“WHAT!” Payson pulled his hand back so there wasn’t even a risk of them touching. It hurt Riley, but he knew why he was doing it. So he just sat there, watching his friend as he suddenly got to his feet and then sat down again when he realised he didn’t want to go anywhere.
“Payson, please calm down. We really have to talk about this.” He finally admitted that one day they would have to try to touch, just to see what happened.
Payson looked at him again, raking his hand through his hair. He nodded, but didn’t say anything; it seemed he knew as well as he did that it was inevitable.
“The problem with my people is that they only hold someone’s hand if there is an intense physical, mental, spiritual and intellectual attraction with that person. There has to be a connection for it even to get that far.” He explained calmly. Payson turned in his seat again to stare at him, showing his willingness to listen.
“Holding hands seems innocent to humans, but we’re magical, Payson. Both of us are, in some way or another. We might not emit magic like the twins or Felicity, but we’re still magical at our core. When we touch something, whether an object or a person, we transfer some of our magic to and from that something.” Riley found it difficult to get the words out, because he knew that either Payson would understand or else he would freak out and he would never get to see what kind of a future they could have together.
“For banshees it’s a lot more dangerous. We don’t just transfer magic, we transfer emotion too. And if a person is unstable psychologically or emotionally, then we can’t risk going insane from a single touch. That’s why we have to be extra careful when it comes to hands. Hands are…a conductor of sorts. They hold the most magic, because they’re the most common method of touch.”
“But it’s not enough just to touch and be stable. It’s about knowing, and accepting what my fate will be, what their fate will be, if we’re soul mates. A banshee’s life isn’t easy and it’s very dangerous, even to other magical creatures.” Riley caught a look of uncertainty in Payson’s eyes and looked away. He didn’t want to know or see the moment he decided the risk wasn’t worth knowing the truth. He sat back in his seat, banging his head against the soft backing of the sofa.
“Banshees can mate with anyone, male or female, of any magical species. But the stronger our mate the more dangerous our first contact will be. If you’re rejected by my banshee, Payson, every moment of sadness, every fallen tear, every second of terror or loss in your life will transfer straight into my body and join with my own.” He sighed, wondering why it had to be so hard.
Payson cleared his throat and tried to think logically about what Riley was saying. Yes, it was terrifying and yes, he could get hurt. But surely the reward far outweighed the risk? It wasn’t just a fling or a boyfriend that might break up with him in a few weeks that he would be risking everything for. It was a soul mate. Someone who was created just to love him, to care for him, who he was created to love and care for in return. Someone all for him, who could sense and mend the broken pieces inside of him. Wasn’t that worth everything he had?
No. He shook his head; that wasn’t how he had to look at it. Of course Riley was worth anything he had to give. But he wasn’t the one who would pay the price. It was Riley, and the price was his life. Was a relationship they might have be worth Riley’s life?
“That’s how you can die? From magical and emotional overload?” Payson asked, trying to distract himself with the question.
“Yes. Because you’re a vampire, it makes it worse. I will feel those emotions, not just from you, but from every person you have ever fed from. Whether force fed, a single drop from a finger, your mother and father who gave you their DNA. Every person whose blood has ever been in your mouth, from a bottle or blood pack you’ve had, will donate their sadness, terror and loss to your blood.” Riley said, making it even more frightening.
It wasn’t just his own blood that put him at risk, but it was every drop of blood he had ever consumed as well. Over sixteen years that was a heck of a lot of blood, for a young vampire. If he was older he wouldn’t have to feed so much, so often. But because he was still young, still growing into his gifts and his abilities, he needed to feed as and when his cravings demanded.
“It would be the equivalent of being in the same space as a thousand people who die a horrible death right in front of a banshee. That banshee would have no choice but to wail and mourn their loss, to feel every fleeting moment of pain and horror in their lives.” Riley confessed, with a far away look.
Payson shuffled closer on the sofa, until he could lay his head on Riley’s shoulder. He was scared, just hearing everything that a banshee’s life entailed. He didn’t know how he had survived so long without going crazy, just from knowing what his future held.
“And I can’t stop that? I can’t block it from reaching you?” He asked, with a little hope.
