San Francisco, California
Phoenix stepped into the restaurant and took her hat off. It had been hot for days, a relentless heat wave that baked the city of San Francisco, and Phoenix was glad to be in the air conditioned building. Even more, she was glad to be out of the sun and she slid the white jacket off with a sigh of relief.
Wiping the sweat from her face, she nodded to her friend Carol who ran the small diner. Carol was one of the few humans who knew of the vampires in their midst, having been told after two of them saved her from several attacking nosferatu. Since then, she had volunteered the back room of her restaurant as a meeting place for the group. Mostly, it was used for parties and friendly dinners. Today, however, was completely different.
Carol finished her conversation with a departing customer and moved over to her friend.
"Cam, Dayle, and Julie are all here, Nix. Julie said you're waiting for one more?"
"Yeah. Tess is outside keeping an eye out for her."
"This seems very serious. Something I should know?"
Nix looked slightly embarrassed. "Well, you know how we told you that vampires don't kill?"
Carol raised one eyebrow. "Yes."
"Well, this one has been known to break that rule."
"Oh." Carol's blue eyes looked down, and her hands twisted the towel she gripped in her hands. "So -- why are you inviting her here?" There was a tremor of fear in Carol's voice, and Nix put a hand on her shoulder to calm her.
"This isn't exactly a friendly meeting. We're letting her know that none of us are going to be very happy if she starts leaving victims lying around here. As long as she's in our city, there will be no killing, or she'll answer to us." Nix shrugged. "We no longer have powerful vampire councils like we did a few hundred years ago, but in a way that's our role here. The five of us kind of lay down the law to other vampires who either move here or visit. One of those laws is that there will be no killing of humans. Period."
The restaurant owner released her breath in a long drawn out sigh. "That's good to hear." She smiled at Nix. "Nice to know I'm just as protected as always."
Nix laughed and gave her friend a hug. "Everything will be fine, Carol. I promise." She pulled back. "I don't suppose you have any apple pies left? I promised Cin that I'd ask."
Carol laughed. "You know, you're going to spoil that girl."
The vampire smiled. "That's the idea."
"And her mother?"
The smile got wider. "Her, too."
They laughed, and Carol said she'd have the pie ready for Nix to take home with her. Nix headed for the back room and slipped inside.
The four of them were talking quietly when Tess opened the door and motioned for a tall husky figure to precede her into the room. The conversation was suddenly halted as a woman with dishwater blonde hair folded her arms and glared at Nix. On anyone else, the hook scar under her left eye could have been called 'character'. Combined with the frown she wore, it gave her face a twisted and angry look.
"So. I've been summoned. What have I done this time to annoy your grace?"
Nix ignored the sarcasm. "Have a seat, Star. We just want to talk."
"I'd rather stand."
Nix glanced at Julie and nodded. The black haired vampire leaned forward and cleared her throat.
"We asked you here today because we wanted to let you know the rules we have for all vampires in this area."
"And who gave you the right to make the rules?" Star glared at Julie. "There are no ruling councils anymore."
"Still, we're the ones who live here on a permanent basis." Dayle's voice was very soft. "There are about twenty of us that live here in San Francisco. It was agreed between all of us that we," she motioned to the assembled group, "would act as a council, to mediate disputes, and to enforce the rules that all of us agreed on. It was agreed, by all twenty of us, that there would be no killing of humans." She shrugged. "We're not monsters, after all."
Star laughed. "Of course we are. Don't you go to the movies?"
"We all know that the human legends are based on the nosferatu, not vampires," Tess spoke up from her seat by the door. "We can't control that. But Dayle's right. We're not monsters. And we don't kill humans."
Julie leaned forward. "So, as the vampire 'council' for San Francisco, we are letting you know the law. While you are here, you are welcome to feed. But there will be no killing."
"And if I decide to ignore your rule?"
"Then you'll suffer the consequences." Nix's voice was quiet but forceful.
"Going to run me out again, Phoenix? Just like you did thirty years ago?"
"No." Julie folded her arms in imitation of their guest and met her angry gaze. "You've been told the rules. We know that you have a habit of killing. Therefore if you choose to kill here, we won't just ask you to leave, or force you to. We'll bring you before the council and execute you."
