The elevator ride to the fourteenth floor was agonising. Quin had passed out somewhere between the subway station and the car park and it was like carrying dead weight. Of course, that was exactly what it was. Cathrinís left shoulder and right forearm were aching dully from the bite wounds and it made supporting the vampire and unlocking her front door an almost impossible task. But she managed and they stumbled inside. Charlie helped Cathrin lay the unconscious vampire on the couch. She told her trainee to go and get the first aid kit from the bathroom while she painfully took off her jacket. Her injuries were catching up with her now that the adrenaline rush was gone. Her head hurt, so did her shoulder and other arm. She peeled away the bloodstained fabric of her shirt away from her right forearm as she rolled up her sleave. There were two small tears on her skin, bleeding slowly but steadily. Charlie returned with the first aid kit just as she was about to bleed on the carpet.
"Bring it into the kitchen." she told him and hurried into her kitchenette.
The blood hit the stainless steel sink solidly. She turned on the tap and began to wash away most of the blood from her arm. She used a tea-towel to dry her skin around the wound, which was still bleeding.
"What did Quin say to that other vampire?" Charlie asked, handing her antiseptic cream and gauze.
"When?" she asked and flinched as the cold cream touched the wound.
"Before she shot him." he replied.
"He said ĎNeiv mar Tarvash, Katrina, elah Nathaniel sim koralan priva.í" she told him. His blond eyebrows drew together.
"And that meansó?" he asked. She sighed and began to bandaged gauze over the bite.
"It means ĎLeave my Servant, Katrina, or else Nathaniel will be displeased with you.í" she said. "And by her reaction, Iíd say that Nathaniel isnít very nice when heís displeased."
"How come you now their language?" Charlie said.
"It comes from having messed with the oldest and the meanest, the ones who originally spoke it." she said through clenched teeth and taped down the bandage. "Itís their original tongue, so in order to communicate, I learned."
"Can you teach me?" he asked hopefully.
"Maybe, but thereís not much use. Itís a dead language, excuse the pun, like Latin." she said and carefully peeled her shirt away from her left shoulder. The bite was more like two shallow scratches, nothing serious but hurt like Hell. "Can you drive?" she asked, carefully wiping away the blood from her shoulder.
"Of course." he said in a slightly offended tone. She pointed to her jacket hanging on the back of an armchair.
"Take my car keys, go home. Fuck your girlfriend or boyfriend. Thank God youíre alive. Just be here by ten tomorrow morning." she told him. He gave her a shocked look.
"What?" he asked in disbelief.
"You heard me." she said. "Go home. I need to talk to Quin and yank those bullets out of him. It wonít be pretty and I donít want you hanging around."
He looked at her for a few moments, then at the unconscious vampire on her couch. She could almost see the gears clicking over in his head.
"He sent you those roses, didnít he?" Charlie asked.
"Rule number one, remember?" she warned. He managed to smile.
"Now thereís something I never though could happen. A hunter and a vampire. Awfully poetic." he said.
"Go home, Charlie, and stop it! I donít care if you think itís poetic. The truth is, there is no it or us. Heís a vampire, Iím a hunter and one day, weíll probably kill each other. Itís what we do. Nothing else." she said sternly.
"Thatís not what Martyís been saying." he retorted. She glared at him.
"Donít listen to Martyís shit. He wouldnít be able to tell his left shoe from his right if they werenít labelled. And heís hated me since the day we met. If you were a trainee a few years ago, you should have heard what he was saying about me. Quin just gives him and excuse to mouth off." she told him. "Now, donít bring up either of those things again. Youíre here to learn, not gossip."
His smile faded and he sighed. "Fair enough. Bust before I go, I think that you should know what Martyís been saying. He calls you a traitor, a coffin warmer. Says that youíre Quinís whore. Calls him the Devil though. And it gets worse."
"Iíll be sure to kick Martyís arse the next time I see him. Maybe pound some sense into him." she muttered, taping gauze over the bite on her shoulder.
"Doesnít it bother you that heís making you the butt of everything?" he asked.
"Yeah, it does, which is why Iím going to kick his arse. I thought I told you to go home. Repeatedly." she said, glaring at him again.
