Ambrose stood among the dead bodies. But they were more and less than that. They were friends of his family. They were servants. They were people he knew. People he cared about and who cared about him.
He looked down at his bloodied hands. At his claws.
He cried out and his cry echoed in the now silent halls. He grabbed his claws and tried to snap them, break them, destroy them. But they would not break.
Ambrose dropped to his knees and doubled over, cradling his clawed hands up against his throat. Their blood stained his bare skin. He wanted to cry and sob, but the tears would not come. Only a prolonged, heartbroken moan.
Ambrose opened his eyes. Why do I keep dreaming of then? I’ve lived a long life. Many things have happened to me before that point in time and after it. Bad things, yes. But also many good things. So. Why don’t I dream of them?
He frowned. It’s Laetissa’s fault. She got me thinking about my first victim. About my father’s death. It’s all her fault.
I could go to Raven and have him tear those memories from my mind. But it won’t change anything. My father, my friends, my servants, my family will still have died at my hands. I might as well keep that memory, no matter how much it hurts.
Someone knocked on the door.
He sighed and burrowed deep under his blankets. “Go away.”
The knocking didn’t stop.
He growled German obscenities and crawled out of bed.
“I’m coming.” He weaved his way to the door and opened it.
“May I come in?”
“Yes, but why?”
“I need to talk to you.”
“Please let me in.”
He opened the door wider and she hurried inside.
He closed the door and reluctantly turned on the light. “What do you want?”
“I…oh.” Her face went red. “You’re not wearing a shirt.”
‘Yeah. I’m not wearing a shirt. Got a problem with that?”
“Umm. Not really, but uhhh…”
He sighed. “I’ll go get a shirt.”
“I don’t know if there’s enough time, though.”
“The police called Sammy’s Place.”
“They were looking for you. I don’t know how they got your name, but they specifically asked for you. I tried to fluff them off with a lie, but they asked to talk to Sammy and I honestly don’t know if he’ll be willing to lie for you too.”
“Where can I go? Where can I hide?”
Another knock on the door.
Ambrose and Barbara exchanged panicked looks.
The knock became more determined.
“Well.” whispered Barbara. “It can’t be the police. They’d announce themselves. You know, the stereotypical ‘Open up. This is the police.'”
“True. I’ll answer it, but stay back. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
She ducked around the corner, over by the bed.
Ambrose opened the door.
Elsie barged in.
Shock jolted him. “Elsie.”
She punched him.
“Ah! What the bleeding—”
She punched him again and again.
He snarled and shoved her against the nearest wall. “Look. I’m tired. I’m in no mood to tango with you. So, why don’t you take your bucket of angst and—”
“Bucket of angst? Bucket of angst? You limestone-sucking pig!” She kneed him.
He released her and crumpled to the floor.
“I saw what you did to that train. Trying to keep me here, huh? Well. It won’t work. I’ll have my mother drive me back to Havaton. So there!”
“You’re insane. I hope you know that. What happened to the train was an accident. I was trying to getaway from another hunter. I had no idea how to drive her car. It just took off on me. I released the one pedal and stomped down on the other one. The car stopped and then the train came through.”
Barbara came around the corner. She knelt beside him. “Are you okay?”
He looked up at her and felt peace. “Yeah.”
Elsie’s face turned into a iron-spiked stone wall. “Oh. I see. You have a new little trollop.”
Ambrose snarled at her. “Barbara is not a trollop.”
“She’s in your room. You’re completely shirtless. What am I supposed to think?”
“What do you care? You have your delicate daisy of a hunter.”
“Hildreth is not a delicate daisy. He’s more man than you could ever hope to be.”
“Ha! I could knock him unconscious just by stepping on his foot.”
“That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Ambrose.” said Barbara. “Maybe you don’t have to run. Maybe if you tell the cops what happened, they’ll go easy on you. You weren’t trying to crash the train, right?”
“True. But whether I run or stay, I need to settle this first.” He glared at Elsie. “You think I’ve been having a flingtastic time without you. I haven’t. You’ve haunted my dreams and my thoughts. Until I met Barbara, I was incapable of having a decent relationship with a woman. You were all I thought of. You were everything I wanted and could never have.”
“Let me guess. I should feel flattered by that.”
“No. I’m just telling you the truth. I’m not trying to flatter you.” His expression softened. “I loved you. Oh, Elsie. I loved you.”
Even though he stayed down on the floor, she took a step back.
“But…” The old pain returned. “I don’t think you ever loved me.”
Her mouth opened either to gape or to speak.
He kept talking. “You kissed me and held me and made me think you loved me, but you never let me through that door. I never knew you. I don’t know a thing about you. And you know nothing about me. Elsie, that isn’t love.”
She fixed her gaze on Barbara. “I suppose he’s left his mark on you too.”
Barbara pulled her sleeve a little lower to hide the white marks on her skin.
“Big surprise. You should let him go.”
Barbara looked up at her.
“Vampires can’t be domesticated. We humans may dream many happy gilded dreams about it, but those dreams will never come true. Vampires are monsters. Selfish, uncaring, self-absorbed monsters. All that matters to them is their next meal and getting their beauty sleep. Everything else? Doesn’t matter to them.”
Barbara stood. “You’re right. Ambrose is selfish and cruel and capable of hurting anyone when he’s hungry. I’m sure he will always be that way. I don’t think he can help it. But I know him better than you ever did. I’ve seen what he’s like when he is not hungry. I’ve heard him laugh. I’ve seen him cry. I’ve seen him frantic with fear because he was worried about me. I’ve seen many things, Elsie Vansing, that tells me that he is so much more than just another blank-minded monster. And, despite all of his faults and weaknesses, I love him.”
Ambrose stood with great difficulty. “And I love her.” He wrapped Barbara in his bare-armed, bare-chested embrace, which made her blush. He smiled. “I love you.”
He kissed her. And it wasn’t a spiteful “Nyeh, nyeh. Look at what I’m doing, Elsie” kind of kiss. It was gentle and loving and focused only on her.
Elsie either didn’t or couldn’t say anything to that. She turned around and left.
Just as the police sirens wailed into the parking lot.