While Darren is recovering from his beating on the bars, two ex-mates have a chance to catch up. Larten/Arra.
It was part of the reason she had asked that Vanez and Kurda let her bring the boy back to Larten. Kurda had furiously insisted that she owed Larten an explanation as to why she had knocked his assistant out. Vanez of course hadn't cared at all; he had found their fight both tame and entertaining. After all, for a half-vampire, the boy really did put up a very reasonable fight.
But that wasn't the only reason she was bringing Larten's assistant to his room. She wanted to see Larten; she needed to see him. Since his return to the mountain, their paths hadn't crossed. A lot of that was her fault. What with the upcoming Council, she and all the other Generals had been kept very busy. She, for her part, had gotten over most of the hostility or bitterness she'd had for Larten since he left the mountain abruptly so long ago, and she couldn't help but wonder what he had been up to all these years. She missed him.
She had finally reached his cell. Transferring the boy over to one arm only (though he was nearly her size, she barely noticed his weight), she raised her right hand and rapped on the door. Tapping her foot on the ground, she waited for nearly a minute then knocked again. Finally she came to the conclusion that Larten was either somewhere else in the mountain, or else desperately avoiding her. She found both to be grounds on which to let herself in. Turning the knob, she pushed the door open with her knee and carried the still-asleep child into the room. After a quick glance around, she noted that Larten wasn't there after all. Sighing, possibly in relief, she brought the boy to Larten's coffin and placed him inside, then went to fetch a chair. The first one that caught her eye was several feet away, and draped over the back was a long, deep-yet-stunning red cloak. She hesitated slightly when she saw it, feeling a bit of a tug at her heart. It was the last thing she had seen of Larten's as he left the mountain all those years ago. She had watched it billow out behind him as she stood, arms crossed, in the door of their room, watching as he turned the corner of the hallway and disappeared. To try to make herself feel better at the time and forget their argument, she had tried to force herself to think how ridiculous it was for a man so old to be so utterly obsessed with the color red. She had then sunk back into the room, shut the door, and collapsed against the wall, bursting into what turned out to be a very long, exhausting, and recurring fit of tears.
As she stood staring at the cape, these memories speeding through her mind, she shook her head, trying to flick off the couple of tears that had rolled onto her eyelashes. It would have been ironic if Darren had woken up to find the vampiress who had knocked him to the ground without hesitation crying. Unable to resist, she reached out and ran her fingers over the soft velvet of the cloak, then pulled them away quickly. She grabbed a free chair and slid it next to the coffin, reaching into a pocket of her pants and pulling out a bottle of ointment. She dumped some onto her fingertips and began to apply it to Darren's face.
Not long after, there was a creaking at the door, a squeak of a knob turning, and Larten Creplsey entered the room.
At first, he was picking at one of his fingernails and didn't notice that he had company. Then, he looked up, and an utterly confused and overwhelmed look fell over his face. His ex mate was sitting on a chair next to his coffin, dabbing ointment on his young assistant, who was bruised and bloodied and apparently unconscious. For a minute, he wondered if he was still at the Cirque du Freak and had just been bitten by his spider and was hallucinating, because the whole thing seemed ridiculous to the point of comical. Then Arra turned to face him and smile, and he knew this was no hallucination. The hints of comedy slowly dribbled out of the situation.
"Arra..." he said stiffly, stepping forward slowly, looking from her to Darren.
"Hello, Larten," she said softly. They watched each other uncomfortably for several seconds, then, to break the ice, Larten reached a hand out. She smiled at it and brushed it away, pulling him into a hug instead.
He rested his cheek on the top of her head, the hug so comfortably familiar that for a second, he forget about his assistant and closed his eyes, smiling. "It is wonderful to see you," he told her as she pulled away.
"You too," she said, then returned to her chair, turning so he wouldn't see the slight flush on her pale skin.
He looked at Darren for a moment. "I see you have met my assistant," he said with stiff sarcasm, and she grinned. "What in the name of..." He trailed off, then groaned. "Oh, Arra..."
"I offered to let him step off the bars," she said calmly. "He refused. The child has spirit; he awoke from the floor of the Hall of Sport and demanded I shake his hand."
"Did you?" Larten asked, thinking he already knew the answer.
He raised his eyebrows in surprise. "You did?" He felt his heart thump a few beats faster; she had no idea how much it meant to him that she had shown his assistant her hard-to-earn respect.
"Yes," she said, and continued to apply the medicine to Darren's face. "Then he collapsed into my arms and Kurda started screaming."
Larten chuckled, "Kurda must have chastised you for beating him," he noted, and she nodded.
"I certainly was not going to let the little boy beat me," she said matter-of-factly.
"Darren," Larten told her, drawing a chair up next to her and sitting down. "His name is Darren."
