Star sighed, sliding gently from the back of Anna’s bike and following her friend. The wind caught her dark hair and flung it into her face, a welcome veil over her expressive eyes.
“I can’t,” she whispered. Anna’s narrow eyebrows creased into a frown and she dropped back to walk next to Star. Star glanced sideways at the other female, then jerked her gaze forward again when Anna caught her looking.
“Star, what’s wrong now?” she sighed, exasperated by Star’s continual refusal to hunt. “You can’t stay a half forever. Look at Laddie, he’s enjoying it.” Both girls glanced up ahead at Laddie who walked next to Dwayne, laughing over something or other the tall vampire had said. Anna tilted her head, a small smile brushing over her lips before she shook the tender mood away. “So what’s wrong Star?”
“I don’t think I can do it,” Star said quietly. Her hands twisted together, fingers entangling with each other roughly, her movements jerky. “I don’t think I can kill someone.”
Anna snorted, glancing at Star out of the corner of her eyes. “You were ready to kill Tommy,” she reminded her. Star sighed, staring down at her hands, silent. Her silence lasted until they were almost upon the entrance to the bar the Pack had begun to frequent.
“I don’t think I can keep it up after I do,” Star whispered. “Night after night, killing. I just don’t think I can be a monster.” Anna nodded, not arguing with her this time. She had a good point. It was hard to kill time and time gain, though Anna knew that soon enough Star would become immune to the guilt entwined with taking a human life. Her stomach clenched at the thought of being the one to destroy Star’s innocence. She couldn’t do it, couldn’t take away her idealism.
Michael swept past them then, barely glancing at Star. His face twisted into a scowl at her last words and he shoved the door open, losing himself in the smoky haze that constantly hung in the air of the bar. Star started to reach for him; her hand fell back to her side when he continued on without glancing back. Anna shook her head, tsking a little at their stupidity, but caught Star’s arm gently and drew the female inside.
“Why the frowns, girls?” Marco called, appearing before them with two beers. Star took one from him, lips curling in disgust, then reluctantly lifted the bottle to her lips, needing the burning relief the alcohol would bring. Anna sighed, accepting the bottle from Marco with a small smile. She glanced at Star, then across the room to Michael, then rolled her eyes, letting her exasperation fill her gaze for a moment before moving off, rubbing Marco’s hair with one hand as she passed him. He grinned up at her, moving away himself, already staking out the bar for his dinner.
Anna crossed the room to what had become known as her corner of the bar, the darkest corner available. Already her chair waited, back pressed to the wall, offering her a clear view of the entrance and the entire room. The paranoia that she had clung to as a human still swept through her at times. She welcomed the emotion, wrapping it around her like a security blanket, her one tie to her human life. Though she didn’t regret having been turned, the small bit of humanity she managed to retain was a comfort to her. It was for this reason that she couldn’t force Star into making the change.
She flung herself into the chair, long legs stretched out in front of her. The beer drooped listlessly in her hand and she glanced around the room slowly, her eyes sweeping over the people draped over bar stools and crowded around the small tables. The blood sliding through their veins called out to her, filling her head if she allowed it. Her brain seemed to pulse in time with their heartbeats, her breath growing slow and even as she concentrated on the mortals filling the room. The soothing crash of their pulses slid over her like waves beating upon the beach, lulling her into a painless state, where no thoughts could fill her head, other than the hunt set before her.
Sam flopped backwards onto his bed, sending a spray of comic books to the floor. He didn’t bother to pick them up. Instead he sighed deeply, staring up at the ceiling, not seeing the peeling paint. His mind’s eye was filled with memories of his brother, images of them fighting and laughing, from the time they were tiny little boys, not even big enough to leave the yard alone, until recently and the move from Phoenix to this hell on Earth.
“Knock knock,” Lucy called out as she pushed his door open. Sam pushed himself into a sitting up position, forcing a smile on his face. He grabbed the first comic book his hand brushed against and pulled it open, glancing up from the page just as she entered his room. “Do you know where your brother is?”
Sam nodded, dropping his gaze once and drawing in a deep breath before he could answer her without his tone giving the lie away. “He said he’s going to stay with some friends,” he said with a small shrug.
Lucy sighed, running her fingers through her short hair, then moved farther into the room, perching on the edge of his bed. She shook her head a little, face crumpling for an instant. “Why didn’t he tell me?” she mused out loud, then shook her head again. “Bed time Sam.”
