Vampire: Dark Ages
February 3, 2013. Sunrise.
Hunter had no trouble finding Jacob’s condo complex, the Harrison West Condominium Tower. The huge building was visible for miles and the early morning light in the sky outlined it perfectly. The trickier part was figuring out which balcony was Jacob’s but even that wasn’t rocket science. Rather than risk any cameras or vampires watching the main entrance, Hunter called the front desk and asked the questions he needed before making quick work of climbing up to Jacob’s balcony.
Stepping around the patio furniture, Hunter carefully tried the sliding glass door, pleased to find that it was unlocked. As soon as the door opened, Hunter knew he was at the right condo. The heavy curtain that covered the doorway didn’t do anything to diminish the smell of Jacob that saturated the air. Carefully, Hunter moved the edge of the curtain just enough for him to be able to peer inside. Normally he wouldn’t have hesitated to simply walk in, but between Jacob’s sensitivity to sunlight (not that there was much yet) and not knowing if he had company over, Hunter didn’t want to take any chances. When he didn’t see anyone or smell anyone other than Jacob, he stepped inside and closed the door and curtain behind him.
He could hear water running in a sink in another room—Jacob must be in there, probably getting ready for bed. Rather than track him down in his bedroom or bathroom and interrupt something best left uninterrupted, Hunter headed into the kitchen and opened the fridge. It had already been almost five hours since he had had that steak and potatoes beneath Hobo’s and he was ready to eat again.
Canned soda, beer, standard condiments, bacon, summer sausage, a carton of milk (empty), V8—standard enough to appear human. His freezer had frozen meats, vegetables and breads. From the bathroom, Hunter heard the shower start so he pulled out the bread and bacon, tossing the first in the microwave and the second in a pan on the stove. While waiting for them, he pulled out mustard and mayonnaise. Less than minutes later, he sat down on the couch next to his backpack with two bacon sandwiches and two beers, eating contently while he waited for Jacob to come out.
Peering into the bathroom mirror, Jacob frowned at his enlarged canine incisors. They seemed to be getting bigger, and crowding out the other teeth in his upper jaw. It wasn’t painful, but it was ugly. It took effort to appear in the mirror, yet another fact that reminded him of what he was: Damned. Still, even ugly teeth were teeth, and they needed cleaning just like any others. He’d have to ask Quinton if he knew of a decent vampire dentist – or if such a thing existed.
They have vampire doctors, so, why not dentists?
After his brush and floss, Jacob cleaned himself in the showed. He still smelled of dock and dungeon, from a night that had been more than just interesting. Still though, as he continued with his morning routines before slumber, he took comfort in how mundane it all was. Were it not for the unsubtle reminders in the mirror, he’d have felt positively normal.
You’re not normal, Jacob. You’re just like Quinton, and Batman, and Hunter. You’re anything but normal.
His thoughts aside though, the dirt and grime washed away as well as any other, and feeling clean was pleasant, regardless of which side of the grave you came from.
After the shower, he examined himself in the slightly fogged mirror one last time and sighed. His eyes seemed deeply set, as if he hadn’t had a good night sleep in a few days. But then, just before he exhaled, Jacob realized something.
I smell bacon. Who…?
He walked out to his kitchen, and seeing no one, turned to his right. In the living room, Hunter was sitting there on his couch, eating his food.
“What… what is this? Hunter? What are you doing here?”
Maybe it’s just the bacon, but you smell… calm.
Hunter looked up when he heard Jacob approaching, taking another swig of beer before setting it down next to the unopened one. He looked much the same as he had earlier that morning. He wore the same slept in dark gray cargo pants and fitted button down of the same color. He still smelled of his own blood and sweat, but his comfortable, relaxed posture made him look like a completely different man from the one Jacob had walked in on five hours earlier in under Hobo’s. The smells of natural gas and smoke were new. Only one glaring reminder of that dungeon was visible on the werewolf—a thick band of raw irritation and shallow cuts on his skin that circled his neck where he’d previously been collared.
Jacob on the other hand was wearing only a towel, not that Hunter cared.
“We need to talk. What did you learn in your meeting last night?” he asked, then took another bite of food.
“Quite a bit,” Jacob said, responding instantly. “Quite a bit indeed.”
As surprised as he was to see Hunter so soon, Jacob decided the moment he saw him that he would not be timid or confused during this conversation. Still though, he was only wearing a towel and that felt a bit unfair.
“Pardon me a moment.”
He quickly stepped into his bedroom and picked up a pair of pajama pants from the hamper and a black T-shirt from the closet, then wrapped himself in his bathrobe.
Coming back to the living room, Jacob noticed a few things about Hunter. Besides the obvious fact that he was present, the circumstances of his appearance were interesting. Where the collar had been yesterday, a red ring of irritated flesh stood out starkly. He was also dirty, eating a sandwich, and drinking Jacob’s beer.