The silence in the room was broken only by the clink of dish ware on the other side of the wall. Star watched each of her opponents, moving from one to the next and finally stopping on Nix.
Finally, she laughed, harshly. "Execution of a vampire by vampires. How very middle ages of you."
"Don't doubt our resolve on this, Star." Nix stood and faced her. "The rules here are simple. There are places where you are allowed to feed -- some humans crave the bite. You may choose to seduce someone; we have no problem with that. However," she leaned forward, placing her hand on the table, "there will be no attacks, and no murders. Attack someone and I'll personally throw you on a ship bound for China. Kill someone -- and as the eldest on the council I will carry out the sentence prescribed."
"Oh, and you'd just love that, wouldn't you?" Star stepped up to the table and put her hands down just inches from Nix's, leaning over in imitation of her opponent. "You'd love to have a reason to kill me. And I know why." Her green eyes flashed dangerously. "I know why you hate me so much, Nix. It's because I know your secret."
Nix snorted. "And what secret would that be?"
Star laughed. "Oh, no. I'm not giving that up yet. Not yet." She stood. "I don't care about your edict. I'm only going to be here for a short while. Then I'll be gone from your precious humans." The look she gave Nix was filled with malice. "But you and I will meet again, Nix. And then I might not be so . . . nice."
Phoenix merely raised and eyebrow and waited.
Star turned to Julie. "So, now that I've been warned, can I go? I have things to do."
"You're free to go, Star."
The husky vampire performed an elaborate bow, then straightened, smirking at the council. With a harsh laugh, she turned, flinging the door open and slamming it behind her.
Tess raised an eyebrow at Nix and received a nod. Slipping out the door, she followed Star out of the restaurant, watching as she drove out of the parking lot.
The tension in the room slowly dissipated. Nix opened her clenched fists and noticed the bloody half moons from her own nails.
"Well," Julie said. "That went well."
They all looked at her and broke out laughing.
Nix stood at the door to Cindy's room and watched Chris tuck the girl into bed. She smiled as she heard the Cindy's sleepy voice calling good night to her.
"Goodnight, Cin. Sweet dreams."
Chris straightened up from the bed and made sure the night light was turned on before joining Nix in the doorway. She turned off the overhead light and closed the door quietly.
The blond vampire took her hand and led her toward their bedroom in the back of the house. She waited until they were inside the room, then took Chris in her arms, one of her hands tangling in the curly brown hair of her lover.
"You know, love, if you keep bringing home pies for Cindy, you're going to spoil her."
Nix nodded. "Yes, I know. But since you love apple pie as much as she does, I look at it as spoiling both of you. Which is something I really like doing."
"So, you make points with both me and my daughter, hm?"
"Absolutely." She kissed Chris's lips softly, then harder. Her voice turned soft. "I love spoiling you, babe. You know that."
"Mmhm. I know." Chris's hands slid down to the hem of the shirt Nix wore, then pulled it up and over the vampire's head. "And you do such a good job of it."
Nix began undoing the buttons of Chris's blouse as she backed the taller woman toward the bed. "Well, since I hope to make it a permanent occupation, I should get as much practice as I can, don't you think?"
"Oh, yes. Please do."
Their lips met again as Nix eased the cloth from Chris's shoulders. Deftly, she undid the clasp of her lover's bra and pulled the straps down her arms and off.
Chris sat down on the bed and reached for the buttons of Nix's jeans while the blonde removed her bra. Nix tangled both hands in Chris's curls, gasping when she felt soft kisses on her stomach.
She slid her jeans off and reached for the button that held Chris's skirt together. Moments later it was lying on the floor, and Nix and Chris were stretched out on the bed, their hands mapping well explored territory, their mouths meeting again and again in an endless sequence of kisses.
Chris took a deep breath as Nix moved her lips down the soft neck, her tongue drawing wet trails along sensitive skin.
Nix's answer was muffled as her mouth was busy with other tasks.
Knowing it was unusual for her lover to use her full name, Nix stopped and pulled back. "What is it, baby?"
