A hangover with sharp claws dug into Crow’s brain with a force designed to separate it from his spine.
“Dove!” he yelled lurching to his feet. His eyes flew open. He clawed for the Jade Gun but his hand came up empty. Where was she?? Where was his gun?
“Hey handsome.” Olive smiled at him as she threw her head back after wrapping her hair in a fluffy white towel.
Crow’s surroundings came into focus through the red haze of his blood-high leftovers. Olive had changed. A clean turquoise tank clung to her still damp skin. She jerked the tag off the back pocket of a new pair of jeans. Crow winced at the sight of bandages on her neck and wrist. The wrist being bigger. Fresh blood stained the white gauze. Like an alcoholic, Crow both wanted and hated the blood, needed and despised it. The claws pounding on his head dug deeper. He held his head in his hands, and dropped back down on the bed covered with dirt and dried blood. He held back a groan.
“Are you okay?”
Beautiful ivy tattoos running up two arms came into view. Images of Olive’s life carved on flower petals poked up through the vines. She ran a hand through his hair. The headache lessened, but the his teeth elongated. Olive winced. Crow took her hand. He pressed his lips over his teeth.
“It’s okay,” Olive said. She gently adjusted her bandaged wrist in his hand.
“I hurt you, didn’t I?” Crow released her hand shocked at the size of the bandage around her wrist.
“It was kinda a do or die situation. Don’t worry about it. I’m a strong southern girl.”
“We’re up North.”
“I know we are, but I’m not from here. I grew up in the south.”
The bandage wrist haunted him. It taunted him. It proclaimed he was willing to hurt anyone to satisfy the need for blood, even Olive.
“You listen to me,” Olive suddenly said. “You listen up right now, mister. You did what you had to do. If you hadn’t drunk my blood again, Dove would have kidnapped and or killed us all. Don’t you feel guilty for one moment.”
“Do you have mind reading abilities?”
She flashed him a huge smile. “No. But you’re kinda easy to read.”
“Bad poker face, huh?”
“Something like that.”
The claws dug back in. Crow moaned convinced his head might have just split open.
“Crow?” Olive put her arm around his shoulders.
“I’m all right,” he muttered through his fingers. His headache plateaued into a moment of peace. The world settled in around him filled with Olive’s sweet scent. To taste that sweetness….Crow shut down the surge of vampire desire so fast he almost threw up.
“How long have we been here?” He tried to be a man. He had to be a man.
“A few hours. Stan dropped us off and left to pick up some clothes and stuff. Aunt Rose and I have showered. Stan’s in this one, but the other one is free if you want. Zephyr used the sink. Umm….” Olive looked around the room with one finger on her chin. If she guessed his internal struggle, she did not acknowledge it thank goodness. “Let’s see. Stan brought you clothes, too. He said we should all rest up. Dove destroyed your duster, and most of your special holster thing. I did get the Jade Gun, your Glocks, and shotguns. Stan said something about not leaving them around where they could be found by the police or something. Oh! There are burgers.”
Olive jumped up to get them.
“Sorry. They may be cold,” she said as she handed him three double-patty burgers.
He ripped the wrappers off and devoured all three in just a few swallows. The greasy beef brought an uneasy truce between his human and vampire side. The headache disengaged its claws. Nausea and any lingering desire for Olive’s blood eased off enough for Crow to feel in control, sane, and less bipolar.
Crow licked his fingers.
“Should I get more?” Olive put her hands on her hips.
With the red meat toning down his magical side, Crow enjoyed the woman-ness of her as a man, just a man. Her curves, her smile, her nurturing, all with a towel wrapped around her wet hair brought his humanity to the surface with a pure desire as a man for a woman instead of a monster for a maid. He forgot for a moment, in the late afternoon soon peeking in the cracks of the hotel curtains, who he was and what he was. His desire was to care for her not possess her. Was it too much to ask for that right?
“Are there more here?”
“No. That was the last few. I can run out and get some more, the place is just around the corner.”
