There was a long and extremely heavy silence, and then I said, “Tell me why your house is so unnecessarily large. Were Henry VIII still alive, he’d make you hand over the lease.” Orcus looked rather nonplussed, and Mr. Locke had turned away to hide his smile. “I mean, really?” I continued. “Is it necessary to have a house this big? We get it; yeah, you’re rich and everything, and you make the rest of the world look destitute, but why would you want a house this size? Do you have any idea how much work it would be to keep this place clean?”
It took a moment, but Orcus’ nonplussed expression quickly became dubious and dangerous again. “You always were a terrible liar, Mallory.”
“What’s your point?”
He opened his mouth to tell me, but Mr. Locke cut him off. “Eat something, Orcus, and then go to bed.”
Mr. Locke was his surly self again. “Because I told you to, boy, that’s why. You’ve been ill, and I don’t care what your fool of a grandfather gave you, you will rest.”
Orcus was now bristling with rage. “I feel fine,” he snapped.
“I don’t recall asking,” Mr. Locke retorted.
Orcus opened his mouth to argue, but on impulse I put a hand on his arm. “You know, don’t you,” I said, “that if you don’t go voluntarily you’ll be made to?”
He looked at me, eyes flashing. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.”
He gritted his teeth, and bit out a sullen, “Fine,” but we all three knew it meant nothing. He was going to ignore the command as soon as his father left the room. It was more a formality than anything, and was quickly discarded as such.
“Is the McNab girl still in the library?” asked Mr. Locke.
“Yes,” said Orcus stiffly.
“Excellent. She’s not vegetarian or anything like that, is she?”
“She’s allergic to tomatoes,” I said, “but otherwise, she’s fine for anything. She eats meat like a caveman, too, so be careful what you tell her she can have.”
Mr. Locke did eventually depart the kitchen with a tray for Raechel (which is not the Old Money way, let me tell you right now), and Orcus stared for a long while at the door, his jaw muscles working. Finally he turned his angry eyes on me. Having known him for so long, I wasn’t particularly bothered.
“You agreed you would not speak to him.”
“Did I?” I said airily. “Must have slipped my mind.”
His fingers were suddenly around my arm in a vice-like grip, eyes flashing dangerously. “I told you not to speak to him,” he said coldly.
“What upsets you more, Orcus? That I ‘disobeyed’ you, or that your dad seems to actually be all right with me?”
Even as his eyes flashed, his voice was low. “What did you say to him? And what was he going to tell you?”
“That wasn’t your conversation,” I snapped, “so I’ll thank you to keep out of it.”
He shook me then, his grip tightening; there would be a very nasty bruise tomorrow. “You are not to go near him again, am I clear?”
I pushed him violently, and he released his hold on me. “No. I will speak to whom I please, Orcus. I’m not your pet, nor am I your servant, and you would do well to remember that.”
“I think you’ve forgotten whose house this is, Mallory,” Orcus said, his tone condescending.
“And you’ve forgotten who you solicited for help,” I returned. “Stop trying to order me about, and we may actually get somewhere.” He began to bristle, so I cut him off before he had time to build up steam. “You do this all the time, Orcus! You get yourself into situations where you do actually need the help of another person, but you’re so damn proud you can’t ask for help when it rears its ugly head. Maybe your dad’s just as clueless as we are, but maybe, on the flipside, he knows something we don’t. You want to find a cure for this bite? Then we’ll have to ask your dad for help, because even though you don’t like to admit it, we are fucking kids, Orcus! We can’t get everything we need on our own!”
The anger flared again for a moment, and then it was suddenly gone, and Orcus was back to his sadistically pleasant self. “You are right of course,” he said.
“Come again?” This wasn’t good.
“I did solicit your involvement, and for that I apologize. You see, I do believe I’ve made a very grave error in overestimating your abilities. I had thought you were capable of setting aside whatever petty grudge you have against me – ”
“ – and doing exactly as you say, never straying from the path set by the great and all-knowing genius that is Orcus Locke?” I finished in a bored sort of tone.
His face was patronizing. “Is that it? That I’m better than you?” He chuckled. “But, Mallory, dear, that can’t be helped. It’s simply my nature.”
He was riling me on purpose, but I gave in to the urge. “You want to know what it is I hold against you, Orcus?” I said. “All right. Fine. Your narcissism, for starters; sickening to the nth degree; and then we’ll go on to, say, your obsessive need to control everyone around you; your psychotic need to be worshipped and adored and adhered to at every turn of the day; your arrogance in thinking that you can treat me as you please and not suffer for it; and your uncanny knack for just annoying me every time you open your mouth.” I paused, feigning hard thought. “I should say that’s it for now.”
And then he smiled. It didn’t touch his eyes (his smiles never did), but I knew he was both amused and – strangely – pleased. It made me exceedingly angry, and another deep quandary arose from the moment. I really understood why he’d brought me along: It wasn’t just, as Mr. Locke had suggested. He knew my favorite pastime was pissing him off, or being given an order and ignoring it. He wanted me there because I was a pain in his backside. The quandary was whether or not to give in to my urges and continue as I had been, or to really aggravate him by turning into one of the sickeningly sweet bimbos who typically followed him around.