“No. The impact of such emotions would make me wail so hard, for so long that I would die with a scream on my lips.” He revealed. Payson was trying to keep to himself, but as soon as he heard the next words from Riley’s lips, he snaked his arms around his waist and held on tight. He wasn’t sure which one of them needed the most comfort. “Just thinking about it frightens me.”
“I’m so sorry. This must be so hard for you…knowing that you’ll have to risk that one day.” He apologised because he didn’t know what else to say or do. This was so far out there that he didn’t know what to think.
“Not one day. Soon. Very soon.” Riley claimed.
He closed his eyes, hoping he wasn’t about to say that Spike or Donovan were contenders for being his soul mate. He would fight against that knowledge as long, as hard as he could, but he knew destiny couldn’t be beaten. He could try, but eventually he would have to face the truth.
“How do you know?”
“Because we’ve only known each other just under forty-five hours and I’m not sure I can survive another day without holding your hand.” Riley whispered the words into his forehead.
Payson couldn’t let them go unchallenged; he sat up and faced his friend. He really badly wanted to kiss him, but since he couldn’t even hold his hand, he didn’t dare. He placed a soft kiss on his forehead, just at his hairline. He needed to think before he reacted.
“I’m going for a kip. Wake me if anything interesting happens.” He asked with a small smile, as he slid back and got comfortable; he lay down on the sofa, stretching his legs over Riley’s lap. Then he plumped a cushion and put it behind his head and closed his eyes.
He needed to think fast about how he was going to react to his statement. He couldn’t push him, but he wasn’t sure he could take the waiting any longer either. Surely it was better if they just got it over with? They were in a safe place and Evander would do everything he could to make sure Riley didn’t die, in the unfortunate event that he proved not to be his soul mate.
The rest of the night passed slowly. Payson thought he was going to scream if it kept going along at a snail’s pace. Lane and Nathan were talking over their literature class homework, where they were supposed to dig into their family backgrounds to see if there were any other magical creatures lurking in their family tree. He didn’t have the brain capacity to do the same. He just kept sitting beside Riley, silently, watching him flick through his history book with unseeing eyes.
They were both too distracted by their previous conversation to do much of anything. The clock chimed nine o’clock and he was stunned to find Riley closing his book, placing it on the coffee table and getting to his feet.
“Night everyone.” He mumbled, just loud enough for them to hear him.
Payson was a little hurt that he didn’t even get a glance, or a goodnight solely directed at him, but he brushed it off and tried not to take it personally.
“What’s up with him, Payson?” Sheldon asked, surprising him yet again. The twins hadn’t taken to Riley very well, so he wasn’t sure how to take his question. “He’s been in an odd mood all day. One minute he’s quiet and withdrawn and the next he’s the life and soul of the party. Did you two have a fight?” He continued to ask questions that he didn’t have answers to. Lachlan gave his brother a dig in the ribs with his elbow, but he just dug right back.
“I’m telling you to shut up.” Lachlan hissed at him.
“No. Look, we’re all adults here…or nearly adults.” He corrected himself quickly, after a look from Felicity that said her big brain was going to contradict him. “My point is that we know Payson and Riley are close. It’s cool. We all connected to different people at different rates. But they’re both our friends and friends don’t leave friends hanging in limbo if they can help.” He insisted, giving the rest of the silent group a meaningful look that said he wasn’t going to drop the issue.
“I thought you didn’t like Riley.” Payson admitted, wondering why he was sticking up for both of them when he had never been particularly friendly with either so far.
“It’s not that I don’t like him…or you.” Sheldon replied knowingly, with a small smile that said he didn’t mind the assumption. “It’s just that I don’t know how to act around you yet. I’ve never met a banshee or a vampire and the rules say that I can’t use nicknames for you, which is a damned shame since I have some great ones. Without nicknames, I can’t do my usual horsing around, which means I don’t know any other way to bond with people.” He shrugged as he made his stark confession.
Payson looked around and saw that he wasn’t the only one shocked to hear him talking that way. Even his own brother stared with an open mouth.
