Healing


And so the truth comes out …


I came awake abruptly in the dim light of my hospital room, feeling so perfectly alive and alert that I might not have been asleep at all. I blinked around at everything. My senses felt incredibly sharp after so long of being softened up by the lack of my magic. I could sense humans in the room. Their musty, sweaty smells and toddling bodies seized my attention, and I immediately made the decision not to get up. I didn't want to alarm them. My energy levels felt ridiculously high. My first instinct was to lunge up, jump for the window, and run, cackling, into the forest.

For many reasons, it was a very bad idea.

So I stayed still, turning my head to look over. There was a nurse next to me. She had a sponge in hand, which she was gently pressing to my forehead. I could tell that it had been soaked with water and then frozen. Softly cold. Not as cold as it probably should have felt. I squinted. "What time is it?"

The look she gave me was startled. Had she not noticed I was awake? She glanced at the watch on her wrist. "It's two-o'-clock, Sera. You've been out for a few hours."

I closed my eyes for a moment, letting myself remember. I had been meditating. I'd done something wrong, tried to reach my fireheart too fast. I'd passed out. Then I'd woken up …

Bloody. I brought my free hand to my mouth, suddenly remembering, my heart picking up speed. Oh, my gosh. I'd been bleeding all over. I'd bitten my tongue. And who had been cradling me in his stone-solid, undead arms? Crispin had. I saw again his eyes in my mind: deep grey, leaning toward soulless, with tiny, feeble streaks of gold shot through his irises. He'd been thirsty. And not just a little bit thirsty. He'd been nigh-total-desperation thirsty. And he had cradled me in his arms softly, holding a thumb over my arm where my IV had been ripped out. Blood all over his hands. I had trusted him so completely, needed him so absolutely, and literally put my life at his mercy.

Why was I not dead? I had expected that kind of restraint from Carlisle, who was much older and stronger than Crispin and who had dedicated his entire life to caring for injured humans. But from Crispin, the young, unpracticed vampire with very dark, thirsty eyes? I had been such an idiot. I hadn't been thinking straight at all. I could have been killed right then and there. I could have exposed him and his family. Oh, I was a fool.

But I wasn't dead. I hadn't been bitten. Crispin, in spite of the warm blood on his hands, had not tasted it. My heart pounded in my ears. Brave Crispin. Stupid, determined, gentle Crispin. How had he done it? Blood so fresh, when he had been so thirsty. I couldn't believe it. He was my wonderful Crispin. An absolute miracle.

"Sera, are you okay?" I opened my eyes and looked back at the nurse. She looked very worried. I blinked rapidly.

"Yes. Why?"

"You've got a terrible fever. How do you feel?"

My heart, which had been pounding in my ears one moment, now sank into my stomach. A fever? No, not a fever. There could only be one reason why I felt so incredibly good and strong right now. Shoot. My fireheart. I hadn't been controlling it. At the same time as I was giddy with joy over what I now had, I berated myself for letting it slip my notice. My body temperature was soaring. If I'd been human, I would have been in serious trouble. As a dragon, I felt perfectly comfortable. And the nurses were probably panicking. Dang it, what medicines had they fed me? I sure as heck didn't need them. All I could do now was pray that my internal flame had burned away the drugs.

"I … I might be a little dizzy, but I'm okay. Really. I think it's getting better." As I spoke, I carefully reached into my gut, mentally extending my consciousness into the space where my soul was contained. It blazed gloriously, brilliantly hot, just as it was supposed to. Unfortunately, in the midst of all this glorious warmth, we had a problem. I reigned in the heat, taking the power of the Sun under my will, harnessing and controlling it. I would have to do this carefully. I couldn't allow my temperature to resume human-normal in a blink. Then the nurses would really flip their lids. I started bringing it down slowly. This would take a couple hours. Shoot.

"How does your tongue feel, dear?" the nurse asked, gently. My stomach got the wobbles. I knew exactly what condition my tongue was in. It wouldn't be damaged anymore, not with the power of the sun raging through my veins. And all the bruises on my legs? Gone. There wouldn't be a single mark of them left. My clicking neck? That would have been fixed, too. Great Mother Sun, I couldn't let her see that. How much had they seen already? I swallowed.

"My tongue is ... numb?"

"Good. I'm glad to hear the painkiller is working."

Yikes. I had some serious stuff to make up. Where was Dr. Cullen? I needed him pronto. We both had secrets to keep from the humans. He would help me. Of course, I couldn't tell him the truth about what I was. Not yet. But he would understand on some level. Enough to get me out of this mess, hopefully.

