June 18, 2010

Finding Home

((that same night.. was going to put this with the other post.. but I ran out of time..))

I'm not sure how I got back to my jeep. Everything was running together. I just know I managed to change into the spare clothes I had in the back and drive myself back to the hotel. I left the bloody ones in the jungle somewhere. I took to my hands and arms with the baby wipes I keep in the glove box. I used the entire package, and still didn't get it all off. I'd hate to think of the state I'd be in if i wasn't already inoculated to having other people's blood on me. An unexpected benefit of my job.

I drove on autopilot. I don't remember the trip back, passing through the hotel lobby, or going into my room. I was in shock.. but it was all mental, none of the physical components. I showered.. making an effort not to look at the water as it turned red.. I stayed in there a long time, long enough for the water to run cold. I kept waiting for my skin to start pruning, but it wouldn't. I avoided looking at the mirror once I got out. I did everything I could to avoid thinking. I went through the motions like a robot, letting the routine of cleaning become my entire focus.

And I left. I didn't even bother checking out. I just walked out the door. I drove to the small local airport and I bought a one way ticket to New Orleans. The part of my brain that was keeping me going knew I couldn't drive back.. it knew that being out in the sun was a bad idea.. it was too dangerous. It also knew I had to find Giuseppe. It wasn't sure what I was going to do, however, when I did.

The flight was the hardest part. My robot mode only lasted until I had to sit there, with nothing to focus on but my thoughts. There was nothing to do but sit there and think and feel.. I never thought I could feel my heartbeat.. or the blood flowing through my veins.. but now that my heart was still, and the blood was at rest, I knew I'd been wrong. I'd just never recognized them for what they were.. and now I was keenly aware of their absence.

And even more keenly aware of the appearance of a new feeling. Hunger. It was like the morphine addiction, but intensified by a thousand. It was a persistent, gnawing, infuriating hunger...the type of feeling that makes addicts do terrible things just for one fix.. and I knew, somehow, that it would never go away. That it could only get worse.. like the temple. I closed my eyes and tried not to think of those kids and what I'd done to them...

I sat that way for awhile, collecting my thoughts, trying to shut the doors on the memories I didn't want to have.. but it wasn't working, they were too fresh to forget. But I tried for about 20 minutes. I opened my eyes again and reached for a magazine, anything to occupy my head. I heard the old woman across the aisle sigh in relief. I pretended not to notice.. then heard her mumble to her seat mate, "I was convinced that poor child had sat in her seat and died right there. Did you see how still she was? She didn't look like she was even breathing..And her face is so ashen.. poor thing.."

I put a concerted effort into remembering to breath the rest of the flight.. but the woman's words had shaken me. I wondered if I really looked that terrible. How would I go out in public ever again?

I clicked off the overhead light. It was mostly an attempt to avoid attention, but the light was also making me uncomfortable. I realized that I'd been keeping to the shadows as much as possible since the hotel. I hadn't even turned on the light in the bathroom, relying on the dim illumination of the bedroom lamp coming through the open bathroom door. I clicked the light back on, as though stubbornly sitting under the vexing bulb would make anything different.

I was fortunate that the flight was nearly empty.. because I couldn't help but stare at every breathing person I saw. The flight attendant only approached me once.. I can only imagine what my face looked like.. because I hadn't heard her words the first time, only stared at her throat. It was taking all my self control not to sink fangs into the pulsing vein on her pretty neck. She swallowed nervously and repeated herself. "..to drink?"

I blinked and coughed, trying to regain my composure. "What?"

Her eyes darted side to side nervously. "Can I get you something to drink."

I coughed again to avoid the bitter laugh that welled up.. if only she knew what I'd been thinking of doing to her...

"Please.. rum and coke." My voice was quiet and scratchy. Probably from all the screaming..

She hurried away like a scared rabbit.. a different attendant came back with my drink. No wonder vampires usually seemed bat shit crazy. It took all my concentration to control the impulse to attack someone right here on the plane, even after I'd.. even after the incident on the temple.

I found out the hard way that I couldn't drink normal liquids anymore.

