Strangely, out of the two of them, she was the one that stayed up late and watched him sleep. Arana had always thought only guys that did that – then again none of her exes had done it but they were all bastards anyway.
Maybe it was because Darien was so much older than her. No, thinking again that couldn't be it. He had openly admitted that their relationship was the second real one he'd ever had; all of the others didn't count because of his state of mind at the time and the only other that did was long dead.
Perhaps it was her own worry about them that kept her awake some nights watching him sleep next to her. Worry for what would become of them: would he watch her die or beg her – plead with her – to become like him. Honestly Arana wasn't sure how she would answer if he asked.
Turning her head, she looked down at Darien as he lay on his side next to her, one arm stretched out to curl around her waist and his face buried into his pillow. With his bangs falling messily across his closed eyes and the overly hawkish nose he had never been able to grow into silhouetted by the white pillowcase, he looked all too much like a child.
Arana always felt like a cradle robber at times like these when she remember how young he looked. Beside her Darien shifted closer and her cream colored sheet slid down to his waist, revealing skin and lean muscles that only heightened her realizations.
He was far too lean, muscles almost hidden underneath his skin, waist and shoulders too narrow, facial features never fully filled out. Oh, he looked like a twenty-something now to the unaware but she knew that he'd been Turned at nineteen. Those features always gave his youth away to those that knew.
The one that hurt Arana the most were the shoulders. She loved them but then she would remember her brothers and how their shoulders had gotten so broad as they grew older. Then she would look at Darien again and wonder what he would look like if he'd been allowed to grow older than nineteen. He wasn't that much taller than her but she could see the potential in him to have been a fearsomely built man.
Everett, his sire, had taken that opportunity away from him though. Just thinking about it made Arana want to weep sometimes for the Darien that could have been.
Then she wondered what would have happened to her if he hadn't been Turned. She hadn't been on her way to having a happy life before the case involving him had fallen into her lap. And while it wasn't a safe life...she was happy.
Though Arana wondered sometimes if he was happy. Not about being with her, oh no, she knew he loved her all too well. What she wondered about was if he would rather never have been a vampire – no, that wasn't right, she knew he wanted that but he had long ago resolved himself to being unable to have that. No, she wondered if he would rather have that girl from before, Kay of the red hair, of whom he named his dog for, whose name he still sometimes called out in his sleep during a nightmare.
All too suddenly the need to talk to Darien rose up within Arana and she twisted slightly to begin shaking him. “Darien,” she hissed loudly but he only burrowed closer to her, mumbling in his sleep. She shook him harder then, digging her nails into skin that was still warm from the blood he'd drank during dinner, and he finally stirred.
“Whassit?” he mumbled sleepily as he lifted his head, green eyes still lidded so they appeared black in the darkness of her bedroom.
Arana bit her lip, suddenly feeling silly that she'd woken him, then gathered her courage. “Do you regret it?” she blurted out too fast, her voice shaking. He frowned and opened his mouth but never got a chance to speak as she suddenly snapped, “Nevermind. Forget it,” in a sudden fit of not wanting to know his answer. Rolling away from him, she burrowed under the blankets and wished that he'd just go back to sleep.
She knew him better than that though.
Darien scooted across the bed, spooning his body behind hers, and laid his arm across her waist with warm fingers sliding underneath her worn shirt to splay across her belly. Then he brushed back her hair with his other hand and Arana shivered as he kissed the back of her neck.
“Rana,” he said softly in a voice still rough with sleep and more flavored with his native brogue because of it, “talk to me.”
“It was stupid,” she muttered into her pillow, wishing he'd let it be at that.
Darien grunted in the tone that said he didn't believe her and sighed against the back of her neck. He then moved slightly, the tip of his nose nuzzling her ear, and rumbled, “Gr á mo chro í , I can smell your worries.”
That brought a snort out of Arana and she growled, “No you can't.” He'd told her some time ago that emotions didn't change a scent, they merely heightened or lowered it.
He chuckled, the sound vibrating through her where his chest met her back. Then he said, “True. I think I know you well enough now though, Rana, to know when something's wrong.” Darien shifted behind her then, pushing himself up on his elbow, and turned her face to look at him. She couldn't help the tears that welled in her eyes as all of the earlier thoughts came rushing back as the shadows playing across his face made him look so young and he frowned. “Rana, grá mo chro í , talk to me. Do I regret what?”
"Everything,” she answered as his fingers splayed across her cheek, skin so warm against her own. Arana's eyes were blinded by the tears and she couldn't see him anymore but that didn't help any. She knew every feature of his face all too well because it never changed.
