The last thing Andrea Sachs from Cincinnati, Ohio had ever thought she'd be doing in her life, was arguing with a down-on-his-luck vampire about why it was okay to donate a little blood. Not a lot, mind you, but enough to get him back on his feet and on his way. "Look, Vlad," she said, though that was not his name. He'd refused to give it to her. "I used to donate at the Red Cross. I haven't got any catchy diseases, though I may be flavored a little differently than you're used to. I got a tiny medical condition, but haven't medicated aside from the alcohol in a couple of weeks, so there isn't going to be any funky flavors you wouldn't expect. It's no big deal. I haven't got to be anywhere tomorrow or the next day. You haven't attacked me out of hand, so you're not a newbie, and you're arguing with me, so you're not interested in killing me. I don't mind loaning a few pints, especially if it keeps you from taking some irresponsibly later, because you can't stop yourself. All I ask, nay demand, is that you don't drink me dry, you don't enslave me, keep me against my will, and you don't turn me. Oh, and get me a cab so I can get home. I'll pay, but I don't have any numbers for the cabs in this town. I'm staying at..." Andy pawed a back pocket of her True Religion jeans and then carefully read the card out loud. She tucked the card back. "It's not the best hotel, but it's swank enough for me."
Vlad stared at Andy, from across a barstool, and then blinked. Slowly. The hotel she mentioned was far more than swank and was a very upscale casino in Las Vegas. Andy, who hadn't looked at him once she'd started her spiel, took another healthy sip of the whiskey she'd ordered. There was no follow up cough, but a smooth sigh that escaped her lush red lips.
She had been effectively drinking out a frustration before the conversation. The brunette, with short, spiky hair, let the wheel of the stool carry her around so she was facing the man. He was taller and much skinnier than her, though he had been slouching more. He was pretty in a pale, but dark and handsome kind of way. His eyes were an incredible blue.
Andy owned that might be why she'd even started talking with him.
"Why would you offer this?" His words held a touch of wonder and a hint of foreign lands that had been domesticated by North American English.
Andy considered, gazing at him with kind, but firm expression. Her eyes were a toasted brown that one could get lost in. "You need it. You're a sentient being, and not evil. Everyone deserves a helping hand now and then. It's a new experience for me. I might write about it, if you don't mind, but I wouldn't name names. I just like writing."
Now he showed his teeth, flashing them as if to scare her. "And how do you know I'm not evil."
She didn't even flinch. "I just do. But if it makes you feel any better, I've read and researched a lot. I was a journalist and I have a cousin..."
"Ah. A relative." The vampire's expression suddenly lightened, though his expression remained serious. He asked, very carefully, watching her eyes, "Do you know your cousin's... blood family."
"He probably told me once, but it's not something that I've kept locked in my heart or anything." That was a tiny little fib, but a necessary one. No need to frighten the vampire, after all, he wasn't the one who'd caused family uproar. Andy considered, "He has a tattoo." She pointed at the webbing between her thumb and index finger on her right hand. "It's like the hospital sigil, only with one snake instead of two."
The vampire's expression did more than soften. It opened. "Asclepius."
Andrea pointed. "Yes. That's it."
He stared at her, not quite open mouthed. "What are you?"
Andy looked past his shoulder, at the clock on the wall over the back restroom hallway, "Ready to go back to the hotel, I think." Then she looked at him, and gave him a truer answer, "I'm nothing special, Vlad. I can tell you that much."
"Not just any one is accepted into Asclepius." It had nothing to do with acceptance, but the word was closest to one he could give her. They were a kind, very special, only bound to clan by choice, never by blood or coercion; even if they were turned.
"That's my cousin. I'm just a relative."
The vampire reached and then dropped his hand before grasping hers. "You do not understand."
"There's a lot I don't understand about a lot of things, Vlad. But this I know, you've had a rough turn. You're an okay guy. I'm not offering out of pity. I'm offering because I can, while I can. But my conditions are firm."
Vlad turned away and stared at the drink he'd been nursing. Then, he picked it up and in one fell swoop finished it off. "I accept your conditions, but prefer privacy." He certainly couldn't reject the offer, not now.
Andy nodded. "Sure."
Privacy where vampires are concerned might connote shadowy corners in a dark alleyway in the pitch of night. However, despite legends, most vampires walked in daylight just as well as night; any hour was fine so long as they were fit. The inability to handle light had more to do with the kind of vampire one was and their age, rather than the mere point of being one. So when Vlad said someplace private, Andy knew that was all he meant.
