Miles ran between the trees and bushes, fending off branches and thorns while he cursed himself for his stupid bright idea. Kota had a head start on him, but not by much. He could still smell traces of him, and if the vampire had bothered to slow down he could have seen the broken branches and other signs that someone had been through here not long ago.
The communicator on his wrist started to beep shrilly and Miles swore, slapping at the thing. He had no time for them now. If Kota got away, it would be impossible to predict where he would go next. He probably didn’t even know himself.
At the thought Miles groaned and sped up. Of course he wouldn’t know. Kota’s time at the Last Inn was probably the longest he’d spent in any one place since he got the curse, and who knew how long ago that happened?
The vampire ran on, unaware of the change in the wind. He did not see the clouds begin to break and shift, and did not see the sun emerging until it was too late.
Miles staggered and fell, his scream unheard by his own ears as he rolled on the ground. Even here, in the shade beneath the trees, the sunlight was agonizing and filled a private world of pain. Eyes clenched shut, he curled in on himself and pressed his sweating brow to the ground for the little relief it provided.
Footsteps. Something moving.
Acting on instinct, Miles threw himself toward the movement. His hands found a furry body, which he heaved up and slammed against the nearest tree trunk at the right height for him.
A bare inch away, with fangs bared, Miles stopped and sniffed, just as a whine met his ears. He risked opening his eyes and could almost make out the wolf pinned to the tree and the vivid mark on its face.
“Oh, God,” Miles muttered and dropped the hound on the ground. He staggered and caught himself on the tree trunk.
Another whine, and the vampire felt a set of teeth grip the sleeve of his jacket and pull. Even that little tug was enough to set him off balance, and he stumbled along after the wolf, deeper into the woods.
It felt like they walked forever to Miles, who could go at little faster than a stumbling trot. More than once Kota had to wait after the vampire tripped so he could drag himself back onto his feet again. Each time it took longer, and Miles knew it was only a matter of time before he would not be able to get back up again, or fight back the instinct that made his hand tremble every time the wolf grabbed his sleeve.
He slipped on some dead leaves and started to slide and roll down a slope, branches and briars tugging at his face and clothes, but he did not slow to a stop until the bottom of the hill. Miles did not even have the strength to fend off the wolf as it dragged him along, or the hands that pulled him deeper into the shade until he was completely sheltered from the sun.
“…-les…wake up…” Kota’s voice came in and out, and Miles dimly heard him say, “Stay here.”
Kota’s footsteps faded over the leaves and the vampire laid there where he left him, too weak to move. After the exposure to the sun, all of his senses were fighting for control. He could smell the dirt and even the cold underside of the rock outcropping overhead which blocked the sunlight. He felt like he could hear and smell everything for miles, every heartbeat and breath taunting him as he began to shake uncontrollably.
He tried once or twice to open his eyes, but everything was too bright, even the shadows under the rock. If he dared to look out, the colors of the dying leaves glared in his eyes and swirled so fast he felt sick.
“No,” he groaned when he heard the leaves start sliding again. Kota was coming back.
He grit his teeth and tried to block out the sound, but he could feel the animal getting closer. Too close.
The leaves stirred outside of his nook of cave and Miles lashed out on instinct. His arms wrapped around the writhing animal and he bit down before he could stop himself. The struggling slowed, as did the breathing and the heartbeat.
The vampire wrenched himself away and gasped. He stared down at the stag lying in his arms and looked up to see the wolf sitting on the other side of the dell. The stag made a feeble movement and Miles finished it off before it could suffer anymore.
Miles pushed the animal away and laid back down. Already he could feel the effect, and he sighed with relief.
“Thank you,” he said, staring up at the rock overhead. He glanced at Kota, but the wolf had not moved. “It’s safe to come over here now.”
The wolf approached, but stopped just short of the shade provided by the rock. Disconcerted, Miles added, “Hard to talk to you when you’re like this, you know.”
The wolf just stared at him and the vampire closed his eyes with a sigh. His head was spinning, and it was hard to concentrate, but he could figure out that Kota was mad at him.
“You know the girl really doesn’t want you to leave, don’t you?” Talking hurt, but this might be his only chance. If Kota ran now, there was no way he would be able to stop him. “I talked her into saying those things. Didn’t think you would take it so hard, really.”
The only response was a low growl.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m the bad guy for wanting to help you. Forgive me,” Miles said, rolling his eyes. “Look, you and I both know she can’t keep that inn up by herself, even if her father didn’t already know you were leaving.”
Another growl, this time louder.
“Okay, I might have said a little more than I meant to when I went to get the lock this morning.” Miles hesitated, realizing that somehow this one-sided conversation was getting away from him. “Point is, she was willing to risk giving that up if it meant you had a chance to get rid of that curse. If you really don’t want to come with me, then at least go back to the inn. For Erin?”
It was a cheap shot, and Miles was okay with that. He counted to ten and turned his head to see Kota, still as a wolf, sigh and curl up in the sun to wait.
The vampire closed his eyes and let go of the breath he had been holding in.
He woke up to Kota shaking his shoulder.
“Come on,” he said. “It’s clouded over again. I think we can make it back to the inn now.”
Miles tried to stand up and his knees nearly gave out underneath him.
“Do you need some more?” Kota asked, a bit tactlessly to Miles’s mind considering how close he was.
“I’ve got some of my ration back at the inn,” Miles muttered. Now that he looked, the stag was gone and he briefly wondered what the young man, or maybe the wolf, did with it.
Kota pulled him up onto his feet and threw the vampire’s arm over his shoulder. It was his turn to practically drag Miles along, up the hill and through the trees on the long trek back to the inn.