Chapter 1

Another funeral. Another body laid into the ground. Another dead cousin. Sally, a relative on my mother's side, was dead and I glance over to my uncle, Simon, and his petite Spanish wife, Maria. Maria clings tightly to Simon, sobbing heavily as her only daughter is still above ground though soon she will be swallowed along with her small, cramped box.

We place white roses on the coffin as we walk by, some family members mumble a few words. I have nothing to say to a nicely varnished coffin, I told Sally everything as I watched her slowly bleed to death from a shallow neck wound. A vampire got to her, slashed her throat. Quick. There was no reason for that monster to do it other than to take out another West hunter. Even my medical training couldn't save her, I screamed my good-byes to her as I tried to kill the bastard that did that to her. Susannah held her, comforting her in the last moments until the life disappeared in her eyes. My sai went through him as she exhaled her final breath and even through I tried CPR, she was gone. The ambulance found us huddled around her body, eyes wet and mumbling about a mugger. A delicate lie. Susannah and I knew that the vampires had claimed another one of us that night, though we couldn't scream that in the streets like we wanted to, we could only quietly mumble to each other about a mugger that came from no where and wanted nothing.

I look at the people around me, my family, the mighty West family. But our numbers dwindle, aunts and uncles are terrified about putting their children in the ground they avoiding having more than two, usually. In our family it isn't the thought of seeing two lives sprout from seedling to adulthood, it is the thought of having the pain of children in the ground instead of more that dictates the amount.

Only Grandma Shirley and Aunt Shiloh broke the trend of two children. Grandma Shirley has four children, my mother Stephani, Aunt Sidney, Aunt Shiloh, and Uncle Simon, who now watches as the black varnish coffin is covered by perfect white roses. Grandma Shirley has only buried one of her four children, Stephani, my mother, from an unrelated of an incident to vampires as possible. A car accident. An ordinary car accident took a woman who had killed over twenty vampires. It didn't seem right, even 28 years later. Aunt Shiloh has three children, all alive, Sahara, Sundown, and Strom. Uncle Simon only has two, Sally and Stephan, though now he didn't even have Sally. And Aunt Sidney has two as well, Susannah and Selina, although she raised me in my mother's stead, so she has three children to mourn instead of two.

Tonight there would be no hunts, no parties, and no drinking. We would all go to our separate houses to mourn our separate ways. I knew that Strom would go mourn at a bar, he was close to Sally, almost like siblings. Stephan would disappear into his high powered office for the next few months before coming to terms with the fact that his older sister was dead, then he would run away to France to stay with our cousins, Scott and Sebastian, for a few weeks. After that, he would accept that she was gone and there was nothing more to do but remember the good times. The only other person who would be deeply affected by Sally's death would be Sky, a distant cousin that became Sally's pen pal a few years back.

The rest of us were accustomed to death but it didn't make seeing them die any easier. Several years ago, when I was around nine year old, a vampire flock had discovered the retreat of Great-Aunt Silvia, one of Grandma Shirley's two sisters, and her ten strong clan of hunters. The flock wiped them all out in a single night, even the children from the oldest of thirteen to a new born. It had been the only time I'd ever seen my tough-as-nails grandmother cry. All those lives lost that night.

Though from that horror dawned the realization that staying all in the same place wasn't the most effective idea. Which is why the Shirley clan, as we call ourselves, spreads out in a five mile radius around Grandma Shirley's house. Within reach in case of an emergency but far enough away that if it really came down to running or staying, we could run. Not that anyone would choose to run. We protect the family, that is our purpose. Vampire hunting is only secondary, but we always protect the family no matter what.

The Shaylynn clan, Grandma Shirley's other sister, took a different lesson from the Silvia clan's death. They spread far and wide from each other, the farthest being France and the nearest being the next city. Shaylynn's family isn't as close emotionally as ours or as large, population wise, as ours.