“I don’t want to get too close to Riley, in case he feels connected to me and any paper-cut I get will cause him to wail. I also don’t want to get too close to you, until I’ve figured you out, in case that said paper-cut upsets you or makes you uncomfortable because I bleed.” He continued, sounding wiser than he had all day. He was more honest than he had expected him to be so soon after meeting them all. But it seemed there was a real bond between all eight of them. Of course, that said nothing of Diantha’s distance, but then no-one had seen her for hours.
“You could just be really careful around paper.” Nathan chimed in innocently.
“I’m accident prone. I’m going to do some stupid thing, at some point, in front of one or the two of them and I don’t know how to handle it.” Sheldon explained, giving Nathan an understanding smile, rather than a patronising glare. He was really surprising them all.
“Then don’t.” Payson insisted.
“Don’t figure out how to handle it. Any amount of blood less than a bloody nose isn’t going to bother me. And until you make an emotional connection with Riley, you’re safe from his wails.” He promised. Sheldon looked momentarily surprised and then shrugged it of.
“Then tell me what’s wrong.”
“I can’t.” He drew the line there with a quiet objection. He wasn’t telling anyone of that secret until he had talked to Riley first. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted them to know after that talk. “Not until I talk to Riley some more. It’s something we have to figure out together.”
“Well why don’t I just help you along a little? You’re soul mates. Get it over with already.”
Payson stared at Sheldon right along with everyone else. No-one was even making a pretence of not joining in the conversation. They stared openly as Sheldon folded his arms, reclining in the single armchair by the side of the room.
“I’m not as dumb as I look, Payson. I have eyes. I see and hear more than you think. It’s clear to everyone in this room, everyone you’ve met since arriving here in fact, that you and Riley are soul mates.” He explained, as if they were all the stupid ones, for having missed such an obvious fact. “What do we have to do to make you both realise that?” He asked.
Payson was stunned to see that he really meant it. If he needed anyone’s help to convince Riley they belonged together, Sheldon would be there.
“Nothing. We just have to hold hands.” He explained. Sheldon opened his mouth, so he started to explain some more, before he could get the wrong idea. It just wasn’t that simple. “But if we do that…if I’m rejected by his Banshee, or if I’m not his real soul mate, then Riley could die.” Payson raked his hand through his hair and stared at the wooden coffee table blindly. “That’s why we can’t. It’s too dangerous. We’ll have to find a way somehow, at some point, because it can’t go on like this forever. But right now, we can’t risk it.” He objected lightly.
“So why are you two not talking?” Lachlan asked, seeming to think the conversation was open to the floor. He didn’t bother arguing, since it was nice to know there was someone on his side.
“Because he had to tell me the consequences. Because we’re both scared.” He shrugged, because there were a million reasons that they couldn’t even face each other without feeling awkward. “I feel like my head is going to explode if we don’t sort it out, but I don’t want to push him. It’s his life that’s on the line if we’re wrong. But I see it in him, too. Soul mates or not, there’s something drawing us together and it’s making it hard for either of us to function.”
Payson rubbed his forehead wearily; his headache was returning, along with his hunger. If he wasn’t careful he would go through his supply of blood faster than if he and Diantha were both using it. As it was, he hadn’t seen a single pack go anywhere except into his own hand. Diantha was still feeding from humans. It explained why she was never around any more.
“Dude, you really have to fix this.” Sheldon shuffled forward in his seat, his forearms flat on the arms of the chair as he met his gaze unerringly. “Tell us when and where, we’ll bring Evander and some of the older kids. You can hold his hand and if he even looks remotely close to dying, we’ll jump in and kick start him. Death isn’t always the end of everything. There are zombies, you know.” He smiled with his last few words, even though Payson now knew him to be right. Zombies did exist, or so their teachers told them. Maybe there was hope. A slim hope, but hope all the same.
“You may have a big mouth, Sheldon, but you’re a good friend.” He smiled back.
“Thank you. I’m glad someone noticed.” He sank back into his seat with a satisfied grin, that said he was happy about the backhanded compliment.
“I’ve always known you had a big mouth.” Lachlan claimed, feigning innocence from the side of the room. Sheldon laughed and pretty soon they were all enjoying a laugh at his expense.