I didn’t expect to see him so soon. And what is that I smell? Is that smoke … and gasoline? I’ll have to ask him about that.
Jacob also wanted to fault Hunter for helping himself to his kitchen. He realized it was perfectly in character, and it wasn’t as if Jacob was doing anything with it. What bothered Jacob was that he couldn’t eat it.
“Where should I begin? Do you want a transcription, or specifics?”
Hunter wasn’t sure what to make of Jacob’s question. How could telling him what he learned be that complicated?
“You obviously learned your clan name, Mekhet. You learned the name of your primogen, Xavier VonDutch. You learned and there’s a position titled ‘priscus’ currently being held by Quinton Riley and you got his phone number. What else did you learn?”
He took another bite of sandwich and watched Jacob expectantly. “Despite the fact that I specifically told you not to text anything other than casual checking in, you texted that you learned a lot last night. Did you find out anything about their territories?”
“I thought that was casual checking in.” Jacob started.
“Like I said, I learned quite a bit: I learned that the Mekhet are a practically perfect fit for my personality. I learned that the clans don’t necessarily get along, but they can if asked. The Gangrel are brutes, the Mekhet hoard information, the Nosferatu are creepy, et cetera. I’ve learned the town is cordoned into territories, and each is ruled by one of the five clans. I learned that the vampires have connections into most industries in Portland, and I can get names and numbers for just about anything I want. I learned that they are welcoming to new vampires, by and large – despite the uh, uproar they make when one shows up. I learned that there are feuds, and disagreements, but also alliances. I really could go on about any of this stuff.”
Casual checking in was not announcing over monitored texts that they were sharing information with each other on a regular basis. Apparently Hunter would have to explain that at some point. Jacob’s information was moderately useful, but nothing really that Hunter didn’t already know. He’d have to ask a few questions to see if the specifics would be more beneficial.
Jacob paused in his rant for a moment to look sharply at Hunter. “I also learned what happened to you.”
Hunter’s hand froze just before reaching his beer bottle, his entire body tensing like hackles rising. In that moment, a series of rapid-fire reactions flashed through Hunter’s mind. His anger spiked and he wanted to rage at Jacob. His denial quickly followed and he wanted to ignore that Jacob had even brought it up. Right behind that was a single question: what if he learned something that could help free me? That would require talking about it. From there, he went straight back to denial and finally returned to anger. His hand finished it’s course to the beer, which he picked up but didn’t drink from.
“What did you learn?” he asked, his tone as sharp and cold as his dark eyes as they rose to meet Jacob’s. “Be specific.”
Jacob had been watching Hunter carefully for this moment. Since his conversation with the Mekhet Priscus earlier in the evening, he had planned to tell Hunter about this. Seeing him now though, there was obviously an emotional element at play. He tensed up mid-reaction, and then almost tried to shrug it off it seemed. Jacob enjoyed having the advantage for once. As fun as it was to lord information over him though, he had a point to make.
“You were forced to drink blood because they either bound or were trying to bind your will to them. Specifically, one vampire would have been the ‘master’ so to speak, and that vampire was who’s blood you drank. With mortals it’s a process that creates something called a ‘ghoul’ – a slave devoted to the will of the master. While I’m not aware of any physical transformations, emotionally, it creates a servant. The mechanics are simple: the subject drinks vampire blood three times, and then by some unknown process, they are wholly owned. With you, I don’t know what it did. I was actually hoping to get your insight on that. You said you were forced to drink his blood on not three, but eight occasions?”
He paused to look at Hunter earnestly, concern clear on his face.
“So, if you don’t mind, tell me what really happened.”
Hunter’s gaze remained fixed on Jacob the entire time he spoke. His grip gradually tightened around the beer bottle in his hand, but other than his rigid posture, it was the only outward sign of the anger he was wrestling with. Usually body language and expression told more than words, but not in this case with Jacob. Everything Jacob said was true, most of it Hunter already knew first hand.
Forcing the memories and his building anger aside, Hunter focused on the facts, his mind spinning through everything he knew and everything Jacob had told him. He had never heard of a ‘ghoul’ before—not a real one anyway. Perhaps learning more about them would give him insight on his own enslavement. One other thing stood out as it apparently had for Jacob: it normally only took three drinks?
Thinking back on his imprisonment, it made sense. He remembered the third time. Duke came in as usual and looked him over, the others stood back with proud grins on their faces. Then Duke turned to leave and gave the others a slight shake of his head, something that brought shock and confusion to their faces. At the time, it hadn’t meant much to Hunter. Now he knew that they had expected it to work and it hadn’t. He had been fighting it with every ounce of strength. Not that it had accomplished anything—three drinks, eight drinks—the result was the same.
