tagNonHumanVampire Hunter Dee Ch. 08

Vampire Hunter Dee Ch. 08

byNikasha©

Another sleepy little beach town, so much like all the others, with the same endless array of beach bars and t-shirt shops, tattoo parlors and seafood restaurants; all eager to give the tourists a taste of paradise.

What a load of crap.

The locals all had the long-suffering look of people too long at the same job, needing the money the holiday travelers brought in and loathing every moment of it. A surly remark lurked behind every smile.

Why had she picked this place?

The warm night breeze was like a lover's caress as it moved over skin and through hair, carrying the scent of exotic blossoms and the steady throb of the pounding surf.

Oh yes. That's why.

The stairs to the apartment were concrete, offering only the slightest rasp of grit as the light dusting of sand shifted underfoot. A quick twist of the bulb on the landing, and the door melted into the surrounding darkness. The lock was unremarkable. He took the time to oil the hinges before opening the door and stepping into the flat.

All was still. Dark as the Pit, too. The night-vision goggles took care of that little obstacle, and he looked around carefully, allowing himself the time to adjust to the brief disorientation. There was nothing on the cheap coffee table. No magazines, no newspapers. A pair of flip-flops was slightly askew beside the door, the lone sign that anyone was actually occupying the apartment.

She travels lightly. Surely, after all this time, there is something treasured? Some memento she held dear? With long-practiced stealth, he moved to the bedroom, and paused to be sure she was actually there. Indeed, she was sprawled bonelessly in the middle of the bed, wearing nothing but an oversized t-shirt that had shifted as she moved in her sleep to reveal—

That's not why you're here.

The small wooden cabinet rested atop the battered chest of drawers. There was nothing special about it, though it pretended to Asian heritage. He checked the sleeper again. Still dreaming. The little wooden door opened easily, and he looked at the bottle within. Runes literally crawled across its opaque surface.

No, that couldn't be right.

He reached for the slim neck and felt his skin crawl in protest as a bead of sweat ran down his spine. The merest brush of contact, and he was lost in a swirling storm of agonized screams and boiling blood. He jerked his hand back, biting his tongue in effort to remain silent.

It was a shaking hand that carefully closed the too-thin door on the cabinet, effectively hiding the bottle from view, although its shape seemed burned into his retinas. The few steps to the front door seemed to take an eternity, and it took all his will not to just run for the exit.

The goggles were shoved in his bag almost before he had the door open, and he stumbled at the shift in his vision, scattering the flip-flops to opposite sides of the room. There was no time to remedy the error, there was nothing but the overwhelming NEED to get out, to put as much distance as possible between himself and that damned... THING. He was already panting when he made the sidewalk and finally allowed himself to run.

Mere blocks away, and he was dead-bolting his own front door. His hands shook as they closed on the Maker's Mark bottle, his fingers settling on the hard red wax that had sealed the top. He fumbled for a glass, but gave up after the second attempt sent it skittering over the edge of the table to shatter on the floor.

Fuck.

The bourbon was smooth as it splashed into his mouth, the glorious warmth sliding down his throat like mother's milk. Two, three desperate swallows and he thought his world might start to make sense again. He shuddered at the unwelcome memory that spiked through his brain.

FUCK.

He was suddenly aware of how his clothes clung to him, sweat-sodden with fear. He left them in a trail to the shower, where he climbed under the cascading hot water, huddling on the tile floor, shivering. He reached up and twisted the cold tap almost closed, feeling as though he would never be warm again; never get the images out of his head.

What the fuck was she doing with something like that?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dee was suddenly and completely awake. Why? She didn't move, but kept her breathing slow and steady and just listened. Nothing. But she could almost swear she wasn't alone in the house... She slitted open her eyes just enough to see that it was dark. Too dark.

Was the power out? She listened for another long handful of heartbeats. The low, steady hum of the ceiling fan assured her all was well.

The darkness unnerved her. The light on the landing didn't have an off switch; it had taken her a week to get used to sleeping with its light leaking through the cheap miniblinds. Why was that light out, now?

It's an imperfect world; bulbs burn out all the time.