The answer was no. He did not have the right to be a man. She needed protecting and he, according to the servant tattoos on his hands, was the protector. He was the one with the power and the experience to fight and fight he must. But….something whispered….could he fight? Twice he had faced the Gray, and twice only Olive’s blood had saved him. Did he even have the ability to protect her? Did he even have the strength to go up against Manson, the Gray and Fortunatus?
“You shouldn’t leave the room, so don’t worry about it right now.” Crow pushed the whisper of self-doubt away. He stood and wrapped his arms around her in one swift shifting.
“Note to self …” Olive said, lifting her arms and linking her hands behind his neck.
“Meat does wonders for your disposition, unlike my blood. That just makes you sad.”
“True for any man, but your blood’s amazing. I feel unstoppable, aware, alive when I drink it.” He touched his forehead to hers. “The meat helped ground me a little. It’s less rich.”
“Such nice things to say, kinda creepy they’re about my blood.”
Crow closed his eyes with a sigh and a shake of his head. Again, the answer was no. No moment of forgetting for the Dhampir son of Benj and Sophie. He could not put the monster part aside for the mantel of humanity. Olive gave him a little kiss and nudge with her nose. He opened his eyes to her teasing grin.
Stan came out of the shower.
“How you feeling?” He only raised one eyebrow at their embrace.
“Don’t ask and I won’t tell you.” Crow stretched and groaned. Olive turned away with a smile.
“What do we need to do?”
“Nothing till the sun sets.”
Crow headed for the other shower, something else that was good for a man’s disposition –scalding water, a shave, and clean clothes. Dirty sweat and flecks of blood ran down the drain. Steam surrounded him. His mind drifted on the balmy waves of nothing until the water ran cold.
After the shower, changed into clean clothes, he dropped down on one of the queen beds with fresh sheets. Rose nodded off in the puffy chair against the wall. Stan snored on the other bed. Olive danced around the room picking up trash, tiding towels, tucking a blanket around Rose. She hummed to herself as she flitted. Zephyr curled up on a pillow settled on the night stand. Olive covered her with a white wash cloth. The wiznit breathed softly, sound asleep.
“I’m going down to the gift shop. Need anything?
“Olive?” Crow cracked on eye.
“Don’t worry, I’m just going down stairs. I’ll be fine. Besides, I’m going crazy in here. I saw some plants down there, so even if something happens I can protect myself until you can rescue me.” She poked him in the chest with her finger and then bent down and kissed him.
Crow grimaced, too tired to argue. Olive was the only one who had had any sleep, and she healed faster with plants around. He could not bring himself to argue, so he pointed to the credit card in Stan’s wallet and closed his eyes. Olive slipped quietly out the door.
“It’s good to see that look on your face,” Stain said.
“I thought you were asleep.”
“What look?” Crow propped his hands behind his head not really listening. The thought of a battle without Olive’s blood resurfaced. Like some dumb teen, he felt the need to prove himself.
“The one that says there might be something worth living for in this life beyond Manson.”
Did he? Was there? The ghost of a kiss touched his lips in a silent yes.
“You may be right, but let’s not say anything. I wouldn’t want to hurt my tough guy reputation.”
“Heaven forbid,” Stan chuckled.
“Watch out. You may have already passed me up.” Crow glanced at Rose in the corner.
Stan did not answer. He rolled to the far side of the bed and slipped his hand in hers. She squeezed his fingers without waking up. In a few moments, his gentle breathing joined Rose and Zephyr’s. Crow lay in the bed, coiled to spring. Stan and Rose. Seemingly out of nowhere, these two women walked into their lives. Who was the more damned, the hunters or the women who loved them? Rose, cause Stan slept holding her hand, gave Crow even more reason to check his skills. He would not let Stan lose another woman to Manson anymore than he planned to let Manson have Olive. Never. The door knob turned. Olive tip-toed back into the room. She locked the door behind her.
“You’re supposed to be asleep,” she whispered.
“Waiting for you, beautiful,” he said, sitting up on one elbow.
Her whole face lit up. She plopped into the bed at his feet with a blue plastic sack.