Abruptly, the bottle in his hand shattered under his grip, glass and beer dropping onto his pant leg, the couch and the floor. Fresh red blood mixed with the liquid coating his fingers and palm where the glass sliced them, but Hunter didn’t even seem to notice. Instead, he looked back up at Jacob again. As much as he wanted to dismiss the conversation, he needed to know if Jacob had an answer any different from Xavier’s…
“Is it permanent?” he asked in that same cold tone, “Can it be reversed?”
The scent of blood from Hunter’s hand filled the room immediately, covering the smells of bacon and beer. Jacob had to consciously control himself from tackling the man. His muscles tensed and his posture changed. Hunter’s blood was truly unique. Even the smell had a warmth and energy to it that the cold bags in his fridge lacked. He turned away with a blush, then stood and moved to the kitchen to grab some paper towels for Hunter to clean himself and the floor with.
Just stepping away was a good idea. In his state, jumping him would be suicide.
He breathed for a moment, relaxing, and then looked back at Hunter with a stern, pensive expression.
“I don’t know. It seems to be permanent from the descriptions I was given, but I don’t think you’re a ‘standard’ case. Regardless, becoming a ‘ghoul’ doesn’t sound pleasant, or temporary. I actually plan on doing some research on the matter. I’ve recently made a few friends who I believe might be able to assist me in these matters.”
He handed Hunter the roll of paper towels and sat in the adjacent chair.
“So, do I know everything now? Is there anything you’ve left out?”
Of course he doesn’t know, Hunter thought to himself with no lack of frustration. Heaven forbid he bring up this topic for a productive reason.
By the time Hunter took the paper towels and wiped off his hand, his cuts had completely healed over as if they were never there. Then he moved on to soaking up the beer from his pants and putting the bigger shards of glass on the table.
Jacob certainly did not know everything, and Hunter almost said as much. He had proven himself to be somewhat useful, but not in the way of providing information about the vampires. Now that Hunter was no longer caged, it would be far more efficient for him to continue getting that information on his own. With a little luck, Jacob might be able to at least provide some scientific answers.
“No,” Hunter replied, knowing full well that it was a useless answer to Jacob’s combined questions. “Go get what you need to collect blood if you have it here.”
Hunter’s singular “no” was as cryptic as it was telling. This was deeply personal to him, and a source of great rage. More than the imprisonment, this was likely what had been eating away at him the last few weeks. Jacob wanted to know what else the man was feeling, and how else he had been treated. The problem was plainly legible on his face though – that sort of conversation would go nowhere fast.
The question now became simple: how did Jacob want to obtain Hunter’s blood? He definitely had a collection bag and needle for the sorts of occasions when he normally received blood, but he also was aching to find out what he tasted like. He reached to stick his pen in his mouth, and disappointed that he didn’t have one on hand at the moment, bit his lip instead.
Without another word, he left the room and briefly returned with the satchel he had taken with him to visit Hunter at Joe’s. He extracted an empty blood bag and collection needle, as well as some medical tape and set them on the coffee table in front of the werewolf.
“Here.” He said, with a little too much enthusiasm. He watched Hunter eagerly, waiting.
Hunter continued cleaning up while Jacob was gone, pleased that his diversion had worked. Why the vampire was so fascinated with what had been done to him, Hunter didn’t know. Of all the bizarre things a scientist could be curious about, it had to be that.
When Jacob returned to the living area, Hunter was returning from the kitchen, only he didn’t return to the couch. Instead, he checked a couple of closets until he found the vacuum and proceeded to clean up the rest of the glass. Once everything was back in order with the vacuum away, he returned to where Jacob was waiting for him and took off his button down shirt to give Jacob access to his veins.
His wrists bore thick rings of raw skin and cuts just above his hands, both were just like the one around his neck only in worse condition. His torso however had clearly taken the brunt of the torture. Deep blue and purple bruises covered his front, back and shoulders, particularly over his rib cage and stomach. The flesh there was swollen and even oddly pierced in a few places. It made the nearly-healed bruises on his muscular arms look like cheap body paint.
Tossing his shirt on his backpack, Hunter sat back down and presented his right arm to Jacob with his palm and the inside of his arm up. He still wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of parting with any of his blood, but it was a worth-while price for not being chained and starving any more.
Jacob sat down on the couch next to Hunter, where he had clearly prepared his right arm. Jacob wasn’t particularly interested in his arms for the moment though, and instead examined his chest and shoulders with some alarm. After pulling on some gloves, he ran his fingers lightly over the wounds Hunter’s imprisonment had made, gently probing them to see how far they had healed. It was not pretty. There were places where fractures in his ribs had obviously pierced the skin, and the bruises throughout his pectorals and abdominals were incredibly deep. It gave the phrase ‘beat to hell’ an entirely new and graphic meaning. Additionally, he had still-raw flesh where the bindings had cuffed his wrists. All in all, he was in bad shape.
I suppose two weeks of torture would do that.