Rough fingertips gently wiped at the edge of her eyes then Darien's lips pressed against her own. “Us?” he questioned against her skin, his breath warm and smelling (thankfully) more of their steak dinner than blood. When she nodded slightly, he answered. “Originally I regretted pulling you into my world but never being with you.” He kissed her again as he paused to wipe more of her tears away. “I don't know what I would do without you. What else?”
Arana opened her eyes then and breathed out, before she lost her courage, “Would you have chosen this life?”
He pulled back at that, eyes wide in shock, and she wanted to take the question back. Then Darien's fingers were curling in her hair and he said, “If it meant meeting you, yes, I'd like to think I would have.”
"Even if it meant leaving Kay behind?” she asked. “Of watching her die?”
“ Grá mo chro í ,” he murmured lovingly though there was an old ache in his voice, “I realized a long time ago that Kay and I never would have lasted. Not with the quarrel between her father and mine. She was...she was nothing more than my high school sweetheart.”
Arana frowned at that, wrinkling her nose. “Some guys actually marry their high school sweethearts.”
That brought a laugh from Darien and he nodded in agreement. “Yes,” he said, “and I might have. But I've lived long enough and looked back on my life to see that it wouldn't have been a very happy marriage.”
"How are we any different?” she asked, feeling tears coming on again. “How are we -” The words choked off in Arana's throat and she shuddered before twisting around on the bed to bury her face against Darien's chest. Both of his arms wrapped around her, drawing her to him with a strength that belied his slight build, and she finally managed to finish. “Are we going to have such a happy life?”
"Don't we already?” he asked, voice rumbling through her as he rested his chin atop her head.
Arana frowned then whispered, “I'm going to die one day, Darien.”
That silenced him for a long moment then he pulled away from her, fingers groping for her chin. As he tilted her head upward so their eyes met, she saw that he had an almost frightened look on his face.
"Arana,” he said slowly, his use of her full name showing how serious he was, “I never want to push that on you. Gods, I want to spend the next centuries with you by my side and show you the world and it hurts to think that I might not.” Darien then leaned his forehead against hers and closed his eyes tight. “I don't want to force you to make that choice though. If you decide that, I want it to be your choice, because you don't want to leave me, not the other way around.”
His fingertips stroked roughly across her face and then his brogue thickened almost to where she couldn't understand him as he continued, “I never want what happened to me to happen to you. You will chose, grá mo chro í . Not me, not Everett, not anyone. But. You. ”
"Oh, Darie,” she breathed and burrowed into his arms, suddenly wanting nothing more than to be held there. He obliged all too willingly, holding her almost painfully close with his strength, and Arana began, “I -”
"Gods, don't give me your answer now,” he hissed, shivering against her. “Just...just know whatever you decide, I'll accept it.”
Arana nodded but she knew that if she did decide to make that leap into the unknown, to truly step into his world, she had to do it soon. She was in her middle thirties now and waiting too much longer would only widen the gap between them. Darien didn't consider himself to be young since he had seen three centuries pass but she knew how youthful he looked. Her growing too much older before she – if, if – she agreed to be Turned would only widen the gap between them. Not that appearances mattered all that much between vampires and it was only a minor thing in itself.
It bothered her, though, that gap between them.
"Okay,” she finally muttered into his collar bone and he suddenly relaxed, his whole body loosening up. They just lay there after that, doing nothing more than holding each other, until the morning sunlight started to peek into her windows and Darien buried his face into the pillows with a groan.
"It can't be morning yet,” he moaned with his voice slightly muffled. “Make it go away.”
Arana smiled at that and moved a hand to rest against the back of his neck, fingers playing with the fine wisps of hair there like she knew he liked. He leaned into the touch, purring like a cat, then flinched as sunlight hit his face and buried himself again.
"Foul wench,” hissed Darien as he pulled her close, using her to shield his sensitive eyes from the ever brightening sun. “You did that on purpose.”
"Can't prove it,” replied Arana with a smirk as she kissed him. He responded eagerly, growling into her mouth as his hands slid downward to her hips and jerked them across the few inches that separated their bodies. As his hands then began to make their way to the buttons of her shirt, she gasped out, “I have to be at work in two hours.”
Darien chuckled at that. “I'll have you to work, Rana, don't you worry.”
"Without any obvious bite marks?”
He kissed her again at the question then trailed a line down her throat before he ever so lightly raked his fangs across her pulse point, causing her heart rate the jump and her need for him to heighten. That was one thing Arana could never have predicted from their relationship: that she would like and even welcome the feel of his fangs against her skin. Darien only rarely ever actually bit her and it was never for long as he stated her being unable to reciprocate made it only half as fun.
