Several of the council members had turned and were staring at Justine. I had a feeling this wasn't what they'd expected from her.
Nobody had, obviously.
Nix tried to speak, and had to start and stop several times before she could complete the question. "What are you talking about?"
"Many years ago I got the chance to spend a while in Europe. While there I studied at a few universities, and I met this elderly vampire in northern Italy. She lives in a Villa, in the Italian alps, and she has a library that the Smithsonian would envy. Her books include some of the rarest in the world, manuscripts in many languages, some of which no longer exist in spoken form. It's really an amazing collection." She shifted in her seat, training her gaze on Cam. "Among her vast holdings are journals of vampires, most of whom are no longer with us. Within those journals are found records of accidents and even experiments that deal with women who were either attacked and changed by Nosferatu, or who were created by vampires themselves. There are tales of failures, and successes." The council head nudged the book she'd dropped earlier. "This is a collection of some of those journals, copies of them, really, though I've seen the originals and read them. Fascinating stories, and you're welcome to read the book, Cam. It might give you some insight, and some sense of . . . belonging."
Every head in the place was turned in her direction, and yet, Justine seemed not to notice. She directed her speech at Cam, who was seated between the incongruous pair of Nix and Jesse. I couldn't see Cam's face, but I had a slight profile of Nix's, and her mouth was open in surprise.
"It seems that there have been many cases such as yours, though you are the first and only half-vampire that I know of in the United States. It's not something that's widely known, as most are uncomfortable with their half and half status. When it was discovered, during the early 1400s in Florence, that half-vampires must have regular amounts of fresh vampire blood, there was an outcry against them. Vampire purists said that all those with impure blood should be stamped out. Many were killed, executed. Others fled. Due to that one event, those that either were, or knew, half-vampires, kept the secret."
"Who is this that you're talking about? I was born in Rome, I know most of the Italian vampires. I've never heard of this." Nix sounded half angry and half stunned.
"I believe you know her, Nix, as there's a portrait of you hanging in her study. Her name is Graciella."
The blonde vampire gasped.
Cam, sitting between Nix and Jesse, looked at her friend. "You know her?"
Nix nodded. "We grew up together. She's about twenty years older than I am."
I marveled that there were two people of such vast age.
Justine cleared her throat and continued. "I wanted to make sure we all understood that there was indeed a precedent for this situation. Half-vampires have been responsible for things like this, before it was discovered they needed vampire blood to remain sane. It was one of the main reasons cited when they were executed in the fifteenth century."
"Wait, are you referring to the Nosferatu slaughters?" Dayle looked confused.
"They went down in most records as Nosferatu, and anyone who wasn't there, Dayle, heard only that Nosferatu were hunted down and killed. None of them ever said that they were female, or that, at the time, they were as sane as you or I."
A few of the council members were mumbling under their breaths.
One was mumbling out loud, and she turned to the council chair. "We don't care about a history lesson, Justine. We voted you as head of the council because we thought you would lead. Now, either do it, or we'll elect someone else."
Justine smiled. "I am leading, Kara." She looked at the council, her gaze shifting from person to person. "There are two issues before us today, and neither of them has anything to do with Cam's guilt. The fact is, she committed the crimes she's accused of. We've heard her speak, we know that she is sane, and now it is known how to maintain her sanity. This is no longer about guilt, or about whether or not she can control herself. She is guilty, and she is in control. The question, then, is not about guilt, but about consequences, and about status." The council leader folded her hands. "What we must decide is if Cam should be punished, and what sort of consequences she must pay. Also, we need to decide, as the seated council in New York City, what Cam's status will be. Is she considered to be a Nosferatu, with the assumption that she is incapable of controlling her actions?" She spread her hands. "I think we all know that's simply not the case. So, will we consider her to be a half-vampire, with the full privileges of her heritage? That is the question laid before us today."
Many council members were looking at each other in confusion, several were looking at Cam with speculative looks, and others were smiling slightly. Three were glaring at Justine.