They went for a walk, to a nice tree-filled, blue-sky park; one with a baseball diamond and sundry other run and play in the dirt spaces and enough people around, she could scream for help if she wanted. They found a quiet bench, one that did in fact, sit comfortably in the shade and out of the way, but one that wasn't too far from the road either.
"Are you..." he started to ask. Pride kept his voice quiet, but his eyes remained sharp.
"Sure." Andy said firmly. She finally said, just as quietly, "I hear your people's politics can be hell. I have no interest in the shenanigans, but If it were my cousin, in your state, I'd hope someone would."
The vampire nodded sharply, once, but did not mention that it really was the opposite. Her cousin would never have such a worry.
Or rather shouldn't.
Actually, considering, he shouldn't have had such a worry either, but his fall had more to do with heartbreak than with politics. Well. Perhaps a little of both.
"Normally, I would prefer a room, but I am not ready to be with another."
Andy exhaled, and then nodded. "I hear you bro."
A wealth of sorrow poured into those meager words, but it caused a flicker of a smile to slide across his face. He held his hand out, "Your arm please?"
Andrea wore a short sleeve blouse, fortunately dark, so all she had to do was extend her arm, wrist up. She had been hoping to get a good farmer's tan, but so far had only managed farmer's freckles. One took what one could get.
His grip was surprisingly delicate when his hands captured both her hand and her arm. She watched this with a near-clinical eye, noting how his fingernails were just a little longer than she normally saw men wear. His pale skin was not sallow or like a dead fish's; it was just several shades lighter than hers.
He did not look at her, but rather at her arm, with an intensity that spoke of a man watching the pulse, contemplating the universe, or praying before a meal. It could have been all of the above. She'd read about a religious sect of vampires. They weren't too good a sect. In fact, they were very bad and murderous according to the research, but they were devout and they existed. This one, she knew, did not and would not ever be involved with such.
She expected something like a snake strike. But he lifted her arm and she felt the briefest hint of lips pressing, which sent a surprising flutter along her skin, and then...
She'd read that there were a multitude of kinds of bites that could be delivered. Her cousin, in that one discussion they'd had, explained that his first bite (delivered to him, not given by) had been excruciating.
So she kind of expected pain, no, honestly, she'd anticipated it in a near self-flagellating way. These days she valued all the sensation she could get in her life.
She barely felt the prick, though she did feel the slide of the teeth, pushing through her skin, and though that sensation should have been odd, if nothing else, she could not have qualified it as anything other than wonderful and bizarrely familiar.
Her pulse seemed to slam south and all along her skin and up her arm. A sudden wetness pooled between her legs, as heat gathered there. Her exhale was an expulsion of pleasure, and her inhale a surprise, as if she thought she might forget to breathe.
It was more intimate than a kiss, nearly more intimate than sex. Maybe it just was sex. She thought she could hear his voice in her head, saying "My god. My god!"
But that couldn't be possible. So she ignored the voice and surrendered to the moment.
The orgasm was a butterfly of a thing, pulsing and fluttering and landing on the petals of her thoughts in random order. Her next exhale was of a thing she most wanted and could not have, "Miranda." She came again, twice as hard, but with that same delicate effect.
She felt lightheaded when he pulled away. She saw his tongue dart once over her wrist, watched in dazed amazement as the wound of two open holes impossibly closed.
When she looked up his eyes, still very, very blue, were bright and shining. His skin was ruddy. But his expression was desperate. "Please Andy, you must not. You must promise me that you will not."
"Vlad..." Somehow, even in her pleasurable haze, she knew what he was talking about, could keep up with the thought. After all, he didn't have to ask her her name and he probably knew everything about her by now. She'd read they could do that, could know a person's life and history, just by the drinking. It's why, even though they were completely capable of drinking bagged blood, they hated doing that. They were people curious about others and bagged just didn't carry the same psychic images. Or chemicals. Plastic, she heard, ruined everything. Glass on the other hand offered new potential, and explained their penchant for mixed drinks.
"Thomas. My name is Thomas."
"Tom." She shortened his name automatically. He didn't wince, but he still had not let go of her hand. "I can't make that promise at all. I've got places to see and things to do. The clock is ticking. I best do them while I can and then…." She smiled, and did not name three states in the U.S.A., each with their own requirements and paths to the end. Those weren't the only ways which had turned up on her internal list, which he knew as well as she did. Her parents certainly knew and they'd argued and argued for her to go back to Ohio and stay home, where they could care for her, but she couldn't; not while there were sunrises and sunsets to see.
