Nix was gone by the time we got down to the car. Dayle thought she must have taken a cab, and we should let her be for a while. She'd go over to her apartment in the morning and check on her.
Kruise looked stunned. I think I did, too. There was this weird feeling in my chest, and it hurt just to breathe.
"You wanna come home with us, Trey? You and Kruise look like you could do with some time to talk."
Dayle, by the way, is an extremely perceptive woman.
"Yeah, we probably could. But, I think for tonight, I just want to go home and write. That okay with you, Kruise?"
She nodded absently and got into the car as Dayle held the door for her.
I got into the back seat, very much missing the dour presence that had ridden over there with us.
"You sure you're going to be all right, Trey?"
"Yeah, Dayle, I'm sure."
We both glanced over at Kruise, who was staring blankly out the window. In her reflection, I could see the tears flowing down her cheeks. She looked like she'd lost her best friend, and I felt my stomach drop at the thought it might be true.
I didn't sleep well that night. Instead, I stayed up for hours, just writing and thinking about everything.
I had learned from playing with Jace that it can be a wonderful feeling to just let go, let someone else take responsibility for you. Bottoming is not about pain, or being hurt; it's about giving up control to another person, letting them care for you, guide you, please you, and take you places you can't go by yourself. Certainly the bottom, in a safe play situation, has the ultimate control in that she can stop the action anytime she needs to. But the top, if the bottom trusts her enough, can take away all need for thought and responsibility.
Jesse had confided in Kruise and I long ago about her first mistress, and how Jesse had had no choice. She'd been forcefully trained, and her own pleasure had been subordinate to her domme's. She'd been a good bottom, but had lost the desire to submit to anyone else's will. Gaining control over her own life had been a fight all its own, as she battled her family as well as her own nature. The freedom had been too hard won, she said, to give it up even for a night.
But I'd been watching Jesse for three months, and some part of me was really not surprised that she'd let herself go back to being a bottom. She'd been hurting since Nix left, and the pain had hollowed out a part of her. Giving up control of her life must have seemed a good trade off -- give up control, and feel only what her domme gave her.
What I couldn't understand was her bottoming for Shelby. I'd heard about her as 'Mistress' and knew that there were several people that still bore scars from her 'attentions'. Maz was one who consistently avoided her, which is why he was never made Elder; Evan had sought the Mistress's favor, and therefore gained position over Maz.
They were as screwed up as any dysfunctional family. So, in a way, I guess I understood Jesse's choice.
But it still hurt to think about it.
Finally, as the darkness began to drain from the sky, I finished my glass of Jack Daniels and slid into a restless sleep.
I'd only been asleep a few hours when I heard this banging on the front door. At first I thought it was part of my dream, as I was reliving the nightmare of our visit to Jesse's. But even as I slipped from the dream and blinked in the sunlight, the pounding continued, along with someone calling my name.
"This better be fucking important," I muttered as I slid a T-shirt over my head. I glanced at my robe but decided whoever it was could deal with me in my sweats and torn T.
"Yeah, all right already." I yanked open the door --
-- and nearly screamed at the sight in front of me.
It was Nix, only it almost didn't look like her. Her face was lobster red, and she was shivering. She had no coat on, just a short sleeve shirt, and her arms were covered in oozing blisters. She looked like she was about to faint, and I reached out to grab her, trying not to touch any of the burns.
"What the fuck happened?"
She swallowed. "Drunk. Fight. Got conked over the head and passed out. Sun --" She winced and whimpered as I got her onto the couch. "Hurts."
"I'll bet." I reached for the phone to dial Dayle's cell. Nix waved me off.
"Just need to rest... need sleep."
"Those burns should be looked at, Nix."
"No. Just some aloe or something. It's really not that bad."
I glared at her, but she wouldn't back down. In the end, I put the phone down and helped her to the bathroom, where she sat on the toilet while I cleaned her face and her arms. There was a small gash in the back of her scalp that she said was caused by someone slamming a bottle over her head.
"They stole my wallet and my jacket."
"And left you in an alley, where you slept through the sunrise."
She nodded miserably.
I shook my head. "What the hell did you have to go get drunk for?"
Nix looked at me like I was crazy. "Were you not paying attention last night?"
"Of course I was. But you didn't think that all you had to do was see her and everything would be all right, did you?"
