Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Predators: Chapter One

The following content is provided for free as a sample of Predators, the fourth book in the Lost Humanity series, by H.S. Kallinger. Please feel free to share this page, but be kind and don't copy and paste the text elsewhere.







Predators

H.S. Kallinger


Book four of the Lost Humanity series

 






Chapter One

 

Knowing when you're going to die is both convenient and frustrating. For instance, when my friend and paramedic colleague Nathan Schmidt asked me if I could be in his wedding in January, I was able to definitively tell him no. I certainly didn't expect him to change the wedding date to accommodate me like he did. His fiancée called me up to thank me because she didn't want to wait that long for the wedding, and he was dragging his feet. Nate bitched at me about her moving it all the way up to mid-November, but there wasn't any blame addressed to me.

Cassandra was a police officer he had met on a call a couple years back. They went on two dates, broke up and then somehow ended up trying again on Valentine's Day this year. Whatever hadn't worked the first time wasn't a problem the second. Nate had moved in with her by Easter and proposed in June. My wife didn't really like her. Not that there was anything wrong with Cassie, but they didn't connect on any level. Personally, I think Cassie had dismissed Sarah the minute she heard that she wasn't in emergency services.

Sarah didn't particularly care. She wasn't a huge fan of the stories we tended to stand around sharing, and the majority of her current interests reflected her being a mother to our daughter, Evangeline, and second mother to the daughter and baby son of her not-legal-wife, Jamie. Both Eva and Amelia were mine, although I'd never had sex with Jamie. Jamie's son, Julian, was conceived with my not-legal-husband, although Lukas had never had sex with her, either.

Jamie was Sarah's alone. That was how she liked it. Of the four of us, she was the only monogamous one and the only one who wasn't bisexual. She was enjoying the summer break as much as she could. When the end of August rolled around, she would be back in her demanding graduate courses for her doctorate in cognitive psychology. Not that she didn't have plenty to do now, but there was a lull.

Jamie was probably the smartest person I had ever known, and she was my best friend. Her favorite hobbies included video games, internet memes and clothes shopping. We quite enjoyed doing the first two together, but the third was probably a lower circle of hell for me.

Thankfully, Lukas didn't mind taking her. He gave her a monthly wardrobe allowance of $200—that was in addition to the money she set aside herself for clothes. I couldn't understand how she could spend that much. That was barely less than I spent a year and didn't count toward her formal or semi-formal wardrobes.

Lukas paid for most of the things in our lives but especially for Jamie since she was still a student. Sarah earned a small amount of money teaching art classes, although she was off for this final semester. Sarah also sold her artwork for a fairly nice amount of money. She had a showing once a year or so—when we pestered her into it. Her parents had convinced her that it could never be more than a hobby, so she was always surprised when someone actually paid for one of her pieces.

I made barely more working part time as a paramedic than she did as an artist. I had been on full-time until Julian was born, but I had dropped down because my family needed me and I wasn't going to be around that much longer. I had toyed with quitting, but I loved my work too much. Just losing that one day a week left me feeling antsy. I had once quit for a year and a half to focus on my family, but I'd missed it too much.

If someone had asked me ten years ago if I'd have felt adrift without a demanding job, I would've laughed my ass off. I never would have believed that I'd choose that over a life of all the video games, books, sex and lazing around that I wanted. I suppose I hadn't known myself very well yet.

Long hours, working holidays, not seeing my family for entire days—if it hadn't been for Lukas and Jamie, I never would have been able to go back. Thankfully, they were both just as in love with Sarah as I was, so I didn't leave her all alone. If they hadn't, Sarah would have left me years ago, or I'd have had to put everything into my bookstore and give up the emergency medical services part of my life.

The rest of my income came from Bound To Entertain, my used bookstore and game café. Once upon a time, I had thought that I just wanted to be an emergency medical technician to make the money to open it up. While I loved my store and my customers, it had turned out that EMS was what I felt I was meant to do. Our area was pretty quiet, and even as a first responder, most of our calls were false alarms, transport, car accidents, elderly persons and chronic conditions, but there were occasionally exciting calls.

For nearly the last ten years of my life, this had been my family. While it was true that when things went badly, they went very, very badly, my life was as close to perfect as I could hope for. I had two gorgeous spouses that made my life constantly happy, three beautiful little kids and my amazing best friend all in one house. We all slept together every day—adults and baby in the big bed, little girls in a twin bed next to us, safe and happy.

Unfortunately, Jamie was going to be leaving our bed for her own when school started again, because she had to be awake earlier in the day than the rest of us. I nearly missed seeing the kids at all on the nights that I worked. The girls went to bed at 2 AM and the rest of us at 5 AM. On work nights, I didn't get home until 8-9 AM... if I was lucky.

If I worked two days in a row, that meant that I slept through everyone else's day. That was the one thing about my job that I wasn't crazy about. A lot of my coworkers complained that most of our calls were people who didn't even need a hospital, but it didn't bother me that much as long as they weren't combative or rude. Nights where we got slammed with critical cases always ended in a lot of bad dreams.