Chris turned a little red, and bit her lip. When she did speak, her voice was very soft.
"Will you bite me tonight?"
Nix smiled at her, caressing the side of her face. "Is that what you want, love?"
Chris nodded shyly.
Her lover lifted her chin so their eyes could meet. "I love you, Chris. You can ask anything of me. You know that."
A smile slowly crossed Chris's face, and Nix felt her heart rate increase. Gently she was drawn back to Chris's mouth, even as her hands slid down to cup Chris's breasts.
"Nix? Baby, you need to wake up."
Chris shook her once again, and Nix sat up.
"What's going on? What time is it?"
"It's just past nine in the morning, and Tess is on the phone. She said it's urgent."
Nix wiped her eyes and climbed from the bed, slipping into her robe as she did.
"Cin get off to school okay?"
"Yeah, fine. You better hurry, babe, Tess sounded pretty serious."
Wondering what was up, Nix headed into the kitchen and sat at the table, reaching for the handset Chris had left there.
"What's up, Tess?"
"Julie's dead, Nix."
"What?" Nix stood up quickly, her chair falling over backwards. "What are you talking about?"
"Cam and I found her this morning. It looks like a nosferatu attack, but I've never known them to do something like this."
"Where did you find her?"
"In her car. They bled her dry."
Chris had just entered the kitchen and she looked up in alarm at Nix's curse. It was unusual for her partner to cuss unless she was very upset about something.
"How did they -- did they over power her? How --"
"I'm no cop, but I'd guess she was getting out of the car when they shot her. There were several holes in her chest. Her body was laid out on the back seat. There was blood everywhere and she had bite marks in her throat."
"Fuck." The vampire slapped a hand down on the table, startling Chris who spilled the orange juice she'd been pouring. Nix mouthed an 'I'm sorry' to her. "Have you called the police? Or are you thinking we should handle this?"
"Well, Cam and I have kept it hushed. We can call the police if you think that's best."
"No. Where are you calling from?"
"The pay phone on the corner near Julie's place. Cam's standing guard at the scene."
"Good. You and Cam stay there. I'm on my way." She moved to hang up, then pulled the phone back to her ear. "And call Dayle. She'll need to see this."
"Right. See you soon."
Nix hung up and ran her hand through her hair. "Shit. This is so fucked."
Chris sat down at the table. "Wanna tell me what's wrong?"
"Julie's dead. Tess said it looked like a nosferatu attack."
"Oh, baby, I'm sorry." Reaching across the table, Chris took Nix's hand in hers, stroking the back of the curled fist. "Is there anything I can do?"
"No. I have to go. If this is what they think it is, we could have a big problem."
"Why?" Chris picked up the glass of orange juice and handed it to Nix, who took it without even realizing it.
"Nosferatu have never been this organized. They don't think very well, and in two hundred years I've only heard of three that actually could work a gun with any accuracy." She gulped the juice absentmindedly. "If they've suddenly gotten organized, it could be a real problem."
Chris nodded. "You said if, though. You don't think it was them?"
Finishing her juice, Nix moved to the sink and put the empty glass in the dishwater there. "I don't know. I won't know anything else until I see the scene." She kissed Chris and moved toward the bedroom, stopping to look back at her lover. "Oh, damn. I was supposed to take Cin fishing this afternoon. It's her half day and I promised her."
"Don't worry. I'll make your excuses, and once you figure out what's going on, you can hightail it home. Besides you weren't leaving till dusk anyway."
"Oh, right. Duh." Nix slapped a hand to her forehead and winked at her lover, who smiled back and shook her head.
"How did you ever live so long without me to remind you not to go wandering out in the sunshine?"
The vampire came back to the table and kissed Chris again, softly. Her fingers gently stroked the purplish bruise near the woman's collar bone. Pulling away, she smiled at her lover. "Sometimes I wonder how I lived without you, and other times I think my whole life was pushing me to this point so I could be here for you and Cin."
Chris smiled. "You romantic, you."
Nix's smile slipped from her face as she turned serious. "I love you, Chris."
"And I love you, my beautiful vampire."