Although unmoving, Dee stilled herself further. She thought she had heard a sound... perhaps the whisper of fabric, as if shifting along an outstretched arm. Her heart hammered in her chest, pounded in her ears, and she bit back a curse as her own body robbed her of that briefest advantage.

Fuck.

Or did it? Again, louder this time. That breath of movement, the obvious sound of clothing. She didn't dare move, but strained with all of her being to pin a location to the sounds.

THERE. Someone was in the living room. She recognized the sound of the lightweight flip-flops as they slid across the tile. In a single fluid motion, Dee rolled from the bed, her hand reaching, closing around the baseball bat resting against the side of the mattress. Weapon raised, she darted through the darkened apartment, silent and furious. The front door stood open, and she rushed to the landing, barely catching a glimpse of her intruder as he-? she-? disappeared into the night.

FUCK.

Dee stepped back inside and closed the door before turning on all the lights. Nothing seemed to be amiss, although one of her shoes was in the tiny kitchen, and the other was barely visible beneath the sofa.

In the bedroom, the door of the wooden cabinet was not quite closed. In a panic, she opened the door completely. Dee sobbed with relief to see the bottle still in place. She pulled it to her, sinking onto the bed and wrapping herself around its oddly warm form.

It was safe. Thank the gods.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As was her wont in the late afternoon, Dee was sitting at an umbrella-shaded table, drinking a glass of white wine and watching the ocean. The remains of her meal had been cleared away, but that didn't stop the birds from eyeing her hopefully. A glossy black grackle squawked and shifted atop the sign that said, "Do not feed the birds" in five languages.

"Do you think they can read?"

"The tourists, or the birds?" she responded without turning.

He responded with a genuine laugh. "Both, I suppose."

Dee glanced at him, quickly, appraisingly; the fabric of his casual attire that spoke of money, his average yet almost delicate features, his grown-out haircut that brushed his shoulders, the way his smile somehow made him seem completely accessible.

Without a word, she used one foot to push the adjacent chair out from her table.

"Yes."

He paused for only a moment; having been caught trying to think of an excuse to ask to join her, then accepted her offer, placing his amber drink on the table in front of him.

"I'm Matt," he said, extending his hand.

"Dee." She liked the way he actually grasped her hand without trying to break it. His fingers were a bit damp, but that could be from the condensation on his glass. At this range, his eyes seemed to shift between blue and grey. Interesting.

Dee interrupted him before he could speak.

"Is this the part where you tell me you've been watching me for days, and just HAD to come and talk to me?" Again, that amazing smile dazzled her.

"What about... after watching you sit here alone all afternoon, I wondered if we could share this patch of shade, have a couple of drinks and make snarky remarks about the tourists?"

Dee made an amused sound that wasn't quite a laugh. "And if I didn't buy that one?"

Matt didn't hesitate. "Then I'd simply say that the view was best from your table and ask to join you."

"Nice recovery."

He smiled, lifted his drink to her and took a sip.

Dee finished her glass, signaled the waitress for another round, and then asked for a phone book when the drinks arrived.

"Locksmith?" he asked, following her finger down the page.

"Yeah, some jackass broke into my place last night."

His eyes were wide with concern. "Are you alright?"

Dee looked at him. "Not 'what did they take?' but am I ok?"

Matt smiled thoughtfully. "If it makes you feel better: Did they get anything important? Did you see who it was? What did the police say? What about the neighbors? Are you ok?"

She couldn't help but laugh. Couldn't help but like him. "I'm fine. Pissed as hell, though."

"Naturally. Your privacy was invaded."

Dee waved that away. "I almost had the bastard. A couple seconds sooner, and he would have gotten to be very good friends with my baseball bat."

Matt leaned forward. "You saw who it was?"

"Not really. It was dark, and he was running like the Devil himself was on his heels."

She looked at him for a long moment.

Dee's phone vibrated and sang The Phantom of the Opera theme. She sighed, distracted from her train of thought. "Excuse me, I have to take this."

Matt nodded and sipped his drink, looking out at the water to give her the illusion of privacy.