Back and forth, Jacob considered asking Hunter to let him wrap his chest. He figured he would have done it himself if he thought he needed it. The fact that he could even breathe – let alone climb the side of a tower – was a medical mystery. Regardless, he must have been in pain. It occurred to Jacob that Hunter might ask for more morphine.
“Don’t you think you should do something about these broken ribs?” His tone was a bit like a nagging mother, but his question was still rhetorical. He clearly did not expect Hunter to reply.
Besides the glaring damage, Jacob was surprised at the lack of scars from the work from when they had met the month prior. Upon close examination, he realized that they hadn’t vanished, but simply had healed incredibly quick. The scars were nearly invisible.
That’s satisfying. He might give credit to his physiology, but good scars are a sign of good stitching.
Returning to the matter at hand, Jacob noted with admiration at how apparent the veins in Hunter’s arms were. Hemophilia aside, he was a medical professional. He’d always been appreciative of easy-to-access veins, and Hunter’s were as easy as they came. Slipping the needle into the skin quickly and efficiently, he smiled as it climbed the tube and then descended down into the bag.
Hunter’s breath caught a couple of times, but otherwise he tolerated Jacob pawing at his injuries without protest. It was actually somewhat reassuring that the doctor in Jacob took president over his blood lust. Despite the fact that Jacob didn’t wait for him to reply about treating the broken ribs, Hunter inwardly agreed that wrapping them would be good now that he had the opportunity to do so. It wouldn’t do much for his recovery—he’d learned from experience that there wasn’t anything that could be done for broken ribs other than loosely bind them for comfort—but why not?
He watched Jacob start his blood collection and opened his second beer.
“So, tell me about yourself, Hunter. Any family?” Jacob asked.
Hunter finished his swallow as he lowered the bottle to his lap and gave Jacob a blank stare. Family? He’s really starting this conversation? Hunter had strong suspicions that Jacob had looked into his background enough to have read his criminal background. Was he purposefully ignoring the fact that Hunter had been convicted for murdering his foster family? Regardless, it wasn’t like they were the only family he had.
“Probably,” Hunter replied flatly. “Somewhere.”
“I see,” Jacob said, after a pause.
He could see as he continued examining Hunter that he was in pain. Morphine might be a bit excessive as a remedy, but minimally, some bandages would be worthwhile. He imagined for everything that Hunter had been through a bit of comfort would be at least a little attractive.
When Hunter responded, Jacob realized his question was disappointingly mundane. Bedside manner being what it is, asking was as much a matter of habit for him as it was genuine curiosity. Either way, Hunter’s terse response was enough cause for him to abandon this line of questioning for now. If he didn’t want to get into his background, he didn’t have to.
Still, he had questions. “I didn’t mean any offense. You always ask me questions, so I figured I’d ask you some, and that seemed less offensive than others. How about this: how are werewolves made?”
He produced some medical tape and few rolls of elastic bandaging from his bag, and gestured to Hunter’s ribs. “May I?”
Hunter was a little surprised by Jacob’s disappointment in his answer. Not only was it an honest one, but it had been quite telling in Hunter’s opinion. Still, he wasn’t going to object to the change in subject either.
“With a dick and a pussy, same as any other mammal—or so I was told,” he answered. Then he shook his in response to the bandages and took another drink. There was no point in Jacob wrapping him up yet—he very much intended to shower.
Your parents were werewolves then – or at least one was. Given the general ostracization of supernaturals, that means you probably didn’t come from a ‘traditional’ home. That explains some of your response, at least.
Despite his brusque word choice, Jacob liked Hunter’s response. He would have also preferred a chance to wrap Hunter’s bandages, but apparently he wasn’t interested. "I see.“ He replied. ”So, no being bitten or anything? It’s not obviously viral then? Interesting."
If it isn’t viral, then it might be some other form of infection: Amoebic, bacterial, or even fungal. If not an infection, it could be some sort of genetic condition. Something recessive, maybe. But then, what about child birth?
"You know, I haven’t heard of child werewolves. Does it manifest at puberty, or is there some external trigger that catalyzes it?"
Jacob was already jumping to premature conclusions. Hunter could only guess how many unvoiced assumptions he had made in the space of fifteen seconds.
“I didn’t say anything about not being bitten,” Hunter corrected. “And I don’t know if it’s viral—nobody has said that it isn’t. Apparently most of the time our First Change is expedited being bitten by another of our kind. But it doesn’t make us what we are or even specifically trigger it. I wasn’t bitten. I was in OSP.”
Hunter took another drink of beer before he continued. “They say there’s no way to tell one of us from a human before a month prior to the First Change. For all intents and purposes, we are human until one day we’re not.”
Jacob frowned at Hunter’s response.
