray eyes open and vacant, that I startle when I notice a walking corpse no longer stands among us. Full on Edmund’s blood, Brien is now a man with long, black hair and pale skin. He is a man with fingers and a nose, and he climbs on Edmund as if to embark on some sexual act.
“Stay back,” he commands. His voice is no longer an aged growl but a bit of sweet smoke in the room. He opens his mouth over Edmund’s as one might before a kiss but, instead of kissing, he exhales.
I stumble back, right into Michelle, when a rolling, black cloud tumbles from his lips and right into Edmund’s mouth. I, of course, remember none of this from my own turning since I was quite dead at the time. Michelle is probably just as mystified. Her grip feels like sharp metal spikes around my arm.
The black smoke increases. Brien whispers quiet incantations as the smoke he exhaled pools around Edmund’s body. They float together in a dark cloud that moves as calm as ocean waves. It’s strangely beautiful. How I wish my sailor could see.
Brien leans back. He dances the edges of his fingers through the smoke that still surrounds my darling.
“Shh,” Michelle hisses. “Look at him, Andrew.”
The fog dances and caresses every inch of Edmund’s body. Everywhere it touches …changes. The blackened, infected rot of his fingers washes to a clean, pale white until I again recognize those hands I love so well. His chest fills out. The strong muscles, weakened by illness, return in shape and size. His ribs are no longer so prevalent. His cheeks are no longer hollows of disease. His eyes are—God, his eyes are moving!
“Wait.” Brien holds his hand out to stop my approach and stares at my sailor. The Elder resembles a painter admiring his handiwork and rightly so. If I thought Edmund was a beautiful human, immortality has made him a masterpiece.
He sits up suddenly. “Fuck.” Tendrils of smoke still curl around his calves.
Brien takes a firm hold on Edmund’s chin and turns his face toward him. “Hmm.”
“Who the hell are you?” Edmund asks.
“I am well fed.”
“Offering accepted, dead man.”
“Oh, shit.” Edmund turns his head away. “Andrew?”
“I’m here.” I lurch forward and land on the bed before wrapping Edmund in my arms. He presses his face against my chest and clings. I kiss the top of his head, his forehead, the tips of his ears. I hold him at arms’ length. “Are you all right?”
He gazes at his hands. “I…don’t know. Do I look all right?”
“You’ve never looked better,” Michelle says.
“She’s right.” I hold his face in my hands and nod as if he needs to be convinced. “You’re—”
“Perfect,” Brien says.
Edmund studies the stranger in our midst—this man with hair the same color as his own and eyes that do not linger so much as devour. “Thank you.”
Brien tips his head in recognition and addresses Michelle. “I would bathe.”
“Yes, of course.”
The Elder gestures to Edmund. “He needs to feed.”
“We have humans on board,” Michelle says.
I can’t consider leaving Edmund to go find him a human, and Michelle seems to know this. She doesn’t even wait for my request before saying she will send Felipe on the errand while she tends to the Elder’s needs.
Finally, we are alone.
Edmund, once again sheltered in my arms, speaks against my chest. “I didn’t enjoy dying.”
“Well. You never have to do it again.”
“It was too quiet. Dark.” His voice shakes. “Lonely.”
I loosen my embrace enough to see his face. “It’s done. You have come back to me.” The curls I push from his forehead are more lustrous than Italian silk. And is it possible his eyes are even brighter? Brien has indeed worked some kind of magic.
A loud voice from behind us interrupts. “Where is he? Where is the mad fool?”
I turn to see Felipe in the doorway, hair and eyes equally wild. I lean back in time for Felipe to leap forward and tackle Edmund on the bed. My old friend rubs his face on Edmund’s chest like a cat and claws at him just the same.
“You…” Felipe mutters. “You stink! Get this off!” He tears Edmund’s shirt, stained with the reek of illness, and throws it across the room. “Let me see you!”
By now, Edmund is laughing under the force of Felipe’s attention.
Felipe grabs his face and stares. “For fuck’s sake, you’re even more beautiful now than you were before!”
“Can you stop screaming at me, please?”
Felipe sighs and melts. He presses his face to the place where neck meets shoulder and hugs Edmund tight.
Edmund hugs back, eyes on me. “I’m all right, Felipe.”
Felipe sniffs and pulls away. He wipes his face with the back of his shirtsleeve. “I haven’t cried in a hundred years, and here I am, wasting my tears on the pathetic likes of you!”
Edmund falls back on the bed, smiling, still being straddled by the vampire who almost caused his death.
Felipe puts one hand on the center of Edmund’s bare chest as if checking for a heartbeat—which, I realize with a start, is no longer there—but he glances at me. “That Elder is a bit different after a meal, hmm? Could be Edmund’s older brother.”
