I was hoping Kruise would either forget that she wanted to talk to me, or that she'd just leave it because of Nix's news. I should have known better. After everyone else was asleep, she came to the guest room where I was staying and sat on the bed next to me.
"All right, now that we're alone again. What the hell did you mean, Trey?"
I sighed. "Can we talk about this later?"
"Sure." She paused for several seconds as I raised an eyebrow. "It's later; talk."
Shaking my head, I gave a rueful laugh. "Fine. Okay. What did you want to talk about?"
"Trey, don't give me that." She leaned forward and put a hand on my shoulder. "What you said out there could be taken as a suicidal statement. It scares me. Talk."
Her eyes were glistening and her voice was really rough. I realized just how much I had worried her and I sat up, not really wanting to talk, but not wanting Kruise to be scared either. After all, we were all worried enough about Jesse, she didn't need anything else added on.
"All right, let's talk. What do you want to know?"
Kruise shook her head and sighed. "I want to know what's up with you." She touched my cheek. "What do you mean, you can't feel anything?"
I shrugged. "I can't. I just . . . it's not like I can't feel anything. It's just that it all feels muted. Like my emotions are all wrapped in cotton. Or like I'm wrapped in cotton and can't touch my emotions."
"Mhm." She bit her lip. "How long has this been happening?"
"Since just before Jace left."
She nodded. "Did you know she was going to leave?"
After hesitating a moment, I answered softly, "I suspected she wanted to."
"Were you guys having problems? I mean, I knew that her decision to leave came as a shock to the rest of us, but at first I figured it was just a prelude to you moving out there with her. Was there something else going on?"
"We -- well, we weren't fighting, or anything. It wasn't that." I sighed. "We weren't having sex, either, but we weren't fighting. No, I think things began to go bad right after -- right after Star died."
Kruise shifted a little further onto the bed and patted my leg. "Lots of stuff started to go bad then."
"Yeah." I leaned back on my pillows. "I think actually that we both kind of closed up. We didn't talk much. I knew I was having a few nightmares, and I think she did as well, but . . ."
Her mouth suddenly dropped open. "Damn. I totally didn't think about that."
"About the fact that you guys -- you --" She stopped, and I could see her fumbling for words.
She shook her head again. "I never thought about how the killing might have affected you and Jace. I don't think any of us did. Jess and I, we've seen dead bodies, and we both have dealt with enough violence that a good talk between the two of us and we were okay. But you and Jace -- that was the first time you ever saw anything like that."
"Well -- I saw the Nosferatu. Remember?"
"Yeah, but those guys weren't human, and afterwards you were kind of -- well, crazed."
"Yeah." She smiled. "You remember the bathroom at Mowzer's?"
I laughed. "Yeah, I remember. God, you looked so hot that night. I just couldn't resist kissing you."
"Or doing some other things." She quirked an eyebrow at me and winked.
"Well, yeah, that's true," I admitted. "But I wasn't the only one going for just a little extra-curricular activity."
The two of us laughed together, and Kruise leaned over to kiss my cheek.
"Nice to hear you laugh, Trey." She smiled. "You sounded almost normal just then."
I nodded, kind of surprised myself. "Yeah. It's nice to laugh at something actually fun instead of just -- you know."
"I know." She shifted again and looked seriously at me. "Listen, I know that we're all involved in this thing again, and we may end up going through some more rough stuff before it ends." She cringed a little. "Gods know I don't want Dayle hurt, but . . . anyway," she shook her head and started again, "I want you to promise me two things."
"Okay, what do you want?"
"Number one, I want you to promise me that after this is over, after we get things settled again, that you will go for some counseling. Find someone to talk to. Anyone. Just someone who can help you work through this stuff, okay?"
I nodded. "And number two?"
"I want your word you won't do anything stupid."
I stared at her. "Kruise, I never said I was --"
"I don't care. Promise me."
