Title: Heart's Price
Frank woke to pain. Pain throbbing from his throat, from his head, even from the cement floor beneath him digging into his hip. Frank tried to scream, but his body wouldn’t cooperate. His throat felt as if it was filled with cotton, and he knew without even trying he wouldn’t be able to turn his head. Opening his eyes, Frank blinked in the near dark, allowing his brain a moment to fight past the pain and remind him of what had happened.
Memory surged back in a wave, and Frank tensed, eyes flicking about in search of the mad vampire. But the room…some sort of small warehouse…was deserted. He was lying between two large wooden crates, and the dust and dirt on the ground beneath him proved it likely wasn’t used often. Damn, but it was so cold…. Frank slowly rolled himself onto his front, gasping as his vision flared white when the movement pulled at his neck. A trickle of something warm down his shoulder reminded him he wasn’t out of danger.
Katerina…the monster…had attacked him. Abandoned him…for what? By pure effort of will, Frank forced himself to his knees, gripping his bent thighs for support as the world spun and tilted, his breath coming in ragged, burning gasps. She had torn out his throat like a wild animal, he’d felt himself fading…and then….
Frank stopped, breath stalled in his lungs, the pain distant for a brief, horrific moment.
She’d Embraced him.
A high, keening moan filled the air, and Frank didn’t realize at first that it was coming from him. Clutching his head between his hands, he screamed. The sound was hoarse and angry, and his vision turned white again at the pain of it.
She’d fucking Embraced him.
The scream turned into a self-deprecating laugh. His luck had finally run out. Even though he’d known in the back of his mind that he was playing with fire every time he worked with the Kindred, that eventually he’d be either killed or changed, he hadn’t been able to stop himself. Like an addict, he kept his nose buried in their affairs, making friends with some and enemies of others, taking them all on as a new cause to serve and protect, even though he hadn’t realized that at first. And now…Frank shuddered. Never, never had he wanted to join them…at least not unless he had no other choice. But he’d always assumed there would be a choice, and the idea that it would be up to him in the end had somehow made the prospect of becoming Kindred less horrifying.
But this…what had been done to him…Frank shivered, half from the cold and half from the fear and disgust conjured from his memories. He could still taste blood on his tongue, feel it dried and plastered to his skin…moaning, Frank used his fear and anger to surge to his feet. No matter what had or would happen, he could not stay here. Struggling to stay on his feet, he staggered forward, using the long row of crates as support. Whatever she wanted with him, the vampire bitch would not get it. No way in hell.
Sonny was still in his car when Julian and Cash arrived at Frank’s house. Julian had barely been able to restrain himself from simply transforming into a bird and flying there, but the rational part of his brain had convinced him that driving would be faster, especially if Cash were at the wheel.
The car had barely stopped when Julian was out the door, staggering with a hand to his nose as the smell hit him. Blood…Sonny had not been exaggerating. Even as Archon’s Enforcer, Julian had never smelled so much blood.
Cash staggered around the front of the car, his sharper sense of smell having shocked him off balance. “Holy hell Julian…what’s happened here?” Cash muttered, his eyes flicking about nervously. Julian didn’t pause as he jogged to meet Sonny in the driveway. If anything, the Ventrue Primogen looked just as terrified as he was.
“I don’t know Cash…something terrible. When the others arrive, I want you to have them begin searching the houses. I have a feeling we may need the Nosferatu as well…” he said. Cash nodded and turned back to the car. The roar of motorcycles could already be heard in the distance. The Gangrel would be there soon.
“Sonny?” Julian asked as he met the younger Kindred.
“I…haven’t gone inside yet. I wanted to wait, just in case…” he said, and Julian nodded.
Apprehensively, the pair approached the front door. Sonny fished the spare key Frank had given him months ago out of his pocket and opened the door. Inside the house, the blood-scent was less overall, but the scent of dried canine blood was suddenly clearer. They had barely stepped into the living room when they saw the message smeared across the living room wall. MINE FOR YOURS, it said. Julian barely made it to the couch before his knees gave out. Sonny was staring in shock at the wall, though his brown eyes had begun to swirl with silver.
