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How Long Is Forever?

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Time was a funny thing.

For Nico, time was a tool to count the days and mark the seasons, a force that was out of sight and out of mind. She was never prepared for her clock to stop forever.

For Maki, time was a prison. Every year passed was another year added to her sentence. She’d stopped counting the days of her life and started forgetting the years long ago. She never would have guessed her clock would start again.

----------

Nico felt as if she were wading through the chaotic haze of her own mind. Stray thoughts cried out from the corners of her consciousness, as if they had been trapped in the mire and were desperate to be heard - to be reconnected.

She struggled to separate each one from the cacophony of screams. She struggled to remember anything about herself - who she was, where she was, or what had happened to her.

The voices grew louder and louder, until their screams became deafening. Nico covered her ears, futilely trying to block them out as she wracked her mind for some clue, some answer. The strain caused her head to throb, dizziness overcoming her as she collapsed to her knees. Just when she thought she couldn’t take it anymore, her eyes snapped open.

Pain assaulted her senses, her entire body aching like she’d fallen from a tree and hit every branch on the way down. She tried to move her arms or crane her neck to look around but it was no use. Pain seared through her at even the slightest attempt to move - it was torture just to blink.

Darkness consumed her vision. Why couldn’t she see anything? Was she blind?

Nico closed her eyes, trying to calm her breathing. If this was the afterlife, it certainly wasn’t heaven - she’d never heard of God’s domain being a place that could contain such darkness. Maybe she was in hell? It certainly felt like it, surrounded by darkness while wracked with a pain that left her unable to dance or sing.

She focused on her breathing - in and out, in and out. It was the only thing that gave her some semblance of calm, the only thing that let her know she was still alive.

Each breath was a second, spinning a dial around an unseen clock, ticking towards an unseen fate.

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

Panic crept into Nico’s mind. Would she be stuck here forever? Was her fate to remain blind and paralyzed with pain for all eternity? What had she even done to deserve this?

Every new question amplified her anxiety. She fought to move just so she could feel the pain, feel something.

Then she heard music.

At first it was a single note from a piano, then another and another. Each came faster and faster until they’d strung themselves into a song. It wasn’t anything Nico had ever heard before, but she could tell whoever was playing possessed a mastery unlike any she’d ever heard before. The hands that worked those keys must have had eons of practice. Nico was mesmerized.

She had to find the source of the playing. If not just to witness such skill, but to also find out what had happened to her.

Nico strained herself to move, but it felt as if the signals her brain sent to move were being ignored by her limbs. She pushed even harder, struggling against the agony that stabbed at her senses until she felt her leg twitch. She allowed herself a moment of triumph - her body would move, because she willed it to.

Every inch moved was like another death, but Nico fought against it, until she felt her hand hover over air. She’d reached the edge of whatever she was laying on - maybe a bed? She slid her leg off and her foot hit the floor, sinking into the soft material. She had no idea if she was even capable of standing, but it didn’t matter to her beleaguered mind - she had to reach the source of the music.

Her second leg followed the first and she prepared herself to stand up. Her hands gripped the bed like a vice and she put all her strength into her legs, forcing herself to stand up. Slowly, shakily, her body rose and she stood on her own two feet. Relief flooded her system, until she tried to take a step and fell flat on her face.

If moving hurt, then falling felt like being dipped in lava. Nico felt like all of her strength had been robbed from her and she couldn’t do anything but whimper on the ground. To make matters worse, the playing had stopped.

Silence filled the room as Nico laid in suffering. She felt the urge to cry but nothing came out. She felt truly hopeless now that the one good thing left had been taken from her.

Nico heard the sound of footsteps approaching. They were measured and soft, like the person they belonged to was trying very hard not to make noise. Nico wasn’t sure there was any chance she’d have heard them had she not been drowned in silence.

The footsteps drew nearer and nearer until they stopped and a door opened.

A small trickle of light washed over Nico, but it might as well have been the full force of the sun. Nico screamed; the light was so blinding, it felt as if her retinas were being seared sure that this blinding light would sear her retinas off. She covered her face with a hand and tried to throw herself away from the light, only making the situation worse for her.

She couldn’t take it anymore. Pain overloaded her every sense and blocked rational thoughts from her mind. Nico shut down, body slumping to the floor of this hell.

