Winter's Nights: Eternity

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Night Six

Hunt returned several hours later, carrying two cups of coffee. Athens was finally starting to feel tired and was glad for the coffee since by now it was time for them to actually be at work. Most of the other staff had already arrived and Hunt told them all to meet in the control room. They needed to be told about Johnson and the consequences of disobeying orders.

Athens had discerned that Johnson had learned the code when he brought the boxes of books for Merry the night before. He had disobeyed direct orders to never enter the holding cell and he had paid for his mistake with his life. The younger staff left the room with grave looks on their faces and both Athens and Hunt were certain that none of the other junior staff would try anything stupid with the vampire. They were right.

It wasn't long before Hunt decided to make her way down to visit Merry. She wasn't sure if the vampire would be up for conversation, but she thought she'd give it a try.

Hunt peeked into Merry's room and the vampire motioned for her to enter. Hunt sat on the edge of the bed. She thought Merry looked distracted.

“How are you doing?” Hunt asked.

“I'm alright,” Merry replied. “The tranquilizers make me feel sick.”

“You know what I mean,” Hunt said.

Merry nodded.

“I don't like feeling weak. Maybe I didn't have to kill him, but the world is a better place without him. And it makes me feel better that I bested him. I'm glad I never saw his mind. I don't want to know what he had planned.”

Hunt nodded.

“If you want to talk about it...”

“I don't,” the vampire said firmly.

Hunt nodded again cautiously. Eyeing Merry warily in case she lost her temper. The vampire sighed and closed her eyes for a moment to compose herself. When she opened them she was perfectly calm again.

“I will have to remember this forever,” Merry explained. “I don't want to rehash it right now.”

“I understand.”

“I do want you to stay though,” Merry added. “I want to talk about something... anything... except that.”

Hunt nodded.

“I brought you a tomato,” she offered, smiling weakly.

Merry sighed and shook her head.

“You don't have to...”

“Have Alix bring it down,” Merry said, sighing again. “Might as well get it over with.”

“Are you sure?” Hunt insisted.

Merry nodded. Hunt turned to the camera.

“Meet me in the hall,” Alix said. He didn't want to be near Merry or see her – not after what they had done.

Hunt nodded, not bothered by Athens request. She waited outside Merry's door for Athens to bring the tomato.

“Time her reaction time, please,” Hunt asked him.

He nodded and headed back up to the control room. Hunt waited a minute to let him return before going back into Merry's room. She paused just inside the door.

Merry was standing in the bathroom doorway, leaned against the frame, not wearing her sunglasses. She held her hand up and Hunt tossed her the tomato. Merry caught it deftly. She closed her eyes and brought the fruit up to smell it. She smiled in remembrance and sighed.

“One night in the garden behind my parents' house, before Davide bit me, we shared a handful of tiny tomatoes. He only ate one, but I can't fathom how he kept his composure. He managed to stomach it, simply for appearances.”

Merry looked at Hunt. Hunt watched her eyes glow red. The vampire bared her fangs and sank them into the fruit, tearing into it like a wolf into prey. She tilted her head back to swallow the first bite without chewing, then took another large bite. The entire tomato was gone in just a few bites. Merry squeezed her eyes shut as her body convulsed in revulsion.

Hunt stared. The vampire stood frozen, then slowly relaxed. She opened her eyes and looked at Hunt.

“How long...”

Hunt didn't get to finish her question. Merry's body convulsed again and she pressed her fist to her lips. Her eyes locked on Hunt's. The scientist could see that she was shaking and tried to speak again.

“You don't...”

Merry whirled and vanished into the bathroom, slamming the door shut. Hunt heard the shower turn on, drowning out any other sounds. The toilet flushed and the shower turned off. Merry emerged slowly, wiping her face with a hand towel. She tossed the towel back into the bathroom and looked over at Hunt.

Hunt rushed to Merry's side to support her. She looked weak and was paler than normal. Merry put her arm around Hunt's shoulders and let her help her to the bed. Merry lay down, closed her eyes, and rested on hand on her stomach while she brought her other arm up to shield her eyes. Her breathing was deep and slow, like she was exhausted.

“Do you want some...”

“No,” Merry said abruptly, cutting Hunt off. Hunt wondered how Merry knew she was going to offer her blood. “Thank you, but no. I can't stomach anything right now. I just need to rest.”

“Do you want me to go?”

“Stay. Talk to me. Ask me questions or tell me something.”

“Okay,” Hunt nodded.

Up in the control room, Athens sympathized with Merry – he was starting to feel sick too. His head was starting to hurt and his stomach felt uneasy. I must have picked up a flu bug somewhere, he thought.

Merry lifted her hand from her stomach and reached half-heartedly for her sunglasses on the table. Hunt picked them up and Merry moved her arm off her face. The vampire kept her eyes closed as Hunt gently placed the glasses on her face. Hunt's fingers touched Merry's cheek and she was surprised that it was cold, like she had been asleep. She took hold of Merry's hand and found it was just as cold.