The nurse didn't ask me any more questions. I kept my eyes closed, trying to relax and make myself look tired or something. I needed her to have as little worry and suspicion as possible until she left. I needed my notebook. I had revealed that I knew about vampires to the doctor and to Crispin. I had to prepare myself for their next move. I opened my eyes and looked at my bedside table.

Where were my journals?

I stirred a little, pushing myself up just a fraction, trying to see. The nurse immediately moved to soothe me and make me lie down, but I firmly interrupted, "Where are my journals?"

"The doctor asked us to move them," said the nurse. "We can't have you reading for a little while. The strain on your eyes might cause another seizure."

Oh. I laid myself back into the bed, staring at the ceiling. So that was what had happened. I hadn't just passed out. I'd had a seizure. Whoops. I was instantly a little grumpy. I knew fully well that my seizure had not been caused by brain strain from reading too much. I'd made the mistake of punching through some half-healed boundary to reach my fireheart, that was what had happened. I was completely recovered now, anyway. I had nothing to be afraid of. Except accidentally revealing my magically perfect health again. Gosh, I needed the doctor. I shut my eyes. I had to get a grip. At this point, maintaining my secrecy was going to be incredibly difficult. I had to do all within my power to prevent the hospital staff from getting too curious or suspicious.

I had to stay still for a very long time. To control myself, I lapsed into a meditative calm, letting my mind relax and focusing on my beaming, flaming soul. Slowly, delicately, I reduced my body temperature. The meditative exercise was good. I had been without my fireheart for weeks, and getting used to its presence once more was important. I needed to regain my precise control of it.

Oh, it was so good to be back in top form.


It was not the vampire doctor who rescued me from my dilemma with the nurse. It was my own Crispin. He entered in usual vampire fashion, so quietly that I didn't know he was there. The nurse brought him to my attention. "Hi, Crispin," she breathed. I snapped out of my patient meditation. I was overjoyed at the same time as I was annoyed. I did not like this lady's tone. That was my vampire boy.

"Miss Brumley," Crispin greeted, politely. "How is she?"

I opened my eyes and fixed him with a look. I couldn't tell what that look might be. I was delighted to have him here, furious with him for torturing himself by staying near me when I'd been bloody, and, all at once, shocked out of my mind. His eyes had become sweet, shimmering, honey-gold once more. He was carrying a small stack of books and a very familiar journal. My journal. My old one, my leather-bound one, the one I had left in my dragon-satchel in the woods weeks ago. That meant …

Oh no. What had he figured out?

"She has a fever," the nurse said, worriedly. "She's been so hot for hours. It finally started going down after she woke up."

Crispin seemed worried. He gave me a concerned look. I gave him a frantic glare in return. Get me out of here.

"Miss Brumley, can I please talk to her for a minute?" Crispin begged, sweetly. He gave the nurse an imploring sort of look, his gentleness levels turning up to ten-plus. That naughty boy. How often did these golden-eyed vampires use their extreme attractiveness to get their way around the mortals? Well, I wasn't complaining. I needed this nurse out of my hair right now.

"Oh, I understand, Crispin, but I need to stay with her until I know she'll be okay."

"I'm fine," I said, trying to find a balance between sounding strong enough and yet not too much. "Really. I feel loads better."

The nurse pursed her lips. Crispin came closer, turning the attractiveness up tenfold, softening, looking like a beautiful, imploring god. "Please, Miss Brumley? It's very important. It shouldn't take long. I'll keep an eye on her vitals."

I could have sworn I'd heard the nurse's breath catch. Oh, bother. Ridiculous humans. She knew nothing about Crispin. If she'd been on a bit of a higher level, she might have realized that Crispin's soft begging was a complete play act and that it was extremely not in his nature. It was lucky he was such a good actor. This was what I needed right now. But I would be very happy when he was back to being his usual Crispin self.

"... okay, Crispin. I can give you two some privacy, but only for a moment. She still has a fever."

I was sorely tempted to bring my body temperature back down to normal right then and there. Would she please walk out?

She did. The nurse got to her feet, lightly patted my arm, and went through the door and into the hall. Crispin pointedly shut it behind her. Thank the heavens above. "Crispin," I sighed, rolling my eyes, relieved. "Thank the Mother of Fire you're here."

"I'm very sorry that I took so long," said Crispin, gently. He came to my bedside with the books and my journal. "We need to talk."

"Too right. Get me out of here!" I shoved myself upright, and Crispin made a tiny noise of panic, almost dropping my things.

