I see colors. Blurs of colors blend together in distorted shapes, vivid and muted, light and dark. This is what always happens and so I immerse myself in the familiarity of it now as I allow my eyes to un-focus. As my reality becomes a colorful haze around me, I know it is for the best. I don’t want to stare into this man’s eyes as I kill him.
With a quick breath, I inhale his life. Even though it is feeble and sick and hollow, I allow it to slide down my throat, expanding my lungs with what was left of his vitality. In all honesty, there wasn’t much there. Cancer had sucked at him for years, taking his strength and his will to survive. But this little puff of life was enough for me. It would sustain me for a few weeks.
I opened my eyes just in time to find his turning cloudy and I knew that he was gone. Fighting back regret, I straightened and gazed down at the man in the hospital bed, combing his blonde hair back with my fingers. He was slender and handsome, quiet and witty. I had truly liked him, as much as I dared to like anyone, anyway.
Divorced, 39-year old Daniel Delacorte. His daughter had died when she was only fifteen in a freak car accident. Apparently, she had been beautiful, vibrant and lovely. When she died, his will to live was buried with her. And then at that most inopportune time, right when he was drowning in grief, he had been diagnosed with stage IV cancer.
He wouldn’t have lasted much longer, even without my interference. Mortal lives were so often tragic. I had seen the tell-tale weariness in his eyes a few weeks back when I had bumped into him in the hospital halls. It was the kind of weariness that only a person who was ready to die possessed, a haunting, bone-sucking exhaustion.
I had smiled at him and that was all. Then, because I reminded him of his daughter, he felt an instant connection with me. Little did he know that I would send him to meet her.
The door flew open and a team of nurses noisily shoved a crash cart in front of them.
“Move back,” one of them ordered me as she yanked two paddles from an aging, yellowed machine.
Obligingly, I scooted against the wall. I felt nothing as I watched them work over Daniel’s lifeless body, nothing as one of his hands dangled limply over the side of the bed. His fingers were pale. For months, he had been too sick to go outdoors into the sunshine. A normal person might have felt sadness at this, but I still felt nothing.
I had been doing this for so long. I had long since learned to harden myself against what I had to do. If I didn’t, I would go insane. To survive, I embraced the numbness.
A doctor tiredly loped through the doorway, barely glancing at Daniel. The nurses had been futilely working for several minutes now. I knew it was hopeless and apparently, this exhausted doctor did too.
“Time of death?” he asked the closest nurse, the one wearing faded puppy dog scrubs. Her face was pained as she glanced up, first at the doctor and then at the clock.
They stopped working and the doctor turned to me.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, miss. There is a chapel down the hall and we can call a chaplain for you, if you’d like.”
I shook my head.
“That’s not necessary. I only met Daniel a few weeks ago, here in the hospital. He didn’t have anybody, so I started visiting him here…” my voice trailed off.
The doctor briefly assessed me with trained, weary eyes. I honestly think he was too tired to care what my relationship was to his patient. He clearly needed a good night’s sleep. After a moment, he nodded.
“Well, if you change your mind—“ But he was interrupted as the door swung open and a boy stood in the doorframe.
My first inclination was to think boy, but he was probably eighteen or so. After being around for a thousand years, all mortal men began to seem like boys to me. Whatever his age, this one was handsome. Sandy blonde hair, warm hazel eyes, athletic tanned build. He was well-dressed in a pair of expensive jeans and a soft black leather jacket. His eyes were pretty and they widened when he saw Daniel.
The doctor turned to him.
“I’m sorry, you shouldn’t be in here.”
The boy straightened his broad shoulders and thrust out his chin. “He’s my uncle. I’m Brennan Delacorte.”
I was surprised, but tried not to show it. Daniel hadn’t mentioned any other family. He always talked about feeling alone because of the loss of his daughter. He was divorced and no one ever came to visit him, so I honestly hadn’t thought that he would leave a grieving family behind. I gulped and fought back guilt. I was definitely feeling something now and I didn’t like it. This situation broke one of my own rules. I always aimed for men who would leave no one.
The doctor hurried to the boy. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said quickly. “We did everything we could, but your uncle… well, I think he was just ready.”
The boy nodded silently, his eyes frozen on his uncle.
“Are your parents with you?” the doctor asked. “You probably shouldn’t be alone.”
Brennan shook his head and swallowed, like he wanted to say something but couldn’t trust his voice. And I couldn’t help myself. The vulnerable, sad look on his face combined with my rush of guilt did me in and the words were out before I could take them back.
“I’ll stay with him.”
Brennan’s head whipped around and I realized that he hadn’t even noticed that I was in the room. His eyes widened again, but this time in confusion. I could practically see the wheels turning in his head as he wondered who I was.