“We shouldn't have done this tonight,” Hunt lamented. “You were already not feeling well because of the tranquilizers. I'm sorry.”

“It's alright, Amy,” Merry insisted. “I wouldn't have done it if I wasn't prepared to accept the consequences.”

Hunt nodded. She squeezed Merry's hand before laying it back on the bed.

“Ask me something,” Merry suggested.

“You mentioned before about some vampires keeping werewolves as pets,” Hunt said. “What about other animals?”

“Some vampire do, yes. Mostly cats, but occasionally dogs or longer lived animals like parrots. Some of us travel too much to be good pet owners.”

The vampire paused, remembering.

“When I was a child I had a blue bird named Dixie,” Merry continued. “Dixie would sing for me in her little cage and I wondered how she could be happy enough to sing when she was cooped up in such a small space. I finally realized that singing was what made her free. I got in a lot of trouble, but I let her go.”

Hunt remained silent, waiting for Merry to continue. The vampire seemed to still miss her little blue bird terribly, even though it had been more than three centuries since she had freed Dixie.

“If I could get a tattoo,” Merry added, “it would be a blue bird.”

“If a person has a tattoo before they become a vampire, does it heal,” Hunt asked, gently steering the conversation away from the subject that was clearly painful for the vampire.

Merry nodded.

“All wounds heal,” Merry confirmed. “Scars, tattoos, amputated limbs...”

“I always thought about getting a tattoo but I never have,” Hunt said. “And thinking back on the embarrassing things I considered, that's probably a good thing.”

“Like what?”

“Oh the usual teenager list of band logos and boys names... butterflies, Chinese characters, Celtic knots... nothing that was actually personal or meaningful.”

Merry nodded.

“What about piercings?” Hunt asked.

“They would stay as long as you kept a ring in them, but it would be uncomfortable because your body would be constantly trying to heal the wound.”

Hunt didn't like the personalized way Merry phrased the sentence, but she assumed it was innocent, until the vampire reached over and pointed to Hunt's left ear. Hunt leaned back and self-consciously touched her earring.

“Those are pretty though,” the vampire said before returning her hand to her stomach.

Hunt cleared her throat.

“How do you feel?” Hunt asked. “Any better.”

“A bit.”

“That's good.”

“Talking helps keep my mind off it.”

“I'm glad.”

“Tell me about yourself more, Amy,” Merry said. “What's your favorite color?”

“Burgundy,” Hunt answered. “Yours?”

“Green. Blue is a close second. They are the colors of life.”

“I would have guessed 'red'.”

Merry chuckled.

“Because of blood.”

“Because of blood,” Hunt confirmed.

“What's your favorite movie?”

“There's an old movie... well, old to me... called 'The African Queen' that I really like. I'm not even sure why, but my grandparents and I used to watch it and we all enjoyed it.”

“It's a classic,” the vampire confirmed. “I saw it in the theatre when it was released.”

“Of course you did,” Hunt commented. “Is there anything you haven't done?”

“Been to outer space.”

“And?”

“I'm thinking,” Merry replied. “Of course there are lots of things I haven't done: movies I haven't seen, books I haven't read, places I've never been, songs I've never heard.”

“But, like you said before, you've tried a lot of things.”

“Yes. It's an advantage of being hundreds of years old.”

“Do you ever get bored?”

“Of course,” Merry answered. “That's when I jump on a plane for the Australian desert or go bungee jumping or read an entire set of encyclopedias.”

“I see.”

“If you could do one thing or go one place – without worrying about money or safety or anything – what would you do?”

Hunt had to think about it for a moment.

“Fly a glider,” she finally decided. “I've seen it on TV and it looks amazing. Up there soaring around like a bird. So free.”

“Alas, something I can never do – they don't work well at night.”

Hunt hadn't expected Merry's reply. She had deluded herself into thinking that Merry could do anything, but of course even the powerful vampire had limitations, no matter how strong and fast she was.

“I wish there was a way to test your reaction time,” Hunt admitted. “We'll have to write a computer program for it. Or maybe we could find a game that would work. I'll bet you're great at video games.”

“I've never played them,” Merry replied. “Computers frustrate me. They're so slow. I can read anything off paper faster than I can scroll on a computer and I can write with a pen faster than I could ever type.”

Now it was Hunt's turn to stare.

“So, even if we came up with a computer program to test your reaction time, it would be too slow?”

Merry nodded.

“Plus, I tend to break things that frustrate me,” Merry added. “Keyboards, mice...”

“I think they say 'mouses',” Hunt replied.

Merry laughed.

“What? Seriously? That's ridiculous. That's not proper English at all,” Merry answered.

“And you would know,” Hunt replied, “being from England.”

“Exactly,” Merry agreed. “Although I'm sure that if I went home my accent would make me stick out. Modern England is very different than the one I knew. Words, pronunciations, and slang would have changed a lot since my youth.”

“I'm sure it has. Heck, kids now have different slang that I used when I was a kid.”

“Language has to evolve along with technology,” Merry said, “and technology changes by the minute.”

“Yes, it does.”

