Falls Like Rain
4.1. Amo, Amas, I Love a Lass
The church was dark, but that didn’t discourage Tracy. He often had nothing but a single candle burning, enough for his sensitive eyes but total darkness for hers. She knew the vampire would be home at that hour; dawn already lightened the skies to the east in shades of pink and violet. The sun would be up in a matter of moments.
Tracy ran lightly down the basement stairs, training the flashlight beam on her feet. The detective had taken to carrying a mini-torch at all times, so she would never be without a source of light in an emergency. Besides, the church was usually pitch black; she could hardly get around without a few bruises if she didn’t take certain precautionary measures. A tumble down the crumbling stone steps would not be appreciated, especially as Vachon was not the best housekeeper. She had no desire to spend the night dusting off her clothes, or picking cobwebs from her hair, thank you very much.
“Vachon?” she called into the darkness. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
She turned and, for the second time that morning, slammed into a vampire. The flashlight was jarred from her hand by the impact, but never hit the concrete floor. Vachon had retrieved it and held the beam beneath his face, like some funhouse ghoul. Only, no ghoul had ever held so much interest for Tracy. She wondered sometimes if she had fallen down the rabbit hole after Alice, or was stuck in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. She asked herself for the hundredth time why she couldn’t have a normal life like everybody else.
Tracy pulled the red tube from Vachon’s grasp, and turned the narrow yellow light once again on the floor by her feet. “Do you have to do that? I thought you finally outgrew this need to scare me into an early grave,” she scolded him, exasperated.
“Hey, Trace. I’m sorry, okay? You were just standing there and …” He trailed off, finally realizing by her pinched expression and tense posture that she had been really shaken - and maybe not just right then. After studying her face in the flickering light of a lone candle set on a nearby pile of crates, he decided he had to be just Javier Vachon the friend and stay as far away from the vampire, as possible.
“Come sit down.” He touched her elbow to guide her to the couch, but Tracy shied away. Vachon just stared at her for a moment. Her eyes were wide in the near darkness. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I just need to see you, all right?”
“Yeah -- sure. Hang on a minute.” She felt him move from her side. A match scratched and flared to life, and soon three full candelabra were lit. Each flame was a cheery spot of light for Tracy to focus on; they drove the shadows away, the ones in the church and those in her heart. Realizing she still stood there hugging herself as if her stuffing would fall out, Tracy dropped her arms and moved a step closer to her vampire friend.
Vachon tried a small smile, and when she responded with one of her own, he took heart and offered his hand. “Come sit,” he invited again, and beckoned for her to join him.
This time, she clasped his strong hand and let him lead her to the sofa. It was the one piece of furniture Javier possessed that wasn’t infested or decayed or draped in a shroud, other than the bed, that is. Her mind shied away from that thought. Maybe she’d get to share that bed with him, but now was not the time to be focusing on that event. She had come to talk, after all.
She let herself drop, bonelessly, onto the lumpy cushions. Shifting to get off a protruding spring, she settled herself in a more comfortable position. Staring at the candelabra, Tracy understood why some women used candles as the focus-point for Lamaze training. The little points of light danced and flashed around and almost seemed to smile; they mesmerized. It was no wonder that a campfire or torch or candle or hearth burned somewhere on earth since fire had been discovered; the flame was a bright symbol of life, a promise of civilization and comfort.
Finally, her body lost much of the tension, and Tracy sighed in relaxation. Yet silence, except for the scritching of rodents or the click of a cricket, reigned. When several minutes had ticked past, and Tracy hadn’t stirred, Vachon waved a hand in front of her eyes to attract her attention.
“Hey! You in there?” He leaned forward from his perch at the opposite end of the couch, and lightly captured her chin between thumb and forefinger. Her ivory skin was soft and radiated heat; blood sang along in veins so close beneath his hand. He bit down hard on the desire. The vampire had loved many women in the past, but none so much as this winsome blond, and not quite in the same way. This love humbled him, confused his senses. For this reason above all, he could do her no harm. Realizing that fact had been a major epiphany for the irrepressible vampire, who had treated death so lightly for so many years.
Tracy reached up to take his hand from her chin. She didn’t release him, but kept a firm grip in her lap. A slight shiver ran through her body, and she hunched her shoulders to ward it off. Even in summertime, the church held a damp chill, not unlike a deep cave.
She shook her head once. “Play for me?” she requested softly. “Please.”
Vachon frowned at her, but he couldn’t resist the way she smiled, or the tilt of her head, or the shine in her eyes. He shrugged and pulled his hand from hers with a wry grin. The black guitar was always close by, almost a part of the Spaniard. He picked the instrument up from the floor and settled it in its accustomed place between hip and thigh. His fingers ran smoothly over the strings and lacquered casing in a loving caress, as though he held a woman in his arms. He began to play.
The opening notes fell like rain on her ears, like droplets bouncing on a windowsill during a summer shower. Tracy closed her eyes and sighed at the first strum of a chord brought to life by his skilled fingers. She imagined herself the strings, his hands playing a tune over her flesh.
