Winter's Nights: Eternity

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Night Five

The next night when Hunt arrived at work she found Johnson waiting for her in the control room. He was holding a plastic bag of stuff and he looked very tired. Hunt wondered if he wasn't sleeping well for some reason, but she didn't ask about it.

“This is for the vampire,” Johnson said. He didn’t offer the bag to Hunt until she reached for it.

“Great. I’m sure she’ll be pleased,” Hunt replied. “Do you have a receipt for it? I’ll make sure you get paid back for all this stuff.”

“Uh, yeah,” he answered as he dug in his pockets. He found the receipts and gave them to Hunt. He was about to say something else but Hunt cut him off.

“You need to go get some sleep, Mark,” she said.

He paused, then nodded and left. Hunt set the bag down and turned her attention to the monitor. She could see that Merry was already awake and was reading in the dark. She knew that vampires could see perfectly well in the dark, but she wanted to be able to see Merry better, so she flipped the switch that turned on the lights in her room.

Merry dropped her book as she covered her eyes and cursed in a language Hunt didn’t recognize. After a moment she reached for the sunglasses on the table with one hand and kept her eyes covered with the other. She put the glasses on and slowly removed her hands as her eyes adjusted to the light. She glared up at the camera.

“Sorry,” Hunt said into the speaker.

“Sure you are,” Merry replied half-heartedly as she scooped up her book and went back to reading.

Hunt sighed. She couldn’t tell if Merry was actually angry or just being sarcastic. She hoped it was just sarcasm.

Hunt glanced over at the bag Johnson had left. She picked it up and looked inside. It contained seven thick novels, two entertainment magazines, a portable CD player, and variety of CDs. Hunt hoped that Merry liked the CDs – she didn’t know what sort of music a 340-year-old vampire would listen to.

Hunt looked back at the monitor. The books strewn on the floor were the ones that Merry had finished and there wasn’t a pile on the table anymore, meaning Merry was on her last one. Athens finally arrived and Hunt headed down to Merry’s room.

Merry looked up when she heard the footsteps in the hall and put her book down when Hunt entered. Hunt paused at the door. The vampire looked particularly threatening tonight. Merry waved her hand at the chair and Hunt finally moved forwards, placing the bag on the table and sitting down.

“How did you sleep?” Merry asked.

“Very well. And you?”

“I'm ready to go,” Merry replied. “And what are we wondering today?”

“Describe vampirism, in your own words,” Hunt said.

“Vampirism is a disease, a virus, like AIDS, and it’s spread the same way,” Merry replied.

“Interesting,” Hunt said.

“Why?” Merry asked. “If you expected me to call it a curse or possession or something, then you’ve been watching too many movies.”

“I just… that’s so scientific.”

“You are a scientist, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but… never mind.”

“Next.”

Hunt thought for a moment.

“If vampirism is a disease, then why do holy objects burn you?” Hunt asked.

“I’m not totally sure, but I think it has something to do with purity and the fact that we drink blood. Purity is important in most religions and we are, obviously, not pure. It’s not, as some would have you believe, because we are sinners who are hated by God or Allah or whoever, because when you are sired, you hear a voice in your head that says that it is not your time to die. And that’s when you wake up.”

“And you think that’s God talking to you?”

“Well, it wasn’t another vampire, and it wasn’t the devil, so….”

Hunt nodded.

“Very confusing,” she said.

“Try living with it,” Merry replied.

Hunt nodded again. That would be confusing. Hunt had thought that she knew everything there was to know about vampires, but then Merry proved her wrong. Now she realized that even Merry didn’t know everything about vampires.

Merry clicked her teeth together and Hunt looked up. She had been staring at Merry’s mouth.

“Want a closer look at my teeth?” Merry asked.

An idea flashed into Hunt’s mind and she replied, “Yes, I do.”

A questioning look crossed Merry’s face as Hunt stood up.

“I have to get some things ready first,” she added as she headed for the door, “but I’ll be back.”

“Alright,” Merry replied. She watched Hunt leave then turned back to her book.

“I want to do dental impressions and x-rays on her,” Hunt announced when she returned to the control room.

“You’ll have to take her down to the x-ray lab for that,” Athens replied.

“I know. It shouldn’t be a problem. You can bring the gun if you want but I don’t think she’ll try anything. She hasn’t so far.”

“We haven’t moved her before.”

Hunt shrugged. She would ask Merry to promise she would behave and she knew she could trust the vampire.

“If you’re going to have her out of the cell anyway, I want to do my work too,” Athens said.

“You seriously want to repeat those tortures on her?” Hunt asked. “There’s nothing more to be learned.”

“They’re experiments,” Athens insisted, “and I don’t want to repeat all of them. I’m most interested in the strength one since she seems to be so much more powerful than any of the previous vampires.”

“The ‘strength’ one?” Hunt questioned. “You mean the ‘rack’? The one where you stretch her arms apart and see how much force it takes to dislocate both her shoulders? That one?”