Around midnight Athens decided to go home. He was getting tired and feeling worse.

“Amy,” he said into the speaker. “Sorry to interrupt, but can you come up here for a minute?”

“Uh sure,” Hunt replied. She turned to Merry. “I'll be back.”

As soon as she saw Athens, Hunt knew why he had called her. He was pale to the point where he almost looked green.

“I'm sorry, Amy,” he offered. “It must be stomach flu. I just feel drained.”

“It's alright Alix,” she replied. “Go home. Get some sleep. Do you want someone to drive you?”

“No, I'll be alright,” he assured her. “Call me if you need me but I'm gonna crash as soon as I get home, so...”

“Don't worry about it,” Hunt answered. “Everything will be fine here. And Merry and I can talk through the speaker. I'll see you tomorrow night.”

Athens nodded and left the facility. He was okay to drive, but after he got home he started to feel worse and worse. His head and stomach hurt and he felt weak and exhausted. He took some painkillers and went to bed. He woke up an hour later in such pain that he cried out. He tried to reach the phone to call Hunt but he fell off the bed onto the floor.

Merry stepped into the bathroom when she felt Athens start to change. She didn't want her reactions to his suffering to alert Hunt that something was going on. Merry wanted so badly to be there to comfort Athens in his pain, but she had to settle for sending strength to him through their newly reawakened link.

Alix. It's alright. It will all be over soon.

Merry? What the hell? What's happening? How can I...

I'm sorry to do this to you this way, Alix, but it was the only way. I needed you to have time to get home.

Merry! It hurts.

I'm sorry Alix. Try to relax. Think of something else. The soccer game you won just before the car accident. Think of how happy you were.

How do you know about that?

You'll remember soon enough, Alix.

Remember what? The accident? My neck... My leg. You were there...

Yes, Alix. I was there. I didn't recognize you until you touched my link. Now rest. The pain will be gone soon.

Merry!

Merry felt Athens' mind go dark. Tears escaped the corners of her eyes. She splashed cold water on her face to calm herself down. As she dried her face she turned her thoughts to Hunt.

Something was bothering Hunt as she sat stared absentmindedly at the computer screen. She was pretty sure it was Athens, but she couldn’t figure out exactly what it was. It felt like he had lied to her, but she was sure he hadn’t. There hadn’t been anything for him to lie to her about, had there?

Out of curiosity Hunt brought up the video feed from the morning and watched it on fast-forward. She watched Johnson enter the room and shoot Merry. She watched Merry kill Johnson and pass out. She watched Athens enter the room and wake Merry up by touching her link. Her eyes narrowed as she watched Merry hug Athens. She saw herself come into the room and leave again, then watched Athens clean up the mess while Merry showered. She watched Athens leave, but Merry didn't go back to sleep. She looked like she was waiting for something.

Merry sat in the dark for a long time and Hunt watched the time display as it approached about when she thought she had fallen asleep. She clicked the video off of fast-forward and waited with Merry for what happened next. Light from the hallway lit the room as Athens entered. Hunt leaned closer to the screen as the room darkened when he closed the door. Hunt’s eyes went wide as she watched Athens move to Merry’s side, set the bottle of blood he’d brought on the table, and lean in to kiss her. She watched through her fierce glare as they undressed and she noted every movement, hating them both more and more as she watched. She didn’t notice the way Athens acted as he was redressing; she didn’t see that he didn’t really know what he had done.

Hunt fumed. She considered going down to Merry’s cell but she realized that that would be really stupid. If she made Merry angry she would kill her and Athens wasn’t here to watch the monitor. If Athens had still been there, Hunt probably would have killed him. She’d never been this mad at anyone before, not even at Athens when she’d caught him cheating, either time.

Next Hunt considered calling Athens and yelling at him until she was hoarse, but again she decided against it. It seemed to her at that moment that calling Athens was the last thing she ever wanted to do.

Hunt paced around the control room, squeezing her fists shut as hard as she could to release some tension. Finally she sat back down at the computer and returned the view screen to live feed.

Merry sat down. Hunt was surprised that Merry hadn’t already been sitting down and reading. She backed the tape up a bit, then hit play. Merry was pacing the room, her fists balled up. Hunt was confused. Did Merry know how she was feeling? Had Merry been pacing because she had been pacing? How was that possible?

Hunt reached for the mike to ask Merry, then stopped. She didn’t want to talk to Merry. She had thought that Merry was her friend, but now she was very confused. Merry had considered killing her. Merry had seduced Athens. Friends don’t threaten you, or sleep with your ex-boyfriend, especially when you’re getting along with him so well that you’re considering giving him a third chance.

Granted, Hunt thought, I have been holding her prisoner, doing experiments on her, and prying into every detail of her life. She didn’t consider that a good enough excuse for what Merry had done.