The song took her back to the happy times of her early childhood, when her mother would play the very same tune on the old spinet. She remembered those days so clearly. Just before bedtime, her mother would lift young Tracy up onto the piano bench, and play the prelude her father always said was written especially for such a pretty blond child. That Javier even knew such a classical piece as the Debussy amazed Tracy; he was so full of surprises. She expected a Clapton riff or some bit of alternate rock, not this favorite from her youth, her song, “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair.”
Tracy floated like a leaf, just as freely as she once imagined as a child. The melody lifted her, twirled her spirit about, set her down gently to rock in the musical breeze. Each season had evoked a new daydream: in winter she pictured a snowflake, crystalline and delicate, lazily descending from lofty heights to take its place alongside millions of its lacy kin; in autumn she became a bird, finely feathered, soaring and swooping high above the trees, heading south to warmer climes; in spring she imagined herself a bee, laden with pollen, darting busily from flower to flower, buzzing a soft song of her own in cadence with short wings; and in summer - summer was the most peaceful time of all when she lost all her cares and floated as enfranchised, as unattached, as ever any cloud, lighter than air and softer than down. The melody elicited so many emotions, yet the pool of calm that surrounded her drowned out all but the most placid thoughts; she could relax in a daydream where nothing could harm her.
The prelude lasted a mere two and a half minutes, not nearly enough to wipe the night’s events from her troubled mind, yet the soothing melody was a balm, a cure, that she wrapped around herself like a gauzy bandage. Tracy opened her eyes, sad to be at the end of so wonderful a memory, as the final poignant note was plucked and the ballad faded away.
Vachon stilled the strings, then put the guitar aside. “Ready to tell me what’s bothering you?” he asked, shattering her hard-won peace.
She leaned forward and placed forearms on knees. “I think what we did to Nick was wrong, Vachon,” she murmured at last.
“What do you mean?”
“Today, he touched me - like he’s done a hundred times before. But today, he felt like ...”
“Like me,” Vachon supplied.
Tracy twisted on the old sofa to face him. “Yeah. Like you.”
“That frightens you.”
“No, of course not,” she hastened to assure him.
“Trace, you’re a lousy liar.”
She met his eyes. “Okay, so sometimes I’m afraid,” she admitted in a strained voice. “But you don’t help.” Since he couldn’t deny the accusation, and making a joke would only incite Tracy to find more faults, Vachon wisely remained silent. He waited patiently, head canted to the side, for the young mortal to continue. “Javier, even though I’m afraid, I want you to know I still trust you.”
“Why?” he asked with quiet intensity. His curiosity appeared genuine; she had no real reason to trust him, other than one. That reason. The one they never spoke about.
Tracy just stared at him for a moment, mouth agape. She had expected a glib comment, or simple reserve, but not this serious expression, this true interest. She tilted her head at an angle similar to his, then raised one hand and shrugged. Her fine hair formed a curtain across her eyes, hiding her true emotions.
“Trace, don’t teach grandpa to suck eggs.” His gibe forced her shoulders down, and set her head straight. “Why?” he repeated.
“Well, I’m only a foolish mortal, under your spell,” she replied pertly.
He frowned. “Uh-uh. I thought we’d established your lack of lying skills.” Tracy felt the slight blush spread over her features and knew Javier watched with interest. “Come on. Third time’s a charm.”
Tracy popped off the sofa like an over-wound spring, and began to pace. She told herself she wouldn’t panic. After all, she had already admitted her love to him once before. How difficult could it be while he was alive to hear it? She wasn’t aware that Vachon had risen from the couch, but her hair fanned forward from the speed of his approach; he suddenly appeared behind her, hands fastening on her upper arms. She turned to face him, remaining in his grasp. The intensity of his gaze was a bit unnerving, yet Tracy kept her eyes riveted on his.
“Tell me why.”
“You’ll laugh at me,” she stalled.
“I won’t laugh, Tracy,” he told her simply.
She drew in a ragged breath. “I trust you because ... I love you, Javier.”
A smile spread across his features, brightening his dark eyes and deepening his dimples.
“See - you’re laughing at me!” Tracy tried to pull away, but Vachon wouldn’t release her arms.
He sobered quickly. “No, querida, I’m not laughing. I am very flattered.”
“You are teasing me,” she accused querulously. “I know what you’re thinking: I shouldn’t love you - it’s too dangerous - nothing will ever come of it except my death.”
He shook his head. “No, I’m not thinking anything like that. That’s all been said. That’s the past.” He tightened his hold on her. “Trace, I’d never hurt you,” he promised earnestly.
Tracy was shocked, confused by this sudden confession. It was her turn to ask the question. “Why?”
Vachon let a hint of the grin back onto his face, then gave his best shrug.
“Nope. Sorry. I’m immune now.”
The grin turned sheepish. “Just thought I’d give it a try.”
“Well, try again.”
“Knight would stake me for sure if I even thought of hurting you, Trace.”