She didn’t even notice the voice calling out to her.

----------

Nico was racing through the forest, hot on the trail of her prey. They thought themselves clever, leading her through a path riddled with traps. Too bad they had no idea she could fly.

Soaring above the treetops was a feeling Nico never got used to and she loved it. To be so free, wind whipping at your face and the sky within your reach - being used to such a feeling would be pure insanity.

Nico shook her head to clear her thoughts. Now wasn’t the time to daydream. She had prey to hunt. Her quarry had run into a small clearing in the forest, one that seemed familiar to Nico, but she couldn’t place where she’d seen it. No matter, this would be over soon.

She swooped down through the tree line and snatched a rock from the forest floor before perching herself on a branch just outside of the clearing. Her prey was frantic, whipping their head around, desperate to find where Nico’s attack would come from.

Nico smiled; this was almost too easy. She hurled the rock to the other side of the clearing while her prey’s head was turned. The rock bounced off a tree trunk with a loud thud, causing her prey to whirl around in its direction. Nico noted the small dagger they’d drawn, but it didn’t matter. It wouldn’t help.

She lowered herself to the forest floor, her movements light and graceful like a cat as she dug her feet into the earth as she readied herself to launch. As soon as her prey took a step forward, Nico leapt.

She crashed into their back with a force so violent, she’d heard a few ribs break. Her prey barely had time to scream before Nico ripped away the collar of their tunic, sinking her fangs into their neck.

There was nothing like blood from a live body. Something about it was so delicious, so intoxicating that it drove Nico to hunt, clouding her mind to the horror of her actions. It was like a drug to her, an addiction, and she had no will to fight it.

She dug her fangs in deeper, silencing their screams with her palm as she feasted.

When Nico had gotten her fill, she released the lifeless body and crudely wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. She reached down to roll the body over, to see who she’d killed.

It was a curious thing she did. Some part of her compelled her to look at what she’d done, who she’d killed, as if it would bring her some form of guilt.

It never did.

Nico removed the hood of the now shredded cloak to see hair as black as night cascading down their back. It was a woman she’d killed, and a petite one at that. She flipped her over and gasped in shock.

Midnight black hair, young looking face, ruby red eyes… it was her.

Nico awoke with a start, jolting upright and snapping her eyes open. Her breathing was ragged as she gasped for air, her mind racing in panic. Sweat-soaked clothes clung to her skin, but she felt cold, so cold. She had no idea where she was or what was going on, her mind frazzled and hazy. The only thing she could focus on was that dream.

She’d seen her own dead body, feasted on her own blood. She’d killed herself.

Bile rose in her throat and then the dry heaving started. She was desperate to expel… whatever this was from her body. This mixture of panic, disgust, and revulsion was hell - she didn’t want to feel it anymore.

She tried clawing at her skin, hoping by some miracle that she could end this torture upon her. No matter how hard she’d tried, the only thing that trickled out was her blood. Maybe if she struck somewhere else, maybe her heart…

“Nico!”

Nico froze, her clawed hand aimed like a knife at her heart. She turned her head towards the voice in disbelief.

Standing before her in a thin white nightgown was Maki. Nico couldn’t help but stare, dumbfounded. Memories of their last moments in the clearing flooded her mind: Maki fighting with another vampire, wounded but holding it for Nico to kill, and then the blood. Oh God, there was so much blood, and then Maki was dying-

Nico’s emotions spilled over as the dam broke, and she jumped at Maki, knocking her to the ground as she embraced her and buried her head into Maki’s neck. She tried to speak, to tell Maki how scared she was in that clearing or how happy she was to see Maki lived, but everything came out muddled as she blubbered into Maki’s neck.

Nico felt Maki try to move and hugged her tighter, until she felt Maki give up and tentatively wrap her arms around her in a protective embrace. Nothing could make Nico feel safer than when Maki’s hands stroked her back and threaded themselves through her hair.

Her touch calmed Nico down, her sobs lessening to sniffles and her rapid breathing leveling out until she drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

Maki held her close the entire time, whispering a song sweetly into her ear.

Her singing was the most beautiful thing Nico had ever heard.