Hunt stood up and began walking around again. Her anger with Merry was fading as she considered how she had really been treating her. Merry was locked up and Hunt had no intention of ever releasing her. It didn’t matter that most of what there was to know about a vampire as a physical creature had already been found out long before Merry had been captured; Merry was here for the rest of her life. The project team could keep her for as long as they thought there was a reason too, and then they would kill her. There was no other option. Merry couldn’t escape, Hunt was sure of that, and if she was released she would probably return with an army of vampires and tear the facility to pieces. It didn’t occur to Hunt that Merry could raise an army at any moment.

Merry’s words from the night before rang in Hunt’s ears. I’m lonely. Hunt had thought that her company would be enough for Merry, but she realized that it was vampires that she longed to be with. Merry missed her sire and the rest of her “family”.

Hunt understood this sort of loneliness. She had very little family and she wasn’t close to any of them. Her maternal grandparents had raised her, but they had both died years ago. She knew she had cousins around, but she hardly felt like she was related to any of them. They weren’t the kind of family she was longing for.

The odd hours at her job had also deprived Hunt of many friends. She realized with a shock that the only friends she had were involved with “The Vampire Project”. Hunt sat down again. She watched Merry come over to the camera.

“What’s wrong Amy?” Merry asked.

“Nothing,” Hunt lied into the speaker. She was suspicious of Merry now. Did Merry know how she was feeling or what she was thinking?

“You haven’t been back down to see me,” Merry added.

Hunt paused. Merry’s words explained her question. And Hunt had spent most of the last week in Merry’s room talking to her. She felt like she had known Merry for far longer than a week.

“If you need someone to talk to,” Merry offered, “I’m always here.”

Hunt watched Merry return to the bed, the full meaning of her words sinking in. Merry WAS always there for her. Always.

Merry refused to touch any of the boxes that Johnson had brought, so she was out of books to read, but she didn’t feel like reading anyway. She was listening very carefully to Hunt’s thoughts. Their link wasn’t yet strong enough for Merry to force Hunt to do things, but she could steer her thoughts. She didn’t want Hunt to realize what was really happening until it was too late for her to stop it.

She felt Hunt start pacing again. She was still dwelling on the fact that she didn’t have many friends or much family. She thought about how hard it must have been for Merry to leave her parents and siblings and how lucky Merry was to have other vampires. For a fleeting second Hunt wished that she was a vampire. Merry smiled.

Merry rose from the bed and stood in the center of the room. She leaned backwards like she was going to fall, then at the last moment kicked off and flipped into a handstand. Balanced perfectly she slowly shifted her legs to one side so she could raise one hand off the floor. She slowly bent her elbow and lowered herself towards the floor, then suddenly launched herself into a cartwheel. The moment her feet touched the floor she used her momentum to run up the wall and tap the ceiling with her foot as she kicked off the wall and flew upside down across the room, only righting herself at the last second to land on the bed.

Smiling to herself, the vampire flipped forwards off the bed, landed on her feet, then arched backwards into another handstand. She lowered her head to the floor and splayed her legs out, then twisted into a spin like a break-dancer.

Hunt was staring at the monitor with her mouth slacked open. She liked just watching the vampire move. She was so graceful and powerful. And silent. No matter whether she was walking or leaping through the air, every movement was so well timed that there was never any sound. Now, however, Hunt could hear a faint sound coming through the speaker. She leaned closer, confused. A smile crossed her lips as she figured it out: the vampire was making beat-box noises to go with her break dancing. Hunt was amazed that not only was the vampire coordinated enough to be doing flips while keeping an unbroken beat, but she never seemed to have to stop to catch her breath.

As suddenly as she had started, the vampire stopped. She spun out in the middle of the room and sat there in silence. She sighed.

“Bored,” Merry said, to no one in particular, just loud enough for Hunt to hear.

Hunt knew that she shouldn’t leave the control room unless there was someone else there to watch Merry. Merry wouldn’t know that there wasn’t anyone watching her, but she might try something reckless regardless of if someone was watching or not. Hunt also knew that she shouldn’t go down and visit Merry unless there was someone in the control room to activate the defenses if she needed them. Hunt broke all the rules and headed down to Merry’s room.

Merry was expecting Hunt, but she didn’t show it. Hunt entered the room slowly and cautiously. Merry looked completely non-threatening, even with her dark eyes hidden behind the sunglasses. The vampire pretended not to be able to hear Hunt’s thoughts, even though they were pounding in her ears like drums, and moved to sit at the edge of the bed.

“Something is wrong,” Merry said gently, trying not to sound like she knew what was wrong.

Hunt had intended to stay calm, but she couldn’t. She exploded, loosing her tongue at Merry and releasing all the angry thoughts that she had been keeping pent up.

“You raped him!” Hunt shouted. “How could you? You pretend to be so noble and then you violated him that way! And you know about our past – you know that we were starting to patch things up! You've ruined that for us now... I won't even be able to look at him now after what I've seen...”

Merry sat perfectly still as Hunt advanced at her, calling her names and accusing her of things, bringing up her past and slandering her title, insulting her and being just plain rude. Hunt ended her rant by slapping Merry across the face with her right hand.