“Look.” She crossed her legs, and dumped several candy bars out on the duvet. Crow picked up a Mars bar. Chocolate and sugar? Not as good as beef, not as good as blood, but a sufficient substitute for the moment. Olive plucked a candle and a small ivy from the pile.
“A witch needs a candle.”
Crow shook his head at her. He turned in the bed and lay back down putting his head in Olive’s lap. She ran her fingers through his hair and hummed. He drifted off to sleep with the ivy reaching out to touch his arm.
The sun cast a veil of darkness over the earth as it sank below its curvature. The moon, dressed in silver white, rose into the night sky. Her weak light diffused the blackness in place of her more glorious sister.
…in the beginning, a vision is always dark…Crow clenched his teeth, but could not suppress a growl. Manson lounged on a couch with dramatic curved lines in a shadow-filled room. Window-less walls hid any possible clues as to their location. His recent struggle with the sun left a spatially disoriented feeling in his head. No windows, and no sense of space meant no clue. Manson for the win. Crow should have had Stan bury him instead of just eating burgers.
The only door in or out of the room opened and in came Fortunatus.
“You little piece….” Crow lost the sentence in a snarl. Words left something to be desired when it came to Fortunatus. “Someday, for Benj.”
Crow wished the visions let him project. He wished he could fill the room with the hatred he felt for Fortunatus. Just once, he would like to make that betraying piece of feces nervous. Wait? Crow glanced around the room. Why was he here? No one but Manson and his pet waited in the room. There were no signs of tortured souls. There were no mutilated victims. Manson must have called him here cause it satisfied some sick whim. Lovely.
After straightening his cuffs and tie, Fortunatus opened the door to admit three outlandish vampires dressed in the latest distressed jeans and graphic tee trends with edgy, girly hairstyles, eyeliner, and sunglasses.
“You look like one of those idiotic rock bands dressed like that,” Manson sneered from the couch. He crossed his legs not getting up to greet his guests.
“We may return to LeVidal, if you have no use for us.” One of them stepped closer to Manson while gesturing back at the door. Fortunatus closed it behind them.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Manson said studying his perfectly manicured nails. “Besides you will want to see what I have created downstairs. Even you, Kalogeros, will want to take off your silly sunglasses long enough to see this.”
“As you wish Manson, but remember we are doing this as a favor. We feel no obligation to you. Kaneís, allá tous eaf̱toús mas.”
Manson glanced at Fortunatus.
“No one but ourselves.”
Crow’s gut twisted. How many years had it been since he last saw the Greeks? Ten? Fifteen? Three of the oldest and most sadistic vampires indulging Manson did not come as a surprise, but it chilled him. The Greeks with Manson made Crow’s burden bigger. It changed the generational war from personal to planes. All of LeVidal might join if promised the fun of human screams and blood. Vampires, old, true not taken, flocking to Manson would bring him to the attention of the magical community. But, he was still Crow’s problem. The weight of what he witnessed pressed down on Crow’s shoulders. No one. No one would take out Manson but him. And why was he seeing this? Surely it was not to Manson’s benefit that he see an alliance with the Greeks? Unless he wanted to taunt Crow with the inroads he had made with other magical creatures, like the demon he had joined with Dove. Crow liked it better when Manson worked with only the Gray. He liked it when Manson was too high and mighty, or ignorant, to work with anyone else. This meeting was not a good sign. It was dangerous.
“Fortunatus, take them down and show them our new toy shop? And also the other room.” Manson waved them away.
Fortunatus hesitated. Something new gleamed in his eye surprising Crow – weariness, disgust, and caution. The vampire blinked and it was gone. No way. There was no way his soul, torn by murders, brought on this vision. Crow pushed the thought away. Fortunatus had betrayed his father and had a hand in killing his mother. That vampire deserved death more than anyone or anything except Manson.
With a bow, Fortunatus led the Greeks out the door…
Crow whispered a curse to the air of the hotel room filled with sleeping humans and witches. Why had he surrounded himself with people he cared about? People he cared about always died. He and Stan must have been born under the worst set of stars. The muscles in his back twitched with that ‘deck stacked against him’ feeling tightening them.