We locked gazes for several minutes. Her hand had gripped mine tightly, and she was squeezing my fingers.
"I promise." There was nothing else I could do.
She nodded and kissed my cheek again. "All right, then." Standing up, she stretched a little and yawned. "I think it's time I got some sleep. And you should, too."
"You will." She leaned down and kissed my lips slowly, then reached up and closed my eyes. "Rest, Trey. Everything's okay."
I heard her leave the room, but I fell asleep after that, and for the first time in a long time, there were no nightmares.
The next morning, Jesse still hadn't shown up anywhere. Calls to her cell phone went unanswered, as did calls to her apartment number. Kruise left several messages, just asking her to call and let us know she was okay, but none of them were answered.
Kruise and I dropped by her apartment before splitting up. Dayle had a meeting with the software company she was doing some work for, and it was agreed that Nix should lay low for a little while, so it was just the two of us.
"If she's not here, you're headed over to the courthouse, right?"
I nodded. We'd been standing outside Jesse's apartment door knocking for several minutes, and we both knew she wasn't there. Kruise was hoping against hope, but finally she sighed and turned away. We got back in the elevator and took it to the first floor.
"All right. If you see her, you'll call, right?"
I nodded again. "Don't worry, I'm sure she's fine. I'll call you from the courthouse, I promise." I pulled my collar up tight against the wind.
"Remember, you can't use your cell phone there."
"I know, but they have a ton of pay phones, and I have my calling card. Relax, Kruise. Go to your meeting and I'll talk to you soon."
She hugged me tight and looked in my eyes. "Sometimes you both scare me." Then she smiled and sighed. "But I love you both, and my life would be very dull without you."
I grinned. "Don't you know that Jesse and I stay up late nights just trying to think of ways to make your life less boring?"
Kruise shook her head and laughed. "Get going, Trey. Talk to you soon?"
"Count on it." I watched as she hailed a cab, and hailed one for myself as soon as hers disappeared.
Sitting in the back of it, I sighed. If Jesse wasn't at work, I was going to find her and kill her for worrying Kruise like this.
I knew the judge Jess worked for, and I found his courtoom on the second floor of the courthouse. Court was in session, and I looked at the schedule to see that there were several arraignments and a hearing listed on the schedule. No lunch was listed, which meant it was at the judge's discretion. After checking with the bailiff, I went into the court, finding a seat in the last row.
Jesse was there. I had to do a double take, because I'd never seen her in her court clothes before. She was dressed in a pants suit, and her hair was drawn back in a pony tail. A few of her earrings were still visible, but all her tattoos were covered, and she'd taken out the recently acquired nose ring I'd seen at her place the other night. She looked respectable, and I just sat for a while in amazement watching her.
Her gaze met mine and she stiffened. I smiled and nodded, and after hesitating a moment, she nodded back.
After that I got the privilege of watching Jess in her capacity as court clerk. She was quiet, efficient, and totally different from anything I'd ever seen from her. I was glad to see this part of her. It made me understand a little more about her and the life she lived, and gave me a new appreciation for my friend.
When lunch rolled around, I waited, not knowing if I should leave and call Kruise, or if I should wait for Jesse to come to me, or if I should try to find her office near the judge's chamber. Luckily, my indecision was solved when Jesse stepped back into the courtroom and called my name.
"Hey. You look pretty sharp."
She looked down at herself and smiled self consciously. "Yeah, guess I clean up okay, huh?"
I grinned. "You free for lunch, gorgeous?"
A shrug. "Sure. But just you. I don't need to be ambushed by the gang."
"Gotcha. I do need to use a pay phone and call Kruise, though. Let her know you're okay."
Jesse looked puzzled. "Why wouldn't I be okay?"
"Nix told us about what happened at the club. We wanted to make sure you were okay, but nobody knew where you were."
"I'm fine." She folded her arms. "That all you wanted to know?"
I shook my head. "No. But it's a good start."
