“Why are you ok with this? Why are you handling it so well?” Andre couldn’t believe that Emma hadn’t run, that she hadn’t been horrified or even angry with him…instead, she had thrown her arms around his neck and hugged him to her body as though he were the injured party.
She even expressed an interest in meeting his Child.
After a couple of minutes spent whispering reassurances into his ear, she leaned back in his arms enough to gaze into his turbulent eyes. She almost laughed at the confusion she saw on his face, but refrained. She could tell through their bond that he was sincerely perplexed and somewhat dreading a reaction from her that would not come.
“Ok, let me ask you this: would you have done all that if you’d known from the beginning that he was innocent?”
“No,” he answered immediately. “Of course not.”
“See? I know you wouldn’t have. Hindsight in this case is 20/20, hon. If you had been given the proper information then no, none of this would have happened. If you’d known that you needed to double-check your facts, if you’d known not to trust that other person’s information, things would have been different, so it’s not like you went out looking for some innocent man to torture, right? Right,” she answered her own question strongly.
He’s still… Ugh, stubborn man…
Emma cupped his jaw and stroked her thumb across his cheek.
“So, while this is a terrible situation, and I can’t even begin to imagine how horrifying it must have been for Aillard, in the end you did the right thing by trying to save his life. And you did, you did save his life, just not the way he wanted it, which, yeah, is another tragedy, but again, it’s an unintentional one. You guys seriously need a school where you teach other vampires how much blood it takes to heal and how much it takes to Turn, you know? But anyway, you learned a lot from all that, knowledge that you will keep with you for the rest of your life. Now you have a much better idea about how much blood it would take to heal rather than Turn, and you also have a much better idea about how to make sure that you can trust your sources and the information they give you.”
Eyes surveying her face, he nodded. He had to agree with her thoughts – she was right, after all, but still…
Still skeptical, huh… He’s not letting this go so easily.
She met his gaze boldly.
“Andre, I’m not downplaying or ignoring the horror in torturing any man, much less an innocent one. I’m not downplaying or ignoring the way it must have felt to him, and yes, darling, I know more about your abilities as a Master Torturer than you might think, but I also know that you have an innate goodness, an innate sense of fairness, in your heart that you’d rather most people didn’t know you have. So, I know that once you found out the truth, this must have been almost as painful for you as it was for the man who is now your Child. But no one should be held accountable for transgressions committed due to ignorance rather than intention.”
At his raised brow, she just smiled. The bond revealed to her that while he was slowly feeling more relieved, there was still an underlying source of guilt she needed to soothe.
“See, here’s my way of understanding things. If someone breaks a law that they didn’t know existed, then no, they should not be punished for it. Warned, sure, and educated about that law, but not punished. That belief bleeds over,” and she mentally snickered about using a term which vampires would love, “to other wrong-doings, too. Yes, you did wrong, but only because you didn’t know he was innocent. How could you – the information you were given was bad. The whole situation was terrible, but the fault rests on the person who initially gave the wrong info – not you. So, stop punishing yourself, ok? There is no basis for it.”
Emma wasn’t sure if using logic to fix an emotional issue would work with Andre or not; she only knew that it usually worked for herself. As he stared over her shoulder, she imagined that he was reviewing images from long ago, and hoped he was now seeing with a clearer eye. While the bond thing still confused her, she decided to try sending him feelings of comfort, acceptance, and relief.
She placed her warm palms on his chest, closed her eyes, and concentrated. Long minutes passed before she felt him heave a small sigh.
She leaned forward and hid her beaming smile against his neck. “Ok.”
Andre still wasn’t sure how she had accomplished what he knew to be an extraordinary feat, but somehow she truly had managed to loosen that noose of guilt and regret that had been slowly choking him for centuries. He didn’t imagine that the regrets would ever completely fade, but the guilt was no longer so suffocating.
As he rubbed his cheek against the silk of her hair, his lips quirked and he rolled his eyes at her actions. As if he couldn’t tell she was hiding a huge grin… Her secret would remain safe, though, as he would never begrudge her little…and not so little…victories.
He smoothed his hands up and down her back as he contemplated his surprise at the force of the emotions she had sent him through their bond. From what he knew of such things, what she had sent should have been a mere trickle at best, not the flood he had received. At some point he knew he needed to talk with her about sending emotions through the bond, the hows and whens and whys it might be acceptable, but not now.
Right now he was still too grateful for her love and understanding to upset that cart of apples.
She now knew of one of his greatest regrets, and she cherished him anyway.
“Em, when you said that you know more about my abilities as a Master Torturer than I might think, what did you mean?”
He felt her stiffen in his arms, and knew to expect the worst. And here he had tried so hard to protect her from discovering things about him that she didn’t need to know, things that would only serve to hurt her or make her want to distance herself – somewhat rightfully – from him!
Once he knew what had been said and by whom, the ‘whom’ would suffer dearly…it had to have been a vampire – all relevant humans had been heavily glamoured.
To his surprise, she snorted.
Against his neck she replied, “Honey, you live in a gossiper’s paradise. When I started coming around after I gave Sophie-Anne back her necklace, I wasn’t just the new girl in town – I was the “royally accepted” new girl in town.”
She leaned back with a small giggle and ran her hands up and down his arms in a subconsciously soothing gesture.
“Pretty much everyone I met had a story or a helpful tip or suggestion for me. And honestly, while some were a bit strange or jealous, for the most part they truly were trying to be helpful. They’re the ones who warned me to stay away from BeauChamps and Parrish. They’re the ones who told me that Sophie actually treats her people better than what she maybe wants outsiders to think. They’re the ones who gave me tips on how to treat vampires so that I could get along better with y’all from the start rather than stumbling along and risk accidentally insulting someone. For the most part, they’re good people, Andre. Nosy, gossipy, opinionated, and slightly judgmental, but good at heart.”
