As the Crow Flies


 They'd stolen the car somewhere in the Midwest. Gavin couldn't remember the exact location. But it was a piece of shit Nissan; way past its prime if it ever knew one. They'd done the unlucky bastard a service by taking it. Now it was a total loss. Insurance might pay up before anyone found the thing. Still, it was a miracle that they made it through the Rockies and the Cascades. Time to get rid of it, though. Even if the beige lemon seemed like an old friend.

 Drive it down Eugene, dump it in a parking lot, hitch-hike or run back. It seemed easy. Gavin drew the short straw. There was no complaining, and no move to negotiate for a partner. Both of them had been on the road as long as him.

 Rising at sunset, he left the small cottage they rented month-to-month and almost had to push the car onto I-5, cursing ill-luck and shoddy mechanic work. The thing's engine wasn't even that old, and he'd been under the hood enough times to know it had been replaced in the last decade.

 He made it south of Salem before running out of gas on the side of the highway. Still a half-hour away from his goal. Shit. Rush hour had come and gone, thankfully, and he didn't hold anyone up too badly by making sure the car was securely in the shoulder.

 In a lull, Gavin sprinted through the south-bound lanes, vaulting the wide median before ending up in the north-bound side. He began to walk, knowing that it was probably just as illegal to walk on the interstate in Oregon as it was everywhere else in the country. But he'd had run-ins with the law before. Only once did it result in death.

 Still, he moved onto the grassy incline and walked for a few miles, not tiring, not getting winded, and feeling nothing beyond annoyed that he'd have to jump back on the highway to cross the Willamette once he got south of Portland itself. But he'd never make it if he walked.

 He stopped under a bridge, preparing to vampire-sprint into the night, figuring he could make it back before dawn, when bright halogen bulbs appeared behind him, followed by the squeak of newer tires stopping on asphalt. No sirens, no red-and-blues. So, just some fool approaching a stranger under a bridge on the interstate in the middle of the night.

 Gavin turned, squinting, sure that the lights made his pale flesh look translucent. Only when the hazards replaced the headlights could he properly see.

The intent to wake had disappeared after the first few sleep cycles, with every extended slumber vanishing into a well of impenetrable nothingness. Resurfacing was a quasi-rebirth, the world having shifted to a point where she was left to feel like a stumbling infant while regaining her footing within culture and society. Generally, catching up didn't take long, the forty or fifty year gaps still providing some generational common ground. One hundred and sixty years, however, inflicted such a restructure that Coria spent the better part of her first month simply researching.

Corius was a useful tether, but his words and worry were too stark to remain under for very long, promptly returning to her duties in order to avoid desiccation beneath his watchful gaze. There was no truth her tongue could shape that would serve as any kind of balm, simple mathematics filling the space between them with an actuality her twin would not visibly or verbally acknowledge.

Her time was running out.

Predicting the exact number of years that remained was an impossibility, but if how she felt were any indication of longevity, Coria guessed she had one or two cycles left. Better not fucking waste them worrying about an uncertain goddamned future. There were Etaim left to kill, and for that to happen, their finances needed a recharge.

Finding a buyer for the Nasrid Era Ear Dagger she'd picked up in Granada in the early 1300's had proved an easy enough task, the politician fortuitously vacationing in Medford. The trip down had been pleasantly uneventful, but the fates continued to counterbalance those isolated reprieves by mockingly plucking at the strings that stitched her overdrawn life together. This time, that chaos took the form of a headache, the pain reaching a crescendo that cascaded liquid iron over the cupid's bow of her lips.

After battling the flow for a good ten minutes, she saw an opportunity to pull off the interstate, parking her car rather unceremoniously before flicking on her hazards and killing her headlights. It was unlike her to be so unaware, but mopping up the remnants of her bloody nose seemed to take precedence over making sure she was alone.

Big goddamned mistake.

Without the pressure of passing lights, opening her eyes through the heartbeat that seemed to exist behind them was easier, as her pupils relaxed, her muscles constricting in their stead. Coria was not programmed to flee, so her body innately poised itself to fight, eyes unwavering from the stranger's despite the pain it took to steady them. With a final wipe, she threw her stained sweater into the backseat, opening the door to her car with measured care, the revolver at the small of her back and the stiletto dagger at the cusp of her boot providing choices should this confrontation take a turn southward.

"Didn't realize anyone else was under here." There was a moment of quiet regard, brown eyes touching the depths of the features they could reach with each beat of mechanical yellow. "Did you break down somewhere, or do you need a ride?"

 When the car door opened, Gavin would swear he smelled wine. The good stuff. He never enjoyed the taste of it when he was alive, but he knew the scent. A vivid memory of broken glasses and decanters on the carpet of a fancy hotel room. Another image of an empty table in a dark cellar, the liquid inside several glasses quivering with each fearsome blow delivered to the man on the ground.

 He stepped forward in the shoulder–once again back in the staccato-darkness underneath the interstate bridge–nose turned up into the air, searching for that wall of scent. It faded as a woman rose from the driver's side, hair a dark, messy cloud. Luminous wasn't the right word for her, but it was close.