I downed the rum and coke in one gulp, earning me some surprised looks from a couple passengers. It was the first time in 2 years that the drink had actually tasted like a rum and coke, and not a fucking Whiskey Sour.. but I couldn't enjoy it. It didn't taste any different than I remember.. but it was like eating a steak when what you really wanted was a bologna sandwich. .. the steak is tasty.. but it doesn't satisfy. Nothing will satisfy you except that sandwich.

That's what this was like. And it was depressing as fuck.

And of course, the profuse vomiting that occurred five minutes later didn't help much. Thankfully, I made it to the lavatory first. I'd hate to think what that attendant would've done if she saw me vomit all that blood into a barf bag..

I flushed several times, then scrubbed my face and washed out my mouth in the sink. The blood had been cold, and I was still finding bits of flesh between my teeth. I tried to pretend it was from the food at the hotel restaurant before we went to the temple. I grabbed paper towels and wiped my face clean and stood up and looked in the mirror out of habit...

And I couldn't see myself.

I don't mean like in the movies, a complete lack of reflection, but the image in the mirror was indistinct, like an out of focus photograph. I was so unprepared that I tried twice to wipe off the mirror before I realized it there wasn't anything wrong with it..

I went back to my seat with my silent heart deep in the pit of my stomach. I wondered what else might have changed. There was the obvious..I ran my tongue over my teeth and grimaced as I sliced it open on the fangs. I waited for the taste of blood, but it never came. And I knew I'd keep finding more. My body was, for all intents and purposes.. dead. It is not a comfortable feeling. I couldn't even sleep to forget. I should have been exhausted, but I wasn't. I was mentally and emotionally fatigued, but my body wouldn't cooperate by falling asleep. So instead, I spent the rest of the flight discovering how my body was different and trying desperate to claw at some semblance of acceptance of my new..'life'.. while nursing a seething rage in the back of my mind.


I exited the plane and stood at the baggage carousel, somewhat comforted by the familiar place. The clock on the wall told me I still had a few hours of night and I tried not to think about where I would stay during the day. I had no safe place to go..unless...

I was mid pity party when he pulled me out of my reverie. "Excuse me.."

I looked up and fought down the urge to run screaming from the terminal.

The man wasn't frightening or imposing at all.. in fact, he was rather short and looked like he was masking severe annoyance in an attempt to look genuinely concerned. He was Asian, wearing a business suit that was slightly wrinkled from the flight we'd both just gotten off of. I hadn't noticed him on the plane.

But my reaction hadn't been rational. That part of me that had taken over on the temple surged to the front of my thinking brain, tried to steal the reins, and make a mad dash for the exit. It did not see the short, annoyed Asian gentleman that Harper saw, it saw a predator.. one that could chew us up and spit us out without even trying. Another vampire that happened to be higher up on the food chain.

The struggle must have been evident on my face, because his expression became slightly more annoyed.

"I am very sorry to startle you..." His tone indicated he was just the opposite of sorry.

I eyed him, more warily than even I'm used to.. he had the look of someone prepared to hassle me, and I wasn't sure how that would end. The memory of those four kids and my utter lack of control was still fresh in my minds eye. It didn't matter that they'd already been dying. I'd been the one to send them on, and did so with gleeful, hungry abandon. I didn't usually run from a fight, but that was preferable to losing control again..

I shook my head. "I...I'm fine."

"So I see. What I do not see," he lowered his voice as another passenger walked by, "is any attempt on your part to avoid suspicion concerning our.. condition." His eyes flashed angrily.

I blinked at him, caught utterly off guard. I lifted a hand to my cheek self consciously, recalling the blurred reflection and the old woman on the plane. Belatedly, I realized I had stopped breathing again. I took a deep, shaky breath. It felt foreign. I noticed the vampire in front of me was breathing normally, and even had a blush to his face.

He must have seen it in my face, because his expression softened slightly. "You are very new to this existence..what is your clan?"

New? It seemed to be a word that denoted fresh beginnings and innocence. I didn't feel like that applied to me anymore. The term 'newly dead' felt like a cruel oxymoron. I had to try twice before I could speak.. I had to fight not to cry. Funny that.. I never thought a vampire could cry..

"6 hours ago..and I.. I don't know." I hated Giuseppe just a little bit more for the quaver I couldn't keep from my voice at that moment.

