“Vampire!” a voice hissed, low but clear as a shout to vampire ears. Sean Patrick froze, his fangs brushing the throat of the gang member he’d intercepted, and jerked his head up. A human-shaped shadow ran from the bushes, aiming straight at where Della was feeding.
“Della!” Sean Patrick choked out, and dropped the boy. Where the vampire hunter had come from Sean Patrick didn’t know and didn’t care, but Della wasn’t prepared to fight against a vampire hunter, she was too distracted. Sean Patrick hurled himself between his wife and the hunter, catching only a glimpse of the deadly wood before it drove deeply into his own chest.
For a moment time seemed to go perfectly still. He stared down in shock at the vampire hunter, whose dark blue eyes sparked briefly in triumph before they both realized the stake had missed the heart, then agony radiated through Sean Patrick. Somewhere he heard Della scream his name and she was there, hurling the vampire hunter away and into the trees, where he struck a thick eucalyptus trunk and dropped in a heap. Della’s cold hands caressed Sean Patrick’s face.
“Sean Patrick, my God, Sean Patrick,” she breathed, his name tumbling from her lips. Her whole body was shaking, trying to hold him up as he sagged, then stumbled backward, his back striking something hard and concrete before his ass hit the ground. He couldn’t feel anything but blood trickling down his stomach, blood that told him he was at least still alive.
“He missed,” whispered Sean Patrick. Time started to move again. Della was sobbing, tears running down her cheeks.
“You’re so tall,” she managed to gasp out, her hands fluttering around the stake. “Hold still, I have to get it out.”
He nodded. “Please,” he said. He could taste blood in his mouth, his own blood, dripping down his chin. He licked it back and forced himself to swallow, then held his breath as Della gripped the stake with both hands and drew it swiftly out of him. The world blurred and he pressed the back of his head to whatever was holding him up, fighting nausea and pain.
The vampire heart, a seemingly useless organ, must serve some purpose. Maybe it did beat somehow. Sean Patrick didn’t know, and never had. He just knew that wooden weapons hurt like fire, maybe worse, and pain was radiating through his chest, including his heart, and he wondered just exactly how close the young vampire hunter had come to piercing it, and stopping his life forever. Della barely swallowed a whimper as she opened his shirt, her fingers trembling, to look at the gaping wound that was still oozing blood down his belly into his jeans.
“I’ve lost more clothes since I met you,” he murmured to her, trying to lighten the mood.
Della looked up at him with exasperated worry. “You need blood. You’re not healing.” She looked quickly around. It appeared their duo of gang members had taken flight, probably certain they were witnessing a murder and not wanting to be anywhere near such goings-down, but the vampire hunter was still heaped at the foot of the tree Della had flung him against, groaning. She bunched up Sean Patrick’s ruined shirt and pressed it against the wound. “Hold that there,” she ordered, and went to pick up the vampire hunter, dragging him toward Sean Patrick.
“Let me go!” demanded the vampire hunter as he struggled, trying to get his feet under him. His voice sounded woozy, though, and he rather resembled a puppy as he tried to escape Della’s fiercely determined grip. “Vampire!”
“Oh, will you be quiet?!” Della snapped, and set him on his feet.
Sean Patrick raised his eyes to the vampire hunter’s face. "Vampire!” He yanked a crucifix out of his shirt and pressed it against Della's forehead. Sean Patrick rolled his eyes as Della took the cross from the vampire hunter.
“Good Lord, don't they teach you better than that?” She pressed the young hunter’s shoulder until he was on his knees in front of Sean Patrick. “I’m afraid we’re going to need some of your blood. You’ve wounded my husband rather badly.”
“Blood? No!” He started to shout as Sean Patrick fixed his gaze on the young man’s dark blue eyes. There was an intense struggle. He must be a member of the Hiera Sacra, the Order that Della had belonged to. Their operatives were trained to fight, and eventually throw off, vampiric hypnosis; there was no doubt this boy had learned these lessons. Fortunately, he was young, just learning that skill. It took concentration, but finally, the boy slipped under Sean Patrick’s control. “No,” he repeated, less forcefully this time. “I won’t let you feed on me, vampire.”
“I’ll try not to hurt you,” said Sean Patrick, as Della eased the young vampire hunter closer. "Did you know him?" he asked her.