 Human. He knew immediately in that way the apex predator could. Eyes hyper-focused, seeming to pull into her, he noted a smear under her nose. It didn't explain her smell. Not really. Gavin had never met a human whose blood gave off such a scent. There was another reason. Had to be.

 He tilted his head back, recently-washed hair falling from around his face. With an improved field of vision, he stared at her for a moment after she finished speaking. It had been so long since he had conversed with a human. At least when that conversation wasn't going to end in a meal.

 He cleared this throat. For the show, of course. "Aye. Tryin' to return to Portland t'night. Car kicked it a few miles south ah'here. Nae point going back fer it." Approaching the hood with careful, measured steps, he stopped just shy of touching it. "I'd thank yee for a ride, but no harm if yeh'd rather move along."

Despite the desire to meet his eyes when they beckoned, her vision shifted to movement, the way he carried himself disclosing more than any feature could. An armor of shadow hid a juxtaposing pallor, as he stepped forward, habitually focusing on points where his pulse should have properly danced.

You didn't hunt for vampires, or live with one, for two fucking millennia without building patterns of recognition. Yet, with blood still drying under her nose, this stranger had managed to muster a restraint few other reapers possessed- Corius included. Foolish, but it was reason enough to continue to listen, his voice a surprisingly pleasant sandpaper, his dialect a unique hybrid. He was handsome in a way that suited the rigors of the world, unpretentious and solemn, but warm- she could not decipher the origin.

It was here that Coria had to remind herself of caution, the ugly scar that marred her left cheek evidence of one of many errors in judgement. The scale jerked under the weight of experience. With an upwards tilt of her chin, she made a choice.

"No thanks needed. I could use a break." She tossed the keys his way, and leaned into the car to grab her sweater, popping her trunk before depositing the garment there. She got in the passenger's seat, and rolled down the windows, letting the steady breeze disperse the chum through the waters where she'd just invited a shark.

The pad of her thumb brushed against her lips before she turned to face the vampire. "Steering's a touch sensitive." How long since he'd been turned? Visibly, it was impossible to tell. She pushed waves of hair behind her ear and continued to hold his profile, as the distance decreased, inspecting what the blur at the edges of her peripheral had denied. "Sorry about the look like you've fed recently enough, though." She depressed the button for the hazards and leaned back in her seat, waiting for the rumble of the engine to kick in and their drive to start.

"I'm Coria."

 It was like being assessed by some ancient statue, the way she looked him over. Calculation was something one learned to see. Most of the time, you could see it, but it took practice to understand and watch. If a few centuries taught him anything, it was this. That look in a person’s eyes when they made a choice that would go poorly for them. Like running. Or attempting a misguided distraction. Most humans didn’t know that they did it. Even fewer knew to master it. But she was wise in the same way most were foolish. Control what you could; it might be to your benefit later.

 Gavin caught the thrown keys without even having to follow them in the air. He knew exactly where they’d be when they reached him, and he stuck out a hand, closing thick fingers around a fob. Moving the driver’s side, eyes watching her place something in the trunk, he felt that flicker of indecision. Was this the wisest plan? She’s no one. A human, yeah, but still. His face betrayed none of these thoughts as he sank into the leather seats, adjusting his own to accommodate a larger frame.

 The scent of wine returned, though as the windows lowered and the evening chill crept in, the sense of it faded from his nostrils. Cannot be her blood. He told himself, placing his left hand at six o’clock on the steering wheel, looking for the ignition. Been a while since he drove any newer cars. Most of those they stole were older. She spoke, and the voice still jarred him in a way he couldn’t explain. It was heavy.

 But she knew. She knew already.

 Gavin turned sharply to her now, unafraid of how fast it would appear. His hair caught up slower, splashing around sunken eyes and cheeks. Wordless, he stared at her, eyes fixed at the spot under her nose. They wanted to search, but it was all he saw in the dim light of the car. Something was not right.

 “Earlier, yeah.” A desperate feed. Something to get him through the night. The guy wouldn’t remember in the morning. Gavin’s mouth worked, jaw muscles flexing. He pressed and held the starter. The car rumbled below them.

 “Good to meet yeh. M’Gavin.” He signaled and pulled onto the interstate, letting the tires squeal against the asphalt.

Her Smith and Wesson was poised below his chin, hammer ready and locked to the rear as his hair finally settled. She didn't shift her sight away from his eyes until he spoke again, finally pulling the weapon away to decock it, the metal returning to slumber behind the small of her back. She was use to sharpness of movements with Corius, but outside of her twin, such abrupt irregularities only signaled life-threatening danger. She may not have had a vampire's speed, but she had developed an intuition of sorts, and trusted herself enough to act without having to think.

"Pleasure." She turned his name through antiquity and smiled to herself when she found the branches and roots, with a lingering look, finally testing it against her tongue. "Gavin."

So much of it suited him.

The Maserati Quattroporte moved fluidly under his instruction, miles melting away with the asphalt in the rearview mirror. She savored the silence and tested the air between them, the faint smell of soap cutting through the blood. "Is any Gaelic left to you?" She closed her eyes against the headlights as they passed, the thrum at her temples persisting despite the decrease in intensity. "No a bheil e air a dhol à bith?"