"Sera, no! What are you doing?" he hissed. "I swear, you'll kill—" But then he stopped, staring. He could sense that something was different. I shoved my hospital blankets off, maneuvering my legs off the bed, trying to work around my winding IV tube. "What—but—" Crispin spluttered.

"You obviously know a few things by now, so no point in dancing around it. That seizure was from me finding my powers again. I'm completely healthy. You've got to help me. If the nurses and doctors find out …"

Crispin tightened his lips. He set my books on my bedside table. Then he stepped up to me and gently tucked my hospital gown better around my body. One of the snaps holding the front of the robe-like garment had come undone. Oops. I blushed, furiously. It might have been better than a stereotypical hospital gown, but it had still found a way to become a breezy thing. Crispin stared me up and down. "How? Your fever?" He touched my forehead, his eyes squinting a little. I shook my head slightly, tapped into my fireheart, and sent my temperature through the roof. He gasped, yanking his hand away. "Ouch!"

Instant mega-guilt. I hadn't meant to hurt him. I was a little shocked. Vampires were apparently sensitive to heat, more than I'd expected. To a human I would have felt only unusually warm. To Crispin, I was apparently a fireball. I'd actually hurt him. "I'm so sorry! Are you okay?"

Crispin lightly rubbed his fingertips together, staring intently at me. Then he stepped forward again, cringing as he put his hand under my warm chin, and lifted my head a little. "Your tongue?"

I stuck it out to show him. Not a mark.

"... you're right, this is a problem. The nurses will have a fit."

"You've got to get me out of here."

"Not me. Carlisle."

"Well, it's gotta be quick."

"I can go get him. Bring that temperature down! You've been making Miss Brumley worried. She could have noticed something."

I rolled my eyes. "I'm working on it. I can't do it too fast or they'll get even more worried. My natural temperature is just … hot. I've been unconscious. I couldn't reign it in."

"I see."

"What did you guess, then?" I asked, darkly, observing the stack of books. Crispin sighed, heavily.

"Gigantic, able to fly, with a strong tail."

Jeez, there was no hiding anything from this kid.

"Also," Crispin added, "very warm. I need my notebook."

"You should probably get me out of here, first."

"Mmm … can we talk?"

I hesitated, seriously considering refusing. I was so sick of this hospital. I wanted out. But Crispin was right. We needed to clear things up. No more secrets. This was a rare moment of privacy for us to discuss these incredibly sensitive matters. "Okay."

Crispin gently helped me to my bed again, making sure I didn't get tangled in my ridiculous IV tube. I did up the snap on the front of my gown so I stayed covered up as I climbed back into my horrible hospital platform-bed. Crispin noticed. "Good thing I found your clothes," he commented. "You'll be glad to be back in them."

"Where's the rest of my stuff?"

"It's at my house. I didn't think it was a good idea to leave your bag out there any longer than necessary. Besides, it's raining again."

My good, thoughtful vampire. I pulled my blanket up over my legs. Crispin put his foot on the pedal that lowered my bed, bringing it down so he could talk to me properly. He knelt at my side, putting his arms on the mattress and taking my warm hand, squinting against the heat. I gazed at him. What was he thinking?

"You know about my kind," he began, simply. A statement of fact. I took a deep breath, nodding. There was no hiding that, now. Crispin took a steadying breath, closing his eyes for a moment. "How?"

"My sort have always known."

"Always?"

"Since we first became."

I saw understanding in Crispin's eyes. "You knew from the moment you saw me in the library."

"I did."

"I'm sorry I frightened you."

I closed my eyes at that, internally sorrowing. I must have appeared so afraid. I had been, a little, facing my enemy in the last place I had expected, unprepared and in my fragile mortal shape. But it was not I who really should have been scared. I had been planning to kill him at the time. If his gold eyes had not thrown me off, he would be a scattered mass of purple ash right now. I couldn't bear to think of what I'd nearly done to him.

"It's okay. Really. Things aren't like that, now." I said it half to myself.

"So …" Crispin's thumb softly stroked the back of my hand. "What are you?"

I grimaced a little. This was not easy. I wanted so badly to tell him. I didn't want to keep any more secrets. But I was still afraid. I was afraid that his knowledge of what I was could be his death. I couldn't decide if it was too late for ignorance to protect him or not. It would depend on what he had deduced so far with his brilliant mind. "What have you guessed?"

Crispin pursed his lips. "Manticore?"

I snorted with a small laugh. He sighed. "No?"

"Nope."