"No." She winced as I spread aloe over a particularly bad blister. "But I didn't expect to be accused of rape."
I frowned. "I know. I wasn't expecting that either."
She was quiet as I finished covering her burns. Her gaze remained on the ruined parts of her skin as I put the salve back in the medicine cabinet.
"Do you think she was right?"
I stopped in mid motion, then moved my hand away and closed the cabinet door.
"I don't know. What do you think?"
Nix sighed, her eyes sad as they stared out of her burned face. "I think that I'm fifteen hundred years old, and Jesse makes me feel twenty again." She shook her head. "Why is this so hard? Why can't I just say I love you and have her say it, and let everything be good between us?"
"'Cause she's human. 'Cause she's been hurt. 'Cause she was hurt again when you left." I shrugged. "There are probably a hundred more reasons, but those are the ones off the top of my head."
"Great." Nix tried to stand and ended up sitting again, hissing in pain. "Damn. I should have just stayed in the alley."
That brought me up short. "What?"
She glanced at me, and looked away. "Nothing. Never mind."
"I don't never mind well. What did you mean by that?"
"Can we just drop it please?" She struggled to stand up and gingerly walked out the bathroom door. "I didn't mean anything by it."
"Right." I followed her out to the living room. "You just said you think you'd be better off dead, but I'm supposed to ignore it."
She glared at me. "I didn't say that."
"You said you should have stayed in the alley."
"Well, yeah." Nix looked uncomfortable as she sat down. I had a feeling it was as much the conversation as it was the injuries.
"And if you had stayed in the alley, you would have died from your burns."
After hesitating, she nodded.
I dropped into the cushions next to her. "Nix, don't try to con me. It's Trey, remember? I'm the journalist, the writer, the listener -- you won't get rid of me, and you can't make me forget what you said. Talk to me."
She glared at me. "Can't you just leave it alone this once?"
More glares. "I don't wanna talk about it."
"Too bad." I glared back. "What are you gonna do, run back outside?"
"So the sun can burn you some more and you can end up in worse condition?"
"Why are you looking to die, Nix?"
In one moment, her facade shuddered, then fell. The tears slipped down her cheeks, and she shook as sobs broke from her chest.
I pulled her to me gently, turning her so her back was to me and her head rested on my breasts. Cradling her, I began rocking back and forth, waiting for her to catch her breath.
She finally did, and rested tiredly against me, the tears still flowing.
"I haven't hurt this much since Chris died."
I nodded. "Jesse's the first person you've loved since then, isn't she?"
"Yeah." Nix shook her head. "And I fucked it up. From the very beginning, I fucked everything up." She raised her chin to look up at me. "Jesse's right, you know. In some ways, I did rape her."
"You pointed it out to me, that night in the Shadow Box. I could have stopped her from tasting my blood, and I didn't." She shrugged. "After that, it was no longer her choice."
I thought about that, and about the Jesse I knew. "Nix, did you approach Jesse in the bar?"
"No. She approached me."
"And did she tell you why she approached you?"
Nix frowned. "She said she wanted to sleep with me."
"Right. So, she said she wanted you. You said okay, then warned her against biting you. She ignored the warning -- granted, you didn't stop her -- and the two of you ended up having sex the rest of the weekend. Does that sound like a fairly good summary of what happened?"
There was a pause, but she nodded.
"Then how is it rape? Yeah, after she tasted your blood, you weren't going to let her go. But she had said she wanted to sleep with you well before that. She got what she wanted."
"Then why --"
"Why did she say those things last night?" Nix nodded, and I sighed. "She's hurting. You left her at the airport, just took off, didn't say how she could reach you, when you'd be back, if you'd be back. I think she wanted to try and hurt you as much as you hurt her."
"My leaving was never about her."
I shrugged. "Then what was it about? And don't tell me Tess, 'cause you could have just avoided her. New York isn't that small a town, you know."
"I --" It was her turn to sigh. "I needed time. I needed to make some decisions. I wanted to go away from all the crap, and just -- escape." She looked up at me again. "I got over Chris. I did. I thought Star was dead. Then she wasn't, and I was dealing with memories, and you guys being in danger, and then the beating and trying to recover, and all the other crap." Another deep sigh. "I just wanted everything to disappear."