The council head seemed not to notice as she faced forward and addressed Cam and the rest of us again. "I believe this is a decision for the council alone. We thank you for your forthrightness, and your," she smiled at Jesse, "passion. And now we ask that you leave us to debate and discuss. If you wish to wait in the outer chambers, that should be fine, or if you prefer, you can wait at the diner, and someone will come get you when we're ready."
We were all so stunned we simply stood and filed out, not saying anything.
Before going through the door, Jesse and Nix stared at each other. I could see an almost pleading look on Nix's face, but she didn't say anything. Jesse's gaze was neutral, and she went through the door without a word to the vampire watching her.
I sighed, putting a hand on Jesse's back and following her out.
We waited in the diner. Dayle ordered pots of coffee and hot chocolate, and we sat quietly at a large table, with extra chairs pulled up.
Nix was taking long sideways looks at Jesse and trying to hide it. Jesse wouldn't look at her. Instead, she drank coffee and looked out the window, speaking only when spoken to.
Cam was quiet as well. She hadn't spoken since leaving the council chambers. Dayle held one of her hands and I held the other. Her eyes were glazed, and I wondered what, exactly, she was thinking.
Finally, she looked up and found Jesse's profile. "Thank you."
Jess glanced at her, and smiled when she saw the steady gaze. "You're welcome."
"You didn't have to do that."
"S'okay." Jess shrugged. "I had fun watching those bitches as they squirmed."
I chuckled along with Kruise and Dayle. Nix looked out the window, a forlorn expression on her face.
Cam smiled a little and squeezed my hand. I squeezed back, feeling especially protective of Cam right then.
Jesse got up to refill a coffee pot. Nix turned her head to watch her walk away. I leaned toward the blonde vampire.
"You going to do something, or just stare at her some more with this wistful look on your face?"
Nix looked down. "Well, I did have something in mind."
She nodded. "Yeah. But, I want to know what the council decides, and then -- well, for my plan to work, I need you and Kruise to keep Jesse busy for at least an hour, preferably longer. Can you do that?"
"I think we might be able to manage that. What are you going to do?"
Nix shook her head. "I can't tell you. If I do, I'll probably be too embarrassed to do it."
I chuckled, watching Jess come back to the table. "Well, whatever you do -- don't quit."
Another nod was all I got.
It was over an hour before someone came to get us. Dayle frowned; we'd been expecting Kelsey, but it was Grace who pushed through the diner doors and beckoned.
"The council's reached its decision." She grinned. "There was a call for only the vampires to return, but we figured if we didn't allow all of you to come along, you'd just turn up anyway. So, all of you are welcome to return with me."
I kept hold of Cam's hand as we all returned to the building that served as vampire city hall.
There were at least two council members that were still looking very hostile. Their jaws were clenched, and arms folded. Jesse glared back at them, her own arms crossed over her chest, standing right beside Cam as she faced the council.
Justine waited till the room was quiet before beginning her pronouncement.
"The council has decided that Cameron is to be held responsible for the attacks that she committed. She is to be banished from New York."
Cam swallowed and looked at the ground. I wasn't holding her hand anymore, but I wished I was. Jesse put a hand to her back, as did Nix. Dayle looked like she wanted to throw something. Kruise and I just looked at each other in horror.
"However, we do agree that there are mitigating circumstances in this case. Therefore, sentence is to be suspended for one year, and if at that time all other conditions of this council are met, the sentence will be overturned."
Cam's head came up swiftly.
"What are these conditions?" Nix asked.
Justine leaned forward again, her hands folded. "The first is that Cam is to pay restitution. The exact amount is to be determined later, and the money is to be paid to a victim's assistance agency here in the city. Secondly, since the only way to be certain that we never have this problem again is for Cam to have vampire blood, we are requiring that she keep a supply of it." She motioned toward Kelsey with her head. "Kelsey has generously offered to help you set up a supply, and will take donations from all vampires wishing to donate."
I saw jaws falling open in shock. First Cam, then Nix, then Dayle. Kruise and I just grinned.
