It was only October, but it was already cold in the Himalayas, where the snow-tipped mountains met the sky. With summer gone and winter fast approaching, even in the Paro Valley, it was getting wet and chilly. The mountains here were covered in thickly wooded forests, where humans were rarely seen, but some hardy wildlife prospered. Hunters here were few, except for a few rare predators, and of those, no one hunted at night, save the cats and the lone vampire who called these mountains home.
Even then, he didn't hunt every night. He'd trained himself to go days, even weeks without sustenance - all part of his self-imposed penance for what he considered his sins. His body had grown lean in the years that he'd spent here, until he had an almost starved appearance. He had no need for the meat of the creatures he hunted, but only the blood. When he could, he preferred to merely drink until his thirst was sated and then let them go free. When a kill was necessary, he often left the carcass where the villagers could make use of it, rather than leave it for scavengers.
He was careful not to kill the animals that were endangered. The monks had taught him that, and though they weren't sure what he was exactly, they knew he left from time to time to provide his own sustenance, rather than partake of their meager meals. In exchange for his stay, the monks were generously compensated by an unknown benefactor, which helped them maintain the monastery and keep it from falling to ruin.
This particular night was darker than usual. Though it was cloudless, it was also moonless - no light shining but that of the multitude of stars overhead. So many stars, it was impossible to count them all. Tonight's prey was a sheep, one of many on the mountain. It was too bad that the sheep was a favorite of wolves, as well.
Dark eyes watched him from the shadows, another predator out on the lonely mountainside yet not hunting for food. Sakura was well-fed, had made certain of that before venturing out onto the mountain tonight. She made no attempt to disguise her proximity to him, alert for the wolves that might choose to fight him for his quarry. He was gaunt, to her eyes, a far cry from the strong muscled man she had turned all those years ago. But he was alive. That was all that mattered.
It wasn't a matter of hunting the way wolves hunted, or even men. He was a sole predator with no pack to aid him, and no weapon other than that of his own teeth and wits. It was a challenge to hunt the wild this way; so much more so than preying on humans, who could easily wander into his grasp without ever suspecting they were in danger. But it wasn't so much about the challenge, as it was about survival. He was just about to pounce on the unsuspecting sheep, when he heard a howl in the distance and then another, and then his senses picked up something else - something strangely familiar. Something - or someone - he hadn't seen or heard from in over three hundred years.
She saw the moment he realized her presence, smiling faintly at the knowledge that the bond formed between them was not just a one way thing. But she was not here to spook him, or frighten him away, and so ... she stepped out of the shadows, into the low light, a small figure offering as little threat as she could manage.
It seemed the wolves would prevail tonight, as the sheep was quickly forgotten, along with his hunger, if only momentarily. He turned to face the living ghost in his presence, unsure if she was hallucination - a product of his hunger - or if she was something more. His senses told him she was real, flesh and blood, alive, but no longer human, just like him. He didn't speak. He couldn't remember when he'd last needed to speak. He only stood there and watched her, as silent and still as stone.
She approached slowly, as one might a skittish animal, coming no closer than was necessary to speak without disturbing the forest around them.
Her approach was not unlike the way he often approached the animals, with a hand extended, letting them know he meant them no real harm - it was only a little blood he needed, after all. But this was different. She might have been hunting him, after all, but she did not want his blood. Her name formed in his mind, on his lips, but no sound came out. Sakura, he whispered in his mind. But it couldn't be, could it? He looked too pale in the starlight, his eyes bright, but his face gaunt, his body too thin. There was recognition in his eyes though; recognition and wonder.
"They lifted the decree, William," she said softly, careful to speak in English. She had no way of knowing if he had retained his understanding of her own native tongue. "I have been looking for you."
The man he had been more than three centuries ago might have felt a rush of anger at the mention of the decree, but his time among the monks had not been wasted. He had learned to control his emotions, or at least, his rage. Whatever he had learned among them, he could not control the lump that formed in his throat or the tears that came unbidden to his eyes.
"Sakura," he whispered at last, his voice hoarse from disuse.
"Yes. Yes, it is me." But she didn't dare come any closer, not knowing how he would react to her from here on in. She could be moments from death, or from a new chapter in her long life. Only he knew which it was.
"Is ... it ... really ... you?" he asked, each word slowly enunciated, not because he'd forgotten how to speak, but only because he hadn't done it in so long. He felt his heart thumping in his chest, but he, too, remained where he was, afraid if she came any closer, she would evaporate before his eyes, proving her just a figment of his imagination.
"It is me," she promised him, trying not to let her gaze linger on how thin he had grown in his chosen exile. "I could not abandon my heart, my William. I have waited so long to come to you." She raised her hand slowly, her palm turned toward him, offering him the chance to touch her and be certain she was real.
He hesitated a moment, not because he was afraid, but because he still wasn't sure she was real, and then he stepped forward and stretched a hand out to meet hers, fingertips touching before he linked his fingers with hers. Her words found their way to his heart, and he couldn't stop the tears that streamed down his face.
"You are real," he said, only half-believing it.
Her small hand curled to his, lacing her fingers between his own, palm to palm, as her own tears began to fall from her sparkling eyes. "I'm real," she promised. "I'm here. I have missed you so much, William." She wanted to move closer, to wrap him in her arms and show him how real she was, but still she did not dare.