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January Thirteen

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"Honestly, Amber, I can't imagine craving any kind of liquid but coffee."

Amber laughed lightly as she sipped from her own cup. "I've noticed some people are very particular about drinking their coffee." She lowered her voice. "I wonder whether the transition to craving blood would be so different for them."

The café was only occupied by two customers. They sat at a table near the window, which looked out onto Hanover Street. Usually a bustling tourist trap during the day, it was not so crowded at 11:15 p.m. The owner was the only remaining worker, his dark Italian eyebrows raised at the entire situation: the cheerful moods of his two last customers—usually, anyone who was in here at this time of night was either lost or drunk—their low tones of conversing, and the unnaturally pale skin of this "Amber" that even the warm lighting couldn't mask. However, they were still paying customers, so he wasn't fool enough to kick them out before the café officially closed in fifteen minutes.

Amber stared into her companion's eyes. "Nathaniel," she whispered, "that man is watching us."

Nathaniel was about to glance over at him, but Amber's stare advised him not to draw any more attention to themselves than they already were.

"Don't worry about it. I mean," he grinned at her, "it is late. I would be suspicious if I were him."

"Maybe we should just pay and leave," said Amber, sighing. "We've been here for a while, and he probably wants to close up soon anyway."

Nathaniel cast down his eyes, and placed his hands, warm from his steaming cup, onto Amber's cold ones. "This is the only opportunity we've had to go out together in a while. Let's not end it just yet."

Amber smiled delicately. "You just don't want to go back out into the below-freezing temperatures."

"Well, that too," he replied, chuckling. "But seriously, you don't get that many days off. And there are only so many nights I have where I don't have a pile of papers to grade."

"I know, Nathaniel. Then again, he's walking over to us right now."

That he was. The owner gruffly inquired as to whether they would like the check; Amber met the owner's gaze and nodded, since Nathaniel merely stared into his cup and said nothing.

"Nathaniel," said Amber when the owner had walked away, "would you like to…" She hesitated, then began again. "My hotel isn't that far away. Might we continue our conversation there?"

"Hotel…?" It took him a second to remember that Amber lived in a hotel; one of their conversations on the (many) plane trips they had taken together was about the various pros and cons of doing so. Right now, however, proximity was a definite pro.

"Sounds good to me."

Out in the worst fury of a Boston January, the pair walked quickly to reach warm shelter. Nathaniel was bundled up in a woolen hat and scarf—from which puffs of steam escaped as he breathed—and a long coat, but still his nose reddened, and tears streamed down his cheeks and through his 5-o'-clock shadow of a beard. Amber, on the other hand, in her gray trench coat and newsboy cap, showed no signs of even a chill as the wind blew her dark hair out from her face.

"I'd offer to walk close to you and warm you up, but that wouldn't really work, would it," she yelled over the wind. Nathaniel, not wanting precious heat to escape through his mouth, nodded and and lowered his eyes to the sidewalk against the searing gale. With glimpses of Amber's feet to direct him, he did not need to look up again until they came through revolving doors and into the heated, glimmering lobby of the hotel.

While Amber checked in at the reception desk, Nathaniel, breathing heavily, collapsed into a large armchair as the feeling came back into his hands and feet. He examined his reflection in the mirrored columns and cringed: he looked pretty awful. His bloodshot eyes were almost as red as Amber's, and the cold had seemed to etch out wrinkles in his skin that weren't there before.

It was the first time they'd seen each other since the search for the Shroud, and Amber certainly hadn't changed at all. In fact, she was even more beautiful than he remembered. (Then again, there were so many other memories from those life-altering forty-eight hours that, perhaps, got in the way.) But he, on the other hand—

"Nathaniel?"

Embarrassed that she had found him frowning at his mirror-self, Nathaniel quickly stood up and attempted to flatten his hair.

"I'm checked in. We're going to floor fourteen." Nathaniel followed her to the elevators, where Amber pressed the UP button and waited. Nathaniel said nothing, so she broke the silence.

"Well, technically, it's floor thirteen, isn't it." She paused, and glanced at him. "Bad luck, you know." Again, no reply. She stepped towards him and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Is something wrong?" she asked. She smiled as her hand found its way into his. "The normal Nathaniel would start rambling on about the origins of the superstition and mysticism surrounding the number thirteen."

As the elevator door opened with a familiar bing, he couldn't help but grin; she was dead on, of course. She returned the smile, and seemed satisfied that she had cheered him up.

Nathaniel's smile faded, however, when he noticed that the mirrors on the walls of the elevators showed only himself, curving his hand strangely around…nothing. He raised his eyebrows at the mirror.

"You know, that still weirds me out."

Amber had noticed what had caught his attention, and stared sadly at where her reflection should have been.

"It still weirds me out."