I took a breath, and it tasted of metal. “It hurts.”
“I know.” Misreading what I said, his gaze latched on to mine. “I’m going to fix it. I’ll make the pain go away. I’ll make it all go away. You won’t carry one more scar.”
Confusion rippled through me. I didn’t know how he could do any of that. There were too many wounds. I’d lost too much blood. I could feel it in the coldness creeping up my legs.
I was dying.
“No, you’re not,” he argued, and I realized I’d said the last part out loud. “You cannot die. I will not allow it.”
He then lifted his arm to his mouth, and I saw those sharp teeth I’d felt before, watched in disbelief as he bit into his wrist, tearing open his skin. I cried out, trying to lift my hand to cover the wound. He’d kidnapped me. He’d killed to get to me, had betrayed me, and he was the enemy. Because of that, I’d been made helpless once more. I was dying, I shouldn’t care that he was bleeding.
But I did.
Because I was an imbecile.
“I’m going to die an imbecile,” I murmured.
His brows knitted. “You’re not going to die,” he repeated, the lines of his mouth tense. “And I’m fine. I just need you to drink.”
Drink? My gaze dropped to his wrist. He couldn’t mean…
“Casteel, do you—” Kieran’s voice interrupted.
“I know exactly what I’m doing, and I don’t want your opinion or your advice.” Deep red blood trailed down his arm. “And I don’t require either.”
Kieran didn’t respond to that as I stared, caught in fascinated horror. Hawke lowered his torn wrist toward me—toward my mouth.
“No.” I pulled away, not making it very far with his arm around my back like a band of steel. “No.”
“You have to. You’ll die if you don’t.”
“I’d rather…die than turn into a monster,” I vowed.
“A monster?” He chuckled, but it was a rough sound. “Poppy, I already told you the truth about the Craven. This will only make you better.”
I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t. Because if I did, that meant…that meant that everything he’d said was true, and the Ascended were evil. Ian would be—
“You will do this,” he repeated. “You will drink. You will live. Make that choice, Princess. Do not force me to make it for you.”
I turned away, inhaling sharply. I caught a strange scent. The smell…it smelled nothing like blood, nothing like the Craven. It reminded me of citrus in the snow, fresh and tart. How…how could blood smell like that?
“Penellaphe,” Hawke spoke, and there was something different about his voice. Smoother and deeper as if it carried an echo. “Look at me.”
Almost as if I had no control over my body, I lifted my gaze to his. His eyes…the honey hue churned, swirling with brighter, golden flecks. My lips parted. I couldn’t look away. What…what was he doing?
“Drink,” he whispered or yelled, I wasn’t sure, but his voice was everywhere, all around me and inside. And his eyes…I still couldn’t look away from them. His pupils seemed to expand. “Drink from me.”
A drop of blood fell from his arm to my lips. It seeped between them, tart and yet sweet against my tongue. My mouth tingled. He pressed his wrist more fully against my lips, and his blood ran into my mouth, coursing down my throat, thick and warm. In a distant part of my brain, I thought that I should not allow this. That it was wrong. I would become a monster, but the taste…it was like nothing I’d ever tasted before, a complete awakening. I swallowed, drawing in more.
“That’s it.” Hawke’s voice was deeper, richer. “Drink.”
And so, I did.
I drank while his gaze remained fixed on me, seeming to miss nothing. I drank, and my skin began to hum. I drank, clasping his bloodied arm and holding him to me before even realizing what I was doing. The taste of his blood…it was pure sin, decadent and lush. With each swallow, the aches and pains lessened, and the rhythm of my heart slowed, becoming even. I drank until my eyes drifted shut. Until I became surrounded by a kaleidoscope of vivid, bright blues, the color reminding me of the Stroud Sea. This blue carried startling clarity as if it were a body of water untouched by man.
But this was no ocean. There was cool, hard rock under my feet, and shadows pressing against my skin. Soft laughter drew my gaze from the pool of water to the dark-haired—
“Enough,” Hawke bit out. “That’s enough.”
It couldn’t be enough. Not yet. Latched to his wrist, I drank greedily. I fed as if I were starving, and that was how I felt. That this sustenance was what I’d been missing my entire life.
