"Dad's really depressed, Dane. I mean, yeah, his life has just completely changed, but I thought he was doing all right." Faiza's voice sounded tinny over the cheap speakerphone, but her worry came through clearly.
Jac put her mug of tea down next to her computer. She and Dane were the only two left in the MI:13 office at this time of night – he was officially on duty and she'd been finding it easier to concentrate at night since the fight against Dracula's forces. There was still a huge pile of paperwork pertaining to the battle, and trying to soldier through it in daylight hours gave her a rotten headache. Paperwork on vampires that could only be done at night! It reminded her of why she'd retired. She really shouldn't be listening in on Dane and Faiza, either, but she'd been the one charged with managing Faiza's father's transition back into normal life, and she still worried about him.
Dane had his feet up on the desk. "He seemed okay a few days ago when we had the light-proof room installed for him."
Faiza laughed. "Well, they must have made it a bit too comfy in there, because now he won't come out. I keep trying to talk to him through the door, but he's just going on about how he can't pray when he's asleep in the daytime. He tries to stay awake, but he can't."
Jac shook her head. She'd never really had that problem, but she was a pretty unusual vampire. It had been a week or so since she'd last talked to the senior Dr Hussain, but then he had seemed determined rather than depressed.
Dane hadn't noticed Jac moving closer. "Isn't there a rule that you just have to pray as soon as you can? In Jerusalem, the Muslim soldiers didn't have to stop fighting to pray."
Faiza laughed. "Oh, don't start with the Crusades near my dad again! Yeah, that's true, and it never bothered him before, when he was in surgery or whatever. Mum's the religious one, not Dad. I mean, he didn't even bother to check if he was buying halal at Tescos, half the time. It sent Mum spare. Now he's saying he can't even drink blood because it's haram."
"Well, people often turn to religion when –"
"Faiza, wait." Jac was at Dane's side in an instant, putting Faiza's call on speaker. "Your father hasn't been drinking the blood we provided?"
"Uh, no? I thought he'd eat it when he got hungry, but he didn't have anything last night, or tonight so far."
"Is there a problem, Jac?" Dane swung his feet off the desk and got up.
Jac frowned. "Maybe. Faiza, have you spoken to Dr Hussain tonight?"
"No." Jac could hear Faiza jumping to her feet, just like Dane. "I'll go now."
"Stay on the line, Faiza. Your father could be seriously ill by now." Jac tried to keep her worry out of her voice, but she obviously wasn't succeeding.
"I didn't know that!" Faiza protested.
"I told him when we set up the lightproof room and installed the fridge – he's a very young vampire, so he's particularly vulnerable. He needs to eat frequently or – "
"Or what?" Faiza sounded less like an awed new team-member and more like an angry daughter.
Jac winced. "Or he could die. I told him that he needed to eat."
"So he's not just refusing food! He's trying to top himself – and you didn't tell me?"
"I didn't know he wasn't eating, Faiza!" Jac stopped herself before she snapped at Faiza again. It was Jac's fault, not Faiza's. Jac should have realised that Dr Hussain wasn't the first person to emerge from a traumatic experience claiming everything was fine. But being around another vampire, even a very new one, had made her so uncomfortable that she'd done only what was absolutely necessary – a lightproof room, explaining the basic, setting up a fridge full of donated blood – and retreated into the comfortable boredom of writing her reports.
"You didn't tell me he had to!"
"I'm sorry." Jac rubbed her forehead. "I'm...well, I suppose being a vampire is something I'm used to keeping private. Your father's one of the very few people with whom I've spoken about it, in all these years.""
Faiza huffed a sigh. "Sorry. I hadn't thought it would be strange for you, too. I suppose I'm just used to being the newbie. Okay. I'm outside his door now." She raised her voice. "Dad? Are you okay?"
Dane glanced over at Jac. "He's not likely to attack her, is he?"
Jac shook her head. "No. He'll be far too weak for that, even if he's only missed one night's feeding. He's only been a vampire for a fortnight."
Faiza spoke up again. She sounded much calmer now, back in superhero mode. "He's not answering. I'm going to open the door now." She raised her voice again. "Dad? Can you hear me?"
The door opened with a thud and a rush of noise followed. Faiza shouted and the phone hit the ground.
"Faiza!" Dane yelled. "Jac, get over there!"
"Wait, wait!" Faiza sounded out of breath. "He just shoved right past me, with blood all down his shirt. He's wrecked the whole room! The fridge is smashed and the bags of blood are spilled all over the floor."