"Hey, Dom... What? No, everything is fine...."

He allowed himself to relax a little. She had no idea, then.

"Really... Yes, I'm positive... By the Gods, Dom, you're worse than a mother hen.... Yes, I WILL.... Bye."

Matt looked at her with a tentative smile. "Boyfriend?"

Dee's face closed. "It's complicated."

"Why didn't you tell him what happened? He seemed worried."

"Because then he'd come down here."

Matt stirred his drink idly. "That would be a bad thing?"

"He's the last person I want to see right now."

In the end, she hadn't asked him to install the new lock. She hadn't invited him to her place at all. She wasn't stupid; she'd seen all of those movies where the handsome new stranger strikes up a friendship with his intended victim to get into her house. No, she wasn't stupid at all.

So, instead, she was at his place, drinking his expensive bourbon and ... flirting with him? Yes, there was the almost coy smile, and there, the way she toyed with her drink.

And he was tempted. Who wouldn't be? She was attractive, assertive and witty—all things he enjoyed in a woman. But always, in the back of his mind, the dark, ugly reminder of what he had found in that cabinet.

He watched her eyes dart around his apartment as though cataloguing the contents, pausing now and again on a picture, a work of art, the row of heavy, crystal glasses on the shelf above the bar.

He realized she was speaking.

"What happened?"

"What?" he asked.

"There's only seven glasses."

She'd noticed that? He shrugged as though it didn't matter. "Broke one."

Dee shifted her casual repose across from him on the white leather couch, tucking one tanned leg up under her. She leaned forward and added another couple fingers worth of Maker's Mark to her glass, swirling it around the ice cubes to chill slightly.

"I never expected something so careless of you, Mattie," she said, looking at the amber liquor and not him.

He felt ice gripping his balls. "Pardon?" he managed.

Dee's eyes continued to study her glass as she lifted it to her lips, drained it.

"Do you have a housekeeper?"

"No..." the question threw him off guard.

"No," she agreed. "Because you like your things just... so." Dee poured more of his good bourbon over the ice cubes. "You like the finer things in life, and nothing is out of place."

Finally, she looked at him, and Matt thought he would drown in her eyes even as he feared she knew the truth of it all.

"It was an accident," he found himself confessing.

Her lips smiled at him; it didn't reach her eyes. "And me, Mattie? Am I an accident, as well, in your carefully planned world?"

Part of him rankled that she called him that. The part of him that wasn't terrified almost liked it, wanted to hear that familiar form of his name on her lips again.

Her glass was empty again. How much had she had? He saw the telltale near-fumble of her fingers.

"You are," he said softly, "unexpected."

She laughed softly, and he wondered just when he had gotten close enough to feel the heat coming off of her tanned skin. The heady scent of her mingled with the bourbon, doubly intoxicating to him. She was all sea and sky and a deep, dark longing.

Dee's hand rubbed over his erection through his jeans as her lips sought his, and he was very nearly lost. His body arched against her palm as his hands slid up to cup her face. Her full lips quivered, gave softly when his thumb brushed over them.

The memory of those runes shifting and twisting over the opaque bottle suddenly lanced through him, and cooled his passion completely. Matt took a deep breath as he looked at her.

"Ask me again when you're sober," he said.

"Fuck you," Dee swore and pulled away from him angrily. "You mother fucking jack-off!" She half-rose to her feet then slumped against the padded leather arm of the sofa, out cold.

Matt watched her for a long, long moment, before taking a deep breath and brushing the disheveled hair from her face. Now, with her guard down, he could see that she wasn't as young as he'd initially thought. He could usually pin a person's age within a couple of years, but things just didn't add up. Early thirties? Forties? But there was something utterly timeless about her...

Beneath that playful, sarcastic exterior, there was...a hardness, which surprised him. Where was she? Where was the kernel of self that was the essence of Dee?

Matt's hand reached out to cup her cheek, his thumb brushing over her skin slowly as he closed his eyes and just felt. Swirls of dark color eddied and flowed and mingled, and he held his breath as it he could still the ripples through sheer will alone. There... a flash of lightness... he followed it instinctively, passing through the shuddering washes of painful color that he'd learned meant emotional agony. As he neared that that tiny bead of light, that single grain of golden essence, his heart nearly broke at the overwhelming anguish.