Frank wasn’t in the house, dead or alive; his senses told him that much…but no more. What did the message mean? Was she going to kill Frank because the Brujah had slain her mate? Julian blinked, suddenly remembering Frank’s argument from the previous day. Frank had been right…just as Julian should have realized from the start.
“Julian?” Sonny asked, finally turning away from the message.
“I think it’s safe to say that Katerina Novolski has taken Frank…as repayment for Hadrian. What that means…I can’t say.” Sonny dropped to the couch beside him, his head in his hands. Then he looked up again, his expression determined.
“Frank will survive this, Julian. I know it. He hasn’t made it this far on luck alone. We will find him,” Sonny said.
“We have to,” Julian said quietly, and hurriedly wiped a tear from his eyes. Now was not the time for grief…if they had any hope of saving Frank, it was time for action. Standing abruptly, Julian strode to the door, his posture a mix of fury and determination. Sonny came hurriedly after, whether for support or to keep him from doing anything rash, he couldn’t tell.
“Cash?” the Gangrel had been waiting in the yard, and when he turned to them, his expression was pale and grim.
“Everyone here is dead, Julian. Every house for the entire block…every living thing is dead.”
Julian nodded, already having expected as much. “Call in the Nosferatu…there is no more that can be done here.”
“Is Frank…?” Cash asked cautiously, his eyes genuinely worried.
“He’s been taken, as revenge for the death of her mate,” Julian paused, unsure of his next action. He wanted to command every Kindred in the city to look for Frank, to tear apart every building until he’d been found…but he couldn’t. Though the rest of the Kindred would view Frank’s kidnapping as tragic, it was not a Kindred matter. He couldn’t use his power as Prince for his own personal problems. But he could not abandon Frank! Cash, however, offered him the solution he was looking for.
“I’ll have the Gangrel hit the streets immediately. We like Frank, Julian…he’s a good friend. We will find him,” Cash assured. “I’ll call Lillie too…she’ll want to know what’s happened. I bet you anything she’ll put the word out amongst the Toreador as well.” And with that, Cash was dashing off toward the car, cell phone already in hand.
“Would you like me to involve the police?” Sonny asked carefully, and Julian pondered for a moment.
“Yes…but don’t call them yet. Wait until the Nosferatu arrive. There is no way that we can hide this…massacre from the mortals. Daedalus will have a solution that will help us on both counts.” I’m learning, Frank, he thought to himself. The more eyes there are to find you, the better.
Cameron was nervous as he left the office he kept near the docks. He’d spent all night buried in stacks of paperwork and shipping reports, and far too many forms that needed his signature. He was proud of the Brujah’s shipping empire…all carefully assembled through centuries of planning, but it was nights like this that made him wish he’d let the honor of Primogen go to someone else. His patience for paperwork and idleness was fragile. And now…now, he was getting phone calls from Brujah across the city telling him that the other clans were on the move. Gangrel were combing the streets, Toreador were surging through clubs and theatres, coffee shops and museums. Even the Nosferatu had been spotted every now and then, poking their pale heads above ground in shadowy corners. Something was going on…and Cameron was not happy about being left out of it. If Julian was planning something…Cameron sighed, shaking his head. Though he disdained the Ventrue Prince, he was coming to realize that Julian was not a manipulator. He did not plot and plan, did not search to gain more power. Indeed, though Cameron had accused him of otherwise, Julian was fine with what power he had. The man was honorable to a fault, and Cameron’s only real grievance with him anymore (aside from the fact that he was Prince) was Julian’s dealings with mortals.