----------

The next time Nico awoke, the piano playing was back. She opened her eyes to the same pitch black room, but curiously felt no sense of panic in the darkness. It was almost calming to her, natural.

Slowly her sense awakened and she noticed that the agonizing pain that had assaulted her every nerve had vanished. She sat up ever so slowly, taking the utmost care to not make any sudden movements. Last time she’d tried moving had been pure torture, and no part of her was eager to relive that.

Nico rested against what she assumed was the headboard of the bed she lay in, letting herself fully awaken. Her breaths came in a steady rhythm - in and out, in and out - as she took in the soothing music from the piano and let both her mind and body remember what it was like to be alive again.

Despite her calmness, there was something gnawing at her mind, something she couldn’t quite place. She didn’t feel… right, and she had no idea why. Her breathing was normal, both her eyes and ears worked, she was able to move again freely… yet there was something she couldn’t place. She felt different, unnatural.

While Nico worked through those thoughts, her eyes started to adjust to the darkness. Besides the bed, the room contained no other furnishings. There were no tables, no chairs, not even a window. The only thing that assured her she wasn’t locked in a wooden box was the outline of a door to her left.

Nico slowly worked her way out of bed and onto unsteady feet, clutching the bedsheets around her to cover her long thin sleep shirt and stave off the chill she felt. She had no idea how long she’d been here, but it was long enough that her legs had become weak.

She headed for the door, using the walls for support. She hoped to follow the source of the music right to Maki. Nico really needed to see her right now - to find out what had happened to her, but also to find out where they stood.

Nico had laid down some serious confessions in that forest and, while she meant every one of them, she needed to know how Maki felt.

Stepping out of her room put her in a small hallway. The soft glow of candlelight illuminated the wooden walls and elegant trim. Nico could tell whoever built this place owned considerable wealth. Across from her and to her right were doorways that Nico assumed were other bedrooms. The sound of the piano was coming from her left, so she braced a hand on the wall and shuffled her feet forward.

The playing got louder as Nico turned a corner at the end of the hall. She found herself in the main entryway to this mansion, a massive grand staircase to her left. Lush carpets dotted the floors and expensive looking vases stood upon expertly carved stands around the room. Above her, a fine glass chandelier hung from the ceiling, moonlight reflecting off its diamond fixtures like a prism.

Nico was shocked at the luxury that surrounded her. This place looked like it rivaled the princess’s palace. Did Maki own all this?

Across from Nico and past the staircase was another door. It was slightly ajar, allowing Maki’s playing to permeate the mansion. Nico wasn’t much for instruments, preferring to let her vocal talents be the star of her shows, backed up only by her dancing ability, but even through her inexperience could she appreciate the technical skill at which Maki played. Her notes flowed gracefully, dancing around Nico and luring her in like a siren’s call.

Nico obeyed, drifting forward in a dreamlike calm until she reached the open door. She pushed it open lightly, afraid of making noise or doing anything to disturb the soothing song.

Across the room at the grand piano sat Maki. Moonlight illuminated her figure, clad in black trousers and a white shirt with a frilly collar. She looked so engrossed in the music, eyes closed and body swaying gracefully to the music. Her fingers danced over the keys elegantly, playing each note with perfect timing.

Nico couldn’t help but think how gorgeous she was, her regal beauty glowing in a way that outshone the moonlight. The song’s call carried her feet closer to Maki, drawing near when the song finished.

“That was beautiful.” Nico couldn’t help but speak, feeling like it would be a crime to not acknowledge such masterful playing.

Her praise had the unintended effect of startling Maki from her reverie. She whirled around to face Nico, ferocity shining in her eyes. As soon as Maki recognized it was just Nico, her eyes returned to normal.

“You’re awake.”

A flurry of joy rushed through Nico. Every moment since she’d first awoken in this place had been torture, from the excrutiating pain coursing through her body to the nightmares that plagued her bouts of unconsciousness. Her only reprieve had been the few scant notes of Maki’s beautiful playing her ears had been able to focus on while she wasn’t screaming in agony.

But now Nico felt better, and the person she’d wanted to see most, the person she’d done all this for, was right in front of her. She couldn’t help but rush forward to envelope Maki in an embrace.

