Astarion passed along the far edge of the camp. A groan escaped his chest as he slumped down against the base of a tree. His whole body ached right to the bone. He squeezed his eyes shut, willing the throbbing pain behind his eyes to disappear. He knew he needed to feed as soon as possible. He had waited far too long to make up for his little indiscretion with the boar earlier. The whispers of vampire among his traveling companions had, at last, died down. Unfortunately for him, his caution had left him weak and vulnerable. He clutched his head in his hands and took in a deep breath. His body tensed in an instant. The soft forest breeze carried the irresistible scent of prey. His mouth watered and the familiar, white-hot sting of thirst clawed at his throat.
He could see them all tucked into their bedrolls, spread across the little clearing. Sleeping. Helpless. His gut twisted with guilt at the thought but he was desperate and so very tired. Hunting would require far more energy than he had left and the food that slept peacefully around him was far more likely to quench the caustic burn he felt inside.
He would have to be mindful in the selection of his quarry. Lae’zel was the first to be struck from the list. She had a bitter, bordering on metallic scent that he found less than appetizing. And more importantly, he was certain she would slay him without a second thought should things go awry. Shadowhart was out next. Though her bouquet was much more appealing, she had a suspicious nature and seemed likely to be a light sleeper. Wyll had always seemed an alluring prospect - Strong, fast, and righteous. Despite the appeal, he would also be a dangerous choice, being a monster hunter by trade. Gale would due, he supposed, but as the wizard tossed in his sleep the delicate shimmer of a magical barrier caught his eye. That left him with one, final option.
Dafni slept in a heap of pelts beneath the cover of an old oak tree a few paces away from the others. Wildflowers bloomed in the soil around her as if the earth was reacting to her very presence. His gluttonous gaze lingered on the pretty cleric. He watched her chest rise and fall slow and even. He’d never known her to indulge in sleep, preferring to take her rest by way of trance. She must have been truly exhausted. With a silent step forward, Astarion took in another deep breath. She was floral, like lilac and primrose with just a touch of citrus. His pupils dilated as every fiber of his being shouted at him - Desperate for just a taste. It was a risk to be sure, feeding on a woman of divine persuasion, but of the options available to him she seemed the most delectable and least deadly.
How cliche, He thought, a creature of the night- Driven by sanguine desire to drink from the lovely maiden asleep in her bed of flowers. He dipped to his knees and with a delicate hand brushed her hair from her neck. He steeled himself, preparing to strike. Leaning in close just as her eyes shot open.
It was the cool tickle of breath on the back of her neck and the feeling of a light hand on her waist that pulled her away from her dreams. When she first saw him standing over her, ruby-red eyes wide, white hair tousled and untamed, she had assumed something must have happened during his watch. However, the guilt and shame that twisted across his handsome face quickly did away with such assumptions.
“What are you doing!” She hissed.
“No, no- It’s not what it looks like I swear!” His words were rushed as if they could not leave his mouth fast enough.
Dafi sat up in her bedroll, her eyes fixed on Astarion’s pleading expression, his hands outstretched in surrender. He reminded her of a wild animal backed into a corner facing down what was to be their demise. His bravado was all but gone and in the place of the cocky rouge she had come to know was a frightened young man. His eyes fixed themselves on the holy symbol that hung from a silver chain around her neck. At that moment the pieces fell together: the boar, his unique appearance, his eagerness to keep watch at night. There, in the dim glow of the fire, she saw him for what he was...
“Were you trying to kill me?”
“No! I wasn’t going to hurt you!” He promised, “I just needed - well…”
“You needed blood.” Dafni tried to keep her tone firm and fearless but her words shook none the less.
“It’s not what you think!” He pleaded, “I’m not some monster. I feed on animals! Boars, deer, kobolds - whatever I can get. I’m just too slow right now. Too weak. If I just had a little blood, I could think clearer. Fight better. Please.”
The last word was dripping in melancholy. His head hung low and his shoulders sagged. He had proven himself to be proud, even bordering on snobbish - never asking for help and turning his nose up when it was offered. His suffering must be great if he had been willing to admit his weakness and need.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” She whispered. Against her better judgment, she reached out to him, placing a hand on his pale cheek.
“At best, I was sure you’d say no. More likely you’d ram a stake through my ribs. I thought I could keep it to myself but tonight I felt so awful…” Astarion slumped into his hands unable to meet her eyes, “And… I wanted you to trust me. No. I needed you to trust me. And you can trust me.”
His logic was far more rational than her own. She was a cleric, sworn to the preservation of life. She should have set him alight with divine magic the moment she realized what he was. But, when she looked at Astarion it wasn’t a monster that looked back at her. She saw her friend. The man who called her Daffodil with testing endearment. Who always watched her back in a fight. Who’d come ever so close to kissing her not that long ago. Vampire, he might be but Astarion was no monster. Her heart ached to think of the fate he had been doomed to. He was an elf, never to return to Avandor. Was it not her very reason for existing to care for all of Corellon’s children? Why should Astarion, whom she had come to care for, be any different than the rest of their kin?
