Ashes of Midnight (Chapter Twenty)

In the few short minutes it took Claire and Tess to reach the Order's weapons room, Andreas was no longer there. Tegan and Rio were standing near the firing range with Gideon, reviewing a cache of ammunition and firearms laid out on a table near a large cabinet filled with more of the same. Tegan looked up as Tess led Claire into the room. "Have you seen Andreas?" Claire asked the formidable Gen One male. He nodded gravely. "I've seen him. And I sure as hell wouldn't recommend it. At least not for a few more hours. He's not exactly fit for company." "I need to talk to him, Tegan. It's important." When the warrior looked like he was going to shut her down flat, Tess chimed in. "I was swimming with Mira at the pool. She didn't have her lenses in, and… Claire saw something." "Ah, fuck." Tegan wasn't the only vampire in the room to mutter a dark curse. He ran a hand over his jaw, then followed it through with a gesture toward the corridor outside. "His quarters are up that hallway. Fifth door after the first turn." Claire nodded her thanks to both Tess and Tegan, then pivoted around and hurried out to the corridor. She found the curve in the marbled walkway and glanced ahead to count the closed doors as she walked quickly toward the fifth one. Before she even reached the halfway point, she felt the fine hairs at the back of her neck begin to stir. The sensation traveled her skin like a low-current electrical charge. She would know the feeling anywhere. Andreas. She paused in front of an arched open entryway on her right. The chamber was dark, lit only by the flicker of a single pillar candle deep inside the room. It was a sanctuary of some sort. A chapel, with carved stone walls and twin rows of benches that faced a simple, unadorned pedestal altar. Andreas was on his knees before that altar, his dark head bowed low. Tiny pulses of light skated all over his body.

It wasn't the full-scale heat and fire that she'd witnessed before, but a smaller kind of energy. Less volatile by far, but yet strong enough to make her limbs and neck prickle in reaction. As she watched, the pulses began to slow and lessen in strength. Before long, they had faded completely. Andreas was so still and meditative, Claire was loath to disturb him. Too late, however. He swiveled his head and opened his eyes, piercing her with a blast of amber that swamped his irises. "You shouldn't be here," he said, his voice deadly low and thickened by the presence of his fangs. "Go, Claire. I don't want you to see me like this."

She didn't have to ask him what he meant by that because even though his body was released from the hold of his pyrokinesis, misery was pouring off him in palpable waves. He was caught in the grip of a deep blood thirst. His extended fangs and transformed eyes were evidence enough of that, but it was his dermaglyphs that truly gave him away. The skin markings that were visible from within the open front of his shirt were livid with the colors of hunger. Claire drifted farther into the chapel sanctuary. "Are you all right?" He growled, animalistic and threatening, as she neared him. Claire thought he might stand up and draw away from her, but he remained on his knees as she moved to the bench nearest him and slowly sat down. The vision she'd seen in Mira's eyes was still very much on her mind, but as she looked at Andreas, her worry for him was more immediate. She wanted to reach out to him, to brush the tangle of his rain-tousled hair out of his face, but she held her hands close, uncertain whether he would welcome her kindness after the way things had been left between them in Newport. "Where did you go tonight, Andre?" "You mean Tegan didn't tell you how he had to peel me off a human before I drained the poor bastard? He didn't tell you that it took the press of cold steel against my temple and the threat of a bullet in my skull to bring me to my senses?" Claire swallowed. "No. I didn't know any of that." At her denial, he glanced away from her, shaking his head as he stared into the wobbling flame of the crimson altar candle. "Unless you have a pistol concealed on your person somewhere, I'd advise you to turn around and get the hell away from me while you can."

She heard the danger in his oddly restrained tone, but she stayed right where she was. "I'm here because I was concerned about you tonight. And because something happened a short while ago that terrified me." He swung a hard look at her, his brows lowered over the bright amber intensity of his gaze. "What happened? Does it have something to do with Roth? Did he do something to hurt you again?" "Nothing like that, no. But I saw something that I'm certain pertains to him." At his questioning scowl, she went on. "There is a child here in the compound with the gift of premonition–" "Mira," he said, having been told of the girl by the warriors. "Yes, Mira. I saw something terrible in her eyes just a few minutes ago. I saw your death, Andreas." Claire exhaled softly and closed her eyes for a moment, pained just to say the words.