Nico hadn’t even made it a few steps before dropping her arms to her side, the look on Maki’s face halting her.

Maki’s entire body language screamed don’t touch me, her arms hugged around her midsection and her legs taut, as if ready to jump back. She looked more like a frightened animal than a powerful vampire.

Nico stepped back, holding her hands up in surrender. She remembered Maki’s skittishness during their midnight meetings, but hadn’t expected that to continue now. She backed up until she reached the doorway, each step making it seem less likely Maki would bolt out a window.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, uh…” Nico trailed off, rubbing the back of her neck. The awkward tension in the air was palpable, both of them frozen in a pseudo standoff. Fortunately for Nico, Maki broke the stalemate.

“It’s alright. It’s… it’s been a long time since anyone’s been around; since I’ve talked to someone.”

There was a lot to read between those lines. Nico wondered when the last time Maki even had so much as a friend.

“You don’t have to apologize. I remember how you wanted space in the forest.” Nico smiled, hoping to further ease Maki’s worry. “I shouldn’t have rushed you like that. I don’t know what came over me, sorry.”

“It’s alright. It’s not uncommon to feel like that, especially given the circumstances.”

Nico furrowed her brow at the matter-of-fact way Maki said that. “What circumstances?”

Maki bit her thumb, her expression pensive. Her eyes darted around the room, as is trying to find the answer she was looking for written on the walls. Finally, she sighed, meeting Nico’s eyes again.

“Do you remember what happened?”

“I remember letting you feed off me, but then everything went black. Then there was pain, a lot of pain.” Nico shuddered at that memory. “Then I remember a nightmare and… someone holding me? Was that you?”

“Y-yes, that was me. You were trying to hurt yourself.”

Nico marveled at the light blush in Maki’s cheeks, but as much as she wanted to bask in the sight, now wasn’t the time. She needed answers.

“What happened?”

Maki fidgeted, looking extremely uncomfortable, but didn’t look away.

“When I fed off you, it- I took more than you had. You… you died.”

Nico knew what would happen when Maki fed on her, but the admission still shocked her. All of the weirdness she’d felt since waking up made sense now: the chill in her bones, the unnerving feeling clawing at the back of her mind. Now that she thought about it, she couldn’t even feel her own heart beat.

Numbness crept through Nico, her mind struggling to accept this reality. “I’m dead?” Her voice was barely a whisper. All Maki could do was nod.

“Everything you’ve felt since then was your body getting used to the transformation. You’re a vampire now.”

Nico let her gaze drop to the floor, running a hand through her hair. A vampire? Her? She wanted to say it was impossible, but she knew it even in the deepest recesses of her mind. She knew it when she offered herself in the forest. The truth was inescapable.

“I’m sorry I hurt you so much.”

Nico broke from her thoughts to see a pained look on Maki’s face. It hurt to see her like that, especially when Nico didn’t think Maki had anything to be sorry for. She’d given Nico another chance at life and that was priceless.

“Don’t be sorry, Maki.” Nico smiled, trying to cheer her up. “I get to live again because of you. I think the price to pay was worth it.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The coldness in Maki’s tone made Nico shiver. She knew being a vampire had its fair share of problems, but how could it be any worse than being dead?

“Hey come on.” Nico prodded. “It can’t be that bad. I mean, how often do you get a second chance at living?”

Maki glared at Nico, her voice exploding in anger.

“You have no idea how bad it is!”

Nico jumped at her outburst, but Maki paid it no attention. She’d been sitting on this anger for decades, letting it ferment into an unbridled hatred. And she was letting it all out on Nico.

“During the days, I can’t even go outside or I risk being burned alive by the sun! And at night, I get this insatiable hunger, and no matter what I do - what I eat or drink - it doesn’t go away, unless I drink blood! And everyday that hunger gets stronger and stronger until I can’t take it anymore, and I have to feed on something or I’ll wither away and die!”

Maki’s voice grew louder with every word as she stood tall, her presence towering over Nico despite being across the room.

“I can’t live anywhere among others anymore, because as soon as some idiot cuts themselves, I lose control and my body craves for their blood, so I spend almost all of my time by myself, alone! And the few times I was lucky enough to meet someone I could call a friend, I had to leave after a few years before they got suspicious about why I don’t age!”

