Feast or Famine? Ch. 07byathena_by_night©
Ivan slowly moved each limb, waking to torrents of rain. He had pain in his head and rage in his heart. He was slow to rise off the cold ground. Bending at the knees, trying to catch his breath as the cold night air ripped through his very soul, he grunted with exertion. Being that he was more soldier than leader despite his bluster earlier in the week, he knew he had to think what his choices would be carefully.
If Luka destroys Stephanos then I only need to stake one vampire's heart and the other way around also holds true. He worked out ploddingly. And oh his head hurt, he had tears forming in his eyes with that burden and shaking with cold and wetness. That little whore had much to answer for and I am going to teach her the proper responses. He couldn't muster a smile for his lascivious thoughts through his abject misery and so he started trudging towards Delacevic's manor.
As they stood wrapped together, Marianna stirred against Stephanos' side; he immediately tightened his hold on her, silently compelling her to remain and growled softly at her forehead. It wasn't done in displeasure, but in the desperate need of holding her. He couldn't help thinking that he had almost lost her, so he held fast. He would be devastated if she was ever truly lost to him. Stephanos wasn't through with Luka by any means, but that could wait. Marianna's comfort and safety were the utmost thoughts in his mind.
"My Lord Luka, if I could freshen up before we convene at the table, I would be grateful." Marianna tried to be respectful to both men in saying this. Hoping to avoid stirring up any animosity with her request. She felt her pent up breath down to her lungs.
Stephanos inwardly cringed at her politeness and lack of anger over the situation. He was not so cowed. However, hastily he reevaluated the scene in his mind for the moment, he would have to bide his time he decided. But not for long. He had waited until now to find out what truly had happened to Danijela that dreadful night and he would have answers. He could not afford to wait longer; he needed the expiation or blame for her death not this limbo, but it would be resolved one way or another tonight. Then Luka would answer for the terror he had caused to his precious Marianna of that he vowed.
Nadia seconded Marianna in requesting this as well. Halfheartedly, Luka allowed her to do so, but not before he placed a kiss against her temple. He was mindful that he still could be without her if he was not careful. And so he was slow in responding to her request, not wanting this to be the last time he held her in his arms. Nadia shivered in appreciation of the brushing of his lips, despite her best efforts to remain aloof, as she was not ready to share her feelings as yet for Luka. A point that was moot based on her residing in the comfort of his arms.
She eased herself away from Luka and nodding to Marianna, led her to a guest room so that they could freshen up and perhaps talk. The rest of the party quietly went to the dining room and awaited their return. An uneasy truce between Stephanos and Luka ensued as they roamed the room staying well out of the other's path. Multitudinous thoughts running rampant in the minds of the vampires had them both muttering deprecations under their breaths. Stephanos stepped to the window to gaze out sightlessly into the gloom of night, wondering where all of his rage had fled. He found himself contemplating for the first time whether he and Luka could resolve their differences. But he kept these thoughts to himself.
Luka stopped at the table to reach for a few grapes. Chewing thoughtfully he stood motionlessly, still, deadly. The swirling vortex of emotions causing momentary pain in his head. Whether he should hold onto his residual rage, or pursue the possibility of Nadia and her love doing battle for supremacy in his thoughts. He brought one hand up to rub his nape, trying to relieve the pressure and then to pinch the bridge of his nose. Finally, understanding dawned. He did not have to be alone, that was his choice. To keep the cold comfort of his anger that had ruled his life for so long or find the warmth and joy of being in Nadia's arms.
The combined impact that Marianna and Nadia had on them was profound and out of decency for their respective loves they would continue to circle each other warily, eye each other with disdain, but refrain from further violence until their return. Neither wanting to give an inch or advantage to the other, they waited. Each was curious about what would come, but for the moment they would reserve their individual strengths and await the finish.
Pyotr was looking around him in wonder at the sights and smells. The aromas of rare roast beef, simmering gravy and succulent squash in the covered tureens had his taste buds salivating in anticipation. He hoped they would be able to eat soon as his stomach rumbled at the remembrance of their meager breakfast long since past. He patted his belly as if to soothe it, with little success. And he looked longingly at the very fine wines that were on hand to accompany the repast. He fidgeted with his waistband, plucking and worrying an unraveling string.
