After I’d given Ingrid enough blood for that feeding session, we went back to my room to relax for the evening. The sun was slowly setting, coloring the sky with yellows and purples. Justin seemed to be enjoying being back in Tierney Ríocht, although Blackthorne wasn’t nearly as thrilled. Still, he seemed to be warming up to the idea the more he saw Justin being happy.
Stefan and I sat with Blackthorne as he told Killian everything that had happened to Justin and he’d moved away. Not only had Justin been depressed about moving and bullied in school, but he’d spent time in the hospital after weeks of stress and hardly eating. Then the bullies had attacked him again– in the city rather than the school– and it had been so much worse than the first time. Lord Thorne had been the one to save him, and had brought him to Tierney Ríocht to find a way to heal him.
Blackthorne hadn’t intended to tell Justin his secrets that early, but once he knew, he embraced all of it. After that, Justin was hardly ever apart from Blackthorne. They moved to Sacramento together, and Justin finished his high school education online while Blackthorne went to college. Justin worked part-time and took care of their house while Blackthorne worked high-paying job in engineering. They were perfect for each other, and clearly very much in love.
Killian was happy for them, and both he and Justin shared their remorse for not having ended their relationship cleanly when the move had happened. Killian also accepted Blackthorne’s criticism for not being more insistent on giving Justin more ways to contact him, especially since he’d hardly survived that period of his life. I was just thankful that after they’d said what they needed to say, the two of them were able to be friendly with one another.
Larsa and Justin, on the other hand, were fast friends. They were already sitting together in another corner of the room, talking about anything and everything, and randomly giggling at whatever one of them just said. Blackthorne trying putting a stop to that when Justin took his shirt off, but he assured him that all he wanted to do was show off his tattoos.
“Can I see yours, too, Blackthorne?” Justin had already summarily given Larsa permission to call him that instead of Emory, even though they’d just met. “Oh, and Stefan can show off his!”
Blackthorne smirked and replied, “If you show me your tattoos, then I will consider it.”
“Oh!” Larsa’s voice went high and his cheeks turned red.
Blackthorne’s eyebrows rose. “Do you not have any?”
“Umm…” He turned even redder.
“You don’t have to be embarrassed about not having tattoos, Larsa,” I told him. “Killian and I don’t have any.”
Then I noticed Killian trying to hide a laugh.
“What?” I gasped. “Killian, did you–“
“What, did Killian get a tattoo?” Justin ran over to us excitedly.
“Oh, I ne’er could, lad,” he said, then pointed at Larsa. “But he cannae show you his.”
Justin’s smile faded a little. “Why not?”
Even Stefan was laughing now.
Blackthorne looked around at everyone. “Ah, I get. It’s because of where it is, isn’t it?”
Larsa’s cheeks were even redder, and he looked away.
“No way…” Justin breathed. “Is it on his–“
“Little Moon,” Blackthorne said, using his pet name for Justin, “I think it’s a bit soon to get so personal with him.”
“It’s on his inner thigh,” Stefan told us. “It’s just a little reindeer in the style of his culture. He can tell you the story of it if he wants to, but most people don’t even know he has it. He usually just jokes around if someone asks if he has any tattoos, so he doesn’t have to lie or tell them about it.”
Justin accepted that answer and went back to showing Larsa what he had. On his chest a sort of coat-of-arms, which he said was similar to one that Blackthorne had. It wasn’t finished yet, but now that they were married, he’d soon be getting the last few details and adding color. He had a few bats on his upper arms, and a castle with a full moon behind it on his lower back. He also talked about wanting to get a serpentine dragon winding down his leg, with its head near his foot and its tail reaching up to his belly, but that was a long way off.
The six of us had dinner in my room that evening. Evander stopped by briefly to ensure that I was well, and reported that he and the other musicians were content having dinner in Jean-Marc’s room. They’d been giving me space to make my own decisions; for them, it was enough that I was safe and being well-treated by Lord Thorne.
It was interesting to see the dynamic between Blachthorne and Justin, who was know for being picky and eating like a bird. Blackthorne was good at keeping him eating, though; he had to be, considering how well he’d filled out in the years since he’d had to move away. Larsa seemed to catch on to Justin eating less– he was sitting right next to him, with Killian at his other side– and made up challenges to see who could eat the most of whatever food he chose. Justin’s eyes lit up when he saw the bowl of blueberries, and he won that contest bye a mile.
“That’s okay, I like lingonberries better,” Larsa chuckled as Justin cleaned up the blueberry juice from around his face.
“Isn’t that what he got at Ikea?” Justin asked Blackthorne. The way he looked up at him was so filled with affection that I couldn’t help but admire what they had together.
“Oh, the stuff at Ikea is okaaay,” Larsa jumped in, leaving Blackthorne only the chance to nod. “If you can it fresh, though, it’s way better! Sometimes I help my mother gather it in the forest.”
“You go foraging?” Blackthorne asked.
Larsa nodded. “Of course! My mother and father send me out to gather lichen, berries, wood… whatever they like.”
“Isn’t it snowy that far north?” Justin asked as he checked the bowl for more blueberries and frowned when he found none.
“Super snowy. But I have plenty of warm clothes, and sometimes I get to take one of the reindeer with me to help.”
“That’s awesome!” Justin replied. “Killian, are you going to go there some day? He could show you all the best places, couldn’t he?”
