Under Cover of Darkness
By Laura Feltyberger
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Lesson Three

Michael hunted on his own after that. He disliked having Gavriel or Sedrien hanging over his shoulder.

Gavriel watched Michael carefully. He had become downright surly. He was certain that Michael hunted for blood every night whether he needed to or not. That wasn’t normal or necessary. Something was wrong. He spoke to Sedrien about speeding his education along to his Psionic talents.

“He’s becoming stronger on the Predatory side. He needs to use his other talents before they atrophy.”

“I know that, but I wanted him to come to terms with the Predator first.”

“He’s coming to terms with it all right. I heard from a friend that he’s hunting every night and coming to her later to feed. He’s taking blood just because he can.”

Sedrien considered that a moment. “You’re right. I’d like to give him more time to settle into things, but we have no choice.”

“It could get ugly. If he’s already so dependent on blood it could be difficult to wean him from it.” Gavriel remarked. Despite his earlier differences with Michael, over the last few months he’d grown rather fond of the neophyte.

“That’s a risk we’ll have to take. If he continues to live on blood his emotions and the emotions of those around him will overwhelm him. He has to learn to shield himself and absorb the stronger emotions before they tear him apart. We can’t leave him to what he may become if he continues on that path.” Sedrien closed the book he’d been writing in, his fingers caressing the gold inlay on the leather cover. “Let’s just hope we’re not too late.”

Michael sat at the bar in the Captive surveying the crowd as if it were a buffet. He sipped a glass of Gavriel’s special reserve as his eyes raked the crowd, looking for something, someone. He saw a woman with long blonde hair laughing, yellow gold locks swinging down the back of her black slip dress in time to the music. He raised his glass to finish it’s contents, but the glass was taken from him before he could drink. Sedrien passed the glass to the bartender who washed the glass.

“No more of that for you.” Gavriel said. He picked up the bottle on the bar next to Michael.

“That’s fine with me. It tastes flat anyway.” Michael regarded his mentors with an almost drunken eye.

Sedrien placed an arm around Michael’s shoulders, drawing him from the bar towards the exit. “Someone has been looking for you. She’s very concerned.”

Michael shrugged off Sedrien’s arm, but followed him out the door and into the cab that waited at the curb.

They walked into the apartment where the lights were burning and there was a fire in the fireplace. A young woman sitting by the fireplace rose when she heard the men enter the room. It was Winni Arden. Bleary-eyed and pale, she looked as if she’d been crying. She took a step toward Michael and stopped, frightened of his reaction.

“You’re a little far uptown tonight, aren’t you Winni?” Michael asked callously. He tossed his coat onto the chaise with a reckless gesture.

She watched him as he struck a negligent pose on the chaise, sitting low on his spine, long shaggy sable hair spreading out on the ivory damask in careless waves. His eyes glittered with a menace she recognized: it was Gavriel’s hunter’s gaze intensified. He was very aware of her in the room, the scent of her blood was heavy and intoxicating.

“Michael, Winni has been very concerned for your welfare. She tells me you’ve been acting strangely lately.” Sedrien stood behind her, his hands resting gently on her shoulders.

Michael’s eyes slid shut against the moon glow coming through the long windows. “You don’t have to worry about me. I can take care of myself now.”

Sedrien led Winni to sit next to Michael on the chaise, then seated himself behind her. “Winni needs for you to do more than tell her. She needs proof. I want you to give it to her.”

“She’s had it over and over again. If she wants more she’ll have to start paying me.”

Winni flinched at Michael’s words, tears falling anew from her eyes. Sedrien knew it was simply a defense technique on Michael’s part, a technique to deaden the pain of his transformation from human to vampire; but it was time to put aside this particular device. Sedrien reached out and smacked the back of Michael’s head. Michael sat upright and regarded Sed and Winni with contempt.

Sedrien took Michael’s hand and laid it at Winni’s temple. Unconsciously Michael swept a tear from her eye with his thumb.