An hour after his talk with Sheldon, Payson consumed yet another pack of blood and turned in to bed, to find Riley sleeping peacefully. Their beds were on the left side of the room, right next to each other, with Nathan’s on his right. Riley had the bed by the window, as did Lachlan who was opposite him. Sheldon and Lane took up the two beds left on the right hand side of the room. It felt cosy and more like home than sometimes his own bedroom had back at his parents house. He wondered if all kids felt that way when they arrived at Evander’s, just because it was the first place they were ever accepted for who they were.
He changed for bed into pyjama bottoms and a light t-shirt, because although there was a wind outside, the windows kept it out and there was only the still unfamiliar chill of the big stone building. Once he slipped into his warm bed, he only spent a few minutes watching Riley sleep just a few feet away before sinking into an unusually deep sleep.
Payson wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep, but he woke to darkness and an odd whimpering sound that was gradually getting louder. He reached out, blindly, for the small lamp on his bedside table, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. A click illuminated the room and he slowly dragged himself into a seated position, to look around for the source of the sound. It wasn’t hard to pinpoint.
Everyone was sound asleep except for Riley.
He was tossing and turning in his bed, the covers already half hanging off the side, onto the floor. His t-shirt was rumfled halfway up his chest, which meant he had to avert his gaze before he got any funny ideas about the smooth skin and toned abs he unintentionally sneaked a peek at.
Payson was more concerned with the gradually increasing noise escaping Riley’s lips. He threw his covers back and gave his hair a shake, trying to make it less of a mess, as he got out of bed with a yawn and headed over to Riley’s bed.
He gave his friend a gentle shake and lifted the falling duvet back over his body. It didn’t do any good. It was kicked out of the way and he was almost punched in the gut by a flailing arm. That was about when Payson really began to panic.
“Dude, what is going on?” Sheldon grumbled from the side of the room.
“It’s Riley.” He answered, rather stupidly from sleepiness.
“Yeah, I got that. What’s up?” He asked, as a black shape moved in his area of the room. Payson guessed he sat up.
“He’s having some sort of nightmare.” He explained. Then, before Riley could hit out again, before he could even think of a plan, Riley stilled in his bed, his mouth opened and a high pitched single note escaped him. It would have been ear-piercing had it been a few notches louder, but Payson just clamped one hand over Riley’s mouth and gave him a good shake with the other “Riley, it’s Payson. Wake up.” He insisted.
“That’s not a dream.” Sheldon shouted from the side of the room.
Payson was going to yell at him for shouting when people were sleeping, but as he looked back at him to do so, he found everyone awake, holding their hands to his ears.
“He’s wailing.” He warned him.
For a moment Payson smiled to himself in realisation. Surely that meant he had to be his soul mate. Only soul mates were immune to his wail. Then his smile faded when he realised that wasn’t technically true; Riley could choose who was safe, one he learned control. Maybe his subconscious had kept him safe just because they were friends?
Then something hit his arm and he turned to see a pillow at his feet and Sheldon glaring at him.
“Oi, moron! Do something!” He shouted at him.
Payson realised that although he couldn’t hear the real volume of Riley’s wail, the others could and it wouldn’t be long before the whole school was woken up.
Payson looked down at his banshee friend, not knowing what to do. So he did something kind of stupid that would get him in trouble later. He closed his eyes and focused his mind, as Mister Braxton had guided him to. It took him a moment to penetrate Riley’s mind and then he used his vampire powers of manipulation to convince Riley that he was only dreaming and he could leave the dream whenever he wanted.
Three seconds later, Payson opened his eyes and said a silent prayer to his Gods. It must have worked because Riley slowly woke from his sleep and blinked at him.
“It’s okay, I’m here.” He soothed, reaching out to gently brush back the sweat soaked hair from his forehead. Riley grabbed his wrist and suddenly looked terrified.
“I had a vision.” He said, which made him frown. Such words could only mean that his mind manipulation hadn’t worked. He swore under his breath and tried to only show Riley the encouragement he needed to keep talking. Instead, he pushed his hands into the mattress and hauled himself up so he was sitting facing their friends. He didn’t even look surprised to see them awake.
“Lane, you have to call your father.”