Feast or Famine? Ch. 09byathena_by_night©
Between the two vampires, they carried the fallen Kolya up the stairs and into Pyotr's room. Their reasoning was that perhaps, maybe, Kolya would feel the presence of Pyotr. It was worth a try. None of their other actions had proven to be successful. Stephanos' brows were knit with worry and his pallor was more noticeable than usual. Everyone was grim-faced and silent as they watched the two men, so still in their shared bed. No movement. Barely showing signs of breathing. Tension was thick, fear reflected in the eyes of all present.
"Stephanos, there is something else I could try." Marianna said in a small voice. "If we could find some leeches for a bloodletting, perhaps that might help."
"My dear, sweet Marianna. I know that you don't have much knowledge of what it means to be a vampire in its truest sense, but Luka's blood should be helping Pyotr. And Kolya! My God, how do I reach him? I need to think!" Stephanos had started softly, but grew louder by the end of his speech. "What manner of God would do this?" With that, he strode from the room without a backwards glance.
Marianna was crestfallen. She trembled from the manner in which Stephanos had just spoken to her and his lack of faith. She touched the tiny gold cross that swung from around her neck. Her lips were tremulous, her body shaking with suppressed feeling. Her emotions overwrought by all that had happened, causing a return of the tears to her eyes. Everyone else was uncomfortable with the venom in which Stephanos had unwittingly spoken with. Nadia moved to her new friend to lay a comforting arm around her shoulder. Marianna's face showed such an expression of hurt; she shrugged it off negligently and quietly left the room. Nadia whirled on Luka in that moment.
"Luka, go talk some sense into him. Now! His poison will cause a further deterioration around him, including his relationship with Marianna. He cannot fall apart. He is needed. There is much to be done." With that she dismissed him from her mind as she went to the bed to help her mother care for the two invalids. With the lightest caress she gentled Pyotr's brow that was still so hot to the touch. Irina had stripped Kolya out of his clothing with the help of Aleksandr, in an effort to make him more comfortable. He didn't move at all. Didn't blink. He just stared sightlessly at the ceiling. Irina continued to cross herself and pray for both of them.
Luka strode through the house, seeking out Stephanos. At the faint music distantly playing, he knew where to find him. He moved in the direction of the small music conservatory, where Stephanos was thundering away on the beautifully kept harpsichord. Luka stopped at the entrance a small smile tugging his lips, remembering that Stephanos had always played superbly and when he was disturbed, with intensity that rivaled the finest composers. The melody was dark, haunted and filled the room with his agitation. The notes jangled in the air as he relentlessly manipulated the instrument to bring forth the weeping sounds. After a few minutes of observing his grieving friend, Luka stepped into the room.
"Stephanos! You must stop this! Talk to me. Help me find a way to bring both Kolya and Pyotr back." Luka was patient as he stood close the man. Stephanos didn't stop immediately. He built crescendo upon crescendo of the throbbing composition until with a shudder, he finished. Dropping his hands and forehead to the keys, he gasped for breath.
"Here. Take the wine I have brought you. Maybe it will calm your nerves a bit." Luka thrust the glass at Stephanos, who took it and drank greedily for a moment, before placing it back into Luka's hand.
"Luka, thank you. But I need a clear head." Stephanos wiped his brow and looked at his friend, haggardness evident in his features. "Why, Luka? Why is this happening? If I had not desired Marianna so, none of this would have happened! It was her grief that called to me initially, but how could I pass up a one such as she? She is my heart! She is my soul! And, if I hadn't rescued her, who knows what fate would have befallen her at Ivan's hands? But at what cost? Kolya is lost to me at the moment. Pyotr wounded, close to death? And I am helpless!" Stephanos dropped his forehead into his hands and started a fearsome lament.
"My friend, I am not the person to ask about grief. But I am here for you and so is Marianna, as are the rest." Luka hugged Stephanos to him as he slid onto the bench next to him. "Stephanos, please try and pull yourself together. We need to resolve this together. You must help! Or all could be lost! Come; let us find Marianna for you. She was so hurt by your handling of her."
"I didn't mean to hurt her, Luka. I would be lost without her." Stephanos said in a low, pained voice. The love he felt for her evident in his words.
