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Candles surround us, perched upon every flat surface, pouring warm light onto the cream-colored walls and turning them honey-amber. Wax drips slowly, colored black or white or red — shadows, moonlight, and roses — but all hold the same, soft flame. The crystalline chandelier, however, is unlit so the great room remains half-dim. The high ceiling is shrouded in darkness. Outside, the moonless night is black against the windows; we did not draw the curtains and so there is the constant sense of things peering in, watching us. But it doesn’t matter whether this is true — it would be us who turn out the deadlier predators, anyway.
He sits in an armchair before the cold fireplace, wine glass in hand. The candles turn his gray shirt to shadow, his pale skin to snowy white. His eyes are languid and half-lidded but they follow me around the room as I dance. I laugh softly and spin, stepping to a nonexistent tune, enjoying his wordless gaze on me. The dark piano in the centre of the room stays equally silent. Its black surface glows under the light of the white and red candles clustered on top. Only the sound of my footsteps breaks the quiet, echoing.
“What a beautiful night it is,” I say. I twirl and my skirt flares around my bare feet; the musty fabric is cold against my just-as-icy skin. Cold like it still lies in an attic chest, like it holds a corpse or perhaps nothing at all.
He swirls the contents of his glass, looking down at the scarlet liquid. I can smell it as strongly as if he held it before my face. It’s a mixture of blood and aged wine, and the fragrance is tantalizing. “You always say that,” is his quiet reply. But I just laugh at his usual somberness.
“But it is especially true tonight,” I exclaim, lifting my skirts to sweep across the room gracefully. His eyes are on me again, I can feel it. “It’s a sweet sort of darkness now, is it not?”
There is no answer at first, but I only wait patiently. The man at the fireplace was never one to rush with his words. He watches my dancing feet for a minute before saying, with utter solemnity, “Darkness does not have a taste.”
My laughter rings out through the air, clear and abrupt as shattering glass. I laugh long and loud enough that my lips part to reveal my fangs, even the ones extending down into the back of my throat. I leap away, my hair brushing around my jawline, which is dainty compared to his strong, square one. My dress flutters and I am a black swan in mid-flight, a billowing swathe of dark night. The candles flicker.
“Ah, Nicholas, Nicholas!” I sing, humorously. “My dear boy!”
He just sighs, the lightest little exhale. “Take care that you do not catch flame,” he says, glancing at the many candles surrounding me. I can’t help a delighted giggle at his concern.
“Oh, I shan’t. It is the flames that must take care they are not trapped in my enchantment.” I pretend to curtsy to a cluster of candles and then twirl closer towards him. The shadows on the wall waver and shift, dancing along with me. The glass comes up to his lips but he never looks away.
“I fear it is not these flames that have been enchanted, Amelia,” he murmurs. “You smell of daylight as much as you do of blood.”
I spin and find myself in front of him; my white arms loop around his neck like a noose. I laugh. “That almost feels like a curse, dear Nicholas. Likening me to the burning sun of day, of all things.”
His hair is light and silvery-blonde where mine is dark, and it smells sweet as pressed flowers. Sweet as a hunt in the darkness, infinite black and splattering crimson. Sweet as an embrace in a bedroom, where we sleep away the hushed days.
He looks at me steadily. His eyes are lovely, blended green and brown like a forest floor; they were one of the reasons I made him mine. But now the candlelight washes them into gentle amber and honey, draining his eyes of their green. “You know what I mean.”
My only response is to laugh softly, stroking his cheek. Against my fingertips, his skin is warm where they would be glacially cold to anyone else. Ah, but were my heart still beating, this is the moment it would skip a beat.
“But of course I do.”
The candlelight flickers and our shadows overlap, entwining. Knowing as always what I want, my dear clever boy, he closes his eyes, patient. I lean in and tear into his throat.