I continued thinking about my life and impending death while some hard rock song I didn't know played from a stereo a few feet away. A high-pitched buzzing resumed and filled my ears. A burning sting returned to the back of my shoulder. My face and bare chest were stuck to the cool, black vinyl chair that I was sitting backwards in. Sarah's right hand was holding mine, but she wasn't really paying attention to me. She was watching the guy with the tattoo gun immortalizing her art in my skin.

Well, 'immortal' was assuming that I never lost the flesh on that part of my body. With my life, that was a legitimate concern. I lifted her hand up to my face and nuzzled it. She looked down into my face, a grin plastered to hers. It faded as her eyes met mine. She licked her lips, and lust filled her eyes. I didn't know if we were going to make it home before she jumped me.

I was totally okay with that.

This experience was confirming that I was way more of a masochist than I realized. It hurt, but I was so turned on that I almost wanted to ask for a break just to have a quickie with Sarah behind the shop. Sarah's grin returned as Rick, my tattoo artist, started talking to her again. I went back to thinking about Nate, who had six tattoos at last count. This was my first. As far as I knew, it was also my last—but I couldn't say for sure. Forever was a long time.

The gun went quiet again. Paradox was messing with the stereo. He was the guy who had pierced my ear twice. He'd also done Sarah's ears five times and pierced her belly button. I laughed when he started marching in place to the Proclaimers' I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles). Half the shop burst into laughter, and one of the artists jokingly called him a pussy. He grinned and continued his goofy walk while holding up both his middle fingers.

I felt Rick wipe my skin again, as he had randomly throughout the session; then he sat back.

All right, it's done. Go have a look,” he said. He handed me a mirror, and I scooted back so I could stop straddling the chair. I brushed off the feeling of being stuck to it from my chest, lying flat the bit of hair I had, and then I stood up. I walked over to the big mirror and turned away, holding up the little one to have a look.

A vivid blue EMS star of life was now etched into the back of my right shoulder, surrounded by smears of ink and blood. Sarah's shading made it look like it was rising up from my skin—which it was right now, just a bit, being fresh and all. The rod of Asclepius, the symbol of health care, was in the center, slender and simple, the way I wanted it. The rod itself wasn't colored, but the snake wrapped around it had a little bit of green running along its back. Tiny drops of blood were beading across it.

Do you like it?” Sarah asked.

Yes, quite a bit,” I said. “Ha, I got a tattoo before you did.”

I have fully corrupted you,” she said, going up on tiptoe to kiss me. Rick gestured to the chair, and I sat back down so he could clean and rub ointment on it. He taped a paper towel down over it and then rolled away to start cleaning up his tray. I took my shirt from Sarah and put it back on, stood up and took my wallet out. I pulled out the $250 cash I'd brought for this and waited for Rick to finish what he was doing. I held out the money after he pulled off his gloves, and he took it.

No change, that's a tip,” I said.

Which is why I love working for those two,” Paradox said as he walked by. “They always tip.”

Thanks, man,” Rick said. “I appreciate it.”

Thanks for the ink,” I replied, taking Sarah's hand in mine so I could lead her out of the shop before she decided to get something done herself. She had been talking about getting her hood pierced, my objections to genital piercings notwithstanding. In the end, it was her body and her choice, but I still hoped she wouldn't do it. It wasn't appealing to me in any way. Lukas agreed with me, but Jamie said she didn't care either way.

How does it feel?” Sarah asked as we walked toward the bus stop. Parking in this part of town was basically impossible, so we always parked at the bookshop and took the bus.

I would fuck you right now if we had somewhere to do it without getting arrested. It had just about the same effect on me as the pinwheel,” I answered her. The pinwheel was a BDSM sex toy that consisted of a long handle ending in a metal wheel with spikes. She had introduced me to it without any warning one night, and I had instantly loved it. The sensation was just this side of too intense. It reminded me a bit of the feeling of Lukas's fangs, which I now loved as much as I had feared them when we first met.

We will be back at the bookstore in ten minutes. Keep that mood,” Sarah said. I laughed. It was a Monday, so we were closed and would have no problem going at it. I didn't have any problem maintaining my mood on the short trip. Sarah raced me into the store when we arrived, and I took her back into the game room to have sex with her perched on the gaming table.

Afterward, I cleaned the table, and we went next door to our friend Steve's coffee shop for lunch. He wasn't in, but it didn't make his coffee taste any less great. He roasted the beans himself at home and was partly responsible for the coffee snobbery I had developed. It was nothing compared to Sarah's, though. I would still drink anything I could get my hands on while at work, but she would go without rather than drink subpar java.

We went home after that. Jamie was reading on the couch, Julian froggied up on her shoulder. She looked up and smiled as we walked in.

Well, let's see it,” she said, her voice soft. She had only just recovered from strep throat and a viral infection a few weeks before.

Her immune system had been compromised when her spleen was damaged from vampire drug-induced immune hemolytic anemia, which was a result of regular, long-term donation to vampires. In her case, that was Lukas. Unlike standard DIIHA, the treatment was to resume donating immediately to get the drug carried by vampire saliva back into the system as fast as possible.

