Do not think about Lucius Messala seemed to have become Blair's new mantra for the past three hours. It also didn't work, much to her annoyance.
She was still unclear as to her reasons for not transforming the whole nest in a furnace, though blaming shock pleased her well enough for now. Whatever it was exactly, she was grateful for it. Going rogue on the resonance vampire and going above Irvin's head was bad enough, and would almost certainly blow any chance she might have had of getting her case back, but Irvin had already warned her against threatening Messala's life in any way. Short of him actually trying to kill her, there would be a snug little cell waiting for her in the nearest prison if she lit him on fire, and she doubted the jury would take kindly to the 'but he kissed my cheek!' line of defense. Actually, she was pretty sure it would earn her psychiatric counseling everyday for the duration of her sentence.
Do not think about Lucius Messala, she berated herself again. She lit another cigarette, ignoring the fact that she had just reached the stage where she had smoke half her pack in the span of a mere hours.
The sun was setting, she remarked idly. She hoped Hebter would arrive soon; she was twitchy and restless and she needed to take her ideas off – do not think about fucking Messala!
Her phone rang, making her jump in surprise. Checking the caller id, just in case, she was half-surprised to see it was her father. Guiltily, she remembered that she had never called back after leaving him a message saying she wouldn't be able to attend Marcielli's with him. That had been two weeks ago, and when had she seen him for the last time anyway? For fuck's sake, she had had more interaction with Fanny than with him this past month.
"Hey, dad," she said.
Despite his tendency to indulge in long-winded monologues, her father managed to ask her how she was doing, sweetheart, in less than a minute. Blair debated the possibility to explain about Messala, when she reminded herself she had decided to stop thinking about him at least three hundred times before.
"I'm fine," she lied, because telling him about her suspension would bring on a parenting discourse that could last at least half an hour, and she had neither the time nor the energy to debate on how she needed to manage her anger better.
"I'm glad to hear that, sweetheart, I was starting to wonder whether you had died in your flat. Or somewhere else, maybe, because I came a few days ago and there were no dead body. But the ashtray was full and I had emptied it the last time so I kind of knew you were still alive. My point is, you could have called."
"Sorry," she said. "It's been busy these days. And you know, you don't need to clean up when you come over, I do know how to do it."
"Of course, but you're so busy that I thought I might help."
Blair sighed, pinching her nose. As much as she loved her father, sometimes his tendency to act like she was still five and unable to take care of herself annoyed her.
"Why did you call?" she asked.
"Oh, I wanted to ask you about something. But first, before I forget, your mother called me and told me to remind you that Deirdre's daughter is getting married next week and that attendance is mandatory. Not that I know who that Deirdre woman is, or her daughter for that matter, but apparently Fanny can't reach you."
And now she was gritting her teeth. Of course Fanny couldn't reach her, she had blocked her number on her cell and disconnected her landline after the disaster of their last encounter. It had been too optimistic to hope that her mother wouldn't find her way around such a puny obstacle.
"I'm not going," she groaned. "There's no way I'm going, Dad, you know how they are! Fanny will try to set me up with someone, again, I'll just make a mess, again, and Fanny will resent me, again."
"You really should try to call her Mom," her father admonished her.
Blair hadn't called Fanny anything that could hint at their kinship since a few months after her pyrokinetic abilities had kicked him, she had almost burned down the dinner table at Gordon's, and Fanny had repeatedly called her a freak and a monster before sending her back to her father's within the hour. She wasn't about to change her ways.
"I'm not going," she repeated stubbornly.
"Right," her father sighed. "Anyway, more to the point, my call is about someone I met."
Blair sat straighter in her couch. Theodore Hawkins was rarely, if ever, more to the point, and the concision with which he had expressed himself told her more than she really wanted to know about his relationship with said young woman. Whom, she hoped, was not actually that young.
"What about her?"
"Hum, well, I don't think you will approve but I, uh, met someone."
"Why wouldn't I approve?" Blair asked, her eyes narrowing as she rose from the sofa.
"She's a vampire," her father said so quickly that she could barely make out the words.