Instead she raised her other hand to his face, let her palm rest there. "You look much, much better. Thank you for making this such a positive experience. It was completely different than my cousin said it would be."
It took him a moment to answer. "I sorrow for your cousin then." He did not mention that it was likely her cousin had been a far less willing participant. He paused again, "Let me take you home. To rest and recuperate."
"Yeah. It's probably time. I should eat." He was staring at her so intensely and it was hard to keep her eyes open. "You remember the name of the hotel right?"
He said yes, as her eyes closed, just to rest them for a moment. She did not remember the cab ride, but she did have a sense of floating for awhile.
- TDWP -
She awakened slowly, on her belly, with an arm around a pillow and the other arm flung out, feeling heavy and warm. She heard unexpected sounds, but her eyelids were still too heavy to do more than leave closed. So she listened to the sound of waves and birds that no way lived in the state she was most recently at. She drew in a breath, tasted salt in the air and smelled something wonderful, food, and felt the brush of warm wind against her bare skin. That was when she realized she was naked, though her legs were entangled with cloth; a sheet.
She really didn't want to wake from this new dream, which seemed to be much better and more profound than her previous dream. She let a muffled protest, a grunt of denial, paint the air and then forced her eyes to open.
She then, despite her previous and lingering lethargy, managed to sit up abruptly. "Where..." Before she finished the question, and as she took in the ocean view through a sliding glass door, one of which was open, she heard two knocks.
She scrambled, pulling up the sheets, just enough to cover, but not enough to do much else. "Come in."
It was the only way to get an explanation.
A man in a uniform wheeled in a cart with a massive covered tray and sundries. Briefly, Andy wondered why she didn't have a headache, then forgot it, as she marveled at the delivery and the young man's quick pace in setting up a table. Before she could ask more, the young man turned to her and said, "Master Thomas says you must eat. He regrets he cannot accompany you at this time. But he said to convey to you that his home, is your home. You may do as you please, though he asks that should you leave, you take someone with you. Even if you plan something farther than town. It is for your protection. Your belongings..." He pointed now, at a closed door, "... are in there. They have been unpacked. Is there any other way I may serve?"
Andy wasn't entirely sure he actually breathed while he said all that. She had a zillion questions, but couldn't think of one clearly enough, given the hunger then suddenly seemed all pressing. "I'm okay for now," she managed. Then she said, thinking of her credit card and the hotel, which obviously she was not in now, "Did someone cancel my hotel accommodations, by any chance?" Not that, really, she needed to worry; but she'd always been fiscally responsible.
The young man blinked, as if surprised that she should mention such a mundane detail, "Yes."
"Thanks then. I guess I'll eat and shower. I might want answers to questions later, if someone is available."
"I will make it known."
Andy waited until the young man bowed his way out the door and then her whole expression changed. "Wow!"
Had she stepped in a deep pool or what?
- TDWP -
She ended up doing the opposite, realizing she wasn't quite comfortable with wearing a sheet while she ate something so beautiful. She hurried. It wasn't until she was in the shower and had actually soaped up and was rinsing off, that she noticed the difference. And it was with consternation that she lifted her hands to look at the backs of them. Between the webbing of one thumb and index on one hand was almost the same sigil her cousin had. On the other, was what looked like a golden, glowing apple, ringed by a halo.
She was pretty sure she hadn't stopped at a tattoo parlor, even at her drunkest. Though she'd come close on one particular dread day, when all she'd wanted was Miranda. All over her. A word, however, would have never done. Not when she needed the real thing.
"Oh. Shoot fire."
- TDWP -
Once dressed, and feeling a bit more intrepid since she had her panic sit down in the shower moment, Andy ate the sumptuous meal with hardly any reservations. Though, she did eat with her back to the wall and her eye on the rolling case, which she'd pulled out of the closet and had half-packed already.
The food calmed her, where the packing had not. The urge to make a getaway via the deck had disappeared as soon as she'd seen how high up her room actually was, and she'd taken a moment to actually take stock of the room; which was hardly enclosed and there was no barbed wire or iron fence or anything really that shouted "prison."