“No,” said Della softly, as Sean Patrick bent his head and gently pierced the young man’s skin. Desperately wholesome blood flowed over his tongue. Sean Patrick drank a little more than a pint, probably more than he should have, and eased back slowly, breaking the connection between them as he carefully licked the wounds closed.
The young man sagged a little, his eyes closed. Della held him upright, but her eyes were on Sean Patrick’s face. “Was it enough?” she asked.
“I’ll be fine,” said Sean Patrick, not really lying, but not telling the whole truth. He definitely needed more fresh blood. Wood made for vile wounds. He licked his teeth clean, drawing strength from the boy's clean blood. Always better, always, than drugged and alcohol-laced blood; far superior than cold blood from the blood bank.
“You look a little grey, darling.” She knelt in front of Sean Patrick after carelessly tossing the vampire hunter aside. She pried his hands away from his chest. The wound was still wide open and bleeding, the gentle beat of a vampire pulse pushing dark blood out in a slow but steady stream. Della’s jaw trembled, but she managed to keep her hands still as she tugged the shirt tails out of his belt, bunching the material still more and pressing it tightly against the flow. “He came too close,” she breathed.
Sean Patrick didn’t reply, not trusting himself to lie to her. He couldn’t tell her what he’d felt, what he’d seen in the vampire hunter's pale, triumphant face. The stake had missed by only a whisper, a hair, and the pain was intense enough to make the vampire wonder if the miss had been by even that much. Could wood scratch the vampire heart and leave the vampire alive? Perhaps he knew now. No way of telling. Instead, he said, “Is he all right?”
Della glanced at the still-hypnotized vampire hunter. “He should be,” she replied. “And he should trust you now, whether he wants to or not. He knows you now.”
“Yes. And I know him,” Sean Patrick lifted his fingers, and the boy's blue eyes obediently followed the motion. “Look at me,” he said softly. The young man hesitated for a moment, then complied. “What's your name?"
"Roger. You know me now, don’t you?”
“Sean Patrick. The lost vampire. You... You can’t be,” said Roger. “I mean... you can’t be... nice.” He paused, stammering a little. He was starting to come out of the hypnosis, but he wasn’t making any aggressive moves. Of course, he’d just donated more than a pint of blood and was a little weak. Sean Patrick wished he had some cookies on him.
“Why are you here, Roger?” asked Sean Patrick.
Another blink, slow. Sean Patrick held his own shirt tightly against his chest, forcing himself to keep calm and focused in case he needed to hypnotize the vampire hunter again. “Mr. Davis sent us,” Roger replied to the question after a moment, his brow creasing.
“Richard Davis? Did he say why?” asked Sean Patrick, real fear starting to rise, combating the pain in his chest. He didn’t dare meet Della’s startled expression.
“He said they'd found other vampires in the Burbank and Griffith Park area. We needed to put operatives in Los Angeles on a permanent basis.”
Sean Patrick did meet Della’s eyes then, his eyebrows going up. “Seems Mr. Davis is keeping the letter of our agreement, if not the spirit,” he said.
Della gripped her hands into tight fists. “Why, that sneaky, underhanded, lying son of a–”
“Della!” Sean Patrick gaped at her in surprise.
“I mean it, Sean Patrick, he’s sent operatives here to lay in wait for us, he’s deliberately looking to have us killed! Roger, you have a partner, don’t you? You said we.”
“Yes, of course,” replied Roger. “His name is Stephan Marsh.”
“Good God,” said Della. She let out a shaky sigh. “He’s a friend from school. I suppose Mr. Davis was looking to have my own friends take me down.” She was starting to tremble, fury clear on her face. “Where is Stephan, Roger?”
“Not far,” said Roger.
“Della, honey,” said Sean Patrick, putting a bloodstained hand on her arm, “I think I need to go home.” Fresh human blood was doing little to ease the pain that was making him feel sick and lightheaded.
Della was immediately attentive. “Come on, then, darling.”
“I have to report this,” said Roger. Sean Patrick felt panic, raw in his stomach, under the pain. He saw Della’s eyes narrow with anger.
“No, you don’t,” she said in a tight, but firm, voice. “You absolutely do not.”
“But they’ll know. I’ve been fed on by a living vampire. It’ll show,” said Roger, looking up at her helplessly.
