Hearts of Warriors Ch. 11byJazCullen©
Pietro fell asleep after his feeding. Demetri was loath to leave him in the filthy bed but he needed his hands free for the moment. He left the blood-soaked room with the sickening stench of rot still in his nostrils. In the main bathroom he turned on the shower careful not to have it too hot. He filled the bath too.
He quickly examined the cottage trying to find any hint of the poison used but coming up empty. The room downstairs where Pietro had obviously been imprisoned was just as bad scent wise as the bedroom, the bloodstained chains having his fury building again and he had to work to stifle it down.
Heading back to the bedroom after a desultory glance at the dead vampire in the basement, he was already mentally working out how to clean up the mess. He considered calling Caleb but figured Mara would take care of that. The entire cottage would need to be sanitised once they left and there was still the unknown woman out there somewhere and Michael.
The pungent aroma of the bedroom assaulted his nostrils once more and he stifled down a groan and quickly crossed to the bed. The change in Pietro was staggering. His skin was no longer black though still covered in angry red scars. It was pink and so fragile looking Demetri was afraid to touch him for fear of hurting him.
"Wake, my friend," he urged softly. "I can't leave you lying in this shit any longer. It's disgusting."
Pietro's eyes opened instantly and Demetri blinked in surprise as he stared down at him. "Well, that's going to get the ladies attention," he smiled, feeling the first real amusement since he'd arrived in Scotland.
"What?" Pietro's voice was still weak but getting stronger the longer the untainted blood had to work.
"Your regenerated eye...it's black like Mac's."
Pietro frowned, closed his eyes and then opened them again. His expression asked a silent question and his friend's smile just deepened.
"You're not shitting me?" Brown was his dominant eye colour though they were flecked with green to create the hazel hue. Or they had been until he'd lost his right one. "My eyes are different colours? Fuck!"
Demetri reached down and very carefully helped his friend from the bed ignoring the blood and dead skin coating his clothes as he touched him. "It's quite striking. I'm sure the ladies will love it," he quipped, distracting the other man from his pain.
He could have carried him to the bathroom easily but Pietro needed to feel as if he was in control. It had been taken away from him by his abductors and he wasn't the kind of male who ceded control to others willingly. So he supported his friend into the bathroom teasing him about his new eye the entire way.
"Shower first to get all this shit off and then a soak in the bath," he told him, opening the shower door.
He stayed close watching to see if Pietro was strong enough to shower unaided. When it became apparent he wasn't, Demetri stripped off his shirt, boots and belt and entered the cubicle with him clad only in jeans.
Pietro let the water wash over him closing his eyes so he couldn't see the debris falling from his body. The scent of it was vile enough and he was still in shock that his eye hadn't retained its natural colour. The water hurt the new skin which was regenerating but at a much slower rate than normal. He was afraid to look in the mirror and see the evidence of his capture.
Would he be scarred? He'd overheard enough of Demetri's conversation with Mara despite being weak at the time. The very thought of bearing a permanent reminder was enough to make him shudder. Vampires were vain. They couldn't help it. Something happened when they were Sired, their genetics mutating and enhancing their physical attributes.
Pietro was used to being perfect and now he wasn't. Already he had a flaw with his eyes. Would his skin be marred too? Would he carry more permanent reminders of his utter humiliation at the hands of his abductors?
Now that safety was guaranteed, now that he didn't have to court death, his emotions were rebelling deep within him. He was used to being strong, invincible. Having to admit that his own arrogance had been his downfall was hard to take. Having to admit that he'd been taken, stripped naked, his body abused and tortured at the whim of others...he couldn't accept it, couldn't deal with the humiliation.
Something fell from his hair to land on the shower floor and he moaned pressing both hands against the wall as his knees weakened and he had to hold himself up so he didn't fall down beside the red and black clotted *thing* lying in the drain.
"I'll do it."
Demetri's quiet words reminded Pietro he wasn't alone. While he was relieved to be able to lean on his friend and avoid what he couldn't face at the moment, another part of him screamed in denial as Demetri began to shampoo his hair.