Larsa gave Killian a starry-eyed look. “Please come pick berries with me? I’ll give you my warmest gloves!”
“Is that an open invitation to Sámpi, lad?”
Larsa chuckled. “You’ve always had an open invitation to Sápmi, silly. Now I just have to convince you to come.”
Justin started snickering. Larsa looked over to see him red-faced.
“…oh. Oh– I get it!” Then he was cracking up, too. “I get him to do that all the time.”
Killian’s cheeks flushed, and he looked away. “Why did I let ye two sit together?”
“Because unlike other boyfriends, I’m not jealous of your ex-boyfriend being here,” Larsa told him. “Besides, he has a gorgeous husband now, so I have no competition when it comes to your heart.”
“You guys are so cute together,” Justin said. “It’s so cool that Stefan’s cousin hooked up with Leila’s cousin. It’s one big happy family!”
I gave him a warm smile, then looked to Blackthorne, curious as to what he thought of everything. But it was hard to tell, because he had one of those Mona-Lisa smiles that had always kept me guessing back in high school. He was somewhat stoic, but more positive than cold. At the very least, he wasn’t upset.
After everyone had had their fill and Justin and Larsa went back to joking together, Blackthorne eventually decided that he wanted some private time with his new husband. If they couldn’t have their honeymoon alone in their private cabin, they’d be having it at Thorne Castle. Nobody could argue with that– nor would they want to. Blackthourne had his own suite on one of the castle’s higher levels, and he lifted Justin up into his muscular arms to carry him up there.
“I’ll invite you up for breakfast, if you want,” he said as he headed towards the hallway.
“The sounds great,” I agreed. He was about to pass through the door when I called after him. “Wait, Blackthorne, when– what day was it on Earth when you got here?”
He gave me a smirk and told me, “It was Saturday… a little after midnight.”
“Matthias interrupted us!” Justin whined. He ignored the admonishing look Blackthorne gave him. “He has the worst timing.”
“Okay,” I said with a little giggle. “Thank for telling me. I won’t keep you any longer.”
Larsa dragged Killian away soon after that. Claire came by with a couple servants to clear away the dinner plates and help me out of my gown and see if I needed anything else. I want down to the soft white chemise when I happened a glance at the balcony and realized that Stefan was out there, leaning on the railing. I had Claire leave with the other servants, then headed out there to join him.
“It’s a pretty view, isn’t it?” I couldn’t decide on any other way to start the conversation, so small talk it was.
He glanced my way and nodded. There was a gentle breeze flowing through the night air, and I wanted to reached up and brush the hair out of his face.
“Stefan…” I said, still trying to get him talking. “You… you like the ocean, right?”
“I do,” he replied, looking back out at the view. It was too dark to see much, be we could hear the waves crashing on the shore below, and the air was with with the smell of kelp and salt.
I moved a little closer to him. I could feel his warmth, which was comforting in the way it was so constant, but his scent was slightly different. I didn’t mind that he hadn’t been able to bring along his cologne, though (or that he’d declined borrowing anyone else’s). His natural smell was kind of nice, and I’d gotten used to it over the years.
“It’s kind of cold out here, Leila,” he said as he wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “Did they give you a robe or anything?”
“I’m okay,” I insisted. Actually, I much preferred his body heat; I just couldn’t tell him that. “Hey Stefan…?”
“Hhhmmmm?” He was still staring out at the ocean. The moonlight reflected off the crests of the waves, and I wondered what swan beneath the surface.
“Let’s try going to the beach in tomorrow, okay?”
He nodded. “Yeah… I think that’d be a great way to spend your birthday. But do you think they’ll let you go out? They seem pretty intent on you feeding that vampire. And can I really not do it for you?”
“Stefan…” I whispered.
“What? I have the blood of a warrior!”
“Yeah, but…” I laughed softly. “How did you know…”
“I heard what Blackthorne said,” Stefan told me. “It’s Saturday, and judging by the way time has been passing here, it will still be Saturday on Earth when we get up in the morning.”
“That sounds so weird.”
He shrugged and turned to face me. “Maybe,” he said, his voice going softer, lower. He gazed into my eyes and brushed back a stray lock of hair. “But if anyone deserves extra birthday time, it’s you.”
I gave him a bashful smile. “Thanks, Stefan.”
“I just wish I could give you your present,” he sighed. “We don’t even know if the door connecting Jean-Marc’s house to yours would have opened by now, because we’re stuck way out here.”
“It can wait. It’s enough to know that you care.”
“Leila…” he began. He wrapped his other arm around me and held me against his chest. The way his heart race, it seemed that he wanted to say something important.
“Let’s get some sleep, okay? That way we’ll have more energy for going down to the beach.” His arms loosened a little, and he smiled down at me.
“O-okay…” I breathed. Then the very talk of sleep made me yawn.
We went back into my room. Stefan closed and locked the balcony doors, pulled the curtains, and checked all of the windows. He made sure I had everything I needed for the night, and then gave me one more hug.
“Good night, Leila,” he breathed as he held me tightly. “Sweet dreams.”
I almost asked him to stay. He could keep me warmer than any fancy medieval blanket. His arms, his scent… everything about him soothed me. But how could I ask him to stay when he was just a friend? My very best friend, who’d fought werewolves and vampires to defend me, and who had raced to a vampire lord’s castle to make sure I was safe. I couldn’t make our friendship awkward by asking him for more than that.