"Our third condition is that Cameron gets in touch with one of the European half-vampires. I can give you some starting points to begin your search. The hope is that through communication with this other person, you'll get a better sense of who you are and not feel like you're the only one."
That was when my mouth dropped open.
"Now, since part of the problem, as Jesse so kindly pointed out to us, is the attitude of our own community, and since we are partially responsible for that attitude, we will do our part as well. The word will go out to the clubs that Cam is to be treated as one of our own, and any vampire not respecting that decree will come before the council on charges."
She paused and looked at all of us. "I will tell you that this is not a unanimous decision. There are those among us on this board who would rather see Cam banned from New York altogether. Therefore, I suggest you be absolutely certain that these conditions are met, so there is no reason to confirm this sentence in a year. There will be regular checks on the situation; Kelsey will keep the officers of the board informed as to how things are progressing. Every three months, we'll be checking in, either with a phone call or a visit, to see how you're doing." She looked at the papers in front of her. "In one week, Grace and I will meet with you to discuss restitution amounts. Grace will call and set up an appointment, so let her know where you'll be staying. Also, I'll bring a couple of names and addresses with me, so you can begin your search."
Justine looked up again, and this time she was smiling just a little. "Are these conditions understoond?"
Cam nodded, and so did the rest of us.
"Do you find them acceptable?"
Again, we all nodded.
"Then, this meeting is adjourned. Everyone have a safe drive home, and stay warm."
There was no gavel bang, but it sure sounded like it as several chairs were suddenly thrust backwards to hit the wall. Two council members strode toward the door angrily, while Justine watched them go with a half-smile. Then the new council leader stood and approached Cam.
Nix was whispering frantically into Dayle's ear, and Dayle nodded, glancing at Jesse. She whispered something back, and crooked a thumb in the direction of the door. Nix kissed her on the cheek, then hugged Cam, and grabbed her coat. Sparing a last glance at Jesse, she made her way out of the chairs and headed for the door.
Jesse watched her go, disappointment etched in the lines of her face.
Dayle was whispering to Kruise who frowned, but nodded. They kissed each other, then Dayle hugged Cam and said something in her ear. Cam nodded, and Dayle left, putting a hand on my shoulder as she went past me.
She and Nix were up to something, I could tell.
Cam hugged Jesse tight. Kruise put an arm around Jess, and kissed her on the cheek.
I was just watching them, smiling, when Cam turned to me. She smiled, a real smile for the first time in days, and I hugged her.
Someone cleared their throat, and we separated to see Kelsey before us. She leaned in and hugged Cam.
"Thank you, Kelsey."
"You're welcome, but the people you really need to thank are Jesse and Justine. They really made the council think, and other than some hot heads that refused to see reason, everyone was swayed by their logic." Kelsey looked up at Jesse. "Nice job. Hearing what you had to say hurt, but it worked. You made people think, and when Justine came out with her history lessson, the only logical thing seemed to be supporting Cam rather than banishing her." She grinned. "I thought we were in trouble when they took the chair from me, but Justine is good. She's united most of the council behind her, and the only three that aren't with her are totally against us anyway."
Jesse grinned. "Good. Guess that means I won't have to go throwing more temper tantrums around here."
It was nice to hear laughter again, and even better that it was coming from Cam as well.
"Hey, where did Nix and Dayle run off to?" Kelsey looked at all of us.
Kruise spoke up. "Uh, there was, uh, something Nix needed to do; she said it was important and she needed Dayle's help. That's all I know."
I wondered if that was really all she knew. Jesse's face seemed to crumble a little bit, and I slid an arm around her waist, keeping the other around Cam. "It's too bad, really. They'll miss our victory celebration. Dinner and champagne at Kruise's. Wanna join us, Kelsey?"
She laughed. "No, I think I'm getting home before the storm traps me somewhere. You guys be careful driving, all right?" She looked at Cam. "Will you be staying with Dayle and Kruise for now?"
"I think so. If not, I'll let you know where I am."
Kels nodded and leaned in once more to give Cam a one armed hug. "I'll be in touch, then. Try and round up a few volunteers for our new blood bank, hmm?" She smiled. "I'm sure Dayle and Nix won't have a problem with that."