Kolya smiled indulgently at him as he watched the play of emotions on his face, correctly guessing his young companion's thoughts. He was trying to be more practical himself, but the handsome lad had his thoughts on other appetites that needed to be sated. He thought better of suggesting that the two of them retreat to the barn to see to the dogs and wolfhounds, in case his master had need of him. He sighed, ignoring the heaviness deep in his belly at the sight of Pyotr in his innocence and loveliness. His desire to wrap his arms around Pyotr and ravish his sweet mouth would have to wait until whatever denouement was coming, was done.
He knew that he would regret if either he or Pyotr would perish, but he had had a long life and his recent memories of Pyotr's arms and body were a comfort to him. Oh, the loving they had shared had been beautiful and wondrous. It had been so long for him to feel such love and to have found it with Pyotr was still somewhat astounding to him. It had felt right and it had been truly glorious. Once or twice so much so, that he had yodeled out his pleasure in the pasture for all the sheep to hear. Pyotr had pleased him so very much and he knew he had pleased the lad. He couldn't wait until such a time could be found again.
He resolutely stood at one end of the table, Pyotr by his side, watching the silent men stew. When no one else looked their way, he traced his fingers along Pyotr's nape, letting him know that he was thinking of them and their time together. It was the first such gesture he had made since waking with him that morning. Pyotr almost purred under the contact but managed to refrain. He did not want two sets of tortured eyes cast upon him. The small gesture of comfort was enough for now.
Marianna was not oblivious to Nadia's intent and actually welcomed the opportunity to converse with her, having witnessed the passion that had flared between her and Luka. She was now surer of her footing in the matter and was pleased by it. She wound a brush through her hair, patiently waiting for the beautiful young girl to start first. She didn't have long to wait.
"My name is Nadia. I don't know who you are or who the rest with you are. But I will tell you now that there will be no blood shed here." She stamped her foot in emphasis. "My return here is long overdue, I see. But there will be order restored in this household before I draw my last breath. Now, you will tell me your tale." She stated with a wealth of curiosity and determination in her voice. She was standing behind the seated Marianna, carelessly tousling her curls and seeking out her eyes in the mirror.
"Thank you, Nadia. I am Marianna and the man I am with is Stephanos. We have to talk." Nadia made a moue of displeasure, pursing her lips at Marianna's understated temperament and emotionless speech. She knew better having seen the earlier fire in her eyes upon breaking free of her bonds. This one was as willful as she and she had no time for mealy-mouthed sentiments. Luka was in danger and she would be damned if anything would happen to him because of politeness.
Marianna seeing it, felt her own temper rise in response. What right did this girl have to judge her? Breathe Marianna and be forthright. She can handle it. Look at the sparks in her eyes and the vibrancy of her hair in the light. This one has passion to spare and is not a fool. Holding back her venomous first thoughts as she kept her goal in sight, she continued. "I have much to tell you about recent and what I know of past events. So it is good that you are concerned. I mean neither you nor your family any disrespect. Nor do I consider you a fool. You and I will do very well together. And I will tell you the whole, sparing no details. " Marianna stopped to take another deep breath and then carefully laid out everything to Nadia, precisely. Nadia silently absorbed it all, raising her eyebrows several times and at one point she had a mutinous light in her eye as Marianna revealed the circumstances of her bath. When Marianna halted her speech, Nadia had her questions ready.
"Marianna, thank you for your candor and briskness. Luka can be obstinate and he doesn't always listen to reason. I suspect the same of your Stephanos." Nadia launched into her thoughts about the matter. Marianna raised her own eyebrows at her familiar use of Luka's name and the impudent assumptions in her speech. Then she laughed, realizing Nadia was a kindred spirit in willfulness and love and that they could join forces to break Luka and Stephanos' impasse.