He was like a helpless baby. For the last two days he'd been fucking helpless, alternating between screaming in agony at the pain and crying like a child.
Helpless! The word banged through his skull, taunting him, laughing at him, adding to the awful humiliation he couldn't shake. All the time Demetri's strong fingers stroked through his matted hair, shampooing and rinsing over and over again as chunks of something unknown landed with a thud on the shower floor.
"It's okay to cry, Pietro," Demetri voice was low and gentle. "There is only you and I here and nothing will leave this room. I understand. You've been through a terrible ordeal and the pain has to come out. I will not think less of you, my friend. I would be honoured that you trust me enough to allow me to help you through this vulnerable moment."
His words were like turning on a faucet. The instant Demetri spoke, Pietro's head reared back and he uttered an anguished scream up to the ceiling. His knees buckled and he fell, strong arms catching him from behind to hold him tightly as he screamed again.
Every second of the pain had been like an hour, every cut, every punch, the talons imbedded in his eye. He couldn't escape the painful memories and he couldn't assuage the feelings of helplessness, reliving the moment when he was ready to give up and he'd prayed for death as the only end to his agony, the poison burning him like a furnace as the torture raged on.
The bastards had broken him, he who was so strong in his world, so powerful and feared by those beneath him. He was broken and he didn't think he would ever be able to fix what they'd done to him.
A loud hiss in his ear, bands of steel squeezing his chest.
"You are NOT broken," Demetri hissed his voice full of fury. It was those words that made him realise he'd been whispering the word 'broken' over and over again as he sobbed like a child.
"I wanted to die, Demetri!" he admitted hoarsely. "I prayed to die before you arrived and when you came, when my body was eating itself apart, I wanted to beg you to end it so I didn't have to suffer anymore. I was willing to abandon everyone, the children, my friends."
The self-loathing in Pietro's voice cut Demetri to the quick. He knew what it cost his friend to admit that, how he would view himself as a coward for wanting his torture to end. He understood because he knew he would react the same way if their roles were reversed.
He didn't know what to say to him. He was no Annie; he didn't have the perfect response when someone's soul was so shattered. He tried to think what she would say.
"You did not die, Pietro. You stayed strong until help arrived and you did not ask me for mercy. No sane person would have thought any differently in your situation. Most sane people would have given up and stopped fighting. Only a stubborn, crazy bastard like you would keep going. You like to piss people off." It was possible Annie would have phrased it a bit more eloquently but he figured it was close enough.
"I don't know how much of me is left," Pietro choked out. "I don't know if I will ever be the same man again, Demetri."
"You've eternity to work out just who you are going to be from this moment onwards, my friend. Know your limitations. Don't try and work it all out when you're probably having your first ever shower with what has to be the sexiest male specimen to walk the planet. It's too much sensory overload."
Loud laughter burst through the room. It bordered on hysterical but it was better than the anguished sobs Pietro had been spilling for the last ten minutes. "You fucking suck as a counsellor."
"That's because you're not my type. Now if it was Mara in my arms she wouldn't have time to be worrying about whether she was broken or not," Demetri laughed.
Pietro laughed again struggling back to his feet, standing a little straighter even though he still felt raw inside. His friend's diversion tactics were helping and he latched onto it. "I'm done with the shower. Just don't think you're climbing into the bath with me."
Keeping up his light tone, Demetri headed out of the cubicle. "Nah, I measured it. Won't fit both of us."
His head tilted to the side. "Joshua's back."
He stayed long enough to be sure Pietro was fine in the bath himself. Snapping open his jeans he grabbed a towel and headed out the room. The blond vampire was in the sitting room. He didn't comment at seeing a soaking wet Demetri appearing in the doorway.
"Your bags are over there." He nodded to the corner of the room.
Demetri stripped off his sodden jeans and quickly dried himself, digging out clean clothes from his travel bag. He noted Pietro's bags were there too.
"Are the humans okay?" he asked as he pulled on the first jeans and sweater he found and began towelling his hair dry.
"I dropped them off at their rented cottage and left full provisions for them, iron rich foods to replenish their blood loss." Joshua disappeared into the kitchen and came back in a few minutes with a pot of fresh coffee on a tray complete with mugs, cream and sugar.
