Letters from New York [Blood Magic, Book 2]

Until Mills and Keel, the sorcerer-vampire bond was solely the stuff of folklore and legend – a whispered myth with one hell of a body count.

Now Mills has returned to New York City, to human life, but the bond is reawakening.

And someone knows her secret.

All her secrets…

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9. Sweet Dreams are Made of This?

Chapter 6: Sweet Dreams are Made of This?

Nights with Keel may have been a horror show of escalating proportions, but days with him were something else entirely.

If I slept during daylight hours when Keel did, I dreamed right along with him. I’d had an inkling I might, based on the first time my sleeping self had slid into him – hence the impetus behind this one final experiment – but that also could have been a fluke or some strange glitch kicked off by the bond suddenly flaring back to life.

Much more shocking was the slowly dawning realization that there was no present or future in Keel’s dreams, no creativity or wishful rewriting of history even – only what had come before, only us. They gave me a front-row seat for viewing our relationship through his eyes.

It was even better than what I'd been hoping for: a safe time to get some rest, without new traumas, or any reason to wake up screaming.

Right now, in his dream, Keel was looking at me. I was sitting on his king-size bed directly in front of him, holding his creased copy of Interview with the Vampire in my right hand and crinkling my brow at him. I’d just spent the last twenty minutes trying to explain the differences between Nosferatu folklore and human fiction, with varying degrees of success. Next, he was going to try to deduce how humans got the traits of supernaturals so mixed up. It was a puzzle to him, and one he was about to give himself over to whole hog; something that had somehow been much more exciting and compelling when I was me and he was him. But observing it from his perspective just resulted in a whole lot of staring at my own face. And that, admittedly, took major getting used to, given its scarred state. My instinct was to turn away, especially since those scars were no longer truly buried in the past – they were worn by someone else in place of me now – but it was impossible to avoid them since I looked at what Keel looked at, and he preferred to look at me. He saw those scabbed-up wounds as badges of strength and personal fortitude, just as a warrior would, but to me they were reminders of trespasses and suffering and all Ephraim’s failures.

Unwilling to topple down that well of disappointment again – the past was the past, resolute and unchangeable – I found myself wishing that this part of the dream had a fast-forward button.

We’d already moved through half a dozen vignettes in no particular order, and even though they blocked out thoughts and physical sensations, for the most part they still captivated me – at least, until this one crawled under my skin and dug its poisonous thorns in.

As I listened to Keel and I debate long into the afternoon, I turned my focus away from my face and away from our words, until they become little more than incessant background noise in our shared dream. What did this mean? Not the bond or our connection, which bridged night and day apparently, but Keel’s dreams. Was he experiencing them like me, in a mental sensory deprivation tank, or in some different manner? What did it mean that he dreamed about us and only us? Every time one scene faded or winked out and another blipped into existence, I kept expecting to see something new – a snapshot from his childhood, perhaps, or from his training, somethinganything – but it was always just me. Keel seemed as obsessed with me in his sleep as he was during his waking hours; was that bond’s gift to him? Was one feeding the other?

Could be, I surmised. But that didn't account for his behaviour, not entirely. Our bond had only just re-emerged, unless... the dreams came first. 

Not unreasonable. Not when I considered it against what the bond gave to me and the inexact science of that. Is that why he’s doing all the things he’s doing? I wondered. Finding the doppelganger, recreating my wounds...

He was full-blooded Nosferatu, sure, there was no absolutely denying that, but what if the bond was clouding his judgement and making him act out? There was no telling who he would have become had he transitioned without it, but he certainly wouldn’t be this obsessed. Nor would I.

It was as if the moment the bond sank in its hooks, altering us irreversibly in the process, all this – whatever it was we were trying to do, and whatever it was Ephraim and Bruce were trying to do – was for naught. We birthed the beast, and now our corrupted offspring had a life of its own.

The thought disturbed me. And pity promptly rushed in in its wake. Had Keel even stood a chance? If the bond was driving him crazy, I couldn’t really blame it all on him, could I? After all, how long was I going to be able to keep living and dreaming with him, before I snapped in my own way? Perhaps we were simply opposite sides of the same damaged coin.

The scene flickered and changed slightly. A couple of the bite marks on my neck looked fresher – angrier – and Keel was sitting differently. His hand – our hand – was resting protectively on my calf. This was later in our friendship, once contact had become a mutual compulsion.

I was trying to explain the solar system to him – all the things that lay beyond the confines of this planet and its atmosphere, things that the Nosferatu apparently didn’t have the time or interest to wonder about. I guess being nocturnal, subterranean and Earth-bound had that effect on a species. There had been nothing particularly special about that day, except that I’d been too drained from one of Keel’s father’s feedings to spar, so we’d spent the afternoon lounging on his bed talking.

The dream only gave us a few minutes of this particular conversation, however; then it began to dissolve in that woozy, nonsensical way that scenes sometimes do in dreams. There was no rhyme nor reason to how long we stayed in each vignette or where we popped in and out of them. I liked to think it was Keel controlling our trajectory, but chances were he didn’t have any more influence over this trip down memory lane than I did. More likely, the bond was in the driver’s seat here.