“Yes.”

Hunt raised her eyebrows then looked away. She knew Merry would NOT appreciate having her shoulders dislocated and she wasn’t sure she liked the idea of torturing the vampire.

“That could cause trouble,” she finally said.

“If you’re worried about your conversations, just blame it all on me. It is my idea,” Athens replied.

“It’s my neck I’m worried about,” Hunt answered, “and yours.” She paused, thinking. “I don’t like this, but it would be good to have some comparison data.” She sighed. “I just hope it goes smoothly.”

“I’ll go prep the labs,” Athens said as he headed out of the room.

When Athens returned he was carrying one of the tranquilizer guns and he had a pair of heavy-duty handcuffs slung over his shoulder.

“We should bring her a peace offering,” Hunt suggested as she rose from the computer chair.

“Good idea,” Athens nodded.

They stopped to get a bottle of blood for Merry on their way down to her cell. The vampire did not look at all pleased to see Athens, or the gun, or the chain.

“We’d like to take you down to the labs to do a couple of experiments,” Hunt explained.

“And you don’t trust me to behave on the way there,” Merry added.

“I do,” Hunt said. “He doesn’t.”

“Hmm.”

Merry rose from the bed and strode up to Athens. He aimed the gun at her but she brushed it away and reached up to lift the heavy cuffs from his shoulder. She twisted the chain once then stretched it out – the links broke like they were made of paper. Merry let the pieces fall to the ground. Athens stared at the vampire.

“We brought you a peace offering,” Hunt offered as she pulled the bottle of blood out of her pocket.

Merry turned to her, saw the bottle, and laughed.

“Ha! That disgusting cold stuff? That’s not much of an offering,” the vampire said. “You really should learn how to process it correctly.” Merry returned to the bed and sat down.

“Correctly?” Hunt asked.

We have a way,” Merry explained. “The blood is preserved better and lasts longer, and it can be stored at room temperature and even microwaved to take the chill off it.”

The scientists were both staring at her, picturing vampire microwave dinners in their heads.

“Seriously?” Hunt asked.

Merry nodded. “It’s fairly complex, but an hour or two in one of your labs and I’m sure I could teach you.”

“That would be great,” Hunt replied.

Athens coughed.

“But not tonight,” Hunt added. “We should get on with this.”

“Come sit down, Amy,” Merry said as she patted the bed beside her.

“Why?” Hunt asked.

“Because warm blood is a peace offering,” the vampire replied. “Another taste of yours and I promise you’ll have no trouble moving me.”

Hunt hesitated.

“No way,” Athens piped in.

“It is not your decision,” Merry glared at him. She turned to Hunt. “Just a tiny taste,” she said, “not even enough to make you light-headed. And I’ll heal it over right away.”

“Deal,” Hunt nodded as she moved to sit down.

“Amy!” Athens barked. “What the heck?!”

“It’s my decision,” Hunt said as she held her left wrist out to Merry.

Merry extended her fangs as she gripped Hunt’s wrist and raised it up. She eyed Athens mischievously as she gently slid her fangs into the soft skin of Hunt’s arm and drew deeply. Hunt’s eyes fluttered shut. Merry could hear Hunt’s heartbeat pounding in her veins. She drew a little more, then reluctantly pulled her fangs out and covered the wound with her hand. When she released Hunt’s wrist there was no evidence of the bite.

Hunt opened her eyes and looked first at her wrist and then at the vampire. Merry slowly pulled her sunglasses off and placed them on the table. Hunt stood and the vampire followed her cue. Hunt headed for the door and Merry moved to follow. Athens pointed the gun at her chest.

“No trouble,” he warned.

“To or fro,” Merry promised. It didn’t occur to either human that Merry hadn’t promised to behave while IN any of the other rooms.

Hunt punched in the code for the door and led the way out into the hallway. The other two trailed behind her. Once they were safely secured inside the x-ray lab Athens breathed again. Hunt noticed that Merry was eyeing the equipment warily.

“It’s an x-ray machine,” Hunt explained.

“Oh.” Merry didn’t seem to have ever seen an x-ray machine before.

“It won’t hurt.”

“Good,” the vampire replied.

“Come over here,” Hunt said.

Merry obeyed, moving to stand where Hunt was pointing. Hunt positioned Merry’s head and hit the start button. The machine came to life and the arm turned around Merry’s head.

“Perfect,” Hunt said as she removed the film.

Merry stepped back and Hunt set the machine up again.

“One more,” Hunt said. She paused. “With your fangs down… please.”

Merry closed her eyes and looked down for a moment. When she looked back up, her lips were curled back and her fangs were bared. Hunt cautiously positioned her again and started the machine – another perfect x-ray.

“Perfect. Thank you.”

Merry retracted her fangs and stepped away from the machine. She still seemed wary about it. Hunt handed the film to Athens as she stepped over to a table and two chairs where she had prepared the dental impression equipment.