“Ok mom,” Sam nodded, smiling at her once again. She returned the smile slowly, then bent over to kiss his forehead again, catching sight of the comic book he was ‘reading’.
“Horror comics again?” she asked, shaking her head a little. “I couldn’t sleep after reading those.” She left then, shutting the door behind her gently. Sam sighed, glaring down at the comic book in his hands.
“Vampires Everywhere, bah,” he said, flinging it against the far wall. It hit the poster there with a soft thump and slid down to collapse on the floor. “Vampires. . .Mike. . .” Sam’s face crumpled and he rolled to his stomach, burying his face in his pillow.
Grandpa moved away from Sam’s door slowly, letting the hand lifted to knock drop back into his pocket. He passed Lucy’s room, where his daughter sat on her bed, face buried in her hands, shoulders shaking as she bit back the sobs that wracked her body, refusing to make a sound that might give her away. His movements didn’t stop until he was down in his office, amongst the dead animals he knew so well.
“Come on Edgar,” Alan frowned over at his brother. “Can’t you carve any faster than that?” He motioned roughly to the large pile of wood set on the counter in front of himself. “I’m doing all the work here.”
“You want it to fall apart the first time we stake something?” Edgar snapped. Alan shook his head quickly. “Then don’t rush me.” Both brothers sighed and dropped their heads back to their work. Short knives scraped over the pieces of wood, sharpening them to razor edged points. Spread out across the counter in the back room was a good fifty stakes, all carved into utter sharpness.
“Later we talk to Sam,” Edgar didn’t lift his head from his project, but simply stated the fact. Alan nodded, though his brother couldn’t see the move. His knife flashed over the wood quickly, sending yellowed, curled shavings tumbling to the floor, mixing into the growing pile at the base of his stool.
Edgar tested the tip of the stake against his thumb. The wood was sharp enough to pierce his skin, drawing a shiny drop of red to the surface. He stared down at it a moment, the deep red color giving way to other images, memories from their last vampire hunt.
“We kill her this time,” Alan said suddenly, following his brother’s train of thought. Edgar glanced up at him, then slipped his thumb into his mouth, cleaning the small wound quickly and trying to stop any more bleeding. He nodded after a moment, rubbing his free hand on his pants.
“All of them.” They exchanged long looks, then returned to their stake sharpening, knives flashing in the dim overhead light. The silence grew companionable and neither broke it until they set their latest carvings gently on the growing pile.
“Even Michael,” Edgar murmured, setting the knife down as well. He followed Alan across the room, glancing back around the crowded storage room for a moment. The piles of stakes seemed to almost glow under the bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The light reflected off the small pile of crosses in the corner and set the tips of the bolts resting in the crossbows on fire. “No matter what Sam says.”
Sam sat on the porch steps, staring off into the distance. Nanook leapt and cavorted with the squirrels that skittered about the yard, searching for nuts to hide for winter, though the weather wouldn’t grow truly cold, not like their cousins farther inland. The boy ignored all of this though, his thoughts still twisting around the fact that his brother was a vampire. He blew a quick blast of air out through his lips, aiming it up so that the air brushing his forehead stirred gently.
“Sam,” Alan called out as he and Edgar drew near. Their bikes tossed up bits of dirt when they skidded to a stop, splattering the bottoms of Sam’s pants. He ignored the mess, turning his gaze to them slowly. Alan hopped up onto the porch next to his friend while Edgar leaned against the railing at the end of the stairs.
“What?” Sam asked finally, when they both remained silent for a long, uncomfortable moment. The two Frog brothers glanced at each other, then back up at Sam. He twisted under their heavy gazes, but still they didn’t say a word. Finally he tensed as if to stand. It was then that Edgar spoke.
“We’re going back,” he muttered, narrowing his eyes as he waited for Sam’s reaction. Sam disappointed him, however, for he said nothing, merely gazed into his face, apathy written across his features.
“Gonna kill the vampires,” Alan spoke up, leaning in towards Sam. His voice lowered, as if he were a secret agent passing classified information across enemy lines. “Even Michael.”
“No!” Sam jumped to his feet then, knocking Alan back against the porch. His heartbeat thudded in his ears, a loud testimony to his anger, which washed away all the cobwebs of confusion from his brain. “You aren’t going to touch him!”
“He's one of them Sam,” Alan reminded him casually, leaning back on his elbows. He lifted one hand to shade his eyes from the bright sun. Sam stared down at him, still shaking his head slightly, back and forth, back and forth.
