I’ve kind of been in a weird place lately, mentally speaking. I know most (probably all) writers suffer through bouts of self-doubt, and I haven’t been able to shake the most recent one – part of why I fell off the face of the earth for a month. Times like this it’s almost impossible to feel good about anything I write , and the writing process itself is like pulling teeth. That’s basically where I am as far as my serials are concerned. Not to mention, it seems like my plot bunnies and muse have conspired against me and taken vacations at the same time.
Anyway – excuses! The show must go on, so here’s my attempt to push through this lull (and lasso my muse and plot bunnies back into submission) as hard as I can. Thankfully, I’ve got Our Write Side’s weekly prompts to keep me going. Today’s post comes from the Master Class prompt series, namely the “Captured kisses” prompt. I think we can all see where this is going.
Definitely didn’t intend for this one to be as long as it turned out to be, but oh well. It seems writing out my plot bunny and muse dilemma got my muse to come home early and I was suddenly flooded with back story for Niklaus and his family. Some of that starts to come through in this one. Finally, some real plot!
“Are they going to be okay?” I can’t help but look over my shoulder and to the door as Nadya leads me away from the dining room and back down the hall.
“They don’t really have a choice, do they?” Though she was clearly upset back there, she seems unfazed now – almost uncaring. She shrugs off my concern, but I can’t help the twisting in my gut.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin dinner, or to cause problems.” I want to pull away and retreat into myself, maybe run back to my room and stay there the rest of the night, but Nadya holds fast onto my arm in hers, patting my hand.
“Nonsense. You don’t have anything to apologize for, Ariella. Our parents have always been…difficult.” She stops and turns to me, concern in her eyes. “Really. Nik’s issues with them go far beyond not wanting to drink human blood.”
I’m not sure what to make of that, but it’s clear that it’s a subject that makes even Nadya uncomfortable, so I don’t ask questions, filing it away to possibly ask Niklaus later.
“If you say so…” Glancing back to the door, it’s impossible not to wonder what might be going on.
“So what do you usually do around here for fun? Can’t be easy, being the only human.” We continue to walk, but her grip on my arm isn’t as firm as it was before.
“Lately, Niklaus has been taking me hunting.”
“Really?” Her brow furrows in concern. “Aren’t you scared?”
“No.” I shrug. “I know he’ll keep me safe.”
“I meant scared of him – when we hunt…”
“I know. But he hasn’t lost control.” I think back to that moment with Soren in the forest. My knowledge of vampires is too limited to really know how close he’d been to hurting those people, but I don’t have a choice but to be optimistic. “We actually hunted the bear that provided the meat for my stew together.”
Nadya’s look of surprise mingles with skepticism, but she doesn’t say much else. Why is she so sure he would lose control? Again, I keep myself from asking.
“Fascinating. Never met a human this comfortable with us.”
I shrug. “First time for everything, I suppose.”
Without realizing it, we’ve made our way out to the gardens. I’m not sure how much time has passed since we left Niklaus with their parents, but I start to get anxious. Is he alright? Are they actually going to work out whatever their issues are in just one night?
“Maybe you can set me up with a nice human boy.” Nadya nudges my side, an easy smile relaxing her features. Somehow, I can’t imagine any of the men I know from the village being able to hold their own against the vampire princess. She mistakes the doubt in my eyes for something worse and quickly continues, “Kidding!”
I laugh, glad that at least one of Niklaus’ family members likes me. We walk around like this for a long time, and it’s almost scary how at ease I feel with Nadya. Just like with Niklaus, getting comfortable is second nature, and I find myself laughing out loud and telling stories like we’re old friends. I almost forget about the tension we left behind in the dining room.
We’re almost back at the dining room as Nadya finishes a story about facing off against a rival vampire clan’s prince, when the door slams open, making us both jump. Based on what I can see from my vantage point, the room is in complete shambles – furniture has been torn apart, windows shattered – and my heart sinks with the possibilities. Without thinking, I rush to the door.
The table is on its side, the contents of the wine glasses and my bowl staining and littering the carpet. Niklaus’ parents are on the opposite side of the room, his father still passive while his mother shows a hint of self-satisfaction. Without a word, they leave the room through a different door. In the middle of the room, amidst the destruction, stands Niklaus, shaking and breathing heavily. Unable to find my voice, I just stand at the threshold – frozen.