“Come have a seat,” Hunt said.

Merry obeyed. Hunt pulled some latex gloves out of her pocket and put them on.

“What’s that?” Merry asked, pointing at the equipment.

“It’s for taking molds of your teeth,” Hunt explained as she picked up one of the metal trays that hold the impression compound and held it up to Merry’s mouth. “Open.”

Merry opened her mouth and Hunt checked the tray for size. It fit, so she removed it and filled it with impression compound.

“This stuff tastes gross,” she warned, “but it’s only for a moment.”

Merry opened her mouth again and Hunt slid the tray in. She pressed it up against Merry’s teeth. Merry held very still, trying not to gag on the goop, and the compound soon dried. Hunt pried it off Merry’s teeth and pulled it out. Merry stuck out her tongue and wiped it with her hand to get the bits of compound off it.

“Sorry,” Hunt apologized.

She grabbed another tray and filled it.

“Once more,” she said, “with fangs.”

Merry nodded and put her head down again while she extended her fangs. She raised her head and opened her mouth as Hunt slid the second tray in. The scientist tried not to think about how close she was to the vampire’s sharp teeth as she waited for the compound to dry. When it did, she pulled out the tray and set it aside. Merry brushed her tongue off again and retracted her fangs.

“Great, thank you,” Hunt said.

She peeled off her gloves and set them on the table. Both women stood.

“Now to the next lab,” Hunt explained as she unlocked the door.

Merry followed Hunt and Athens followed the vampire. As they entered the second lab, Merry spotted the equipment and the muscular, male lab tech. She stopped short. Athens pulled the door shut and Merry heard it lock. The vampire rounded on him.

“This one must be yours,” Merry snarled, flashing her fangs as her eyes flickered red. “Amy’s interested in me and you’re interested in torturing me.”

“It’s just to see how strong you are,” Athens replied as he pressed the barrel of the gun against Merry’s chest.

Merry backed up a step.

“Sit down,” Athens ordered as he advanced on her.

The vampire glared but obeyed. The lab tech secured Merry’s wrists to the equipment. Merry turned her gaze to Hunt.

“I will not be responsible for my actions once I’m in pain,” the vampire warned.

Athens stepped over to the computer controls and set the gun down as he began pushing buttons. The machine came to life and began to stretch the vampire’s arms apart. Merry fixed her eyes on Hunt. At this distance the vampire could not hypnotize her so the scientist stared back fearlessly, her eyes betraying how much she didn’t want to watch but couldn’t make herself look away.

Merry’s breathing became ragged and she started to shake as she strained against the equipment. Hunt could see that Merry was nearing her breaking point – her body couldn’t handle the force for much longer. Merry drew a sharp breath. Hunt’s wrists tingled.

“Amy!” Merry begged.

Hunt stepped forward but Athens raised his hand to her and she stopped in her tracks. Merry gasped as her left arm popped out of its socket. Hunt felt sick. Merry looked faint. She closed her eyes and hung her head. Hunt heard another nauseating pop as Merry’s right shoulder dislocated.

“Enough!” Hunt barked at Athens as she stepped up beside him at the computer controls.

The machine ground to a halt. Merry snarled. Hunt and Athens looked up at her. The steel cuffs that bound Merry’s wrists cracked then broke as the vampire lunged forward.

Without the machine to hold Merry’s arms up they hung limp at her sides. The scientists and the lab tech watched as Merry’s powerful muscles pulled her bones back into place. When the vampire raised her head, her eyes shone red and Hunt could see her fangs as she smiled.

Athens and Hunt both reached for the tranquilizer gun at the same time – they succeeded in knocking it onto the floor. Athens dove for the gun. Hunt whirled, trying to spot the vampire.

Merry stood with her back in the corner. The helpless lab tech was paralyzed in the vampire’s powerful grip. Merry grinned wickedly at Hunt, then sunk her fangs deep into the man’s neck.

“No!” Hunt cried.

Athens stood up quickly with the gun clutched in his hand and swung it around. The gun misfired before Athens could focus his eyes and see that the lab tech’s body was shielding the vampire. The dart struck the man.

Merry released her grip on the lab tech and spit out her last mouthful of his blood – it was tainted with the tranquilizer. The lab tech fell limply to the ground. Merry looked up fearfully at Hunt and Athens, the red fading from her eyes. The man at her feet started to shake as the deadly tranquilizer spread through his body.

“Oh God you hit him!” Hunt cried as she darted forwards.

“It’s killing him,” Merry said, her voice full of concern, as she knelt beside the man. “Is there an antidote?”

“No,” Hunt replied as she knelt beside them. “He’s going to die.”

“He’s suffering,” Merry explained as she put one hand on the man’s jaw and the other around the back of his neck.

Hunt turned away as Merry spun the man’s head around, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. The sound was terrible. Hunt nearly vomited. Merry gently lowered the man’s head back down and brushed her hand down his face to close his eyes.