Turning his car onto a side road that was a shortcut to Julian’s mansion, Cameron was pondering whether he should call the Prince first or arrive unannounced, when he spotted a figure collapsed on the side of the road. Curios, the Brujah pulled the car to the curb and stopped, stepping out for a closer look. Half-expecting a drunk or a vagrant, Cameron was startled by what he saw. A man laid face-down on the wet pavement, a trail of blood spots leading off between two warehouses behind him. His shaggy brown hair was matted with blood, and his leather jacket was stained and ripped. He wasn’t dead, his slow, labored heartbeat proved that, but he wasn’t far from it. Something about the jacket seemed familiar, and Cameron used the toe of one shoe to flip the prone body over.
“Shit!” he cursed, having jerked back as if struck. It was the detective, Frank Kahonek! The detective’s skin, or at least that not painted with blood, was pale as death. His torn clothing was soaked with blood, both dried and fresh. The worst, however, the sight that made even Cameron nearly gag, was the man’s throat. Almost the entire left side of his neck, to the junction of shoulder and throat, had been savaged. Deep, ragged gouges revealed the red meat beneath, and even the gleam of tendon. It looked as if a wild, rabid beast had gnawed on his throat, torn the skin away and chewed some more. It was nothing short of a miracle that the man was even alive! Leaning closer, a creeping suspicion made Cameron sniff carefully at the blood still trickling from the open wound. Rocking back on his heels, Cameron stared at the detective in pity. He’d been Embraced. Savaged, Embraced, and from the look of things, abandoned to find life or death on his own. Cameron couldn’t help but pity the ruined body before him. It was true he hadn’t liked the detective (though he admitted that he did trust him, and admired his skill and loyalty), and he had wanted to see the man Embraced, he would never have wished such a savage attack on anyone. This was no way to be introduced to the Kindred world….
Snapping himself out of his ponderings, Cameron carefully lifted the man from the ground and turned to his car. No matter that the detective had been Embraced, the severity of the wound at his throat could still mean true death if not tended soon. Laying the man gently in the back seat, Cameron shook his head. The Prince was not going to be happy. By daring to touch the Prince’s mate, whatever Kindred had done the deed had guaranteed themselves a very long and painful death. And Cameron would be all for it.
Julian was pacing his library, waiting to hear back from Cash, when Jeffrey hurried into the room, looking harried.
“Cameron has just arrived, my Prince. He insists that you come out front at once,” Jeffrey said, then ducked his head, and added discreetly, “If I may…he seems very worried. He also asked if Daedalus were here.”
Julian frowned, already heading toward the door. “Cameron asked after Daedalus? Did he say what for?”
“No, my Prince, only that it was urgent.”
“Call Daedalus up. Cameron wouldn’t ask for him if this wasn’t serious,” Julian ordered, then quickly outpaced the young Ventrue. Cash was standing by the door when he approached, looking somewhat angry and confused.
“What’s going on?” he asked, “I thought I heard Cameron.” Julian merely grabbed the Gangrel by the shoulder and steered him toward the front door.
“We’re going to find out.”
Cameron was pacing the drive when they emerged, and his expression was one that Julian couldn’t remember ever seeing on the Brujah’s face before. It reflected worry, fear, and even a bit of shock. The front of his suit was stained with spots of blood. Julian jerked…Frank’s blood! Quickly staunching the anger that threatened to overtake him, Julian forced his expression into one of calm curiosity.
“Cameron? What is it?” he asked, and the Brujah looked glad to see him for once.
“My Prince…I…you’d best come see,” he said, then without waiting to see that he followed, turned to the sleek black sports car than he drove. Julian watched with a feeling of dread creeping up his spine as Cameron opened the back door and stepped aside. Julian approached slowly, and then at a run as he spotted a familiar pair of shoes on the seat.
“Frank!” he nearly choked as he saw inside the car. At first glance, he would have sworn that Frank was dead. His breath was so shallow that his chest barely moved, and his heartbeat was sluggish and irregular. And his throat…oh, god…how had he lived?
“I found him collapsed in the warehouse district, my Prince. I do not know what happened to bring him there,” Cameron was saying, but Julian barely heard his words. Cash had stepped up behind him, and had thrown a hand to his mouth in shock.