The problem was that she was also recovering from giving birth to Julian over a month early. So in addition to being anemic, she was losing blood being postpartum. That made donating to Lukas problematic, and she had to be given a whole blood transfusion to return her to donor status as fast as possible. She hadn't physically recovered very well.

I took off my shirt and turned around. Sarah peeled off the covering. It was spotted with blood and ink. I twisted my head to look at my tattoo, but I could only see a bit of blue inside the outline.

Nice,” Jamie said. “It suits you.”

Thanks,” I said, smiling at her. Sarah took my shirt from me, and I sat on the couch next to Jamie. My shoulder felt like I had a mild sunburn, which kept the tattoo fresh in my mind. I pulled out my phone and tried to take a picture, but I mostly got the couch.

Oh, give that here,” Sarah said, taking my phone. She snapped a picture of it and returned my phone to me. I posted the picture on Facebook and then stared at it for a couple minutes while Sarah and Jamie talked.

Why are you alone?” I asked, suddenly realizing that the house was very quiet. My mom was supposed to be here helping Jamie with the kids.

Your mom took Eva and Mia to the park,” Jamie said. “Don't worry; she fed us all first. She's loving it, too. Your mom is a nurturer.”

Yes, she is,” I agreed. I was glad to hear that my mom was in a better mood. She had been very upset with me when I told her that I was going to be changing at the end of the year. It had taken months for us to repair our relationship.

Mom had gone through most of the classic stages of grief, although definitely not in order. Her depression came before anger—except for the anger she had at Lukas right from the start—and she had given up on trying to negotiate for more time with me after only one talk. I knew she was still depressed off and on, but I was glad that it seemed she had left the anger behind. She wouldn't talk to me about it, so I didn't know if she had accepted it, but I wasn't sure she would at all before I was gone.

I was worried that she would actually grieve for me as though I had died. It could be up to two years before I could safely be around her. That was going to definitely be hard on her, but no harder than when I had moved away. She could still talk to me on the phone or via video chat. That was how Sarah and I planned to stay in contact with the kids, too.

The front doorknob jiggled, and Sarah opened the door. She and my mom greeted each other cheerfully while Eva and Mia ran into the house, giggling.

Daddy!” they yelled together before making a beeline for me. I slid down off the couch to hug them both and kiss their heads. Mia's hair had turned blonde over the summer. She had been almost two before she had enough hair to determine the color, which turned out to be a golden brown a few shades lighter than my mom's and about the same color as the ring around her pupils. Unlike my mom's hair, though, it lightened in the sun while her skin darkened somewhere between Jamie's tan and mine.

Eva's long, black hair, inherited straight from me and my dad, was up in its usual pigtails, with sparkly bows and half a dozen butterfly barrettes. I picked a bit of grass out of it, which she snatched away to stare at. Her eyes were colored differently from one another—one was green, like Sarah's, and the other was blue, although not quite my shade. It was as bright as the blue of Mia's eyes. Mine were just a bit darker.

Eva dropped the grass on Mia's head, and as though it was some cue, they both ran squealing off to the back door. Eva started to turn the knob.

No, not right now,” my mom called out. “We just got home. Let Gram Gram rest for a minute.”

Aw-w-w!” they whined together.

Why can't we go out by ourselves?” Eva asked. I hated that question. A five year-old should be able to play safely in her own yard. Unfortunately, when one of her fathers was the vampire master of the territory, her life was automatically in more danger than other kids'. We didn't want the kids living in fear, though, so we didn't tell them that. Plus, my mom had no idea. She thought we just worried about the pool, even though it had a fence.

You know the rule,” I said. “Besides, your toys are all over the room. Pick 'em up, please.”

What on your back, Daddy?” Mia asked on her way to clean up. Eva was staring at the floor with a surly expression on her face.

I got a tattoo,” I told her. “Do you like it?”

Like Mommy! But your tattoo color pretty,” Mia said, grinning. Jamie had a tiny footprint tattooed on her abdomen, where Peter, the stillborn baby she had lost before Mia was conceived, used to kick her the most.

I want to see!” Eva said, running over to look. “It's like on your work clothes!”

That's right,” I said. My mom tilted her head and then walked over to take a look herself.

Did you draw it, Sarah?” she asked.

Yep,” Sarah confirmed.

The color is brighter than I expected—it looks good on you,” she said. “Although it's awfully red around the edges.”

Well, yeah, I just got jabbed with a bunch of needles about a million times,” I said. “It's a wound right now.”

Ouch!” Eva said, dancing from foot to foot. “Did you cry?”

Nah; it didn't bother me,” I told her. “Mommy held my hand.”

So, it didn't hurt like a shotter?” she asked. My mom sat down in Lukas's chair and sighed contentedly.

Nope,” I assured her. “Totally different.”

Come on, Eva,” Mia said. “Help clean.”

Nein,” Eva said, frowning again. She kicked her doll toward the bedroom. She continued in German, “I don't want to.

Just remember that whatever the maid has to pick up, you lose,” I reminded her.

Why do we even have a maid then?” she demanded, picking up her doll and flinging it at the toy box. I decided to switch gears to try to get her to stop being so cranky.