“What’s going on here?” Nadya moves past me and into the room, her eyes scanning the area. At the sound of her voice, Niklaus turns to look at us, his eyes darker than I’ve ever seen them, not a speck of of color to be seen. Pitch black, it’s impossible to read them. His face, on the other hand, is an open book. Jaw clenched, it’s clear he’s struggling and his brow twitches for a moment before he turns toward us. His lips are stained red. “Nik…”
“Niklaus? Are you okay? What happened?” By some miracle my voice returns and I try to go to him, but Nadya stops me.
“Nik – look at me.” She steps between us, but his eyes are trained on me, and he hardly acknowledges her. “Niklaus!”
For the first time, I’m terrified of him. I know that look – it’s the look he gave the bear. It’s the look he trained on Soren and the others just before I stopped him. The only difference is that Nadya’s voice isn’t getting through to him, and neither will mine.
“Wh-What did they do to you?” I want to reach out to him, despite the fear keeping me rooted to the spot.
“G-Go…get…get out…” His voice is strained, warning me, but he continues to walk toward me, predator approaching prey.
Before I can do anything, he lunges at me. Unarmed, all I can do is flinch and fall back, tripping over my own feet in an attempt to scramble back and away. Nadya is the only reason his fangs don’t rip my neck apart, as she launches herself at him with equal force, throwing him to the ground with all her body weight.
“Run, Ariella! Run!” Nadya’s voice is desperate, shooting into me and springing me to action. I’m ashamed to say I don’t hesitate, turning in place and booking it to the only room where I know I’ll have a fighting chance. It’s hard to tell if I’m actually aware of what I’m doing, or if I’m just letting my feet carry me where they will. Either way, I’m in the armory moments later, struggling with the lock and rushing in to grab my crossbow.
Holding it close to my chest, I move all the way to the back of the room and wait.
I’m in that room for what feels like hours before someone opens the door. My eyes trained on the entrance, I raise the crossbow. Surprisingly enough, my hands are completely steady despite my thundering heartbeat. Finger hovering on the trigger, it nearly pulls when the door swings open. Somehow, I manage to stop myself.
“It’s me, Ariella. It’s okay.” Nadya puts her arms up, and I lower the weapon. She looks exhausted, her hair disheveled and parts of her gown damaged.
“Where is he?”
“He’s hunting, trying to burn himself out.” She walks over to me, eyes on the crossbow. “He told me you’d be here.” So she was able to get through to him. “I’m so sorry, Ariella. If I had any idea our parents would do that to him…”
“What did they do?” I place the crossbow back on the wall, but don’t make any move to leave the room. Nadya seems to read my reluctance and simply leans back against a table, managing to look regal even in her state of disarray.
“Did he ever tell you why he doesn’t drink from humans?” She’s not looking at me, but at her feet, her voice somewhere far away.
“No…I never really pressed the matter…”
“It’s a long story – one he should tell you himself.” Nadya sighs and looks up at me. “He’ll kill me if he finds out I told you. But you have a right to know what happened back there.”
“My parents swapped out the blood in his glass. They made him drink human blood.” Nadya moves away from the table, eyes scanning the various weapons on the wall before settling on my crossbow. “When he drinks human blood, Niklaus isn’t himself. He turns primal – feral – nearly uncontrollable.”
“Is that why…why he attacked me?” A vision of his jet black eyes trained on my throat flashes before me, and a shot of fear bolts through me. I promised I couldn’t be afraid of him – I lied.
“Yes.” Nadya places a hand on mine. “I’m not sure when he’ll be back, but he’s asked me to stay until he does, to keep you company, keep you safe.”
“O-Okay…” I’ve never heard my voice that small before. I want to change clothes, grab my crossbow, and find him, though I don’t know what I’d do if I did. Worse yet, he might think I’m hunting him. “Will he be okay?”
“He’ll be fine. Just needs some time to get the human blood out of his system.” Nadya places an arm around my shoulders and leads me away from the room. “You, on the other hand, need some rest. Sunrise is still a couple of hours away but I think you can afford to turn in early.”
We spend the next few nights much like we spent that first evening – exchanging stories. Nadya even tells me some from hers and Niklaus’ childhood, centuries before. The topic of his going feral never comes up, though. I’m not sure if she’s the one avoiding it, or I am. During the day, I find it difficult to sleep. Without Niklaus in the room, there’s no point in closing the blinds, and the dark is suffocating, so I leave them open. Where does he sleep? Does he come back to some part of the castle I don’t know about? Or does he just sit out there somewhere, in some cave?