“My name’s Em,” I explained softly. “I met your uncle here at the hospital a while ago. He was a really nice person.”
“Yes, he was.” Brennan relaxed. I could see it as his shoulders un-tightened. It never ceased to amaze me. My presence was soothing to mortals, it drew them in. In reality, it should alarm them, put them on edge and cause them to run far, far away from me. But they never did.
The doctor nodded and took his leave as the one lingering nurse straightened Daniel’s blankets. With one last sympathetic gaze, she left Brennan and I alone.
I watched this boy curiously as he slowly approached his dead uncle. It had been so long since I had allowed my heart to warm to something. I didn’t like it that way, but it was simply the way things had to be. It was interesting to me now to watch the sadness flit across this boy’s handsome features. I felt a small twinge, somewhere deep within me, but I ignored it. I had gotten very good at tampering unwanted feelings down.
“I didn’t know him very well,” Brennan said softly as he picked up Daniel’s limp arm and replaced it next to his still body. “After his daughter died, he kind of withdrew from the world. He thought no one understood. He stopped talking to my dad, and everyone else for that matter, and life went on without him.”
“I don’t think that he really wanted to go on,” I offered limply. What else could I say? I’m sorry, but I just shortened your uncle’s already terminal life because I needed his soul? Yeah, that would be an icebreaker, for sure.
“I know. He’s been like that ever since Kayla’s accident.”
Brennan gazed down at his uncle and I paused at the expression on his face. He was still loving, still reverent, even though Daniel had shut them all out in his grief. It was fascinating. Mortals were so different from those in my world. But then, I had a father who was trying to kill me. That might slant my views somewhat.
“Are you, er, sick, too?” Brennan asked me hesitantly as his hazel eyes skimmed over my body. I knew he was searching for the tell-tale sickly, sallow look of a cancer patient. I shook my head.
“No. I volunteer here. I read to children, sit with sick adults, stuff like that.”
Appreciation flickered on his face and I unconsciously took a step back. No. Do not like me, I silently commanded him. Not that it would work. Men were always drawn to me. They couldn’t help it. It was one of my gifts. Or a curse, depending on how you looked at it.
“That’s a very nice thing for you to do,” he acknowledged softly. I saw the attraction in his eyes and I took a sharp breath. For some reason, his warm, vulnerable gaze appealed to me and I wanted to tell him that I was dangerous, to stay away. But of course I couldn’t.
“It’s not a big deal,” I said instead. “I like it.”
That wasn’t the truth. I didn’t like being here, because I only came here when it was getting close to time to feed. The hospital was the perfect place to find people on death’s doorstep. It was the only thing I could do to assuage my guilt, to placate my conscience. If I took the life of someone who was going to die anyway, it wasn’t really killing them, was it? That’s what I told myself anyway.
I looked through the empty doorway, half expecting more of his family members to show up. “Is your father coming?”
Brennan shook his head. “No. And he doesn’t know that I’m here. The hospital called this morning to tell us that Daniel’s situation was serious. But my dad wouldn’t come. They had some bad blood at the end.”
“That’s really sad,” I murmured. “Your uncle was a good person.”
“I thought you didn’t know him very well?” he raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“I didn’t. I’m just good at gauging people. It’s a gift.” I shrugged my shoulders. It was easy to gauge someone when you drank their soul and the very essence of who they were fed you. But I didn’t mention that part.
“My dad’s a good person, too,” Brennan said. “But they’re both stubborn. They both said harsh things and neither of them would take them back. And sometimes, when that happens with family, it’s worse than with anyone else because you trusted them more to begin with. You know?”
He had no idea how well I knew. My own father had traded my soul for his own freedom from the Underworld, transferring his hateful curse onto me. I definitely understood familial betrayal. I lived with it every day.
I nodded. “I know.”
Brennan gave me a sheepish look. “I’m sorry for telling you these things. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I think just seeing my uncle like this… it was a shock…”
I almost took a step forward and put my hand on his shoulder and that inclination startled me. I knew better. For anyone else, that would be a simple, harmless gesture. But not for me. I stayed where I was.
“I’m really sorry for your loss,” I offered instead. “I know it’s hard.”
Brennan nodded wordlessly. He gazed at his uncle one more time before turning back to me. “Hey. Do you want to go down to the cafeteria and get a cup of coffee? I don’t feel like going home just yet.“
He was hesitant, but hopeful. Something about his voice reminded me of warm maple syrup. Warm and thick, yet somehow sexy at the same time. I felt the stirrings deep in my belly, the ones that urged me to step closer and inhale this man. I took another subconscious step back. Quickly.
“I can’t,” I answered. “I’m sorry.”
Brennan studied me for a moment, his head cocked. I had definitely been wrong. He wasn’t a boy. He had the serious gaze of a man. A stare like that could be dangerous.