Introductions were made, with Jace and Kruise meeting Tess and Cam. A late dinner was ordered in by Jace, courtesy of Tess, who insisted that she was going to host this unlooked for party.
"It's my goddamn place, and I'll buy the goddamn food."
It was nearly one in the morning when we finally settled in to eat. For the most part, it was a quiet meal, with Jess brooding in a corner, and Tess and Cam taking turns checking on Nix. Kruise seemed relaxed upon first glance, but the corners of her eyes showed the tension she was feeling. Jace just kept hold of my arm, not saying much.
Conversation consisted of Jess and I filling in the blanks for Kruise and Jace. I also relayed the story of Nix's lover Chris, who was killed by Star. Jesse, hearing this for the first time, cracked the plastic cup she was holding.
Cam had rejoined us, leaving Tess to watch over Nix in the back bedroom. None of us had gone back there yet, though I'd caught Jesse staring at the door several times.
"So, Cam, tell us what happened in Florida, when you thought you killed Star?" Kruise looked curiously at the vampire. "I mean, why did you believe she was dead?"
"Well, it's a long story, actually."
Cam shrugged. "Short version. We tracked Star to Miami and set a trap. We threw a Halloween party at an isolated beach house. We knew she wouldn't be able to resist the chance to hunt with so many lesbians gathered there. Star showed up, but something went wrong, and the house burned. Tess and Nix thought she was trapped in the house."
"What went wrong?" Jesse asked.
Hesitating, Cam had to shake her head. "I don't know, exactly. I wasn't there."
"Why not? Where were you?"
"I just -- couldn't be there, Jace."
My ears picked up on that. "Couldn't? Why not? Were you hurt, or was Tess being overprotective?"
"Neither." She sighed, putting down her chopsticks. "Jess, you wanted to know why they call me half-breed." Jesse nodded. "They call me that because I wasn't born a vampire. I was attacked by nosferatu, and Tess and Nix worked hard to save me, to keep me from going insane, or dying like most of the women attacked by nosferatu. Because of this --" She paused, taking a deep breath. "Because of this, they call me half-breed, and the council in Miami said that while they had no problems with ancients feuding amongst themselves, if a half-breed was involved in the death of a vampire, she -- meaning me -- would be hunted down and killed." Cam lifted her glass and took a drink. "I guess you could say that Tess was being protective. She refused to allow me to participate."
I had heard the story of Cam's transformation, and relayed it to Kruise and Jace. Jesse, however, had never been told, and I watched her closely, wondering how she'd react. Having experienced discrimination in many ways, it usually infuriated her to hear of someone else experiencing it. I wondered if it would hold true even though this was a vampire.
Sure enough, the tendons in her jaw went tight, and as I watching, one of her chopsticks snapped in half in her hand. Jess turned slightly red as we all turned towards her.
I glanced at Cam to find her watching Jesse, one eyebrow raised in a speculative look. When Jesse raised her head and met Cam's gaze, the vampire let her eyes fall.
"I'm afraid any other details of what happened in Florida will have to wait. Nix and Tess can tell you more later."
"How is Nix?" Jesse sounded a little more than interested, and Jace and I exchanged smiles. "I mean, you two have been going back and forth, and that Kelsey person was here, but you haven't said anything. Is she all right or not?"
"She's fine, Jesse, or she will be soon."
"If she's fine, how come we can't go see her?"
"She --" Cam took a deep breath and held it for a moment. "She was hurt bad, Jesse, and she needs time to heal. But --"
"You think I don't know how bad she was hurt? Or what she needs in order to heal?" Jess tapped a finger against her own wrist. "I was her first medicine, remember?"
"And as Cam later pointed out to me, I should never have told you to do that." We all turned towards Tess as she leaned against the frame of the kitchen door. "It's only the fact that she was pretty weak, and you've got a lot of upper body strength that kept her from putting you in danger."
"What do you mean, Tess?"