Maki held nothing back, the booming of her yelling echoing off the walls.

“And God forbid if some village idiot suspects what I am, they hunt me to the ends of the Earth without even bothering to check if I’ve actually killed anyone!”

Maki and she stood shaking, panting in an attempt to catch her breath. The realization that Maki must have been alone for so long made Nico’s heart break - even more so when she realized Maki had been forced into an impossible choice - let Nico die, or subject her to this miserable existence..

“I didn’t mean to imply it hasn’t been hard for you. I’m sorry.” Nico bowed her head slightly in apology. “You don’t have to carry that burden alone anymore. I’m here for you.”

Nico smiled in an attempt to reassure Maki. She really had meant what she said. Even with all of the shortcomings Maki had laid out, the life of a vampire was better than death.

Nico waited for Maki to calm down before speaking again. “Thank you for giving me another chance at living.”

Surprised colored Maki’s face. Nico wasn’t sure if Maki had ever turned anyone else into a vampire, but if she had, it was probably the first time Maki had ever been thanked for it.

“Yeah, well… give it time. You’ll probably feel differently in a few dozen years.”

Maki’s words were laced with cynicism, but at least she didn’t seem as angry now.

“Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But at least I’ll have the time to figure it out either way. Couldn’t have that without you.” Nico chuckled.

Maki looked away, but didn’t say anything. Nico kept quiet too, letting her words hang in the air. There was something else she wanted to say and, since they were laying things out already, she might as well.

“Hey, uh… back in the forest, before you fed off me, when we… when we kissed.” Nico couldn’t help but blush as she recalled the memory. The light dusting on Maki’s cheeks let her know that at least their embarrassment was shared. “I meant everything I said then. I know we haven’t known each other long, but I feel a connection to you, like I’ve never felt before.”

Nico’s words hung in the air. Seconds passed like hours, but Nico felt calm. There was something about the look in Maki’s eye - the way her face scrunched up in thought - that told Nico she had a chance. It was faint, little more than a glimmer, but that was all Nico needed. After all, they had all the time in the world now.

“I- I’ve felt it too. I’ve never-.”

Maki cut herself off, opening and closing her mouth like a fish. Nico knew this was hard for her, so she just smiled and tried to give off the most encouraging body language she could. She noticed Maki’s posture relax slightly, before Maki scrunched up her face in thought.

Nico just waited patiently while Maki worked through whatever she had to in her head. After a short while, Maki faced her again, seemingly ready to say whatever she needed to.

“It’s been a long time since I became a vampire. It’s been even longer since I was close to anyone. All this time, and you’re the first person I’ve ever turned. Your singing is what drew me in initially, but there’s something about you made me want to stick around. I don’t really know how I feel, but I want to try and find the answer, with you.”

Nico had never heard words so sweet.

----------

The next few weeks were skahey at best. Maki was cagey, fearful of letting Nico close despite her resolve to find out about her feelings.

Nico wasn’t surprised, really, when she thought about it. Maki had spent an untold amount of years in isolation, all alone in a mansion in the middle of the woods. And based on her angry outburst, even her time spent among others was marred by fear and distrust, a constant paranoia of the truth getting out. Who knew how long Maki had spent looking over her shoulder, sleeping with one eye open.

Despite the unsteady air between them, Maki was responsible and Nico spent most of her days being taught what it meant to be a vampire.

There were things Nico had overlooked that made a lot of sense after Maki’s teachings: why the night’s chill didn’t bother her, why Maki’s hands had felt so cold that night in the forest. It was because Nico wasn’t alive - same reason her heart didn’t beat anymore.

Some things Nico already knew, things she’d heard from the legends. The sun would burn her to a crisp in a matter of minutes now, though Maki did clarify that it would only be direct contact - Nico could go outside, but only if she were covered fully. She needed blood to survive now, but Nico wasn’t expecting the constant gnawing feeling in her stomach, the constant cry for blood from her body. As Maki had said, regular food or drink did nothing to satiate her hunger.

When Maki explained that they would need to feed a few times a week, Nico was filled with terror at the idea of having to hunt down a human to feed off them - until Maki told her she fed only from animals. Maki couldn’t bring herself to hunt humans either, so she’d chosen this path to keep her conscience clear. It came at a price, though.

