A Demon of Midwinter: Part 5
If you’ve just joined in, jump back to the beginning here.
Oh, “So what’s there to lose by telling me?” Some part of Rhys refused to leave, even though the larger part screamed at him to flee, to run and hide from certain rejection. Surprised he had any courage left, he straightened and peered at Dar.
The man stood still as a statue, staring straight ahead, and didn’t breathe a word as seconds ticked into minutes. He barely seemed to breathe at all. Rhys watched the planes of his face, hoping for some softening of that stony countenance. Finally, he gave up, his shoulders rounding in defeat. He picked up his notebook and tucked it in his jacket pocket as he turned to leave.
Dar’s hand lashed out in a blur and grabbed his wrist in a grip of granite. He stepped towards Rhys, who twitched at this sudden change. Dar took another step closer without letting go.
“Please understand.” The words were tight and strained. “It’s not that I don’t want you to kiss me.” His lips twisted in a half-smile as he stared at Rhys’ chest, releasing his wrist, which Rhys rubbed with his other hand. “I want to do much more than kiss you. You have no idea.” He lifted his gaze, which seared into Rhys. “But, really, you don’t know what I am.” He grimaced and moved to step away.
This time, Rhys grabbed him. He placed his other hand on Dar’s face. The man’s nostrils flared. “Tell me.”
Dar’s hand came up to cover his, and he canted his head so he could press his lips to Rhys’ palm. With their fingers intertwined, his lips inched towards Rhys’ arm. “I could show you.” His voice was husky as he cocked Rhys’ wrist. He shifted his eyes to look at him, inky despite the light coming from the sconces.
The breath caught in Rhys’ throat. A shiver passed through him, followed by a wave of heat. Dar held his gaze as his mouth opened, baring his teeth.
Rhys squinted. His head tipped sideways as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.
His fangs. A second later, Rhys watched as Dar’s tongue lapped out to lick the pale skin of his wrist. As Dar’s eyes fluttered shut, his lips pressed to the delicate skin. Rhys’ own lips opened, and a small gasp escaped.
Dar’s eyes flew open, and he jerked away, stepping back with an unnatural speed. He stared at Rhys and clenched his arms over his torso. His gaze flicked between Rhys’ face and his wrist. He swallowed, then spoke. “There are more things in heaven and earth —”
“You’re a vampire?” It was half statement, half question, Rhys’ own experience of the moment wrestling against accepted truth. His eyes lifted to the ceiling, and he shook his head. Vampires didn’t exist. They belonged in the fictional realm of demons and djinn, elves and ghosts, and other things that go bump in the night.
Along with things that kill by sucking the life from someone without leaving a trace. He dropped his gaze to Dar again, shying away. “John?”
“That wasn’t me.” Dar stepped closer, his hands reaching towards Rhys but not touching him before they dropped to his sides. Rhys peered at the vampire. Even without proof, Rhys still believed him. “But as I told you when we first met, there’s a connection,” Dar continued as his gaze flicked to Rhys’ pocket, the one that held his notebook. “The creature.”
He ran his hands over his face. “Just as there’s good and evil in humans, so there is in the creatures of the underworld.” He waved his arm towards the window. “Vampires who kill and enslave, and those who fight them.” His hand came to his chest. “But the Jólakötturinn are always wicked. Sure, they kill to survive, but they also kill for fun, playing with their prey. Luckily, they’re rare. This is the first report in over a hundred years.” He stepped closer. “And it’s my duty, my vocation, to stop it.”
“The Jólakötturinn? The Christmas Cat?”
“You’ve heard of it?”
“The Icelandic legend, yes.”
“Legends often have a kernel of truth.” Dar squinted at him, his head tipping sideways. “The Cat preys on the weak, the poor, the forgotten. And so the legend arose. The poor who don’t have warm clothes, and have no one who cares enough to give it to them, they become the prey. The Cat takes them.”
Rhys’ hand pressed towards his pocket, shaking his head. The world swum, and he focused on a faded flower in the carpet to steady himself. Dar’s fingers touched his chin, coaxing Rhys to meet his gaze.
“More things in heaven and earth, you say?” Rhys lifted an eyebrow.
“I might have borrowed that from an old friend.” Dar smiled, and Rhys’ head spun again. Dar’s fingers dropped away. “Come on, I’ll walk you home.”
Rhys nodded and followed him to the door. “I could use the company. I’m feeling a little woozy.”
Dar laughed as he shrugged his arms into his wool jacket. “And I didn’t even drink your blood.” He locked the door behind them, then indicated for Rhys to precede him down the stairs.
“No, but you did turn my world tail over teakettle.” Rhys started down, holding the banister. A shadow loomed in a patch of light down below. The landlady’s head popped out of a doorway, and she scowled at them, her mouth pulled into a severe frown.
Rhys quirked an eyebrow at her, his mood airy. Her gaze slid over his shoulder.
“Curfew is 10 PM, Mr. Iravani.”
“Really? It’s not even 7:00, Mrs. Silver.”
The woman shifted her gaze between the two of them, then disappeared into her room again as they continued outside.
“She’s a sour apple, isn’t she?” Rhys tucked his hands in his pockets, more to keep from holding Dar’s hand than to protect from the cold.
“Go easy on her. The old witch has seen a lot of evil in her life.”
Rhys’ steps stuttered. “Witch? As in…”
Dar leaned closer. “Witch. Weird sister. Sahira. Heks.” He jostled him with his shoulder then pulled away. “There’s no conclave of Athanatos here, so it’s the best I could do.”
“The unwicked undead. Like myself.” Dar placed his hand on his chest and then bowed broadly and deeply. When he straightened he was smiling again.
Rhys grinned in response. “Head is spinning again.”
“I thought I was what caused your head to spin.” His voice was low, the edges ragged.
Rhys’ heart skipped, and he glanced away, turning his gaze to the road in front of him, where a car shushed past in the slushy street. A cat skittered off the road to avoid being hit. Rhys’s head told him he was going too deep, too fast. I don’t care, his heart said. He swallowed. Pulling his hand from his pocket, he let his fingers skim Dar’s.
“What are you doing?” Dar’s voice was sharp and cold. He jerked his hand away.
“I—” Rhys blinked, and his eyebrows pulled together at the sudden shift in Dar's demeanour. He stepped towards him. “I thought —”
“You thought wrong. Just because I asked for your help in translation — doing my homework — doesn’t mean you can touch me.” Dar’s hands pushed him away, and Rhys blinked back tears as he peered at Dar, trying to find some reason for the change. But his face was marble. “Thank you for your assistance, but I won’t need anything else from you.” He spun on his heels and strode back the way they’d come, leaving Rhys alone in the cold and dark.
Rhys stood frozen for long minutes, his hands turning white, his toes going numb. Then he wiped the tears off his cheeks and turned homeward, the cat pressing into the shadows as he passed by.