By the time I left the Sanctuary it was dark- in fact, it was about 3am, and I was drop-dead tired. I was heading to the same rickety hotel I woke up in, until I heard something coming from a dead-end alleyway. Normally I would've ignored it- I was, after all, in the heart of Manhattan- but this was a sound I recognized. Slightly labored breathing that I had only heard once in my life, but never forgot.
I pulled a specially sharpened sewing-like needle from my pocket and turned towards the alleyway, stepping lightly even though I knew it wouldn't matter. Not against him.
"Aretha," he murmured, his voice smooth as dark chocolate, quiet enough so only I would hear, "Run away. Quickly, now, while you still can. I don't... I won't kill anyone else tonight. Especially you. You..." His voice broke off, and his breaths grew slightly heavier, like he was in pain.
Against his warning, I took a few steps closer and summoned a small flame into my hand. There he was, Niccolo Croatoan, leaning heavily against the wall of an alleyway, eyes squeezed shut and hands pressed to his head. He looked how I always looked when I got migraines. And not the least bit threatening.
It was perplexing, seeing him like that. And what were his exact words- I won't kill anyone else tonight? What on Earth was happening to him? I should've attacked and killed him on the spot, or if nothing else, run away, but I just couldn't leave him like that. I wasn't thinking of him as Niccolo Croatoan anymore- just a person on the street who clearly needed help.
"Niccolo?" I prompted gently, "Are you alright?" He didn't answer. Or move. I took it as a no. "What happened to you?" I asked, my voice still an incredulous whisper.
Suddenly my head was filled with memories that weren't mine. I recoiled immediately, the fire shrinking out of existence, and squeezed my eyes shut against the onslaught of visions. It only took a moment to realize that closing my eyes wasn't helping, and a moment more to begin sorting through everything Niccolo had shown me.
For the first time ever, I could fully understand him- and for a moment I almost wished he hadn't shown me, because I didn't want to kill him anymore. Almost. But not quite.
I thought about everything that I had just seen- everything I understood that I never had before- and tears pricked my eyes. "Please don't make me kill you," I blurted out before I could help it.
"You have to," He said, the words slow but unwavering. Then, after a moment, he straightened, and his dark eyes met mine. They were so much softer than I had ever seen him. In fact, everything about him just seemed so much more... Human. "Aretha," He admitted softly, his smooth voice threatening to break, "I don't want to die..."
I couldn't help it anymore- I ran forward and hugged Niccolo tightly, burying my face into his shoulder as tears streamed down my face. Beneath everything- the centuries of living behind stolen names- he was so human, so soft and fragile. So... Caring. And to know what he had become, and who he was becoming... It just wasn't fair. It wasn't right. And there was nothing I could do about it.
And for the first time ever, he hugged me back.