Animal blood wasn’t as potent as human blood, meaning a vampire who drank the former would be much weaker than one who drank the latter. That explained why the vampire that had attacked them, only a fledgling, had almost killed Maki, a much older vampire.

The first time Nico drank blood was horrible. Maki had taken her into the woods in search of an animal to hunt. Before they’d even started, Nico felt a nauseous, queasy dread in her stomach. Feeding from an animal might not have been as gruesome as feeding from a human, but that didn’t ease Nico’s worry.

Maki left Nico to hunt by herself, saying that she would be nearby should something go wrong. Nico already felt sick; she really didn’t want to do this, but she didn’t have a choice. She’d put off feeding for a few days already, with weak excuses and assurances that she’d be fine. Maki wasn’t stupid, though, and had seen through it all. Today had been particularly bad and Maki practically forced the truth out of her.

In the end, Maki was right. She couldn’t put this off forever or the hunger would consume her, and she’d slowly wither away into nothing.

Nico gathered herself and started to walk, every step taking her farther and farther away from the safety and familiarity of the mansion. Her senses felt so alive, her eyes seeing through the veil of night as if it were daytime, her ears picking up every rustle in the underbrush, every snap of a twig.

Nico’s steps were slow and uncertain. The trees loomed over her and she huddled into herself. Part of her wished something would just fall into her lap so she could get this over with, but the logical part of her mind knew it wouldn’t be so easy.

She leaned against a tree, closing her eyes and letting her ears stretch out into the night. The calls of many animals resonated through the forest, but they all seemed so far away and Nico was only willing to go so far from the mansion.

A squeaking sound filled her ears. Based on the noise level, it sounded nearby. Nico climbed the tree she leaned against and moved towards whatever unsuspecting animal lay waiting. She moved from branch to branch, the squeaking growing louder by the second.

Nico came to the edge of another clearing in the forest, thought this one was more overgrown than the one she was familiar with. Tall grass surrounded a small stream of water that flowed through the clearing. Colorful flower bushes were dotted among the grass, their petals contributing to an idyllic nature scene.

Among the grass was the source of the squeaking Nico had heard. A small rabbit was nibbling on the tall ends of grass, it’s nose twitching constantly, likely searching for predators.

Nico pounced from her branch, catching the creature easily before it had any idea it was in danger. She held it down, watching as it thrashed in her grip, desperate to escape. It squealed and screamed in ways Nico had never heard an animal sound like before and she paused. She knew the genuine fear it felt, the same fear she’d felt all those nights ago when her and Maki had been attacked.

Back then, she had been the one afraid. Afraid of a powerful predator that she was utterly helpless against, one that held her life in its hands. Now she was the predator, holding down a creature that had no chance against her, holding something completely at her mercy.

Guilt overwhelmed her, tears pooling in her eyes as she started to cry. For the first time since that night, she regretted the actions that led her to becoming a vampire. She wanted to take it all back, to let this rabbit go and vanish into nothingness, but the hunger inside her wouldn’t allow it.

It screamed in her mind, ordering her to eat, eat, eat and Nico wasn’t strong enough to disobey.

Tears streamed down her face as she bit into the rabbits neck, her mouth full of its fur. Sobs wracked her body when the creature shrieked in pain at her fangs piercing its neck. Nico bit down harder, hoping to end it’s suffering. It went limp when Nico applied more force.

An awful stench filled the air, thick and irony particles clinging to the inside of Nico’s nose. Blood filled Nico’s mouth, its taste sweet and syrupy, enticing her to drink more. Her mind filled with disgust at what she was doing, but it wasn’t strong enough to force her to stop, so she drank the creature dry.

When she finished, Nico pulled away and looked at the desiccated carcass of what used to be a cute little rabbit. The reality of what she’d done hit her full force and she collapsed to the ground, huddling her knees to her chest and sobbing. Her wails were interrupted only by convulsing dry heaves.

She laid there for what felt like hours, until exhaustion finally took her and she passed out. She hadn’t even noticed Maki had been watching over her the whole time, tears streaming down her face.

