I still was not over the surprise of meeting Nick. It was dangerous for me to cover for him; I didn’t want the watching vampires to think I was letting him kill vampires without restriction. I wanted them to believe that he was under my control, it would be better for both of us. Without my protection I knew that they would kill him instantly. I had no idea why I had stopped that. I suppose it seemed unfair, somehow. He was a good fighter, I didn’t want to watch him get torn apart by a mindless mob. I felt like his death should have more honor, although perhaps I would still be the one to kill him eventually.
My churning emotions were too confusing. I had accepted that I may never see Nick again, the lives of humans were after all very short. I certainly had not expected to stumble across him accidentally in the midst of a vampire meeting. There was no time to sort through my confused thoughts and feelings. I set them aside for later, instead choosing to focus on the situation at hand.
The human male was terrified out of his mind. He had lost a lot of blood- his otherwise tanned skin was dangerously pale. I was pretty sure the only thing keeping him upright was adrenaline. As I approached he backed further into the corner, his eyes widening. I could hear his heart pounding rapidly. Part of me found this enticing but I ignored it, I did not want to frighten him further.
“I won’t hurt you.” I said gently. “What is your name?”
“It’s Aiden.” He spoke very quietly. I could see the whites of his eyes as he trembled in front of me.
“Aiden, I am sorry that this happened to you.” I meant it; it was not his fault that he had ended up in this mess. “Can I see your wound, please?” I asked. “I need to see if you need medical attention.”
He slowly removed the hand that had been clasped over the wound on his neck. The scent of fresh blood washed over me and I stopped breathing whilst I leaned in and examined it.
“I will look for a first aid kit.” Nick murmured from behind me. I was very aware of his presence; I didn’t fully trust him out of my sight.
I nodded. “It’s not as bad as it looks. It will heal.” I looked back at Aiden. “I can apply my saliva to the wound; it will remove the pain and speed up the healing process.”
He had seen enough that he reluctantly agreed. He could see that he was not dealing with humans here. Either that or he was just in too much shock to disagree.
I didn’t want to frighten him further by licking his neck, and I didn’t want to unnecessarily put myself near the temptation of his blood so I spat on my hand and applied it to the wound. Yes, it looked disgusting but it was effective. I could see that the tissue already looked less irritated, some of the redness was fading.
“A vampire bite usually heals very quickly.” I muttered absently, “Since the one who bit you had just turned, I doubt that his own saliva would be very helpful yet. Plus he had no idea what he was doing… made a right mess of it.”
“Is that what you are?” Aiden breathed, “Vampires?”
I smiled sadly at him. “Yes. I am sorry that you were introduced to our world in this manner. I admit that we’re not perfect but most of us are not bad. It is highly frowned upon to drink blood from unwilling humans; if the two vampires involved were not already dead they would have been in big trouble now.”
Nick returned carrying a small box. “First aid kit, there’s not much but it’s got disinfectant wipes and bandages.”
I took the box, “thank you.”
I used the wipes to gently clean away most of the blood; my saliva would have killed any infection but it was better to be safe than sorry. When it was all clean I gently bandaged it up and stepped back, finally allowing myself to breathe. The scent of blood was stronger than I expected and I closed my eyes for a moment, opening them when I was sure they had returned to my normal blue.
Strolling over to the sink I washed off as much blood as I could. Aiden’s blood was on my hands but the vampire’s blood was all over me. My jacket was definitely ruined, but at least the material was dark so it wouldn’t be too obvious what it was covered in.
“Are you ok?” Nick murmured to me quietly.
Hiding my surprise at the question, I nodded. “I’m fine, I should get Aiden home.” I was pretty confident that after a good night’s sleep and some meals he would be fine.
“I’ll come with you.” Nick said. I looked at him sharply and he shrugged, his gaze unreadable “I think we need to talk.”
“Ok.” I agreed after a moment before looking back at the boy. “Aiden, I want to take you home now but before we go, I am afraid I am going to have to ask you something.”
He looked up from the kitchen chair he had slumped in, “You want me to promise that I won’t tell anyone about this.”
I smiled, appreciating that he understood the situation. “Yes.” There were far more unpleasant methods I could have used to convince him to keep quiet, but I preferred to keep things on good terms if possible.
After a moment he nodded slowly, “I don’t fully understand what is going on here, but I do know that the ones who did this to me are dead. You guys... probably saved my life, so I am not going to tell anyone about this.”
We left Nicky and George finishing the clean-up. Nick and I helped Aiden walk a couple of streets from the house, before I called my car to pick us up. Aiden lived in one of the student residences near the university. It was not uncommon for people to be staggering in and out late at night, so nobody gave us a second look as we deposited him at his flat. I instructed my driver to take my car and go home; I didn’t want any witnesses for whatever Nick wanted to talk about.