Merry’s head snapped sideways and her sunglasses flew off onto the bed. Hunt gasped and her eyes went wide. She was shocked with herself. She froze, not sure what Merry would do, and watched a spot of blood form near Merry’s left eye where the sunglasses had cut her.

Merry very calmly reached over and picked up the sunglasses. She put them back on, then slowly turned to face Hunt.

“Feel better?” Merry asked.

“I’m sorry,” Hunt gasped.

“It’s alright,” Merry replied calmly. “I deserved it. I slept with your man. You have every right to be angry. You can hit me again if you like – I won't hurt you.”

Hunt was surprised. She’d done everything she could possibly do to make Merry angry enough to murder and Merry was apologizing to her. Merry seemed entirely unaffected by Hunt’s rant and rage. A trickle of blood ran down the side of Merry’s face.

“No,” Hunt said when she finally found her voice, “I overreacted. And he’s not my man. Not anymore.”

Hunt’s voice wavered. She didn’t want it to be true, but she was sure it was. Athens obviously didn’t care about her anymore. If he did he wouldn’t have gone behind her back and slept with someone, especially Merry.

“As for rape,” Merry added, “I'm afraid you've got it all wrong. I can seduce anyone. Between hypnosis and pheromones I can make anyone want to have sex with me. But I can't actually make them do it. I can excite the animal instincts in the brain to a near frenzy, but the human part of the brain always has to make an actual decision. If I had overpowered him physically, it would have been rape, but all I actually did was point him in the right direction. He chose to sleep with me.”

Hunt sat down beside Merry on the bed. Hunt hung her head and put her hand on her forehead. She realized that Merry had been right, she did still care about Athens, and she wished that Athens still cared about her. Merry gently put her hand on Hunt’s shoulder.

“I'm sorry,” Merry said. “I was lonely, and I guess he was too. It was selfish of us to hurt you so.”

Hunt looked up at Merry, then without hesitation hugged her. She felt strangely safe wrapped tightly in Merry’s strong arms and didn’t care that Merry’s deadly fangs were inches from her neck. She finally pulled away, then started to apologize again.

“It’s alright,” Merry said, cutting her off. “Everyone needs a hug sometimes.”

“Even you,” Hunt replied. She wasn’t sure if it was a question or a statement.

Merry nodded.

“I understand why you’re lonely,” Hunt continued. “You miss your family. I don’t have one.”

Now for the moment of truth.

Hunt stared at the blood on Merry’s face and realized that a single drop of it could give her the family and friends she longed for. A tiny taste of Merry’s blood would make her a vampire. Hunt reached up and ran the back of her right index finger up the blood trail on Merry’s cheek. She pulled her hand back and stared at the blood. Merry caught Hunt’s wrist and Hunt looked her in the eye.

“You have to give me the codes first so I can take you out of here. Vampires can’t pass through the lasers on the outside doors,” Merry said softly. She didn’t try to compel Hunt, she wanted her to make her own decision.

I’m not ready for this. Not yet.

Merry pulled Hunt’s hand forward and sucked the blood off her finger. She released Hunt’s wrist and Hunt watched as the blood on Merry’s cheek disappeared into her skin. Hunt’s mood drooped as she watched her chance vanish.

Hunt hung her head again and Merry looked away from her. Merry stood up and took a few steps away from the bed, drawing Hunt’s attention back to the fact that she was locked in with a killer.

Merry tilted her head from side to side, cracking her neck. Her blood was boiling. She had been so close to getting Hunt to give in; so close to tasting the sweetest blood of all: that of a willing victim.

“Get out,” Merry gasped through her clenched teeth. “Now.”

Merry pulled the sunglasses off her face and crushed them in her hand. Hunt stood up as the pieces fell to the floor, afraid that Merry would attack her. She saw Merry’s sharp fingernails extend as the vampire gripped the chair. Still not looking at Hunt, Merry snarled as she tore the chair in half.

Hunt bolted for the door. Merry whirled and grabbed the bottle of blood from the table where Athens had left it earlier. Hunt frantically punched in the code to unlock the door. Merry’s eyes were glowing fiercely and her grip on the cold, dead blood tightened. Hunt glanced wide-eyed at Merry as she wrenched the door open. Merry drew her arm back and hurled the bottle at Hunt. Hunt pulled the door closed as she rushed out into the hall. The crash behind her told her that the plastic bottle had hit the steel door with enough force to shatter it. Hunt ran down the hall towards the control room, afraid that Merry would tear the door off its hinges and come after her, regardless of the deadly UV lights.

Merry’s explosion of rage didn’t end when Hunt was gone. The scent of the blood on the wall and floor added fuel to the fire. Merry hated the lab blood more now that she had been so close to having more of Hunt’s warm, fresh blood. She rounded on the table and grabbed it with both hands. She tore it loose from where it was bolted to the floor and bent it in mid-air until it cracked in half. She tossed the halves aside, denting the white puck-board walls with them.

Merry considered crashing through the door but she knew that the UV lights would kill her. She ran her claws down her arms, leaving deep, bleeding trails that began to heal immediately. Merry needed something to calm her down or she was going to end up tearing herself apart.