Merry stood and hooked her hand under Hunt’s arm and pulled her to her feet. The vampire pushed her towards the door.

“Don’t look. Let’s go,” Merry said.

Hunt didn’t speak; she just did as Merry said. Athens stepped up to intercept. Merry snatched the gun from him with one hand and shoved him backwards with the other. She handed the gun to Hunt.

You stay here and clean this up,” Merry snarled. “I wouldn’t have killed him but because of your itchy trigger finger I had to.”

Athens didn’t reply.

“Let’s go,” Merry repeated to Hunt.

Hunt unlocked the door and motioned Merry outside. The vampire glared at Athens one last time before leaving the room. The door closed, leaving Athens alone with the lab tech’s body.

Hunt took Merry back to her room. Once inside Hunt plunked herself down in the chair and laid the gun on the table. Merry went straight into the bathroom and washed her hands and face, trying to get rid of the taint of the unwanted kill.

Back in the main room, Merry sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her sunglasses back on before taking hold of Hunt’s hands. The scientist looked up at the vampire – Hunt’s eyes were slightly glazed.

“You really weren’t going to kill him?” Hunt finally asked.

“I just needed a bit to get me by,” the vampire replied, “after all that healing. I planned on stopping before he died.”

“But then Alix…” Hunt trailed off.

“Don’t think about it,” Merry said.

“I should go,” Hunt said. Her tone betrayed the fact that she didn’t really want to go and she didn’t actually move.

“Stay for a bit,” Merry suggested. “It’ll be better if you do. Ask me some questions.”

Hunt nodded and thought for a moment. Merry waited patiently.

“Can you eat or drink anything besides blood and water and you just don’t like to or does it make you sick?”

“It makes us sick. Not like an allergy or anything, but our bodies can’t handle anything other than blood and water. We can’t digest anything else so it makes us sick,” Merry replied.

“And I don’t suppose you’d care to demonstrate,” Hunt added.

Merry leaned away from her and shook her head.

“Didn’t think so,” Hunt said. “What was your favorite food... you know... before?”

“Tomatoes, fresh from the garden,” the vampire replied. “The flavor, the texture, the smell...” She closed her eyes momentarily, smiling and remembering. “Delicious.”

Merry opened her eyes and looked at Hunt. Her expression wiped the smile off the vampire's face.

“You really want to see me eat food, don't you?” Merry asked, sighing.

“Not if it would make you uncomfortable,” Hunt lied.

“Well it will make me violently ill,” Merry replied honestly, “so I'd really rather not. But I can see that it's important to you.”

“I don't want to make you sick,” Hunt insisted. “It's just that it hasn't been tried as part of the research before so...”

Merry rubbed her forehead and adjusted the sunglasses on her face.

“If you bring me a nice, perfectly-ripe, garden-fresh tomato, roughly the size of a baseball, I will eat it,” Merry relented. “In the interest of science,” she added.

“I appreciate it,” Hunt stressed.

Merry nodded but didn't speak.

“I'll bring one tomorrow night.”

Merry still didn't speak. Hunt tried to change the subject.

“Can you chew bubble gum?”

Merry shook her head.

“Besides the fact that I personally don't like the taste, there are sugars and additives that upset our stomachs.”

“I take it you've tried it.

The vampire nodded.

“I've tried a lot of things, and not just food.”

“Such as?”

“Bungee jumping, sky diving, swimming with sharks, cave diving, digging for dinosaurs, dog sledding, mountain climbing, swimming the English Channel, flying a helicopter, catching a bullet with my teeth...”

“Like the magic trick?”

“Except actually catching an actual bullet.”

Hunt was speechless.

“Um... wow. Did that require a lot of practice?”

Merry shook her head.

“Caught it on the second try.”

“Wow. Probably a good thing bullets can’t kill you.”

Merry shrugged. She didn't consider it high on her list of accomplishments.

A thought occurred to Hunt.

“Does it hurt when you turn?”

Merry shook her head again.

“It’s totally natural. The fangs are just muscle control, the nails are just rapid protein synthesis and the eyes are just pigment and blood vessel control. Nothing magical or freaky.”

“Why do your eyes turn red?” Hunt asked. “I mean, what’s the purpose of it?”

“It startles the prey,” Merry replied. “Makes them not want to look away, like a cobra’s eyes. It strikes fear. And it’s easier to see in the dark with red-tinted eyes.”

“Really?”

Merry nodded.

“Our vision approaches infrared, which I'm sure you know is at the opposite end of the light spectrum from ultraviolet.”

“Yes,” Hunt replied. “I wonder if that has any relation to your sensitivity to ultraviolet light.”

“I'm not sure,” Merry answered. “Our eyes are certainly more sensitive to ultraviolet light than our skin, but that applies to humans also.”

Hunt nodded.

“How long do you intend to keep me here?” Merry asked suddenly.

Hunt didn't have an answer.

“Do you intend to kill me yourself or will you have Alix do it?”

Hunt was stunned.