“Better, but if it were only Nick you’d’ve been gone by now.” She waited for his grudging nod of confirmation before asking once again. “Why?”
Vachon dropped his hands from her arms, and turned abruptly away. A moment later he settled himself on one of the stone steps. Tracy wouldn’t let this go, just as he wouldn’t, so she followed and seated herself beside her vampire friend. He began to speak in a low voice, as if to himself. “I was young when I was brought across. I had experience with women, but not with lo-- none of it was real. I used them - as was the way of the times - and I discarded them. Only one woman ever held my heart, but she was killed in the village square by a group of mercenaries. It was daylight. I couldn’t go to her; I couldn’t help her.” Though they all came to a fitting end, los puercos he silently completed the story with grim satisfaction. Vachon turned to face Tracy and took her hands in his. Her fingers were as cold as human skin could be, yet still be alive; they barely warmed his own chilled flesh. Brown eyes widened with old memories, then narrowed in remembered pain. “I vowed then and there that I would let no woman claim my heart again. I’ve kept that promise -- until now.” Not that that promise ever made a damn bit of difference, he reminded himself with disparaging honesty.
Tears ran down Tracy’s cheeks, leaving twin trails of salted water. Vachon wiped the wetness away with his thumbs, then licked the captured drops from his fingers. The tears were a poor substitute for the red life he so desired, yet still held the merest essence of Tracy, just a hint of the apricot he longed to taste.
“I love you, Detective Tracy Vetter.”
Tracy dropped her head to his shoulder, blond hair mingling with brown. The mix was a metaphor of their love: his, dark and unruly, mysterious; hers, light and orderly, fragile. Yet they blended together as seamlessly as the chocolate and vanilla in a marble cake. Two distinct flavors on their own yet, when taken together, formed a unique taste.
When Tracy raised her head from Vachon’s black-clad shoulder, tears still ran down her ivory cheeks, though they had turned to tears of joy. Javier couldn’t bear to see her cry, whatever the reason. He tilted her chin up, then ran his tongue back along the trail of tears to her eyes, kissing each lid in turn. His lips traveled to her forehead, down her nose and onto her cheek. Tracy sighed contentedly, but she wanted more than the little pecks of affection Vachon bestowed on her. Brazenly molding her body along the length of his, she pressed the vampire back against the stone steps, letting his body buffer hers from the cold concrete. Her mouth found his, tongue plunging deeply, demandingly, inside, to share the pleasure she felt with the man she loved. Vachon matched her fervor for as long as he could keep the darkness at bay, but when it threatened to spill over, he gently pushed Tracy away and sat them both up. The mortal stiffened at the sight of large brown eyes flecked with gold and lengthened fangs framed by sensuous lips.
Vachon squeezed her upper arms briefly in reassurance. “Don’t be afraid, Trace,” he said, voice husky. “See, it’s still me.”
Tracy let go of the tension. “Why are we stopping?”
“I thought you wanted to talk,” Vachon replied impishly.
The eyes that met his evinced a matching passion. Conversation forgotten in the rising heat of their gaze, Javier carried his mortal love to the sofa and set her willowy body down gently on the cushions. She raised slender arms to capture his head, and twined her fingers in the thick, silky hair at the nape of his neck. He was her willing prisoner. Obeying the insistent pull of her hands, he bent to press his lips on hers. Her heat enveloped them both, lent the vampire a semblance of life that he hoped would be enough. Their tongues met in mutual exploration, fencing one moment, molding together the next. Their hearts beat in time.
The vampire’s dark desires rose once again despite his best resolve. He drew back from Tracy, putting some distance between his hunger and the nectar that flowed through the ivory column of her throat. The sweet scent enticed him, nearly drove him mad. Vachon had pledged she would be safe in his arms, and no damned hunger would force him to break his promise. With a wordless snarl, fangs long and feral in the glow of candlelight, he threw himself to his knees beside the couch, frustrated to be so close, yet separated by so wide a chasm. Tracy looked into eyes as gold as pyrite and just as deceptive, but she still saw vestiges of Javier, the man she loved, beneath the haze of the vampire.
“What’s wrong?” she asked softly.
“I can’t do this,” he lisped around his fangs. “I can’t do what you want, Tracy -- what we both want. It’s the wrong time. I haven’t fed.”
“I want your love, that’s all,” she assured him, as she brushed the hair from his eyes. “I’ll gladly take more, but this --” and she gestured to the couch, to herself, to him, “-- this is not our whole relationship. At least I hope it’s not.” She looked down at him; he had calmed somewhat, eyes faded to honey gold and canines shortened to a more normal length. “I’m willing to wait.” She knew he had accepted her words when his eyes finally returned to bark brown.
After a moment, Vachon responded to her tugs and pushes, and let himself be guided up onto the cushions. Satisfied that he was leaning comfortably against the sofa back, Tracy curled up against his side. She dropped her head to his shoulder, snuggling up under his arm in that one soft spot, then allowed her body clock to guide her breathing into a steady rhythm, and promptly fell asleep.
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