“That’s very interesting, Mallory,” he said softly.
That could only indicate that things were going to get very much worse, and my brain began to debate the pros and cons of kneeing his groin again and running away. I decided I rather liked that idea, and immediately set about executing it. He likely guessed what I was thinking, as he stepped to the side, and my knee struck his thigh. It didn’t matter; it was opening I needed, and I was taking it. Again, as always, I was caught up just as I was getting away. Orcus’ arm went around my retreating waste and pushed me deeper into the cavernous kitchen.
“You and Father seem to have hit it off rather well.”
“Thanks for pointing out the obvious. May I go now?”
“I’m not done just yet, so you’ll have to wait,” he said calmly. “It was a lovely little chat, wasn’t it? Did you have a nice laugh?”
“At your expense, too,” I retorted.
‘Now, now, Mallory,” he chided gently, “let’s not be rebellious. It could get you hurt.”
“Because that’s never happened before, has it?” I said. “Is this going somewhere?”
Orcus sighed. “Bottom lining, as always. Very well, I’ll simply reiterate what I’ve already said. You are not to interact with my father. If he asks you any sort of question, or gives you any sort of acknowledgement, you are to ignore him altogether.” His eyes narrowed. “You are never to be alone with him again. He is not to be trusted.”
“Not to be trusted because he’s your father, or because he knows your jig as well as I do?” I asked. “He could help us, Orcus.”
In the next second Orcus fury resurfaced, and his fingers had snagged my throat and I was pushed up against a wall rather roughly. “Because,” he said coldly, “you belong to me, and I don’t want you alone with other men, my father or not.”
I kicked him savagely, my foot nearing a very sensitive place, and Orcus released me to back away, if only a step or two. “I don’t belong to anyone,” I said savagely, “and you would do well to remember that. Don’t speak, just listen!” He’d opened his mouth, but I was determined to get my piece in before he brushed it off completely. “I am not property, I am not a possession; I am a living, thinking, breathing being, and you will respect me as such, or so help me, mission or not, there will be hell to pay. I will do as I please, how I please, and with whom I please, and you will not tell me I can’t.” I paused, and then borrowed his favorite punch-line. “Am I clear?”
There was a disconcerting raw sort of look on his face, but he schooled it immediately. It was the only window I was getting to what he was thinking, and I didn’t like what I saw there.
“Is that so?” he said quietly.
“We’ll just have to break you of that habit, won’t we?”
I don’t remember which of us moved first, but his long-fingered hands went around both my wrists, and he was pushing me back into the wall again. It wasn’t a prospect I thoroughly relished, but using his shirt as leverage, I hoisted myself up and bit down on his ear. He hissed in pain and pulled away. I’d locked on, though, and as he pulled away there was the dull sound of flesh separating from flesh. I let go before his entire ear came off, but the damage had been done. Blood spattered the floor, and Orcus’ pupils dilated. We both stood there, somewhat surprised at what had just happened, him holding onto his ear, me trying to ignore the taste of blood on my tongue. He stared at me, and I stared at him, and the atmosphere was nearly tangible.
“Mallory,” he finally breathed. “You naughty thing, you.”
I walked to the sink, rinsing the blood from my mouth, and being very careful not to swallow. . .just in case. “I do believe I’ve made my point,” I said coolly.
When I turned around again Orcus was holding a cloth to his ear, but I got the impression he wasn’t paying the wound much mind. The primary base of such an idea was much to do with how he was looking at me: Like I was his next meal. I took some paper towels and wiped the floor, watching him warily out of the corner of my eye. He didn’t move. He did talk.
“Why do you fight me?”
I snorted. “I’ve already told you.”
“You told me about your grudges, not why you insist on picking a fight with me every other hour,” he contradicted.
“Consider aforementioned reasons as also applicable,” I retorted.
“That’s no reason to fight something, Mallory,” he countered softly. “What is the real reason for your umbrage?”
“Oohh, look at you using big words! Have you been playing with your daddy’s dictionary again?” He just stared at me. Sometimes it’s so hard being the wittiest person in the room, and I just…can’t. “Do you think I enjoy fighting with you?” I said. He quirked his eyebrow. “All right, I do; sometimes; but not on a daily basis.”
“If you don’t like the fighting, then don’t fight,” he said simply.
I crossed to the sink again and began to rinse the blood out of the paper towels. “Oh, because you’ll respect my space of your own accord,” I said drily, tossing the wadded towels into the bin. It wasn’t until I turned around that I realized he’d moved, and just how close he was. I froze, but only for a split second. It was long enough for him to block my escape route and pin me to the counter. “Back up,” I warned.
Orcus smiled and pulled the towel away; the damage to his ear was extensive and would require professional medical attention; I wasn’t looking forward to the hospital visit. I looked back into his herbal green eyes.
“Fix it for me?” he said. “Please?” His eyes were puppy-dog, and his practiced expression was a very artful facsimile of sincerity.
I tried to sneer, but for some reason found the will lacking. “Why?”