An estimation. A measurement. Forward, but purposeful. He seemed to be a man that appreciated directness, and she was a woman who struggled to conjure idle chatter when it wasn't necessary. After two millennia, there wasn't a word she could utter that didn't feel overused.

 The gun’s presence near Gavin’s chin did nothing to soothe disordered nerves, but it afforded him rising respect in the woman who held it so steadily in a moving car. She knew how to deal with strangers, for one, and that was usually reserved for his kind and the other, long-lived species. In a time when all were told to love one another, blind trust was in shorter supply than ever. Funny how that shook out. But you never knew who was out to take advantage of an open mind.

 Tension broken, he focused on the road.

 “Tha e fhathast ann, ach cha bhith mi ga bruidhinn gu tric,” he replied, mouth moving smoothly through the lilting words, enjoying the taste of his ancient, mother tongue. She had the Gaelic—a surprise from a human whose accent could be from anywhere in this country. “Agus càite an do dh ’ionnsaich thu Gàidhlig?” The Scots still learned it if your family spoke it—he’d heard from some folk back on the east coast—but it was now voluntary in formal education.

 Gavin changed lanes with a quick flick of the turn signal, enjoying the car’s easy drivability. The near-silence of the cab was unnerving after the loud, guttural grumble, shuffle, and click of the Nissan.
”It’s still there, but I don’t speak it often.”
“And where did you learn?”


"A nàire. Tha do ghuth freagarrach air a shon." In all her years, she'd never heard Gaelic described as beautiful, but to Coria, it carried a resonance that imprinted, the tumble and shift of sound entrancing in a way that had always touched her. Perhaps it was familiarity, her native tongue similar, but Gavin's voice pushed it towards a surprising melody. So much of him shone through the gutturals and breaths that English would forever fail to convey, briefly closing her eyes to relish the symphony before rooting herself back in the present.

"A charaid," she said truthfully, fingers of her right hand lifting to press against her temple, elbow resting against the door as small circles were drawn against flesh. "O chionn beagan bhliadhnaichean." Pulling her hand away, she turned towards him, "Bha mi a ’fuireach ann an Alba, airson ùine, nam òige." As close to youth as one could come, she supposed. "Tha mi ag ionndrainn na bearraidhean."

"How many years have you been a vampire?" She wasn't certain of his mind, but the question was separated from the language intentionally. Careful with her gaze, she allowed it to wonder while she waited for his response, brown eyes studying the visible evidence of time that highlighted some of his features. A wrinkling of flesh on his brow. A hard line flanking his jaw.

All evidence pointed towards a man that frowned more than he smiled.

"A shame. Your voice suits it."
"A friend."
"Some years ago."
"I lived in Scotland, for a time, in my youth."
"I miss the cliffs."


 You couldn’t speak Gaelic. You only chewed and swallowed it over and over again, and somehow all of it meant something to the Scots. Hearing it spoken by a different voice that wasn’t his own—or his cousins’—alarmed him as Coria formed longer sentences, stringing more words together. Her accent wasn’t off, but it wasn’t like his in the slightest. Must’ve learned it later than the cradle. Gavin could always tell. Even the modern speakers had a bur you couldn’t teach.

 But he didn’t have the heart to comment in the same language. He’d never seen the cliffs, and yet this woman had? Gavin wasn’t a man to dwell on what was fair or unfair—good and evil were his lanes, and fairness didn’t factor into that. But he tried to hide discomfort as she looked at him. Maybe one day he’d get there. How was the better question. Cruise ship, maybe? Cargo? Nah, they still had to eat. Fuck. Why did it bother him, so?

 “Three-hundred’, almost forty years now?” He said, asking the question of his memory. Where had the time gone? Older he got, faster it went. Was even like that when he was human, though on a much smaller scale. When you lived forever, who cared how long it took to circumnavigate the continent? Or just a country as large as this one? “Dunnae feel s’long as that,” he finished, deciding that was truth enough for now.

Coria saw a shift in the way Gavin set his jaw, but she could only hazard the cause, choosing instead to let it go- pawing at the wind would not make her more capable of catching it, and his reticence intimated a privacy that did not appreciate being prodded. Instead, she turned her eyes towards the road, watching the median lines blend in to a single yellow thread, thick forest pressing their periphery into a fleeting glow of deep green.

"Time is tricky," she offered, "the perception of it, even more so." When she'd shared his age, she'd shared his sentiments, but as the years stretched, her awareness of them painfully paralleled. "Th- Stop!" Her voice was unusually forceful, hand pushing the door open before the car completely stilled, boots catching the ground at a run to keep herself upright as she sprinted towards what she'd seen.

It took a moment to figure out how to turn on the flashlight of her cellphone, when the glow finally appeared, drawing it upwards and towards the midline of a tree trunk. There was a mark etched into the bark, fingertips tracing the jagged edges as her breath caught, head swiveling to glance through a seemingly impenetrable darkness.

An omega symbol with a long line drawn down the middle.

"Hic est qua vos."

"This is where you are."


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