His eyes widened and he affected a look of absolute shock. Any remaining annoyance vanished completely. "And your sire...?"

Sire.. was that what he was? I thought he was just a traitorous bastard.

"Left me.. I'm here looking for him."

He sighed. "That does happen occasionally, and I am sorry it happened to you. I am David Hu." He offered his hand, I returned the gesture, but my handshake was weak and uncertain. "Harper.." I didn't offer a last name, and he didn't ask.

"Travel, especially by air, is very dangerous for those unfamiliar with it.." We both glanced out the large airport windows and into the night sky. I swallowed nervously. I'd never seen a vampire caught outside when the sun rose before, but thinking about it caused a deep seated fear to wrap icy tendrils around my still heart. The dread was complete, and totally instinctive. I realized that it now took first, second and third place in the list of things that terrify me. That realization was enough to snap me out, at least mostly, of the stupor I'd been operating in over the last few hours. I'd thought flying was safer than driving.. I hadn't thought about the possibilities of delayed flights, planes stuck out on runways for hours.. and the other potential disasters that could befall a vampire on something as restrictive as an airliner.

Mr. Hu broke the silence. "Do you have a place to stay during the day?"

I nodded, tearing my eyes away from the dark horizon. "I think so.." That, I had at least figured out. Even if I hadn't, I can't say I would've been comfortable taking the charity of a strange vampire. It seemed like a terrible idea. Maybe I was being unfair, but his kindness made me suspicious.

He nodded slowly, like he didn't believe me, like he knew what was going through my mind. He held out his hand to me again, and it held a plain white business card. "Please, if you need anything, don't hesitate to contact me. It is within the Invictus'..and the communities, best interest to be sure those like you are properly educated."

"Thanks. I appreciate it." I mummbled. I took the card and slipped it into my pocket. He looked as though he wanted to say more, but apparently decided against it, because after that he simply nodded to me and continued on his way out of the terminal.

I chewed on what he had said as I waited for my bag to appear. There was apparently a way to appear human.. which made sense.. and 'clans' which I knew nothing about. He'd also mentioned 'The Invictus' which was a term that sounded familiar, but I didn't know why.

But most importantly, the encounter had jerked me out of fugue addled state of self pity. I could not rightly say that I had come to terms with anything, far from it, but I had a mission to focus on now, something more important to worry about for the next few hours. I had to find a way to escape the sun, and figure out exactly what to do to Giuseppe when I finally found him.

One un-life threatening situation at a time. I sent a quick text message and hailed a cab. The cabbie, at least, didn't give me any strange looks. I imagine he'd seen his share of oddness, and my appearance wasn't disturbing enough to make his list.
"Where to?"
I glanced down at my cell as it beeped the answer to his question.
"Club Ampersand." I told him.

I needed to meet with Sundown.


There was a line out the door of the club when I pulled up, regardless of the late hour. I received a few more weird looks, but not because of my ghastly complexion. It was more likely because I was hardly dressed for clubbing in jeans and a t-shirt, even if it was a tight fitting one, and because I was pulling a large duffel bag out of the trunk of the cab. I got a few, more hostile, looks as I skipped the line and headed right for the bouncer. To my relief, he gave me a nod and opened the door. "Boss is upstairs."

I just returned the nob and walked inside, leaving the line of club goers with something to gossip about.

Music assaulted me when I stepped inside, and that was the easiest thing to ignore. Another bouncer took my bag and led me through the surging crowd toward the stairs against the back wall.

It was a trying experience.

I had managed to maintain some semblance of control in the airport, even on the plane, after the brief incident with the flight attendant. But this was so much different. I was immersed in it here. Someone would brush past me, and I could feel her pulse against me skin and that thing inside me, the new thing that had overwhelmed me before, began to bubble to the surface. It wanted more. It was still hungry.. it would never be full. The fact that part of me wanted to let it was the most disturbing thing. I tried to block out the memory, but my body still ached for more.

So moving through the crowd was understandably difficult. A guy pushed past me, moving to the bar, and before I even knew what I was doing I'd grabbed his wrist and was bringing it up to my lips. I caught myself about half way through the motion, horrified. The guy was looking at me, confused, but not unhappy about the situation. If only he knew what was going through my head, how I'd imagined sinking fangs into his veins and drinking until another drop could not be forced from him...