Being bitten by a werewolf catalyzes but doesn’t trigger the transformation? The condition is passed partially by genetics? This is starting to sound like fantasy. However, just because I don’t understand the mechanism doesn’t mean there isn’t one. A retrovirus alters existing genetic code to a specific value. A retrovirus – transmitted via saliva or air – could theoretically cause any number of physical changes if it modified the genetic code enough and in the right ways. Combine that with puberty triggering glandular changes and an existing genetic marker that a virus looks for means there could be a very feasible reason for the werewolf condition. It might also be an avenue of exploration when testing Hunter’s blood, and could even be connected to vampirism.
Jacob reached for some thin gauze pads and medical tape from his satchel, then gestured to Hunter’s wrists.
“What does it feel like, transforming like that? Do you remain aware?”
Glancing at the collection bag, Hunter estimated there to be about a pint of his blood in it. A pint was all he promised, so it was all Jacob was going to get.
“You ask a lot of questions.”
He pulled the needle out of his arm and tied a knot in the tubing to keep it from draining. Not the conventional method, but it worked. Normally, a good amount of pressure would have to be applied to a vein to keep it from bleeding everywhere after a needle was pulled, but Hunter’s healed almost instantly and only a single large drop remained on his skin. He took the gauze from Jacob to dab up the drop, and then tossed it on the table before sliding back into the couch. He made no acknowledgment to Jacob’s offer to wrap his wrists.
“By the way, I wouldn’t drink that if I were you,” he said.
Jacob frowned as Hunter tied off his collection kit. He wanted more blood, but a pint was what he was promised. The action wasn’t accidental though. He’s trying to distract me. He’s doing a good job. I won’t give up that easily, though.
“I ask a lot of questions, and you don’t answer any. We’re a regular Odd Couple.”
I’ve already considered the dangers of drinking his blood. The other vampires didn’t, and the ones who did I saw get ripped apart by his more feral form. I don’t know what it does, but it’s probably bad. Even if it does smell… delicious.
“Don’t worry about the blood. If it’s not already obvious, I can contain myself. So, about those transformations… what happens? Like, what do you feel when it happens? Does it hurt?” Seriously? He’s not going to ask me about what could happen to him if he drinks my blood, but he’s going to ask what my shapeshifting feels like?
Hunter wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or impressed by the man’s persistence.
“The First Change hurt.” An unqualified understatement. “Now it only hurts if I’m injured—not unexpected from broken bones being moved I suppose. As for the the rest of what happens… it’s different almost every time. It depends on which form I assume, whether or not I assume it voluntarily and how much control I maintain.”
He took another drink of beer and pointed to the blood bag. “Doesn’t that need to be refrigerated?”
“I suppose it does,” Jacob replied. He took the bag over to the refrigerator, and set it on the shelf. He didn’t see much reason to hide it now – it wasn’t going to stay long. He had plans for it tomorrow.
Finally, this conversation is going somewhere. It’s still like pulling teeth, but at least I’m getting something. He seems to respond better to less personal and more pragmatic questions. I’ll need to keep using that.
“You said ‘which form’ – how many others are there? What are they like?”
Inwardly, Jacob was proud that Hunter was finally opening up – even just a little – about the truth of things. It was a bit of a milestone for them.
For all the death he’s created, there’s still a person in there somewhere.
Hunter upended his beer, swallowing the last of it. Then he held up the empty bottle.
“Tweny Questions is done,” he said and set the bottle on the table as he got to his feet.
He pulled out a plastic grocery bag from his backpack and proceeded to open the items inside. Toothbrush, toothpaste, disposable razors, travel size shampoo, soap, a shower sponge. He tossed the boxes and wrappings on the couch and put the items in a simple black toiletry bag after pulling the price tag off of it.
“I guess it is.” Jacob said, sighing with only a little drama.
As he thought about the implications of what Hunter had said prior to closing shop, he stared into space. It took a moment for Jacob to process what was happening in front of him.
He actually has the ability to be subtle… amazing.
He stood up and went to the bathroom to check it out. He hadn’t had a guest use his bathroom since coming to Portland, it occurred to him, and so he felt the need to clean up a bit. He tossed a small pile of cotton oars into the trash, checked the roll of toilet paper, and wiped down the mirror with a tissue.
“You can use the towels in the cupboard on the left of the sink if you need.” He called out, from within the bathroom.
There was nothing subtle about Hunter’s actions. He intended to use Jacob’s shower—the fact that it hadn’t been formally offered was immaterial. Once he had his toiletry bag assembled, he pulled out a change of clothing and the coiled silver chain and collar that he had been carrying around. Then he walked over toward the bathroom and stopped outside of it.
“I need the collar removed and the chain divided into six pieces,” he stated and held it out to Jacob. It wasn’t polished, so it didn’t look like pure silver, and the ease with which Hunter held it out with one arm made it look more like thirty ounces rather than almost thirty pounds.
As Jacob accepted the chain and collar from Hunter, he was somewhat surprised by its mass. Hunter’s casual handling of it had produced the illusion that it wasn’t quite so bad, and so the weight caught Jacob off-guard. This thing is heavy. He had this around his neck? What was once a burden is now a blessing. That sounds poetic – and familiar.
