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The Right Words

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Since when? You ask.

It’s such an impossible question that I flounder. I can quip and banter my way through patrol on auto-pilot, but when it comes to matters of the heart… I laugh at my own clumsiness, and the feeble laughter chokes up in my throat and comes out sounding like a sputter.

When? Since it was too early to be wise or scrupulous or justifiable. Since it was too late to be courageous or honorable or even kind. Shall I play the romantic and say: Since always, since the beginning? Or shall I slip into the evasive and say: Since today; isn’t that enough? My life is not an inspirational poster; living each day as my last is just the reality of being a Slayer. An endless procession of todays, until at some point, there won’t be anymore — today’s all I have.

Lest you think I’m still bitter about it: no, not anymore. I once was chosen but now I choose, with my eyes wide open. The Slayer power might’ve fallen to me, but the scythe I willingly took up.

I don’t say any of this, of course. Words may…bounce around my head at a preternatural speed, but none of them can slip past my clenched teeth, my tucked chin, my folded arms, sealing everything in, keeping everything down — you know, my usual stance. Or, rather, my used-to-be stance. It’s harder to do in bed, naked and still coming down from the peak of passion, body slippery and throbbing and fueled by euphoria and apparently prone to meandering thoughts. How did I ever manage it, maintaining that full, mental suit of armour with not a stitch on, in the year that I came out of heaven and everything went to hell?

Anyway, that’s just not me anymore. Not since you fought the limit of vampire existence and won back your soul, not since you sacrificed yourself so that I could go on living, not since you came to me following your miraculous re-materialization, with a last glimmer of hope in your eyes. I’ve finally lived long enough to arrive at the foregone conclusion that after you had me, and I lost you, after so many missed opportunities between the two of us, this is probably it: my last chance at something both greater and personal: a cozy, selfish love of my own. Nothing as grand or compulsory or effortless as Destiny; just an ordinary, linked journey shared by two.

But the isolating habit of withholding, built and reinforced for almost a decade of my life…takes time to break through, conscious effort to dismantle.

So I try: inhale deeply, exhale through my mouth, picturing my mind unfurling as a fist after sparring, unwinding the handwrap like ribbon, exposing my bare knuckles and loose fingers underneath. Taking away the hand’s combative urge to punch, giving back its capacity to touch, to feel.

The magic that anchors your existence grounds me, normalizing my inexplicable, outlandish life. My relaxed hand reaches out and curls around your upper arm, a source of wonder: cool and dry, a smooth perfection despite a century’s worth of injuries, despite our recent exertion.

The muscle under my caress flexes, but when I look up to gauge your interest, you’ve looked away, eyes downcast and unreadable.

Not supposed to be a brainteaser, Slayer, you say. Ah, you are mad. You spit out the next words like they were poison: Don’t strain yourself. Was looking for sweet nothings is all.

A drama queen about to sink into a long sulk, you huff and pout and make a big show of turning away from me, the bed frame groaning from your exaggerated motions. But I’m faster, and I leap up and blanket your body with mine, then push up to straddle you, ending our brief power struggle with me on top.

You buck and twist like a — oh, you’d just love to be called a stallion, wouldn’t you? — until I thread my fingers through yours and anchor them on either side of your head, letting gravity pull me forward, pressing my center into you. I arch my back, just a little. Something in your eyes flickers, and you drag them away with a reluctant turn of your head, but you can’t fool me. You forget your repeated confession, ardent and breathless, of how much you enjoy this particular view.

You’re holding your breath while I lower my head to whisper into your ear, in a way I know makes you ticklish (but also makes you hard). Whisper quietly so that you’d have to still yourself to catch my every word: Listen. Listen to what your Slayer has to say, you silly vampire.

You feign offense at being called silly — Not playing your game, Slayer, you say — but something’s nudging me insistently from behind, something that wasn’t there before, and I bite down on my smirk as I wiggle and inconspicuously slide back just a smidgen. The fight having gone out of you, you let escape a tiny gasp that goes straight up to my head, and straight…down too, because your excitement excites me; always has.

Not to be derailed by the desire swirling in your eyes, I bury my face against your neck to say my piece, my words brushing against the sensitive skin there, raising gooseflesh:

Will you just listen? Don’t ask me when. Instead, ask me how. Ask me to show you, again and again. Ask me to make it up to you, for all the times I knew, and all the years I didn’t — couldn’t — tell you. Ask me to say it, always, even when I can’t speak the words, even when I’m afraid, even when I’m being me. Because I do, you know, and I will. Today. Tomorrow. Through all the apocalypses that have our names on them.

Now that the words have tumbled out in such a sentimental gush, I spring back to catch your eyes, astonished at my own candor. Beneath me, you freeze, then melt, the pout curling into a smirk. You beam at me, unable to keep up the ruse of being mad any longer, and preen, you smug vampire, sticking out your chest and giving your pelvis a robust thrust. With an unexpected twist of your body, I find myself dethroned; but instead of pressing your advantage, you simply scoop me into your arms and turn me until we’re face to face, side by side.

A tender whisper as you sweep a tendril of hair out of my eyes: All right, then. Don’t mind if I do. Here, your voice trails off, while your hand picks up tracing the contour of my body, lingering over each swell and dip, and I suspect I know its final destination, where words will disappear from my mind. My heart’s drumming with eagerness, but I wait without prompting, having lived long enough to enjoy the anticipation, too. Finally, you make your demand: Go on and say it, pet. Say it again. And it’s such sweet relief as the words pour out of me, over and over again, possibly more than you bargained for, but not more than you deserve:

I love you. I love you. I love you.