A rush of over-confidence on Xavi's part and his friend dies bloodily. Xavi is forced to face the reality of his own nature and the depth of his relationship with Andreas. And then there's the gold hidden in the walled-up crypt of the church...
In retrospect, the finer details of the last two months were hazy, caught in a miasma of soaring fevers, delirium, and muscle spasms that felt as if his body were trying to tear itself apart. He had a vague recollection of being questioned by the investigating judge and giving evidence at a hearing, but there was another, more important point of reference that stood out.
Andreas. He had been a constant, both in the Hematological Alteration Research Center at the Santa Maria Hospital, and lately in this small split-level house that climbed a steep hillside not far from the hospital. Andreas had kept the nightmares at bay. Andreas had soothed and massaged his knotted muscles. Andreas’s strength had held him safe through the physical and mental torture that wracked him as the mutation worked its way through his body. Andreas seemed to have been on a period of extended leave because Xavi could not recall a time when he’d been alone in the house.
But he did remember something of those days and nights when the seizures had left him shaking with exhaustion. All he’d wanted was the silent comfort of being held, and it was given unstintingly. Something warm unfurled in him, something he did not have a name for as yet, but whatever it was, it unsettled him and he did not want to examine it too closely. Instead, he opened the wardrobe door and studied himself in the full-length mirror on the back of it.
He’d lost some weight, he noted. Not that he’d had much to spare in the first place. And his muscle-tone needed attention. He’d always kept himself pretty fit. His body was, after all, his stock in trade, so he’d be back to the gym as soon as he could make it. He was also paler than he liked, and Xavi scowled at his reflection. He’d already decided he’d have to start working on his tan as well. No way was he going to end up lily-white. It wasn’t profitable.
But all in all, he was in good shape, and while that pallor was the only potentially long-term negative aspect as far as Xavi was concerned, it should be easily – if uncomfortably – remedied. A couple of days ago, an amused Doctor Cortes had finally admitted that, yes, there was a possibility he could regain and maintain his previous tan, but it would take some unpleasant sessions under a sun-lamp to do it. Xavi was prepared to suffer some pain if he got his color back and kept it.
His eyes, too, had lightened from hazel to gold-flecked topaz.
Then there were his teeth. He’d half-expected to sprout fangs overnight but it hadn’t happened. The growth of the sharp incisors and extended canines had taken the same two months to adapt as the rest of his body, adding the misery of aching jaws and bleeding gums as new teeth formed and grew, pushing out his original ones. He ran his tongue-tip over smooth enamel, testing the keenness of the cutting edge. His frown became a grin.
Xavier Peres Escudero was a vampire.
Still grinning, Xavi stretched his arms above his head, watching the easy flow of his muscles. Gold moved at his throat: a simple curb chain, unadorned. Xavi had worn fancier, far more expensive jewelry, yet this one chain implied far more than anything he’d ever had.
So did this place. Not a safe house supplied by the Police Department, but a fully furnished rental that Andreas had found in the hilly outskirts of the city. It also had the added bonus of being within easy reach of the vampire-experts at Santa Maria. Xavi had explored it properly for the first time yesterday morning before going back to bed for the rest of the day and night. The street door opened straight into the large kitchen, and off to the side was a sheltered patio between it and the next house. On the floor above was the living room and their bedroom, and both had wide glass doors onto a terrace that provided views of Barcelona and the countryside. It had been constructed partly on the hillside to take advantage of a couple of scrawny shade-trees, and partly over the kitchen roof. On the next level up was a second bedroom with a deep balcony. All told it was a neat white-painted clambering kind of house capped by terracotta roof-tiles, a house that Xavi was beginning to associate with settled comfort.
But nothing lasts forever.