Chuckling still, Marianna said, "Oh, Nadia, I have a feeling that we will be great friends. And I would that we enforce a peace between those two. I will not live in unease despite my love for Stephanos. Nor should you. It is long past time that differences and grievances were settled. Here's my suggestion…" The two girls put their heads together and conversed quietly for more than a quarter hour before settling on there plans. Embracing each other and with the light of battle in their eyes and measured steps they returned to the others in the dining room.
Both men glanced up from their thoughts when they entered and were immediately worried at the militant expressions each beauty possessed. Almost as if by accident, they started verbalizing their thoughts in their heads and broadcasting them to the other unintentionally. Another lost link that was quickly reestablishing itself. When they were battling earlier, they had kept their intentions closed off to the other so as not to tip the battle. But now, now they were being undone by the thought of what these two women had in store for them.
What deviousness is this? Stephanos mused. He normally was in command of all of his emotions but the sight of a battle ready Marianna was almost his undoing. Her bosom heaving, her long tresses stirring as she walked, she advanced on him with purpose and a frown. This was not the same woman clinging to him earlier. Where had she disappeared to? This harpy approaching had no love in her eyes at the moment. He sighed wistfully, wishing he could just face Luka again. Women were complicated and she was proving to be more so than most.
Luka chuckled at Stephanos' thoughts but he was equally concerned. His Nadia had a mutinous expression and worry in her eyes, but she was resolute. Her cheeks were pinkened and agitation marred her lovely features. What have I done now? I am only protecting my home and my family. And she was his family, whether she was willing to admit it or not. He actually gulped nervously for she was not in the least bit intimidated by him. He saw this now. Even with all of his vampire powers and logical reasoning, she was not afraid. She is not afraid! Luka widened his eyes in astonishment. That meant that she truly loved him, for why else would she do this?
In that instant, Luka and Stephanos actually looked to the other in commiseration. These lovely and powerful women actually looked undefeated and unbowed. What a sight to behold!
The women in conjunction with their agreed upon plan moved to the men and taking them each by an arm led them to the table. Sitting across from each other in the middle with their women by their sides, no one sat at the head. Quietly Kolya and Pyotr took seats at the far end to watch events unravel. Irina and Aleksandr hovered over and poured goblets of wine for them all and then retreated to watch from the doorway of the kitchen.
Stephanos and Luka attempted to stare each other down, Luka quelled by a soft rap to his shin with Nadia's shoe and Stephanos' inner elbow pinched by Marianna. He thought to admonish her and then thought better of it. He reclined back in the chair, appearing at ease but very much alert as he sipped the excellent wine from Luka's cellar. Both men waited, resigned that the women were very much in charge at the moment. A deeper silence descended over all of them as the ticking of the clock beat out a mordant rhythm that reverberated with the cessation of movement. The edginess of suppressed emotions swirled resoundingly until the tension reached unbearable heights. Pyotr not understanding all that was transpiring shifted uneasily in confusion. The fragility of being suspended in time was snapped with his movements.
Marianna inclined her head towards Nadia, indicating that she should go first. Nadia drew a deep breath. She looked each of them in the eye. Satisfied that she had their undivided attention, she began.
"Luka and Stephanos, this bad blood between you ends tonight. We will not tolerate your hatred of each other another minute." Nadia's voice was low and firm in her delivery. Her hands were braced on her hips as she spoke to each of them. "Having said that, we know that you have differences to work out with each other and we will not rise from this table until all is resolved." Nadia turned to Luka now, reaching for his arm, her eyes beseeching and her love shining through clearly for the first time for all to see. "I love you Luka. I will not give up that love for your feud, but I am prepared to do so. I will leave this house tonight if you continue."
Luka felt his heart swell at hearing her loving words and his breath was caught in his throat by Nadia revealing her feelings to him for the first time. His blood thrummed and his arm tingled where she possessed it. He was helpless in the face of her passion and beauty and intelligence. He had waited a long time for his Nadia to grow into this lovely young woman. A woman that could and would be his true mate if he had anything to do with it. He was prepared to do whatever he had to keep her at his side. Even mend things with Stephanos. However, he couldn't in his pride appear to give in so easily, so he just harrumphed and remained silent.