He comes back two nights after the incident. Nadya and I are in the northern gardens, sitting on a bench as she recalls how Niklaus was actually afraid of the dark as a child. It’s impossible to imagine them as children, even though Nadya paints a vivid picture with her stories.
“He would sleep with the curtain pulled aside, risking literally burning himself because he was afraid of the dark!” Nadya laughs, but the sound is cut short when she abruptly stands and turns to face deeper into the gardens, covering me from view.
“What’s wrong?” I look around her, and catch a glimpse of Niklaus walking toward us.His clothes are dirty, torn, the remnants of dried blood and grime marring his skin and hair. Despite his appearance, relief floods through me at the sight of him, at the sight of his eyes. Even at this distance, I see the clarity in them, the green more beautiful than I remember after only two days.
“How are you feeling?” Even though Nadya speaks with concern, it’s clear she’s more worried about me than him.
“Better.” Niklaus doesn’t look at me, his eyes like steel as they stare at his sister.
Unable to stop myself, I rush from the bench and cover the distance between us, throwing my arms around him and burying my face in his neck. My heart is doing double time, each thump feeling like it’s about to burst out of me. At my touch, Niklaus is like stone, unmoving and cold.
“Are you okay? Where were you sleeping?” All I can think about is how cold he must have been, how much danger he put himself in just to put distance between us.
He doesn’t respond, and instead simply stares at me. Something flashes in his eyes, and he takes a step back. Behind us, Nadya mutters something about being thirsty and makes herself scarce.
“Niklaus…?” I reach out to him, but he makes no move to retaliate, still as a statue.
“Now you know why you’re better off afraid of me.” At the mention of my fear, my stomach twists. It’s true – I’ve never been more scared in my life and I know he can smell it.
“You’re right. I was scared. I am scared.” He flinches at the word, and I immediately want to take it back, but I can’t. Instead, I move toward him again before he can leave, and take one of his hands in both of mine.
“Scared of me.”
“Scared that I lost you. Scared that you weren’t yourself anymore. I’m not scared of you.” I place one of my hands on his chest, where some of his shirt ripped. “You wouldn’t hurt me.”
“I could have killed you. If Nadya hadn’t-”
“But you didn’t. You don’t want to hurt me. Your parents did that to me – to us – you didn’t do anything wrong.” I’m raising my voice, and find that my hands are shaking. In an attempt to stop the trembling, I tighten my grip on his hand, clench the material of his shirt in my fist. Now that I know he won’t move away, I step closer, until I can rest my cheek against his chest.
“How can you still stand to be near me?” Niklaus’ voice is a whisper full of self-loathing.
The word love lingers at the base of my throat, but I swallow it before wrapping my arms around him. “I missed you.”
It seems those are the words that finally break his stillness and he reciprocates the embrace, pulling me in and holding me tight. “A part of me thought you might run away after that.”
I don’t know why, but I find that unbelievably funny. Laughter bubbles up my throat as I respond, “I’m flattered you think I could get away with it. Even if I could, though, I don’t know that I want to leave.”
That’s definitely more than I intended to tell him, so I stop talking, biting my lip and hoping that he won’t linger on what I said. Niklaus pulls back to look at me, his hand caressing my jaw, his thumb brushing my bottom lip. “Maybe this makes me selfish, not wanting you to leave…”
When did he get so close? Eyes darting to his mouth, I can’t help but lick my lips, mouth suddenly gone dry. Before I can stop or psych myself out of it, I tug at the front of his shirt, closing the breath of space between us. The kiss lasts less than a second, his lips the lightest pressure against mine. When I look at him again, embarrassment threatens to wash over me until he pulls me in for a second, third, fourth kiss, each more lingering than the last. I lose count and all I’m aware of is his arms around me, his hand in my hair as he tilts my head back. My entire body relaxes against him, tension I didn’t know had built finally finding release. A sigh escapes without my permission, and he deepens the kiss, his hand shifting to cup my cheek, hold my neck. Niklaus’ hand slides down my spine to rest at the small of my back, tugging me closer. Despite everything, I’ve never felt safer.
This isn’t the embrace of someone who could hurt me.
If there are typos or errors, I truly apologize. It’s obnoxiously late but I couldn’t stop writing so I just needed to get it all down. Hopefully another few read-throughs will reveal anything I might have missed.
Friendly reminder: We’re back at it with #TuesFlashFicTrain. Take a peek at the prompt to kick off round 5 and give it a shot!
As always, think happy thoughts!