"Then let us seek her out." Luka stood decisively and waited for Stephanos to do the same.
They left the conservatory and returned to the bedroom, thinking that Marianna would be there. But she wasn't. After speaking briefly with the troubled Nadia and Irina, they learned that she hadn't returned. So, they used their senses to seek out her presence in the house. Nothing of her lingered in the air. Growing concerned, they sought out the grounds, still nothing. The fresh breeze blowing off the waters and the lingering rain had caused any scents to disperse. At least it wasn't thundering and storming any longer. Stephanos called for Zoya and Kirill, but the hounds did not present themselves. Stephanos was growing more and more alarmed, his agitated pacing doing nothing to relieve his tension. They spread out further and further apart, searching.
Luka was checking the back of the manor near the edge of the cliffs and Stephanos had gone to the barn to see if Marianna was there. His shriek of outrage reached Luka, who immediately arrived at his side. Seeing only one horse, Stephanos knew she was gone. His disbelief etched his face and his rage threatened to boil over.
"How dare she leave? When I get my hands on that minx..."
"Easy, friend." Luka appealed to him, as they glanced around. Quietly, he delighted in being able to call Stephanos that again, even with their unresolved issues and the ongoing concerns. "Easy. The hounds have to be with her. Now, where would she go in the dead of night?" He stopped to brood over the situation from all angles.
"Ah. I have it. She has set out to prove you wrong, Stephanos. She went to find leeches!" Luka looked smug as he said this; it made perfect sense to him. The pair was newly in love and still seeking balance within the relationship. In their efforts, they were going to have some mishaps in dealing with those feelings. He nodded sagely as he knew the same would be happening for him and Nadia soon enough. He chuckled, remembering how she had dismissed him earlier to do her biding. Oh, he was looking forward to the challenges she presented. He sobered immediately at the thunderous look Stephanos had now.
"Luka, Marianna is unprotected, as much as I trust Zoya and Kirill. Anything could befall her. I must find her! Oh, that woman! She will learn the true meaning of my words about belonging to me. I promise you this!" Stephanos was magnificent in his rage. His eyebrows were raised, his features set in a look of forcefulness, his lips thinned and his eyes passionate. He took to the air without hesitation, intent on scouring the countryside for his love. He found Luka by his side.
Impossible man! Marianna thought as she moved swiftly, the hounds by her horse's side. They would not stay and she could not fight them, and she actually welcomed their company on this cloud ridden night. She was returning to the glade with the little pond that had been the place of her capture, for she knew she would find leeches there. She just knew it! And then, then she would show Stephanos what they could do! Indignation rampant throughout her body, she spurred the horse on, mud kicking up behind them at the pace she set, eating away at the miles.
Kolya moved slowly through his darkness, inspecting it, savoring it. He craved the solitude, the warmth in which he was enfolded. The absence of light didn't frighten him, he welcomed it. It bathed him in its embrace. It sheltered him. It...what was this? Kolya sensed something, something indefinable invading his cocoon. He whirled around peering into the darkness but could not find what he sought. Still he was unnerved. What manner of this was he experiencing? He continued to whirl in frenzy.
Slowly, he heard faint steps making their way towards him, but he could not tell the direction. It was beginning to drive him further and further into madness. There! A flickering glow! It grew steadier and steadier the closer it got, until finally he could make out a vague outline. The outline solidified the closer the thing got to him. Its shape still indeterminate, Kolya found he had no where to go, no where to hide in his darkness. What had once seemed a vast entity just for him had shrunk to a long tunnel and his back was against the wall. He couldn't move, he was transfixed by the approaching apparition.
His eyes widened! His heartbeat accelerated. Oh my God! He thought. Natalya! What is she doing here? He didn't shrink along the wall any longer, instead he moved towards her. Shaken to the core, he watched her approach. She looks as she did in life, before the fever. How was this possible? She had withered in front of his eyes, her robustness and love of life had shrunk from her form in those terrible days prior to her death. She died in pain and as a shriveled old woman. Kolya drank in her ethereal beauty now. He moved to touch her and his hand floated through her arm. He stepped back, distressed.