After the funeral we disperses, some stop to talk in hushed voice while others scurry away to their cars. I am one of the ones to scurry away to my car, not because I want to escape death but because I have work that I am already late for. I know my lab coat is in the car already so I just need to drive the hospital and then listen, for perhaps twenty minutes, while the Chief of Medicine mocks me on my tardiness. I won't say anything about my family, I won't tell that bitch that I've come from my cousin's death, I'll just smile and apologize.

"I simply forgot the time, I'm so sorry." I tell her, Dr. Melanie Kay as I walk into the doctor's lounge to get various files and other nonsense.

"Why, Sue, thank you for gracing us with your presence." Kay says snidely. I feel my eye twitch, something she is causing it to do quite a bit lately.

"My sister was having a problem that need immediate attention, I'm very sorry." I tell her, making my blue guppy eyes as pleading as possible.

Kay loses her sarcastic smile, "Listen, Sue, don't think that you suddenly get special privilege just because you've been working here for nearly a year. A year doesn't mean squat, you've got to work hard and work long hours before you become top dog. And showing up late isn't a way to do it." My eye twitch became more prominent.

"Of course, Dr. Kay." I give her my most humble look.

"To get the prize, you've got to put in the time. That's my motto, maybe it should be your as well." Kay says as she walks away.

Except that you're the laziest cow I've ever had the displeasure of working with. I think bitterly.

Night settles over the quiet hospital, as I'm walking to the nurse's station. I think about the time I put into my residency, 36 hours is the standard time but the longest I was ever there was right around 72 hours. I worked hard to get where I am now, if I wanted to I could get a different job and maybe that Chief of Medicine wouldn't be such an asshole. But as I rounded the corner to the nurse's station I saw why I stayed and put up with Kay's crap. Troy is talking to a nurse, Alice I think her name is, a bright smile against his dark face. He has deep brown eyes and flopping black hair that falls into his eyes. He tells me he's going for the shagging look, I tell him he's too cheap to get a haircut.

Troy and I have been dating for nearly three months now, though he still doesn't know how I spend my nights. I told him the same lie I tell everyone. I have a mother, named Katharine, a father, named Lyle, and a younger sister, named Samantha. Who live far, far out of town. All a well fabricated lie to keep them away from my real family, though sometimes I feel the weight of my secrets. Sometimes when I lay there in his arms, well after he's fallen asleep, I wonder about telling him. But I feel that only three months is too short of a time to spread a family secret, maybe if we get married but never before.

Troy catches a glimpse of me and turns to look. He quickly says something I can't hear to the nurse and strides towards me, his scrubs tight over his chest. "Hello, beautiful." He says brightly. We don't kiss or embrace, technically we aren't even supposed to be dating. I am a doctor and he is a nurse, so by all rights I am his superior and hospital policy discourages relationships between the two groups. Although, I doubt anyone would say anything he asked me to not act any different just in case the other nurses thought of favoritism or any other such nonsense.

"Hello, Troy." I say with a faint smile. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Alice giving me dirty look, I wrinkle my nose in irritation. How dare she give me looks, if only she knew that Troy and I were exclusive she wouldn't think twice about him. Though the way she eyes his backside, I am willing to bet that even the threat of me won't make her back off.

"So, Dr. West, the patient in room 449 is still awake if you'd like to talk to him." I look at the file he hands me. Patient 449 is a diabetic with hypertension and is complaining about his diet. I frown at the added notation.

"What's this about his diet?" I ask, it isn't my job to make sure he got the right diet, it is the dietician's job.

Troy gives me an exasperated look, "Well he won't talk to the dietician, he thinks she's mean. He won't even talk to the other doctors, he only wants you."

I give him a nervous look. I had a patient once who became obsessed with me, it was very unsettling. "Fabulous." I murmur.

I ask Troy to look in on the other patients to see if they're awake so that I can talk to them about their problems, I let my mind wander as I mosey down the hall way. My thoughts turn to my cousin, I think about the darkness pressing in around her cold body. The way that the skin would look after being cleaned, it would still be raw and thick. Sally had on a high collared shirt to cover up the awful gash from her left ear to her right, it bothers me. Sitting at my cousin's funeral and a damn shirt bothers me. It's only because Sally hated high collared shirts, she had a lovely neck and wanted to flaunt it. Sometimes I thought she liked teasing the vampires with her supple throat before killing them. But each their own.