He placed it on the low coffee table as Demetri finished brushing his hair and tied it back. "I used your credit card and transferred 50K to my personal account," Joshua continued.
Demetri raised an eyebrow in inquiry. He'd given the other man his card so he could purchase food for the humans and anything else they might need in recompense for using them.
Joshua poured himself black coffee and sat down in the nearest armchair. "I keep cash lying around," he explained. "I figured you wouldn't want your financial details tied to the humans in any way. I was reimbursing myself."
"I take it that was 50K sterling?" The dark-haired vampire asked, moving to grab a coffee and taking five minutes to regroup before he had to go deal with Pietro again.
He sank down into the armchair across from Joshua. He didn't have a problem with the money leaving his account. It seemed only fair that the humans gained something from the experience even if they wouldn't remember it. His answer was a brief nod.
Sighing, Demetri sipped at his coffee and then rested his head back against the chair. Silence filled the room but it was a companionable silence and it took him a minute to realise that he was trusting Joshua. Normally it took a long time for him to reach the level of relaxation in a stranger's company that he was currently experiencing. There was just something about the man.
Joshua broke the silence. "How's Pietro?"
Demetri frowned and took another drink. "Fragile mentally. I'm not sure how he's going to react to your presence. He doesn't know you, Joshua. Being vulnerable in front of a stranger may be too much for him. Don't be offended if I ask you to leave. Your assistance today has been invaluable. Thank you."
Joshua had been anticipating the possibility of having to make himself scarce. He wouldn't be offended if that was the case. He'd hate to have a stranger close if he'd just been through what the other vampire had. "I owe Caleb a few favours," he answered with a smile. "This scores one off my list. No thanks are necessary."
Demetri nodded and drained his cup. "I need to check on Pietro."
Joshua watched him riffle through the other man's belongings for clean clothes. "The local coven is waiting to clean up here. I know them well and they can be trusted. One of the few things we do share in common with you is the need to ensure our existence remains secret."
He watched Demetri pause for a second as if considering whether or not he was willing to trust someone else to sanitise the cottage before he nodded his agreement and gathered up the clothes.
"Caleb's plane is waiting at the airport," Joshua continued. "As soon as you're ready to go I'll alert the pilot and he can request clearance to leave. One of my friends is working the airport tonight. She'll slot the flight into the schedule but there may be an hour or so delay, depending on how busy it is."
Demetri halted in the doorway and turned to look at the blond vampire with a speculative expression on his face. Joshua appeared to have thought of everything. He'd told him earlier that anything he'd need would be facilitated. The man was certainly holding true to his word.
"Have you ever considered coming stateside? We could use a good man like you over there."
Joshua laughed loudly shaking his head. "Caleb tried that on me too, Demetri, and I'll say the same thing to you as I did to him. If I'm over there then who do you have to help you out over here? I know enough of what's going on. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know your Council is about to come down on the covens in all their fury. You'll need someone you can trust here when that day comes."
Demetri couldn't argue with him, not entirely. Joshua's only error was in believing it was the Council who were going to be taking on the European covens. No, they had something much worse than just vampires coming their way.
He had no doubt that once all the intelligence had been gathered and analysed, it would be the triumvirate who would be calling the shots on just what punishment was meted out for the threat against the Vârcolac. Turning, he went back to the bathroom.
Pietro was drying himself gingerly trying not to rub his skin too hard. Demetri took a moment to catalogue the ugly scars on his back and thighs. He could tell some of them wouldn't heal fully. How many would remain he wasn't sure but he could see at least four deep ones on his back that most likely wouldn't heal.
When his friend turned he kept his critical eye on his front and took the same mental inventory of damage. When Pietro had lost his right eye, a talon had ripped through his flesh causing a deep groove from the outer corner down past his ear and ending at his jaw. It didn't look like it would fully heal.
Added to that, was a line running from his neck, across the joint with his shoulder, coming to an abrupt stop on his collarbone. There was hole healing where the line stopped, clearly indicating the talon had stabbed deep at that point.