“Uh…the rogue kidnapped him yesterday,” Cash managed to say. “She slaughtered everyone on his street…left a bloody message on his wall that she was taking him in exchange for her mate.” As Cash spoke, Cameron’s eyes lit with understanding. That explained all the Kindred scouring the streets, and why he hadn’t been contacted. Frank was a friend of the Gangrel, of the Toreador Primogen, and respected by the Nosferatu. Cameron had not been purposefully left out of anything…the Detective’s friends had merely gone to his aid.
“Oh, Frank…” Julian suddenly said, and the tightness in his voice drew the other’s attention. Julian had pulled Frank from the car and held him carefully in his arms. Once out of the confined space of the car, he had smelled it at once. The scent of Gangrel, incredibly faint now, but undeniably present, was in his blood. He’d been Embraced. Blind pain and fury flooded Julian’s veins, and his eyes glowed brightly silver. She would pay…he would rip her heart out with his bare hands for harming his mate so!
Wasting no further time, Julian secured his grip on the smaller man and left for the house at nearly a run, all too aware of the staggering beat of Frank’s heart. If it stopped before his body was far enough into the Change, there would be no saving him. Cash and Cameron both trailed behind him as he unconsciously sped toward his bedroom.
Daedalus was already waiting, standing beside the bed with a leather pouch in hand. He looked unsurprised as usual, though his pale brow knit together in concern when he laid eyes on Frank.
Gently, Julian laid the prone man on the bed, being especially careful of his head and neck. He sucked in a breath as he caught sight of it anew…he’d never seen anyone survive such a brutal wound. To see it on the one he loved…it made his heart feel as if it were collapsing in his chest, his lungs as if they had frozen. Warm tears coursed down his face, but he couldn’t focus on them.
Daedalus was quick to action. He inspected the wound with clinical detachment before gently touching Frank’s forehead, closing his eyes as he easily sensed what others could only guess. “He is near his True Death,” he said, removing several bottles from the leather pouch.
“I will do what I can, but it is a miracle he has survived this long, even having been newly Embraced,” Daedalus said. Expertly, he administered several drops from each bottle, urging the injured man to swallow with gentle strokes to the uninjured side of his throat. Then he removed a long, curved needle and spool of black thread from the pouch, and Julian could not bare to watch as the Nosferatu began to sew shut what wounds he could. There was too much flesh missing for much, but at the very least, the continued blood loss could be stopped.
Julian was surprised to find both Cash and Cameron standing behind him, not glaring daggers at one another for once. Rather, they were staring at Frank, both wearing expressions of deepest concern.
“I…thank you, Cameron, for bringing him to me,” Julian began. The Brujah turned to him and nodded politely.
“Though the Detective and I have not been on the best of terms, I would not wish such savagery on anyone. To be forcibly Embraced is crime enough, but this…brutality…is unforgivable,” Cameron paused, meeting the Prince’s silvered eyes. “I told you that my clan wished for him to be either Embraced or killed, my Prince…but we have not truly wished for his death. Though I admit I find your choice in him as a lover disturbing, I do not fault you for it. What I am trying to say, is that we never wished him ill. I am sorry this has happened, my Prince,” Cameron said, and bowed slightly, politely ignoring the crimson tears that streaked the Ventrue’s face.
“Your honesty is appreciated, Cameron. As is your concern. If you had not found him, Frank would certainly be dead already. That will not be forgotten,” Julian said, then turned his head toward the bed again. Daedalus had finished his stitching, and was carefully winding a roll of white gauze around Frank’s neck. Julian was pleased to note that, though still slow, Frank’s heartbeat now managed to hold a steady rhythm, and his breathing was no longer as labored. As he watched, Cash and Cameron both slipped from the room, leaving the Prince to his privacy.
While Daedalus worked, Julian decided he could no longer stand idly by while Frank lingered at the doorway to death. Quickly fetching a washcloth and a basin of warm water from the bathroom, he sat on the opposite side of the bed and began cleaning away the dried blood. There were bruises beneath the blood, and Julian cringed anew. When he finished with his face, Daedalus helped him to slip off the ruined leather jacket and cut away the ragged shirt.