She realized this was her fault. She understood that she had underestimated that vampire impulse to literal interpretations; when they wanted to be literal. He was the one who had said home, not she. So here she was.
To rest and recuperate and...
She tried not to stare at her hands again and just shoveled a forkful of deliciousness into her mouth with a stern admonition to ask and panic later.
When she felt full and a little more ready to face things, she went back to packing and was about three fourths of the way done when she really felt the need to sit down again. The bed sank under her as she paused and stared out the open door. The light was changing.
And she was in a perfect location to watch it, if she desired to do so.
She looked down at the pack beside her and let go of the shirt, unfolded, in her hand. She went outside, leaned against the railing and took in the last moments of another day.
- TDWP -
Afterward, she left the pack where it was, unfinished, incomplete, and opened the door from her room, to the rest of the enormous house. Despite her worry, no one was outside the door and no one was looking for her or planning anything dire. The hallway was actually quite lovely, as the room had been. It was resplendent without actually inspiring a form of covet in Andy, which was very nice. Not that, if she chose to take things literally, she had to bother with coveting. It was likely, given the wide parameters established by the bell-hop / servant / whoever that guy was, that she could go and grab the silver and sell it at a local pawn shop and no one would ever say anything about it.
Not that she would, but she was aware that, whatever she might think about the location, she was not a prisoner; exactly.
So, having been invited and wanting to know the shortest route out, Andy began to explore.
It was vastly apparent now that Andy's assessment, which usually was spot on, had been wrong. Given the house and the servant and the … well... mysterious location... there was no possible way that Thomas was "down and out," in the sense of money. Hard luck, maybe, because of something else, and certainly Andy had those kind of hard luck days too, so she wasn't judging, but the man was the opposite of destitute.
It was embarrassing that she could be so off target, but at the same time, he at least had been gracious about it. Certainly he could have dumped her in a fleabag hotel; not that he would have, but he could have, just based on her assumptions.
By the time she found doors on the ground floor, she'd discovered a library, a sitting room, a dining room and a big kitchen. She'd also passed several people, whom she smiled and nodded at politely, but did not necessarily stop to greet. While she had the sense that they belonged there far more than she did, they did not stop her either, which was to the good.
She found another open patio door, ground level, and one that lead to a space with a swimming pool and a lot of pretty people wearing some very skimpy clothing. Tom was not among those individuals, either. However, the sight of these people actually reassured her. Not all of them were pale and they reminded her of home; not Ohio home, but New York.
She was not a shy person. One couldn't be shy and work in journalism and certainly time with Miranda essentially flogged shyness right out of a soul. So she decided to see what happened if she stepped out.
The usual happened. Some people looked. Most didn't.
This let her relax even further and she made her way to the bar, where she saw a familiar face of sorts. "Hi again."
The young man who'd delivered her food offered a weak smile. "How may I serve you?"
"Well, thanks for asking. I could use some juice, if you've got it. Probably shouldn't drink anything alcoholic right now."
"Sounds delicious. Thanks. Say, is Tom around?"
The young man blinked and blinked at her.
Andrea shrugged, "Just thought I'd ask. I'll take that juice when it's ready."
The man, who seemed far too serious for his age, merely nodded his head and then began to prepare her drink.
She turned away from the sleek bar and looked out, trying to determine who might be open to a little conversation. Then she recalled the young man's offer. "So, who can I talk to and get answers from, if Tom isn't around? I've got some marks on my hands that need some explaining."
The young man made a choking sound, and the glass, which he'd been filling, settled with an extra slosh by her arm.
She took the drink, because she needed the fortification, even if it were juice and smiled into his wide-eyed stare. She took a sip and then tilted the glass at him. "So, then I take it your helpfulness only goes as far as 'stuff to get done' and 'Don't ask questions you can't handle?'" His eyes got wider. "Don't panic. I get how that is. I just don't have a lot of time to play guessing games so it's made me a little forward. You got a name?"
Andrea nodded, seeing a pattern. She took another sip. Then she smiled another friendly smile. "Well, thanks, Bill. When is breakfast around this joint? That's a question I can ask you, right?"
His expression went a little slack, but he nodded. "Yes. Breakfast is normally served from seven until nine-thirty a.m. Banquet style."
"Awesome. In the dining room?"
"Or your room, should you need. The phone has a service number."
"Even better. Thanks, Bill. I'll quit shaking up your day now." Andrea walked away then and stood near a quieter, deeper end of the pool.