Nix kissed her once more, then winked again and headed to the bedroom to get dressed.
It was close to eleven by the time Nix got to Julie's place. It was a small but very nice house in an area just between San Fran proper, and a smaller suburb. Julie had loved it because of the distance between houses, but also for the huge shade trees that grew so tall in her back yard. The tangled branches blocked out so much sunlight that she had even been able to sit outside without the covering that protected her from the burning rays.
To the side of the house, in a separate building, was the garage, also covered in shade. Nix saw Tess's Corvair pulled in behind Julie's Plymouth, and she parked next to it. Even though she was covered, as usual, Nix chose to slide out on the passenger side to avoid the sunshine.
Tess and Cam emerged from under the trees in the back yard. They waved Nix over to the Plymouth and Tess opened the door.
Julie was lying on the back seat, her head resting nearest to them, and her legs folded against the far door. Her eyes were open, but the color had begun to fade out of them. Nix turned away for a second, and took a deep breath before stepping nearer and leaning into the car to look at the wounds on her friend's body.
She counted four distinct holes, one of them directly into the heart. The others were different, and Nix motioned to Tess to join her.
"She was only shot once, I think, and that shot killed her."
"How do you get that?"
Nix pointed to the hole over Julie's heart. "You can see that this wound bled, heavily. It looks like she was standing when she was shot, cause the blood flowed down her chest and over her stomach, see? But the others didn't seem to bleed that much. There's barely any blood around the one on the right."
Tess nodded. "But if that one killed her, why shoot her three more times?"
Cam touched her lover's shoulder. "They're nosferatu, why do they do anything?"
Nix shook her head. "Those aren't bullet holes."
Very gently she placed her fingers on either side of the heart wound. Then she moved them to one of the other holes.
"They aren't the same size." Tess sounded confused.
"Puncture. Can't tell what from."
Nix knelt beside the car, turning the head of the body gently so she could look at the punctures in the neck.
"None of these come even near an artery or vein. They're just flesh wounds."
She turned the head the other way. "Those are the only punctures that you could feed from. And they're the same size as the ones on the other side." Nix stood, wiping her hands on her pants. "Those are all from one person."
"You mean, one nosferatu figured out how to kill her? Only one?" Cam sounded skeptical.
Nix folded her arms grimly and stared at the pattern on Julie's chest. "Tess?"
"Yeah?" The brown haired vampire turned to her. "What's wrong?"
"That's a diamond shape." Nix pointed to the four chest wounds. "Perfect diamond."
She watched as realization showed on Tess's face, and she turned pale.
"What?" Cam looked confused. "What are you two talking about?"
"Long story. Did you guys get a hold of Dayle?"
"Yeah. She said she was going to stop by Carol's and then she'd join us here."
Tess leaned against the car, her eyes closed. "I can't believe the bitch did this."
Cam put her hands on her hips. "Who? What are you two talking about?"
Nix turned away, her fists clenching and unclenching.
Tess fixed her gaze on her lover and sighed. "In the middle ages, if a vampire was executed by the ruling council, they did it with four punctures, the first one in the heart. Then they bled the corpse and cut off the head. The body was left where other vampires would see it, so they would remember." She stood up and moved a step closer. "Star's mother was found guilty of killing another vampire, and was sentenced to death. They executed her." Tess jerked her head at the body in the car. "This is her answer to our edict yesterday."
Cam looked down at the ground. "Oh." She crossed her arms, then looked up at her lover. "Then -- why didn't she cut off the head?"
Tess shrugged. "No time? Didn't have the right tools? Doesn't really matter."
There was the sound of a car horn, and they all turned to watch Dayle's pick up truck pull to a stop in a cloud of dust.
She jumped out of the truck and ran around to the other side, into the shade. Pulling off her sunglasses, Nix could see that her eyes were red from crying.
"She did it. She killed Julie, and she killed Carol, and --"
"What?" It was Tess's voice asking the question, but it was echoed in Nix's mind.
"Star. She blew up Carol's place. The restaurant's gone. Carol's dead, along with most of the employees and several customers. I got there just as the fire trucks were pulling up."
"How do you know Star did it?" Nix's voice was low and angry.