“I...”

“Don't lie, Amy,” Merry warned, her expression leaving no room for nonsense. “The last vampire your project team captured was staked. He was suicidal, but still. I'm sure he wasn't killed wastefully. The scientists had learned all they could from him, hadn't they? He was of no more use to them, so why waste resources keeping him around?”

“How do you know all that?!” Hunt demanded.

“We talk to each other,” Merry lied. “His sire... She was upset. They had been a couple but had decided to spend some time apart. She hadn't heard from him in a while and then felt him get staked.”

Hunt thought very carefully about her reply.

“If I had it my way,” she finally answered, “you and I would spend every night of my life chatting in this room.”

“We could spend more than just one lifetime having conversations,” Merry answered. “But that's up to you.”

Hunt looked away.

“They will kill you long before I'm tired of listening to you,” Hunt said sadly. “I promise I will fight for you, but I'm not the highest person in the chain of command.”

“Look at me Amy,” Merry said as she touched Hunt's cheek.

Hunt turned to the vampire. Merry leaned close and whispered to her.

“I promise you: I will not die in this building.”

Hunt nodded. She didn't speak. She didn't want anyone watching the video feed to catch wind of what Merry had said.

“Do you know how to kill me?” Merry asked.

“I've read the files...”

“So you know that try as you might, you cannot starve me or drown me or suffocate me. A bullet may draw my blood, but not end my life. To kill me, you must cut off my head, or burn me with fire or holy objects or sunlight, or expose me to garlic for a long period of time, or stab a wooden stake through my heart.”

“I know,” Hunt replied, nodding. “But it doesn't matter. I won't do it. I won't kill you.”

Merry softened and a smile crept to her lips. Hunt relaxed.

“I appreciate that,” the vampire said sincerely.

“Why...” Hunt hesitated, then decided not to ask the question.
“What?” Merry asked, concerned.

“No. It doesn't matter.”

“Please, ask me.”

“Why does the stake have to be wooden?”

Merry's smile returned.

“Wood was alive once,” she explained. “Unlike metal or stone. I don't know why that matters, but that's why.”

“Interesting,” Hunt replied. “I never knew.”

“You look hungry,” Merry commented, changing the subject.

Hunt hadn't noticed the time. It was past her usual “lunch” time.

“I'll be back in a bit,” she said as she rose from the bed.

Merry nodded. Hunt picked up the tranquilizer gun and headed for the door. She stopped in one of the nearby labs and placed the gun in a locked cabinet with several others. The guns and tranquilizers were always kept under lock and key since they were so dangerous.

Merry picked up her book and began to read again. When she finished it, she tossed it onto the floor and dug into the bag that Hunt had left earlier. She pulled out the CD player and tore open one of the CDs. She put the headphones on and popped the CD into the player. She hit play and leaned back against the wall with her eyes closed, letting the music fill her head and drown out her thoughts.

Athens watched the vampire from the control room. He had questions for her too, but he didn’t think that she would answer them if he asked them – especially not now. When Hunt returned he asked her to do it for him. She gave him a shocked look and told him straight out to risk his own neck to ask them. He almost started to argue with her but stopped himself. She was right: if he wanted to know, he could damn well go find out himself. And since she was already angry with him he might as well do it now. He looked at the monitor and how peaceful the vampire looked and decided to wait until after she finished the CD. If he interrupted her now, she might not be very nice to him. She probably wouldn’t be nice to him either way, but he wasn’t going to push his luck.

Athens paced around and finally left to visit the labs while he waited for the CD to end. He tried not to think about how the vampire would react, but he couldn’t help himself. Would she attack him or simply refuse to reply? Or both? He didn’t know.

Hunt leaned close to the speaker as she worked on her paperwork. There was nothing to watch when Merry was just sitting on the bed, but the vampire was singing along to the CD and Hunt wanted to hear it. Merry's voice was haunting. Hunt recognized the song as one that was regularly on the radio lately.

“...And this one is

Proof positive

That we're not just a boy band

We're way more than

They will ever understand

It's... proof positive

That we're not just a boy band

If we were just a fad

We wouldn't have so many great fans...”

Hunt hadn't heard the next song before, but she liked it.

“...I step back

And look surprised

I can't help it

I start to cry

You turn to go

I watch you leave

I can't believe

You'd do this to me

So I'm stepping back...”

The way Merry knew all the lyrics made Hunt wonder whether she already had this CD... or whether she might have written some of the songs. The third song sent shivers down Hunt's spine it was so beautiful.

“...I can hear you crying

When a tear falls down

And when I hear you crying

You know I'll be around...”

Hunt paged Athens when Merry took the CD out of the player and he hurried down to her room, hoping that he had arrived before she started the next one. He opened the door and was relieved to see that she had heard him coming and hadn’t started the next one, yet. When she saw it was him she glared and tore open the next disc.

“I just have a question for you,” he said as he slowly moved towards her. “I’m sorry about earlier and there won’t be anything like that again – I swear.”