“Can’t you feel how much she worries, Michael? You’ve hurt her. She needs you to make it better.” Sed placed his own fingers against her skin, sensing the moment when Michael felt the draw of her sorrow. He was hoping that Michael could take it from there, but Michael was still feeling blood-thrall as well and he had to make sure Winni was protected.

“Winni, this is ridiculous. You know what I am, you know how I live. I can’t change that.” Michael’s brow creased.

“I know what you are and who you are. The man who has been coming to see me looks like you but that’s as far as the resemblance goes. The Michael I know was mourning the death of a woman he loved and of his human self. You are an unprincipled bloodsucker and I don’t want anything more to do with you!” Winni attempted to escape from the settee and Sedrien moved to stop her. He didn’t have to because Michael did.

“Martine died and so did I. I’d rather be numb than feel that pain again.”

“So instead I have to feel it for you. There’s nothing human left in you at all.” She jumped up and ran for the door.

“Winni!” Michael ran out the door after her. Sedrien remained on the chaise listening to the echo of their footsteps in the hall.

“Winni, no!” Michael caught up with her at the elevator. She turned and dashed for the stairwell. They ran down three flights before he caught her. She sobbed and writhed in his grasp.

“Leave me alone! I don’t want this. “ Winni screamed and the sound bounced off the concrete walls. She collapsed in his hands and he fell to the floor with her, trying to comfort her.

“No, I won’t hurt you. I’m sorry, Baby. It’s all right, I won’t hurt you.”

There on the cold stairs Michael embraced Winni, rocking her against his chest, kissing her forehead. He felt her pain flow out and he drew it into himself, the raw wounds from his rebirth aching again in a new way. As she relaxed and her sobs lessened a glow burgeoned inside him a thousand times more addictive than blood. As he took her sorrows into himself he grew stronger, surer of himself than he had been since Martine’s death. Michael felt a return of all the senses he had thought died in the darkness of his tomb at that first sunrise when his world changed forever. Bliss washed over him as Winni’s tears sang through his blood.

Sed and Gav found the two of them asleep on the stairs and brought them both back to Michael’s room. This first introduction had worn both of them down to the bone. Gav knew that should Winni awaken after dawn she had the presence of mind to be cautious and cover Michael before she opened the door to leave.

Neither she nor Michael awoke until after the following nightfall. Under the cover of darkness they opened their hearts and shed more tears and shared more sorrows until there was nothing left to tell. For the first time in months, Michael slept soundly without dreams of blood, death, or Martine.

In the quiet of The Captive on a Sunday night, Michael and Winni looked over her employment application for the club. Michael didn’t want her working at the warehouse anymore, which was just as well since she’d decided to give it up anyway.

“Michael, I still don’t understand what happened the other night. Do you think you could explain it again, in terms I might understand?”

He sighed and put down her application. “When I touched you I felt all those strong emotions you were feeling. I felt the pain I caused you. I took it into myself just as I take blood. “

“So the next time I stub my toe, you can kiss it and make it better?”

He smiled crossly. “I don’t think so.”

“And you feel better since then?”

Michael held her hand and rubbed his fingers over her knuckles. “I feel, and that’s better than the alternative. When I was drinking blood I wanted to close myself off, not feel anything at all. I was off balance. Now I feel nothing is too much. I could end your suffering and mine at the same time. I have control again.”

Winni shifted in her seat, “But you might feel the addiction for this kind of feeding as well, like you did with blood. You know, there are Psionics who cause pain in order to feed, and they kill their victims.”

He lifted her chin and forced her to meet his eyes. “That won’t happen. I reacted to the blood lust in the way I did because my mind was so totally opposed to the idea. I had no control over a situation I found unacceptable. The Psionic ways are much more my style.”

“I’m glad.”

Michael glanced around the empty room, making sure that Gavriel and Sedrien were not around. “I do have another problem though. Sedrien thinks I should keep my feelings buried to protect myself. Evidently, more than one Psionic has gone crazy from emotional overload and he’s afraid that might happen to me. I don’t want to close myself off; that’s what made me crazy before. I need to keep myself open to stay in control. Do you understand that?”