"Darren Shan," she said, nodding. "I've been hearing quite a lot about him around the mountain. Gavner of course told me about him several years ago, when he himself met him." She sighed and turned to her ex-mate, screwing the top back onto her bottle and slipping it into a pocket. "Why, Larten? And I don't want to hear that, 'the-boy-stole-my-spider' crap. When Gavner told me that, I didn't buy it for a second."
Larten paused. Everyone had been asking why, and that was the generic answer he gave them all. But Arra wasn't everyone. He had known the second his blood began to flow through Darren's veins that Arra would want the full explanation. And he felt that he owed her one. He sighed and stroked his scar thoughtfully. "That truly was one of the reasons," he said, but held a hand up to silence her as she opened her mouth. "I did not want his friend to die while I could have prevented it, but in turn I felt that Darren needed to learn that there are...consequences for our actions."
"So why not just give him a slap on the wrists and threaten to suck him dry if he gets in your way again," Arra asked, grinning slightly as she tried to picture Larten saying that to the small child in front of them.
"I began to think that...that perhaps it was high time for me to acquire an assistant," Larten said slowly, and Arra noted that he wasn't quite meeting her eyes. "I was traveling with the Cirque du Freak at the time, and it was convenient for me to have someone to do my chores during the daylight hours."
"Was that all?" she asked with raised eyebrows, leaning against a wall with her arms folded across her chest.
Larten was silent for a moment, still not looking at Arra. He couldn't lie to her; he never could. "No," he said softly, and Arra face relaxed contentedly. "I suppose that I was lonely. Though I traveled with the Cirque, I felt very much alone; not just alone, but...insignificant. As though I was not needed by anyone. Do you know what I mean?"
Arra felt her chest start to tighten. It was a feeling that was hauntingly familiar. She gave a small nod, and Larten continued.
"Darren needs me now," he said, and there was a restrained tone to his voice as though he were holding back his breath in his throat. "And I, likewise, need him. You understand?"
"Yes," Arra said quietly. She had suspected as much. Now, it left her with the question she wasn't sure she wanted the answer to. "If you felt so...alone," she started, and she hated how weak and desperate her voice sounded, "what stopped you from returning to the mountain?"
For the first time for several minutes, their eyes met, and she couldn't stop hers from giving him a pleading look.
Larten gave an uncomfortable cough and sighed, but didn't lower his gaze. "You did."
That was the answer she had not wanted to hear. As she felt the tears sting at the corners of her eyes, she turned away, facing the wall and biting down on her lip.
"Arra..." he said, reaching out and gently placing his hand on her cheek to turn her towards him. "Do not misunderstand; I wanted to see you with every ounce of my being. After I left, it took all my strength not to return at once. But we seemed to end on...not very friendly terms. I could not tolerate being a General and killing any longer, while you found it to be one of the most important things in life. After a time, I could stand back and see and appreciate it from your point of view, and realized that it should not have been grounds to end our relationship. I only doubted that you had done the same. As I remember, you seemed to think that I was letting down the clan, and I wondered if you were still of that opinion. It is why I have hesitated to seek you out since my return. I suppose what it came down to was that I was afraid that you would not accept me back. Even as a friend."
Arra exhaled shakily and wiped at her eyes. She wanted to tell him that she had forgiven him decades ago, and that, though she didn't agree with it, she respected his feelings towards being a General. But the words were caught in her throat. Finally, she could no longer leave him in silence with the pained and wondering expression on his face. Sliding to the edge of her chair, she leaned forward and slowly pressed her lips against his cheek. For a second, he didn't move. Then, he let his head rest down upon her shoulder, and he let out a shuddering breath against her neck as they wrapped their arms around each other.
They stayed like that for a while, both waiting for their tears to clear. Each could have stayed like that forever, but, as with all things, it had to come to an end. Eventually, it was Darren's stirring that brought them back to reality. They pulled gently away from each other, Larten's hand reaching slowly down to take Arra's.
"So," she said, giving a sniff, her voice sounding more normal. There was even some sarcasm in her tone, making Larten smile to see that his ex-mate was as strong and quick to rebound as ever. "In case you didn't get it, I forgive you."
She chuckled as he made a face and shoved her shoulder, though he knew her slight mockery of him was her way of showing affection. "I think you and Darren are going to get on famously," he said, faking irritation, though the warmth in his eyes gave him away.
She grinned, "I think so. Though, perhaps he would appreciate it if the vampiress who knocked him out was not present when he wakes up."
"Possibly," Larten said, cracking a smile.
Arra stood, and as she started to the door, her hand slid gently over Larten's chest and shoulder.
"I'll see you around the mountain," she said as she swung the door open. "And, Larten?"
"I'm glad that you've found an assistant deserving of you. I think Darren will make a very worthy vampire. After all, he is learning from the best."
And with a wink, she stepped out into the tunnel, shutting the door behind her and leaving a considerably lightened-hearted Larten with his young companion.