"Trey, when a vampire is hurt, her body shuts down unnecessary functions and uses all its resources to repair itself. As long as she's been feeding, there's plenty of resources, and she'll heal without a problem. But Nix hasn't been feeding. She's fed exactly once in the last month, and only three times the month before that. So her body had nothing to repair itself with. Suddenly getting blood from Jesse, from a living source --" She shook her head. "That's like putting a platter of food in front of a starving man and telling him to be careful cause it's hot. He won't hear you; he'll burn his fingers and mouth eating the food, and not even realize it. Nix's body was so deeply in need of blood that the minute Jesse put an open wound in front of her she couldn't stop." Tess looked at Jesse. "She could have killed you and not even realized it. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to put you in that kind of position."
The last thing any of us expected was for Jesse to turn red, but she did. She kind of nodded to Tess and shrugged.
"It's okay. No big deal." She finished her drink without looking at anyone. "Can -- I mean, could we -- um . . ."
"Yeah, you can see Nix, Jesse. Let everyone finish dinner, and we'll have a meeting of some sort." She sighed. "Since the four of you seem to have declared yourselves in our corner, you have a right to know what's going on.." Her gaze traveled around the room pinning each of us. "We'll see how long you stick around when you know the truth."
She and Cam traded glances, and Cam nodded. Tess gave her lover a half-smile and left the kitchen. Cam got up and put her plate in the sink then followed after Tess. She stopped in the doorway.
"Um, if you guys want to settle in the living room when you're finished, that'll be great. Don't worry about the dishes, I can deal with them tomorrow. Go get comfy, and we'll fill you in soon."
"Um. Can you explain something? To me, I mean."
Cam shrugged. "If I can. Sure you don't want to wait . . .?"
"No. I --" Kruise took a deep breath. "I don't know if I'd feel comfortable asking the other two."
At that, Cam had to smile a little. She turned and leaned against the wall in an unconscious imitation of Tess. "They can be intimidating. Tess even practices in the mirror, I think." She winked. "Go on, what's your question?"
Kruise raised a hand to her throat to touch the white bandage there. "I don't doubt that it was a vampire, and from what I've heard, I don't doubt that it was this Star, but -- can you tell me why she didn't use her fangs? I mean, wouldn't it be simpler? Why stab someone in the throat?"
I had to admit that I'd wondered about that myself, and I was sure Jesse and Jace had as well.
Cam took a step back to the table. There was a frown on her face, like she was concentrating on how to answer the question. She put her forearms on the back of the chair she'd been sitting in, and leaned forward.
"Jesse, when Nix took you home that weekend . . . she bit you, right?"
"And you enjoyed it? It felt good."
Jesse turned red, but nodded.
"Trey. When Nix and I took you into the back room . . ."
I nodded, understanding what she was getting at. "It felt good. The bite, I mean."
"Right." Cam turned to Kruise. "When a vampire bites, their fangs release a chemical that causes the human brain to release more endorphins. Now, it also mixes with the endorphins, and causes extreme pleasure for a very short period of time. As long as the fangs are in the flesh, the chemical continues to be released, and the reaction continues. Once the fangs are removed, it takes under a minute for the chemical to be dispersed, breaking down in the blood stream. The pleasure fades as the chemical does."
There was silence in the room, broken only by Cam taking a deep breath. "When she started killing humans, Star decided to use something other than her fangs. For a while, she just cut the throat, but that wasted too much blood. She switched to puncturing the jugular to get a large amount of blood -- without letting her victim feel pleasure of any kind."
Cam stood and turned towards the door.
"Why does she hate humans, Cam?"
The vampire took another deep breath. "I think that story is best left for those that were there, Jace." She glanced back. "Ask Nix and Tess. They were there when Star's mother was killed."
With that, she finally left the room, and the four of us stared at each other.
"Vampires have mothers." Jesse shrugged. "Not something you really think about, is it."
We decided to clean the kitchen anyway, and I washed the dishes while Kruise dried and Jace went snooping to find out where everything went. I don't know why it surprised any of us that it was so much like a normal kitchen. Our new acquaintances hadn't proved to be anything other than women with a strange birth defect who lived a hell of a long time.