“Damn the Greeks, Fortunatus, and Manson all to hell.”
Crow’s skin crawled. What if they came now? What if he could not fight them without Olive’s blood? He could not drink from her again. Half damned he might be, but half damned could damn an innocent all the way.
He got out of bed and started pacing. Everyone slept. Their quiet, slightly off beat breathing grated on him. He caught himself rubbing the back of his neck, and shifting from one end of the room to the other. For fifty years, some of them with his Mom, most of them alone, he had never settled in one place for long. The instinct bred in him since the beginning was to avoid Manson by staying right out of reach. Never stay still. Out of reach was where he wanted to be after that vision. The walls of the hotel closed in around him. His self-doubt filled him. The night air sang a siren song to his vampire blood with sweet music. And something else, something else…Someone or something out there. Could he handle it without magical blood?
He needed to get out of this hotel room. Now. And he was hungry. Again. Hungry and not thinking about Olive’s blood. He did not want that, not every again. He could go for a steak. Rare, bloody. Crow picked up a napkin, wrote a quick note to Stan and shifted over to Zephyr’s pillow. He poked her with a finger. She ignored him. He nudged her again.
She opened one eye at him. Crow crooked his finger.
“When do I get my pocket back?” She picked herself up and fluttered to his shoulder. She plopped down, stretched, and yawned. Gathering two Glocks and his Jade Gun, Crow kissed Olive’s forehead and headed out. Time to settle his gnawing fear once and for all.
The moon drew heavy clouds close, and wrapped them around herself. The air, too warm for winter, was sticky with humidity. Each droplet of invisible moisture was a vestiges of the storm Olive had called from the south. A cool wind drove the clouds on. The moonbeams illuminated their edges and turned them silver. The moon called to him. She called to his vampire side, the side which had drunk Olive’s blood twice in 24 hours. She sang a song of seduction. She sang of the beauty of the night.
Crow soaked in the darkness. It sat around him like a cloak, all grays and darker grays. Zephyr rode his shoulder as he took the back exit from the hotel. He rolled his neck loosening up.
“There is something out here. In town and it is hunting.”
Zephyr turned her head this way and that scenting.
“It’s a demon hunting something, maybe us, maybe not. With Dove being bound to that demon she has ties with them now. She can probably call and control them.”
“Comforting thought. It’s not her, though?”
“No. It’s a different one.”
She was right. Crow could smell it. He could smell the ozone, fire, heat smell of the demon. Unlike Angels which smelled of pure sunlight with a hint of rain, or flowers, leaves, living beautiful things depending on their type, demons smelled of ash, charred wood and burnt flesh.
This demon smelled like any demon, burnt, fried and crispy, yum.
“Great. I was more in the mood for a vampire. But, I guess a demon will have to do.”
He left the lighted exit of the hotel moving instinctively into the shadows along the unlit back alley.
Zephyr scented again.
“There.” She pointed south into town. “He seems distracted.”
Crow sensed it. Whether the demon was hunting Olive or not he needed this fight. Her blood still echoed in his veins, even with the little he had drunk, even with all it had to overcome, mildly diluted by burgers, candy bars, and sleep. Her blood was some high, pounding, pounding, pounding. The demon fight would rid him of her magical. Plus, he could prove he did not need her what was in her veins. If he did, she would not be there to save him. Point proven either way. He leapt onto the side of the building to his left and caught a window sill. Lunged up and right to the hotel side, he caught a fire escape. Back and forth up the four stories, he cleared the building and landed on the roof.
Leaping from wall to wall, tracking his prey over the roof tops proved easier than shifting through the streets, and more fun. Crow took a last look back at the hotel. A candle burned bright in the window of their room.
“A candle?” he whispered.
“To light the way back home,” Zephyr said.
“Just like Mom, but I’m coming home.”
The itchiness left Crow. Calm settled between his shoulders like warm sun on his back. For the first time in his life someone waited for him to come home. He did not plan to disappoint her.
…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…