Hunt watched nervously from the control room as Merry scooped up one of the chair legs from the floor and closed her eyes instinctively as Merry hurled it at the camera. Hunt opened her eyes and was surprised that the camera was still working. The Plexiglas that had been in front of it was gone, shattered, and the chair leg was stuck into the wall millimeters from the lens of the camera.

Merry could smell the garlic pouring out from around the camera. She snarled and stepped towards the camera, inhaling deeply. Merry screamed and collapsed to the floor in pain as the cloud of garlic floated over her, searing her eyes, nostrils, and skin.

Hunt hit the switch to turn off the garlic spray and she turned on the venting fans to suck out the tainted air, but she was too late. Merry had succeeded in burning out her anger and Hunt watched helplessly as Merry lay on the floor wreathing in pain.

Bloody tears ran down Merry’s face as she clutched her eyes. Her nose began to bleed and her stomach turned over, almost causing her to vomit. She crawled blindly to the bed and weakly pulled herself up onto the mattress. She curled up under the blankets, hiding herself from the world.

Hunt watched Merry shaking under the blankets and she wanted to cry. This was her fault. Merry hadn’t hurt her but she needed to hurt someone, so she’d hurt herself. Hunt felt sick and she couldn’t stand to watch Merry suffer. She turned off the lights in Merry’s room and walked away from the computer.

Merry lay shivering under the blankets. She knew she shouldn’t have lost her temper, but she was glad that she had had enough control not to attack Hunt. She could have caught Hunt and bitten her. She could have waited until Hunt had opened the door so they were out in the hallway, but without Hunt there was no one to open the outside doors. When the other scientists found Merry with Hunt they would have contained them both and tried to phone Athens. When they were unable to reach him they probably would have changed the codes and they might check to see if he was a vampire before they let him in or gave him the new codes.

Merry wiped the blood off her face with the corner of the sheet. Ignoring her own pain she focused her thoughts on Hunt. She was blaming herself for what Merry had done again. It’s not your fault. It’s my fault. It’s always my fault. All of this is my fault. And soon I’m going to make everything right. Merry didn’t know if Hunt would get the message as clearly as she needed it, but Hunt did seem to feel a bit better.

Merry sighed. She wanted so badly to bite Hunt. She had wanted to bite her from the moment she’d seen her in the observation room on the first day she’d been in the facility. To Merry it seemed like fate had brought her to Hunt, or Hunt to her. Hunt was supposed to be a vampire and Merry longed to finish what she had started. She sighed. She had waited this long, a little while longer wouldn’t kill her.

The vampire knew that she needed to shower off any remaining garlic. Her skin crawled like it was covered in ants. She pushed back the blankets and tried to get out of the bed. Moving was painful and she wasn't confident in her ability to stand.

“Amy!” Merry croaked, her voice rough because her throat was raw. “Amy, please. I need your help.”

Hunt suddenly had an overwhelming urge to return to Merry's room. She was on the other side of the facility but she was sure she'd heard Merry ask for her help. She dropped the paperwork she was reading and hurried out of the room.

Merry howled as she hit the floor. Her eyes were watering, which didn't help her already blurred vision. Her breathing was ragged. She was relieved to feel Hunt approaching.

Hunt opened the door and spotted Merry on the floor. She rushed to the vampire's side, allowing the door to swing shut behind her. In the near darkness she knelt beside Merry and gently put her hand on the vampire's shoulder.

“Thank God,” Merry whispered. “I can't stand. I need... to shower.”

Hunt nodded and hooked her hand under Merry's arm. The vampire groaned and clenched her teeth as Hunt helped her to her feet. Merry leaned on Hunt as they made their way into the bathroom.

Merry leaned against the wall. Hunt couldn't believe how badly the vampire was shaking. She turned on the shower and tested the water and adjusted the temperature. She stepped back around Merry, not comfortable with having the vampire between her and the door.

Merry took a deep breath as she gripped the collar of her shirt with both hands, then tore it off. As the remnants fell she forced her shaking her hands to undo the fly of her jeans. She let them drop to the floor. The vampire's normally pale skin was stung red and raw with a vicious rash.

Hunt stepped forward as Merry reached for her, and helped the vampire, still in her underwear, into the shower. Merry gasped as the water hit her skin, then sighed as the water began to wash away the remaining garlic.

“I can handle it from here,” Merry said, her voice sounding more like normal. “Thank you.”

Hunt nodded and headed for the door.

“I'm sorry, Amy,” Merry added, “for earlier.”

“Me too,” Hunt replied. “I'll wait for you out here.”

Hunt closed the bathroom door and turned on the lights in the main room. She glanced around at the chaos the vampire had caused, then set about cleaning it up. She stripped the bedding off the bed and used it to mop up the lab blood that was sprayed across the door and wall, then tossed it out into the hallway. The remains of the sunglasses, bottle, table, and chair soon joined the bedding, followed by the untouched boxes of books. She understood why Merry wouldn't touch the boxes that Johnson had brought.