“Come with us,” Edgar added, tugging open his backpack. He pulled out two of the recently sharpened stakes, holding them out to Sam with both hands, an offering almost. Sam’s eyes jerked to them, though he stared at them as if he didn’t know what they were. Edgar shoved them towards him in frustration, sending Sam leaping back across the porch away from him.
“No!” he snapped again, backing away more, though his pace was slower. “I won’t do this. I won’t!” His back bumped against the doors and he shoved his hands behind him, searching frantically for the door handle.
“We’ll do this with or without you,” Alan warned. He rose to his feet slowly, fixing his steely gaze on Sam’s face. Sam’s fingers scrabbled over the door, still searching for the handle that would release him from this mess.
“Thought you would want in,” Edgar continued, picking up where Alan had stopped. “Since he was your brother and all. . .” his words trailed off and he started up the steps, still holding the stakes out in front of his body.
“He still is my brother!” Sam snapped. Finally his hand caught the handle and he twisted it quickly, spilling into the murky house. The door slammed shut behind him, a solemn sound, blocking the Frog brothers out. They exchanged looks, then turned, leaping from the porch and onto their bikes quickly, sending up another spray of dirt as they peeled away, peddling for all their lives were worth.
“He’s weak!” Alan yelled back at his brother as they raced towards the comic book shop. Too long had been spent with Sam and the sun already dipped beneath the swell of the ocean. To be out and about after dark was a death wish for the vampire hunters.
“Uh,” Edgar grunted in reply. He peddled harder, gripping one stake in each hand as he clutched at the handle bars. The feel of the wood was firm, a comfort against his palm, though splinters jabbed into his bare skin every moment or so. They didn’t need Sam. They could take out the vampires on their own.
“Lucy,” Max’s warm voice washed over her and she turned with a smile, setting the stack of videos she was sorting back onto the counter. The weary lines of anxiety fell away at her bright smile, though she tried to tone down her look for the customer’s sake. It wouldn’t do for half the town to think she had been given this job simply because she was dating the boss. . .if dating could be considered the right word, for after the little fiasco at house with dinner, they hadn’t really had another date. . .except for the brief dinner at his house that had ended with a simple good night kiss, nothing more. A brief flush of red swept across her cheeks and she shook her head in an attempt to drive away the naughty thoughts that seemed to creep into her mind of their own accord whenever she was around Max.
“Hello Max,” she murmured, ducking her head slightly to hide the embarrassed flush spilling across her cheeks. He smiled, lifting one hand to brush across her cheek lightly, the only physical contact he would allow himself to partake in while they were inside the store.
“Your shift is almost over, true Lucy?” he asked, though he knew full well what her schedule was. He rearranged it often to allow her time for him at night, a tricky plan true, but fun for everyone, except the poor girl who ended up taking every night shift.
“Yeah,” Lucy nodded, turning back to her sorting reluctantly. It wouldn’t do for the boss to realize just how distracted she had been the past few days. Already Rilly, the counter girl she worked with most often, had caught many mistakes she’d made while returning the various movies to the shelves. Her thoughts constantly twisted around her eldest son these days, but she didn’t want Max to think she couldn’t handle the job.
“Well, would you like to?” Max asked. Lucy jerked her head up to gaze at him in shock. He tilted his head, watching as she struggled to figure out what he had asked her. Her mind was a billion miles away, he would have been able to sense that even without the enhancement of his vampiric powers. And he didn’t need any powers to know what she was thinking about; only one thought could bring that much pain to her normally bright eyes.
“I’m sorry, Max,” Lucy sighed, ducking her head a little, another red flush sweeping across her cheeks. “I didn’t hear what you said. . .” she trailed off, staring down at the movies clutched between her pale fingers. Her knuckles were turning white from the grip she maintained on them. Surely now he would yell and grow upset at her lack of attention to her work.
“I simply asked if you wanted to join me for dinner tonight,” he told her gently. “Another chance at a normal date, if you will.” Lucy glanced up, surprise written across her face, visible in the slight lift of her eyebrows. She started to nod, then stopped, glancing down once again. It just wouldn’t do to have fun while Michael was acting the way he was. . .would it?
Her head jerked up, chin lifted high into the air. Michael would not ruin this for her, no matter how he was acting. This time she would not let either of her sons interfere with what was growing into a very important relationship to her.