We stared at each other for a moment, and finally she nodded. "All right. I usually go to the deli down the street for lunch. Let me check what time the judge wants me back and I'll join you by the pay phones."
"Great. I'll call Kruise, let her know she can start breathing again, and hey -- lunch is on me."
"Cool. Serves you right for planning that little surprise for me." She sent a mild glare at me and turned away.
She turned back. "What?"
I smiled. "You really do look good, Jesse."
She shrugged slightly, but smiled a little nonetheless.
I turned and headed out the door towards the pay phones.
"Yeah, it's me. Jesse's fine, and we're about to go to lunch. Didn't call you earlier cause it's not a good idea to go in and out of the court room."
"She's really okay?"
The phone was pulled out of my hand. Jesse held the receiver to her ear.
"It's me. I'm fine. Trey's taking me to lunch. Later." She hung up. "Ready?"
I shook my head. "I still need to call Kruise."
She stared at me. "I thought that was --"
"No. That was Nix. She was worried too."
With a glare she turned and walked away, stopping to lean against a wall near the restrooms. I dialed Kruise's number as fast as I could.
"Hi, it's Trey, can't talk, Jesse's fine, we're going to lunch. Got it?"
There was a slight pause, and then she said, "Got it. Give her my love, okay?"
"Will do. Bye, Kruise."
I joined Jesse and started walking toward the elevator with her.
"Pretty hungry, eh, Jess?"
"No, just want to get this talk thing over with."
"Right." We waited in silence for the elevator to get there.
As we got in Jesse asked without looking at me, "Nix is all right? She got out of there okay last night?"
"She's fine." I hesitated. "She's the leader of the family, now, but she's fine."
Jesse rolled her eyes. "Wonderful. Just what I needed to hear."
We got lucky and found a table in the rear of the deli. I cleared the remains of the last person's meal while Jesse went to get our sandwiches and drinks.
I had just finished wiping down the table when she returned.
"Did you remember my onions?"
"Yeah, yeah. Roast beef on whole wheat with mayonnaise, lettuce and onions." She plopped the sandwiches down on the table. "You haven't changed your order once in the three years I've known you."
"Have too. Occasionally I get tomatoes." She snorted, and I grinned.
We ate in silence for a few minutes. I wasn't sure how much time we had, but I didn't want to rush things. She wanted to talk or she wouldn't have joined me for lunch, but I knew she would pull back into her shell in an instant if I wasn't careful.
"Kruise okay?" she asked.
"Yeah. Worried about you, and having trouble with Dayle feeding, but she's okay."
"Dayle feeding?"Jess stuffed a fry in her mouth, then swallowed it with a swig of coffee. "What about Dayle feeding?"
"Well, you know how vampires feed during orgasm." I shrugged. "Kruise was having a problem with that."
Jesse nodded. "Yeah, that makes sense. She wouldn't want Dayle touching another woman sexually." She took a bite of her sandwich, chewed, then looked at me.
"Yeah, we worked it out."
She swallowed. "How?"
With a shrug, I said, "I told her to go with Dayle to the club. Be a part of it."
"You what?" For a moment she looked shocked, then she started to think about it. "Hm."
"I think she'll have less problems if she takes part. You know, gets to help choose, and is there for whatever happens. That way Dayle isn't the only one that gets to have fun, you know?"
Jesse nodded. "That makes sense. Good thinking, Trey."
"Thanks." I waited. "Jesse?"
"I hate to ask, but . . . are you okay?"
"Uh-huh. I already told you that."
I nodded. "You did, but I had to ask. After the other night, I --"
"The other night?" She took another swallow of coffee and banged the cup down. "The other night you had the nerve to ambush me at my apartment with someone that I said I never wanted to see again. Remember?"
Remembering, I winced. It had been the night she admitted she loved Nix, when she was drunk, and she also said she never wanted to see her again.