Not wanting to leave the room in case Merry needed her, Hunt flagged down two lab techs that were passing the end of the hallway. She sent one to fetch clean bedding while the other hauled the garbage away. Hunt heard the shower stop just as the tech returned with the bedding. She had just finished making the bed when she heard the bathroom door open.

Merry emerged from the bathroom still pulling a new shirt over her head. Although still a bit stiff and sore, she felt a million times better. She shook her long hair, misting water around the room, then looked at Hunt with eyes seeking forgiveness. Hunt stepped up close to the vampire and gently touched the faint cross on her forehead.

“That still blows my mind,” Hunt admitted.

Hunt looked at Merry's eyes. The vampire turned away immediately. Hunt stepped back, realizing the danger she had just put herself in. Without the sunglasses on Merry could have easily hypnotized her and entered her mind.

Merry caught Hunt's hand and gently brought it up near her face. The vampire focused on the finger that not long ago had been stained with her blood.

“Can you forgive me for losing my temper?” Merry asked, not looked at Hunt's face.

“Of course,” Hunt replied. “It was my fault too. I pushed too far. I shouldn't have tempted you that way.”

Merry nodded. She let Hunt's hand fall, then moved around her and turned the lights off. Hunt's eyes slowly adjusted to the reduced light.

“Will you stay and talk?” Merry asked as she moved towards the bed. “I'll sit in the corner and you can sit on the edge and you won't be able to see my eyes.”

Hunt nodded. The vampire sat on the bed and pushed herself back to lean against the wall at the head of the bed. Hunt sat at the end of the bed, facing Merry, and leaned her shoulder against the wall.

“Alix isn't here, is he?” Merry asked, pretending that she didn't know.

Hunt went pale. Of course it was obvious: Hunt had been spouting off about him earlier without him defending himself, Hunt had gone into the bathroom with Merry without him forbidding her to leave the camera's view, and Hunt had very nearly allowed Merry to hypnotize her without him shouting a warning. She shook her head.

“He felt sick,” she admitted.

“It's my fault,” Merry replied honestly. She followed with a lie. “I took a lot of energy from him to recover from the tranquilizer. He probably got over-tired.”

Hunt nodded.

“I broke his sunglasses,” Merry said. “He's going to be mad.”

Hunt shrugged.

“We'll tell him I did it,” she replied.

She looked for a response from the vampire, but in the faint nightlights it was hard to see her smile.

“I don't like not being able to see you,” Hunt commented.

“What do you suggest?” Merry asked. “I don't want you or anyone else to wonder if I broke your trust and entered your mind.”

“I don't know. I wish I had another pair of sunglasses for you.”

Merry had an idea. She slid off the bed and headed for the bathroom.

“Turn the lights on,” Merry said as she disappeared from view.

Hunt rose from the bed and did as she was told. She heard the sound of fabric tearing, then water running. Merry returned with the garbage bag in one hand and a strip of her ruined shirt, rinsed free of garlic, in the other. She tossed the garbage to Hunt, who quickly placed it outside the door, then proceeded to wrap the piece of shirt around her eyes as a blindfold.

“That's not fair,” Hunt lamented as Merry tied the blindfold tightly, “now you can't see me.”

Merry smiled. Hunt stood very still as the vampire crossed the room without hesitation and stopped inches in front of her. Merry slowly brought her hand up and gently placed her palm on Hunt's face. As she pulled her hand away she lightly traced down Hunt's nose with the cool tip of her middle finger. Hunt shivered slightly.

“I don't need to see you,” Merry assured her.

The vampire did a back flip and landed perfectly on the bed. She sank down to sit in the corner where she had been moments earlier.

Hunt shook her head and smiled at herself. Why was she surprised that the vampire could still move better while blindfolded than any human could with sight? Why was she surprised by anything the vampire could do? Hunt went and sat on the bed.

“Okay, so tell me how you did that.”

Merry's smile widened.

“Half of it is because I had already seen where you were and I know the layout of the room to within millimeters. If I hadn't already seen the room, then I would have done it solely using my other senses,” Merry explained. “Your scent and body heat tell me exactly where you are. Temperature differences, air flow, and the way sound strikes things tell me where the walls, ceiling, and furniture are. Vibrations in the floor would have told me if you moved, and I would have heard your clothes shifting. Of course I can hear you breathing too, and your heartbeat.”

Hunt didn't reply. As quietly as she could she stretched her hand out towards the vampire. Merry responded almost immediately, touching her fingertips to Hunt's. Hunt smiled. She shifted closer to the vampire and pressed her palm against Merry's to compare hand sizes. Merry's fingers were slightly longer, except for her little finger.

“Your pinky is too short!” Hunt exclaimed.

She wrapped her hand around Merry's and squished her little finger against her ring finger to confirm that the little finger didn't reach the last knuckle on the ring finger. Hunt looked down at her own hand to confirm that most people's little fingers did reach the last knuckle on their ring finger. She looked to Merry for an explanation. The vampire smiled as she held up her other hand to show the same trait.