Nice shot. I bet you can't do it again,” I said. She grinned.

Oh yeah?” she said and then bounced over to the next toy, which was a lot closer to the box. She tossed it in and looked at me expectantly.

That one was too easy,” I said. “Told you that you couldn't do it again.”

Mia continued calmly picking up her toys and putting them, one at a time, into the box. Eva kicked a stuffed Pokémon over to the door, followed it and tossed it in the box. She looked up at me smugly.

See?”

Wow! You did it! Okay, I'm impressed,” I told her. She giggled and continued our game. The room started getting darker, and I glanced at the window. “Is it going to rain?”

Looks that way,” Sarah said.

Oh, I'd better get home, then,” Mom said. I repressed a sigh. Rain meant that Lukas would probably wake up earlier than usual, and she was still avoiding him.

Thanks for helping out with the kids,” I said, standing up so I could walk her out the door. The kids hugged and kissed her good-bye and then watched as she did the same with Sarah, Jamie and finally Julian. She put her arm through mine and hugged it as I led her out to her car. She leaned her head on my shoulder, and I kissed the top of it when we got there.

I need to cut your bangs,” she said, pushing them out of my eyes. “I'm going to teach Sarah how next time.”

Why?” I asked. “You do a great job.”

Yes, well, I'm not going to be around forever,” she said, meeting my eyes, “unlike you two. I know hair grows slower on vampires, but you'll still need it trimmed up now and then if you still like this style in fifty years or whatever.”

I guess so,” I said, not wanting to think about that. I tended to get very depressed when I thought about that particular consequence of changing. I had lost my dad only a few years ago, and the thought of my mom dying...

Oh, don't look so sad. I'm not going anywhere any time soon,” she said, patting my arm. She looked up at me and smiled sadly.

You'd better not,” I told her. “I don't want to go to another funeral for at least forty, maybe fifty years.”

Ha! I'd be such a shriveled old lady,” she said, laughing. She was 58, so I was encouraging her to live to be over 100. I laughed with her. Her smile slowly faded and vanished. Her eyes grew sad.

What was that about not looking sad?” I asked her, putting my hand on top of her head. I could barely remember when she was taller than me. She was an inch shorter than Sarah, so I pretty much towered over her. I'd hit her height when I was ten. I wondered if Julian would some day be taller than me, since Lukas was.

Oh, don't mind me,” she said.

What's wrong?” I asked. I took a breath and braced myself. “Is it about me changing?”

Not this time,” she said with a laugh. “No, I was just thinking about how much I miss your father.”

I miss him, too,” I said. I couldn't imagine what she was going through, though. She was with my dad for 33 years before he died. My aunt and uncle had moved out to be close to her, but she was probably still lonely.

Finally, my mind clicked—of course she was still lonely. She was going to be lonely for the rest of her life... unless she found someone else. I frowned harder. I didn't know how I felt about that. My father shouldn't just be replaced. But I did know that I didn't want her to spend the rest of her life alone. I bent down and hugged her tightly.

I'm sorry, Mom,” I whispered. “Look, I—I don't know when this is going to come up, but—I just—since I'm going to be gone soon and... I just want you to be happy. Okay? So, just try to find what makes you happy.”

Wow, that was lame, but I didn't know how else to say it. If she hadn't thought about dating again—or didn't want to—I didn't want to bring it up. But if she had, I wanted her to know that... well, I wasn't okay with it necessarily, but I wasn't not okay with it. The thought confused the hell out of me.

Oh, honey,” she said, patting my back. Thankfully, she missed the tattoo. “Don't worry. I'm not ready to let your father go yet.”

I just don't want you to worry about how I'm going to feel about it. I mean, if that's a concern. It shouldn't be. It's not like I'm a kid.”

No, but you are my son, and he was your father,” she said, stepping back. She wiped her cheek with the back of her hand. “I haven't thought about it much. I really—I'm not ready. It doesn't feel like I ever will be.”

Just don't worry about me if that changes... Well, except to tell me. I'll want to meet him. And he had better worship the ground you walk on,” I said. She started laughing again.

Oh, that look!” she said, laughing harder. “I already feel sorry for any boys your daughters bring home.”

Damn straight,” I muttered. I didn't want to think about that! My dad had teased me with that when Mia was first born.

I suppose I should have given you that talk,” she said, her expression still amused.

What talk?” I asked, confused. She was the one who gave me 'the' talk—and the twenty associated talks that seemed to go with it about not being a dick, thinking with it or sticking it anywhere without protection. They had started three minutes after my dad's terrible attempt that had involved too much bluntness and a condom flung at me with the words, 'Don't knock anyone up,' as he left. She'd overheard and come in to try to make it better.

That any man you brought home had better worship the ground you walk on,” she said. “So, what is the penalty for violating that? What exactly do I get to do to Lukas for not doing that? For hurting my son?”

Well, apparently, you can make him feel so guilty that he made sure the burns he got from being set on fire saving your life took as long as possible to heal,” I answered her. “But don't worry. He hasn't hurt me in a very long time.”

He did keep doing it, then, didn't he?” she said.

I gave you the whole story,” I told her.