"Yeah. I remember telling you that, and you deliberately called her, didn't you?"
"Um, no." I swallowed. "Actually, I . . . flew . . . to Toronto . . ."
Jesse stared at me, her black eyes burning holes into my face. "You went to Toronto?"
I nodded. "Uh-huh."
She shook her head and looked away, her jaw clenched.
"Jesse, none of us knew what to do. You wouldn't talk to us, not even to Kruise. All you did was hang out with the vamps, and with Shelby, and then --" I stopped and looked down at the table.
My voice was very soft, just loud enough for her to hear it. "Then you started wearing a collar again."
I waited for an explosion, and when it didn't come I glanced up to find her gaze focused on her mug of coffee.
"Lista and Maz. They said you were bottoming for Shelby."
Jesse swore softly and turned her gaze to the window outside.
It was snowing again, just lightly, but the cold temperatures and the moisture moving in were set to put the city in a blanket of white. Even as early as it was, the temperature had dipped well below freezing, and people were hurrying down the sidewalk, hands stuffed in pockets to stay warm.
"Is that why you brought Nix there the other night? Did you know Shelby was there?"
I shook my head. "No. I took Nix to the club, hoping you'd be there, and Lista said you were at home. Nix decided to just go there, and Kruise said it was fine." I shrugged. "I didn't think you'd take Shelby to your place, so I didn't say anything."
"You didn't tell Kruise I was bottoming again?"
"Because it was something you should have told her yourself."
Jesse winced and I nodded.
"Jesse, why? And why Shelby? When you first took me to the club and introduced me to everyone, you made it a point that I was to stay away from her. Was it because you wanted to be with her?"
She snorted. "Huh-uh. I knew she was bad news, and I didn't want you getting mixed up with her."
"But you did."
A short nod was all I got.
For several minutes she just sat there, watching the snow fall. I wasn't sure she'd answer me at all. Then she shifted slightly, leaning forward and sipping her coffee again.
"I don't know if I can explain it right, Trey. I -- needed something. I felt so out of control, have ever since -- well, since Nix left." She sighed. "I didn't want to be here. I didn't care about work, or anything else. Then we got that snow storm and I couldn't go out on my bike with Kruise -- not that she'd been going out on rides very often, once she and Dayle got serious." She laughed a little. "I was jealous of her. I had wanted Nix so bad, and it was Kruise that ended up in a relationship." She shook her head. "Ironic, huh?"
I nodded. "I was jealous too, you know."
"Don't look so surprised. Here's my best friend happier than I've ever seen her, getting into a relationship, and I'm watching mine fall apart."
Jess nodded, a thoughtful expression on her face. "Have you heard from Jace?"
I shrugged. "Just a postcard. She said she's happy."
"Right." She finished her coffee and rolled up the rest of her sandwich. "So, you think I should talk to Nix?"
"She loves you."
Jess glared at me. "That wasn't the question."
"You love her."
"That wasn't the question."
I nodded. "Yeah, I think so."
she sighed. "She's -- so damn in control. Always. It makes me feel like I have to be even more in control, or I have to --" she broke off and I finished the sentence for her.
"Like you have to be her slave?"
She nodded just a little.
I knew that had to have been a tough admission for her, and I wanted to reach out and let her know it was okay. This was Jesse, though, whom I had always seen as my tough friend that always saved my ass when I needed her.
And damn, I wanted to do the same thing for her right then.
"Jesse, I don't think Nix wants you to be more in control that she is and I don't think she wants you as her slave."
"No? What do you think she wants?" Her tone was sarcastic, but the force behind the question made me answer it seriously.
"I think she wants you to forgive her, and I think she'd do just about anything to make it up to you."
Jesse laughed. "Right. That's all she wants. Uh-huh." She stared out the window again. "She told me last night to bite her."
"She told you?"
"And you still think she doesn't want me to be her slave?"
I shook my head.
"Then why would she do that, Trey?"