Dane kept talking, but Jac sped out of headquarters and took to the air, zooming over the sparkling lights of the suburbs towards the Hussains' house. Dr Hussain should be in no condition to wreck his new bedroom after more than a day without blood. He should be semi-conscious on the floor. Faiza's description of his blood-stained shirt was even more alarming – he could have gone into blood frenzy. She'd seen it happen to older vampires that MI:13 and its predecessors had captured – vampires suddenly becoming strong enough to tear their way free of any chains in their desperate quest for blood. Unlike those vampires, though, Dr Hussain had a fridge of blood close to hand. The fact that he hadn't tried to kill the first person he'd met meant that it was likely he'd drunk some of that blood and the initial frenzy – complete with enhanced strength and beserk rage – was dying down. Jac had never experienced that herself, and it was hard to imagine the mild-mannered Dr Hussain in such a state. Then again, both he and Jac were of the same lineage, and she had never reacted predictably – not even to Blade's stake in her heart. It was too late to be thinking about this now. It had been too easy to cover her discomfort with professional distance, and now Dr Hussain was paying the price.
Jac swooped down and landed at the Hussains' front door. Like the rest of the street, their home seemed quiet, though Jac's enhanced hearing could hear televisions and roaming cats, and, from inside the house, Faiza's quiet voice. Jac wrenched the door open – she had permission to enter already – and sprinted into the house, skidding to a halt in the hallway.
Faiza was crouched over her mother and Jac thought for a moment that there was blood all over the floor, but it was Mrs Hussain's long, grey-streaked black hair spread out around her, gleaming in the dim light that spilled from the kitchen. Jac wasn't wrong about the smell of blood, though – the slightly stale odour of refrigerated blood hung in the air, mingled with the sharp smell of the fresh blood that was trickling from Mrs Hussain's arm.
"You'll be okay, Mum, just stay still and let me fix it." Faiza barely even looked up as Jac stood over them. "It'll just be a minute."
"What happened, Faiza?" Jac crouched down to inspect the scene. Broken fragments of a smashed drinking glass littered the floor, but Mrs Hussain was conscious and didn't seem badly injured.
"I was following Dad, and he ran straight into Mum in the hallway here."
"Was she bitten?"
"She's the cat's mother," Mrs Hussain snapped, pulling herself up into a sitting position. She seemed out of breath and Jac found herself wanting to glance away from the two women, who seemed weirdly exposed without their headscarves. Neither of them seemed uncomfortable, though, so Jac tried to stay focused.
"My apologies, Mrs Hussain. Did Dr Hussain bite you?"
"No, he did not. I was taking him some water and the glass broke and cut me when he bowled me over, He stopped just for a moment, then ran to the back of the house."
"He's smashed right through a window and run out," Faiza added, folding her mother's blood-soaked sleeve away from the skin. "I tried to grab him with my powers, but I couldn't do it."
"Because he's a magical being," Jac nodded. "I'll go after him. You heal your mother's injury, then get in touch with HQ."
Mrs Hussain looked up at Jac. "He had his phone. He grabbed it from the table as he went. Make sure that your people don't hurt him." Her eyes were fierce. "He's done nothing wrong."
"His welfare is my first priority," Jac promised, and hurried through the house to the tiny back garden.
Now that Jac had the musty smell of the bagged blood in her nostrils, it wasn't going to be hard to track Dr Hussain, as long as she didn't go so fast that she lost the trail. She reached the end of the street, only to find that the trail ended with the blood-soaked shirt stuffed into a rubbish bin by a children's playground. She looked both ways he could have gone – one way was the shops and the pub, brightly lit and well-populated even at ten at night. Jac could smell the drinkers' young, bright blood even at this distance. The other way led deeper into the suburbs, more houses, everyone safely inside, and, in the distance, the hollow rumble of a motorway. She had no idea what state Dr Hussain was in – if he was a threat to others or only to himself. And she'd been the one to convince MI:13 that Dr Hussain's security rating wouldn't change, that he was dealing well with his transformation and was not a threat. She pulled her phone from her pocket and called HQ.
"Dane? Has Faiza updated you?"
"It's Pete, love. Dane's driving over to her house at top speed, ready to charge in and save the day. On the other hand, it sounds like you're actually doing something useful."
"Yeah, listen, can you track Dr Hussain's mobile phone? He's got it with him."
Pete pressed a few buttons. "No, he's still got it switched off. We tracked his last call, though – it was right where you're standing now."
Jac went cold. "Who did he call?" She was starting to have a creeping suspicion about the next step a vampire who had failed to starve himself might need to take. Pete confirmed it.
"Blade. He's got his phone off now, too."
"Damn it! Pete, keep trying to catch Blade. He's just going to inflame the situation."
"Yeah, I've noticed he's got a bit of an itchy trigger finger. Stake finger."
She shoved her phone back into her pocket and rubbed her forehead where the wrinkles used to be before the vampire blood kicked in. Dr Hussain hadn't actually attacked his wife, and the phone call would indicate he had his wits about him. He would have told Blade how to find him and kill him – and Jac didn't have time to call in one of the telepaths to trace him. So, would he go to the well-lit, populated area where it would be easy for Blade to find him, or into the empty streets of similar houses, devoid of landmarks to anyone not familiar with the area? Would he risk waiting a little longer for Blade to reach him and end it all? Jac's muscles were ready to run, but she held herself in check – if she made the wrong decision, Blade would arrive before she did, and she knew he would have no problems complying with a vampire's request for death.