He gazed at me, imploring. My mirth faded. All there was to do was to tell him the truth of it. I had no idea how. I couldn't think. How could I make it clear to him, the whole truth? Not only that I was a dragon, but that I was terrible and powerful and unconquerable … How? "I don't … I don't know how to tell you." Maybe I was just being stupid. I didn't know.

Crispin looked a little desperate. I could understand his pain, and I was sorry to cause it. "Why not?" he asked, hurt. I took a deep breath.

"I don't know how to … help you see … the whole truth. All of it, everything, the … the importance, the … I mean, my kind are … that is to say, we're extremely … I mean that … vampires aren't perfectly immortal." Whatever I'd planned to say did not come out properly. It was a tangle of confusion. Crispin's eyes widened.

"What … do you mean to say … ?"

I clenched my teeth. His quick mind was already working things out. I was not a liar, anyway. He had the right to know. "I was sent to destroy you," I whispered, and it was like my heart had cracked in two to say it. "You and all other vampires in the area. That was my mission."

Crispin stared at me. Then he looked at the wall. I wished I knew what he was thinking. My heart was hammering. He could surely hear it beating itself wildly against my ribs. I was suddenly panicking. I was going to lose him, wasn't I?

Crispin looked at our hands, still holding my little warm one in his solid, powerful, tendon-lined one. "How?" he asked. I could see what he was thinking.

"We don't kill vampires in our squishy mortal forms. This is a ruse. A trap. If you were a human-killer, you would have found my sweet innocence and naivety extremely convincing and tempting. You would have followed me, knowing that I was unwittingly taking myself to my own doom. And then you would have died."

Crispin looked understandably alarmed. He stared at me, his eyes wide and alert, his nostrils slightly flared. He was worried. As he should be. I squeezed his solid hand with my weak mortal fingers. "It was your eyes that saved you," I murmured. "It's common knowledge that vampires have ruby eyes. It's in every textbook. Human blood makes its way through the vampire's crystalline tissues to the irises, where it becomes concentrated. It serves as a signal to other vampires of thirst levels, overall mood, and physical condition. Right there in the books.

"But you have golden eyes. Bright, glittery, honey-sunshine gold, Crispin. They're beautiful. You must understand what an effect that had on me. Logic said you did not sustain yourself on the blood of humans. I had no idea what you were eating, obviously, and I still don't. And … there are stories. Things parents tell their kids about golden-eyed vampires. My resolve broke. As far as I could tell, you were not a murderer. We destroy vampires because they are an evil creation, which takes innocent life and erases happiness. But you were not a murderer. My heart wouldn't let me follow through. I couldn't do it."

Crispin just knelt there, staring at me, holding my hand, unmoving. I stared back, unsure of what to do. I had not expected to be baring my soul like this. And now that I'd just admitted to having initially planned to kill Crispin, I had no idea what he would do. The appropriate response would probably have been to snap my neck and run for it. But he didn't. After twenty solid seconds of not moving a muscle, he unlocked, straightening up, his eyebrows knitting. "How did you know we were here?"

I sighed. "Magic. Our leader saw it. In my society, killing one's first vampire is a … an initiation into adulthood, if you follow me. The Matriarch exerts tight control over the killing of vampires. It didn't used to be that way, when the world was not so dangerous and when we didn't have to worry about hiding ourselves. But things are more regulated these days. She gave me my first assignment to come here. I was going to utilize all my training, be the best vampire-killer you'd ever seen. It was sheer luck that the Matriarch sent me here rather than someone else. Anyone else would have probably killed you on the spot, no matter what your eyes looked like. To my people, vampires are just … vampires. Undead. Mindless. Monsters. What did it matter that you were a little odd? But I'm young. I'm still flexible. I saw through what I've always been taught. We messed up. We were wrong."

By now I was looking at the bed. I couldn't bear to look at Crispin any more. I didn't want to see the disgust or fear or betrayal in his golden eyes. I knew I'd been a beast, ready to kill him without a second thought, and he had every right to be afraid, or at least disgusted. I was disgusted. With myself. For a short time, although it had been very brief, I had been ready to kill an innocent simply because of what he was. I had been unwilling to see who he was. Things were different, now, of course, but the sin still stood.

Crispin moved a little. I didn't look at him, too sickened with myself and what I'd nearly done to risk the searing gold of his gaze. I could feel his breath on the back of my hand. His lips gently pressed to my fragile brown skin. I stiffened, suddenly expecting lightning pain, a sharp bite. Crispin felt my reaction. He stilled. Then he followed through with a gentle kiss.