Cam shook her head. "I don't think so. Thanks, Kelsey. Drive safely."
The former council leader left, and the new one took her place.
Justine looked up at Jesse and grinned. "That was a wonderful speech you came up with. I had to wonder if it was written, or if you thought it up on the spot."
Jesse shrugged. "Not written, but I have to admit I practiced it in the car on the way over."
"Well, it was nicely done. Gave me a wonderful segue into what I needed to talk about. Thanks."
The shorter vampire looked at Cam. "I'm sorry we gave you such a rough time, Cam. Please know that I'll do what I can to help you."
"No problem. Could you do me a favor in return?"
I think everyone tensed a little at that, but Justine smiled. "It's nothing major, really. I noticed that Dayle and Nix disappeared. I was hoping to talk to Dayle. We still have a seat on the council to fill, and I was going to offer it to her. Could you give her the message that I need to speak to her when she gets a chance?"
Cam nodded. We all kind of glanced at Kruise, who swallowed, then nodded as well.
"Great. Oh, and Cam, here." Justine handed her the book she'd had on the table. "Eventually I'll need it back, but I have the feeling there's some stuff in here you need to read."
Taking it gently, Cam looked up at the council leader. "Thank you. This means a lot to me."
"It's nothing, really. You take care, and let me know how things are going, all right?"
"Good." Justine nodded to the rest of us, then left, pulling a thick leather jacket on as she walked out of the room.
Jesse was watching her, an amused look on her face. Then she shook her head and turned back to us. "Well, I guess that's it. I'm gonna head on out."
Kruise looked uncomfortable, but she took a deep breath. "Could you possibly take us home? Dayle took the car, and Nix didn't drive."
I winced, watching the cold look settle on Jesse's face.
"Dayle just left you? Just like that?"
"Well, you were here, so she figured we'd all get home okay. And Nix said it was important, so . . ." She shrugged. "Come on, is it really that terrible? You could come up for a drink and talk for a while. I miss you." The last part was said softly, and there was a plaintive note in Kruise's voice.
Jesse thought about it, but finally nodded. "Gonna have to have a talk with Dayle about leaving her girl all alone."
"I'm not alone, I got Cam and Trey, and you." Kruise smiled and took her friend's arm. "Come on. I want to get home and get into some sweats."
The two of them headed for the door, Cam and I trailing behind.
"For what?" I shrugged. "I didn't do anything." I felt a little twinge of disappointment as I said it. Part of me wished I had been the one to give Jesse's speech.
We took the stairs down to the first floor, going a little slower than Kruise and Jesse.
Cam kept pace with me. "I know, but you've been right here for me this whole time, even after I nearly killed you."
"I thought I'd gotten through to you on that. It wasn't your fault."
She nodded. "I know. But still, thanks. Even the fact that you were willing to stand up and argue in my defense means something to me." Cam smiled, stopping me with a hand on my arm. The front door closed behind Jess and Kruise, leaving us alone in the lobby. "You're something special, Trey." Leaning forward quickly, she kissed me gently, then pulled back and pulled her hat down over her ears.
I took a breath, feeling the air fill my lungs. It was as if I hadn't been breathing in a long time and suddenly started again. "No problem." I reached into my pocket for my gloves, only to look down and realize I had them on already.
The door opened and Jesse stuck her head inside. "Would you two hurry up? It's starting to snow again."
We nodded, and Cam followed Jesse out the door, with me holding it open for her.
As we walked to the car, Cam shivered a little. I slid an arm around her, realizing that for the first time in months I couldn't feel the cold.
We talked Jesse into coming up to the apartment. Kruise offered her a beer, but she glared and took a soda instead, knowing that if she drank the beer we wouldn't let her leave for an hour.
She only stayed a few minutes more, and the minute she left Kruise picked up the phone and dialed.
"Hi, baby. Jesse just left. Thought you'd want to know she's on her way home." She paused a moment. "Yeah, Cam's fine, and so's Trey, and I'm going to bed cause I'm tired. Wake me when you get in, okay? I love you."