A jagged scar cut across Pietro's left nipple, two further scars on either side of it which looked deep and painful. Green eyes swept over the remainder of his body but the rest of the wounds appeared to be fading, albeit slowly. Demetri supposed it could have been a whole lot worse.
"Are you going to have a problem with Joshua being here?" he asked, as he handed Pietro his clothes.
Pietro thought about it for a moment, remembering the other male's calm, steady voice, the feeling of competence and reliability he'd sensed even through his pain. It had been Joshua who'd known what to do to help. It had been Joshua who had offered his blood to replenish him.
He started to dress pulling on briefs and then his jeans. "He helped me. If you say he's okay then I can deal with it."
"Good," Demetri smiled. "We need him to drop us off at the airport. I didn't want to take his car from him. The plane's ready when we are so hurry up. The sooner we're out of here the happier I'll feel."
Sounding so much like the Demetri he knew, it helped Pietro feel almost normal. Maybe being finally dressed in his own clothes; his body clean of the filth which had covered him for days, helped too.
Pietro felt a lump in his throat and swallowed it down. He was going home. A few more hours and he'd be back where he belonged. It'd been so long since he'd stepped foot on home soil. It couldn't happen fast enough for him.
He followed Demetri into the sitting room and took his first proper look at the blond vampire who'd aided them. A faint smile curved the other man's lips as their eyes connected.
"You look much better than the last time I saw you," Joshua said. "That eye thing you've got going is pretty interesting. Wonder if it's symptomatic of the poison?"
His matter-of-fact tone, the way he sounded genuinely interested in the cause of the discolouration stopped Pietro from feeling offended by his words. It sparked something in him, a part of himself he was sure he'd lost. They needed as much information about what the poison could do as they could get.
He nodded to Joshua in acknowledgement and turned to Demetri.
"Did you keep a blood sample? We need to get it analysed to try and work out what it is. I ingested it in blood but if there are other methods of transmission we need to know."
"I've already packed it away. Do you want to look around the cottage before we leave? Maybe there's something here which will appear out of place to you which we wouldn't notice?"
Pietro shook his head. "Whatever they gave me was not given here. I'm positive they'd have kept this area totally clean just in case they were discovered."
Demetri shouldered his travel bag and handed Pietro his. "In that case, let's go home. Joshua, can you contact the coven? I want this place completely clean within the hour."
"It's already in hand. One of them is watching from a distance. As soon as we clear the area they'll move in. They know what to do."
Looking around the room one final time, Demetri headed out, trusting Joshua's word. If it was good enough for Caleb then it was good enough for him. Pietro followed silently with Joshua bringing up the rear.
Pietro opted to take the back seat as they climbed into the SUV. "A fedora?"
"My tourist disguise," Demetri laughed. "Stick it in my bag along with the camera."
"Damn, I was hoping you'd forget the hat," Joshua laughed. "I'm partial to them myself."
Demetri turned to look over his shoulder at Pietro. "He's not getting the camera but he can have the hat. I took some photos of the area to show Mara. Once all this shit is over with I'm thinking of bringing her to Scotland for a long holiday."
Pietro packed away the camera and tossed the hat to Demetri so he could get as comfortable on the back seat as possible.
Having someone local driving made a world of difference to how long it would have taken them to get to the airport. Joshua was dropping them off in less than half an hour, leaving the motor running.
"I'm not coming in," he said with a rueful smile. "Too many humans. They all smell so tempting after my little donation earlier. I need to replenish myself and quickly."
"We can't thank you enough for all you've done to help," Demetri answered. His tone was solemn, gratitude shining in his eyes. "I know you said you're marking off favours you owe Caleb but you owe me nothing. So if you ever have need of me, let Caleb know. I'll do my best to assist should that time ever come."
The blond smiled nodding his head. "That's a pretty huge favour to be owed and I promise I won't use it lightly." His grin widened further as he inclined his head to a silent Pietro and turned back to Demetri. "You know, I've heard all manner of crazy shit about you and after having met you I believe every word of it. I'm so fucking relieved you like me, Demetri Bozic. I'd hate to ever be on your shit list."