Seven

The pounding against the door to her apartment was harsh and loud, rudely interrupting the silence that had been blanketing the unit for a full two days. Fifty hours, and twenty-seven minutes since Cass had attempted to savagely murder the guy she’d thought, as a human, she’d been in love with. Yet, she didn’t feel particularly sad about it. The entire situation was just rather shocking, and she’d retreated her to try to think, to process. Every normal, sane human has at least brief moments where they’d like to hit or even kill someone momentarily agitating them. But there is always the human instinct that recognized a fellow being, and stops us from actually harming one. Or perhaps that is actually the survival instinct assessing that the other human was bigger and we wouldn’t succeed in the fight. It didn’t seem present anymore.

“Cassille, I must speak to you, please open the door,” Lars called through the pounding, polite and measured but Cass could hear the grit of annoyance. Well, he was disturbing her bubble, she was annoyed too. Deal with it.

“Vampires have to be invited into homes,” she quipped, remembering that she’d read this in an article about older vampire lore, and not Twilight or True Blood or whatever else. it had to be a bit more accurate, right?

“Actually, that’s witches. They spread the rumor inaccurately on purpose, hoping to distract from their own setbacks and some false security to humans in the Dark Ages,” Lars voice was clear, not muffled, and Cass huffed half-heartedly when she glanced to see the nicely dressed vampire stepping in and closing the wooden door behind him. She thought she’d locked that.

Cass just nodded. Lars sighed and stood in front of her, seated on the couch with her legs loosely drawn into her body. He glanced her over, and Cass wanted to scoff. She was in a thin sweater and loose pajama shorts with opaque tights underneath. Her hair was unkempt, yes, but not horribly messy, and she was clean. He wasn’t going to find the distraught mess of a girl falling apart as her world did backflips–because she wasn’t there. Cass hadn’t cried once, nor had she felt the urge to, over Peter’s near-death or her violent, cruel behavior. There wasn’t a need to cry, nor was there an urge to be angry or scared. If anything, it was all just very interesting to her. This was more than a lack of empathy, this was an absence of basic human instincts. When the human had raised an arm to fend her off, despite being taller and more massive than her, she’d hissed and lunged anyway, not even blinking. No regard for physics, or the natural order, or even what her conscience would have felt.

Lars realized this, she watched it click in his eyes as he broke eye contact and glanced around the unit. “I think it’s time we leave, Cassille,” he said finally, looking back at her conversationally, as if noting that the air had a gentle chill to it.

“Where?” she asked, equally straight and unconcerned. She did agree, though. People in this city knew her, she’d spent six very active years here, and already her phone was beginning to chime daily with questions of where she’d been and why they hadn’t heard from her. Not that she was the loudest, most sociable human anyway, but two weeks was unusual. Plus, she felt an energy, a restlessness in her gut, and it itched at her legs throughout the day and now she had an eternity to scratch.

“Paris,” Lars answered, the corners of his mouth tilting upward at her ease. His eyes glimmered, and Cass wondered if it was expressed excitement or a trick of her crappy city apartment lighting. “In simple terms, it is vampire capital. The very first vampires were created in France, and Supernatural beings tend to be rather territorial, and have a special pull towards the birthplaces of our species.”

Cass had always wanted to go, so she simply grinned and nodded. “When do we take off?”

Less than 24 hours later, Cass was curled in a window seat with Lars in the seat beside her, on one of the huge Boeings flying towards France. She’d packed up a duffel bag, Lars assuring her that he had plenty of money if she wished to shop there, as well as urging her to get into the habit of carrying essentials only. Unsurprisingly, vampires nowadays tended to be nomadic, Lars explained, tending to travel in small groups–if not alone–and rarely staying anywhere longer than a few years, at most. “Now, people live longer and have solid records–photographs, the internet–so they realize when it’s been ten years and I still look barely thirty,” he’d said lightly.

“Cassille, you may wish to remain accompanying me as long as you like,” Lars murmured about four hours into the flight, his voice so low that Cass was sure only she could hear. “We are solitary creatures, and the world is so large especially to you, and I would not at all be concerned if you decided you want to separate and travel on your own, with your own agenda and desires.