Jamie's book,” she said, her expression growing even darker. “I'm not sure that he burned long enough for that.”

You said you wanted the whole truth,” I reminded her. “There were things that I—I couldn't tell you. I wish I'd torn out a few pages of it. I wish you didn't know.”

I would have just checked out an undamaged copy from the library,” she said. “I wish I could castrate him.”

I'd be very unhappy if you did that,” I said, blushing. She snorted.

But he doesn't hurt you anymore?” she asked. She pushed me to the side so she could glare at my back.

The day she had read the first chapter in Jamie's book where she had to doctor my wounds from Lukas beating me, my mom had dropped what she was doing, driven to the bookstore, dragged me out back and demanded that I show her my back, the little scars that were left. I'd had to stop her from going to my house to scream at Lukas afterward.

When she reached the chapter where Jamie checked on me after he raped me, she had shown up on our doorstep in a silent rage. I still didn't know what had happened after she asked Lukas to leave with her. I'd tried to stop him from going, but he refused to listen. He didn't come back that night, though. He texted before dawn to let us know that he wouldn't be home, so I knew she hadn't killed him, but I'd spent a good four hours terrified that one of them was dead.

Not in years,” I promised.

How many?” she asked, her eyes narrowing. I sighed.

Five,” I answered. Her eyes narrowed.

The night Eva was born. Lukas did that to you,” she said. I nodded.

Some of it. The part about being attacked by another vampire was true, though. That was just a really shitty night for me. Not Eva's birth, but a couple nights before.”

Your face was black and blue,” she said. “That son of a bitch.”

It hit the floor,” I muttered, intensely uncomfortable. My mom rarely swore, and she had shocked me. “He mainly hit my torso, but at one point, he hit the back of my head. That whole fight changed a lot of things in our lives. Lukas realized that he needed help, and he got it. We've had plenty of fights since, and he hasn't hit me again. We seem to have it figured out now.”

He's in therapy?”Mom asked, looking surprised.

Informally,” I said. “My psychologist has been impressed, actually. He didn't think it would ever happen.”

Your psychologist knew?” she asked, her eyes wide.

Yeah. It doesn't work if you lie, right? Once I knew that he wasn't going to call the police about it, I told him. He spent plenty of time telling me that it wasn't healthy, but I already knew that.”

I don't like that he has spent half of your relationship abusing you,” she said.

None of us do,” I said. “It's over though. I hope. Like I told my friend Nate—I can't say for sure, but I want to believe that it is, and he hasn't given me a reason not to.”

Your friends know?” she said, holding her hands out as if to say, 'What the hell?'

Just Nate. He took the call that night. He knew I was lying about some of it. He thought that I was cheating on Sarah,” I said with a laugh. Mom shook her head.

Now I'm sorry that I didn't take him up on his offer of the knife,” she muttered.

What?” I asked. Had I misheard her?

He said, 'What I have done to him, I cannot undo. What I have taken from him, I cannot replace.' Then he said that I was within my rights to call for his blood and offered me a knife. I didn't take it. That's not what I wanted,” she said.

What did happen?” I asked, unsure if I wanted an answer. She shook her head again—she wasn't going to tell me.

He stole you from me. He... he hurt you. I—I never thought I'd have to worry about that with you. I thought that—having a son...” she made helpless gestures, so I hugged her again. “I'm sorry.”

Don't worry about it,” I said. “I just wish Sarah hadn't made that stupid comment where you could hear. Or that you just took my 'you don't want to know' for an answer.”

After something like that? If someone had said that about someone you cared about, would you have let it go?” she asked.

Of course not. But I also say a lot of bad words and have two spouses and plan to become a vampire in a few months. You used to kick dad under the table, and you serve pie so uncomfortable subjects will go away and pretend Aunt Grace's jokes are funny. Our comfort levels with confrontation are totally different.”

I don't like it, that's for sure,” she said. “But I'm not going to ignore something dropped right in my face. Not something like that. It's one thing to pretend you lived in your room because of a haircut when you were a teenager. It's another to pretend that I didn't hear my daughter-in-law warning my son about reading a book because it had... triggers. Your attempt to say it was—if it was about work, you'd have been dismissive. You wouldn't have looked so worried.”

Sorry I'm not a better liar,” I said. She sighed.

Well, you get that from your father. He wasn't any good at it, either. I just... I don't understand why you wanted to go back,” she said. She looked up at the house and gestured. “Was it the money?”

I guess that was part of it, if I'm completely honest,” I said. “I mean, a poor vampire wouldn't have been able to get me accustomed to a life that made my old one look like a piece of shit.”

Zack...”

Sorry. Hey, don't get on me—you said a bad word, too,” I said, pointing at her. “But it was a small part. Especially when you consider that going back meant being homeless and starving on the streets trying to find Lukas. I loved him, Mom. It didn't matter why—you saw what being away from him did to me.”

Was that only over Lukas?” she asked. “Not over Sarah or Jamie?”

I wasn't with Sarah when the police came,” I said. “If it was just over them, then when they showed up on my doorstep, that would have been the end of it. I wouldn't have done the same thing every time he left us if they were enough. Although, when I thought Sarah had died, I basically shut down, so I guess it applies to her, too.”