Stepping out of the bathroom, chain in hand, Jacob didn’t have to wonder hard about what he was going to do with it. He set it on the kitchen counter before returning. “I’ve got a bench elsewhere I can take it apart at. Are you just going to sell it, or do you have other plans for this massive amount of silver? – actually, never mind. As you say, twenty questions is over, and it doesn’t matter.”
The bathroom was stylish, and two-tiered: The toilet, tiled standing shower, and deep copper-lined tub were raised on a basalt stone platform, a single step above the oak wood flooring where the sink and linen closets were. Despite Jacob’s general preferences towards privacy – this bathroom was open. No curtains, no facades, nothing but a single glass door on the standing shower to keep the water in. Even so, the bathroom was probably his favorite room for how rich and natural it felt. He imagined Hunter would not give a single shit about it. He set a particularly fluffy white towel on the counter top for him anyhow.
“Try to not get water on the wood floor, if you can.” He said, stooping to toss some loose tissues into the wastebasket.
Just give me a couple of moments to clean this place up.
Hunter entered the bathroom behind Jacob and paused to look around. Toilet, sink, shower… He hated that he had been reduced to feeling privileged to have them. He also didn’t gave a crap about the mess. Walking further in, he set his toiletry bag down next to the towel Jacob had set out for him and kicked his shoes off.
“Segmenting the silver doesn’t have to be a professional job,” he said. “It’ll sell just as well if you just break it apart.”
He dropped his pants and underwear together, pulling them off with his socks and tossing the lot on his shoes. He was now completely naked and obviously didn’t have a single care that Jacob was still in the room, or even that the door was still open. Bruises covers his thighs and legs from all sides and his ankles had raw cuts in his skin that matched his wrists. He turned on the shower and began pulling items out of his bag while he waited for it to get hot.
“Okay. Like I said, I think I’ve got a bench I can take it apart at. It might take me a day or two to get it to you though.”
Jacob noticed out of the corner of his eye that Hunter was undressing, but it didn’t surprise him all that much. That’s Hunter for ya.
As he turned to leave, he noticed the deep, mottled bruises on Hunter’s legs and abdomen. A quick glance was enough for Jacob to see exactly how beaten he had been. The age of some of the bruises indicated that he had been beaten on a regular basis while he was incarcerated. Flatly, it amazed Jacob that the werewolf could even stand.
Even though he’s a werewolf, there’s nothing else abnormal about him that I can see. Hair length and density are good, no bone protrusions or deformations, and skin coloration is fine. Except for a few prison tattoos, he looks completely normal …or at least human. I think I’ll ask him if he wants any bandaging after he’s done showering.
Jacob’s looking lingered for another moment while he thought, his mouth unconsciously agape.
Hunter was aware of Jacob’s eyes, but he didn’t pay it much notice at first. He was more annoyed that the vampire was being so dense about his silver.
“I want it today,” he stated flatly and moved over to stand in front of the toilet. “Why can’t you just pull it apart?”
He was just about to start taking his piss when he realized that Jacob was staring. In fact, he wasn’t just staring; his eyes were roaming all kinds of places on Hunter’s body with a particularly distracted expression on his face.
Hunter’s entire stance and demeanor immediately changed aggressively. His posture stiffened, his eyes taking on a dangerous level of hostility. Without hesitation, he closed the distance between himself and Jacob, grabbing the smaller man by the front of his robe. With one hand, he effortlessly raised him up to his eye level and pinned him against the wall with a glare. He could have just as easily pushed Jacob straight through the wall, but he kept his strength in check.
“Is there a problem?” he demanded, staring Jacob down with a level of intimidation that rivaled their first meeting. His eyes were almost black in their anger, and yet he was perfectly calm, perfectly in control. Perfectly ready to beat the undead shit out of the punk who was walking a very thin line.
When Hunter rushed up to Jacob, he held himself still in fear. A series of emotions played across his face as Hunter pinned him to the wall: First fear, then anger, then confusion, and then a brief smile. His eyes still betrayed a fear of death, one he couldn’t completely contain. He didn’t say anything for a few seconds.
“No problem at all. This was a misunderstanding, on both our parts. I was checking out your wounds. It didn’t occur to me that you might get all ‘raging inmate’ on me. Tell you what, you put me down, and I’ll forget that you insulted me like that.”
The only part of your body I’m interested in is your blood.
Hunter kept Jacob where he was for a few seconds longer just to make sure his point was crystal clear. He knew it was; the fear rolling off of Jacob in waves like the steam coming from the shower was even more noticeable in his scent than in his expression. It was a level of fear that Hunter was quite positive would have the desired affect: make Jacob think twice before ever doing that again.