He stared hard into her eyes for a moment. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe her…it was that he knew she might not present all the facts if it helped keep someone she liked out of trouble.
Finally, he raised a brow. “And what exactly have these fine denizens told you about me?”
Emma scrunched up her face. This was exactly the question she did not want him to ask…therefore, naturally, he did. Now, how was she supposed to protect him from knowing exactly how much she knew about him?
He already felt bad enough over the Aillard incident…she really didn’t want him to feel even worse, and discovering that she knew about his former “hobby” sure wouldn’t help. And really, he certainly didn’t need to know that she was rather more fully informed about his “torturous inclinations” than he might like, either.
A person should always take pride and pleasure in their chosen career, but perhaps not quite that much…
Men. So…brazening it out it will be, then…
She glared at him.
He was not expecting what amounted to a direct challenge.
People do not challenge me, so why does she ask ‘why’? Because she’s Emma, that’s why… Ok, so, what the hell does she know? Why doesn’t she want to tell me so that I can either agree or defend myself? How can I mitigate any damages if I don’t know what they are? Why were women so fucking frustrating?
“What do you mean by ‘why’?”
Emma ignored the strident tone of his voice. He was not going to go all Master Interrogator on her…
“I mean, why do you want to know what I know about you? I like having a home field advantage, and if I tell you, I won’t have that advantage anymore.”
D’uh. Can’t he understand? A lady has to have some secrets…
“Besides,” she added with a soft smile now tilting her lips belying the gleam in her eye, “obviously I’ve heard nothing too horrible about you or I wouldn’t be here. And, if there had been anything that made no sense, I’d have already asked you.” She leaned forward and kissed his nose. “You know I would have.”
With a sigh he realized that he did know that. Emma might be frustrating, strong-willed, and slightly obstinate, but she was nothing if not curious.
And she was still in his arms even after he had confessed about Aillard. He didn’t want his suspicions and worries to push her away, so he chose a different tactic.
It wasn’t a retreat.
A chance would come, or if not, he would simply initiate his own investigations of the subject at hand.
With a growl far more for show than intent, he tumbled a now laughing Emma onto her back. Leaning over her, he lightly tickled her with his free hand until she fell back on her human excuse for him to stop: she threatened to pee the bed.
Sneaky chit knew that one always worked.
Soon enough the laughs and giggles morphed into gasps and moans, clothing was torn, and pleasures were had.
Later, her body still tingling and her breaths still slightly labored, Emma decided not to ask him why it had been so long since their last bed-fest…floor-fest…wall-fest…sofa-fest…chair-fest… She’d like to know, of course, but so long as the drought was over, she’d let it go for now.
As she watched her finger lightly tracing fanciful patterns from his nipples to his abs, she considered her other questions. So far this evening had gone quite well – better than she’d hoped, actually, but she still needed answers.
What could they do to neutralize the real yet nebulous threats without causing her to live in a gilded cage? That gilded door had been blown wide open and she was not going to go back in.
What did Sookie have to do with it? She couldn’t imagine anyone going after her friend. Sookie was one of the sweetest, nicest people she’d ever met, and it wasn’t as though anyone would be able to get by Eric anyway.
How was she going to get him to keep her in the loop about things that definitely concerned her? She somewhat understood his need to keep her protected from the bad things in life, but how could she help in her own defense if she didn’t know who the bad guys were?
When was he going to introduce her to Aillard? Now that she knew about him, she was dying to meet him.
And…when was he going to Turn her, anyway? That was the biggie. Was that written in stone? The thought both terrified and intrigued her. Was it written in stone? His reasons for waiting made sense but…
He’d been watching as her eyes seemed to follow the nonsensical patterns her finger was tracing, but knew her mind was elsewhere. He’d sensed a fascinating blend of curiosity, slight alarm, confusion, determination, and melancholy coming from her, and wondered at their cause.
She blinked, then looked up to meet his gaze.
“Just wondering some things.”
He kept stroking his long fingers through her hair, detangling it from being mussed during their previous activities and spreading it over her bare shoulders.
“Like…what can we do to keep Sookie and me safe without making it feel like we’re living in a cage? I can’t go back to how it was before you took out the asshole, Andre. As good as it was in some ways, still, it wasn’t a life.”
“And?” Her tone and facial expression, what he could see of it at any rate, told him there was more.
“And what does Sookie have to do with it, anyway? She’s been involved with Eric for a while now – why is she suddenly in danger, or is she, really? I don’t know what’s going on, and it’s driving me nuts.”
“And?” This time, the bond told him there was more.
Emma exhaled gustily. How did he know?
“When will I get to meet Aillard? We need to talk more about the whole Turning thing, too. I mean, I understand why we have to wait right now, but you said there’s a lot more I need to know first. So, when will we get on with that part? And is there any way I can be sure that you’re telling me everything? I know you want to protect me from the less savory aspects of a lot of things, but I hate being left out of the loop, especially when the loop is about me!”
Andre was nothing if not quick.
“And now you know how I feel when you know things about me but refuse to divulge what those things are so that I can agree, clarify, or counter your information.”
Emma huffed and raised her head to glare at him. Andre decided that her attempt at a “menacing glare” truly was adorable.
When his beloved hauled out that lower lip for a full-on pout, he decided that another tickle session was in order.
The fact that he was able to fend off more questions until later wasn’t lost on either one of them, but for the moment, neither minded.
**A/N: So…what didja think?**