Taking a deep breath, I shrugged. "Maybe she thought it would be enough to break Shelby's influence over you. It was part of her goal last night."
Jesse didn't answer that. She stared at the blowing snow, then snuck a fry off my plate.
"Hurry up. I need to get back to the office."
"Right." I finished my sandwich and shoved my fries at her. "Want the rest?"
She shook her head.
We left the deli and started walking back. I shivered, and she slipped a casual arm over my shoulders.
When we got to the courthouse, she turned to me.
"Coming in to watch the rest of the session?"
"Wasn't planning on it. You want me to?"
"Nah. Listen, I have to work late tonight. I made a deal with the judge, it's part of my payment for the drug use."
"You did your suspension, that should be over, shouldn't it?"
She shrugged and looked away again. "Can you keep a secret?"
"Even from Kruise?"
I hesitated, but nodded.
"The drug use . . . you never saw me use, did you?"
"Well, no, but I saw Shelby snort the coke, and I figured, when Kruise told me you'd tested positive, that you'd used with her."
She shook her head. "I didn't test positive for coke. I tested positive for heroin."
"What?" I stared at her. "Jesse, you --"
"No, Trey, I didn't take it. That's what I'm trying to tell you." She took a deep breath. "Shelby shot me up as part of a scene. I had told her that I was coming due for a drug test, they aren't as random as everyone thinks. She knew, and she did it anyway."
My brain was trying to process the information. "She wanted you fired?"
She nodded, frowning. "I was angry, but -- well, by then I was so used to just doing what she told me to that I couldn't stop. I wanted to, but I couldn't." She stamped her feet a few times, both to keep herself warm, and also to procrastinate in telling me whatever there still was to tell me. "The other night, after you guys left. I couldn't get into it, and I wanted to stop the scene. I used my safe word, and she ignored it. Instead, she shot me up again."
My eyes went wide, and I could feel the snow beginning to freeze to my eyelashes. "Jesse, they'll test you again."
She nodded. "I know. That's why I made a deal with the judge. I told him everything; how I'd gotten the drug, what kind of trouble I'd been in, and how I was stupid enough to let it happen again. He agreed that he would delay the drug test on a few conditions. Number one, I have to go to counseling." She rolled her eyes. "Like I've never done that before."
"I'm to be tested twice a month for the next six months, and if I fail one, I'm gone."
"Yeah." She shrugged. "I deserve it, so I'm not complaining. His last condition was that I stay late all the rest of this week and next. Says the files got all screwed up while I was gone, and he wants them reorganized." She smiled. "He also knows I'm gonna need the extra money, since I was suspended without pay."
"Sounds like he doesn't want to lose you."
Jesse shrugged again. "Guess not. I like him, and I'm glad he's giving me this chance, so . . . anyway, I'm not gonna be around till the weekend. I'm laying low for the next few days, don't want to go back to the apartment until I know Shelby's not gonna show up there."
"Oh, I don't think you have to worry about that."
She quirked an eyebrow at me. "Why not?"
"After you left, Shelby decided to do what you wouldn't. She bit Nix." I grinned. "And after the smoke cleared, Shelby was out, Nix was in charge, and she told the bitch that if she ever went near you again, Nix would tear her limb from limb."
A slow smile crossed Jesse's face. "Huh. Maybe I don't have to hide after all."
We chuckled together, and then she noticed I was shivering.
"Damn, sorry, Trey." She flagged down one of the taxis that were ever present outside the courthouse. "You tell everyone I'm fine, I'm just working late."
"Right." I stopped before getting in the cab. "Any message for Nix?"
She smiled. "Tell her I need some time." A shrug. "Till the weekend at least."
I nodded and hugged her tight.
"Get going, ya brat."
"Take care, Jesse."
I waved as the cab pulled away. She waved back and headed for the front doors.
I leaned back against the seat and sighed happily.
Things were getting better already.
End Part Seven
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