I dropped his hand and did my best to give a teasing smile and a wink to cover my blunder, which probably fell exceptionally short of flirtatious, and disappeared into the crowd again as quickly as I could manage. I think he called after me, but I didn't turn around.

The bouncer was waiting for me at the stairs. He gave me a measuring look as I walked past and left him on the ground floor. My head was reeling. I walked up the steps slowly, trying to regain my composure. The encounter, as brief as it had been, shook me up. I hadn't meant to touch him, it was like something else was living in my head, stealing control whenever I let my guard down.

I paused in front of the door and took a deep breath. It did nothing for my lungs, but it helped calm my nerves. Now that I was here, I worried that Sundown might not know where Giuseppe was, that he might not let me stay the day.. but I forced it from my mind and knocked.

"Come in, Miss O'Shea."

I slipped inside, closing the door behind me and leaning back against it. I braced for the fear I felt in the terminal when the first vampire approached me, but was pleasantly surprised when it didn't happen.

Sundown was sitting behind a huge mahogany desk, attending to some paper work. The office was mercifully dim, lights low, save the bright lamp over the desk itself. As soon as the door clicked shut, he looked up sharply, brow knit together for a brief moment.. then his face shifted into one of deep, sincere pity when he realized what he'd sensed walking through the door.

"Oh, my dear.."

I had to swallow past the lump in my throat. I couldn't handle pity right now.. it made things worse. I took another deep breath before I tried to speak. God knows I'd never let myself cry in front of someone like Sundown.

I decided to ignore the look on his face and focus on why I'd come.

"I need a place to stay for the day.." I blurted. I would say I held my breath waiting for his response..but..well..yeah.
"Of course. You are more than welcome here. I have a spare room where you will not be bothered."

I felt one of the vice grips around my chest relax. "Thank you..."
"Please, have a seat." He motioned to one of the leather chairs in front of his desk. I pushed off the door and relocated to the comfortable chair, allowing myself to sink down into it and relax, just slightly. I rubbed my face then let my hands fall into my lap.

After a long moment I looked back up at Sundown. He was leaning forward on his elbows, fingers steepled, regarding me silently. The pity was mostly gone, but I could still detect hints of it in his eyes. He did not ask me anything, he simple sat, and waited for me to speak.

"Do you know where he is?" My voice was so full of bitterness I could nearly taste it.

Sundown reached into his desk and pulled out a plain white business
card. It was blank, save for an address that had been scrawled across
it in familiar handwriting, rather than printed. I recognized it as a
building full of penthouses on the other side of town. I perked a
brow in silent inquisition as I took the card.

"He requested that I give that to you, though he did not give me a
reason. That question has obviously been answered."

I grit my teeth and crushed the card in my fist. I had to close my
eyes and take a moment to calm down. Flashes of anger were harder to
contain now.. every time I let myself get pissed, that thing in
my head surged forward, trying to gain ground.

Sundown gave me a moment, aware of my internal conflict. He was still
watching my face when I opened my eyes.

"What, exactly, are you planning to do when you find him?" He asked quietly.
"Kill him." I barked, before I even had time to consider the
question. Sundown's expression remained unchanged. He said nothing.

I crossed my arms and sunk deeper into the leather chair. In a flash,
all the problems with that 'plan' had careened through my mind. I
pinched the bridge of my nose in frustration. "I don't know what I'm
going to do. I know what I want to do to that backstabbing sonofabitch."

"May I make a suggestion?" Sundown asked tacitly.
I waved my hand for him to continue.
"Perhaps you should consider speaking with him first. He certainly did this for a reason, and regardless of how it was carried out, you might feel differently once you hear his explanation."

I barked out a bitter laugh. "How exactly do you explain away masquerading as the enemy and trying to kill all of us?"

Sundown gave me a disappointed look. "You know as well as I do, Miss O'Shea, that had he meant to kill any of you, you all would be well and truly dead. He does not tend to leave business unfinished, and certainly does not invite such business over for dinner, as it were." He looked pointedly at the crushed paper in my hand.