That was how Jace approached the whole thing, anyway, when Jesse asked her why she seemed not to be worried or concerned at all.
"Oh, I am, Jess. I'm just not worried about them being dangerous to us. If I had thought Nix was going to hurt Trey that night, I'd never have let them leave together. And while I'm fully aware that if they did decide to kill us, we'd be nothing more than talking take out boxes --" she shrugged. "I trust them."
Jesse nodded. She had gotten excused from doing the dishes since her wrist was still wrapped.
"How's the arm, Jess?"
"Good, Kruise. Hurts a little, but it's not bad at all."
"Cool. Think it'll scar?"
Jesse shrugged. "Don't know. Kelsey said probably not. That salve stuff is supposed to help prevent heavy scars."
Kruise was looking at the plate in her hands, which she flipped over for the third time. "Oh. Good." She dried the dish again, staring at it until Jace stood in front of her and cleared her throat. Kruise gave a sheepish grin and handed her the dish. "Sorry."
None of us had really realized it, but Kruise did have a slight vanity about her looks. I was with her when the doctor told her she'd probably be scarred for life. It was the first time I ever saw Kruise lose it completely.
I finished the dishes and turned around. Jesse was leaning back in her chair, a cigarette in her hand. I watched her for a moment before I realized she wasn't really smoking it; she was just rolling it in her fingers, tapping the ashes, moving it to her other hand and doing it over again. Every once in a while she'd put it in her mouth, but each drag was short, and she blew the smoke out in a quick angry breath.
"You okay, Jess?"
I followed her gaze over to Kruise, then looked back at Jesse. She looked like she was arguing with herself. I opened my mouth to say something, but Jace punched me in the arm and shook her head. I raised an eyebrow, but she just mouthed 'no.' I shrugged.
Cam came into the kitchen and stopped, staring at the clean table and the empty dish rack. Then she folded her arms and shook her head.
"You four just can't leave anything alone, can you?"
Jace grinned. "Nope. We're human like that. Gotta love us."
It took a moment, but Cam finally grinned, then chuckled, and finally was almost bent double from laughing so hard. It was contagious, and Kruise and I were soon laughing along with her. Jace was grinning like a maniac, and even Jesse was smiling.
Tess came in and stared at all of us.
"What the heck is so funny?"
Cam laughed for a couple minutes more, then calmed down and looked at her lover. "It's okay. Just -- a tension release." She smiled, putting a hand on Tess's shoulder. "Gotta love these guys."
The door buzzed, and Cam winked at us as she left the kitchen.
Tess just watched us all warily for a moment more.
"You guys wanna get this meeting started? It's gonna be sunrise before we finish."
We all exchanged glances, and then nodded.
"Great. Jesse, you wanna go get Nix? She can't walk yet; her leg is still healing, so you'll have to carry her. She wanted to talk to you for a minute, too."
Jesse stood, then nodded to Tess and left the kitchen.
"Everyone else, living room. Let's get this circus on the road."
Kruise and Jace filed past her, and I went behind them. Tess put a hand on my shoulder as I walked past.
"No chance of talking you guys out of this?"
I smiled. "Nope. We're humans. Stubborn, but you gotta love us."
That made even Tess finally crack
a smile. "Yeah. We do." She turned and followed me into the living room.
Jesse took a moment to collect herself before entering Nix's bedroom.
Then she took another.
"Come on, Jess. It's not a big deal." But it was, and she couldn't figure out why.
She froze as a soft voice called her name from the other side of the door. Taking a deep breath, she put her hand on the doorknob and turned it, then pushed the door open.
Nix was lying in bed, propped up on the pillows, with a splint on one leg. The bruises had begun to fade from her face, but she was still deathly pale, her white skin standing out against the dark green T-shirt she was wearing.
Jesse noticed it was a little big on her in the shoulders and figured it had to be Tess's. For a fleeting second she saw Nix lying on the bed at her place, in one of her old T-shirts, and there was a spark in her stomach. She shook her head and entered the room all the way, closing the door behind her.
"Hey." Jesse moved closer to the bed, sitting down when Nix patted the mattress next to her. "You feeling better?"
