AN: Thanks to everyone who has reviewed this so far! It really means a lot to me. :-D


By the time I left Seascape, it was almost dawn; even if I had been awake enough to do it, there wouldn't have been much activity out past the human district. Judas would have to wait-- and so would Van Gregor. My head had begun to throb, and seeing Luke and Etienne all in one night brought up too many bad memories. I had a lot of memories, all wrapped up in the neat little package called my brain, and they were begging to be set free. I just didn't have time for reminiscence. Luke conjured up some pretty shady images of Jake-- and my past, and consequently, my father. And Etienne . . . seeing Etienne was like having acid flashes.

I went back to my apartment and crashed into bed, not paying attention to anything else, even the flashing red light on my answering machine. If it had been really important, I decided, they would have called my cell phone. As I slept, I dreamed.

It was a family dinner-- almost. A long, wooden table, and I was seated at the head, far, far away from the people at the other end. It was an old room, smelled like matches or fire, recently extinguished candles. The man and woman at the other end I recognized as my parents, but the small boy directly opposite from me I didn't know. Maybe I knew him, I decided within the dream, if there was any truth to hearsay. He was tiny and blond and looked at me over his fork and knife and grinned. Everything in the room seemed slightly skewed, not exactly ninety-degree angles. It made my head hurt.

The man and the woman, my parents, looked older than I remembered them, but they didn't age the entire time I knew them. They ate in silence, raising forks to their mouths methodically, one after the other, all watching me. I didn't have a plate in front of me, and I was dressed in contemporary clothing-- but theirs appeared to be dated. They smiled at me strangely and continued eating their food.

I looked at the little boy, who just stared at me. "Who are you?" I asked him, and my own voice sounded hollow to me.

"Don't you know me?" he asked me, and he blinked.

Then I woke up; that was it-- the entire dream. I buried my head in my pillow and tried to block out the sounds of my alarm clock. The answering machine next to my bed blinked with nine unheard messages. I didn't even want to know. I had to get up and get downtown and find Judas and get him to hire me before I got sued and thrown in jail for breach of contract.

There were other problems, too. If Van Gregor knew I was half, as I suspected he did, he could get me taken to any hospital and put down, courtesy of the Anti-Spread Act. I wasn't going to help anyone if I was dead.

I crawled out of bed and into the shower, where I spent almost an hour, letting the scalding water cascade onto my skin until I thought it would bleed. There was something cleansing about the heat, something pure, unselfish. I sat down on the floor of the shower, my head in my hands, and I think I cried, but the tears blended into the water. I couldn't have said why I was crying, but I was, just tiny, little tears, silent sobs.

I finally got up and out of the shower and put on my uniform of jeans and black shirt. I strapped on my gun and blow-dried my hair and then injected myself with Holy Water. More and more, day by day, I felt like a junkie. Father Laurence would have been so disappointed in me. 'Prayer and supplication', he would have said, 'that is what will guide you away from the darkness'. Prayer and supplication were good and fine, but Holy Water did its work faster. And God had yet to smite me down.

I knew where Judas would be, if he considered himself a respectable member of the vampire community on any level. Some times they were all banally predictable. I got into my car, still ignoring the flashing red light on my answering machine, and I left for Strong Arm in the crying lady district.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the large building, I felt the bile rise up in my throat. From the pounding in my head, both Etienne and Gage were inside, on top of Monica and Judas. There was another force, darker, stronger than all of them, but I couldn't identity it. The fifth master, maybe, I thought, but that might have been jumping to conclusions. Part of me was terrified; walking into any place of this sort was dangerous, and I didn't have the law on my side any more. There were a great deal of people who hated me, a great deal of people who would have killed me were they given half of a chance to do so. I had a lot of bravado, but that would only take me so far.

I took a deep breath and steadied myself before getting out of my car. My license, still valid, still viable, allowed me to take my weapon into any place at any time, but the truth was that if they wanted to kill me, wanted to literally rip me from limb to limb, then they would do so. Once I stepped inside, they outnumbered me five hundred to one. I might have been good, but I wasn't that good. My only safeguards were Etienne and Gage.

The Strong Arm's door was unguarded, because Monica never felt the need to do so, and I passed through the front door into the coat check room easily. The girl behind the counter took my gun, my cross, and my jacket. I silently prayed to God for protection, and I knew He would look out for me.

Out of nowhere, I heard the tinkling of Monica's voice as she said my name. "What brings you here tonight?" she asked me, coming out of the curtains of the coat check room. Her long dark hair was exquisitely curled, and although she looked so young, her eyes betrayed her age.

"I'm looking for Judas," I said to her, smiling. In spite of everything, in spite of her disease and the terrible things I had seen her done, she was still one of my only friends. My life was painfully lacking the social aspect, and I had to find friends where I could.

She took my elbow and led me out into the hallway, and already I could hear the cheers from the fight, even though the main arena was a floor below us. We walked to the elevator as she said, "So sad. I thought perhaps you were here for the fight."

"Do I often come for the fights?" I said to her with a smile.

"No, but we can always hope." She shot me a small smile as we stepped into the elevator, her skirt swishing behind us. The elevator was small and cold, too cold to really be comfortable, but that was how Monica liked it. She was the youngest of all four of the primary vampires in Umbrella, and her presence was the least threatening. Most of the time, she was just a woman trying to run her community. She was more successful than most; the crying lady district brought in the most money, primarily from legal activities, but it also cost the most to maintain.

"Etienne and Gage are here," she told me, "but I suppose you already knew that." She pressed one of the large gold buttons on the elevator wall, and something chimed, and the elevator began to sink down.

"Yeah, I did," I told her. I ran back over the details again: Priscilla Lansing, Lucy Peterson, Litany Guilden, blood-for-sale, Thackeray. I wasn't sure of how much to tell Monica. First things first, though, I decided. I had to find Judas. "Who's fighting tonight?" I asked her.

"Rafael and Marcus," she answered, and the elevator doors binged and then slid open. The shouts and cheers and general hubbub of sound flooded into the open elevator. "After you," she said to me, her French accent coming out just a tiny bit. She hid it well, perhaps in an effort not to be associated with Etienne and Gage. I started out of the elevator, lambasted by the noises from the arena.

I had to turn off my abilities to read. It would have been too much-- surrounded by that many vampires. There was still something gnawing at my insides, that darker force that couldn't be denied even as much as I wanted to. We stepped out onto the landing, a square that ran around the entire enormous arena. The lights were dim on the outside, but the fighting ring was bathed in bright lights. There must have been five hundred people inside, at least, in the stadium seating and the tables closer to the ring. There was money to be made here, but there was a trick to it. Monica almost always had a full vampire fighting a half vampire, and no one could ever tell the difference between the two. I could have passed for a full blood-- if I hadn't been known so well. That in itself was probably illegal-- to knowingly pit two so unmatched opponents, but I wasn't about to be the one to bring that up to anyone.

I could tell a half immediately, but that was only because I could recognize that particular sort of presence. They weren't common, and I knew that Monica often made humans into half vampires just for the sake of her fights. That was a Decon Squad matter, but the weaker of the two always died by the time the night was over, and that was all the DS could do, anyway.

"Judas is down by the stage!" Monica called to me over the din. "I trust that you'll find him easily enough." Then she smiled and half-floated away from me.

I'm sure I will, I thought, and I started down the stairs, heading to the stage.