Then he lightly kissed her pulse point and purred against her skin, “You know I'd never leave any obvious ones.”
"Oh no,” said Arana as she tilted her head back to allow him better access at her throat even as she wiggled out of her now unbuttoned shirt, “you only leave them just where I think they might show if I'm not too careful. And in places that make me blush when I feel them later.”
Darien smiled against her throat at that. “I do love making you blush.”
"Far too much.”
"Mmm, we can argue about that later,” said Darien as he rolled on top of her, fingers trailing down her sides until his hand found the curve of her hip. “If we don't hurry, I won't get you to work on time.”
Smiling at that, she worked to ignore the blinding fire burning in her for him and hooked a leg around the back of his knee. “I could go in early,” she mused, looking thoughtfully up at the ceiling. “I mean, I did have all of that paperwork I had to complete.”
"Paperwork!” he growled and shifted just so to draw a gasp from her. Then Darien smirked and bent his head to graze his fangs across her throat again. “Now you're just baiting me, grá mo chro í .”
Arana's need for him increased only further at the second sweep of his fangs and her hands found the back of his neck, drawing him down closer so she could breath heavily in his ear, “Shut up and make love to me, Dari.”
He just grinned at that, the motion obvious as his lips pressed against her throat, and she lost track of time amongst the rhythm of their bodies moving in time with each other. There was only the sensation of skin against skin, nails clawing for purchase, soft touch of lips everywhere, and the bittersweet pinprick of fangs drawing blood after that mixed with the light and growing warmth of the rising sun.
Arana woke atop Darien's chest, her head tucked underneath his chin and one arm wrapped around her. The other arm was thrown over his eyes as he dozed beneath her and she smiled before starting to shift to get out of bed only to discover their legs were tangled and his refused to move, only tightening when she moved hers. “That's cheating,” she said accusingly as she laid back down and tapped her fingers against his sternum.
He snorted lightly and lifted his arm just enough so she could see one green eye as he smiled. “I'm not above it,” he intoned in an honest voice. “Besides, you have almost another hour before you have to go anywhere. Stay.”
"I'd like breakfast before I go to work.”
"I'll get up and go cook in a minute. I just want to lay here for a moment.”
Arana frowned at that and asked, “Are you alright?”
Darien's smile went away at that and he let his arm fall to the bed as he tilted his head to look at her. “Shouldn't I be asking you that, Rana?” he said with an arched eyebrow. He then moved his arm, hand reaching out to cup her cheek as he frowned at her. “What we talked about...it's been bothering you for a while, hasn't it?”
She bit her lip involuntarily, not wanting to answer, but that was all that he needed. With a sigh, Darien untangled their legs and shifted, pushing himself into an upright position even as he pulled her closer. When Arana was settled between his legs, her back against his chest and his arms around her, he rested his chin on her shoulder and sighed.
"What?” she asked, feeling worried now.
"There's something you still haven't asked me,” he answered, “something that's still bothering you. Those things before, they've been bothering you for a while but now you've asked them and the need's lessened. I know the feeling, I've felt it before.”
How this man, this... vampire ...that she had come to love knew her so well after only a year mystified Arana. Darien did know her though but perhaps that was because she was little more than a child in his eyes. She knew him too but...not so well. Knew he loved her, oh yes. That he wanted her to say 'yes' when – if – he ever asked her to stay with him forever. He knew her past though, knew what drove her, what had shaped her.
She only had hints of the things that had shaped him. Oh, Arana knew who his sire was and she had met both of his bloodsiblings, Malloy and Kaeli, as well others of what he called his family. What she didn't know anything about really was his life before them except for his being born in Ireland and having loved Kay. The brogue was blatantly obvious when he got emotional or was still half asleep. Kay...he'd had a nightmare about her their first night together – actually together – and screamed her name. He hadn't been able to hide her after that.
Everything else was still a mystery though. And while she understood him wanting to hide the bloodstained part of his past from her (she'd dug that little tidbit out of Paul one night at Beoir Aite), she didn't understand the rest.
Frowning, Arana leaned back against him, noting that his temperature was cooler than it had been before absently in her mind. Tilting her head back, she nuzzled the line of his jaw then asked softly, “Do you hate her?”
Darien sat silently for a long moment, his arms around her and no sound but their own breathing. Then he said quietly, “Everett.”
"Yes,” she answered even though it hadn't been a question.
For a moment she didn't think he was going to answer then Darien sighed. “Once,” he began, “I did. I lost...I lost too much because of her: my life, my father, my brother, Kay. Because of what she did to me, maybe even because of how she did it, I spent a century as a monster.” He flinched then and his arms tightened around her. “I never wanted you to know about that.”