“I do.” She smiled, her thumb stroking his cheek, “I Trust you, Astarion. If you say it wasn’t your intention to harm me then that is the truth.”
How long has it been since he had felt a hand so gentle with such kind intention? She held his face so tenderly he thought he might melt. He had spurned her kindness on countless occasions. Thinking it had been a sign of weakness. Now, on the receiving end of her light and he felt a fool for having ever encouraged her to tamp down on her compassion. He leaned into her hand, savoring the warmth of her touch.
“Thank you.” He purred against her ear, “Do you think you could trust me just a little further? I only need a taste. I swear.”
He could hear the steady thump of her heart pick up. The sight of blood pumping through her veins was near irresistible. Her cheeks went flush and the intoxicating smell of her blood threatened to send him into a frenzy. It was no small effort to keep his vampiric instincts in check. He couldn’t remember wanting the blood of any creature half as badly as he found himself wanting her. But, no matter how badly he craved her he refused to betray the trust she’d given him- To prove himself the beast he swore not to be.
“Fine” She spoke in a little voice, “But not a drop more than you need.”
“Of course.” He promised, “Not one drop more.” Delicately, he guided her back so her head came to rest in his lap. He brought one hand to rest on the swell of her full hip and while the other cradled the base of her skull. His fingertips traced the hollow of her neck with almost loving reverence. “I will try to be as gentle as I can manage. It might hurt a bit- a sharp, cold feeling but the pain should fade fairly quickly if memory serves.”
She nodded her understanding, glancing up doe-eyed through her thick lashes. With that, he leaned in pressing a kiss over her pulse before sinking his teeth into the tender flesh. If her scent had been captivating her taste could only be described as transcendent, sweet, and perfect. Yet it was more than the flavor that had him completely delirious. It was the irresistible happiness that began to bloom in his chest as his heart fell in rhythm with her’s. She was a lush and colorful field, the feeling of the sun on his cheeks for the first time in 200 years - Spring incarnate and he was ravenous for more.
First, thou shalt not drink of the blood of thinking creatures.
Cazador’s words rang loudly in his ears as the red ambrosian liquid gushed into his mouth. All those years luring food for his old master and he’d been forbidden anything but putrid rats. He’d assumed it was meant to demoralize his spawn. To remind them where they stood in the pecking order. Now he saw the truth of it. With every swallow, he felt better than he could ever recall feeling.
His grasp grew tighter on her hip drawing her into himself no longer satisfied with gentleness and charm. What had happened to the restraint he’d shown just the other day when he’d stopped himself from kissing her at the river? Hunger began to blend with desire. He wanted her, in both blood and body. A shaky gasp slipped from her lovely lips. She twisted in his lap, lancing her hand through his hair, tugging him closer. An invitation to drink deeper and indulge the amorous feelings her resplendent curves and needy sounds were insisting.
“Astarion, I’m starting to feel faint.” Her voice was shaky but it was enough.
“Of course.” He gasped. He removed himself with haste, realizing his hold on her body. Relief washed over her and Dafni allowed herself to crumple against him. Above her, Astarion was still struggling to catch his breath. “I was just swept up in the moment. But it worked. I feel good. Strong. Happy!”
He nuzzled at her neck, his nose running along the soft edge of her jaw. A small squeak passed her lips at the feeling of his tongue running over the aching wound. Prompting a satisfied purr from Astarion. He was warmer to the touch now and a faint rosy hue colored his cheeks. His arm once again wrapped across her middle, pulling her into him as if he’d done it hundreds of times before. Astarion was hardly the picture tender regard but his arms were strong and his slow heartbeat thrummed in time with her own.
“I’m glad” She yawned, “You deserve to feel good.”
He stroked absentmindedly through her hair as she began to nod off. Her sweet words overwhelmed him. Gods he wanted to kiss every inch of the strange, wonderful woman curled up in his lap, to taste him in other ways. He hadn’t expected the act of feeding to be so… intimate. He couldn’t be sure if it was always this way or if the elation he felt was a side effect of her being an eladrin. Either way, the temptation to hold her all night was undeniably present. A disheartening pang of thirst still lingered in his throat however and she was far too weak for him to take anymore. His other desires would simply have to wait.
“I hate to disturb you, darling, but you’ll have to excuse me.”
“You are not excused.” Dafni huffed, snuggling closer in protest.
He tried to suppress the laugh but it was no use. She stuck out her lower lip in his favorite pout as he untangled himself from her. She reached up for him, wrapping her hand tightly around his wrist as he turned to leave.
“Come now.” He teased, “You’re invigorating, but I need something more filling.” He bent down placing a kiss on her forehead, “This is a gift you know. I won’t forget. Now, sleep, Daffodil. I’ll be back in the morning.”