Cam and I waited patiently until she hung up.
"Okay, does someone want to tell me what's going on?" Cam asked quietly.
Kruise and I looked at each other and she shrugged. "I'm not positive. Dayle told me that Nix needed help with something and we needed to keep Jesse busy as long as we could. Other than that, I really don't know."
Cam turned her gaze to me.
"Well, Nix had a plan for how to get Jesse to talk to her. She didn't tell me what it was, exactly, just that she'd need us to keep Jesse occupied for a while."
With a slow smile, Cam nodded. "This is good. Those two need to get back together, or they're going to drive us all crazy."
Kruise nodded, then sighed. "All right. I'm tired, and I need to be up fairly early, so I'm off to bed. Goodnight, Cam. Trey, you okay with the couch again?"
I nodded, thinking it was better than going home alone tonight.
"I'll get Trey settled. Sleep well, Kruise." Cam hugged the taller woman, and then sat next to me on the couch and watched as Kruise headed for her and Dayle's bedroom.
I leaned back and looked at my friend. "So. Feeling a little better?"
She nodded. "Yeah, I think so. I'm beginning to feel -- normal, I guess. Some of the horror is fading."
"You know, if you need to talk, I'll listen." I gave her a half-smile and shrugged. "I'm told I'm pretty good at that."
Cam laughed and leaned back, dropping one hand casually on my leg. "You're very good at that, Trey, and I won't forget that." The smile on her face faded a little. "I wanted to spend some time talking with you after you got out of the hospital, but -- things got so tense, so fast."
I covered her hand with mine, and squeezed it gently. "It's okay. It's all behind you now, and you have a lot to look forward to."
"Like what?" She turned her head to look at me. "What do I have to look forward to? I now have to create a blood bank of vampire blood so I don't go insane, my lover of over two hundred years is gone I don't know where, and if I screw up I'll be banished from New York City. Please, Trey, tell me what I have to look forward to."
The smile was completely gone from her face, and her eyes were glittering with tears. When the first drop of water slid down her cheek, I turned and wiped it away carefully with my finger.
"You have as much to look forward to as anyone, Cameron." Leaning forward, I kissed her forehead, then pulled back to look at her. "You've just been given the key to a part of history that no one really knew about. You found out that there are others out there like you, and you aren't as alone as you thought. You get to go find them, to meet them, and share their experiences and lives even as you share your own." I placed both hands on her cheeks. "You've learned something bad about yourself, but you also know how to stop it from becoming a problem. You have friends who will be beside you the whole way. You're intelligent, and caring, and people love you." I stopped, watching the tears flow down her cheeks and over my fingers. "You're going to be fine, Cam."
She moved forward, into my arms, and I held her tightly, letting her cry. Whispering soft words into her ear, I tried to comfort her, to let her know she was going to be all right. After a while the tears ended, but she stayed in my arms, her head cushioned on my shoulder.
Finally, she sat up and wiped her face. I smiled softly at her. She managed a smile back, and reached for my hand to give it a squeeze.
Then she stood. "I should get to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day -- even though I don't have the slightest idea what I'll be doing, yet."
I smiled. "Well, whatever it is, I'll be with you if you want me there."
She nodded, the corners of her mouth lifting. "I do want you with me, Trey." My smile widened. Cam headed for her room, turning and winking at me before closing the door.
The grin on my face stayed, even as I leaned my head on the back of the couch and stared at the ceiling.
Hearing the bedroom door opening again, I looked up, concerned. Cam leaned against the doorway, biting her lip.
She hesitated, taking a deep breath. "That, um, that being beside me thing . . ."
"Could -- could we start that tonight, do you think?"
I was too stunned to move, and she must have gotten worried cause she frowned and started to close the door.
She stopped, looking back at me.
"I'd like that."
She smiled, and I nodded, rising from the couch. Cam reached out to me with her hand, taking hold of mine and leading me into her bedroom.
I closed the door behind me, happy for the first time since Jace left.
End Part Thirteen
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