I just collapsed. My shoulders drooped, my head bowed. I clenched my teeth tight as my breathing went uneven. My throat was tight and painful. Tears fought their way into my eyes. How could he still feel this way for me? I was a monster. I had come to destroy him and everything he loved. His whole family would have been ash in the wind if I had not held myself back. How could he feel such tenderness for his would-be murderer?

I felt Crispin move, but still couldn't look at him. His hand touched my face and I twitched again, flinching. He froze. "Oh, Sera. Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you. What—are you crying? Don't cry! It's alright. Don't cry." He scooped my face into both his cool hands, stroking my tears away. "What's wrong, Sera?"

"What's wrong?!" I burst out, my eyes flying open. "I'm a dragon! I could have killed you! Every time I think of how close I was—how easily I could have changed my mind … It was a knife's edge, Crispin, don't you understand?! Your kind are mindless machines to my people! I had to choose to treat you like a person who could feel something other than lust. I had to go against everything I've ever been taught! You know how easy it would have been to turn a blind eye? If I had—somehow—not cared about your eyes, about what they really meant … Crispin, I wouldn't be talking to you right now. You wouldn't be talking to me."

"Whoa, whoa, sshhh … hush, calm down, the walls have ears!" Crispin gently freed himself from my grip. I hadn't realized I'd grabbed his wrists when I'd started yelling at him. He took my hand in one of his own, and his other hand came up to cradle my cheek, brushing excess water off my face. I stared at him, deep into his shimmering, enchanting eyes. I saw the shock, the way he reeled. It was almost like I could see the connection he was making. Dragon. She's a dragon. "But you did choose," Crispin insisted. "You did. Look at us, now. You didn't kill me."

I let out a shaky breath and shut my eyes again. "I know. I know that. But you're still not safe. If I can't bend my family's will—if I can't prove that you're not a monster … Crispin, we don't kill every vampire we hunt. The ones we keep alive … we keep as experiments. You, especially. You're an anomaly, a non-human-eater. My grandfather will be curious. If I can't find some way to keep you safe …"

"Easy, easy," Crispin pressed, holding my hand to his chest. "Relax, Sera. Deep breaths. Come on. It's not going to end that way. We can do this."

And then there was a knock at the door. Worst timing ever. Crispin's eyes widened for a second as he twitched his head, turning an ear to the door behind him, registering who was there. Then he moved swiftly, blindingly fast, gently sweeping my legs up into one arm and holding me behind my shoulders in the other, scooching my whole body down a bit. He laid me back onto the bed, tucking the blanket over my belly just in time. In came Miss Brumley. Oh, I was furious. I could have torched something. Crispin gave me a sharp look, his eyes briefly darting to my bedside table before he turned to look at the nurse. I looked at my tabletop and realized what he had meant. The digital thermometer was sitting there. My temperature. What with all my distress, my body was blazing with excess warmth. I shut my eyes and took great, calming breaths, fighting to get myself under control. I had to bring it down immediately.

"It's alright, Miss Brumley," Crispin was saying, soothingly. "She's just tired. She just needs some company."

The nurse was standing over me, looking concerned. I was furiously embarrassed about my tears, but I battled with the shame and fiercely reigned in the burning power of my fireheart. I shut my eyes so I couldn't see the human, reigning in my emotion. It wasn't easy. My temperature was still higher than I would have liked it to be. The nurse put her hand on my forehead. "She's still very warm. I think I'd better give her another dose of painkiller."

"Oh, I can do it, Miss Brumley," said Crispin. "I should stay with her. She needs me."

"Oh … I see." The woman sounded incredibly disappointed. I could have laughed if I hadn't been so distressed over what on earth was going to become of Crispin and I. "I guess you can. Here, she needs these." I cracked open an eyelid. The nurse handed Crispin a few pills. Oh, good. It would be easy to fake taking those. Crispin nodded, sagely.

"Of course, Miss Brumley, I'll take care of it. I think she needs some rest. She's very tired."

It was a blessing when the nurse left. She took my temperature, seemed generally unhappy about it, and then walked out, leaving Crispin and I in relative peace. My breathing was trembling. Crispin took my hand again. "Here, sit up, Sera. Have some water."

I let him help me up, taking the offered plastic hospital-mug and sipping a few difficult gulps through the straw. Crispin put the mug back on my bedside table and sat on the bed beside me, taking my hand. "It's alright, Sera. Deep breaths. We can do this."

"We," I muttered, miserably. "How can you possibly—" Crispin startled me by becoming fierce.