"My darling Kolya. Do not fear." The spirit spoke to him. It sounded like his Natalya. Kolya shook his head over the hallucination. Puzzled, he stepped forward again and the same thing happened. He didn't step back this time as much as he wanted to and he rubbed his eyes twice, but still she appeared before him, so he waited. Her reassuring voice with such a wealth of love laced in it caused his newest reaction.
"I am here because you called to me." Her husky voice that he had missed so much came to him again. "You called to me, Kolya. I have always been with you. I know your heart, my love. You just had to speak it. I would have appeared to you at any moment. But before now, you did not need me, so I watched over you until such a time arrived that you would." She spoke so tenderly and with such adoration that Kolya felt the tears dripping down his face.
"Natalya, how I have missed you! I do not know why you are here, but I am glad that you are. I have loved you to this day. I know that I was supposed to meet you long ago, but my life's course changed after your passing and I had a choice to make. I knew that you would understand or hoped you would." Kolya's voice broke, and speechless he sobbed at seeing his lost love. He felt her touch, a light feathering of her fingers on his arm. She materialized slowly then, metamorphosing from insignificant light to substantial woman and held her arms open for the weeping Kolya. He returned her embrace in desperation. He had dreamed of his Natalya for a lifetime, to hold her in his arms once more, to feel her hold him. And now it had happened. Overwhelmed by it all he slowly sank to his knees, his face buried in her belly as she stroked his hair.
"Moj hrabar ratnik." Natalya spoke softly, calling him her brave warrior. "Your path was preordained before we met. You have lived as you should have. You chose to sacrifice yourself so that others could live freely. And in the end, it was not such a sacrifice, was it? You love Stephanos and he has loved you. You saved him from himself, numerous times. Do you not realize this? Stephanos would have long ago destroyed himself by his actions, if not for your care and love." She continued to stroke his hair, and his sobs had quieted, listening to her crooning words.
"My love, but how? What have I done? I am a man, no one special."
"Yes, my Kolya, you are a man. No more, no less. You had no way of knowing that kopile Ivan was going to strike as he did. Your Pyotr needs you. He needs your strength and your love to see him through. You must go back!"
"How can you say this, Natalya? I have just found you again! It hurts... the pain! How can I go back?" Kolya spoke into her dress. His voice muted by the material and the choked emotion.
"Ah, my love. How can you not? I am not truly here. I am only here because you sought me out. I still died. You live! You live because it is not your time. And you love Pyotr. He means much to you. I am not sad. I am overjoyed that you found someone to love again. He loves you. He needs you. And you need him. Go, my love. Go follow your heart and know that I am always with you." Natalya gentled her hands once more into Kolya's locks. She used her hand to raise his face to look at the expression of contentment and love shining through her eyes. Slowly, Kolya rose to his feet.
"I don't understand everything you have said, my darling Natalya. Perhaps I have no need to. It comforts me that you are well. I would ask for a chance to kiss you once more. If I cannot stay, would you grant me that?" Kolya pleaded.
"Of course my darling. I would feel you against me once more as well." Natalya moved into Kolya's embrace. Tentatively he touched his lips to hers, finding them warm and waiting. More sure of himself because of his love and her familiarity, he moved closer still, gathering her against his heart. Her lips so mobile beneath his, so tender, just as they had been in life. He became overwhelmed in her embrace, the remembered feel of her and he was so gentle. Too gentle as she moved her fingers into his hair and thrust her tongue into his mouth. The kiss was long and it was passionate and so full of love.
Breathless, Kolya pulled away first. He stared deeply into his first love's eyes, hers the warm golden brown of syrup, alight with love. He plunged down again to plunder her mouth fully. Her remembered taste triggering his desire further. Together they sank to the floor, a warm, soft mist swirling around their bodies, as they moved further and further into the depths of their passion. Slowly, they helped the other remove their clothing. Kolya finding all the soft recesses and curving slopes of Natalya that he remembered so well. She in turn found the hard pitched planes and firm muscles of her love.