It’s true their hair color is similar, although the Elder’s is much longer. Their eyes are nothing alike, however. Yes, both blue, but Brien’s are a dark navy while Edmund’s are the gray-blue of a sunny sea.
Even though Edmund’s heartbeat no longer echoes around our room, another one does. I finally notice the living, breathing creature in our midst. Wearing little more than a long shirt, he stands in the doorway: the beautiful redheaded youth I have so admired at coven orgies. I didn’t even realize he was on board with us, but my ignorance makes sense—I have fed from no one but Edmund in months.
That will have to change, won’t it? I’ll never feed from my beloved again. Damn Brien for robbing that right. A dark cloud arrives but quickly passes over me when the redhead walks farther into the room and Edmund, for the first time, notices his scent.
My sailor sits up straight and almost knocks Felipe from his lap.
“Oh, yes, I was sent to bring you dinner,” Felipe says mockingly as he slides from the edge of the bed and stands, adjusting, as always, his heavy lace cuffs.
The redhead stares at Edmund and does not conceal his wonderment and lust. Hours before, my darling was a pale-green weakling. Now, he’s back to his usual splendor—and then some.
Edmund extends his hand forward, and the redhead comes closer.
“Felipe, get out,” I command.
“No!” He pouts. “I want to watch.”
“Out, Felipe,” Edmund whispers, gaze never leaving his prey.
Felipe rolls his eyes but leaves, slamming the door behind him.
I sit beside my sailor and run my fingers up his spine as he beckons the beautiful blood slave ever nearer. Without preface, the youth climbs onto the bed and right into Edmund’s lap. Edmund’s hands wrap around his slim sides, and from this vantage, the redhead appears taller.
“I’ve admired you from afar.” Edmund noses at his neck, smelling.
The blood slave’s eyes slide shut, hands on Edmund’s shoulders. “I am yours, sir.”
“What’s your name?”
The redhead giggles when Edmund playfully nibbles his ear. “Flynn. And you are Edmund and Andrew. You fell in love on an island far away.”
Edmund smiles at me, arms still wrapped around Flynn. “Yes, we did.” He looks back at Flynn, back at me, and the smile is replaced by something akin to fear.
I put my hand in Edmund’s hair and furrow my brow in question.
“I don’t really know what to do.”
“Oh.” And I’ve never had to teach before. “Can you feel your fangs?”
I shrug. “They are now a part of you.”
Flynn shifts on Edmund’s lap as though seeking friction. “Lick here.” He tips his head to the side. “I’m told I taste of vanilla.”
No wonder this slave is so popular.
Smiling, Edmund does as instructed, and Flynn gasps at the flick of tongue. Edmund closes his eyes and opens them, and I can see the pointed tips of fangs between his parted lips. “Jesus, I feel like a twelve-year-old boy with an untrained prick.”
I snort, and Flynn pulls him closer. “Feed, sir.”
He blows out a breath as though to calm himself, and although he now doesn’t need to breathe, it will take time for the lifelong habit to die. He leans forward and tilts Flynn back, the boy pliant in his arms.
“To us?” Edmund asks.
I nod and rest my hand in the center of his back.
He bites into the side of Flynn’s pale neck—a neck decorated in old scars from years of living in Michelle’s New Orleans coven. Flynn croons at the sensation. For his part, Edmund groans and leans forward on his knees, resting Flynn on the bed beneath him. I watch and listen for when he has had enough, and when the moment is right, I tell him so.
He pulls back, but Flynn still clings to his hair as if he wants more. “Make love to me, sir.”
Edmund licks a spot of blood from his top lip. “I cannot. I have only one beloved now.”
My dead heart soars at the very idea.
“But I believe you would be so gentle…” Flynn rolls onto his side and begins to doze.
Edmund admires him for a moment before gazing at me. “Gentle is not something I want to be right now.”
I hurriedly carry Flynn from our room. In the hallway, I hand him to Felipe—who was apparently listening at the door—and tell him to fuck off. I have very important things to do. Well, one thing in particular.
When I turn around, Edmund has shed his breeches and wears nothing but muscle and skin. “Jesus.” I sigh and put my hand to my chest.
“You’re too far away for what I intend.”
“I can’t believe you’re mine.”
He smiles, revealing his white, pointed fangs. “Come on, then.”
I try to tackle him onto the bed, but he moves too quickly—and he’s much stronger now than he used to be, especially since… “No fair. You’ve just eaten.” He has me pinned, straddling my hips with his hands holding mine to the bed. I know I could buck him off if I chose—I am hundreds of years older—but I choose not to, allowing him his current study of my face.
He lets go of my left hand and touches my lips. “I can really see you now. You’re different.”
“Am I?” I run my free hand up the outside of his bare thigh. “Better or worse?”