"I wheedled it out of Paul one night,” said Arana, causing him to jerk in surprise. “He didn't tell me much,” she added quickly to defend his addle-brained friend who hadn't known she was playing him until it was too late, “mostly just that you were someone to be feared. That you and Malloy painted too many cities to count red with blood.”
"And we laughed about it,” Darien spat in a disgusted voice. Shaking his head, he then said, “You asked about Everett though.”
He nodded and was silent again. Then he said, “After...after I came to, back, whatever you want to call my awakening to what I was, I hated her. But in the decades after that I came to realize that she wasn't some monster like I'd been. She killed, yes, gods, she killed with the best of them and still does.” Darien bowed his head against Arana's shoulder then and she felt him breath against her skin, “But she loved the three of us, her children. Kaeli always argued with her and they had these great rows that made wherever we were staying shake...but Everett tore the heads off of two slayers right in front of me when they had her cornered without pausing.”
"Malloy,” he continued, “he was always getting us in trouble by taking girls and Everett screamed at him for it whenever it got us ran out of a city or town. When he was caught drunk on blood and alcohol by an angry mob looking to avenge three he'd taken, she dragged his ass out of the fire even though after she said she should have left him when he kept the girls anyway.”
He stopped talking then and Arana lifted a hand to his cheek. “What about you?” she asked quietly.
Darien shook then with what might have been a shudder or a contained sob before he answered, “She held my leash when I was...wild. Kept me from going too out of control or completely losing it and becoming a threat to be put down by Cyclaryn. She ordered Malloy to never leave my side and he obeyed – mostly because he liked the bloodshed.”
"When...when I attacked her later, after I had my awakening,” he continued slowly, “she didn't fight back. Not really. I know her, Rana, gods, I do know her and she could have killed any of us with a flick of her wrist. Even me and she's always said I'm the best of us. She's stronger than Malloy, smarter than Kaeli, and faster than me. My three centuries are nothing compared to her five millenia but she let me almost win when I attacked her.”
"She saved me then,” said Darien seriously, “by sparing my life when she could have taken it. And after Sweyln scarred me -” He paused as Arana touched the puckered flesh along the outside of his arm, made by the slayer blade his kin had wielded long ago. “- when Omcha and Cyclaryn came to see I was punished for attacking her, she defended me. I hated her saving my life then but...”
He trailed off and she pressed, “But?”
"That's when I realized she loved us like a mother. Like my mother loved me. Everett shielded all three of us, protected us, and by the gods, she would die for all three of us if it came down to a choice between her life and one of ours. We're the children she never had in life and if there is anything she takes seriously, that responsibility for us is it.”
Darien sighed heavily then before saying, “So, yes, once I did hate her. Now...now I understand her. I don't necessarily love her but I do care for her.” Turning his head, he smiled down at her as he added, “If she hadn't Turned me, I wouldn't be alive still to have met you, grá mo chro í .”
"That's true,” murmured Arana, a little awed by how much information he'd just revealed. Then she looked over at her alarm clock and said, “I have half an hour before work now. And someone promised me breakfast.”
That brought a laugh out of him that, while a little strained from the previous conversation, was real enough. “So I did,” said Darien, “so I did. Okay, you get yourself ready and I'll go make you breakfast. Pancakes?”
"Bacon,” answered Arana with a smile as his arms loosened and she scooted away from him to climb out of bed. “Eggs too. You can make pancakes for yourself if you really want.”
"But pancakes are no fun without a certain someone to share them and smear syrup across their cheek,” he said with a cheeky smile. Sliding off the bed, he caught her wrist and drew her to him for a quick kiss. “Only so as I can lick the syrup off later, of course.”
The purr of his voice started to kick up the fire inside her again but she quelled it and slid her fingers across his lips. “I'm going to be late if you keep that up,” she growled.
"And what, Rana, did you think my point was?”
Arana glared up at him then said, “You can cook pancakes tomorrow morning. I have the day off then.”
Darien grinned at that, the movement lighting up his entire face, and she saw again how painfully young he was. “Syrup?” he queried as he leaned closer to her.
"Dari, tomorrow you can do whatever you want with the syrup. Just get me breakfast now .”
"Mmm,” he purred as he leaned down to kiss her cheek, the sound rumbling against her skin distractingly. “You might regret that in the morning as I'm going to hold you to it.” Then he spun away from her, swept his boxers and shirt from the floor, and headed out of the room with them in hand. Before he passed the door frame, he looked back at her and winked, saying, “And you're so sexy when you order me around like that,” then disappearing.
