Sixteen

Making himself at home on the couch, Antony lounged and propped his heels up on the edge of the coffee table. He looked at it, and the corners of his mouth twitched. Marianna threw a hissy fit—occasionally including magical zaps or a magically heightened voice—every time he did this, which he didn’t understand because that coffee table was, in his opinion, ugly as hell and had only cost thirty dollars. That she hadn’t even paid, because he had bought it for her because earlier that week she had thrown one of those fits saying that if he was going to invade her space and practically live in the new flat with her, then he could damn well contribute. By age fourteen, she had stopped fearing him. By eighteen, when she’d moved out and gotten the flat, or apartment, he wondered if she even remembered he was a Supernatural, let alone one that could eliminate her in moments.

He wondered where Lorens was, since he’d been the one to ask to meet him here. He heard a faint pulse and nearly silent breathing through nearby walls, but not the measured, nice-shoe-covered footsteps of Lorens. But then the door was shutting and a girl stood in the room, just a foot from the coffee table. She could barely be called more than a child, though Antony knew for a fact that she was anything but.

Antony schooled his face into a neutral, vaguely bored expression, despite how his mind was anything but that. Her own version of a poker face—perfected over two thousand years—matched his. The child looked on as she had all that time ago, too—head and shoulders straight and proud, with her chin tilted down and her eyes barely containing fires more historic than Pompeii, and though her frame was petite, each and every muscle tightly wound in a strength that could level entire cities. He could never forget her no matter how much time and distance was between them.

“Leherenno,” she spoke first, voice clear and steady as polished steel, her voice still carrying that accent of something ancient and long-forgotten. Her voice held no malice, unsurprisingly, but Antony still stiffened and coiled all of his power—witch magic and vampire strength—into his chest. After his first century, Antony could count on one hand the amount of times he’d really felt threatened or nervous. The other vampire must have sensed it, and she tilted her head as she looked at Antony.

“Artahe” he answered, nodding in greeting to the girl. He figured it was polite enough, for one of the few beings in existence that could actually measure up and be a challenge to him in a fair fight. He swirled his tongue against his teeth, about to speak again, but decided against it. He really just wanted her to go away, so why engage her in conversation and potentially be ensnared into some plot or deal—or another 2,000-year existence in the most powerful and unnatural way. You know how girls can be.

After a moment, Artahe must have realized he wasn’t going to say anything more, and spoke up herself. Antony felt a tiny pinch of relief, at least she hadn’t changed much over time—the sweet beauty of the Aspiates still wasn’t one for theatrics.

“We’ve come to ask for your assistance,” she stated calmly, the corners of her lips tilting and her eyes widening ever so slightly. The girl looked up at him, the picture of innocent pleading. Although, what she lacked in dramatics she more than made up for in both brains and heart.

“With?” He grit his teeth. “And it’s Antony now, thanks.” Artahe huffed and her shoulders slouched. Antony bit back a chuckle as he watched the thousands-year-old, terrifyingly blood-loving teenager roll her eyes.

“You know very well what with,” she said, her tone taking on a slightly more annoyed edge. “But I do not wish to fight with you, Leh–Antony,” she conceded, her expression remaining earnest. Then, Antony realized something.

“You sent the note, not Lorens?” he asked, though he had very little doubt. Her mouth turned down a bit and she nodded. He sighed. He knew his attitude was harsh; Artahe had always been the kindest of them, despite their nature. But he had left, so frankly, he couldn’t blame Lorens.

“I needed to speak with you. It is about Lorens,” she explained.

“Did you ever even lose him?” he smirked. She smiled and a tiny sound similar to a giggle hummed in her throat. She shook her head. He knew it. The more stuffy vampires of the higher ranks simply said that Lorens had had a “reputation” for being seen with her, but those close to the couple knew it was much more. When he had disappeared, the others had rather forcefully questioned Artahe, and in the end believed that she had lost him too. But Antony could never quite believe it.

“I knew of his feelings, and his needs for escape. I did not agree, of course, but I found that, when the time came, I could not betray him,” she said. Antony was torn between a flicker of triumph at having been right, and surprise at the knowledge that she had lied all this time. Artahe rarely lied. “I kept aware of him, to let him have his time, hoping he would return on his own. But…” she hesitated.