“It's genetic,” Merry said. “My mother had it, my sisters, my aunt, and at least one cousin. I'm not sure why. I always blamed our practice of sticking our pinkies out when we held our tea cups.”

Hunt laughed. She glanced at Merry's hand once more before releasing it.

“The world must have changed a lot in your lifetime,” Hunt commented.

Merry nodded. She yawned.

“And the rate of change keeps increasing,” Merry added as she lay down and propped herself up on one elbow. “Technology seems to change by the minute. There was a time when most people never went further than ten miles from where they were born and they believed the forests were full of witches and dragons. Now we can have video conferences with people on different continents.”

“You know what a video conference is but not an x-ray?” Hunt asked.

“I knew what an x-ray was,” Merry clarified. “I'd just never had one before.”

“Oh. Yeah, I suppose you wouldn't have a lot of need for one, would you?”

Merry shook her head.

“Modern medicine is one of the fields where my knowledge is lacking. I'm sure you could teach me a lot,” Merry suggested.

“I'm sure you could teach me more,” Hunt replied. “Maybe not about medicine, but about so many other things. I could listen to you talk for hours... for days...”

“You have,” Merry replied.

“And I've enjoyed every minute of it,” Hunt answered. “Well, every minute we've talked anyway.”

They both smiled.

“Would your sire be upset with you if he knew about you and Alix?” Hunt wondered.

Merry shook her head. She didn't risk telling Hunt that, because of their link, Davide already knew.

“He would understand my reasons.”

“Which were?”

“Personal.”

Hunt swallowed hard. Even without seeing the vampire's eyes she knew she had been dealt a vicious glare.

“Yeah, that's a painful conversation,” Hunt agreed.

“Did you know that the only useful member of the lily family is garlic?” Merry asked, completely changing the subject.

Hunt laughed.

“No, I didn't know that.”

“I read it somewhere, sometime.”

“Why garlic?” Hunt asked. “I mean, why does it affect you so?”

“I'm not sure,” Merry replied. “I suppose we're no different than any species: we all have our poison.”

“I suppose.”

“How did Alix know to release the concentrated garlic on the night he captured me?” Merry asked.

“He said it was the way you weren't affected by the dead body or the fact that you had just killed the man. Your attention was completely focused on trying to make eye-contact with the police officers and finding a way to get out of sight.”

“So he just carried a garlic 'bomb' around with him for years until he found someone acting weird to activate it and see what happened?”

“Basically, yes. He's gone through quite a few of them, and there have been some bad results – like the time he set one off in a restaurant washroom – but he said that when he saw you he almost didn't bother with it because he knew what you were.”

“Strange,” Merry said, pondering Hunt's words.

Merry wondered if Alix knew her because they had met before or if it was simply a result of his knowing so much about vampires.

“Do you know what he was doing that night? Out clubbing or...?”

“He didn't say. I know... well... He hasn't been sleeping really well since we, um, split. Normally we work days, so he was probably just out... I don't know... looking for something to do? I guess maybe he was looking for a vampire. Maybe he thought that finding one would bring us closer together.”

Merry nodded. Her mind was full of questions for Alix.

“Did you carry one of those 'bombs' around also?”

“No,” Hunt replied. “But I do carry the garlic spray in my purse.”

“Really?” Merry was surprised. “You really think that it would save you from a vampire if you met one on your way home? You think you could be fast enough to use it?”

“Probably not,” Hunt admitted. “Thanks for ruining my peace of mind.”

“Sorry.”

“I was just teasing,” Hunt said. “I carry it for peace of mind only. Mostly I hope that if I ever meet another vampire they are either deterred by the garlic spray or are as nice to me as you are.”

Merry smiled at the compliment.

“Thank you.”

“You're having a rough night, aren't you?” Hunt commented. “Tranquilizer, tomato, and now garlic.”

Merry shrugged. She yawned again and rolled onto her back.

“They can't all be good nights.”

“I suppose not,” Hunt replied.

Silence filled the room. Hunt listened as Merry's breathing deepened. She reached over and gently removed the vampire's blindfold. Her fingertips struck Merry's cool cheek. Hunt stood and headed for the door, carrying the strip of fabric.

“Good night,” she whispered.

Merry didn't reply. Hunt ducked out of the room. She made her way back to the control room, absentmindedly wrapping the remnants of Merry's shirt around her wrist where the vampire had first bitten her. As she plunked down in a chair in the control room, she found that she liked the fabric bracelet she had formed and tied the ends together to keep it in place.

Back in her room, Merry smiled.

Hunt left as soon as the day shift came, stopping only to tell them that the vampire had shattered the Plexiglas in front of the camera but she and Athens would worry about it the next night. Hunt’s mind was so full of thoughts that when she got home and flopped down on the couch she realized that she didn’t remember driving home, or where she had parked her car.

Hunt gave her head a shake and considered getting good and drunk, knowing that it wouldn’t help and that she would regret it later. Instead she took a couple sleeping pills and went to bed without having a shower. She fell asleep immediately and didn’t dream at all.

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