“Neither. No, it’s…” He gets that look of his, the curious one he assumes when he’s figuring something out. I think back to our time on the island when my beloved naturalist wanted to know about my “species.” I wonder what experiments Edmund might soon run on himself—and the Elder. Good God, I hope Brien is prepared for a battery of questions.
“I can see into you—see the very love on your face.” He relinquishes control of my right hand too. His fingers tickle down my chest.
“I do love you. More than anything.” I squeeze his ass and press my clothed cock against his bare skin.
He gasps at the contact, tears my shirt open, and tongues my nipple. I actually wince when one of his fangs makes contact. I wrap his hair around my fingers and pull until I can see his face—and his fangs.
“You need to put those things away.”
He blinks. “Right. Hmm. Well.”
“Think about them. They’re like any other part of your body.”
“Other parts of my body are quite easily excited.”
I chuckle. “And thank God for that, but…” I tilt my head.
He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He takes another. I’ve seen him breathe this way, deeply and slowly, when he does his morning stretches on deck. I wonder if it’s his way of quieting his ever-racing mind. When he opens his eyes, he shows me his teeth, and they are white and straight and human again.
“You’re going to be brilliant at this.” I pull him to me and suck his bottom lip between my own. With our mouths still connected, he leans up higher on his knees and taps my hip. I understand the silent entreaty and raise my bottom half off the bed long enough for him to divest me of my breeches. Finally, we are skin to skin.
When our cocks touch, he lets out an inhuman moan. I shush him and put my hand over his mouth. “The whole ship will hear.”
“Let them.” He moves his hips in circles above me until my head falls back on the bed and I lose the ability to speak. I grip his hips and move my own body in small waves that meet his gentle whirlpool. “Fuck.” His hands clutch to my chest.
I open my eyes and want to sob at his beauty. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. It just feels…more.” His mouth drops open as he presses down roughly against me. “I didn’t know anything could feel this good.”
I caress his lower back before moving my fingers lower. One teases against his entrance, and the shock of sensation makes him shout. I push the fingers of my other hand into his mouth to stifle him. As I press a finger into his ass, it’s as if I have him pinned. His hips lose their careful rhythm as he ruts against me.
With him so distracted and despite his newfound vampire strength, it’s easy to flip him onto his back. He makes a quick noise of protest before I lift one of his long legs over my shoulder and push two fingers into his hole. Holy Lord, the expression on his face is almost enough to make me come. He clutches to the headboard above him and absolutely keens. His whole upper body arches off the bed.
“So beautiful,” I manage, although I’m surprised I can string words together.
When I enter him, we’re both beyond incoherent. We mumble vowels and consonants into each other’s hair. Now unafraid of hurting him, I unleash some of my immortal strength until his entire body shifts up the bed with every thrust. Soon, he’s half sitting with me riding him. He clutches to my shoulders, and I hold tight to his hips.
For a moment, I slow and kiss at his neck. I lick glittering sweat from the side of his face, and he stares at me like he wants to speak but cannot.
I continue my pounding pace and wrap my hand around his straining member. The back of his head makes a rather alarming sound against the headboard, but he doesn’t seem to notice as he comes with a howl that I swallow with a kiss.
I usually pride myself on tormenting my sailor by withholding my own orgasm, fucking him until the pleasure-pain becomes too much and he begs for mercy, but I can do no such thing. No, as soon as I feel his muscles clenching around me, I let go and melt against him. We are a tangle of tingling limbs and heaving chests when I return to my surroundings. His fingers dig into my scalp so much it hurts as I pant against the side of his neck.
“We will fuck every day, you hear me?” he says.
I huff out a laugh and thrust my softening member into him once more. The pleasure of even that makes my toes curl before I slip out. I realize I have him trapped, and the way his legs are angled—well. I run the tip of my finger over the soft skin behind his knee, and he jerks beneath me.
“Andrew, don’t you dare.”
I repeat the movement, and he giggles. He tries to shove me away, but he’s curled up in a way that hinders his strength. He is completely at my mercy, so I test pressures and motions on his only ticklish spot until he’s writhing with laughter beneath me.
“Did you think I had forgotten?”
He teased me for ages about the ticklish spot I had yet to find. He ultimately disclosed its location only when he thought he might die. I assume it was his parting gift to me, his little secret. Now that he will live with me forever, I plan to utilize my priceless knowledge in abundance.
“Yes. No. I…” He goes limp beneath me. “I admit defeat.”
I stop tickling. “And what do I get as your forfeit?”
He looks up at me, eyes aglow with pleasure and glee. “I’m pretty sure you have everything you need.”
I lower his legs from my shoulders, use his hips to shift him down the bed, and spread out on top of him the way he enjoys. I don’t need to say anything. Edmund is asleep in mere moments anyway.