"Then why leave me there?" I retorted, stubbornly holding on to every ounce of rage and resentment I could muster.

"Most likely because your compatriots would have continued to try to kill him." He said, matter-of-factly.

I glowered at the floor. I tried not to resent Sundown for his logic, because regardless, the bite of betrayal still stung harshly, and I doubted any amount of words could act as a salve for the wound.

"If you would like, I can provide you with a car to take you to the address. You are, of course, welcome to return here for the day."

I glanced at my watch.. I probably still had time.. if I left now. I nodded mutely, pushing myself to my feet as Sundown hit a small intercom button and called for a car.

We shook hands, and he held mine for a moment longer than a usual handshake, causing me to meet his gaze. "I am very sorry, Miss O'Shea."

I managed a wan smile as he dropped my hand. "Thank you.. for everything."

I left his office without another word. There was a sedan waiting for me in front of the club. I slid into the backseat, and it pulled silently away from the curb. I mulled over what Sundown had said. I hadn't stopped to think about Giuseppe's motivation for what he'd done.. merely the fact that he'd betrayed us all and turned me into a fucking monster.

It was inexcusable, and my rage refused to be quelled.. yet in the back of my mind, my curiosity had been piqued. Now I had to know.. maybe then I would have a better idea on how to accomplish ripping out his lying vocal chords.


Some biological aspects of fear are more psychosomatic than others, apparently. As far as I knew, my brain was no longer sending chemical or electrical impulses through my body.. my adrenal glands shouldn't be able to fire, and my stomach shouldn't feel twisted up in knots.

But it was. I had no shortness or breath, or pounding heart, but I felt other effects of fear all the same. It was disconcerting..and would probably make for a fascinating research paper.

The car pulled up in front of the high rise and I stared at the dim entrance for a good 3 minutes before finally opening the car door, not counting the time it took to rearm myself.

The place looked.. normal. It was a nice building that looked to be filled with mostly penthouses in a rather nice part of town. There was no doorman, but a panel of buttons to press to buzz each residence. I didn't recognize any of the names on the roster, but I knew from the the card which to push. It galled me to have to ask permission to enter his fucking building.. but I didn't have the time to wait for someone to enter or exit and slip in past them.

So he'd know I was on my way up. It was a small thing, but rubbed on my already severely frayed nerves. The logical part of my brain told me he knew I was there the moment the car pulled up, but it did nothing to comfort me. Logic was not something I wanted tonight, try as it might to get the better of me, I could be amazingly stubborn sometimes.

So I pushed the button and snatched at the door when the buzzer sounded indicating it had unlocked. The interior of the building was painfully bright. I felt totally exposed, even armed. The elevator was like a sanctuary in comparison to that foyer, lit only by a small overhead light, and the glowing buttons indicating the floors of the building. I pressed the button as soon as I stepped inside. I didn't want to give myself time to think.. time to reason how this was probably a terrible idea.

The elevator opened on the right floor with a soft ding, leaving me to exit into the silent hallway. I didn't hesitate or bother knocking, ignoring the little voice telling me to run away. I'd be dam.. well, further damned, if I ever let myself run away from Giuseppe.

So I opened that door, not sure if I was prepared for what might be on the other side.


The place was large without being massive. It was so new, I could still smell the paint when I remembered to breath. I shut the door quietly behind me and examined the entry way. There was a largish kitchen to my right, and a living room to the left. There was low opera music filtering in from a study beyond the living room and down the hallway. The only light in the place was a dim glow coming from the end of that hall. Not for the first time tonight, I felt more comfortable in the darkness of the entry way than I did at the thought of walking towards that light.

There was no one in sight, but I stood there and scanned the place anyway. I resisted the urge to draw my gun. Bullets were next to useless, so it would only be a security blanket. I started across the living room and down the hallway. All the doors to what, presumably, were bedrooms, were closed. My footsteps were quiet, but audible, on the wood floors. I made sure they didn't sound halting. My fear was quickly being replaced by anger, which was fine with me. Anger I could use.

The furnishings in the study were also scarce. There were two overstuffed arm chairs, a few books, a small stereo, and a floor lamp that was currently providing the only illumination in the whole place. And of course, Giuseppe, lounging in one of the chairs, one foot propped up on the opposite knee, reading.