“If we were inmates, you’d be in fetal position on the floor hoping that whoever is on duty in the infirmary hasn’t ‘accidentally’ misplaced the keys to the narcotics cabinet.” Hunter’s tone was cold, but his words were chilling not because they were intended as a threat, but because they were true. Hunter had used a significant amount of restraint on Jacob just now, and prison life was not to be taken lightly.
He set Jacob down on his feet and took half a step back to reestablish personal space before turning back to the toilet to do his business.
“You were saying?”
“I wasn’t, actually,” Jacob replied slowly.
He stood up and straightened his robe out a bit, and examined the mirror to be sure it hadn’t been cracked or warped.
“But I will say something now. You need to learn a few things: We aren’t in a prison. We aren’t inmates. Sure, you could kill me if you wanted, but doing so wouldn’t only prove them right. I think even this feral part of you understands that you want my help, and you want me on your side.”
Jacob walked out of the bathroom, and then turned back to the naked werewolf. There was no fear or anger in his face now. He looked gaunt – even haunted – by something elsewhere.
“Any other vampire would take this very personally. They would see you killed – or worse. You’re lucky you found the one who didn’t – who won’t. Or did you forget that I’ve already gone to great lengths to assist you?”
Jacob considered appending a “Now get out of my house,” to the end of the that, except that he knew Hunter would unlikely be welcome anywhere else. He also knew that whatever was going through his mind right now was largely an emotional reaction to Hunter’s misunderstanding.
“Now, to answer your earlier question, I can’t pull apart the silver chain because it’s a silver fucking chain. I’m not any stronger than a normal man, vampire or not. Like I said, I have a bench that I can cut it at, but I can only get it to you after nightfall.”
I need to learn to anticipate his reactions better. He seems unable or unwilling to contain his prison-learned reactions. I’ve seen this twice now. He must be having difficulties adapting to domestic life.
As he turned to shut the bathroom door, Jacob wondered idly if Hunter would ever improve, if the effort he was putting into the relationship would ever be returned.
Hunter tolerated Jacob’s preaching. Barely. The man was so ignorant it was painful. To stand there and listen to him saying he had a few things to learn?
Hunter wasn’t entirely sure why Jacob was claiming to have been insulted, but the fact that he was only proved that Jacob didn’t truly understand what had happened.
Jacob’s excuse for staring the way he had was bullshit—Hunter’s wounds were many but nothing that required more than a glance to diagnose. Hunter very much suspected that it was either the vampire or the scientist in Jacob that had been doing the staring. We’re not in a goddamn doctor’s office or laboratory either, he wanted to retort to Jacob’s hypocritical statement about not being in prison.
Jacob’s understanding of Hunter’s need of his help was as laughable as his claim to know anything about the other vampires. By his own confession, Jacob didn’t know more than five vampires, all of which he’d only met in recent days. And he was supposed to be an expert on their behavior? Did he even know how different he was from all of the others? As of right now, Jacob’s usefulness to him was minimal at best. He was willing to help, which was only significant because he was almost the only one.
All of this, Hunter kept silently to himself while Jacob preached on. As liberating as it might feel to explain the many ways in which Jacob didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, it was not worth Hunter’s time or effort.
Finished peeing, Hunter flushed the toilet and turned to face Jacob. “The other vampires you’ve met—how do they refer to me?” he asked before Jacob closed the door. He knew it would come across as an odd, random question, but he hoped that Jacob would at least have the awareness to deduce that Hunter was asking for a specific purpose.
Jacob was almost satisfied, but Hunter’s question left him quizzical. He sounded like he was about to make a point, and that worried Jacob.
“They call you Hunter,” he said after a cautious pause.
Play beta. Play beta. Remember: he thinks he’s better than you. You’ve got to let him have that illusion, or else he’s going to go wild. He only just escaped last night, so cut him some slack.
“Why do you ask?”
Just ‘Hunter’. The preacher claiming that any other vampire would have taken Hunter’s hostility personally and wanted to kill him for it still didn’t know Hunter’s very public status among the Kindred.
Dog. Pet. Property.
No other vampire in the city respected Hunter enough to take aggression from an aggressive animal personally. Most would jump at the opportunity to kill him on principle if they could, but very few had the balls much less authority to try.
Hunter had made a point: Jacob was talking out his ass and didn’t know shit. Whether Jacob would figure that out someday or not was up to him.
“The only vampire who has reason to take anything I’ve done personally and see me killed or worse is Duke,” Hunter stated and stepped under the shower spray. The image of Hobo’s going up in a giant ball of flame brought a slight smile to Hunter’s lips. Good times.
Jacob furrowed his brow and brought the tip of his thumb beneath his teeth has he considered Hunter’s words. Then, realization played across his face as Hunter stepped into the shower. He turned away, positioning himself diplomatically at the door.