She let herself plop down on the sofa. Pinching her nose again, she breathed in and out with slow intent. Maybe it would have been better if her father's girlfriend had been that young, finally.
"Dad," she started, but he interrupted her.
"I know, I know, psychics and vampires don't mix, it's dangerous, and you see so many crimes involving vampires and their lovers. But it's been a few months already, sweetheart, and I'm not dead yet. She is really nice. I think you would like her, she's very controlled."
Controlled or not, there was no way Blair was taking the risk of meeting her father's lady friend before she was thoroughly certain the woman had never been involved in anything remotely criminal. And that she was perfectly heterosexual. Heterosexual women seemed to have much less trouble remaining calm around her than any other vampire. At the very least, no female vampires had actually stalked her the way some men had.
As the thought went through her mind it tickled her, though she couldn't say why.
"What's her name?" she asked, trying to put her finger on that elusive idea.
"Alienor," he said. "She's french, she was a noble from their Restauration period. And she was a psychic, too, telekinetics, like me. She was about the same level as me, she thinks, but they didn't really have the classification system then, so she can't be sure."
Blair was barely listening to him anymore as he launched into a lengthy description of his girlfriend.
Then he said: "You know, at first she was worried we would resonate, because we had such similar abilities, and it had already happened to her once. She hated it, she said, it was an horrible experience."
That was it! Power and control, that was always it, just like with humans. She had never had to profile a vampire yet, and she forgot her basics.
"Dad, I've got to go," she said, hanging up without waiting for his answer.
She threw the phone on the coffee table without ceremony and stalked to her bookcase. It took her a few minutes to unearth her old vampire crimino-sociology books. She was absorbed in her reading when Hebter knocked a few minutes later.
"It's open," she called, not bothering to get up.
The vampire hesitated before entering. Blair raised her head and smiled – the big man dwarfed the room just by being in it, and he held a folder that looked satisfyingly heavy.
"What are you doing?" he asked, surprised.
"I was thinking of something just now," she said, excited. "About the vampire that resonated with Lena. What do you know about resonance?"
"Not much," Hebter said with a frown. "Except that a vampire is to be eliminated at all cost if he willingly keeps up the resonance, because he'll become crazy and dangerous."
"Actually, he's probably already mad, in a certain way," Blair said, shifting the books. "These books says that resonance is extremely uncomfortable for a vampire, and only people with psychopathic or sociopathic traits would actually go on with it. First off, it's about the same as a mental rape and prolonged torture for the victim, so it's pretty fucked up from the start. But the reason why the vampire has to be killed? It makes him absolutely ravenous – I mean, sucking a person dry ravenous, and he still wouldn't feel full."
Hebter's face could have illustrated the word disgusted in a dictionary. Aside from the fact that resonance had such a bad reputation in vampire society, there was also a more down-to-earth reason to his reaction to Blair's explanation. Sucking a person dry, apart from the messy aspect of the business, also meant drinking over five liters of blood in one sitting, more than enough to make a vampire sick and have him vomiting for two or three days.
"You say him, are you sure it's a man?" he asked.
"Or a lesbian, but the statistics make it much more likely that it's a man. For the resonance to have such an important effect so fast, the vampire had to stalk her, day and night, or Lena would have deteriorated more slowly, and she would have times when she felt better, mostly during the days, when the culprit was sleeping. It takes dedication to do that, and it's hardly separate from sexual excitation in stalking cases, I don't see why it would be any different for a vampire."
"If it's a man, then it's only down to six names," Hebter said.
"Six?" Blair almost jumped. "We could find him tonight!"
"I doubt it," Hebter answered. "Localizing a vampire is not that easy."
She shrugged. Maybe, maybe not. She motioned for him to sit, and watched him as he went to retrieve the desk chair, installing himself at a respectable distance from her. The gesture was appreciable, but it was probably as much for his sake then hers. From Blair's experience, it was as uncomfortable for vampires as it was for her that they were so entranced by her scent, especially since she was so dangerous for them. They were nothing if addicted to control.
Hebter opened the folder and shifted through the files, pulling the six out. Blair closed the books, pushing them out of the way and Hebter arranged the files so that they were facing her.