"On one of the brick walls near the back, there was a painted pentagram with an S in the middle."
Tess nodded. "Star's symbol, from way back when." She flexed her hands in anger, then lashed out at the car, putting a fist through the window.
Cam put her hands on her lover's shoulders and laid her head against her back.
"So. It looks like she's after us."
Dayle nodded at Cam's statement. "I think we should stay together. Maybe crash at my place, or yours, Tess. After all --"
Nix raised her head. "Gods, no."
"What?" Tess turned to her friend. "Nix? What is it?"
"She's not just after us, she's after things we care about -- like the restaurant, and Carol and --" Chris.
The name echoed in her mind, and ignoring the sun on her skin Nix ran for her car, jumping in and slamming the vehicle into reverse. Then she was squealing the tires on the street and heading for home, her heart hammering in chest.
The house looked fine as she turned into the drive. Pulling into the garage, only half aware of the two vehicles following her, she threw the door open and stumbled out of the car. Three steps, and she was opening the door to the kitchen, calling for Chris.
There was no answer, and she moved further into the house, frantically calling her lover's name.
Chris was lying on the couch. Her eyes were wide and sightless as they stared at Nix. Her shirt had been ripped open, showing her stomach, where someone had used blood to draw a pentagram with an S.
The phone rang. Nix moved toward it mechanically and picked it up.
"Hello, Phoenix. Did you like the surprise I left you?"
For a moment Nix couldn't say anything. Her hand tightened on the phone and she could hear the plastic crack.
"You fucking bitch."
There was only laughter from the other end of the line.
"I am going to hunt you down, and when I find you, I'm going to hang you up to burn in the sun. I'm going to slice your guts open and pull them out, and let them fry. I'm going --"
"Ooh, tough words. Gotta find me first, bitch. Oh, and don't worry. I'm not sticking around. After all, I did what I came to San Francisco to do. I'm on my way out of town right now. Just thought I'd make sure you got my surprise."
"You better run. Cause when I find you, I'm gonna fucking destroy you."
There was more laughter. "Bring it on, Nix. Oh, and do me a favor? Tell Dayle I think I proved my point. We are monsters."
There was a click, and a dial tone. Nix yanked the cord from the wall and threw the phone across the room. It hit the wall next to Tess who was holding Cam in her arms, her eyes full of angry tears.
Nix knelt by the sofa and pulled Chris's body into her lap, rocking it back and forth, whispering her lover's name and kissing her forehead.
New York City
Nix slowly let the memories fade as she stirred her coffee.
She could never actually remember telling a frightened Cindy that her mother was dead. Cam and Dayle had been there, she knew, and Dayle had taken the girl in for a short time, until they found a good home for her.
Nix hadn't actually thought about Cindy in years. The girl had grown up to be a beautiful young woman, and Nix had remained a presence in her life, eventually sharing her secret with her young friend. Cindy had gone to college, then spent two years in the Peace Corps. Upon her return, she entered med school, eventually becoming a renowned internist. Since her retirement from active practice in '99, she'd been teaching at the UCLA med school. She and Nix still exchanged letters and phone calls, though the visits were few and far between.
A sip of her coffee reminded Nix of how long she'd been sitting there. She winced at the bitter taste of the cold drink, and poured it out the window.
Drumming her fingers on the steering wheel, she waited, her eyes flicking over different women as they left the club.
She remembered doing something similar to this with Tess. Acting on any and all tips, the two of them had spent hundreds of fruitless nights waiting for Star to show up. The search for her had taken a long time, until they'd finally caught up with her in Florida, nearly fifteen years after Chris's death.
Before she could sink into that memory, a familiar figure stepped out of the club and lit a cigarette. As the flame illuminated the face, Nix could see the hook scar under her left eye.
As she watched, Nix could feel the rage filling her stomach. The image of Chris's dead eyes flashed through her mind, and she curled her hands around the steering wheel, squeezing till she felt a slight give in the plastic.
The woman she was watching stepped into the street and hailed a cab. Nix started the car and pulled out slowly, following her prey.
Tonight, she wanted blood.
End Part Two