Della started to shake. She stopped helping Sean Patrick and turned back to Roger, grabbing him by the collar. Sean Patrick gripped the edge of what he’d been leaning against–he saw now it was one of those decorative cement trash bins that dotted the park. He clung to it and dragged himself to his feet.
Della shook the vampire hunter. "You will not report this," she hissed. The vampire hunter's head snapped back and forth as though he were a rag doll.
"Della, stop," said Sean Patrick. Alarm flared through him at the sight of her fury, her angry face, the fire in her glowing eyes. "You'll kill him."
Della froze. Sean Patrick gathered up his strength and gently took Roger's chin in his hand. "Listen to me," he almost whispered, once again exerting his mental strength over the vampire hunter's mind. It was difficult; the boy had learned his lessons well. But eventually he knew he had complete control. "You got into a fight with a vampire. You were bitten, but you wounded the vampire and it ran off. You and your partner will head south, further into the park, to try and track down this vampire." He tried to present a mental picture, a more stereotypical vampire than he was himself, into the hunter's mind, then he gently eased Roger to a seated position on the ground before turning back to Della.
"Take me home, honey," he said, his voice still pitched low so he wouldn't break the hypnosis.
“Come on, darling," she replied, supporting him. Sean Patrick leaned gratefully on her, trying to hold back the staggering pain that was radiating through him as they walked away from the young vampire hunter, heading back the way they'd come.
Della said nothing as she helped Sean Patrick into the passenger seat of the El Camino. She took his keys from him and got in the driver’s seat, then struggled to get the seat adjusted forward so she could reach the pedals without jamming his knees into the dashboard. But when she went to put the keys into the ignition, her hands started to shake. The keys jingled madly as she struggled with them, her breath starting to come in short, terse gasps. Finally, Sean Patrick reached over and closed his hand over the key ring in her fingers, stilling them. Della turned on him, her face starting to crumble. He touched her face, smearing blood on her cheek, then gathered her into his arms, shrugging off his pain in the face of hers.
Della sobbed, but she was also fighting him, avoiding striking him as her clenched fists struck the upholstery of the bench seat, stammering incoherently into his chest. “It’s all right, darlin’,” he murmured into her hair. “I’m all right.”
“No! No! That’s not it, you stupid, idiotic man,” she managed, and lightly beat one fist ineffectually against his shoulder. “Don’t you understand? Can’t you see? What in God’s bloody name would I do if you were killed?”
“Well, honey, I wasn’t,” whispered Sean Patrick into her ear, pressing his cheek against her hair.
“That’s not it!” she raged, struggling to break away. Sean Patrick held back a hiss of pain as she shoved against his chest.
“Honey, if anything happened to me the family would take care of you, you know that,” he said softly.
Della almost shrieked with rage. “No!” she snapped, lifting her eyes to his. They were wet with tears but furious, snapping at him in the dim starlight. “Don’t you understand?” she repeated. “I mean what could I do, would I do, without YOU?” Her fists loosened and instead gripped his shoulders as tears streaked her cheeks.
Sean Patrick gently cupped her face in his hands. “Darlin’, you can’t lose me that easily,” he said softly, then drew her close again. “I ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
“Stupid American redneck,” she murmured against his skin. “You don’t understand. I saw it, I felt it, just like you did when Amanda died.”
Sean Patrick went still, feeling that odd slowing of time again. “Of course,” he whispered. “I didn’t think about that.”
“I thought you were dead. Suddenly I could see through your eyes and I felt exactly what you did. God, Sean Patrick,” she choked and blinked furiously. “I thought you were dead. I thought I’d lost you. I wanted...” she drew a deep breath and buried her face in her hands.
“Like I said, darlin’, you can’t lose me that easy,” he whispered.
Della shook her head. “Richard Davis wants us dead. He’ll keep on sending operatives until we’re taken care of. He won’t let us rest. Never.”
Sean Patrick swallowed his own fears about the exact same thing. He’d worried about it since the day he’d sent Richard Davis home with the other Hiera Sacra operatives, feared this would happen. But what else could he have done? He forced a weak grin to his face. “Honey, let’s take this as it comes, huh? Let’s just go home and get some rest. It’s only a couple hours until sunrise.”