Oh that piqued Nadia no end. But she could see that she had not fared any better with Stephanos. He had a slight smirk on his face as though Nadia had dressed down Luka as if he were a callow youth and not a man. Oh I would not have missed this for the world! He thought to himself. To see Luka looking abashed had music singing in his heart. He let out a short bark of laughter at Luka squirming in his seat. Nadia eyed him evilly for a second and watched him raise an eyebrow at her fierce expression, and then she decided he was Marianna's problem to control. Seeing her new friend take a deep steadying breath, then face off with Stephanos across the table had her smiling with anticipation. Marianna rapped her knuckles on the table to draw their attention to her.
"Stephanos!" Marianna erupted at him in a burst of anger, her eyes narrowed in dismay as she sprang to her feet. He clearly did not realize the risk to his person by her if he continued to behave so abominably she thought to herself. Luka looked satisfied that he was going to get his comeuppance now as well. It leveled the playing field again in his eyes. The two vampires still were not completely in accord, but their rivalry had been seriously deflated with the advent of the women.
"When Nadia spoke her truth, she was speaking for me as well. Resolve your differences or no more will I grace your manor, table or bed. Men! Bah! All you do is take, take, and take! Divide and conquer. Where has that gotten you? Certainly none of the answers to the questions you have long sought to be revealed! If you don't use this opportunity here and now to befriend Luka again I have no use for you!" It was then everyone realized that Marianna had been using her finger to poke Stephanos in the chest to make her point. Her diminutive stature where she stood was incongruous to his imposing bearing, even while sitting. However, Stephanos did straighten and gently covered her finger with his hand.
"Very well, Marianna. You command, I obey, in this instance. You know that I will keep you and you can try to escape, and while that would prove amusing, I hear what you are saying to me." Stephanos made an attempt to keep the humor out of his voice in saying this, but failed miserably. She was his and would remain if he had to chain her to his side. Marianna said nothing, merely waited for him to continue as her foot tapped against the floor. "You have undone me with your love and fiery nature and ardor. I will make all efforts to meet Luka half way in this endeavor." Stephanos then brought her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. Dazed by his capitulation and his kiss, she sank back into her chair, her eyes dilating with the dark swirl of passion in his. She knew then that it was going to be all right. All of it. Stephanos and Luka. She and Stephanos. They would live as equals in their covenant of bonding together, forever. She closed her eyes in relief and love and thankfulness.
Glancing at Luka for the first time without heat in his eyes, Stephanos began. "Luka. You once were the brother of my soul. My best friend. You and I did everything together, shared everything, including Danijela's love. I have missed you even when I didn't acknowledge it. I have no right to ask for your forgiveness, because I did fail Danijela. I failed in that I did not listen to her distress. But I would not have had a hair on her head harmed. You must know this! Can we not work out our differences? If not in friendship, in a concordance of peace?" He fell silent after his quietly spoken words.
Luka plowed his fingers through his hair and expelled his breath, mindful of a watchful Nadia at his side, her hand intertwined with his below the table. "Stephanos, my heart was ripped out of my body at the sight of Danijela. I stopped living at that moment. She was all I had! She was everything that was goodness and light in this world! And I entrusted her to you!" Bitter invective spewing forth from his lips.
Luka wailed at that moment, keening over in his grief. Grief that he had never experienced. It plumbed the depths of his soul, it coursed through his veins, and it poured out of his body in great gulping sobs. Nadia immediately and without reservation wrapped her arms around him, rocking him gently, crooning in his ear. She looked over to see silent tears dripping wetly down Stephanos' face unchecked and unashamed. Marianna was ministering to him and his needs as well, brushing her fingers gently against his cheeks, pressing soft kisses where the trails lay.
"Weep, my darling. Let the poisons of the past leave your body once and for all. Remember the good that was Danijela and know that I will be by your side whilst you do." Nadia continued her soft intonations, just holding Luka close to her heart, letting her love for him envelope him in the cloud of her being. He reached for her then, wrapping his own arms around her trembling body, accepting her gift of sustenance. Quieting after a time, he lifted his tear drenched and grief ravaged face from her shoulder, where he had rested, trying to regain his composure.