Frank’s chest and arms were even worse than his face. There were large, dark, hand-sized bruises at his shoulders and on his arms, no doubt where he’d been held down. There were also shallow gashes down his front, but nothing that required more than a gentle cleansing with the warm cloth.
“How is he, Daedalus?” Julian asked, trailing his fingers over a bruise at Frank’s temple. The Nosferatu sat on the side of the bed, not looking up from his patient.
“He is strong in spirit, my Prince. I have bolstered his strength, but I cannot guarantee that he will live. If he can last through the next few hours, enough for the Change to aid him, he will survive. I am sorry I cannot give you better news,” Daedalus said, finally looking up to meet the Prince’s eyes.
“Then I shall remain with him. If he does not live, at least he will not die alone,” Julian said. Unsurprised, Daedalus nodded, and stood to collect his pouch from the bedside table.
“As there is nothing more I can do at the moment, I shall take my leave. I will return tonight to see how he has fared,” he said, then turned for the door. Before he could slip out, Julian called to him.
“Thank you, my friend. For everything,” Julian said. For the first time that day, Daedalus smiled.
“You are most welcome. Frank Kahonek is a good man,” he said, then slipped quietly out the door. Julian almost laughed. From Daedalus, that had almost been a declaration of everlasting friendship. Somberly, he turned back to Frank’s still body. Cleaned up, he looked much better than before…but he was still deathly pale and far too cold, even by Kindred standards. Kicking off his shoes and dropping his jacket to the floor, Julian pulled a folded blanket from the end of the bed over the unconscious man and crawled in beside him. Though he knew his own body was cool, he hoped that even that might help. Wrapping one arm gently about Frank’s chest, he rested his head against his bare shoulder and closed his eyes. And then, he listened. Frank’s heartbeat filled his senses, and it was on it that he focused. If Frank slipped into True Death, Julian determined that he would be there to give what comfort he could.
The hours ticked by, and the thin lines of light from the covered windows moved across the room. Julian remained aware of nothing but the sound of a heartbeat, and the lean body in his arms. It was sometime after dark when there was a change at last. The pattern of Frank’s shallow breathing changed, hitching briefly as if in pain, then continued more labored than before. Julian’s eyes snapped open, and he could barely believe it when he felt Frank’s body twitch, and then begin to shiver.
Sitting up slightly, Julian watched as Frank’s eyes rolled beneath their lids, the corners of his mouth twitching as if caught in a dream. His heartbeat sped slightly, but maintained an even rhythm. And then, Frank abruptly woke up.
It wasn’t even a slow waking, with much blinking and groaning. Instead, Frank’s body jerked and his eyes snapped open, wide and unseeing at first, as if shocked out of a nightmare.
At first Frank was aware of nothing but a pervasive chill that seemed to seep into his very bones. Then, his senses adjusted and he realized he was in a warm bed, with a familiar, muscular body pressed to his side. A jolt of pain that split his body from head to toe snapped his eyes open.
“Frank?” Julian called, and Frank brought his eyes to focus, taking in the welcome sight of his lover leaning over him, expression a mix of concern and relief.
“Ju--Julian,” Frank gasped, flinching at the dry pain in his throat. Something was wrapped tightly around his neck, reminding him to think twice about trying to turn his head. Shaking, Frank closed his eyes, struggling to focus past the pain that still throbbed everywhere at once. His stomach abruptly cramped, and Frank groaned, trying to curl in on himself. Gentle hands held him back to the pillows, smoothing his hair back from his face.
“Easy…it’s going to be alright,” Julian assured.
“Hurts, damnit…” Frank complained, clamping his jaws shut as the pain flared, burning up from his gut and into his bones.
“It is your body beginning the Change, Frank. It will be gone in a few days at most.” Frank opened his eyes to glare at the Prince.
Just then, the door to the bedroom creaked open, and Daedalus entered, brown pouch once again at hand. His face lit with a small smile as he saw Frank awake and glaring. If the detective had strength enough for ire, then he had strength enough to live.
