The Fifth Time
This is completely kosher, he can’t be pissed at me, I thought furiously. We’re in a dueling circle and everything. Sure, it’s not great that the first time he meets me I’ve just hacked up one of his followers, but come on, it was totally legal—
“Ira,” Rurik’s deep, yet strangely exuberant voice boomed. “Who is this delightful young man?”
“De…delightful?” It wasn’t a squeak. It wasn’t.
He grinned largely. “Of course. It’s not every day one comes home to find a hot blond in a sweaty tank-top standing in one’s great hall. With a sword, no less.”
It was a little weak, but I grinned back. Ira’s dad thought I was hot. Was that a good sign?
“This is Regan,” Ira said. Then, “he’s my Beloved.”
Rurik reached for my left arm, turning it wrist-up.
“Sure enough,” he said, shaking his head. His smile turned wolfish. “The boy always did have good taste.”
His eyes flickered down to Zo’s corpse then back up to me. “Present refuse not withstanding.”
“Damn, did anybody like Zo?” I said it without thinking, then almost immediately wanted to take it back.
But Rurik broke into laughter. “Not many, young Regan. Not many.”
So far it was going better than I had expected. Sure, the flirting was kinda weird, but at least he wasn’t trying to kill me. Maybe my night was looking up. Rurik still had a hold of my wrist.
Ira seemed to notice. “I’m glad you’re back, Lord, but Regan could use the medic.”
“Yes, of course.” He dropped my hand, and offered me a big smile. I was beginning to think he didn’t do anything small. “It was a pleasure. Don’t be a stranger.”
“Sure,” I said faintly, and then Ira was taking my hand and pulling me gently away.
As Ira showed me to the suspiciously hospital-like room he called the medic’s station, he was oddly quiet. Since I was still coming off my hunter’s high I didn’t think much of it. It’s not like I had anything to say myself.
The ‘medic’ was a black woman in nurse’s scrubs who scrubbed and bandaged my chest with clinical detachment and efficiency. I couldn’t help but notice the woman was human, which made me think that it was mostly humans that needed the medic’s services, and then wondered if I was being too cynical. Me? Never.
To turn my mind from my random ramblings, I focused on Ira instead. He was staring at the gash on my heart as the nurse taped gauze over it, but the expression in his eyes told me he wasn’t actually seeing it. Sensing my eyes on him, he looked up at me. Not sure what to make of the blankness on his face, I offered him a tentative smile.
He turned to the nurse. “Is he done?”
She nodded. “He’s good to go.”
Ira moved his head to the door, and I hopped off the exam table to follow him.
“Thanks,” I told the medic.
“It’s what I do.” She shrugged.
With that weird parting, I followed Ira into the hall. I didn’t really want to put my torn and blood-stained tank back on, but it was better than wandering the House half naked. Shrugging into it, I almost ran smack into Ira, who had stopped a little ways down the hall.
“The entrance is that way.” He nodded down a hall to our left.
I blinked. “What?”
Stiffly, he said, “The mission is over, so I think it’s best that you go now.”
“…Oh,” I said slowly.
His eyes roamed the hall, the ceiling, the floor. He was looking everywhere but at me. The silence stretched between us, and Ira finally broke.
“It’s what we agreed to,” he said. “Going our separate ways.”
“We did agree to that,” I said. “We agreed to that the same day you found out the truth about me, and my best friend died as a person.”
He sighed. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying maybe we were too hasty.” Licking my lips, I went on, “We click, Ira. We feel good being around each other. Before I showed up at your place I was damn near catatonic. I was fucking crushed, but a few hours with you and I was suddenly functional again.”
Feeling a bit embarrassed, I finished. “Don’t act like you can’t feel it, too.”
“We act differently when we’re together, I’ll give you that,” Ira said. “I’m not sure that’s what you’d call a positive incentive towards a relationship.”
“Look, I’m not saying we’ll have the passion of the ages, or whatever,” I countered, “but don’t you think it’s at least worth a try? See if this weird thing between us amounts to anything?”
“I can’t, Regan,” he said tightly. “I can’t.”
“Damn it, at least tell me why,” I snapped.
“Because I don’t know who you are!” Ira shouted. He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Watching you fight was a wake-up call. One minute you were you and the next minute you were just…gone. There was nothing there, Regan. You took Zo’s head off, and your face didn’t so much as flicker.”
I stared at him. “Are you being like this because I killed Zo? You said that you were fine—”
“It’s not about Zo,” he cut in. “It’s about you. You can turn your emotions on and off like a light-switch, how am I supposed to trust anything you say you’re feeling?”
“Because I’m not the job all the time,” I said. “Yes, I’m a hunter. It’s a part of me, part of my identity, but it’s not all I am. And anyway, you’re one to talk—you’re a goddamn vampire.”
“Yes I am, but I’m a vampire all the time,” Ira countered. “I’m the monster, and the monster is me. It’s not some gimmick I pull out of my ass.”
My mouth wanted to drop open. I forced it not to.
“My mission is not a gimmick,” I said flatly.
“That’s almost worse.” His eyes finally met mine, but I had no idea how to read what was in them. “You can take the killer out and put it away again like a winter coat. I think that freaks me out more than if you were just a run-of-the-mill sociopath.”
Okay, what the hell kind of people was he hanging around that running into a sociopath was a ‘run-of-the-mill’ thing? But there were far more pressings concerns to deal with. Only, I had no idea how.
Quietly, I said, “I can’t change who I am.”
“I know,” he said. “And that’s why we’re a bad idea.”
“So…” I started, but had to try again. “So that’s it? We’re not even gonna try?”
“I’m sorry, Regan. My answer is no.” He gestured down the hall again. “Go all the way to the end, and take a right. You can’t miss it. I’ll grab your stuff, and bring a car around. You can leave it at my cottage.”
Before I could say anything else, he shouldered past me and turned out of sight. I just stood there staring after him, feeling like I’d been punched in the gut. I knew, intellectually, that Ira wasn’t entirely wrong. It was more than possible we really would be a bad pair. But that didn’t stop me from wanting it.
“He’s too considering for his own good, sometimes,” came a rumbling voice from behind me.
I jerked, turning around to see the House’s big blond Primus standing there.
“Oh, Primus, you startled me,” I said lamely.
He smiled. “Please, it’s Rurik.”
“Rurik,” I nodded. “How long have you been there?”
“Long enough.” Coming up beside me he gestured with his head to where Ira had left. “I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Sometimes he gets an idea in his fool head, and it takes him a minute to come around.”
I felt a grim smile twist my lips. “You know, you aren’t the first person to tell me that.”
Laughing that large, boisterous laugh, Rurik said, “It’s his mother in him. Both are perfectly stubborn for no good reason.”
I wasn’t sure about that. Holly had seemed much more reasonable than Ira from what little interaction I’d had with both of them.
“But until he wises up, it’s his own loss, I say.” He turned to look at me with way too much interest on his face.
“Uh, Rurik—” I started, but he plowed over me like I hadn’t even spoken.
“I’ve been waiting to do this since I first saw you standing in my great hall sweaty, blond, and bloody.”
Standing so close together there was nothing I could do to stop him as he raked his hand across my abdomen. Pain exploded through my gut as he sliced deep into me with four fingers. Making a noise, I fell back against the wall, bringing up my hand to press against my stomach.
I stared up at him shock as he brought his bloody fingers to his mouth. He looked at me, grin wide on his face.
“Run,” he said.