Once the two of us were back in the street alone, I found that I didn’t know what to say to Nick. Technically, we were supposed to be back to trying to kill each other, however I had just covered for him and saved his life for reasons I did not really understand.
“Do you think he’ll talk?” Nick asked, breaking the silence.
I shook my head as I started walking. “I can’t say for sure but I don’t think so. I’ll keep an eye on him. If he stays quiet, he might find that someone mysteriously pays off all his tuition fees. That should be added incentive.”
Nick followed me, “So... who put you in charge?”
I snorted “You noticed that huh? That’s partially your fault.”
“What! How is it my fault?” He demanded, outraged to be accused of any vampire related activity.
I couldn’t help but smile slightly, although I really was unhappy about being forced into the role of leader. “I chose to help you rescue your sister, which resulted in me killing Rowland. Basically, the rules say that whoever kills the leader has to become the leader. Hence, I now have to deal with all of this... nonsense.” My lips twisted with distaste.
“I think the key word there is you chose.” He said dryly, “but seriously, can you not nominate someone else or something? If you are so unhappy about it?”
“I never said I was unhappy.” I growled.
“It’s written all over your face.” He answered me. “You don’t have to say it.”
I sighed and looked up at the sky, “Death is the only way out. I don’t think they will accept a nomination… and even if they did, I have nobody suitable to nominate.”
“So now you have to run everything?” He probed curiously.
I sighed again. “Yes, I am in charge of Rowlands companies, I run his businesses and I listen to the whining of every vampire in this god damned city. If something goes wrong, I have to fix it… hence tonight’s activities.”
His eyes were on me, reading my irritated expression. “You’re not upset that I killed that vampire... woman?”
“I probably would have done it myself had I arrived sooner; you saved me half a job.” I admitted reluctantly. “Wanted or not, this is my city now. I will not tolerate people disobeying the rules, there is enough chaos as it is.”
“Is that why you killed the second one too?” He asked.
I glanced at him incredulously, “Do you have a problem with a vampire dying?”
His lips curled into a wry smile, “No, I was just curious. He didn’t seem like much of a threat to you.”
I laughed although there was no humour behind it, “He wasn’t a threat at that moment. Any number of things could have happened. He had no respect for his elders or authority and no maker to guide him, he could have gone wild. Even if he managed to control himself, he could have come back later for revenge.” I shook my head, “Plus, if I let him live others could have seen me as weak. I cannot have the rules being ignored.”
He inclined his head, “I see your point.”
We had come to the shadowy entrance to the park. Aside from the occasional old style street lamp creating small halos of light amongst the trees, the place was in darkness. It looked like the ideal place for a stereotypical vampire to hunt down their prey. The thought made me smile with amusement as we entered.
“What?” He said, catching my expression.
I shook my head, doubting he would appreciate the joke. “Nothing, just an errant thought. What I am really concerned about is why you want to talk to me. You haven’t shown any interest in the past few weeks.” Ever since we kissed, the unspoken words hung in the air.
He was silent for so long that I thought he wasn’t going to answer. “Why did you cover for me tonight?” He said finally. “You know as well as I do that I would have had a hard time getting out of that situation alive.”
I bit my lip as I pondered how to answer. The truth was that I didn’t know. I had acted on impulse, going with the first course of action to occur to me. Why was saving him my first choice? I could have easily thrown him to the angry mob and let them tear him apart. It would have probably won me a few favour points. “Perhaps I wanted to save you for myself.” I said, only half joking. “Perhaps it was my plan all along to lure you away to this dark quiet place and have my evil way with you.”
The spike in his heart rate made me meet his eyes. I wasn’t convinced that fear was the only thing I could see in his gaze.
“Somehow I doubt that.” He breathed.
Abruptly uncomfortable I made a sharp turn that moved me further away from him and began making my way up the steep steps that led to a wide bridge over the river. “Doubt what you like.” I retorted, “If you are uncomfortable you can always go back to pretending that I don’t exist.” I knew it was a childish comment. I hadn’t meant to voice my thoughts aloud. “Or try to kill me again.” I added as an afterthought.
“Because that turned out so well last time,” he muttered. “Besides, I wasn’t pretending that you don’t exist… I have actually been contemplating talking to you.”
I turned so that I was walking up the steps backwards. My feet found the correct places easily and I wanted to see his face. “Talk to me about what exactly?”
He frowned, looking uneasy. “Angela.” He said finally.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise; his answer was not what I had expected. “Is she ok?” The last time I had seen Nicks younger sister was when I had dropped them both of at their house, after we had teamed up to rescue her from Rowland.
“She’s fine… it’s just…” he trailed off frowning.