“Because I asked you to,” he said. “And because you don’t want to make the hospital visit any more than I do.”
Dammit, he was right. They would ask what had happened, and it was more than obvious that those tooth-marks weren’t from the family dog. “I take it this means you’re still a human?” I said with a pointed look.
He shrugged. “For now. Grandfather’s serum should last for about six months.”
“But you still want to find a cure. So as to not be encumbered by taking a medicine once every six months, is that it?”
He smiled. “Naturally. When the serum’s work is finished I go back to being a potential candidate for the world of the undead.”
I frowned. “Then wouldn’t you just take it every so often?”
Orcus chuckled. “Mallory, don’t be ridiculous. It’s never that simple when it involves vampire bites.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course not. Let me guess: It becomes less and less effective the more you use it.”
“Something of that nature, yes.”
“Effectively leaving us with only six months?”
“About that, yes; at the very most a year.”
“Great.” Could we just stake him now and get it over with, or was that unethical?
“Fix me up, Mallory.”
“I don’t want to,” I said. “I like your ear like that; it boosts my ego.”
“Shall I return the favor?”
“You wouldn’t bite a girl.”
He grinned. “How do you know? In any case, you’re no girl.”
“You don’t bite,” I contradicted. “Lesser mortal’s flesh wouldn’t leave a very nice taste in your mouth.”
“Don’t tempt me,” he warned.
I huffed. “Fine. I’ll fix your ear. But you corner me like that again, and I’ll bite them both off completely and feed them to the first dog I find.”
His grin didn’t abate. “Would I do that?”
“Yes,” I groused. “You would.”
He retrieved a medical kit from a cupboard over the sink, some peroxide and paper towels, and then perched himself on a bar stool while I set about disinfecting the injury. “I didn’t think it could be stitched, but it looks like it might,” I said, examining where the skin had separated.
“Torn flesh doesn’t usually work that way,” he said.
“Normally I’d leave you to fix it yourself, but I’m here helping you, aren’t I?”
“It’s not the same thing, Mallory,” he chuckled.
“No, but I felt it needed to be said. I’ll patch it for tonight, and we’ll see what’s it’s doing in the morning.”
He hummed agreement, and I dug through the box for the bandages, pausing when I saw the stitching thread. “Oh.”
I held it up and he grimaced. “Now I have to stitch it,” I said, the grin spreading over my face.
“Don’t you dare.”
“But pink does wonders for your skin color,” I said.
“Tourney, I’m warning you. . . .”
“And it brings out your eyes. . . .”
“Woman, if you even think – ”
“And just imagine how it would complement your dress sense!”
“Mallory, so help me – ”
“All right,” I said, still enjoying watching him squirm. “I won’t use pink thread, but if there are pink band-aids in here, I’m not going to be able to resist.” I dug through some more, and swallowed my disappointment at the lack of pink band-aids. The necessities located, I tilted his head just so. “Don’t move,” I ordered. “See if you can follow that direction.”
“If I can’t?”
“Look, if you do something stupid I’m not responsible for what other damage is done to your ear.”
Orcus laughed. “What do I get for behaving?”
“A fixed ear,” I said, tearing open the package gingerly. “How’s that?”
“I’d be getting it back anyway,” he said, catching my wrists.
I scowled. “Do you want me to do this, or not?”
“Just because you use bandages doesn’t make it all better, Mallory,” he chided gently. “You did bite off my ear; you know the sort of damage that does.”
“I’m starting to think it didn’t do nearly enough.” I yanked my hands away and forcefully turned his head so as to gain access to the still bleeding appendage. “Now stop moving.”
“You’re not being very considerate, Mallory,” he said. “Can’t you see how much emotional damage you’ve done?”
I double-took. “Excuse you, bitch?”
“You can’t imagine how dreadfully disrespectful you’re being in regards to how distraught I am.”
Was he for real? “Oh my actual god.”
His pout was well-executed. “Is this how you treat everyone you assault?”
I thought about that. “Yeah.”
The pout disappeared, and the cold smile returned, but he didn’t say anything else. I turned his head, glad of the opportunity to actually do what he was harassing me to do. Luckily for him, there were a pair of scissors in with the kit, and I was able to clip away some of his hair to avoid it getting caught in the wound. A few more drops of the peroxide (I was pleased when his hands twitched from the sting), and then I began adjusting his torn ear back to its original state. It took a lot of tape to hold his ear in place, but without an actual medical professional it was the best we could do. One very large bandage applied, and the job was done. I pulled away and handed him the towel to mop up what had dripped down his neck.
“There,” I said. “You can’t complain that I was never nice or helpful.”
He laughed, taking the towel as though it were being handed to him by a child. “One of these days, Mallory, you’ll stop fighting of your own volition, and not because of my persistence.”
“Then what?” I chortled. “Will I join your troupe of stooges, or will I be licking the dust off your boots?”
“I should think not,” he said decisively. “You are too good for that sort of thing. You’ll be my right hand. It would suit you well.”
I folded the kit back together and fixed him with an even gaze. “I’d rather snort pulverized glass.”