What! When did Sarah—what are you talking about?” Mom's face twisted to horror.

When HAR was attacking us. They kidnapped Sarah and Bonnie. They sent me a video... The feed cut out before I saw that Bonnie protected her.” I was on shaky ground here and had to be careful. Mom had complained about me not talking to her, though. I didn't have to worry about a statute of limitations on the kidnapping anymore, but post-Truce murder didn't have one. “Lukas got us there fast enough to chase them off, but they'd already beheaded Bonnie and cut out her heart. I put her back together, which was part of why I went back to work as an EMT.”

You... you went back because you—weren't you and Bonnie...? I mean, you said that you were with her at a concert? Didn't that make it harder?” she asked.

Exactly. I figured that if I could reconstruct someone I'd been intimate with, I was past the reason I started to freak out on the job back then. Man, that seems like so long ago now. All of it. The hotel, being an EMT-basic, putting Cezary back together and freaking out because I knew him... Lukas talks about how young I still am, but when I think back, I was really young then. I thought I wanted a quiet, lazy life... until I had it.”

What are you going to do when you change?” she asked, and it hit me—she wasn't flinching anymore. She wasn't avoiding my eyes or mumbling her questions. I took her hand in mine. There were more lines in it than I remembered, and her veins stood out now. My paramedic brain classified her as a good, easy stick, while my family brain started worrying about her getting older.

I still haven't decided,” I said. “I've got a couple years before any of that matters. I might join a vampire unit for lack of anything else productive to contribute.”

On the news, they were talking about a hospital in New York letting in a vampire nurse,” she said.

Hey, did they? I signed a petition online, but I didn't know if she got the job or not.” I ignored the bit of hope that sprung up. I wasn't a nurse, and she didn't work in emergency and trauma.

She was in mental health, of which blood was not part and parcel. It happened, but it wasn't a constant exposure like in the emergency department—that had been key in her argument for hiring. By saying that she couldn't handle it at work, they were saying that no vampire could handle any exposure in a controlled environment—I was glad to hear she was getting a chance to prove that wrong.

Last night was her first on the job. I kept thinking of you during the story,” she smiled.

Well, it's a step forward. You never know,” I said, smiling back. I felt a splash on my shoulder, and we looked up together as more drops started falling.

Okay, now I really have to go,” she said and leaned up to give me a quick kiss. “I'll see you tomorrow?”

Maybe. I've got work tonight and tomorrow, so I'll probably oversleep, but I'll try to get up by four.”

Oh, don't cut your sleep short for me,” she said, opening her car door. “I'll stay a little later than usual.”

Well, no promises,” I said. She sat down. “Because if I do, then I'll basically be guaranteed to be working until noon or something.”

I know,” she said. “I love you. If you're feeling up for it, I'll cut your hair tomorrow.”

You could do it now,” I pointed out.

He's awake, isn't he?” she asked. I shrugged. The sun was entirely gone, and this close to sunset, it was pretty much guaranteed that Lukas would be awake.

Probably. But he's going to be wherever I am for the next several years,” I reminded her.

Well, I can deal with that in a couple years,” she said. “But for now, I don't want to be around the man who spent so long hurting you and is planning to kill you. I don't care how many houses or cars he buys me. He can't buy my forgiveness.”

Or his own,” I said, softly. The rain was still falling lightly, but it was starting to pick up.

He has you for that,” she said, frowning. “I'm sorry if I did—or didn't do—anything that led to you being in this situation.”

Don't be, Mom,” I said. “I don't think it was you. I think it's just him. Sarah and I had about as different of childhoods as two people could, and she's here, too.”

I suppose,” she said. “I love you.”

I love you, too,” I said and then walked back to the yard as she closed her door. She drove off, and I watched until she reached the stop sign at the end of the street, enjoying the warm rain. The front door opened. I turned to see who it was. Lukas glanced up at the sky, giving it a long, hard look. “The cloud cover's solid.”

Your mother is gone, yes?” he asked, stepping out. I snorted.

Were you hiding from her?” I asked.

I do not wish to strain your relationship,” he answered, walking over to me. He looked up at the sky again and then closed his eyes, letting the rain fall on his face. He wiped the water off his face into his hair, which darkened from yellow to gold. I wished that I could kiss him. I sighed and looked away before I risked doing something where the neighbors could see. “Do you like it?”

Huh?” I asked, turning back.

Your tattoo,” he said, gesturing to my shoulder.

Yeah. You?” I laughed. I had thought that maybe he was talking about himself.

Yes. You know that blue is my favorite color,” he said and wrapped his arms around me from behind. I looked at the neighbor's house nervously. “We will be moving soon enough. If you do not mind, then neither do I.”

I leaned my head back to rest against his cheek and hugged his arms close. I almost never had the opportunity to see him in the summer days, since the sun was usually so bright. He kissed my shoulder and then stepped back to turn me around. His eyes were pale blue in the dim daylight, almost unreal. I seldom saw him with his pupils so tightly constricted.

Does the light hurt your eyes?” I asked.