“Ask away,” Merry said after a moment. She removed the headphones and set the player off to the side.

“You and your sire… what’s your relationship like?”

Merry glared at him and remained silent. Athens clicked his teeth together nervously before pressing further.

“I don’t see it being a healthy, loving relationship,” he continued, “when he made you his slave for all time.”

“I’m not his slave,” Merry snarled.

“No?”

“He could have had any girl he wanted – he still could – but he chose me. He chooses me.”

“Why?”

“Why not? You think I’m hot, why wouldn’t he? He fell for me.” She spoke harshly as she moved towards the edge of the bed towards Athens.

Athens backed up a step. He bit his lip, working up the courage to ask the question that was burning in the back of his mind.

“With strength like the two of you have… I just… Does he hurt you?” Athens forced himself to ask.

Merry stood up and Athens backed up again, clutching his garlic spray and wishing he had the gun from earlier. The vampire didn’t move or speak.

“He does, doesn’t he?”

“We’re vampires. We’re short tempered and prone to violence.”

“That doesn’t make it right.”

“And if I start it and finish it? Is that okay with you?” Merry growled.

Athens didn’t reply. He could tell that Merry wasn’t as angry as she had been. She was remembering something.

Merry flew across the room and slammed into the wall. She was up in a flash, her fangs bared and her eyes ablaze as she rushed back across the room. She caught Davide around the waist and drove him into the wall, winding him. He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her hard, causing her to cry out. She dug her nails into his flesh and he released her. She fell to the ground, hurt, but she didn’t stop. She kicked his legs out from underneath him and he came down hard. She crawled over top of him and balled up her fist, prepared to punch him in the face. They were both exhausted and breathing hard and Davide didn’t resist her. She relaxed her fist and collapsed down onto his chest. He put his arms around her gently and she closed her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“No, I’m sorry. It was my fault,” she replied.

“I shouldn’t have said that.”

“I shouldn’t have hit you.”

“Forgive me?”

“If you forgive me.”

“Of course.”

Merry forced herself back to the present. She had never doubted Davide’s feelings for her, or hers for him, and she never would. She glared at Athens, angry that he would say the things he had been saying, and decided to teach him a lesson. Before he knew what had happened he was on the ground. The side of his face ached and he could taste blood in his mouth. Merry grabbed the collar of his shirt and hauled him up. She lifted him off the ground and slammed him into the wall. She snarled, baring her fangs, and he could see her eyes shining red from behind the sunglasses.

“Merry!” Hunt shouted into the speaker.

Merry glared at the camera and growled, “Stay out of this!”

She turned back to Athens.

“I love my sire with all my heart. I would do anything for him. I would die for him. And my love has nothing to do with him being my sire. It's simple, pure love. Yes, we argue. Yes, we fight. Yes, sometimes, it gets violent. It's our nature. And just because you’ve never had a healthy, trusting relationship doesn’t mean that other people can’t have one,” she snarled.

She dropped him to the floor in a heap and turned away. She sat back down on the bed and put the headphones back on. Athens crawled to the door and used the handle to pull himself up. By the time he got out of the room, Merry had zoned out to the music of the CD player.

Athens rubbed his neck as he made his way to one of the labs for an ice pack for his face. He wiped the blood off his lip with his hand and continued up to the control room. Hunt was waiting for him. She looked worried.

“I guess I shouldn’t have done that,” he said sarcastically.

“I guess not,” she replied.

Hunt was very angry at Athens. Merry could feel the anger pouring into her through the weak link she had formed with Hunt. The link was stronger now that Merry had had more of Hunt’s blood, but it still wasn’t nearly as strong as those between vampires.

Merry didn’t want Hunt to be angry with Athens. She wanted them to be civil. She had to get their minds off the earlier events and refocus their attention. She knew exactly how.

“Amy,” Merry said into the camera, “send Alix back down here. He owes me an apology.”

“Are you going to hurt him?” Hunt asked.

“No,” Merry replied.

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“I’ll see if he wants to go,” Hunt replied. If Merry wanted an apology, Hunt would make Athens give her one, whether he wanted to or not, but she didn’t need to tell Merry that.

Merry nodded and went back over to the bed. She picked up a book and continued reading. When she heard faint footsteps in the hall she casually got up and went into the bathroom, purposely leaving the door open but disappearing out of the camera’s view.

Hunt watched the computer screen keenly, afraid for Athens’ life even though Merry had promised not to hurt him. She forgot that Merry could move faster than her eyes could process. Hunt watched the bathroom doorway for Merry to reappear, but just as Athens punched in the code for the door Hunt had a very bad feeling. Her eyes went wide as Athens opened the door and she realized that the camera couldn’t see the area just above the door. Athens stepped inside and Hunt hit the button for the speaker.

“Look out!” she cried, but she was too late.