“It is good to see you awake, Detective,” Daedalus greeted, coming to a stop beside the bed. Holding his hand briefly to the man’s forehead, he nodded to himself.
“He is much improved, my Prince, though his strength still flags.” Removing a small bottle from the pouch, he urged Frank to drink.
Frank allowed the bitter liquid to seep past his parched lips, grimacing at the noxious aftertaste.
“This will speed your healing, Detective, so that your body can focus on regaining its strength,” Daedalus answered his unasked question. Nodding slightly in thanks, Frank grit his teeth as another shudder wracked his body, eliciting bolts of pain from the wound at his neck. Through the pain, he barely noticed as Daedalus began to unwind the gauze at his throat, a fresh roll already waiting on the table.
“It still looks bad,” Julian commented as the last of the gauze came away. Frank swallowed, well aware of how terrible the wound at his throat must be. He was sure that something beyond the obvious had been seriously damaged. While making his escape from the warehouse, he had discovered that he could not move his head in certain directions. It wasn’t merely because of the pain either, but because some muscle or tendon just wasn’t receiving the message. Idly, he wondered if Daedalus’ miracle drugs would help with that, or if he was a lost cause.
“It will heal in time,” Daedalus said.
Suddenly, thought evaporated as the pain surged anew. Body arcing off the bed, Frank opened his mouth in a silent scream, legs twisting at the horrible, burning pain that surged through every nerve and cell. His body thrashed and shuddered, but gentle hands restrained him, a strong chest pressed to his to hold him down.
“Once I replace the gauze, I would suggest you try feeding him, My Prince,” Daedalus said, the roll of fresh gauze in his pale hands. Frank was only dimly aware as his body was gently raised from the bed again, and the brush of the gauze as it was wound around his neck. Feed? His brain questioned feebly. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he didn’t like the sound of that. Two pairs of hands began to lift him carefully from the bed, and soon he was reclining against a familiar body. He shuddered again as Julian wrapped an arm around his stomach, which had begun to twist uncomfortably in his gut again.
Reaching in front of him, Julian extended a suddenly sharp fingernail and slashed quickly at his opposite wrist. Frank sucked in a startled breath, remembering Katerina performing an identical action. Struggling to turn his head away, Frank’s panicked motions were quickly stopped as Julian pulled his head back against his shoulder.
“It’s okay, Frank. This will make the pain go away…I promise,” Julian soothed, and pressed the bleeding wound gently to his lips. Frank resisted at first, fighting to keep his lips shut despite Julian’s insistent pressure. But then the scent hit his nose, and something in it made his mouth open in surprise. The instant it touched his tongue, he was lost.
He was surprised that it didn’t taste like blood. Instead, it tasted like Julian, and it was for that reason alone that he was able to keep himself from gagging. It was nearly the same as when Julian had tasted him…images and feelings surged through his brain, and a connection to the other man sprang to life as if it had been lying in wait. He could feel the other man’s concern, the fear he’d suffered while Frank had been missing, and the agony as he lay at Frank’s side, not knowing if he would live or die. The feelings settled around him like a warm blanket, banishing the chill that invaded his body. He was aware of the pain receding, the horrible, twisting sickness in his gut easing, but his thoughts were all of Julian.
Frank’s eyes snapped open when Julian began to tug his wrist away, and he only then realized that he’d been clutching Julian’s arm, sucking at the wound like a starved kitten at its mother’s tit. Bile threatened the back of his throat as Frank put a hand to his mouth and it came away smeared with blood.
“Oh, god…” he moaned, his breath panicked as he leaned against Julian’s shoulder. “Oh god…”
Julian had quickly licked the last of the blood from his wrist and took to running a hand back through Frank’s matted hair, sensing the smaller man’s distress.
“Frank…listen to me, Frank…you’re fine. Everything’s going to be fine.”