"Yes, we!" he growled. "Sera, I will never walk away from you. I know you must think you're a monster for what you nearly did, but you have to remember: I'm a vampire. I'm a monster, too. There's a killer lurking deep inside me, right? I still feel the instinct to drink human blood. It's part of me. It's my choices that make me who I really am. Same goes for you." I sighed, deeply, closing my eyes and squeezing his hand as tightly as I could, not even making an indent in his stone-solid skin. Crispin brought my hand to his face once more and pressed a firm kiss to the back of it. "Listen, I love you. You can't pretend we haven't connected with each other. I can't walk away from this. Not now."

I startled myself by letting out a small, shaky laugh. It was unbelievable, these things he was saying to me. Crispin patiently waited for me to catch my breath, holding my hand to his face. I could feel his cool breaths. I wasn't afraid. I gave it a few seconds, getting myself under control. My little emotional explosion had been very embarrassing. Oh, if my mother could see me now. Sobbing over an existential crisis over a vampire. My world was upside-down.

It was a minute or so before I had calmed. I left my eyes closed, letting Crispin hold my hand. I double-checked my grip on my fireheart several times as things wound down. My temperature slowly decreased toward its usual norm, which was still unpardonably hot. Crispin's undead flesh had soaked up the heat energy and was now just as warm as I was. He had to be getting used to it. It didn't seem quite as uncomfortable to him. Or he was just faking it to make me feel better. I established renewed control of my hot, Sun-fed soul, bringing my temperature down even further. Soon I'd get it back to an acceptable level.

I opened my eyes and blinked up at the gentle, golden-eyed vampire. He watched me worriedly, his face relaxing slightly when he saw I was feeling better. I let out another small laugh. "I love you, too."

His eyes sparkled. It was still just as impressive to me as it had always been. He held my hand to his cheek. "I'm glad. My whole world is better for it."

I sighed, heavily, and put my other hand over my face. "I won't let them hurt you. I can't. I'll have to … persuade them, somehow. I thought about leaving you alone. You know, out of sight, out of mind. But that's pointless. If I don't go back with vampire ash to show my Siege, they'll come get you themselves. And if I stay with you, they'll eventually come for me, and they'll catch you that way. It's probably going to boil down into a fight. What a mess."

"Um …" Crispin hesitated. He took a great, huge breath. "I hate to say it, but your troubles aren't over. There's still my family to deal with."

I dropped my hand from my face and looked at him. "What about them, exactly?"

Crispin set my other hand into his lap and shook his head. "My brother Edward, mostly. Are you aware that vampires sometimes have powerful gifts?"

I was aware of this. We had a few gifted vampires among our prisoners. They were of particular interest to the scientists. "Yes, I know about the gifts."

"Well … Edward's gift is to hear thought. It's like mind-reading."

I raised an eyebrow, amazed. "How does it work?"

"He has to be near the person he's trying to hear. As he gets to know someone better, he can hear their thoughts from further away. He can see pictures when they think of them, too. He says it's like sitting in a stadium full of people all the time. All kinds of chatter from all around. He's learned to tune out most of the background stuff, and I hear it took him a while to learn to answer spoken word rather than thought."

I was putting things together, remembering how he'd acted the day Crispin had brought him into my hospital room. "Hm … he can't hear my thoughts, then."

Crispin looked surprised. "No, he can't. How did you … ?"

I chuckled at his look. "Come on, now. If he'd been able to hear me that day, he would have killed me on the spot. I made myself perfectly clear in my thoughts that I had intended to kill you all."

"Ah, I see." Crispin tilted his head. He looked curious, but a little afraid. "What exactly … ?"

"What was I thinking about?" The small smile dropped off my face. "I was thinking about my grandfather. He's one of our head scientists. If he knew about your family, he would be very interested in you. Not in a pleasant way, either. Like I said, you're an anomaly. Special. A research subject, as far as Grandfather is concerned."

"Oh." Crispin looked more than put out. I closed my eyes and shook my head.

"I will never let it come to that, Crispin. Never, never."

Crispin squeezed my hand. "Thank you. But that's not the problem right this minute—the fact is, if I go home now, and he hears what I'm thinking …"

Ah, he was right. That was a problem. "He's going to flip his lid," I predicted. Crispin nodded, wincing.

"A family argument like you've never seen. They'll want to kill you, for sure. A living … a real dragon." He spoke the word softly, awed. Dragon.

I pursed my lips. "They have every right to be afraid."

"Yes, it seems that way."

"I won't let my people hurt your family, Crispin. I can't. Not now. My—my whole life is wound up in this."