“Yes.”

“Good, because I’m not so sure that I do. I just know that closing myself off feels wrong. I have to be careful around Sed from now on.”

Winni cracked a grin. “So if you behave like an insensitive clod, I should blame it on Sed?”

He laughed at that. “No, you can blame it on me. Blame me all you want. You know you can always tell me when I go too far, Winni.”

“I know, Michael.”

*****

Michael hesitated outside the doors of The Captive. A line had formed that wrapped around the corner, and anxious clubbers voiced their unhappiness that Michael was about to step through the doors unchecked. He shrugged and presented them with a blank coffee brown glare as he ducked into the club.

Inside the club Michael took his usual place at the bar. He scanned the crowd, looking for someone, someone he had yet to meet. He spotted a group of college age kids at a table. They were laughing and talking boisterously. One young woman stood out from the group: she sat on the edge of the booth and didn’t seem very focused on the conversation. She looked bored, and a little sad.

Michael glanced at the singer in her gilded cage. Mina understood at once. The next song she sang was a torch song about lost love; the tempo was just right for a slow dance. Michael made his way over to the booth. When he stood before the young brunette he said not a word, just offered her his hand. She stared up at the incredibly gorgeous man with the long brown hair and put her hand in his. He led her to the dance floor and wrapped her in his arms.

“Why did you ask me to dance?” she asked.

“Do I need a reason to dance with a pretty girl?” Michael let go of her hand, placing hers over his heart. He threaded his hand through the ebony hair at her temple, his thumb stroking the tender skin.

“You could have asked any of the other girls.” she glanced back at the table. A few of her friends had noticed her dancing with Michael.

“Darling, I wanted to dance with you.” He felt the awkwardness inside her, the uncertainty, the insecurity. He wanted to set it free. He put his finger under her chin and turned her face back to him. “Don’t worry about your friends. I want you all to myself, at least for a little while.”

She blushed and couldn’t meet his eyes. Still massaging her temple, Michael put his head next to hers and breathed in her scent. It wasn’t quite right; her perfume was too strong for his liking. The scent of her emotions drew him closer still, rubbing his cheek against her hair. Her depression was a temptation he was just learning to savor. He concentrated on drawing the pain from her, soothing her, and at the same time drawing the pain into himself. The high was like nothing he had ever known.

The girl nestled closer to him as he fed on her anguish. All of a sudden she felt safe with the darkly handsome man who had asked her to dance. The weight that had always weighed on her had lifted. She no longer cared what the others thought of her, she no longer felt pressure to live up to her friends expectations. In his arms she was beautiful, desired, and complete just as she was.

When the song had ended Michael pulled back and stared into her hazel eyes. He saw what a difference he had made on her immediately. He wanted to see her again, to make sure she was truly all right. He knew that could not be.

Michael returned her to the table, her friends looking on as he kissed her hand.

“Thank you, my Darling.” he said. Then he disappeared into the crowd.

Michael took the stairs two at a time up to the office. Inside he found Sedrien watching the floor from the one-way window. A moment later Gavriel entered the room. Michael flopped on the couch.

“How was she?” Sedrien asked.

“The same as any other girl her age: insecure about her looks, intimidated by her friends. Sweet as honey, delicious.” He sighed as his head tilted back into the cushions. He knew those were the words Sedrien wanted to hear.

“You did well down there.” Gavriel declared softly. “So well that she’s dancing with someone else, someone she asked herself.”

Michael and Gavriel joined him at the window. Michael almost didn’t recognize her as she danced with another man. She laughed and smiled and flirted with him.

“You pressed too hard, I think.” said Sedrien. “Don’t worry. With time comes finesse. You’ll learn.”

Michael was not worried that he’d damaged the young woman. She was happy for now. That was all he wanted. That he’d made her happy made him feel that much closer to being what he had once been: alive.

End of Lesson Three

Lesson One
 Lesson Two
 Lesson Three
 Lesson Four
Lesson Five

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