"You did, you did. Iím going. Thanks for letting me borrow your car." he said, picking her car keys out of her jacket.
"Be here by ten sharp." she told him as he was leaving. He said nothing but gave her a mock salute. With Charlie gone, she was now left with an unconscious vampire on her couch. Anger had dulled the thudding in her head. Marty was going to be in serous trouble the next time she saw him. Cathrin changed her shirt before ferreting around in a miscellaneous draw for a pair of pliers. Then she returned to the kitchenette and took a glass from the cupboard. Thus armed, she entered the living room and set the pliers and glass on the coffee table.
Quin looked a picture of tranquillity. Other than the bullet holes in his black shirt, the only indication that he had been in a fight was his hair being a little mussed. She drew a footstool up beside the couch and sat down. His face was completely relaxed, looking like he was asleep. He was indeed beautiful, unearthly, but beautiful. His bone structure was clearly defined yet delicate, his nose straight, face clean shaven. He had the barest of curves upon his lips that gave her the impression that he was sleeping, only she knew better. She was reluctant to wake him, to shatter his peace, but she needed to talk to him.
"Hey, Matthew, wakey, wakey." she told him and patted his smooth, pale cheek. His response was the barest movement of facial muscles, his eyebrows drawing together in a small frown before melting back into his blissful expression, a soft sigh escaping his lips. She touched his lower lip before cautiously sliding her right index finger into his mouth. She found an upper canine and traced her fingertip to the end of the tooth. Unlike in a lot of books and movies, his fangs were delicately curved down into a fine, needle sharp point. She pressed her fingertip onto that sharp point and a quick pain went through her finger. After a few moments, she felt his tongue on her fingertip and a slight shudder went through him. He opened his eyes, muttering "What theó?" though it was a little muffled because of her finger in his mouth. His dark eyes travelled up her arm to her face as he frowned. Then he took her hand from his mouth.
"What do you think youíre doing?" he asked softly, his voice barely working.
"Waking you up. Apparently, it worked." she replied and wiped her finger on her pants leg before looking at it. There was now a small, pink dent on her fingertip, no blood at all. "You healed it?" she asked, examining her fingertip.
"In a way. Coagulant in our saliva." he said and tried to sit, his face contorting in pain and he fell back upon the couch. "And I still have five bullets in me. The least you could do would be to take them out before you woke me up."
"If youíre going to be like this, Iíll let you pull them out yourself." she snapped. The look he gave her was one of absolute helplessness.
"Surely you wouldnít be so cruel?" he asked quietly and wet his lips.
"Do you want an answer?" she asked in return.
"No." he replied. "I never like your replies to such questions."
"Thereís a lesson in that, donít ask such questions. Now, off with that shirt." she told him. The vampire smiled cockily.
"Never thought Iíd hear you say those words." he said in a pleased tone.
"To pull out those bullets. Keep this up and youíll be looking for a new servant. Iíll quit if youíre not careful." she threatened.
He became serious quickly. "Well, I canít do this on my own. Youíll have to do it."
Cathrin sighed angrily. "The least you could do is not show how much youíre enjoying this." she muttered and began unbuttoning his shirt.
"I canít help it if I enjoy being undressed by an attractive woman." he said, his voice smiling for him. "And besides, neither of us is hating it."
She couldnít help but blush as she opened his shirt to reveal his bullet-ridden torso. There wasnít any use in arguing with him, he was right, even though she would never admit it out loud. It wasnít proper for a hunter to be attracted to a vampire, no matter how beautiful he was.
"Well, Katrina has an eye for pain." she said as calmly as she could manage. There was a bullet wound on his stomach, a couple in fleshy places and a couple that must have hit rib considering that he was still breathing and not a pile of ash. He looked at her warily as she picked up the needle-nosed pliers. "Do you want me to knock you out while I pull them out?" she offered.
"Not after all the effort you went to waking me up. I can handle pain well. Iíve been through worse." he said and pursed his lips.
"One day youíll have to tell me about that." she said and carefully touched the edge of the wound on his stomach.
"Why on earth do you want to know?" he asked and winced.
"Iím a writer, remember? It might come in handy to know someone who has seen history, saves the time of looking it up." she said absently. "Brace yourself."