A little. But it is worth enduring to see the day,” he answered. He leaned down toward me. I closed my eyes right before our lips touched. I stepped back. His shirt was uncomfortably soggy, so I tugged at the collar.

Off,” I said. He smirked as he pulled it off at my request. He flicked it toward the door. It landed right in front of it, on the walkway. I blinked in surprise. That was a good thirty foot throw, and he had done it effortlessly. I was still gawking when his face filled my vision again. I turned to kiss him back, wrapping my arms around him happily.

I heard the door shut next door and quickly let go of Lukas, stepping back. My face started burning. I licked my lips, savoring the feeling of Lukas's still there. I turned to look, but the neighbor woman just smiled and gave a little wave on her way to her car. I lifted my hand to return the gesture, still blushing furiously. Lukas chuckled. He grabbed the back of my head and pulled me closer so he could kiss the top of it.

I am hungry. Come feed me,” he directed.

While I would normally jump at that, you know I have work tonight. I can't work right after donating—I have to be able to lift people and shit. Plus, I suspect that it would make my tattoo hurt when the drug wore off. And I just had sex with Sarah,” I said. He watched me silently while I listed the reasons that I couldn't feed him.

Then you are of no use to me,” he said. He pivoted on one foot and walked back toward the door.

Pssh,” I protested his dismissal. I jogged past him and slapped his butt as he bent down to pick up his shirt. He stood up quickly. I ducked through the door before him.

Now you are feeding me anyway,” he said, shutting the door behind him. I glanced around to make sure the kids weren't in earshot, but I knew he wouldn't say anything if they were.

Nope, I'm going to take a shower,” I said, dodging him as he reached for me. He grinned and then appeared in front of me. I jumped back, startled.

Mm, keep running,” he said.

Will you guys take your foreplay into the other room?” Jamie asked. “I'm trying to read.”

I'm trying to get ready for work!” I complained. “He's being a predator. I am not trying to be prey.”

It's been a month, Lukas,” Jamie said. He turned to her. “Zack, take Julian, and I'll help you out with your problem.”

Are you certain you are feeling up to it?” Lukas asked, all the feisty behavior gone.

I'm never going to get better if you skip feeds on me. Of course, if you just don't want to feed on me anymore, I guess I can invite Bonnie over,” she said. His eyes narrowed. For someone with two spouses that he had once passed around like favorite toys, Lukas had quite the possessive streak. Jamie had been not only Sarah's, but his as well, ever since she conceived her first baby with him.

Take Julian, Zack,” Lukas said. I snickered as I did what I was told. Jamie knew that all she had to do was say yes, but I think she liked riling him up sometimes. Jamie swung her legs off the couch and stood up carefully. Lukas waited patiently for her to follow him into the hall; then they continued on to his bedroom.

I walked into the main bedroom to find Sarah, but she wasn't there. I continued through the bathroom and into the kids' room. She was building towers with Mia while Eva played in the corner with a plastic dragon and a Barbie.

Jamie's with Lukas if you want me to take over here,” I told her. She jumped to her feet without even a word and ran from the room. “I guess she did.”

Boom!” Mia yelled, kicking the blocks over. Julian squirmed, and I started bouncing on my feet and making shushing sounds. He calmed down after a few seconds. I sat down in the rocking chair with him. Mia grabbed a board book from their shelves and brought it over to me, so I read to her. I read three stories before I asked to do anything else. While I loved reading, they didn't have a limit to how many books they would ask for.

We spent the next ten minutes singing songs together until Sarah returned. She was smiling happily, flushed and a little unsteady on her feet. I passed off Julian so I could finally go get my shower. I used the bathroom outside of Lukas's room. After I dried off, I smeared the tattoo with A&D ointment and then had Lukas tape a paper towel and plastic wrap over it so I didn't have to worry about it being exposed to bodily fluids.

I got to work ten minutes earlier than usual, leaving me just that much more time to hate that we didn't get to choose our partners. I had been assigned a career EMT who was one of the most obnoxious, argumentative, know-it-all assholes I'd ever had the displeasure to work with. He always left me worried that I was being judged guilty by association. Nate came in, saw who I'd been assigned and spent fifteen minutes picking on me over it.

The night was made even more unpleasant by the five unnecessary transports right off the bat. I normally didn't mind all that much—not that I appreciated being used like a bus driver—but Laurence would flat out argue with the patients. I had to threaten to get him written up again after the second one of the night. He stopped fighting with the patients, but I got an earful at the end of each of the other three calls.

Just as I was about to go off on him, he finally reminded me why he still had a job. We were on what I thought was a false alarm with an elderly patient who had called for shortness of breath and palpitations, but presented totally normal. He checked her back and then convinced the hovering son-in-law to go outside with him. I was confused until the woman's breathing became totally normal and she begged me for help to get away.

The fear in her eyes hadn't been for her fake breathing problems but for her son-in-law, who was abusing her. I called for a gurney, and Laurence responded quickly, feigning urgency. Laurence flat out lied to the guy, saying that we had a new policy that family couldn't ride along and then gave him the wrong hospital. Thirteen years on the job may have made him bitter to people abusing the service, but he knew a real emergency when he saw one—even if it wasn't necessarily a medical one.

