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Not the Hunter, Not the Prey

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So. Werewolves. That’s a thing.

-

Loren goes back to playing soccer, but there’s no rush for her on the field anymore. It feels more like a chore than anything fun. She falls into defense more and more, watching and finding just the right spot to block, to shut her opponents down.

(Prey she thinks when she looks at them. They are the prey, and somewhere there is a predator, and she knows far more about this than she should.)

She can’t stop thinking about Jared. About what he did and what he tried to do. She mourns Angie, and wakes up from dreams where she got her little brother killed. Those mornings (because she can’t sleep at night, not anymore, and is doing good to be asleep by dawn), she hurries to check on Kyle, who’s sprawled across his bed, covers kicked off, hair sweaty. His room smells of dirty socks and something bitter. It probably has to do with driving away werewolves. He’s become a little obsessed lately.

She’s one to talk.

But he’s there, and he’s breathing, and she can go back to bed, where she stares at the ceiling and watches light creep in through the blinds and does not go back to sleep.

-

That might have gone on forever, or at least until she left for college, but Kyle comes to her about a month later. She’s sitting in bed, knees drawn up, favorite soccer ball hugged against her chest. She stares out the window, but she’s not actually seeing anything.

“You still believe in werewolves?” he asks.

She blinks. Turns to look at him, incredulous. “What the hell, Kyle? Of course I believe in werewolves. I saw one explode.”

Kyle smiles, just a little. “You won’t talk about it. Maybe you want to forget.”

She huffs at that. “Of course I want to forget. My best friend’s dead. Our neighbor was a man-eating, serial killing monster. Who exploded in front of me.” She shakes her head. “Doesn’t matter how hard I try or how much I want it, I’m never going to be able to forget.”

“I’m sorry.” He sits on the edge of her bed. “About Angie.”

She nods. Rests her cheek on her soccer ball. “Thanks.”

They’re silent. It’s both awkward and not. It’s a bad situation, and no one really knows what to say to her about Angie. But Kyle knows everything, the things no one else can ever know (except for Redd, but he’s the last person she’d go to for comfort. He’s nice, at least when he gets over himself; he’s not good at emotions at all). It means a lot to her to have him there.

“I’m okay,” she tells him at last. He raises his eyebrows, and she amends, “As okay as I’m going to get for awhile. I’ll be better eventually.” At least that’s what her mom tells her, and so did the counselor her mom made her see.

“Want something to distract you?” he asks. His mouth twitches. She knows that look. He’s trying not to smile. “It’s big.”

She squints at him. “How big?” she asks. “Exploding werewolf big?”

He tries hard to make his shrug nonchalant, she can tell, but he fails completely.

“Depends.” He shifts around on the bed. Fidgets. She thinks about throwing her soccer ball at him, but doesn’t. Squeezes it hard instead.

“Spit it out!” she snaps. “God, you’re annoying.”

Finally, his smile breaks free. “Do you think vampires explode too?”

All she can do is stare.

-

So. Vampires. That’s a thing too.

-

It’s not as easy as it was with Jared, which is saying something, because that was hard as hell. Even though she’s a more experienced fighter now, and Redd’s living up to that hunter character more and more, killing a vampire is difficult.

There are even more stories about how to kill vampires than werewolves, and how exactly are they supposed to test the methods? It’s not like they can rock up to a vampire and ask it to hold still while they throw garlic and holy water and silver bullets at it. (Hey, werewolves. She’s building up a great collection of silver bullets and silver-tipped bolts for her crossbow. Hell, she’s collected more than one crossbow by now, even as restless and sad as she’s been.)

Maybe they can throw rice on the ground and make the vampire count the pieces until dawn burns it to ash. Maybe they can throw gasoline at it and set it on fire. Maybe they can cut off its head, though Loren’s not sure she can actually manage that. Maybe they can -- the list goes on and on.

Loren’s research is thorough. She’s always been good at that.

Kyle’s not great at it. He’s young, and he has a lot to learn, and he gets distracted easily. But what he is good at is reading news reports and seeing trends that no one else has caught and then following that to -- well, a vampire, apparently.

Redd says it will be a great hunt. Loren rolls her eyes and wonders if vampires have hounds of hell too. God, she hopes not. Then she thinks about all the things they might have instead and hopes they do, because that, at least, would be familiar.

-

Steve texts her. Kind of a lot. Sometimes, Loren texts back, because he went through some shit, and he’s always been nice, and that kiss wasn’t half bad. But mostly she pushes that aside with all the other emotions she does and does not want to feel. Angie is still dead. Loren helped kill a man who was also a monster. There are bigger things than the delivery boy’s crush, or her own impetuous kissing.

Like the vampire living three towns over. Five people have died in six months.