"No," I corrected her quietly, "you wanted to disappear."
The blue eyes closed and she nodded faintly.
I put my chin on her shoulder, careful to avoid the burns on her cheek and neck. "I don't know the vampire protocol on suicide, Nix. Is there a rule, or a moral law on that?"
She swallowed. "Not really, not once you get as old as I am."
That made sense to me. I couldn't imagine all the history she'd seen, or all the changes she'd lived through. "So, it wouldn't be anathema for you to end your life."
Nix shook her head.
"Well, if you choose to do so, I can't stop you. And I won't try." She opened her eyes and looked at me. "But, I'm going to be selfish and ask you not to do so."
She smiled. "Thought so."
I laughed. "I am rather transparent, eh?"
We both chuckled for a moment.
"You know, you've made an impact on our lives. Mine, Kruise's, Jesse's, and even Jace's, though she's left town. You proved the fairy tale can be real, legends are more substance than myth. That's a gift, and I thank you for it."
One blond eyebrow rose.
"I think you also gave an even better gift to Jesse. You gave her someone to love. She hasn't had that in a long time. Her reputation doesn't allow people to think of her as partner material, and her tough exterior doesn't let many people get close enough to see past the reputation." I tapped Nix on the forehead. "But you did. Yeah, maybe the first night was just sex, and neither of you meant to take it any farther. But it went farther -- for both of you. You care about her, and don't tell me you don't."
Her eyes closed again. "I do."
"And I know she cares about you. If she didn't, she wouldn't have tried so hard to hurt you last night."
"She didn't have to try so hard; it hurt, believe me, it hurt."
I smiled, but there wasn't any humor in it. "Yeah, I know. But, she's hurting too. Which is why she's lashing out at everyone, even herself, and why she's trying so hard to kill herself."
Nix sat up quickly. "What do you mean?"
I shrugged. "What do you think I mean? Doing drugs, driving drunk, letting someone who's known as a vicious domme top her. She's trying to kill herself passively. Why do you think we brought you back here?"
She gaped for a few minutes, her mouth opening and closing. Then she turned back around and resumed her position. "Ow."
"Yeah. Just pulled some of the skin."
"Oh." We sat quietly for several minutes.
"You really think I can help, Trey?"
I bit my lip. "I don't know, Nix. What I'm almost certain of, though, is that you're the only hope we have of reaching her."
"And how am I supposed to do that?"
I shrugged. "No one said it would be easy."
She chuckled. "No. You never said that." Nix sighed again, and closed her eyes. I felt my own lack of sleep closing in, and before I could move from behind her, I was asleep, with Nix in my arms.
At some point, Nix had woken up and carefully moved me to my bed. I awoke to the sound of voices in the living room, and rolled over to check the clock. I blinked at the flashing numbers that said it was nearly two in the afternoon.
The visitor in the living room was Kelsey, who had brought along her familar red box. Nix was stretched out on the sofa, a bag of blood in her hands that she tried to hide by sliding it under the throw blanket tossed over her. Her face was still red, as were her arms, but the blisters seemed to be smaller and healing.
"Don't do that, Nix. It's hard to get blood out of the couch."
She chuckled and moved the blood back to its original position. "Sorry. Wasn't sure you wanted to see it."
"I take it you're feeling better?" She nodded. "Good. Hi, Kelsey."
"I told her she should have let me call you right away."
"I know. She's stubborn, though."
I snorted. "Too stubborn for her own good." Nix looked outraged while Kelsey chuckled. "I'm starved. Anyone want anything solid?"
Kelsey shook her head, but Nix nodded. "Don't suppose you could fry some eggs?"
"I could. They'd probably end up scrambled though, because I'm just bad at frying 'em."
She grinned. "Scrambled."
"Mind if I throw some other stuff in there? Cheese, and onions and such?"
"Sure. No mushrooms though."
I headed for the kitchen and pulled down a frying pan. While I got eggs out of the fridge, and began a late brunch, Nix and Kelsey resumed their conversation.
"So, it's definitely a vampire, cause it's female."
Nix shook her head. "I can't think of anyone that would be doing this. I know occasionally people get banned from the clubs or something, but it's still not difficult to pick someone up at a bar. If nothing else, there are plenty of guys who would trade a bite for a good orgasm."