Blair opened the files one by one, taking a quick look at the pictures. She had to have seen him at some point, if ever so quickly, and her subconscious must have stored the information. She had an excellent memory for faces, which they had ensured she developed at Officer School.
The first two pictures stirred nothing in her, and the vampire in the third file, with his spiked crimson hair and his multiple piercings she would definitely not have forgotten if she had ever met him. The fourth file, however...
"I've seen him before," she said, turning the file and jabbing at the picture of a man in his mid-thirties, with light brown hair and blue eyes, and a set to his mouth that suggested he hadn't liked having his picture taken.
Hebter took a look at it and frowned, grabbing the first sheet.
"Alexei Mariyanovich," he read with a grimace. "That's bad news."
"How so?" Blair asked, rising and placing herself behind him so she could command a view of the page.
"Political matter. See, his name, Mariyanovich? Most Russian vampires abandon their human names and take their maker's name as a patronymic, like sons take their fathers'... But there's only one vampire allowed to spread the patronymic Mariyanovich, and that's Mariya Ivanovna, the ruler of Eastern Russia."
"I don't care," Blair growled. "If he started the resonance, I don't even care if he's fucking Jesus come again, I'll kill him, and Messala's better not change his mind."
"Lucius won't take back his sentence because of his maker. If anything, he's more likely to send the news to Mariya Ivanovna himself," Hebter said, pulling a face.
"What, he doesn't like her?" Blair laughed, leaning forward a little to get a better view at the picture.
Hebter's sharp intake of breath drew her attention to his face, which uncomfortable expression prompted her to take a few steps back. The vampire's shoulders were tense and his back was so rigid and straight that the chair looked slumped in comparison.
"Excuse me," he said, sighing.
Blair shrugged. She was used to it, anyway. Hebter eased back into his chair, relaxing ever so slightly.
"Lucius hates Mariya Ivanovna 'with a passion', so to speak. But most rulers do, anyway."
"How many rulers are there?" Blair asked.
Hebter shot her a look and she shrugged again. It had been worth a try, anyway. She wondered how many people knew the exact political structure of the vampire society. Secretiveness seemed to be a side-effect of the change.
He raised the sheet with Alexei Mariyanovich to grab her attention.
"What can you tell me about him?" she asked, directing her attention back to the matter at hand.
"As a descendant of the ruler of East Russia, he's a privileged interlocutor for Lucius. A bit like a diplomat, if you would. He arrived in America three months ago, but took two weeks to come to Lucius for permission to stay and went to a governor's instead, which he wasn't allowed to do because of his position. In the past two months, he's had regular meetings with Lucius, the concerns of which I cannot discuss with you."
The memory of the hard face watching her, sliding over her and focusing on Lena came back to Blair, that hand tipping an absent hat, the way he had smiled at Lena. That was where she had seen him, of course. How could she have been so stupid? Lena had been acting strange right after that, in the parking lot. It had started right then, in front of their nose!
"Would you please stop doing that?" Hebter said in a slightly strangled voice.
He was watching her hands as he slowly backed out of her way, and Blair clasped them in fists, smothering the small flames.
"It's him. We saw him that day we came to Messala's office with Lena and Irvin," she said, trying to force down her anger the way she had done to the fire.
There was something else, too. Another time she had seen him, and it had something to do with fire and the half-hidden expression of fear on Hebter's face. She had seen Alexei Mariyanovitch with that same expression, but she had been hurting so much that she hadn't paid attention.
"Fuck," she muttered. "Fuck, fuck, fuck! I'm going to kill him."
Hebter watched her warily from his position by the door – ready to bolt, judging by his stance. It would have made Blair laugh on any other day, but now she was too furious to find anything humorous in the situation. She grabbed Hebter's keys on the table and threw them at him. He caught them with vampiric ease.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"The Babylon Tower," she said between gritted teeth. "I need to speak with David."
A/N: Like the previous chapter, I'm a bit disatisfied with this chapter. I'm not sure the logical connections are making themselves clear, or rather that the plot holes are not too glaring. If you have any opinion, I'd be glad to hear it.