I push Sally's image away from my mind as I gently knock on the door. "Mr. Smith, are you awake? It's Dr. West." I say quietly, hoping that he's fallen asleep even though his light's on.

A large hand folds around the door and Mr. Smith is standing there, holding the door wider for me. "Oh, you're awake. I figured with the late hour you would have gone to bed. I didn't wake you, did I?" I asked, I always wanted the patients to feel like I cared, not just doing my job.

"No, no. I've been waiting for you, Sue." Smith says as he turns towards his bed, his hospital gown gaping horrifyingly.

"And what can I do for you, Mr. Smith?" I try to make him see that we're not on a title less basis, and especially not a first name basis.

"Well it's these trays that the kitchen keeps sending. The food is absolutely horrible." Smith climbs into bed, though he leaves most of his upper thigh exposed. It makes me think of beavers being strapped to someone's body.

I frown, trying to look like I'm thinking hard. Several seconds pass as I wait for him to continue, he doesn't. "So, would you rather have vegetarian dishes instead of the main course?" I really don't know what he wants me to do about it.

He makes a face, "I don't want that rabbit food. Perhaps if the hospital would bring me some McDonalds or something like that. Do you think they'd pay for that sort of thing?"

I wait a few seconds, waiting for him to laugh and say just kidding. But his face is in total earnest. "Well…" I start slowly, "Since food is available in many varieties I don't think that can be arranged." I see his face fall. "But, let me refer you to our Chief of Medicine, she'd know exactly what to do. Just excuse me and I'll have a nurse page her."

I begin to slip away when he calls me back. "No, no, Sue, I don't want to deal with some doctor that doesn't know what she's talking about." I want to tell him that in this situation, I don't know what I'm talking about. Though having a doctor admit they have no idea what's going on isn't exactly good.

"But she'd be able to handle that sort of thing, Mr. Smith. If you'll just excuse me." I scramble out the door quicker then he can process, I hear him call my name as I walk down the hall but I ignore it. I know that Kay has already left for the night, she shows up around noon then leaves about seven. Supposedly she works at home though I don't believe that for a second. And the injustice of it all is that she doesn't even put in a full day's work but still gets paid enough to have a huge house and send her kids to the most expensive private school in town. Though, I can't complain much. I do indeed get paid a pretty penny as well.

I tell Troy to page Kay, just so Smith can hear us calling her. He looks at me queerly, I shrug. "Just pleasing a patient." I make my rounds for the night, looking in on patients that are sleeping to check their IV or their heart rate, just to make sure. I talk to the patients that are awake, one of them I even help with their diet though within my limited training and it has nothing to do with fast food.

I start getting hungry around one in the morning, absently noting that I haven't seen Troy since the call to the missing Chief of Medicine. As I meander down to the cafeteria I look out into the darkness from the huge bay windows that line the hallways. People flicker around in the shadows and I wonder if they're vampires looking for their next prey or if they're prey being looked at by vampires. I can't save them. I'm saving lives here. I've saved over one hundred people but I can't save them. Sometimes you just have to save yourself and sometimes you can't even do that. I'm really in a black mood tonight.

The darkness folds around me until the bright light of the cafeteria cuts through, showing me a safe haven from moody patients and pissed off nurses. I like the cafeteria, even with the darkness pressing against the glass windows, I can still mull over my food thinking about some illness I can't figure out or some nest that I can't find. The cafeteria is a good thinking place.

My focus is on food and I don't even notice the two scrubs huddled in the corner. Nurses and I dismiss them from my thoughts. Food is my only thought at the moment. Tonight they're serving tortellini that's slightly under cooked and crunchy around the edges with a thin marinara sauce. I choose the vegetarian sauce with a few raw carrots. I can't stand cooked carrots, they're too mushy. I take a seat, facing away from the main cafeteria and gazing out the dark windows. Although, I can still see every detail from the reflection.