----------

In the ensuing days, Nico learned a few of the good things about becoming a vampire. Maki taught her that her new body was faster and stronger than any mortal. She could also heal from most injuries in a manner of seconds, though that meant she’d have to feed sooner to replenish the energy, which she was eager to avoid. Her arm had been healed from the attack as well, but since she'd died before her arm healed naturally, the scar would always remain - a permanent reminder of her new existence. She also didn’t require sleep anymore, though she still did in the hopes that it might help her feel more normal.

The hardest thing for Nico to come to terms with was her newfound immortality. Maki had explained that their bodies were capable of regeneration, powerful enough to stave off the effects of aging - as long as they fed. They would never grow older, nor succumb to the effects of age. Death could still come for them, as Maki had nearly experienced, but, left to their own devices, they were the masters of their own clocks.

It was a hard thing to fully grasp. Nico had always known that existence was a cycle of life and death. She’d seen many in the village die in battle or die of old age in their beds. Death came for all of them, always looming. Now she existed outside of that cycle, between the planes of life and death. The power to exempt herself from her own mortality was under her control, and that thought terrified her.

Every night she’d lie in her bed staring at the ceiling, the same question running through her mind - how long was forever?

----------

The best part of Nico’s new life were the nights they spent sharing music.

At first it was like their nights in the clearing: Maki sequestered in her piano room out of sight while Nico performed from the main entryway of the mansion. Sometimes they performed in tandem, with Nico singing along to Maki’s playing, crafting tales to match her tones in perfect harmony. Sometimes Nico just sat on the steps and listened, entranced by the beautiful notes born from Maki’s mastery.

As the months went by, Maki slowly allowed Nico a bit more closeness, her defensive walls starting to crack from Nico’s charm. It wouldn’t be a quick process, as Maki had built up walls that rivaled the strongest of forts, but Nico was determined. Besides, however long it took would be nothing in the face of the eternity they would have together.

Recently Maki had started letting Nico sing in the piano room with her. She was still wary, her eyes locking on as soon as Nico entered the same room as her, as if expecting Nico to betray months of careful behavior and attack. She still jumped at the sound of Nico’s voice, as if she had to relearn the fact that she wasn’t alone each day.

Nico saw small changes in her demeanor, though. Maki smiled more than she used to, and her tone when speaking to Nico wasn’t less guarded, but it was far from the mushy, love filled fantasies that filled Nico’s head at nights.

She was committed though, for herself and for Maki.

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Things got better throughout their first year together. Nico became more used to the life of a vampire, going to visit her old village on occasion. She’d even recently met with the princesses.

She’d been terrified they would reject, or even attack, her, but her worries were for naught. While the princess-turned-knight had been wary once Nico had told them about what happened, the other two had thrown their arms around her, all hugs and happiness that she was still alive. It didn’t take much prodding for the knight to join in too.

It took a while, but Nico came to see feeding as just another part of the cycle of life, instead of something to be terrified of. She didn’t come to like it, but she learned to feed without the guilt that crippled her that first night.

The biggest changes, though, came from Maki.

Nico could tell that Maki had grown used to her presence from the way she’d looked for Nico upon entering a room, how she didn’t look at Nico as an intruder, but rather a friend.

A few times Maki even responded to Nico’s flirting with a bit of her own.

There wasn’t an intimate closeness yet, but things had progressed from sitting at the same table to brief touches during shared activities. There were a few rare times when Maki initiated contact, usually in the form of a quick hug when one or both of them were feeling down.

Tonight Nico sat next to Maki on the piano bench, one of the many signs of the growth in their relationship. Maki was playing a song Nico had never heard before, a slower piece that made Nico feel serene, like nothing in the world could phase her. In lieu of singing, Nico simply hummed along, watching Maki’s fingers dance over the ivory keys.

Nico felt that, even if she devoted centuries to practicing, she’d never be able to make the piano sing like Maki did. She had a true gift, something that couldn’t be learned from simple repetition. It was as if the piano was an extension of Maki.

Nico swayed her body to the music, careful to not disturb Maki’s playing. She closed her eyes, letting reality drift away as she dove into the music. Images of flying amongst the clouds filled her mind, as if she were a bird. Her thoughts drifted to the princess and the way she floated on a cloud of happiness around with her wives and the breathy quality of her voice. Maybe she could take Maki to meet the three of them some day.