"Sure. A lot better." Nix shifted on the bed and winced a little. She laughed a little at Jesse's raised eyebrow. "Didn't say perfect, did I?"
Feeling nervous, Jesse studiously avoided looking at Nix's face. Instead, she looked at the head board, which had been made into a book case, and then at the different knickknacks along the top of the head board. She chewed her lip, trying to think of something to say.
Nix's voice surprised her and Jesse looked down into the blue eyes of the vampire. "Yeah?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to injure your wrist. I --" She stopped and shook her head. "I didn't' realize what I was doing. I'm sorry."
Jesse shrugged. "It's okay. It'll heal." She glanced at the Nix's waist where her T-shirt had ridden up slightly. "Will that heal okay?"
"Sure. May take another day or two, but I'll be fine." Nix reached out and put her hand on Jesse's knee. "I also want to thank you. You didn't have to help me, but you did. And -- you didn't have to feed me. But you did." She squeezed the knee in her grasp. "Thank you."
She got another shrug. Jess ran a hand through her dark hair and tried to appear nonchalant. "It's okay. I'm just glad you'll be all right." She looked down at the cover for a moment. "What was she trying to do? Did she really want to kill you, or just hurt you?"
Nix sighed. "I'm not sure. She wanted me to die slowly, if I did die. She stabbed me somewhere that takes a while to heal, and without having fed, I would have bled to death before my body could heal itself. Then she dumped me in an alley that faced east, so I had to either hide, hope that I could find someone to help, or face the prospect of burning in the sun. Between the sun and my wounds, I wouldn't have made it much past dawn."
"But she dumped you in an alley behind a bar you frequent. She must have known that someone you knew would come along.How long were you there before I showed up?"
The blonde vampire smiled sadly. "That's true. I'd been there a couple hours, since just after sunset, and as a matter of fact, you weren't the first person to pass by that I knew. But, Jess, you're the only one that knows what I am, and you're the only one I would have trusted. I would have let myself die if you hadn't come by."
Jesse felt her face go slack with shock. "You mean --"
"Yeah. I think Star must have known I wouldn't let anyone else in on my secret, so she dumped me somewhere I'd see friends, but not be able to ask for help."
"No. I mean, you -- you -- "Jesse turned away, trying to figure out what she was saying. "I, um. I guess I'm just surprised that you trust me. We didn't exactly part on good terms last time I saw you."
Nix chuckled. "You mean when Trey came to tell me about Kruise being attacked?" Jesse nodded. "Jess, that's not a big deal. Kruise is one of your closest friends, and she'd been hurt by someone like me, a vampire; for all you knew it was one of my friends who attacked her. I may not have liked being on the short end of your temper, but I could certainly understand it." She chuckled. "Especially after our 'date'."
That made Jesse laugh as well. "Yeah. Jace tried so hard to make that a good evening for us."
"Yeah. And all we did was snipe at each other."
"I'm sorry, I hate French restaurants."
"And I can't stand heavy metal rock." They smiled at each other.
Jesse felt a band inside her begin to loosen, and she reached up to touch Nix's cheek.
"You scared me, you know."
"I know. I'm sorry."
For a few moments they just looked at each other, each content with her own thoughts.
Someone knocked on the door, and Jesse went to stand. Nix put a hand on her leg to keep her seated on the bed.
"Just a moment, please," she called out. She looked back at Jesse. "When this is over, do you think we could try that date thing again?"
Jesse hesitated, then nodded. "I think I might like that."
Nix smiled, and leaned back into the pillows as Jesse went to open the door.
It was Tess and Kelsey. "Hey, you two about finished? Kels wanted to look you over once more before Jesse brings you out, Nix."
"Sure. I think we're done."
Jesse nodded and stepped out of the way. Folding her arms, she moved up against the wall. Tess glanced at her, noticing that instead of fidgeting or rocking on her heels like she'd done earlier, Jesse was perfectly still. There was the barest ghost of a smile on her face, which was mirrored by the smile on Nix's.