Antony inwardly sighed, realizing he would have to give a little more. “I am willing to talk, and not fight with you, Artahe,” he agreed. “Tell me, why are you here now? What are you planning?”

She stepped closer, seeming a bit more at ease. “Something has happened. We are unsure what, but…there is a distinct change, not just in our world but in all–human and Supernatural, day and night. Even the Veil,” Antony sucked in a sharp breath.

“I enlisted a witch in New York to find Lorens, because he needs to return. We must deal with this,” Artahe continued urgently, but Antony interrupted her.

“No, Artahe,” he said firmly. “I am not getting involved in this. I will tell you, Lorens will be back here soon, you can find him yourself.” He heard the quiet pulse quicken, gritting his teeth as he realized she could hear this. He knew how confrontations between his previous group went, and he knew Marianna would be caught in it. That would not be allowed.

“Antony,” she urged, his chosen name sounding foreign in her voice. “Something’s coming, something powerful. There are rumors in the Underground, but we are not able to confirm or deny them. We believe Serena is active.”

“Then what would you accomplish by dragging Lorens and me into it?” Antony asked harshly. Artahe narrowed her eyes, calm exterior swiftly replaced by urgency and an authority she had acquired after so long.

“He is our King, his disappearance makes us appear weak. His return would confute that. You have always been one of the most powerful beings in existence, likely more so even amongst the Six. You are an asset, and the entire world knows that. You cannot bury your head in the sand, I will not be the last to seek you out.”

She had a point. Antony flexed his sigh, exhaling through his nostrils. When he said nothing, she sighed. “I will return soon. Please, consider my words.” He nodded in response, and her mouth twisted in a mixture of disappointment and pity that had Antony narrowing his eyes at her. Then, she turned and let herself out, still managing to look regal through the tiny room.

He waited after the door had shut completely, straining his ears and murmuring a simple incantation that could enhance the senses in order to hear the light footsteps drift out of the building and down the street. He shifted, resettling and forcing himself to exhale.

“I know you heard that,” he called, not even turning as Marianna strode proudly out of her room and coming to stand, hands on hips, directly in front of him. She grimaced and kicked his feet harshly—for her little human strength, anyway—only succeeding in getting them off the table because of his surprise. She wasn’t the violent type, at least, not with her hands and feet.

“What the hell?” She bit out each word, and Antony watched her jaw stiffen and relax and stiffen over and over.

“Now, that’s a rather broad question that is applicable to a great deal of situations. I’m afraid I’m not quite following you,” he chirped, feigning cheek and relaxation. But he felt the façade fall when he finally looked into her face, past her angrily furrowed brows and stiff jaw. Her brows were furrowed in confusion, helplessly lost and even a bit betrayed; her lips were pressed tightly together to not spit out anything too cruel or stupid even though he probably deserved it; her whole frame was shaking and compressed into itself. Confusion, anger, fear. It wasn’t a good look for her. “You’re quite the cocktail, little margarita.”

“You’re one of them? You knew about all of this stuff going on, and didn’t think to tell or explain anything to me!” Her eyes were wide, and most of the time Antony found her temper funny because she was a small woman and sweet-looking. He also had grown rather used to her trust in him.  

“I didn’t think it ever really came up, and it wasn’t really a convenient fact anyway,” he said through gritted teeth, shrugging and glancing away from her. She didn’t understand that opening this story opened many more that he wasn’t entirely fond of telling to children.

“When is just not mentioning that you’re one of the oldest vampires existing—and the most powerful—inconven—how do you just not even mention that!?” She threw her arms out at her sides, tilting up toward the ceiling slightly and her words tripping over themselves in exasperation. He couldn’t help it; the sides of his mouth twitched up into a lopsided smile and he shrugged.

She stopped cold when she looked at him, and Antony felt the little positivity from her performance evaporate from him as she seemed to just shut off. Her eyes were cold and her mouth tilted down, her shoulders sagging.

“I knew you had a past,” she shook her head, frowning slightly and flitting her eyes around as if lost. Antony waited for her to finish, because it sounded like there was definitely going to be a ‘but’ in there. It seemed he would wait a long time because she whirled and was out the door before he’d realized she was leaving.