Crispin smiled, sadly. "And I can't let my family have you, either. Like you said, it's probably going to boil down into a fight."

"I could talk to them. This isn't a time for being secretive." Then I groaned, putting my hand back over my eyes. "I don't know what to do. I can't say nothing to my parents. They'll have questions. They'll find out. Then … my people … their hatred … I can't even describe the hellfire horror that would result."

"I understand."

I rubbed my face, furiously. "I'm sorry, Crispin. I'm sorry I dragged you into this mess. I should have just left you that very first night. I should have flown off home and made up some excuse or … something."

Crispin startled me with a gentle, animal growl. "This is more than worth it to me." And he held up our clasped hands between us. My heart almost broke again, and I sagged, suddenly worn out. Crispin stroked the back of my hand with his thumb. "I won't leave you, Sera. It's too late for that, now. We'll do this together. That's how it's meant to be."

I smiled down at my knees, overcome with relief. My vision swam with my emotional overload. No matter what happened, even if I had to fight flame and tail to keep him safe, I would always have him. He still loved me, even though I was a vicious monster. Thank the Sun.

We lapsed into silence. I gazed at my knees, thinking to myself, following half-hopeful trains of thought. There was still some hope, albeit distant. I needed to go home. I couldn't afford to let my people come here. They would not hesitate to bring this big family of strange vampires to their knees. I needed to take preventive action. There was only one way to do that, and now I had the power to do it. The Matriarch. The all-knowing one. I had to convince her that these vampires were worth keeping intact. And I was going to have to persuade her immediately. Not an easy task, by any means. It would be like confronting a god. Whatever happened, she was the ultimate authority. She held the power to protect my gentle vampire boy. I needed to see her. She was my last hope.

Until then … I was still stuck in this blasted hospital. So … "Crispin?"

"Hmm?"

"What do you eat, then?"

Crispin smiled. His perfect, white, vampire teeth caught the light. "Any guesses?"

"Honey?"

"Nope."

"Ambrosia?"

Crispin softly laughed, a musical sound that made me feel a thousand times happier in a single moment. "No, Sera, I'm afraid not."

"Well, I'm out of ideas, unless you consume molten brass, which I know isn't possible."

Crispin stood, letting my hand go and picking up my mug again. "We prey on animals, actually." He glanced shyly back at me. My mind worked, furiously. I squinted.

"Animals."

"Yep."

"You mean … mammals? Birds?"

"Mammals, mostly. We can feed on birds, reptiles, fish … nasty, though." Crispin shuddered, looking disgusted.

"But mammals have red blood, like humans."

"Yep."

I wrinkled my nose. "Then where does the gold come from?"

Crispin sighed. "One of many great mysteries about my kind, isn't it? I've never been able to unlock the secret. Like you said, blood consumed by vampires saturates our tissues and becomes concentrated in our irises. It's not a terribly complex process, either, and the blood remains relatively unaltered from the moment it enters our bodies to the time it has concentrated in our eyes. What happens in the process to change the color of animal blood is beyond me. The shade isn't exactly the same, either, among individuals. In Edward it tends to be more of an ochre, for example. It's always glossy in me. I have a theory that pre-vampirism eye color may have something to do with the variation."

This was the Crispin I loved. Theories and curiosity. "All kinds of animal blood?"

"The color turns out the same for me no matter what animal I feed on. Today, I had a few raccoons from the edge of town, a coyote, and an elk. Hairy beasts, and not as easy to feed on as humans for that reason. The blood isn't as … satiating, either. But it's a price I'm more than willing to pay to preserve human life."

I shook my head, marveling and smiling. "Well, I love what it does to your eyes."

Crispin smiled, turning my hospital mug around and around in his hands. "Thank you."

"Who was it that decided to start living on animals?"

"Carlisle, Dr. Cullen. His story is a long one, and it's wonderful. I have never met a better person in all my life. Not once has he ever tasted human blood. Not even since the day of his birth."

I marveled. "Not once?"

"Not once."

I closed my eyes for a moment. Not once. By the Mother Sun. He was a legend. The stuff of fairytales. Dr. Cullen, master of the vampiric appetite. Impossible. But I didn't doubt Crispin's word for a moment. My thoughts flickered suddenly back to old memories, to the stories my parents had told me when I'd been a hatchling. Gifted with the strength of twelve vampires, born of resolve and endurance …

I had always thought those words had been referring to the vampire's natural physical strength. I was suddenly struck with a realization that sent my heart racing. No, not physical endurance. They were blessed with internal endurance … the strength to do battle with the monsters within.

Oh.