"I know. None of the clubs have reported that they banned anyone lately, and I checked on everyone that was on the banned list. Most of them have left town, or they've got their own little band of feeders. This has to be someone who came in from outside the city."
"What's the MO?"
They both turned to look at me.
"What's the MO, Kelsey? How do the attacks go? Is it always the same? Let's approach this logically and look for a pattern."
Nix grinned. "So, who are you now, Detective Trey?"
I shrugged. "No. But I had to do some research for an article I was writing. I learned a few things."
Kelsey leaned back with a sigh. "There have been eight attacks now. If I remember right, all the attacks have taken place on lone individuals that were drunk. Most have been women, but a couple were men. A couple of victims managed to fight off the attacker, but every one of them has been bitten. Two had to be hospitalized due to blood loss, but no one's died, yet."
I thought about that while I stirred the eggs. "You know, Nix, I'm always surprised at your strength. If all vampires are as strong as you, then there's no way anyone should have been able to get free from the culprit."
"Well, it depends a little on age as well. We get stronger the longer we live. It's kind of a defense mechanism, because as you get older you need a little more blood more often."
"So, this might be a young vampire."
She nodded. "Could be. Perhaps someone who was orphaned and wasn't taught anything." A frown crossed her face. "But then, that would make her only about twenty-five, which is really young for us."
"Yeah, you guys age differently, don't you?"
"Pretty much the same up until puberty," Kelsey said. "After that, the aging process slows down for us. Your adolescence lasts for about five years before you're fully developed. It takes us nearly fifteen to reach maturity."
"Damn. That long?"
I brought two plates into the living room and put them on the coffee table. "You want some hot chocolate, Nix?"
"I'll even join you in that, Trey."
I went back to the kitchen and poured hot chocolate for all of us, then returned to the living room. Nix was already eating, and she smiled in thanks for the drink.
Sitting down, I sipped my drink and thought for a minute. "So, what's going to happen when you find this person, Kelsey?"
She shrugged. "Up to the council, but I think banishment at the very least."
"What if it is an adolescent vampire who was orphaned and doesn't know the rules? Will you still banish her?"
A sigh. "I don't know. I think we'd have to tread very carefully if that's the case."
"Has that ever happened? An orphan, I mean, that -- well, she'd have to know that she's a vampire, right, I mean --"
"No necessarily, Trey."
I stared at Nix. "What do you mean?"
"The need for blood doesn't occur until puberty. If her mother was alone for whatever reason, and then died, in an accident or something else, then it's possible she could be brought up as a human, and not know that she's a vampire." She nodded. "And yes, that's happened before. It happened quite a bit during World War Two."
"Huh." I thought about that. "So, how are you going to catch this person?"
They looked at each other, then back at me. Nix grinned.
"I thought you were the detective here."
I gave them a snort of laughter. "Right. Like I want to track down another crazed vampire? Get real."
They both laughed.
Kruise and Dayle showed up a little later. They looked at Nix with a mixture of concern and pity, combined with a hint of anger. I think Kruise especially was angry, as if she blamed Nix for Jesse's downfall.
I had to admit that she wasn't completely wrong, but I also knew that Nix was the only one who could reach Jess.
The conversation began with the question of how to track down the vampire stalker. Ideas that were thrown out ranged from putting ads in the paper to getting a composite from the police and passing it through the vampire community. We also discussed the possible motives behind the attacks, and whether or not it might be an adolescent vampire.
Dayle admitted it was possible, but didn't think it likely.
"I understand what you're saying, but I don't think it would happen today. I mean, Nix, think about Trisha, and what happened to her."
Nix nodded. "I remember."
Dayle turned to the rest of us. "Trisha grew up with her mother, and her mother told her she was a vampire. But her mom was killed when Trish was just seven years old. She was sent to live with her father, who was a very religious person. She told him what her mother said, and her father said it wasn't true, that she certainly had an allergy to the sun, but if she just prayed hard enough the lord would deliver her from all her problems. Trisha believed him." She glanced back and forth between me and Kruise. "Sounds like a good setup for tragedy, huh?"
"Yeah. What happened?" I leaned forward, intrigued.