She probed the pliers into the wound, taking hold of the base of the bullet and carefully pulling it out of him. He clenched his hands into the cushions of the couch and turned an unhealthy shade of white, strangled sounds coming from his throat.
"For crying out loud, cry out loud. It has to hurt getting these pulled out of you, Charlieís not around and the neighbours are at work. You donít have to be so damn polite about it." she told him as the wound closed over, quickly returning to smooth, pale vampiric flesh. She turned and let the twisted lump of metal fall into the glass with a silvery clink.
"WhatÖdo you put on these things?" he asked through clenched teeth. "Bullets donít hurt this much!"
"Silver plated, wood tipped and blessed for that extra special touch. Standard ammo for a hunter." she muttered and sighed. "You just have to be the perfect gentleman all the time, donít you? Every womanís dream man."
"Not yours apparently." he retorted. She poked a wound near his side and he let out a pained yowl.
"You deserved that. You know the rules, hunter," she pointed to herself. "Vampire," she poked him in the side again. "Vampire dust, hunter happy. Thatís the only way our species are supposed to mix."
"Since when did you pay attention to the rules for anything?" he asked, recovering quickly.
"Since you slithered into my life." she replied. The next fifteen minutes were devoid of conversation or any noise for that matter, save for the pained yowls the vampire let out whenever she pulled out a bullet. At the end of that time, there were five bloodied, twisted lumps of metal and wood in the glass on the coffee table. Quin merely lay there on the couch, very pale now, but at least intact.
"You know," he said hoarsely, finally breaking the silence. "You should let me heal those bitesÖ"
"No, Iíll be fine on my own." she told him.
"You really know how to ruin a vampireís hopes." he said and frowned as he sat, fingering a bullet hole on his shirt. "You pay a small fortune for a shirtÖitís criminal. It should be bulletproof for the price I paid. I should send the bill to Katrina." he muttered.
"I doubt sheíd pay it." Cathrin murmured. "Something tells me she doesnít particularly care for your vanity."
He smiled a very charming smile, but it slipped and turned crooked, flashing a fang as he began to button the shirt. "I rather think you might be right. Killing me seems to be a priority over my shirt."
"Whoís Nathaniel?" she asked. His face went suddenly very blank, draining to an unhealthy ashen colour and he stopped buttoning. There was an alien expression upon his handsome features, one she thought she would never see on a creature such as himself.
He was actually afraid of something. "Someone you never want the chance to lay eyes upon. Someone you should avoid like the plague."
"Like Iíve been trying to avoid you?" she asked. He shook his head, his black hair flopping over his brow.
"No. You have to do better than that to escape him. Leave Darling Cove now and you just might make it." he said quickly, quietly.
"I have no intention of leaving. You mean to say that Nathaniel is as bad as you?" she said and raised her eyebrows. He pursed his lips, a little colour returning to his face.
"No. Worse than me. You might not think it possible, but he is a thousand times worse than I, Andrews or Calahan." he said and gave her a very pained, dark eyed look. "You canít just fight him like any other vampireóyou or your hunter friends."
"I wasnít planning on fighting him. I was planning on annihilating him for what he did to Larry." she said. He suddenly took hold of her right hand and pressed it to his left side. She could feel the twisted scar on his skin, the scar of a stake narrowly missing his heart and incinerating him. It was the only thing that marred his beauty. It was a constant reminder to him that he wasnít as immortal as his kind liked to think.
"Nathaniel did that. He did it for pleasure, just to see me die." he said solemnly. "But youíre technically not dead." she said, pulling her hand free of his vice-like grip. "Yes I am. I was human when he did it." he hissed, unable to meet her eyes any more. "I twisted out of the way, the stake going into my side, but he kept driving it into me, no matter how much I struggled and tried to get away. He had his fun twisting it in me when I was too weak to fight any more. I nearly died from blood loss. Then Andrews came along and turned me, all the while I had the stake in my side."
She was at a loss for words. It wasnít everyday a vampire told someone how they died, let alone a Lord vampire to a hunter. "Iím sorry," she managed to choke out, not sure what else to say.