“I’d love to, Max,” she smiled at him brightly, though not even that happy expression drove all the shadows away from her eyes. He returned the smile slowly, brushing his fingers over her cheek once again.
“I will be back when your shift is over then,” he told her quietly. She nodded, and Max took his leave, sweeping towards the back of the store. The solid door marked private shut behind him firmly and Lucy sank against the counter, a relieved sigh escaping her lips. Perhaps this would be just the distraction she needed.
“You want to do what?” Anna asked, leaning back against the stone wall. The sun had set only moments before, leaving the cave bathed in darkness, though her eyes could still pick out the tiniest details of the rocks and the animals sweeping through the ocean waves, even from this distance. Now though her gaze was turned into the cave, focused on the male standing before her.
“Dinner,” Dwayne repeated, scraping one hand through his hair slowly. He wasn’t sure why she was having such a hard time comprehending his request. It wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary. . .was it? He didn’t think so, but still he waited, wanting her agreement on this.
“Dinner. . .as in not human. . .at an actual restaurant?” Anna questioned. She didn’t move from her spot on the wall, but only tilted her head, blinking slowly as she considered the implications of the request.
“Yes,” he sighed roughly, shoulders tightening from his frustration. “Dinner. At a restaurant. Pay with actual money and everything.” He frowned at her, eyes dark with the same frustration that tightened his muscles, though other emotions lurked near the surface. Because of her bout with holy water poisoning, they never had dealt with her actions, especially her little tryst with Paul. He was still torn with jealousy at times, and anger, and the deep set desire to prove once and for all that she was his. Unfortunately he’d been too afraid of hurting her in her weakened state. Now however. . .now she was fully healed and back to her normal sarcastic and powerful state. . .now he could prove his claim.
“Ok,” she said simply. He started, surprised by the sudden lack of questions, focusing his heavy gaze on her face. She smiled up at him sweetly, offering one hand out to him. He took it, clasping his hand around it, and she let him draw her away from the wall. “One more question though. . .”
Dwayne sighed, ducking his head for a moment to hide his exasperation. Because of his actions he missed the playful smile that spilled across her lips for an instant, though it was gone when he looked back up.
“This isn’t black tie, right? I don’t have to dress like a girl. . .” He laughed suddenly, the sound clear and strong in the silence hanging about them. It had been weeks since his laugh had been heard, and Anna rejoiced in it, glad that she had been the one to return it to the cave.
“Would I do that?” he asked, brushing his fingers over the top of her hand. She smiled a little, leaning into him carefully and resting her head against his shoulder. He turned his head until he could rub his cheek against her hair, reveling in the scent and feel of her against his skin.
“You would so do that,” she murmured, twisting her head until she could nip at his throat. “Just to annoy me.” He chuckled darkly, then pulled away, brushing a quick kiss to the top of her head.
“Half an hour to be ready?” Dwayne brushed his knuckles lightly down her cheek, then stepped away when she nodded. Anna watched him go, bare hint of a smile brushing over her lips.
“Hot date?” Michael’s voice broke into her thoughts and Anna jumped, then relaxed, leaning back against the wall once more.
“Something like that,” she muttered, narrowing her eyes as she finally looked at him. Michael squirmed beneath her icy gaze, though he tried to lift his chin with pride. He hadn’t done anything to her, but he did understand the anger she held for him. The protectiveness of others was one of her more remarkable qualities, and the one he liked best. Unfortunately it led to him losing any standing with her, and he wanted that back.
“Dinner?” he asked quietly. When she nodded, he offered her a weak smile. “He was talking about it earlier. Kind of nervous, afraid you’d say no. . .” Anna shook her head with a little laugh, the tension hanging in the air fading slowly.
“Don’t know why he’d think that. . .” she couldn’t restrain the small grin. Michael’s smile grew a little brighter at the small sign of acceptance from her and he settled against the wall close to her, but not invading her space.
“It’s nice to see you up and about and having fun,” he told her sincerely. She flushed a little and ducked her head once more, hiding her eyes for a moment. “It is. Quite a worrying time, when you were injured. . .not just for Dwayne. For us all really.”
“Thank you for your concern,” Anna whispered, brushing her hair out of her face slowly. She glanced around, making sure the room was empty, then straightened up, pushing herself away from the wall.
“What’s going on between you and Star?” she asked bluntly. Michael jerked away from the wall, turning his back to Anna. She caught his arm, forcing him to look at her, piercing him with her deep blue eyes. He squirmed again, then sighed, frustration washing through his body.