Merry reappeared into the view of the camera as she dropped down from where she had been hanging above the doorway. Athens whirled but Merry caught him and tossed him into the room. She pulled the door shut, closing him in, and turned to face the hallway.

Hunt hit the emergency button. Every open door in the facility immediately closed and extra ultraviolet light flooded the doors and walls. Merry felt the extra light, but there was nothing she could do about it where she was. Whatever room Hunt was in was where Merry needed to be.

Hunt’s wrists tingled and she clasped her hands over the places where Merry had bitten her. She decided it was just nerves and ignored it as she watched Athens get up off the floor of Merry’s room and hurry to the door.

Merry zipped to the end of the hall, then stopped and looked both ways down the cross hall. Behind her she heard Athens opening the door. She picked the direction that would lead her to Hunt and disappeared around the corner.

Athens ran as fast as he could to the nearest lab and punched in the door code. He threw the door open and rushed to the locked cabinet to grab another tranquilizer gun. He fumbled with the lock, swore out loud, and finally got it open. He snatched up a gun and bolted back out of the room. The only thought that crossed his mind was that he didn’t think Merry would leave the facility without Hunt.

Merry used her link with Hunt to lead her to the control room. She could feel the ultraviolet light in the door, but she was ready to be burned. She drew her hand back in a fist and swung forward.

Hunt watched in horror as the door crashed open. Merry’s eyes went wide as she wrenched her arm back through the doorway and threw herself backwards to the floor. Through the curtain of UV enhanced lasers that flooded the doorway, Hunt watched Merry push herself down the hall, her arm badly burnt from her fist to her elbow.

Merry thought she was going to black out. The pain was so intense that she could hardly think. She heard Athens’s approaching footsteps and she forced her eyes to focus on the hall where he would appear. She knew he would attack her and she had to be ready.

Athens rounded the corner and spotted the vampire on the floor. He fired a dart at her and was surprised when she caught it. Merry winced again and shook her hand to get the dart out of it. The tiny amount of tranquilizer that entered her blood merely dulled the pain in her arm for a moment.

Hunt turned off the extra defenses and entered the hallway. She saw Athens with the gun and held her hand up to him.

“Don’t,” she ordered. “She’s hurt enough.”

Hunt moved towards Merry. Merry backed away from her, sliding on the floor, and snarled. She tried to blink away the fog in her vision.

“It’s okay,” Hunt said as she knelt down beside her. She turned back to Athens. “Get some blood. Meet us back in her room.”

Athens hesitated, then handed the gun to Hunt and left. Hunt tucked the gun in the back of her pants. She had no intention of using it. She touched Merry’s shoulder and Merry cringed. She was shaking.

“It’s alright,” Hunt insisted. “I won’t hurt you.”

Hunt didn’t dare touch Merry’s burnt arm. She couldn’t imagine the pain or how Merry would react to having it touched.

“Come on,” Hunt said gently as she hooked her hand under Merry’s left arm and tugged.

Merry stood slowly.

“Ow.”

“Yeah, I can’t even imagine,” Hunt replied as she started leading Merry back to her room. “We just installed those special lasers a little while ago. And if not for them….” Hunt didn’t finish; couldn’t finish.

“You’d be dead,” Merry finished for her.

Hunt wasn’t sure if that was a threat or if Merry was simply saying what she thought Hunt was thinking, so she didn’t reply. Merry didn’t say anything else. Athens was waiting for them at the holding cell. Merry clicked her teeth at him as she walked past, but she didn’t speak to him. Hunt helped her to the bed and they both sat down.

Hunt took the cap off one of the bottles that Athens had brought down and handed it to Merry. Merry took it in her left hand and stretched her burnt right arm out in front of her. She poured the blood out onto her arm and both Hunt and Athens watched in surprise as the flesh healed quickly wherever the blood touched it. Merry moved her arm stiffly, covering it all with blood. None of it dripped to the floor, her flesh absorbed it all.

Hunt took the empty bottle from Merry as she stretched her healed arm. Merry sighed, finally free of the pain.

Hunt offered Merry another bottle, but Merry shook her head.

“Later.”

Hunt nodded. She set it on the desk.

“Why did you do that?” Hunt asked. The question had been burning in her mind.

“Change of scenery,” Merry replied sarcastically.

“And you were going to kill me?”

“Hadn’t decided yet.”

Hunt shook her head.

“I just don’t understand,” Hunt said.

Merry leaned closer to her and spoke in a whisper, “I’m lonely.”

Merry lay down on the bed and turned away from Hunt. Hunt stood and she and Athens left.

When they got back to the control room Hunt and Athens both sunk down into chairs. They found now that they could finally express the fear that they had been feeling all along. Hunt started shaking slightly. Athens slid his chair over beside her and put his hand on hers. She smiled weakly at him.

“You knew she was going to come after me,” Hunt said softly.

Athens nodded.

“She promised never to hurt me.”

“As long as she was in her room,” Athens added. “And she promised you that she wouldn’t hurt me.”

“Sneaky,” Hunt replied.