“However, for now, I would prefer you stayed. You’re new, young, and I’d like to teach you how to live properly. Trust me, life is much easier if you follow just a few guidelines, so to speak,” he smiled wryly, and Cass smirked, her mind envisioning Lars on a stage with a bloody mouth and performing radical circus tricks. Or whatever. Something loud and that tipped even the dumbest people off that he was obviously not normal. She wondered if he had any awkward Facebook pictures.

“You’ll find that Paris is full of vampires–it’s our home, and a very easy city to live as a vampire in,” he continued. Cass listened with an attention that surprised her.

“Perhaps I can make friends that at least look my age,” she teased, acknowledging that, now, it mattered very, very little what a person looked like. Her spine stiffened when she also implied friendship. It felt wrong now, to have such a simple, light term because she simply didn’t hate the man next to her.

“I do encourage you to be social,” he nodded, skimming over it. “However, I do also advise that you be cautious. After so long, life changes itself. Your actions have greater impacts, as the chance of escaping consequences through death lessens. Be wise, Cassille,” he looked at her, brown eyes meeting hers. Cass nodded seriously, not doubting him for a moment.

He fell silent after that, and there was an hour of comfortable quiet before she broke it. “You said that I’m already ‘good at’ this,” she murmured, still not sure he’d meant for her to hear that and thus unsure if she was allowed to bring it up.

Lars nodded, his eyes remaining forward. Irritation spiked along her shoulders at his silence. “What did you mean?” she pressed. His lips thinned and she watched his jaw tighten, nearly imperceptible if she hadn’t been watching him like a damn hawk.

He didn’t answer, and the irritation remained like an itch directly between her shoulderblades, in the one tiny inch of space that her arm couldn’t reach. She tried a different tactic. “Why didn’t you let me kill Peter?” she practically hissed to keep her voice quiet. It had been bothering her the last few days, a large streak in the swirling mass of analysis in her mind.

“You might’ve regretted it,” he answered, words clipped and made of ice. She scoffed quietly at his lack of a real answer–really, he’d just been a walking encyclopedia of the Supernatural and now he was a cement wall. With a sigh, she dropped it and rested her head back against the seat, closing her eyes and knowing when to call a lost battle.

********

“This is cliché,” Cass smirked, rolling her eyes at Lars. The man nodded slowly, sighing.

“It is well-known and sentimental for a reason,” he countered, and she had to nod. The top of the Eiffel Tower at night was definitely cheesy and touristy, but it also undeniably beautiful. The landscape below looked like a dark sea, its waves frozen in place with lights interspersed in them to be at all different height, brightness, color, and even direction. They threw the concrete buildings into an elegant silver, and it mixed oddly yet righteously with the softer orange and yellow glows of lamps in windows.

The tower wasn’t all that high up, relatively, and with the new enhanced vision, Cass could see what color dogs people were walking along the pale grass near the tower’s base. She could even see the signs of the nearest few restaurants and cafes, still with their lights dimly on to treat passersby to coffee and little desserts. It was so very French, and Cass found it comical.

“Enjoying the view?” an unfamiliar voice chirped in her other ear, sounding casual but with an obvious undertone. Narrowing her eyes, Cass imperceptibly glanced at the side where Lars had been standing, and then turned her whole head to look at the guy grinning easily next to her, leaning on the railing.

“I was,” she said easily, but hoping he’d take the hint. His grin just widened slightly, and Cass bit back a groan. Even on a different continent, they didn’t change.

“Sorry to have interrupted, I just wondered why a girl is on the top of the Eiffel Tower in the summer in Paris by herself,” his tone stayed easy, innocent, and his expression looked the same. There was no leer in his voice, his eyes didn’t even drift much except around her face. Cass smirked to herself—he actually probably did know her eye color.

“I wasn’t alone,” she muttered, looking around more fully for Lars. She spotted him several feet away, looking out at a different side of the city, but remaining still. She figured that was alright, he could overhear everything. Besides, she was a vampire now—and apparently a good one—she could handle herself before, she could handle herself now. “You’re alone too,” she added pointedly, raising her eyebrows at him.

His expression was the picture of surprise. “Would you look at that, what’re the odds? You’re observant,” he nodded to her, his grin widening again. He was cute, all dirty blonde hair and red lips and sparkly eyes. And entertaining enough. Cass felt herself relax slightly, some human interaction after everything was probably good.