"I saw a pit of fire and rubble, and you were inside it. I tried to save you, but I couldn't reach you in time. And the fire was so hot…" He cursed softly and stood up. His dark expression said he was ready to deny what he was hearing, but Claire cut him off before he had a chance to speak. "I felt your death, Andre. I was there, in the vision. It was real. If you don't let go of this need to destroy Wilhelm Roth, I believe you're going to die." He listened, his jaw set in what seemed to be a grim acceptance. As if he'd known for a while that his death would come amid flames and ruin, but saw no need to run from it. "My God," she said, furious that she was only just understanding now. "Every time you let the fires rise within you, you're staring your own death full in the face. You know that, don't you? You've known it all along, and yet you continue to use the very power that can only destroy you in the end." He listened unfazed, his expression unreadable and infuriatingly unemotional. "I'm not afraid to die, Claire." "No," she said, forcing the word past her tongue on a miserable laugh. "You're not afraid of it, Andre. I see that now, finally. You're running toward it as fast as you can. Am I that easy to walk away from? I must be, since you keep doing it." "What would you have me do?" he murmured. "Give up your revenge on Wilhelm Roth, here and now. Let the Order take him down when they go after Dragos, but not you. I want you to stay away from him. Can't you do that… for me?" His hand came up tenderly, his fingers curving around the quivering line of her jaw. "You're asking me to turn my back on those who've been willing to risk their lives for me in the past. You're asking me to forget everything Roth has done to me and my kin– what he has done to numerous innocent lives. You're asking me to look the other way on a criminal who would not hesitate to take his fury out on you, Claire."

She looked into his amber-soaked eyes–a vampire's hungering eyes–and saw a flood of raw emotion swelling up inside him. "There are a thousand things I want to say to you, Claire. Promises I wish I could make you. But I've taken this too far with Roth now. I've ignited a war with him that's not going to be extinguished until one or the other of us goes down in flames. I don't want it to be me, but I'm not about to shrink away from any conflagration still to come." God help her, she didn't want to forgive him right now–not for coming back into her life, not for reminding her so vividly that she'd never stopped loving him, and most certainly not for the prospect of losing him again after having been given such an extraordinary taste of happiness. But when he carried her fingers to his lips with tender care and total reverence, Claire's anger and fear melted beneath his touch. And when he kissed the heart of her palm, then lavished the same soft worship on her mouth, she was lost to him completely. She didn't even try to resist as he drew back, panting and wild, before stripping them both of their clothing in the middle of the compound's sacred chapel. His kisses grew more demanding, more savage. She reveled in his passion, her breath catching as he lifted her legs around his waist and kissed her ever deeper. He impaled her on him in a long, hard thrust, capturing her sharp gasp of pleasure with his mouth. Then he was moving with her, flesh on flesh, as he carried her with the swift speed and strength that marked him as something more than human. Claire felt the chill of firm, carved stone come up against her naked back. And riding at the spread juncture of her thighs, she felt the warmth of rigid, hot flesh filling her so deeply, so deliciously. Andreas held her in a tight grasp as he drove into her, his tempo aggressive and unapologetic.

Claire understood his need. She felt it, too. She welcomed every crushing thrust, every furious pound and cruel withdrawal. She wanted to hear him shout his release, even if it betrayed their passion to the entire compound. She didn't care about anything else but him, and the shattering plea sure of their bodies joined together for what she prayed would not be the last time. "Fuck me," she whispered against his ear as he rocked his hips against her in a more urgent rhythm.

"Oh, God, Andre … I need to feel this. Please, don't stop." With a snarl, he rode her harder, taking her to a level of climax she didn't know existed. Claire broke apart with a muffled cry, burying her face in his shoulder as her body contracted around him in a great, shuddering rush of sensation. He came along with her, huffing a dark curse as he bucked his pelvis tight against her and held her close, swamping her core with the hot, exploding rush of his release.

Reichen released Claire's thighs and gently placed her feet back down on solid ground. He was shaking with the aftershocks of his release, but even more so from the pounding need to bury his fangs in her tender neck. He'd never felt more alive than when he was with Claire. Being with her only amplified what a farce he'd been living all the years they'd been apart. After the curse of his pyrokinesis made itself known to him, he had been so careful to hold everyone at a distance. He'd bricked up his heart behind fortress-thick walls. But not with Claire. She had somehow worked her way into the fiber of who he was and who he one day hoped he could be. He was her mate in all the ways that mattered.

But not in the one way that she needed. He shouldn't have done this with her–for a dozen reasons and then some. Not the least of which being that it wasn't going to change his mind about going after Roth. She knew that, too. He could see it in her eyes, as she stood before him with flushed cheeks and dark brown eyes gone even duskier for the velvety blackness of her passion-drenched pupils. "Have you already spoken with them about how you mean to help the Order?" No sense in trying to shield her from the truth when it was plain that she still knew him better than anyone else ever had. Or ever would. "Tegan and I discussed a few things on the way back in tonight. Starting tomorrow evening, I'll be joining the patrols in place of the warrior that was injured. Since we now know Roth is in Boston, we'll be sweeping the city with an eye on locating him, as well." She nodded briefly, then moved past him to collect her clothes. She dressed expediently, hastily, as if she couldn't get away from him fast enough now.

Reichen gave a feeble shake of his head, lost for the right words. "I'm sorry, Claire." "I know," she replied quietly. "I'm sorry, too." He didn't try to stop her as she walked out of the chapel and disappeared down the winding corridor. As hard as it was to keep his feet rooted to the floor, he stood there as still as a statue, until he was certain she was gone. Then he dropped back down onto his knees and continued to pray for the strength he would need to see his vengeance through to its necessary end.