I didn't actually process any of that the moment I walked into the room. My eyes fell on Giuseppe, who had already started to stand, and my vision went blood red. The thing in my head grabbed hold of my mounting anger and turned it into scalding rage. It surged to the forefront of my mind, having been provided ample footing. It wanted to rend and tear and bask in his blood. It didn't care that he was stronger, quicker, more experienced. It.. I.. wanted to sink fangs into his neck and reach into his chest and rip out his heart.

I felt my muscles tighten and my canines extend. In my hazy vision, I saw Giuseppe tense ever so slightly, waiting for me to make a move.

But I refused to give in. It was my anger, my fury that was boiling through my veins, but there was something else trying to take over.. trying to use me to its own ends.. and I couldn't let it free. It had murdered four people the first time..it had made me murder four people, who, dying or not, deserved more than to be devoured by a monster. And deep down, I'd enjoyed it.

So I fought to put it back in its cage. I staggered and leaned heavily against the door frame, creating small gouges in the wood with my nails. I put up as many mental walls as I could and did battle with the thing in my own head. But it wrapped claws around my wrath and used it as an anchor. I could not hold on to my control, and my anger.. so I uprooted it and hurled it back into the prison with the monster.. and came back to myself feeling as though I was an empty shell.

Giuseppe stood impassively, watching me. His expression was a blank mask.

"You backstabbing sonofabitch. What did you do to me?" I said, my voice quiet, lacking the intensity of emotion I had felt seconds before. I couldn't afford to be angry. My emotions had to remain walled off, restricted from this conversation. In hindsight, it was for the best. But at that moment, I felt he had robbed me of one more luxury.

An expression flashed across his features too quickly for me to read. He said nothing. I pushed myself off the door frame and stood straight, advancing into the room. The first question had been mostly rhetorical. We both knew exactly what he'd done. So I tried again. "Why?"

His expression did not change. "I did what I felt I had to do to ensure the success of the mission. It was necessary that the witch believe me to be Stone."

"So you kill half of us to keep up the charade?" My voice was bitter. I crossed my arms over my chest, just to keep my hand from resting on the butt of my pistol.

His voice was utterly unapologetic. "I was protecting myself." He held up a hand to stop my protest. "Admittedly, I may have overestimated the amount of force necessary to merely incapacitate. But regardless, the others were a.. lower priority. I was less concerned over their safety than I was yours."

That comment didn't quite penetrate, my brain was only just processing how odd it was, when my mouth decided to push ahead. "And this?" I whispered, gesturing to my 'newly' dead body, trying to ignore that slight quaver that crept into my voice again.

His face changed then. The blank mask slipped and I caught the pained look beneath it. The shift threw me off balance. "Harper, for that, I am truly sorry.."

I stared at him. I didn't even know where to begin to look for a reaction to that. He seemed truly remorseful. And God help me, I believed him. I don't know why, he'd done nothing but lie in the past, but this.. it felt sincere.

But he still did it, and I was still dead.

I turned my face away from him. "You didn't answer my question." My voice was stronger this time, but still tinged with uncertainty.

He inhaled and released a pointless sigh. "Simply put, I need you." I looked up sharply, face betraying my confusion. He met my eyes, his were deadly serious.. and tinged with the barest hint of uncertainty. Or I may have been projecting. I tried to speak twice before I could find any words at all.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" This was definitely not how I had expected this meeting to go. Needed me? As far as I knew, Giuseppe hated me as much as I did him... he'd always acted like I was a burden, only kept around because of my medical skills. I had been prepared to confront that Giuseppe. But now, he was being polite, remorseful, sincere and at least somewhat forthcoming. It was completely and utterly disarming, and I didn't know what to do.

He had purposefully put me in situations he knew I'd hate, and I had thought it was just to torment me. But now.. maybe there was an underlying purpose. Had he been preparing me? For this?

"Of all of them, your mind works differently. You look for answers to questions that the others, and myself, would never consider asking. That is why I need you, Harper, to ask the questions I do not think to ask."

Inwardly, I was stunned, and somewhere below the turmoil of revelations and emotions, flattered, by his admission. Outwardly, I scowled and looked away. "I'm not the only one who is capable of that.."