“But you know, you’re not too observant,” he sighed, looking at her with a pout, face disappointed. She tensed, narrowing her eyes again. He leaned into her, and Cass felt every muscle clench, ready to push him over the damn railing if his skin so much as brushed the loose cloth of her shirt. “You haven’t noticed that you can’t hear a pulse, or smell fresh, pumping blood in me, little vamp.”

When he pulled back from whispering in her ear, he was grinning easily again, looking slightly condescending. Cass let out a breath, the tension loosening slightly as he didn’t seem threatening. She did think though—she focused on the sounds around her, her senses, as he said. Car tires grating against dirt, dogs panting for excited breath, the buzz of audio through cell phones and headphones, the rather loud squeal and grind of the tiny lifts on the tower. And no heartbeat thudding just several inches from her. She looked at him closely, past his slightly messy hair, down his small chin, over the smooth, pale skin of his neck above his collared shirt. His neck was smooth and still as stone.

“You’re a vampire, too,” she breathed, but then cut short when she inhaled. He had a scent. Lars didn’t, and the clothing she’d worn most recently held only the smell of detergent and the dusty wood of the hotel closet. She sniffed past the metal of the tower, the faint sweat of other people’s grips, the trails of detergent and wood on his clothing. He was close enough that she knew the musky, slightly coppery tang mixed with just a hint of Sulphur was him.

“Not a normal one,” he chuckled, but his grin no longer looked relaxed, and his eyes held no humor. “But don’t worry, I’m vampire enough, and I’m not a threat to you.” His face softened and his shoulders were loose, and a tiny, comforting smile twitched at his lips. Cass doubted she’d now let him dangle her on the edge of the tower, but she believed that he wasn’t about to rip her to shreds.

“Why do you smell different?” she asked curiously. He grimaced, and shrugged.

“It’s a bit of a personal story, and I don’t even know your name,” he answered. Cass shrugged, made enough sense.

“Call me Cass,” she felt a small, polite grin twist her mouth. His grin was genuine, however, and he held out his hand.

“Marco,” he said, and she shook it. “So, lovely Cass, first time in Paris, I’m assuming?”

“Yeah, I guess the touristy agenda gives it away,” she held her hands out around them, gesturing how she had been posed so intently on the freaking Eiffel Tower. He nodded.

“Every vampire comes through Paris at some point,” he shrugged. She nodded, remembering Lars’ explanation. “Some move on after just visiting for the hell of being here, others to actually make connections. Some—like myself—just decide to live here. For a bit, anyway.”

“You live in the city?” she encouraged, with a bit more excitement than she meant to slip into her voice. Cass could maybe imagine it, having lived in Boston for college, but Boston wasn’t Paris. This city was probably calmer—though not much cleaner, she’d noticed when the sidewalks had been littered with cigarettes—and much lovelier. And with even better food and accents.

He nodded, smiling contentedly. “Yeah, my sister and I lived in Egypt in the twenties, then were turned, and came here soon after. Not many vampires in Egypt—and the sun there is especially brutal,” he quirked a lopsided grin. “Been here ever since.”

“Isn’t it difficult?” Cass wondered aloud. “Explaining the aging after about ninety years?” she raised her eyebrows at his definitely-not-ninety-years-old body. He grinned flirtatiously.

“Tell them it’s all in the moisturizing,” he said smoothly, then laughed. “The majority of the city’s population is vampires, so most already know. Otherwise, a large amount of people I’d run into are visitors and tourists, so they’re easy to convince. And finally, if all else fails, we just generally keep a low profile.”

Her disappointment must have shown, because he quickly continued. “Oh, no, we still definitely enjoy the city, my sister and I,” he explained, grin turning mischievous. “It’s easy to blend in and ‘keep a low profile’ when partying and enjoying Europe, lovely Cass.”

Cass talked with Marco for over two hours, Lars finally coming over and introducing himself just before Cass’ phone screen read four AM. Lars had come to ask that they leave, and Cass was fine with that.

“Are you alright?” Lars asked conversationally as they walked down the wide lane directly in front of the tower, their hotel not far.