We had finally reached the bridge. I moved a little way along it so that I could lean against the brick wall and look down at the water. He copied my pose, keeping a safe distance between us.
“Just what?” I asked, curious.
“When we were in Scotland we discovered that she has… abilities.” He looked uncomfortable and I could tell that he was unhappy with his sister being associated with the supernatural.
“She’s seeing ghosts and you don’t know what to do about it.” I guessed.
“Well… yes.” He admitted. “She talks to them, in our house of all places. I used to think that she just had an imaginary friend, but now? You’re the only person I know of that knows anything about this. How do I stop it?”
I frowned, “I have had this ability for over twelve centuries. I don’t believe it is possible to stop it… I have certainly never managed it.” I grimaced as I remembered my earlier days. “Believe me, I have tried.”
He stepped closer to me, looking a little desperate. “I have to help her; I wanted to keep her out of all of this.”
I looked at him a little sadly, “I think the time for that may have passed. Your sister has the magic in her blood; all you can do is help her to control it. That will make things easier for her.”
I sensed that he was hesitating, deliberating whether or not to say something. I waited patiently for him to voice his thoughts.
“Tonight… for whatever reason you chose to save my life.” He said finally, “I have to admit… we have worked well together in the past.”
I searched his face, trying to figure out what he was trying to say. The moonlight brought out interesting shades of green in his dark eyes as he looked down at me. His normally tanned skin looked almost as pale as mine. “You would like to know… if you can trust me?” I breathed. “If you can trust me to help your sister?”
Slowly he nodded. “Yes.”
My lips twisted into a sad smile. “I might be many things, Nick. But, you know I would never harm a child.”
“I know.” He said softly. “It’s the only reason I would even consider asking but… will you help Angela? I am worried that she is going to get hurt.”
I couldn’t think clearly under the intensity of his gaze. Moving away from him I leaned back against the wall, watching the moonlight reflect on the flowing water of the river. It really was quite beautiful. “If I help her,” I said slowly, “I will need you to help me. I took a risk tonight when I covered for you. If anyone found out, we would both be in trouble.”
“I’m not going to tell anyone.” His voice was quiet but even.
“I know.” I said simply, “But that might not be enough. Clearly, you are still hunting vampires.”
“Do you have a problem with that?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.
I frowned, “Actually, I do. I have no problem with death when it is necessary, but I don’t agree with killing without cause. You don’t discriminate who you go after; being a vampire is evidence enough for you.” He might be talking to me civilly now but I hadn’t forgotten that he had once put a stake in my own heart. Our complicated mix of truces and agreements didn’t change that.
“What do you suggest?” He asked diplomatically. I could see that he wasn’t happy with my words.
“A solution for both of us,” I said, “I know which vampires are actually dangerous. I know which ones are breaking the rules and need to be stopped. I know which ones are just trying to live their lives and are not hurting anyone.”
“You’re suggesting that I actually work for you, like you made them all think tonight?” He guessed, looking displeased.
I held up my hands, “I think it’s a good idea. You get to reduce the number of vampires in the world; I simply point you in a useful direction. Nobody innocent gets hurt; the rule breakers are dealt with.”
He looked hesitant to agree to my suggestion. “I don’t know if I am comfortable with that idea.”
“If it’s about working with me, I can always throw in a pay check and make things more formal.” I said persuasively, “It can be like a proper business arrangement.” I could easily list him as some sort of consultant for one of my businesses.
“If I agree to this, will you help my sister?” He said after a pause.
“Yes.” I agreed. Honestly I would have helped her anyway, but he didn’t need to know that. It would be better if we tried to keep things on business terms. I gathered that we were just not going to mention the end to our last agreement.
“Ok.” He said.
“Please keep in mind, that this arrangement means absolutely no attempting to kill each other.” I felt the need to specify.
This caused him to smile, “I won’t if you won’t.”
I held out my hand for him to shake. “Deal.”
To my surprise he didn’t hesitate to take my hand, his grip was warm and firm. “Deal.”
After a moment I pulled away. “I should go; I have things to do before dawn.”
He nodded, “Of course. Are you free this Saturday? For Angela I mean.”
I smiled, despite my confusion over Nick, it would be nice to see his little sister again. “Yes. I could stop by around… three thirty, maybe four?” It would be a pain dragging myself out of bed so early, although it helped that the winter sun would set around four pm. I guessed that six year olds didn’t stay up for most of the night like myself, so I wanted to get there as early as possible.
“That’s quite early for you.” He observed.
My smile widened as I stepped away from him, “Its December, we get less hours of daylight.”
“Oh right,” he realised. “I didn’t think of that.”
“I’ll see you on Saturday.” I laughed as I moved further back into the darkness, letting the shadows melt around me.
“Goodbye.” He said softly, looking into the darkness.