-

Plan one: After some reconnaissance (which looks and feels way too much like stalking), they’ll find the vampire’s hunting ground, follow it back to its lair, and kill it. Somehow.

(“Its lair.” Loren says, sharp focus on the word.

Kyle blushes, but holds firm. “What would you call it then?” he asks.

“If they’re anything like werewolves, I’d call it a house,” she says.

Redd hums, which is annoying. “That one was more like a den.”

“See? Told you!” Kyle says.

“You’re both useless,” Loren says, and throws up her hands, and stalks away. But she doesn’t go far, because they're more useful than not, actually.)

Plan two: After some stalking reconnaissance, they’ll find the vampire’s hunting ground and one of them will play bait. Once the bait gets it alone, they’ll kill it. Somehow.

(“Who, exactly, is going to be bait?” Loren asks, eyes narrowed.

Redd beams at her. “You, of course. Don’t worry, though, I’ll be right there to save you.”

“Say that one more time,” she mutters, then adds, louder, “Redd, you’d make a much better damsel in distress.”

Redd sputters.

Kyle laughs, then stops. “Well, she’s not wrong,” he says, and even though he’s agreeing with her, Loren cuffs him upside the head. It’s the principal of the thing.)

Plan three: Not so much a plan as not a one of them being good at subtlety and the vampire clocks them about thirty seconds into their it’s-not-stalking-Loren-I-swear reconnaissance. It goes about as badly as expected.

The vampire is short and has needle-thin fangs and too-pale skin. The vampire moves fast and is strong enough to throw Redd around even as he beats at it with the butt of his gun. (That’s a great way to use it in this fight, very useful. Clearly, Redd needs to work on his fighting skills too.) The vampire smells like too much cologne and gross, dead things.

It bucks and twists, toying with Redd, who is yelping and flailing. Kyle uses his squirt gun, and the vampire’s skin sizzles when the holy water hits, but that’s not enough to stop it.

“Kyle!” Loren shouts.

Kyle ducks, because he’s smart. The vampire starts to turn, until Redd punches it in the face and his knuckles split open. The blood is a good distraction, at least right up until the vampire thrusts its face at Redd’s throat, Redd shouts, and Loren brings up her crossbow.

Silver-tipped bolts work on vampires, too. That’s good to know.

She fires and reloads, fires and reloads, fires and reloads. Her aim, already good, has only gotten better, and every single one finds a home in the vampire’s back. At least one hits deep enough to get the heart, she guesses, because on the last, Redd falls from the vampire’s hands while it struggles to reach behind itself and pull out the bolts.

Loren braces herself. Thinks, suddenly, that they should have worn rain slickers and rubber hats, and why didn’t she have that thought three hours ago when it’d be useful?

The vampire does not explode. It melts into itself until all that’s left are a pile off its clothes and gross reddish brown ooze. Loren is not about to touch it.

Redd stares at it, one hand over his throat. “Anticlimactic,” he rasps, and Loren notices there’s blood slipping through his fingers.

“Shit,” she says and rushes over to brace him when he starts to fall.

“Shit,” Kyle says and dials 911.

“Shit,” Loren says again. “Don’t let Mom hear you say that, she’ll blame me.”

Somehow, Kyle manages to laugh.

-

Life gets a little easier after that. Loren still mourns Angie, but she thinks about the lives she saved. With Jared, she’d saved herself, and Kyle and Redd and Steve, but all of that happened because of her in the first place. (She knows that’s not true. Even her mom, who doesn’t know the truth, has told her she can’t feel guilty over Angie’s death. So did that therapist, who, of course, also doesn’t know the truth. Kyle knows the truth, but he hasn’t said anything about whose fault it was. She doesn’t think he blames her, though.)

But the vampire killed strangers, and she stopped the vampire (they stopped the vampire), and that means they saved strangers, too, all the people it would have killed in the future.

That helps.

They do it again late in August, when Loren is supposed to be thinking about leaving for college. She wants to play college ball. She wants to live the life she dreamed. She wants soccer and research and the people she loves to be the only things she worries about.

There’s no way she can close her eyes on what she’s seen.

-

Loren goes to college, but she calls home often. Keeps an eye out for weird things around campus. Works out, and not just for soccer. Starts Chayon-Ruy in town with the locals even though she’s already spread so thin she’s exhausted all the time.

It’s worth it. It’s all worth it.

Kyle calls in October.

“You still believe in werewolves?” he asks. She’s nearly asleep sprawled across her bed where she’s supposed to be studying, but that wakes her up fast.

“What’d you find?”

“You think ectoplasm is anything like dead vampire?”

She sits up. Her entire body is sore, she has hours of homework to do before fall break, and she could already sleep for a year. All of that matters, but this matters more.

Loren reaches for her crossbow.