“Yes,” she answered simply. She was. The hunger burned, as always, but they’d fed just before climbing the Eiffel Tower so it was still bearable. Lars was looking at her significantly, and she sighed internally, diving into her thoughts and consciousness to more fully answer him.

Marco and she had exchanged phone numbers—Cass had had a laugh at that, a mythical being about a hundred years old carrying and easily using a cell phone—and he’d urged her to find him again, so that he could demonstrate ‘enjoying Paris’. It had been interesting. This was the first male—besides Lars—Cass had willingly spoken to since…since changing. And for the most part, though she still had only smiled at Marco once the entire talk, she hadn’t really minded him.

“I am alright,” she answered again, and this time Lars seemed to accept it.

They slept until early afternoon, and then just remained in the hotel until twilight, just after the sun had set. Cass woke to fiery claws shredding her insides, gasping and half-sobbing, and Lars darted out to grab one of the cleaning staff, carefully hitting her skull so that Cass fed from an unconscious woman who would wake perfectly fine with only minor gaps in memory.

Cass made a mental note to learn that, fast. She also wished vampires were a bit more like books, with mind control or something so that she didn’t just feed and hope that her meals didn’t wake up and grab pitchforks.

The two then ate a normal, human dinner in a quaint, dimly lit restaurant. The food was, of course, fantastic, but Cass asked why they bothered, since they didn’t need it. Lars looked slightly appalled.

“I cannot believe a descendant of mine just asked that,” he mocked, putting an overdramatic hand on his chest. “Over time, I’ve come to love food—humans treat it as an art, and it really can be unique and interesting. I eat because I enjoy the experience,” he nodded proudly.

Cass grinned tauntingly. “You and every other Frenchman.”

“I am the original Frenchman, remember,” he admonished and she sarcastically saluted.

They were standing on a bridge over the Seine, Cass leisurely pacing on the wide stone wall as Lars seemed to be in an important discussion with someone on the other side of the bridge. They’d just seen the man walking, and Lars had darted—in vampire speed, nearly a blur even to Cass’ eyes—to stand in front of him. The man had seemed startled only for half a second, then seemed to recognize him. Or at least, not hate him. There was no hug, or handshake, or any trace of fond recognition. Both man just stood rigidly facing each other, businesslike.

Cass was trying to be respectful and not listen in, but each passing moment grated on her patience. Until her phone vibrated in her pocket and she felt mildly surprised that Marco’s name was flashing on the screen.

She clicked the phone on without a greeting, not that she seemed to need one as “Hello, the lovely Cass” swept into her ear almost immediately. She tried to make herself smile at the customized greeting, but it didn’t quite work so she just shrugged it off, not caring.

“Marco,” she acknowledged. “What’s up?”

“My sister and I wish to go out tonight, and she wants to meet you after I came home and raved about you,” she could practically hear his smirk. “If I text you an address, will you meet us there at midnight, sharp?”

She agreed, then ended the call before he could say another word. A tinge of amusement brushed her as she pictured his easy grin wobbling as he realized she’d hung up so abruptly. She spun around to make another pace, only to find Lars looking up at her, his chest inches from the toe of her boots on the wall.

“Going out, then?” he confirmed, mouth twisting slightly upward. She nodded. “Good, you’ll enjoy it. And you should have some fun now, while we’re here.” She frowned.

“We’re not staying here?” She’d never really thought they were, not permanently anyway, but he hadn’t mentioned any other plans so…she wasn’t sure what she’d concluded, actually.

Lars shrugged, brow furrowed. “I’m not sure. I have no definite further plans, as of this moment, but soon I will have to keep moving. When that time comes, we shall assess if it is best you stay with me, or if you wish to remain here on your own.”

Unease snaked around the bottom of her spine, and Cass felt an unsettling, cold weight in the pit of her stomach. It seemed to extend up to the bottom of her throat, making her think about gagging. It must have shown, and before Cass could analyze or identify the feeling, Lars’ fingers were light but soft along the outside edges of her hand.

“We shall see when the time comes,” he repeated firmly. “No use in speculating when we do not have facts. Especially when you are to go meet a handsome vampire for a night clubbing in Pari,” he finished teasingly, lips quirking. She nodded, inhaling and drawing familiar, numb security into her stomach and leapt gracefully off of the wall and onto the bridge, shoulder to shoulder with Lars.