I take several bites of the crunchy tortellini, mulling over life and death, thinking black thoughts when my gaze falls on the two scrubs again. The pair is too far back to see features but the light blue one is familiar, even sitting. The pink one is delicate and obviously female. Their sleeves are touching and I assume their holding hands. Or if they don't have hands, rubbing nubs together. The thought makes me chuckle, even though it's not really funny, when the light blue one stands. The shape is familiar, male, and the clothes are tighter then most guys buy them. I frown harder as he walks towards the window, his features become more clear. Brown hair falls into a face that's only a blur, he dips his head and kisses the girl. I realize why the shape is familiar in a sudden slap to the face. My tortellini falls from the plastic fork, forgotten as I turn around. Troy surfaces from a light kiss on Alice's cheek, my own cheeks burn.

A few frozen seconds pass, my blood is cold and my heart skips. Then the dramatic part of me, the part that took to the stage in high school, takes over. "Well!" I say loudly, standing with boneless grace. "Alice, my dear, that pink is absolutely awe inspiring with your skin tone." I pause dramatically. "I mean I know you're pale but that just makes you look ghostly." A grin that began on her lips turned quickly to an unattractive scowl.

"And Troy, oh Troy. When you told me that you didn't want anyone to know here that we were dating I figured it was for the reasons that you told me. You know, a superior dating an inferior could cause a stir." I make the t sharp and brittle. "But," Another sharp t. "I never even thought it was so that you could score with the other hair brain nurses."

I see Troy go pale while Alice's cheek take on an even healthier red then when I insulted her clothes. The clash really was awful. I look at her closely, "I'm assuming you didn't know either."

Alice frowns, "Of course not. I'm not a man stealer."

"Well we'll see about that. I've been with this peachy person for just past three months, and your self?" I elegantly turn my palm up towards her, gesturing in her timeline.

"Six months." She answers shortly, glaring daggers at Troy, who tries his best smile but her steely gaze makes that die on his lips.

"Well, it looks like I'm the man stealer then, of course you realize it wasn't intentional." I give Troy a harsh smile. "I think we need to see other people. Or rather I need to see other people, because you obviously already are." I give Alice a small smile, though her gaze is only for Troy, then I walk away.

I walk down the silent hall in my silent soft soled shoes feeling tight and anxious like I need to do something violent to someone with dark hair, though that rages against my nature as a healer. I'm thankful that my shift is half over, it means I'm half way there to egging Troy's car. I start planning out what other mischievous misdeed I'll do to him as I absently do necessary paperwork. I cover up the feeling of hurt with callous ideas of the arrogance of men and plots to make Troy quit for both my sake and Alice's.

After several hours of paperwork and only one hour in the massage with CNN, I sneak to the kitchen around four. The red haired diet office woman hears my sad story with a sympathetic ear and leans me mayonnaise, half a carton of eggs, and thick-it, a nifty invention for making liquids thicker for patients with, lesser but still, difficulty swallowing.

Just as the sun begins to rise I was spreading the last of the mayonnaise onto his door handles. The red head had told me to put the thick-it in his gas tank, but I didn't feel that mean and besides the fact that I couldn't figure out how to jimmy his car door open to pull the lever that would release the cover. The eggs were smeared over the windows and the paint job, I felt it in my bones that it would be a hot day and I almost felt pity for him when he discovered the dried eggs smeared over his rancid canary yellow paint job on his Land Rover. He's a nurse, they get paid well, he'll be able to afford a new painting I assume. The only disappointing thing was that the eggs were in a jug instead of individually shells so I wasn't able to throw them satisfyingly at his car, though it had to do.

I make a last visit to the fourth floor before I leave, Alice was still there and so is Troy, though the space between them might as have been miles. I smile coyly at Alice and set the empty jug of eggs down on the counter and then just walk away. It was a satisfying end to and unsatisfying day.