Tess chuckled as she left the room. Maybe Cam hadn't been wrong about those two after all.
Kelsey checked Nix's stomach wound and felt over her leg before retying the splint. "You're lucky, Nix. Another hour without blood and you would have died."
Jesse winced at that. Nix looked guiltily out the window.
"You know you need to feed. You're old, not immortal."
Kelsey tightened the bandage and stood. "Okay. You have another couple of pints before you go to bed tonight, you hear me?"
The doctor nodded. "And take it easy. You really ran your body down, and it's gonna take time to heal."
Kelsey eyed Nix. "And don't patronize your doctor. It's not nice."
"Ye-- um, okay."
Jesse smiled at the look on Nix's face, which looked like a child scolded for swiping a cookie.
"Okay, Jesse, she's all set. You can carry her out at any time."
"Great. Um, Kelsey, could I speak to you a moment in the hall?"
The doctor looked up at her in concern. "Why? Is it your wrist? Did something happen?"
"No, my wrist is fine. Barely hurts anymore. It's something else."
Nix was looking confused and concerned. "Jess?"
"It's okay, nothing big, I just -- was wondering if the doc could do me a favor . . ."
The living room in Tess and Cam's apartment was about the size of mine and Jace's entire place. It was a corner apartment, one of only four on this floor, so one wall had windows and the other had glass doors leading to a balcony. It was a nice night and the door was open, letting in the cool September air.
It was an interesting room, painted in two different shades. The outside walls were a dark blue, and the inner walls, which faced the windows, had been painted in a lighter, sky blue. Set in between windows were book cases, with no extra room on their shelves. A long wooden coffee table ran the length of the couch, which faced the balcony doors. There was also a love seat that sat perpendicular to the sofa.
The walls closest to the front door were covered in photographs. Some were new, but several were very old black and white photos. I could pick out the familiar faces of Nix and Tess and Cam in most of them.
There was one that showed the three of them with a fourth woman, someone who stood in between Nix and Tess and whom the Tess in the photo was looking at with a loving smile.
"Cam? Who is that?"
She smiled. "That's Tess's mother."
"Oh. She's very beautiful."
"Yes, she was."
Cam nodded. "Yeah. Nora died in 1943, in Europe."
"I'm sorry. What happened?"
"If you want the whole story, you'll have to ask Nix someday. But I warn you, she doesn't talk about it much."
"Was she there?"
"Yes. She and Nora were occasional lovers, and they often spent years together. They were in Europe during the war, and Nora was killed by the Nazi's."
"Damn. I'm sorry."
"She was a wonderful woman. Tess misses her, and so do I." Cam put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. "Ask Nix. But don't ask Tess. It still hurts."
I nodded, and stared at the picture for a few more minutes.
When I turned around, Tess had pulled two office chairs from their computer room.
"Okay, if everyone wants to get comfy, I think we're almost ready."
She and Cam took the office chairs which they'd put in front of the screen door. Kruise sat on the couch, with Jace beside her. I chose to sit on the floor between them. Jace reached out to play with my hair, which she had a tendency to do when she wasn't sure what else to do.
Kelsey had dropped her light jacket on the other end of the couch and headed off to check on Nix. The love seat, in an unspoken agreement, had been reserved for Nix and Jess. It made me wonder if maybe Tess and Cam saw the attraction between them as we did.
Dayle, who had just arrived, took a seat on the floor at the end of the coffee table. Dayle was my height, about five foot four inches, with short dark hair that had a reddish tint. Her bangs stopped just short of the her eyes which were a soft hazel. There was an elfish look about her, with her sharp features making her look young.
Not that any of the vampires looked old.
Kelsey came out of the bedroom smiling and carrying one of the boxes she'd brought in earlier. Behind her, moving more slowly, was Jesse, with Nix in her arms.
"Where you want us?"
Five arms pointed to the love seat.
Jess raised an eyebrow, but she gently eased the blonde vampire down onto the cushions. "You okay?" Nix nodded, and Jesse moved away, looking for another seat.
There wasn't one, and she gave us all a mild glare before sitting next to Nix.