"Well, Trisha moved with her father to a suburb of Chicago. This was in the early 80's, I think, when I was still just moving around a lot. She entered puberty, and started getting the blood craving. She'd cut her hand and swallow her own blood, but it didn't help. Her father found out, and he took her to a priest, who prayed over her. Since she could touch a cross without pain, he said she wasn't possessed or under the power of a demon, so they went home, but things got worse. Her father decided there was just one way to cure her -- punish her till she stopped."
"Great," Kruise muttered. "You can't figure out what's wrong, beat on it. You know, sometimes men are just -- so -- male!"
We all laughed, then Dayle continued the story.
"Well, his abuse got noticed, and Trish was taken out of his care. She was sent to a psychiatrist, who put her on psychotropic drugs and released her. She went nuts, and ended up running away.
"Thinking the priest was wrong, she went back to the church, this time in Chicago, and asked one of the priests there for help. Said she was a vampire, and would he please stake her. He, on the other hand, called a couple parishioners of his who happened to be --" she waited for us to answer.
"Exactly. So, they came in and found Trisha, and took care of her. See, what you're describing might happen in some of the smaller towns in the U.S., but not in a big city. There's enough of a network that knows about us that someone would see them. Someone would tell."
"Yeah," I agreed, "but are you telling me that in a city of ten million people or more that you could spot every adolescent vampire? Come on, Dayle."
She shrugged. "I said it was unlikely, not impossible."
I sighed. "Well, whatever it is, it doesn't help much. How are we going to actually find this person?"
Kelsey looked up from putting more salve on Nix. "Well, I suppose we could canvass the clubs again. Someone could talk to a few of the victims and see if they can tell us anything that might be important to us rather than the police."
"And someone should check out the bars where each of the attacks happened," Nix added.
I cocked my head. "I suppose I could talk with whats-his-name, the guy from college. He and I had a class together, so he'd probably remember me and I could tell him I'm writing an article."
Kruise nodded. "Good idea. Dayle and I can swing through the bars, if we can get a list of them."
"I can give that to you. Nix and I will hit the clubs, then. Or at least we will," Kelsey looked at Nix, "when she doesn't look like a red pepper."
Nix threw a pillow at Kelsey.
We all laughed, but Kruise clearing her throat brought the conversation back to a serious nature. "Guys, what are we gonna do about Jesse?"
There was silence.
Nix sighed. "I suppose I can try to talk to her again. Maybe if I can get her away from Shelby, I can get through to her."
I snorted. "Good luck on that. If she's not at work, Shelby's normally attached at the hip. Or the groin, if you know what I mean."
She looked at me, the lines around her eyes showing her frustration. "Then what the hell do I do?"
"Well, this is just a suggestion." We all turned toward Kelsey.
"How do you know about this?"
"Nix told me a little bit, Kruise, while I was patching her up -- again." She glared at the blonde vampire.
"What's your suggestion?" I asked.
"Well, these people play at being vampires. Jesse knows they're not real. She knows what is real." Kelsey shrugged. "Why not go down and take the top spot from the bitch? You're real, at least -- she's a fake."
I looked around at the others to see what they thought. Kruise was frowning, as if unsure of the plan. Dayle had raised an eyebrow and was looking questioningly at Kruise. Nix had turned her gaze inward, blue eyes darkening as she considered.
Was it a good plan? I had to ask myself. There were a lot of ways it could backfire, but it could also at the very least remove Shelby from a position of influence. That could only be a good thing, in my book.
Nix's voice was soft. "I'll keep it in mind, Kelsey. It's always an option if I need it." She looked at me. "But I do want to see her tonight, if it's possible. Would she be at the club, or --" she stopped, wincing as if in memory of last night's confrontation.
"I think there's something going on at the club," I answered. "Last week Lista said something about new recruits or something. I don't know."
She nodded. "I'll go check it out. If she's there, maybe I can at least talk to her."
We all agreed, and decided to split up and see what we could get done that day.
The vamp bar didn't open until ten, so Nix would go with Kelsey to the vampire hangouts. Kelsey made a list of bars where people had been attacked, and Dayle and Kruise headed out to go snoop around them. I searched through my old phone book and called Clint Stutzman. He was surprised to hear from me, but agreed to meet me early in the evening for coffee at a restaurant very close to his house.
Seemed like Clint was scared to leave the house, and even more frightened to be out after dark.
I found myself almost anticipating the interview.
End Part Three
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