Don’t want another incident…
Leaning with his back up against the doorframe, Jacob replied:
“That doesn’t make any sense. When we first met, you could barely contain yourself from attacking me. Also, the reactions I’ve received from other vampires – and even what I’ve heard from the mouth of my own Priscus has at least partially pitted werewolves against vampires. I’ve seen them openly attack you. I saw you rip through a half dozen of them at the docks. I mean, admittedly, I’m new to this vampire thing, but I’d say that’s pretty personal by the sounds of it. Then there’s the people I’ve spoke with. None of them have said it outright, but you can hear it in their words, see it in their body language – they’re afraid of you. All of them are afraid of you.”
Jacob furrowed his brow in concentration with a brief pause.
“Yet here you are, saying that Duke is the only one who should want to kill you? What _exactly_ did you do him?”
Hunter’s responses to Jacob’s statements were simple and private. There’s a difference between preparing to defend myself and containing myself from attacking. Werewolves pitted against vampires is not personal. I ripped through half a dozen of them because THEY attacked ME. They should be afraid of me, but again, they started this, THEY made this personal, not me.
Hunter’s thoughts were interrupted when he heard Jacob feigning innocence about Hobo’s and he turned his head to look at him with a slight scowl. As soon as he saw Jacob’s honest expression, however, the scowl disappeared, slowly replaced by an uncharacteristic level of bewilderment.
Is he serious? Surely he’s trying to screw with me. Does he not know? How could he not? Holy shit, how does he not know!? He couldn’t have been more than a few blocks away! It was a loud, bright explosion! There’s still got to be columns of smoke in the sky! Not that Jacob could look out to see it.
For reasons even Hunter couldn’t fully explain, he smiled and then actually broke into hearty laughter. It had been a long time since Hunter had chuckled much less laughed so openly, but the combination of his glorious triumph over Duke and Jacob’s complete ignorance of it was positively hilarious. He was laughing so hard he had to bring a hand up to brace his broken ribs.
Well, at least he’s not threatening me again.
Jacob tried to interpret Hunter’s laughter. It wasn’t boastful, or arrogant, or derisive. He was laughing at a joke. There was very much a joke in here, but he couldn’t piece it together.
He thought back to all the times Hunter had spoken of Duke. There was nothing to indicate Duke’s rationality. Jacob had always assumed Duke simply wanted a pet werewolf. Did their history go back further than that? Or was there something more recent at play. Simply put, there wasn’t enough information to make a judgement on the matter.
“Care to clue me in?” he said finally, sheepishly.
It was liberating. Therapeutic even. It hurt like a bitch, yet it felt wonderful. It wasn’t Jacob he was laughing at, it was Duke. He was enjoying his victory, and enjoying his enjoyment.
Jacob’s question only made him laugh more. He still couldn’t believe Jacob had missed the giant fireball in the sky.
“No,” he said, now leaning against the shower wall. He was still holding his ribs and trying to catch his breath. He rested his head back against the tile too, still smiling in his own private amusement. “No, you’ll find out soon enough.”
In fact, Hunter was quite sure that telling Jacob would simply ruin the moment. He doubted that Jacob would understand much less approve.
Jacob was slightly worried at Hunter’s response.
What exactly have I gotten myself into?
He wanted to consider the possibilities, but decided that trying to make any assumptions at this point would only embarrass him further. Whatever it was that had pulled Hunter’s cord wasn’t worth spoiling with idle guesses.
“I… I’ll take your word for it. Enjoy the shower,” he said, turning away. Shutting the door behind him, he paused before heading back to his room for the night.
Does he want me to do something with that damn chain or not? I guess he’ll take it when he leaves in the morning if he doesn’t.
With that thought completed, Jacob walked to his bedroom and closed the door.
Hunter’s euphoria didn’t last long after Jacob left. As much as he enjoyed his victory, reality was quick to return and quick to remind him that it was only a small battle he had won. He had escaped, he had gotten a nice bit of revenge and now he was lounging in a hot shower…
But he was not free.
His mind was no longer his own.
He finished his shower and got dressed. He tidied up the mess he had made throughout the condo, put his silver chain back in his backpack and gathered his things. Figures that the two things I came here for are the two things I didn’t get. At least I got food and a shower.
On the way to the balcony door, Hunter paused and considered the TV. Picking up the remote, he turned on the news, keeping the volume turned down. Naturally, the explosion was the top story. Live morning reports of the smoking remnants of Hobo’s, police, fire engines, media, bomb squads and interviews were intermixed with last night’s footage of the raging inferno. Investigations were already underway, but there was no official casualty report yet.
Overall, it wasn’t the smartest move to have made, and Hunter knew it. But given the chance to do it again? Absolutely.
He turned the TV back off and slipped out the balcony door the way he had come in. The sun was up. It was the first time he’d seen it in almost three weeks. Reaching into his backpack, he sat down in one of the patio chairs and enjoyed a leisurely smoke. The rest of his day could wait a few more minutes.