Our next call was a woman who stepped on a huge wood nail while trying to get a midnight snack. It went all the way through her foot and clearly caused her a significant amount of pain, as she cried hysterically on the entire ride to the hospital. Laurence attended because he didn't drive well with a lot of noise from the patient. Sarah had commented a few times on my ability to completely ignore pretty much any level of sound in the car when driving.

We had a few quiet hours and then got a call from a regular. I decided that the universe was testing me. This woman complimented Laurence quite nicely—in Hell. I wasn't looking forward to what I assumed was going to be a massive argument between the two of them. I warned Laurence that he was going to have to bite his tongue and hoped that he could do it. To myself, I hoped that I could bite my own.

Oh, it's you,” she greeted me when we walked into her living room.

Hello, Terri,” I greeted her back. She sighed; then she did it again. After a third, I realized that she was taking rapid, deep breaths. Kussmaul breathing. Great. She was in DKA again. “Having some trouble breathing?”

It's,” she gasped, “Just my—asthma.”

She did not have asthma. She claimed it was 'just asthma' every time we did this. The fact that she was still alive was some kind of miracle. I crossed the room quickly and instantly did my CABs— circulation, airway, breathing. The fruity nail polish remover scent was thick on on her breath. I was looking for it since she'd been hospitalized for this once before with me, and I was told that it wasn't the first time when I brought her in.

I'm pretty sure you have ketoacidosis again,” I said, gesturing for Laurence to bring over the stretcher. Her vitals weren't great, but she probably wasn't going to die on us en route. The glucometer I'd loaded up beeped at me.

I just—told you—it's asthma,” she gasped.

Terri, your blood sugar is over five hundred. When did you last eat?”

Well, I've—been craving—starches. You know—those are—the worst. So I just—haven't...” She trailed off as I moved to her shoulders.

How long has it been since you ate?” I asked her. She had an eating disorder because she was convinced that losing enough weight would somehow cure her Type I Diabetes. She weighed about 95lbs, so she really didn't have anything to lose. I'd taken her in for syncope three times in as many months.

Well—I was—crashing, so I—had a bit—of sugar. Not as bad—as starches.” Laurence took her feet. He stopped when he got a good look.

How long have you had this wound, Mrs. Clark?” he asked. Which was good, because I was about to say something snarky that I really needed to not say.

What wound?” she asked. Laurence shot me a look.

You have a three inch laceration on your foot,” he said.

One, two, three,” I counted. We lifted her onto the gurney and started strapping her in. I wasn't sure she was still a full 95lbs anymore. She felt lighter than last time.

Don't know—where—haven't... oh,” she moaned and closed her eyes. I grabbed her purse from the couch, and then we moved quickly out of her house, shutting her door behind us. “Wait. I need—to get my purse.”

I have it,” I assured her. “When was the last time you took your insulin?”

Tuesday,” she said. I had to resist the urge to slap her. She could not possibly mean that she had been six days without her medicine. Oh, I did not like this woman.

Are you retarded?” Laurence asked her as he tried to settle into the bench to attend.

Hun-uh,” I negated. “You're driving; I'm attending.”

Whatever,” he muttered, moving up to the front.

How—rude! I'll have you—know that I... Hey, it's you,” she said, looking at me like she hadn't seen me before. Shit. I started oxygen.

Go quickly,” I urged Laurence. I braced myself as we lurched out of the driveway and then grabbed an IV kit and a bag of saline to start a line. Nothing like having to do this shit while we were moving.

Where are you—oh, I'm—having asthma...”

No, Terri,” I said, flinching as Laurence turned on the sirens. “You're hyperglycemic and probably have ketoacidosis.”

Oh, what—would you know? You're not—a doctor,” she sneered. “It's not—that. I know—more about—diabetes—than you.”

Okay,” I said, making sure my tone remained neutral. I had the saline drip going and wished there was more I could do. Her skin was getting clammy, and I was losing her radial pulse. I heard Laurence finish calling us in.

Two minutes,” he informed me. The patient's heart rate started increasing rapidly. Her pulseox dropped to 93%, and I increased her O2 until she hit 95.

Hey, Terri, how are you feeling?” I asked her, for once hoping that she would say something rude.

What?” she gasped. Her eyes closed.

She's in shock and decompensating,” I called up so that he could inform the hospital. I swore at her in my head. So many calls would be avoided if patients just followed directions from their doctors. My father might still be alive if he had. I shoved the thought away and emotionally detached from the situation. All that remained was my clinical brain, which watched for irreversible shock and coma while preparing me to lose the patient.

Five minutes from call to scene. Three minutes to ambulance. Five minutes to hospital. Our times weren't bad; she was just careless. There was only so much abuse your body could take before it couldn't handle any more. I looked at the wound on her foot. The laceration was badly infected. Laurence had already reported that, though.

I expected her to crash in that last minute before we could get her off the ambulance, but she didn't. I passed her off to a nurse and grabbed my patient care report papers to fill out. As I expected, Laurence bitched from the minute he found me hiding from him through the whole restocking of the ambulance. This time, I joined him.





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