She thought about how much her life had changed in just a short year, from a lowly songstress, to performing for royalty, to dying and being reborn. Coming to terms with it all was an ongoing process, but it got a little easier each day.

Nico was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t even notice Maki had stopped playing, until she heard Maki clear her throat. Once Nico snapped out of it, she felt the intensity of Maki’s stare.

“Entranced by my beauty?” Nico grinned and fluttered her eyes at Maki. She wasn’t discouraged when Maki just rolled her eyes.

“Perhaps I’m wondering if my playing isn’t enough to keep your attention.”

Maki’s voice was deadpan, but her eyes held a hint of playfulness, so Nico scooted a tiny bit closer and danced her fingers along Maki’s wrist. “Maybe I’m thinking about how I never did get that duet.”

“I don’t remember ever promising one.”

She tried to sound disinterested, but Nico saw the way her lip curled slightly upwards.

“How cruel.” Nico sighed dramatically, resting the back of her hand to her forehead. She cracked an eye open and, upon seeing Maki wasn't buying it, dropped the act to a coy smile. “I guess I’ll just have to keep asking until you say yes.”

“You’ll find I’m quite patient.”

“And you’ll find I’m quite persistent.”

The two stared each other down in an attempt to win this little battle, until neither could take it anymore and they both fell into a fit of laughter.

Maki’s laughter was more beautiful than any song.

When they composed themselves, Nico felt light, happy.

“Sing something for me.”

Maki hummed at her request, eyes drifting off to the corner of the room in search of some stray thought. In their time spent in the music room, Maki had only played while Nico sang, but Nico knew Maki’s singing would be otherworldly, almost as good as her own. Nico just needed to coax it out.

“There is... something I’ve been working on,” Maki said. “Would you like to hear it?”

“If you’re okay with showing me.” Nico’s smile was warm, comforting.

Maki nodded and sat up straight, fingers hovering over the ivory keys. She looked so intense, so focused, like this was the most important performance of her life. Nico couldn’t help but tense in anticipation.

The notes started slow at first, as if Maki was still unsure. Nico brushed her leg against Maki’s and smiled when she had her attention. That put her slightly at ease, and Nico watched as she repeated the opening chord until she built up the courage to continue.

When she sang the first word, Nico was captivated.

In truth, Nico was so awestruck by the power of Maki’s singing that she wasn’t fully paying attention, but she got heard enough to get the message.

Thank you for the love, wave goodbye to yesterday, I’m by your side - this was Maki’s song to her. It was Maki giving thanks to Nico for the compassion, the love, the strength to let go of her old self. It was Maki’s commitment to Nico in the only way she knew how - through music. And Nico heard her loud and clear.

When Maki finished, Nico let out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding. Maki shyly turned to meet her eyes, hesitation coloring her face. Nico leaned forward slowly, meeting Maki’s lips with her own.

Their first kiss had been desperate, afraid, and filled with despair. Their second kiss was subdued, more an affirmation of feelings than an expression of lust.

Maki’s lips were just as cold as before, but now both of them flinched a little when sets of fangs poked their lips. It didn’t last long, much to Nico’s chagrin, but Maki surprised her by holding her close, foreheads resting against each other.

Nico shuddered at the feeling of Maki’s warm breath on her skin. She didn’t want to open her eyes, afraid to ruin the moment. Curiosity got the better of her when their noses brushed against each other and Nico peeked to see Maki, her face colored in the same red as her hair.

Nico still hadn’t gotten over how pretty Maki’s eyes were, whether they were brilliant amethysts or radiant rubies. She couldn’t help but smile when she had Maki’s attention. This must be what it felt like to be truly happy.

Nico thought back to the questions that kept her awake at night. She still didn’t have an answer for any of them, still didn’t know how long this new life of hers would last, but, in this moment, she didn’t really care. She might not know what fate would bring her, but she did know that Maki would be by her side every step of the way.

A light peck on the lips brought Nico out of her reverie. Her vision was consumed with Maki, dazzling eyes and radiant smile, and she couldn’t have been more happy. Then Maki opened her mouth, warm breath against her lips in a promise for tomorrow, and every day after.

“I love you too.”