"Donít be. Youíre probably secretly glad I got a stake through me." he said harshly. She slapped him hard in the left cheek Hard enough to jar her wounded forearm and raise a pink mark on his pale skin. His head snapped to one side and he gingerly touched his cheek. "What was that for?" he asked as the pink rapidly faced from his face.
"I donít appreciate you making assumptions about me like that. Do you think that if I were glad about you getting a stake through you, that I would help you today? Or on the Night of Challenge?" she said angrily. Last month, the vampire had nearly died after being forced off a cliff. If she hadnít found him, he would be ash and she would also be dead. Confusion swept over his features, but he said nothing for the longest time.
"I should probably go now." he said finally, finishing buttoning his shirt and stood, drawing the long coat about him to cover his ruined shirt.
"Youíre not going anywhere. Youíre weak, itís a sunny day, three hours past midday, youíll frizzle." she said and stood also.
"I thought I was the one who gave the orders." he said, giving her a black look.
"Tough. Iím in a shitty mood, so donít mess with me. A close friend is dead, Iíve had the crap bashed out of me, nearly raped, got myself a trainee and I have to deal with you being difficult." she said, fuming, her anger beginning to get the best of her. It wouldnít be so hard to put up with the vampire if only he wouldnít be so typical of his kind. Quin ignored her and went striding toward the door. And froze, the toes of his shoes on the edge of a slanting ray of sunlight. It was the only thing standing between him and the door and he stood like it was a brick wall. He balled his hands into fists and turned back to her, his mouth a hard line as he pursed his lips.
"All right, it looks as though I am staying for a short while." he said in a very measured voice and hung his head, shaking it. "Why didnít you just leave me behind?"
"Because as much as I hate to admit it, you are a friend and I am very loyal to friends. If they need help, I will give it if I can. In this case, I could help so I did." she said with a crooked smile. "And besides, if you die, Iíll be hunted down, since youíre alive, so to speak, I still am being hunted down, but at least you can do something to help me rectify that situation."
The vampire raised his head. "Do you want me to kill you now or at nightfall? That would be the best way to solve the problem."
"Maybe Iíll get to him first." she said with a shrug and winced as pain shot through her shoulder.
"You wonít!" he told her almost desperately. "Heís lamia!"
He suddenly fell silent, regarding her with very large, pained dark eyes. She suddenly went very cold, her throat tightening.
"Lamia? As inÖborn-vampire?" she choked out. He looked away.
"Heís a Blackthorn." was all he said. The Blackthorns were feared amongst all vampires, their names uttered with a shudder like a curse. There always was a Blackthorn in the world, the family name of the vampires descendent from the first born vampire, Black Thorn. Even the Court of Lords stepped delicately around the Blackthorns.
"Now I insist that you tell me about him." she said, her voice shaking a little, along with the rest of her. No hunter has ever survived a meeting with a Blackthorn and she was going to try and change that. Quin shook his head.
"No. I canít." he said, moving away from the sunlight.
"Why not?" she insisted.
"I canít! There are some things a vampire cannot do, walk in sunlight, fly, enter an active churchÖor speak of the Blackthorns. It isnít done!" he said and looked at her pleadingly. "There are some things that should remain in the Dark and this is one of them. You are human, I cannot talk to you about this. To do so is something akin to blasphemy. We decided thousands of years ago we would never utter a word of our origins to a human, we would not let them try and unlock us and I am not going to speak another word of it to you, ever."
"All I want to know is why does this Nathaniel want us all dead?" she asked sharply. A tremor swept through him. He was beginning to crumble.
"You wouldnít understand." he said softly, something close to pain flooding his face for a brief moment.
"The make me understand," she told him.
"No." that one word was full of determination and fear and he gave her a helpless look. "Just take my word, if you truly consider me friend, do not do this!"
"Then point me to someone who can help," she tried as he staggered over to the couch and flopped gracefully upon it.
"Nobody will speak to you about it. Nobody outside the Court knows." he told her, closing his eyes and massaging his temples.
She twisted around to face him. "Then Iíll just have to do it on my own. You donít just kill a hunter and get away with it, the rest will want to get their revenge. We will find Nathaniel, with or without your help. The only question is, are you willing to stand by and watch me go and kill myself?"