I lost my grasp on that thought as our lips met. Keel was kissing me – or rather, in the dream, I was kissing him, us. This had been the first time I’d done anything so forward; it was back when we both still believed he would transition in front of the whole of the Nosferatu populace, as future kings were beholden to do, and I would escape alone. Even without the sensations, my emotions flooded back: trepidation, longing, fear, sadness, and the ever-screaming voice of reason telling me that I shouldn’t be doing this, falling for him, kissing him. Not like this. Not here. Not being what we were. But in those thought-to-be-last hours, he was all I wanted. Irrational but irrefutable, just like him throwing the doors of magic wide open for me had been. When he'd kissed me back, all of that stopped mattering. He'd wanted this too. There had been relief and joy – so much joy it wouldn't have surprised me if it had been felt through all seven levels of the Nosferatu compound – then our hands joined in the exploration begun by our lips, and all of it faded away, except for us.

After the tape on our make-out session finished unspooling, we were suddenly standing in the middle of the country road, arguing about him becoming human. Yet it wasn’t my words that caught and hooked my attention. It was my appearance: paler, wilder, the red rings around my irises glowing like beacons in the dark, rural night – utterly inhuman. This was me hopped up on vampire, right after Keel had figured out that sharing our power could go both ways, and it looked much better on me than I’d ever expected.

From the way Keel’s eyes followed my every movement, despite our disagreement, lingering on the slight down-turned curve of my lips, as well as on several less wholesome parts of my body, I could tell he liked it too. I’d been oblivious to his cues that night, too caught up in his words, in his refusal to even consider changing. Now I regretted it; another missed opportunity.

The dream continued on like that, endlessly jumping disjointedly back and forth through our relationship like some kind of demented greatest-romantic-hits montage. I haunted Keel’s sleep, just like he haunted mine.

Why is the bond doing this to us? I wondered. And why like this? What purpose does it serve?

To drive him to you, stupid.

The answer was so simple, I almost had to admire the sheer elegance of it.

But that didn’t explain the things I was seeing. How were any of his Nosferatu antics pushing me towards to him?

Perhaps the answer is just as basic, I thought. What if the bond functioned as it would, regardless of any sorcerer- or Nosferatu-built obstacles? What if it were blind to those sorts of political machinations? It was obvious that, if not for the blood contract and the oversight of Boras and Arthos, Keel would have come hunting me already. But what good was it to the bond if he killed me, or I killed him? That bit remained unfathomable, and continued tickling the edges of my brain even as I watched the rest of the Keel-and-me show, not entirely unlike my newfound sympathy for him did.

Perhaps I’d been wrong. Perhaps redemption was not entirely out of reach. Could Keel’s dreams mean that some latent humanity, some latent vestiges of the old Keel, still lingered? It was stupid to start hoping again when I’d finally been so close to acceptance, yet I sprang at the chance. In fact, I hoped for it with all my heart and soul. If it had been night and I had been awake, and not still caught in the sticky spider’s web of Keel’s dreams, I might have thrown open my bedroom window, and sought out a falling star, just so that I could make that wish upon it.

And that wasn’t the bond talking, nor even the heartbroken vamp-sick girl who seemed to have taken up residence in my bones these past few months. It was me: Mills, sorcerer, friend. Not that I'd been a particularly good one recently.

Keel had given me a second chance after I’d melted off his face; did he not deserve the same thing now? He hadn’t simply abandoned me to my fate when I’d been imprisoned in the compound, nor had he decreed me a monster after I’d incinerated dozens of his kind. Yet since the bond resurfaced and I heard his plans and witnessed his cruelties, I'd been all but ready to assume him lost. When had I become so jaded, so absolutely insular?

Then it hit me: perhaps the bond wasn't so basic, after all. Maybe it was trying to show me the entire picture. Or was I just reading into it what I wanted to? My head spun.

Last night, I only wanted to escape what Keel had become; now, I couldn’t help wanting to help him too. My experiment delivered a few answers, but it also heaped on the questions.

Bruce rustled me awake mid-afternoon and coaxed me into the kitchen with the promise of ham-and-cheese sandwiches. It took some doing because exhaustion still clung to me like a leaden comforter, but once at the table I gobbled mine down enthusiastically, then got up and rooted around in the fridge for something that could be eaten as a side.

“I see your appetite’s back,” Bruce said, with approval.

I nodded, depositing a head of lettuce, a tomato, a cucumber and a half-bag of baby carrots on the counter. “Slept better,” I told him, as I retrieved the cutting board and began chopping up the fixings for a garden salad.

Another half-truth. While the last visit with Keel hadn’t left me with any stomach-turning revelations, it hadn’t recharged me either. Worse, I didn’t have the energy to try to make sense of my tiredness. Not when my brain was all full up with the latest conundrums the bond had thrown into the works. I needed next steps. A better plan. No, wait, scratch that – I needed a new plan. I wanted to help Keel – desperately – but how could I do that from afar? Not without more secrets, that’s for sure.

As I dumped the freshly cut veggies into an oversized salad bowl and sprinkled them with a more than ample amount of French dressing, I found I was certain of one thing and one thing only: I couldn’t wait to crawl back into bed… and get started.

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