Nix met my eye and I winked. She smiled, leaning slightly against Jesse.
I was surprised at how good she looked. Nix had been so pale and limp that I'd been scared for her. She was still pale, but the life was back in her eyes. Even though she was just sitting quietly, there wasn't the limp and still look that she'd had in the elevator. I felt my breath come a little easier in my chest.
Kelsey had put the case down in front of the couch and opened it. She pulled out the jar of reddish salve that I'd seen her use on Jesse's wrist.
"Kruise, you want to take that bandage off your neck?"
I glanced up to find a surprised look on Kruise's face.
"Because I thought we might try putting some of this on you." She shrugged. "It was Jesse's idea, actually. But I think it's a good one."
Kruise glanced at Jesse, who looked back and nodded.
"Is -- is that the stuff with -- blood -- in it?"
"Do it, Kruise. It'll help." Jesse's voice was softer than normal, but forceful.
Kruise nodded and reached up to pull the tape off. Kelsey moved closer and helped her.
"Here, Kruise, why don't you put your head in Jace's lap? Kelsey will be able to reach you easier, and it'll be better for both of you." I scooted back a little to give Kelsey a little more room.
Jace patted her lap, and Kruise turned, leaning back until her head was on Jace's thigh.
Kelsey finished getting the bandage off and set it aside. She leaned in to get a good look at the puncture.
"They had to put in stitches? That's unusual with punctures."
"It was deep, into the artery. They had to put a couple of stitches into the artery , and then a couple to close the wound." She swallowed. "They said it would scar."
Kelsey nodded. "Well, that's why we're going to use this. I don't think it's too late, we can still keep it from scarring over."
The doctor smiled. "Yeah, we can. But, for it to heal properly, I need to open those stitches. Get some of this into the wound itself. It'll seal the artery much better than just a stitch or two."
"Um." Kruise looked over at Jesse, who nodded. "Okay. Will it hurt?"
"No, it shouldn't. You might feel it pull a little, but that's all."
"Okay. Um, go ahead."
I reached up and took hold of one of Kruise's hands. Jace took the other one and held it against the back of the couch.
Removing the stitches didn't take long, and then I was holding a towel to Kruise's throat while Kelsey opened the jar of salve.
"Okay, this is going to feel a little strange, Kruise. It'll be hot, and then the heat will spread, and you'll get light headed for a few moments. It'll pass. Just relax."
"Right, relax." Kruise tightened her grip on my hand and I winced.
I pulled the towel away and Kelsey brushed the salve onto the wound, making sure it was deep inside.
Kruise gasped and her body went taut. Her eyes closed and she bit her lip. She squeezed harder on my hand and I knew there would be bruises from that. Then it was over and she was relaxing, her hands falling open. As I watched, her face went slack, her mouth opening and taking deep breaths.
The bleeding was slowing and stopping, and Kelsey set the bloody towel aside to put a fresh bandage on Kruise.
"Okay. I'm going to leave this jar of salve here. Someone needs to put more of it on Jesse's wrist in the morning, and I would suggest another dose for Kruise as well. By tomorrow afternoon they should both be healed enough to leave the bandages off, but one more dose and wrapping tomorrow night wouldn't hurt."
"We'll make sure they're taken care of." Cam was leaning back in her chair, watching the action. She looked tired, I noticed, and I saw Tess glancing her way several times in concern. They were touching, with Tess's thumb gently rubbing the back of Cam's hand, their fingers curled together.
Kelsey finished the bandage and stood. "Okay. That's done. You all right, Kruise?"
"Ye--" Kruise's voice came out in a squeak and she cleared her throat while the rest of us chuckled. "Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks."
"Sure. Thank Jesse; it was her idea."
Kruise raised her head and looked at Jesse. "Thanks, pal."
Kelsey sat on the couch, lifting Kruise's feet and letting them rest on her thighs.
Tess leaned forward and cleared her throat. "Now that all the medical stuff is taken care of, maybe we should talk about why we're here."
The atmosphere suddenly turned
tense, and I swear the temperature dropped in the room.
End Part Six
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