People were always harder to predict than the monsters, and she had only met Dr Hussain once before he was turned by Dracula and his army. She'd been one of the MI:13 officers at the security assessment interviews with all Faiza's family and friends – it felt like years, but it had only been six months ago. Jac had leaned against the wall of the interview room as the freckle-faced security assessor flicked through Dr Hussain's printout.
"This is an very clean record, Dr Hussain. Astonishingly clean."
Jac had been glad that Dr Hussain was glaring at the interviewer and not her. "And do you know why? Why my record is so very clean? Because every time I perform my job admirably, or behave like a reticent, polite man, people look at me and think, 'Oh, that one's not so bad after all.' And if, for one moment, I seem untidy, or bump against someone on the street, they will think, 'Those damn Pakis! Send them back where they came from.' Every day, I am trying to make this country better."
Jac turned towards the quieter streets with new resolve. There was no way Dr Hussain was going to risk making a spectacle of himself. He'd already dumped his bloody shirt; he wasn't going to want to draw attention to himself or Blade. Jac piled on the speed, racing through the curving suburban avenues in a rough search pattern, always choosing to turn away from the busier roads, knowing that it was not Dr Hussain she was racing, but time.
Dr Hussain was sitting on a bench under a tree, in a tiny park tucked in between two tall brick houses, his head bowed. His singlet and trousers were bloodstained, but not nearly as badly as his shirt had been. Jac skidded to a halt in front of him, tearing up the grass beneath her feet.
He looked up, disappointed to see her. "Lady Jacqueline. Spitfire. You're not the one I was expecting."
"I know what you're trying to do, Doctor Hussain."
He waved a hand. "Call me Yusuf, please. Do you intend to stop your friend from carrying out his mission?"
"Of course I'm going to stop him! Please, Yusuf, you've been through a terrible experience, but you never stopped fighting when we were on Dracula's ship. I know your life has changed, but you can't give up."
"You were very young when you were turned into a vampire, weren't you?" His voice was sad, rather than angry, and that bothered Jac more than rage could have done. It would have been easy to apologise in the face of anger, to admit her shortcomings, but instead she felt like she was too late.
"Yes, but I know how you feel. I – "
"Young people adapt easily. Look at my Faiza – a few months ago, she was a doctor, like me. Now she fights monsters with strength and pride. I'm not who I was, though. I'm already dead. I can't pray, I can't eat, I hurt Farida..."
"She's fine, Yusuf. It was an accident." Jac sat down beside him. "And can't you pray at night, if you have to? And eat prohibited food to save your life?"
"You're splitting hairs like Faiza does! She keeps telling me that even monsters can be good Muslims, and of course she's right, but ... the form of the religion, that doesn't matter so much to me, though my wife would not want to hear that! I came to this country to be part of it – Britain and Pakistan, our histories interlace. Just look at my daughter wielding Excalibur!"
Jac nodded, confused.
"And yet here I am, meant to be locked in my safe room, drinking precious donated blood, unable to work, unable to pray, shut off from every part of my world. That kind of existence is not worth risking others to save. That kind of existence is nothing. I don't even know how to end it."
As if his name had been called, Blade appeared at the edge of the park, the streetlight reflecting from his shaven head. Jac leapt up. "Blade, stop!"
"No, it's all right," Dr Hussain stepped up beside her.
"Yeah, it will be." Blade waved, and Faiza and Mrs Hussain ran around the corner and towards the park. Faiza's headscarf was hastily tied and she had to keep a hand on it as she ran, but Mrs Hussain's was impeccable.
"I didn't tell you to bring them!" Dr Hussain shouted.
"Yeah, I know. But Jac's taught me a thing or two about acting in haste." He stepped aside and the two women dashed into the park.
"Yusuf, you fool!" Mrs Hussain grabbed him by the arm.
Jac stared at Faiza and Blade. Faiza shrugged. "He showed up and said he knew where Dad was. I didn't want to bring Mum, but she insisted."
Dr Hussain had collapsed to the ground at his wife's touch, and she crouched over him, sheltering him with the spread of her long green coat. Jac could hear him crying, softly, as Mrs Hussain held him. She spoke in a language that Jac didn't understand, and both she and Blade both looked at Faiza questioningly.
Faiza tucked some stray hair back under her headscarf and bit her lip. "She's quoting the Quran. It means, um, that men and women are protectors of each other. Together they find justice and forbid evil."
Mrs Hussain raised her head. "Yusuf will come home, now. With me."
The Hussains stood, together, their arms around each other, and started the slow walk home. Faiza followed, quietly, and Jac and Blade were left in the park.
"So." Jac looked up at Blade. "You help vampires now?"
He shrugged. "'On them Allah will pour his mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.' Doctor Hussain has far better security than I could ever provide. He has his family."
Jac put an arm around his broad back and leaned on him, just for a moment. There was going to be more paperwork than ever from this, and damn it, she was going to follow the Hussain family's example and share the load.
9:71 (Y. Ali) The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practise regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.