"Who else would you recommend I trust?" He arched a brow at me.

I blinked dumbly at him. The more he spoke, the more confused I got, the more I wondered if I was even talking to the same person I'd known from before.

"You are more unique than you give yourself credit for, Harper." He said, much more gently than I thought him capable of.

Finally, I threw up my hands in frustration and began pacing the study. He was slowly eating away at my coveted resentment. "And why, exactly," I growled, "did that require you to kill me?"

He turned and walked over to a bookcase, sliding the hardcover he had been reading back into its home. "Several reasons. You have survived thus far, but you were still human, and therefore subject to certain shortcomings inherent in that condition." He turned to face me again as I paced. "Vampires are by no means invincible, but certainly more difficult to kill than mortals."

Vampire. I stopped pacing in front of an armchair when he said it. Until now, I had been avoiding the term, as though not saying it would make it less true.

I was a vampire. My chest felt tight.

"You will also find that you now have access to resources in your search for answers that you did not have previously.." He was searching my face, gauging my reactions..

I sat slowly on the edge of the chair, eyes on the floor. My voice sounded pathetically miserable. "Why not ask me? Why do it this way?"

I felt him step in front of me, close enough to touch. I didn't look up, and he didn't reach out. "Would you have said yes, if I had asked?"

I swallowed the lump in my throat and shook my head. "Maybe..." He said nothing. I sighed. "Probably not.." I whispered.

"That is why. I am truly sorry it had to be this way.. but it is my hope that you will understand, eventually, why it did. Believe me what I say that it is only a curse if you allow it to be."

I looked up, hoping to read his face, but he had turned away from me. I frowned at his back. "And what if I don't want to help you?"

He gestured to the open study door. "Then you are free to leave."

But the unspoken question was thick in the air. Where else would you go?

There was Sundown, but I had no desire to be beholden to the After Hours King. I could strike out alone, but I was completely ignorant and had no illusions of how difficult it would be to survive..and then there was the seed that Giuseppe had just planted. The idea that there might be somewhere that I was actually needed..somewhere that I could have some kind of real purpose...

And then there was the counter thought that told me I was absolutely bat shit insane for even considering staying with the person who had murdered me for his own ends. Forced an existence on me that I'd never wanted.

I wasn't sure I'd be able to forgive him for it. However, the fact remained that staying here, for now, was my safest option. I could always leave tomorrow night. The voice in my head whispered that he could be baiting me, might betray me again, waiting to finish me off.. but the logical part of my brain dismissed the idea. He'd gone to too much effort to turn me, it wouldn't be practical to kill me now.

I couldn't trust his word, or his honor, but I could certainly trust his devotion to practicality.

I stood, running fingers through my hair in a nervous gesture. "I need to get my bag."

"It has already been sent up. It is getting late. Rest, and I will answer more questions tomorrow evening.. if you would like."

I nodded to his back walked slowly out of the room. My bag was sitting on a bed in a small bedroom that now stood with its door open, waiting for me. Mona, probably. I shut the door and sat heavily on the edge of the bed. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep with so many questions, confusions, and revelations running through my mind at mach 10.

Was i really contemplating staying here? After everything that's happened? Of course I was, I thought bitterly. Giuseppe had done a bang up job of giving me no other viable options. He had engineered the situation perfectly.. the bastard.

What I couldn't admit to myself that night, was that deep down part of me wanted to stay. Part of me desperately wanted to believe that Giuseppe was telling the truth. The part of me that had never, in my entire life, felt fulfilled, was hoping beyond hope that someone as capable and dangerous as Giuseppe Santore really did need Harper O'Shea so badly that he had been willing to go to such measures to ensure he got me. Even if he was lying, it meant he wanted me around enough to go to the trouble of considering my feelings, and fabricating sincerity to make me feel needed. It was flattering and sweet in a weird, dysfunctional, and completely psychotic way.

But before I could realize any of this, I began to feel the sun begin to rise on the other side of my blacked out window, and the only thought I could hold on to as I slipped away into oblivion was the fear that I'd made the wrong decision, and the memory of, as I walked out of the room, Giuseppe's visage reflected in the study window... smiling.

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