Arana heard him whistling as he strode through the house and had the presence of mind to shout, “The kitchen blinds are open! Don't flash my neighbors! ”
"Even if they like what they see, they can't have it!” he bellowed back and she sighed in exasperation before heading for her closet. As she dressed for work, she felt...surprisingly lighter. She had finally asked Darien about things that had been bothering her and he'd answered her honestly. The only thing left was her own unease with their age differences and yet, somehow, even that was lessened.
By the time she entered the kitchen, the scent of meat and eggs cooking filled the air and Darien had both the blinds closed as well as his clothes on.
"Twenty minutes,” she intoned seriously as she perched on one of her bar stools and rested her elbows on the counter-top. His head bobbed in accordance with what she had said and then, still whistling softly, he presented her with a plate of steaming eggs and bacon a moment later.
"Done,” he purred as he stole a piece of bacon and kissed her cheek before he disappeared back to the bedroom to get himself dressed. Arana smiled after him then dug into the food quickly since it was a ten minute drive to get to the station and she was going to risk running late as it was. It was a shame to have to eat it so fast since Darien was an excellent cook (taught by three separate master chefs as he liked to brag) but she finished and slid from her seat.
"I'm leaving!” she shouted over her shoulder as she headed for the door. When she was suddenly jerked to a stop by arms around her, she hissed, “Dari, I'm going to be late .”
"Leave your car, grá mo chro í ,” he purred in her ear as he laid a bacon-scented kiss on her cheek. “I can carry you there faster and I know how you hate morning traffic.”
Arana squirmed in his arms and asked, “And how am I going to get home ?”
Darien chuckled as he answered, “Who said anything about you coming home? You promised me pancakes and syrup in the morning...you didn't say where we'd have to be.” He nuzzled past her collar and grazed one fang across the curve of her shoulder, making Arana shiver in his arms. “I'm going to take you home with me tonight and treat you like a queen. And, in the morning...”
He paused to spin her around and she met his goofy, cheerful grin with laughter and, “Pancakes?”
"Pancakes!” he exclaimed joyfully. As he scooped her up, hefting her in his arms, Darien asked, “Do you want to?” with a tiny petulant tone in his voice that begged not to be let down.
Arana couldn't say 'no' to him. Not when he was so cheerful.
"Yes,” she answered as she leaned down to peck a kiss against the tip of his nose. Then she swatted him across the shoulder and hissed, “Now get me to work. You've got fifteen minutes.”
Darien laughed at that and let her drop to the floor before steering her to the door. “Plenty of time,” he assured and as soon as she closed the door behind them, he swept her legs out from under her and Arana clutched at his neck as the rest of the world became a blur of colors and sounds. She buried her face against his chest, unable to stomach watching everything move around them so fast, and didn't let go until he said, “We're here.”
"No need to throw up, right?” asked Darien warily as he set her carefully on the ground, forcing Arana to recall the first time he'd carried her like that. Well, not the first time of carrying her, honestly, but the first time at his full speed. She'd spent the next hour throwing up after that trip and he'd apologized so often that she'd wanted to strangle him.
"I'm fine,” she assured as she pulled him down for a kiss. He responded willingly, fangs lightly grazing her lips as he drew away, and she saw his pupils were dilated. Hers probably were too and she drew in a deep breath to calm her racing emotions.
"Tonight,” he growled, hands possessively going to her waist, drawing her closer.
Arana nodded and laid her hands on his chest, keeping her from closing the last inches with him. She knew well enough if she did, they might just do things right there in the alley behind the station. “Tonight,” she promised. Then she smiled and added, “After all, you're my ride today.”
Darien's eyes twinkled at that and he said, “I could come up with so many naughty things to say to that but I'll save them for later.” Smiling, he bent his head to kiss her again, this time more calmly, and breathed, “I'll see you tonight, grá mo chro í .”
"You will. Now get going to do the shopping I know you're going to do for tonight.”
He laughed at that but left reluctantly, hands lingering on her waist as long as possible. Arana watched him go then let out a ragged breath as she fought down the renewed need their kiss had brought to life.
She was ridiculously in love with him.
Shaking her head, Arana headed into the station through the back door and moved towards her desk, ready to face the day. And when she saw she had something that would lead her around in Brooklyn near Beoir Aite she made a decision.
Today she'd go talk to Elizabeth for a few minutes, ask her about what it meant to be Turned, what she might need to know. Maybe even who the bartender might suggest to do it. She still wasn't sure if she'd go through with it...but she was closer to a decision than she had been when she'd been awake watching Darien sleep. If she was going to do it, she needed to know these things.
Like he'd said, it was her choice.
And if Arana was going to chose anyone to be with for centuries, it was Darien.