Their joining was slow and sensuous and they loved each other well. For Kolya, to feel Natalya clench her inner muscles around him was so wondrous, he felt complete in a way he hadn't in a long time. This was not taking away from anything he felt with Pyotr; it was just a different dimension, a different melding, and a different love. And without meaning to, he started feeling the pain that had pulled him into the darkness initially. Just as he was reaching his fulfillment, he felt the edges of the darkness lightening. Trying hard to stay with Natalya, it proved useless. She faded from his view the more the darkness lightened. Becoming frightened with the advent of the pain and the dissolving of his beloved Natalya, he cried out in protest.
"My darling, remember I am always with you. Do not feel bereft. You are needed elsewhere. Your Pyotr needs you. Good bye for now my love." Natalya's voice kind and understanding receded from his mind and the light grew. He felt himself rising as if through the mists towards that brightening light. He made a last attempt to grasp her once more, but it was not to be. Traveling without thought, in awe of his experience and continued love for her, he floated towards the light.
Nadia and Irina worked frantically as they witnessed Kolya's stirrings. They chafed his hands and called to him. Delighted by his initial responses and his easier breathing, they held their own breaths so as not to create a false hope. They had been frightened by the thrashings and mumbled words that had started a few minutes earlier and had startled them out of their quiet ministrations. Words of love and words of despair, incoherent for the most part. Nadia and Irina managed to move him further up on the pillows, patting his cheeks gently. Kolya stirred further.
Blinking rapidly, his breathing forced, Kolya struggled to keep his eyes open with the penetrating light hurting his head. He glanced around wildly and called to Natalya. Nadia and Irina looked at one another, bemused by the name. It was not one they knew. Gaining control of himself, and seeing the room and Pyotr in bed beside him, he calmed further. Catching the wave of sympathy directed to him from both women, he wondered how much he should say. He decided he needed to think and work it through by himself first. Would they believe him anyway? Was he mad? Had he really just spoken with his beloved Natalya? Yes, he would keep his thoughts to himself.
He grimaced, rolling to his side to watch the respirations of his sweet Pyotr. It warmed his heart, even if he was mad, insane, that Natalya approved or at least her specter said that she did. He often had wondered if it had angered her when he hadn't joined her. Now, he knew that not only did she understand, she loved him more for his choices. That eased his heart and mind. He hadn't realized how much that had weighed on his conscience, but now he was at peace with it. Sighing, he felt Nadia trying to give him water to drink. He sipped it slowly, feeling pain in his head from the experience and the strong drink earlier. Then she fed him broth. He took all the nourishment she offered, remaining silent, watchful.
Marianna brought the beast to a stop. She carefully climbed down and allowed the horse to wander in the small glade, the hounds staying with the horse, their sides heaving once again in exertion, their tongues lolling. She walked to the banks of the small pond and stepped into the water, guided by the weak moonlight now showing. Careless of her clothing, she found the leeches she sought. Picking them up gingerly, she deposited them into the small cauldron she had brought with her for that purpose. Taking a sip of water from the pouch once her mission was accomplished, she saw to it that the animals were watered, and then she set about gathering the horse once again for the return journey.
The further the vampires traversed, the more irate Stephanos became. Now, the anger was turned inward. How could he have been so thoughtless, careless in his speech and affection of her? He had made a promise earlier when he had her by his side again that he would treasure her. How quickly he had broken it. Fool! He muttered. He would repair the damage and do better the next time. He just hoped there was a next time. For his Marianna was a fiery one and she was such an innocent; she had rarely traveled outside her village before he had found her. He hoped that she wasn't lost, that her horse hadn't thrown a shoe, or that she hadn't run into some ruffians or brigands intent on harm. He thrust forward faster and faster, causing Luka to have to struggle to keep up.
Eying the horizon, he was horrified to find that dawn was approaching. While the sky was still pitch black, the muted shades of blue were changing rapidly with each passing minute. He had to find her before long. He must, he could not search above an hour. How could he have been so foolish? His eyes frantically picked out small shapes on the ground, vermin and rodents along the sides of the road. He sharpened his eyes looking for fresh tracks, but knew that was futile, not only was the road well traveled, but their earlier ride had been obliterated by the passing storm. Stephanos knew he had to pay attention lest he fall from the sky by his distractions.