He opened his eyes and looked down at her unconscious form. "You've been alone such a long time, haven't you?" he whispered.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dee floated in that half sleeping, half waking realm, slowly letting the day tug her into awareness. Until she realized she wasn't in her bed. Eyes snapping open, she leapt to her feet, hand clenched in a fist and ready to swing.

"Ow... that was bad...." Dee slumped back onto the couch, head in her hands, eyes tightly closed.

Slowly, she opened one eye. On the table was a bottle of aspirin and a glass of water. Dee gratefully downed a double dose as well as the water, before noticing the note that read: "Have a shower—you'll feel better." Her finger seemed to brush over his handwritten words of its own will and she smiled a little, remembering...

Yeah right. He'd turned her down. Besides, there was no room in her life for—For what? A man who might actually—Dee cut the thought off before it could fully form and made her way to the bathroom.

Towels had been left out for her. And a toothbrush still in its packaging. Who was this guy? The toothbrush made her feel slightly less dreadful.

A long, hot shower made her feel much better. Almost human, Dee thought, as she toweled off. She eyed yesterday's clothes with distaste and slipped into his robe instead.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Matt checked the images on his display, switching among the views from the carefully hidden cameras, before tucking the equipment into his bag and slipping out the door. It had been a difficult decision to leave her alone in his house, but he didn't think he'd have a better opportunity.

He parked the van across the street from her apartment, checked the display again and headed up the stairs as though he belonged there. The new lock wasn't any more impressive than the old one, and he was quickly inside and staring at that innocent looking cabinet again.

Very carefully, he eased the door open and just stared at the bottle, watching the runes do their odd, shifting flow over the matte glass. He didn't dare touch it, but eased the camera from his pocket instead. The first few images were blurred; then he caught the rhythm. There was a subtle throb in his head... a slow, pulsing beat. He took picture after picture until he realized the runes were repeating.

Enough.

With practiced care, Matt closed the cabinet door. Checking for errant flip-flops, he headed out, locking her new deadbolt behind him. He flipped on the equipment in the back of the van and watched the monitor for a moment.

After parking in his own driveway, Matt dumped the pictures from the camera onto his laptop, keeping half his attention on the monitor that showed Dee still passed out on his couch. It was simple enough to cut and paste from the photos so he could see the whole of the runes' message at one time.

Except that they weren't runes.

Symbols he recognized were turned on their sides, like sowilo. Ansuz was flipped and had an extra arm. Algiz was missing its center. There was gebo... but it also appeared in a circle.

Matt pulled up the runes on Wiki to refresh his memory. Nope, he knew what they were supposed to look like. After a moment's thought, he clicked on the link to the Phoenician and smiled. Of course. Not sowilo, but shin. And it was he, waw, taw and teth when circled.

Who writes in ancient Phoenician? Fine. Matt slipped through the back door into a university's language research site and began the painstaking translation that he hoped would answer a few questions.

He picked out words and phrases; blood seal and grave eater, and something about anointing a lover with his seed... This was Old Magick, from the time when the gods walked among men and their words held Power.

Matt shivered as the memory lanced through him of the absolute horror he'd felt and heard and experienced when he'd touched that inscribed glass. If there was one thing he knew, it was that Magick always had a cost. He could only imagine what would make such a cost acceptable. That soul crushing anguish he'd found within Dee...

A red light was blinked insistently; something had tripped the motion detector. There. She was just starting to rise. Hung over, too, by the looks of it. He knew just the fix for that.

Dee stepped out of the steamy bathroom to find Matt cooking hash browns in his immaculate kitchen. He tossed a smile at her over his shoulder.

"These always hit the spot after I've had a bit too much," he said.

She couldn't help but smile back as her stomach growled in response. Dee perched on a barstool as she ate, the grin getting bigger and bigger on her face.

"What?" he finally asked.

"It's just killing you that I'm wearing your robe, isn't it?"

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