“I don’t know,” he growled, dropping his head. She sighed, shaking her head slowly. More might have been said, but Dwayne returned then, stunning in new black leather pants, a button down black shirt, and the well-worn jacket. Michael let the sigh of relief flow from his lips as Anna turned to face the other vampire fully, unable to control her reaction for a long moment.
When rational thought become possible once more, Anna snapped her mouth closed and shook her head roughly. “I think I need to go change,” she whispered hoarsely. Dwayne simply smirked at her reaction and let her walk away, heading back into her room. He leaned back against the wall slowly, gazing thoughtfully at Michael. He ducked his head, turning away from Dwayne’s heavy gaze and walking out into the darkness. He had to hunt.
The restaurant was busy when Max led Lucy inside, though people moved out of their way immediately. They were seated immediately, for Max was well known about town, a fact that Lucy was loathe to admit pleased her. The special attention everyone bestowed upon them was a soothing balm to her wounded spirit.
She glanced about, letting her gaze slide over the other patrons, for, as before, Max sat her with her back to the large glass window. He was the first male she had known who would actually allow his back to be to a room, though she wasn’t sure why she’d noticed now.
Except perhaps for the fact that Max was staring off into the darkness, eyebrows twisted into a heavy scowl. She turned slowly, glancing over her shoulder to check what upset him so, but nothing was visible to her. When she turned back around the look was gone and a pleased smile touched Max’s lips.
“How are you my dear?” he asked quietly, reaching for one of her hands. Lucy allowed him to hold her hand, she even entwined her fingers with his own. His thumb began to trace over the top of her hand gently.
“I’m. . .ok,” she whispered, ducking her head for a moment. Lying was hard for her, sending a faint blush to her cheeks. Her teeth sank gently into her lower lip, a sure sign of her uncomfortableness.
“Now Lucy,” Max murmured, lifting her hand to his lips. He brushed a kiss there, then smiled at her carefully. “I can tell something has you upset. If you don’t want to talk about it, I understand. If you do, I’m here. . .” Lucy sighed, then nodded, taking a quick sip from her glass of wine before speaking.
“It’s Michael,” she said, ducking her head slowly. “He has these new friends. . .and now he’s changing. He stays out all night. . .never tells me when he will be gone. . .” she sighed. “I just don’t know what to do.”
“Oh, my poor Lucy,” Max comforted her quietly. “These things do happen. Discipline, that’s what boys need these days. Without discipline, they will walk all over you.”
The words were so familiar to her and Lucy sighed deeply, taking another deep drink from her wine glass. Last time she had attacked him, eyes flashing hell and fury at his insult to her parenting.
This time. . .perhaps he was right.
Max stiffened, turning slightly in his chair. His eyes locked with Dwayne’s as the vampire stepped through the door. They narrowed when the female followed him through, and he knew without a doubt that she was the cause of the sudden trouble. She was a vampire. Her appearance at Dwayne’s side meant that she was running with his Boys.
He hadn’t approved of her being brought over. His eyes narrowed and he focused his senses on her, for something else felt off to him. She wasn’t like the others. . .but he couldn’t figure out why. He’d know soon enough.
He would just have to pay a visit to the cave tonight.
Dwayne’s face didn’t show his surprise at seeing Max in the restaurant. When the older man’s eyes swept on to Anna, he felt the first prickling of fear touch his stomach. She was the first to be brought into the Pack that Max hadn’t personally approved of. From the look of anger racing its way across his face, Dwayne knew he was upset. They would face the repercussions of their actions later, of that he had no doubt.
Anna tightened her grip on his hand, bringing his attention back to her and the present situation. Without his knowing it, they had arrived at a table and the waiter was standing patiently, awaiting their drink order.
“What’s wrong?” she asked once the mortal had left their table. Dwayne sighed, capturing her hand in his once again. His thumb played over her hand gently and he hesitated a moment, knowing that she wouldn’t appreciate this information.
“Max just found out you were turned,” he admitted after a moment. She sat up straighter, eyes growing wide for a moment, then she shook her head with a soft sigh. He nodded towards Max and Lucy, answering her unasked question.
“This is bad,” she murmured. Though they words weren’t a question, the doubt was there, along with a strong dose of something he still wasn’t used to hearing from her, even when she had been mortal.
Anna was scared.