Frank jerked slightly in his arms, shivering with disgust this time. Blood…he could taste it now on his tongue, feel the weight of it in his stomach. The thought made him want to throw up. His mind raced, taunting him through his disgust that he would depend on blood for the rest of his life. He was Kindred now…a blood-drinking monster….
“I…blood…I drank…blood…” Frank gasped. It was Daedalus, however, still waiting in the shadows, who answered this time.
“Yes, Frank Kahonek. It is your nature now to survive on blood. Without it you will die. I can sense your fear and turmoil…but be assured, you are not a monster. The one who Embraced you is the monster. You are Kindred, like Julian, Cash, and I. In time, you will adjust to your new life. You are lucky that unlike most, you already have many friends among us, and we will all be here for you,” Daedalus said. Frank stared at him with wide eyes, before lowering his gaze and nodding slowly. Daedalus inclined his head to Julian, and crept silently out the door.
“I guess we don’t have to worry about Cameron’s ultimatum anymore, huh,” Frank said softly, his voice still hoarse and weak. Behind him, Julian sighed and pressed his forehead into his hair, breathing deeply of his scent.
“Frank…what happened to you…it is a terrible thing. No one should begin their life as Kindred the way you have. I swear to you, your sire will pay in blood for this. I will not let this go unavenged.” Julian’s voice was strained and rough, and Frank was surprised when a blood-tinged tear dropped to his bare shoulder. Frank reached up and took the man’s hand, squeezing it gently in his own. With pleased surprise, Frank realized that he could still feel Julian’s emotions. They were faint now without the blood linking them together, but it was enough. Julian’s feelings of love and protectiveness surrounded him like a cocoon, doing much to ease his fears. Sighing, Frank relaxed back into the body behind him, allowing himself to drift into much needed slumber.
When Frank awoke again, it was no less pleasant than the time before. No sooner had his eyes snapped open than pain exploded across his entire world. His head, his eyes, his jaws, arms, hands…even his fingernails hurt. It felt as if his blood were burning, boiling…threatening to erupt out of his veins in a gory, crimson fountain. His abdomen was the worst. Like before, an aching emptiness throbbed from deep within, but that was only the least of it. Everything inside ached like he’d never experienced before, alternately cramping and burning, sending tendrils of a shivery, icy pain up his spine. Opening his jaws wide, he tried to scream, but a sudden, violent cramp cut him off, forcing him to curl into a quivering ball.
A gentle hand began stroking his bare back, fingers trailing soothing lines over his quivering muscles. The distraction was welcome, and Frank struggled to turn his head enough to see who still watched over him. Though it was unsurprising, Frank still felt a surge of relief when he saw it was Julian who sat beside him, rubbing soothing circles between his shoulders.
“I know it hurts, Frank…but it will pass. Your body is dying around you, while your blood is keeping you alive…changing you. In a few hours the worst will be over,” Julian said, his smooth voice caressing.
Frank abruptly twitched, his body convulsing as if suffering a seizure. Julian let him ride through it, waiting patiently as the convulsions turned into violent shivers. When it had passed, Frank turned over, grabbing Julian’s hand in a powerful grip that bespoke of the changes already occurring.
“D-don’t…leave,” Frank whispered, holding Julian’s hand to his chest as if it were the only thing anchoring him beyond the pain. Frank tried to keep his mind focused on Julian and him alone. If he thought of the pain, it reminded him of what was causing it. He was dying…the ripping, burning, horrible pain in his gut was his organs shutting down, one by one. After all, what did a vampire did them for? Soon, his heart and lungs would stop too…but his body would go on living. Cold, still…a walking corpse just like out of an old horror movie. Groaning, Frank drew his knees toward his chest, savoring the sound of his heart thundering frantically in his ears and the rush of cool air into his lungs. Even now, as painful as it was, he wanted to savor the things that would soon be torn from him forever.
As the hours passed and the pain in his gut numbed, Frank couldn’t fight the exhaustion that pulled at his burning eyes. Closing his eyes, the last sensation he had before fading into sleep was of a pair of soft lips pressing a gentle kiss to his temple.