“Poppy,” he groaned, breaking my hold and pulling his ravaged wrist away.
I started to follow because I wanted more, but my muscles were liquid, and my bones soft. I sank into his embrace and felt like I was floating, a little lost in the way my skin continued to buzz, and heat poured into my chest. I had no idea how much time had passed. Could’ve been minutes, or it could’ve been hours before Hawke called out to me.
My eyes fluttered open to find him staring down at me. His features were a little out of focus, fuzzy around the edges. He was leaning back against a wall, head tipped against it, and he looked utterly relaxed in that moment, as if he were the one to have tasted the magic and not I.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. Was my body burning as if it were on fire? Did it sting and pulse? No. “I’m not cold. My chest…it’s not cold.”
“It shouldn’t be.”
He didn’t understand. “I feel…different.”
A small smile appeared. “Good.”
“I feel like my body…isn’t attached.”
“That will go away after a few minutes. Just relax and enjoy it.”
“I don’t hurt anymore.” I tried to steady my thoughts, but they were swirling. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s my blood.” He lifted his hand, brushing strands of hair off my cheek. His touch sent a shiver of awareness through me, and I liked the feeling. I liked the way he made me feel. I always had, but I wasn’t supposed to now. “The blood of an Atlantian has healing properties. I told you that.”
“That…that is unbelievable,” I whispered.
“Is it?” Reaching over, he picked up my arm. “Were you not wounded here?”
My gaze followed his to my inner forearm. Dried blood and dirt smudged the surface, but where claws had ripped the tissue open, the skin was now smooth under the grime.
“And here?” he asked, moving his hand so that his thumb swirled around my upper arm, right below my shoulder. “Were you not clawed here?”
My gaze snagged on the pale scar of the old Craven attack, just inside my elbow. I forced my gaze to where his thumb continued to glide in small circles. There were no fresh marks. No gaping wounds. I stared in wonder. “There’s…there’s no new scars.”
“There will be no new scars,” he said. “That is what I promised.”
He had. “Your blood…it’s amazing.”
And it was. My mind sluggishly delved into all that could be accomplished with it. The wounds that could be healed, and the lives that could be saved. Most people would be against drinking blood, but—
My gaze snapped back to his. “You made me drink your blood.”
“It’s one of those things that occur during maturity. Not all of us can…compel others.”
“Have you done it before? On me?”
“You probably wish you could blame your prior actions on that, but I haven’t, Poppy. I never needed nor wanted to.”
“But you did it now.”
“You don’t even sound remotely ashamed.”
“I’m not,” he replied, and a hint of a teasing grin appeared. “I told you that I would not allow you to die, and you would’ve died, Princess. You were dying. I saved your life. Some would suggest a thank you as the appropriate response.”
“I didn’t ask you to do it.”
“But you’re grateful, aren’t you?”
I snapped my mouth shut because I was.
“Only you would argue with me about this.”
I hadn’t wanted to die, but I also didn’t want to become a Craven. “I won’t turn—”
“No,” he sighed, placing my arm back so it rested across my stomach. “I told you the truth, Poppy. The Atlantians did not make the Craven. The Ascended did.”
My heart skipped a beat as my gaze shifted to the exposed wooden beams of the ceiling. We weren’t in the cell. I turned my head, seeing a rustic bed with thick covers, and a small table beside it. “We’re in a bedchamber.”
“We needed privacy.”
I remembered hearing Kieran’s voice, but the room was now empty. “Kieran didn’t want you to save me.”
“Because it’s forbidden.”
It took me a few moments to remember what he’d told me before, and my stomach dropped. “Will I turn into a vampry?”
“What about that is funny?”
“Nothing.” The other side of his lips now tipped up. “I know you still don’t want to believe the truth, but deep down, you do. That’s why you asked that question.”
He had a point, but I didn’t have the intellectual or emotional capacity to go there. Not right now.
“To turn, you would require far more blood than that.” He returned to resting his head against the wall. “It would also require me to be more of an active participant.”
Muscles low in my body clenched, proving that they were not, in fact, soft. “How…how would you be more of an active participant?”