Athens nodded. He didn’t really know what to say. He wanted to tell her how worried he’d been about her – how sick he’d felt when he realized that Merry was heading for her – and how much he still loved her.

Hunt pulled her hand out of Athens’s grip and pulled the tranquilizer gun out of the back of her pants. She set it down on the counter and leaned back in the chair.

“Much better,” she said, smiling more this time.

Athens forced a smile and nodded. He turned back to the computer and rolled his chair over to watch the screen. Merry was curled up under the blankets. Athens flipped a switch and the lights in Merry’s room went off.

Mark hadn't slept in days... or nights... or whichever they were. He could hardly keep it straight anymore. All he knew was that when the alarm went off on his watch, he had to go to work.

He wandered around the comic book store, gathering a stack of books in his arm as he scanned the shelves for anything and everything to do with vampires. He still couldn't believe that they were real... and he couldn't get the captured vampire's eyes out of his mind.

Since the night that Dr. Athens had returned with the vampire, Mark's life had been turned upside down. His movie rentals usually consisted of violent thrillers and pornos, but now he had stacks of vampire movies scattered around his small apartment. He had scooped up every vampire novel off the “bestsellers” shelf at the local drugstore, but they took too long to read. He wanted more instant gratification, hence the comics.

The store owner was eyeing him suspiciously from behind the counter. Mark's eyes flashed across the last display. He plucked a graphic novel off the shelf and headed for the counter, dropping the stack of books in front of the tattoo-covered owner.

“How's it going?” the owner asked casually, not really caring, just making conversation.

Mark shrugged. The owner easily noticed the theme of Mark's selections.

“Doing research or something?” the owner asked.

Mark smirked. If only the store owner knew how precisely he'd nailed it.

“Yeah, something like that,” Mark replied as he handed the man his credit card.

Mark signed the credit card slip without even looking at the total. He grabbed the bag of comics and headed out the door, leaving the store owner to wonder what he was up to.

The molds that the scientists had taken of the vampire's teeth were cured enough that Hunt could fill them with the plaster compound that would form the models. She measured the ingredients and mixed the plaster carefully, not wanting the models to crack or fail to set. As she filled the mold of Merry's fangs, Hunt wondered what a set of joke teeth would look like if they had vampire fangs. She smiled at the thought, then frowned. Her life had very nearly been ended by those very fangs.

She set the molds down on the counter. They would need to set for several hours before she could examine them fully. Hunt glanced back at them as she flipped the lights off and left the lab.

Mark slammed another comic onto the coffee table in frustration and ripped a new one out of its plastic bag. He was halfway through the pile of books and he still hadn't found one that portrayed vampires accurately. None of the stories had their abilities and weaknesses correct, and, most importantly, none of the drawings had the eyes right. It wasn't long before this comic flew across the room, crashed into the wall, and slid down into a ruined pile.

“The eyes,” he muttered to himself.

He rose quickly from the couch and hurried to the kitchen. He dug through his “junk” drawer until he found some markers and a notepad. Back on the couch, he cleared the coffee table with a sweep of his arm, knocking comics and DVDs to the floor. He frantically began drawing, alternating between the red and black markers. Time and time again he tore the page off, crumpled it in anger, and whipped it at the wall. He wondered in desperation why he couldn't draw the eyes that were so clearly etched into his mind.

Mark couldn't even remember the vampire's name. The research files and blood samples were all labeled with numbers. Maybe he'd never even known it. He wasn't sure. Besides, it was easier to objectify her if he didn't actually know her name. She fit into his fantasies better when she was anonymous. Her burning eyes had replaced those of every actress or porn star that had ever featured in his dark dreams. The vampire's eyes had even taken the place of the half-closed eyes of the drunk girl he'd taken advantage of back in college. Those half-closed eyes had gotten him through a multitude of lonely nights, one-night stands, and awkward rendezvous with prostitutes, but no more.

The alarm on Mark's watch sounded, reminding him that it was time to get ready for work. Abandoning his markers and notepad, he quickly scooped up handfuls of comics and novels from around the dirty apartment and tossed them into the apple boxes he'd picked up at the grocery store. Once the boxes were full he quickly showered and pulled on his last set of clean clothes, then loaded the boxes into his car. He stopped at a drive-thru on his way to work for a large coffee and a hamburger, the only food he'd had in nearly 24 hours.

Just as Hunt and Athens were getting ready to leave for the day, Johnson showed up in the control room.

“I brought some boxes of stuff for the vampire, so I don’t have to bring stuff every day,” he said. He was acting strange again. “I left them by her cell. If you’ll come down and open the door I’ll help you put them in.”

“Great,” Athens replied.

They all headed down to the vampire’s room. Athens punched in the code for the door and cautiously opened it. Athens watched Merry closely as they each grabbed a box and placed them just inside the door. Merry didn’t move. Athens flipped off the light and shut the door. He and Hunt left for home while Johnson went back up to the lab.

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