"I shall mourn your passing, Cathrin. And that of the other hunters. Iíll say this now, you are a good person Cathrin, and I am honoured that you call me friend, despite our differences." he said quietly, his voice actually wavering. "And despite our similarities that neither of us is proud to admit. We work rather well together."
"You sound like Iím already dead." she said. He opened her eyes and gave her a dark look.
"You are. You have made up your mind, you wish to seek out death." he said quietly. "Do you have any idea how much pain the human body can withstand? Both physical and psychological? And that was before the invention of drugs. The experience of death could take a year, maybe longer. Then, he could always decide to bring you back."
"At least Iím not afraid to fight for my friends and myself." she said stubbornly. He suddenly reached out, one hand cradling her head, and drew her in for an excruciatingly pleasurable kiss. The suddenness of it caught her off guard and once his incredibly soft lips were on hers, she was powerless to resist. After what felt like hours, he eased a little away, but still cradled her head and remained close.
"For the love of God, for your sake and Charlieís, do not do this! You are not invincible, you are not the second coming." he murmured for her ears only. "You are human, that makes you fragile and delicate and I do not want to see you broken. If you have any desire to live, any at all, do not go after Nathaniel Blackthorn."
She drew in a shaky breath, trying to steady her nerves and regain her composure. She never was one to respond well to impulsive kisses.
"Matthew, he wants to have me raped and murdered. I canít just sit back and wait for it to happen." she whispered, not trusting her voice.
"Then for my sake," he said desperately, his breath caressing her lips. "I wonít stand by and watch you die by your own hand. I might not care about much in the world, but what little I do all comes back to you. I will not let you destroy yourself. I would rather kill you myself that let you go through with this."
"Should I be offended or complemented?" she asked as he released he, sitting back and sucking on his lower lip. It was a nervous gesture he had, one thing that seemed to remind her that he was indeed human once. "It isnít everyday you pour out so much emotion at me."
He stopped sucking on his lower lip and smiled the tiniest smile. "Be complemented, Cathrin. It is not everyday you scare me so much as to pour out so much emotion I didnít know I had."
"Isnít it comforting to know that even monsters get scared." she said absently. That comment banished his smile.
"No, it is not comforting. You should be terrified to know that there are things in the world that can scare even the worst of monsters." he told her sharply.
"So in other words, youíre not going to help me in any way, shape or form. You tried to convince me a few minutes ago not to do this and now youíre going to tuck tail and run." she said. She hit a nerve with that statement. His face darkened and he pursed his lips.
"I am not a coward, if that is what you are implying." he said in that deadly calm tone of voice.
"Iím not implying that at all." she said quickly. "Your kind just doesnít persist with anything that doesnít relate directly to you. Iím giving you a chance to do something different and youíre rejecting it. That seems a little strange considering that it is almost relating directly at you. An attack on a servant is like and attack on the master."
"You have it all wrong." he said and shook his head, slouching rather gracefully on the couch. "I do not want to get involved because I do not think I can do anything different. I am a vampire, I have been a vampire for an awfully long time. What you are asking is for me to stop being what I am and turn into something I am notóhuman. This is your problem, not mine. I offered you help, you rejected it. Now, I do not wish to help you any further. This is hunter business and I am not welcome in it."
"For Christís sake, canít you even try? I am asking you for help in saving not only my life, but other peoples lives." she snapped at him.
He laughed. "You are aware of the fact that I am a vampire? You of all people should know that a vampire never tries to do anything. If we do something, then it is because we know we can. I am no exception. I will not go up against Nathaniel because I know I will never get anywhere with it but dead."
She watched him for the longest moment, trying to decide what to do next. Finally she sighed. "Fine. Iíll go after Nathaniel without your help. You can just stand in the shadows and do nothing. Then youíll have one less hunter in the world to worry about. Actually, four less." she said. He merely nodded. Whatever bond, friendship, alliance, whatever they once had was now irretrievably shattered. "And I revoke the invitation that was given to you. You are no longer welcome into this home."
He looked up at her and gave her a wide-eyed look. "No!" he gasped, but it was too late. The door to the apartment swung open and he was flung from the couch, jerked off his feet by invisible strings through the air and out the doorway. The door swung shut with a final, heavy thud and Cathrin was left the way she had almost always been.