I took a deep breath, my thoughts flickering to the Matriarch again. The more I learned, the more I knew I had to see her. She knew the story, as childish as it was. My gut nagged with a deep suspicion that somehow she was responsible for these golden-eyed ones. I hesitantly asked Crispin, "How did Carlisle even … happen?"

"Misfortune and pain. Like all of us. He just … chose the better path. There's not another person in the world like Carlisle. I wish I could say the same about myself." Crispin grimaced at old memories. His tone was bitter. "I fed upon humans in my early days. I was turned by a vengeful, hateful vampire, you see. I was to be one of many—her army. They didn't teach us anything. They barely kept us under control as it was. They spoke weak lies to us, mostly … we weren't meant to last for very long. We …" Crispin hesitated, glancing at me. "Sorry, it's a very long story."

I sat up straighter, eager. "Well, tell it!"

Crispin's smile was glorious. He took a swift, vampire breath and kept talking. "We were actually created to kill the Cullens. Can you believe that? Disposable. That was all we were. I was fortunate in one way. I retained most of my mind. Most of the others lost their pre-vampirism memories almost entirely. Many of them were weak-minded, too, easily won over to one brutish side or the other … or downright enslaved." He shuddered slightly, setting my mug down.

"It was a dangerous place. I was there for just a few days. I fed upon humans during that time, following the will of the coven of newborns, confused and lost. But I was at risk. They were a brutish lot, most of them, savage and power-hungry. They tore at each other, constantly. It was like living in a pack of stray dogs. They fought and fought … killed each other, too. Some were stronger. They wanted to control the coven. Others wanted … more. One … wanted me." Crispin cringed, rubbing his arm. I felt sorrow for him. That wasn't a good look. He'd been hurt. I could see that the memories still lingered in him. "It was a scary time. It was all I could do to keep myself out of trouble, away from those who would take advantage of me. Eventually, I escaped. I came here, to these mountains. Carlisle found me, bless his heart. Everything changed."

Crispin turned to me, smiling broadly, looking perfectly glorious as usual. "So here I am. Isn't it wonderful?"

I beamed at him. "It is wonderful. I'm glad you escaped that place."

"Me too." Crispin shuddered. "Awful." He picked up my mug again, brought it to me, and put it in my hands as he sat down on the bed once more beside me. "Here, have a drink. You just lost a lot of water."

I snorted, embarrassed. Yes, I had lost a fair bit to crying. I clenched the straw between my teeth. "What are you going to do, now? There's still the whole day left."

"Stay right here with you, of course," said Crispin, happily. I sighed.

"Yeah, that would be nice," I said around the straw, "but I'm pretty sick of this hospital bed, and there's the problem of maintaining secrecy now that I'm all … you know, better."

Crispin sobered up at once. "Ah, I forgot for a moment. I had better fetch Carlisle. We need to get you out of here as quickly as possible."

"Oh yeah, and I've got good news," I added, cheekily. "I remembered my parents' names and all that jazz. A long time ago. Doesn't help us much now, obviously, but I thought you might like to know that my memory came back a couple weeks ago."

Crispin made a small, teasing noise of playful outrage. "And you didn't tell me?"

"I wasn't ready. I had no idea what I was going to do about refusing to call my parents, so …"

"You poor thing." Crispin picked up my stack of books. He paused, frowning down at them. "Also, you lied to me about your little runes. You did not make those up."

I winced. "No, I didn't. They're the script dragons have used since the beginning. I didn't know how else to justify what they were without telling you stuff … you know."

Crispin suddenly looked very interested. "Fascinating. What language does it stem from?"

"Erm … paleolithic?"

"Seriously?"

"Our story is an old one. You'll have to hear it, sometime … if we can just get this all cleared up and make sure you'll be safe."

"Right, there is that minor detail." Crispin gently handed me my books. "I'll get my father. You stay put. You should probably lie down, just in case a nurse comes in."

"If a nurse comes in, I'm in trouble no matter what happens. You just gotta be quick."

"Will do. I'll be back in but a moment, m'lady …" And out Crispin went, moving a little too quickly to be human.

"Slower!" I hissed, even though he was already out the door. He would hear me. And hopefully he'd get his quick vampire reflexes under control again. No point in revealing his inhuman nature to the hospital at this highly inconvenient time. I scooped up my pile of books and gently lowered them to the floor, scooting them safely under my bedside table. Then I laid back down on my hospital bed, shutting my eyes and staying very still. The moment I got out of here, I was going to have to confront Crispin's family. I needed to prepare myself. I began planning what I was going to say.