Chapter Twenty-Nine: Laying Down the Law
Miranda strode down the ramp towards the quarters she and Cabal shared. It had been a long stressful night. Finally, they had been able to clean up and hide the last signs that the Mosier Facility had been invaded. She couldn't help but lament the loss of many of the heirlooms that had been displayed upstairs.
The dining table had been miraculously spared, though she wasn't sure whether that was from the quality of the construction or whether it was more a freak accident the Meirakat's hordes and Garrett's demons didn't go through the furniture and instead around it. Cabal's couch, however, was in shambles and would have to be replaced.
"He loved that couch," she muttered to no one. Until its destruction, he'd slept on it more than in their bed. The bed he seemed to reserve for other things – a thought that still made her smile.
The memories of invasion, however, would not be so easy to erase from her memory. At strange times, the destruction and death she had witnessed welled up behind her eyes, bringing a lump to her throat and threatening her with pending tears. She would never forget just how close her mate had come to losing his life over someone else's family squabble.
Passing her hand over the access plate, Miranda stepped into the larger than normal common space of her and Cabal's room. Located deeper in the complex, the family living spaces were larger and more luxurious than most in the facility. Miranda smiled to see evidence that her mate was still in.
Cabal had isolated himself in the past week, moody and withdrawn, not yet up to mingling with the new population that now gave life and purpose to the facility again. He hadn't even mentioned the vampires since leaving the infirmary, and though he went upstairs and ate, he did so in some isolated corner of the room, avoiding anyone who drew near him. Sometimes he even avoided her.
And rarely beyond meals, did he leave their room.
Miranda knew he'd always been the individual – the antisocial type – however, his behavior since the invasion went well beyond his typical act. He had friends in the neighboring towns, and he'd spent half his free time before the attack out at some bar with Clint. There was something heavy weighing on her husband's mind. She had yet to pin down just what – the only conclusion she'd been able to draw was that his world had shattered in one day with a violence he thought he'd never have to face again.
Miranda focused on the room once again, smiling and shaking her head. Cabal's lack of housekeeping acumen hadn't changed. A dirty T-shirt and pair of shorts littered one end of the love seat against the inner wall. She lifted the laundry from its perch and dropped it in the proper receptacle. Miranda had to repeat the process with older articles found in out of the way places around the room. Nearly forty years they'd known each other and she had yet to break him of such an untidy habit. He was better about it now than he had been, but he wasn't broken from it. After over six hundred years of living, Miranda doubted she could.
As she completed her tour through the living room, Miranda noted that Cabal hadn't come out of hiding to greet her. That was unusual, even in his introspective mood as late.
She heard sounds coming from the general vicinity of their bedroom, and she strayed that direction. The scent of steam made it into her nostrils as she passed through the frame between rooms, and she realized that he must be showering. Not bothering to look in the bedroom she headed straight for the private head that was attached to their quarters.
Miranda stuttered to a halt, finding what she thought was a stranger in her room and wondering momentarily how the man had gained entrance. He stood with a towel wrapped around his waist, regarding himself in a just clearing mirror.
"What're you do…" the words came out before she realized that she was looking at Cabal. His ghostly reflection should have given that away.
He glanced over his shoulder, watching her reactions in his peripheral vision, not smiling and not speaking as she absorbed just what he'd done. After a few moments of the two of them staring at each other, Cabal ran one hand up the back of a neck she rarely saw and over the stubble left on the back of his head.
"What did you do?" she gasped, managing finally to find her voice. "Your hair!"
Miranda cleared the distance between them even as he turned to face her. She glanced towards the trash receptacle, seeing the five foot length he used to sport neatly coiled in the bottom of the basket. She glared at him again.
"It's only hair," he muttered, looking peevish. His voice was still gravel, rough from damage she was beginning to think would never fully heal. It only made her want to clear her throat in sympathy, as if the underscore would go away.
"But, it's drastic." She found that she was covering her mouth with one hand.
He'd shaved not only the back of his head, tapered neatly to the top, but the sides as well, and leaving only about three to five inches on the top of his head. That leftover length fell over the taper on the sides and formed rough bangs that fell into his blue eyes.
"I've worn the same style for six hundred and twenty years." He shook his head. "I… the time for a change was well past due."
"If I don't like it, I've only to grow it back." He managed a smile that was edging on embarrassed. He knew as well as she did he would be paying back for decades should he decide the style was a mistake.
Miranda sat on another retort, knowing this had something to do with his recent malaise. Realizing at the same moment that getting argumentative over it would not make it better, she made herself study the new style. For such a drastic change, she found that the look actually suited him. Actually, she wasn't sure there was style that wouldn't suit him.
Reaching across the space between them, Miranda brushed the bangs back from his face. She traced down, her face pinching as her fingers strayed over the stubble left in the wake of his rash action.
"As much as it pains me to see all that hair gone, I have to say you look good."
He rested a hand on her cheek. "You don't have to lie. If you don't like it, I understand."
"It's not a matter of like or dislike, it's just… drastic. I've never seen you with short hair."
"Me neither. Never realized how much extra weight all that hair was either. Feel like my head's going to float away." A more heartfelt grin scrambled over his lips before disappearing again.
Miranda's hand strayed further, to the juncture of his neck and shoulder, and her thumb strayed over the glaring scars on his throat. His hand was quick to find it and pull it gently down. He continued to hold her hand, capturing the other one as well and glancing away.
"Are you all right?" She stepped into him, pressing herself against him as if he were ignoring her presence completely.
Her husband's wrapped an arm loosely around her hips, even as the other hand ran up and down her outer thigh in distracted motion. He nodded, but didn't even seem convinced of his own state.
"I'm worried about you." She kissed his cheek.
"I'm just reevaluating some things, that's all." The words barely carried through the inches between them. He met her eyes finally. "I died, Miranda. I know I was dead."
A lump formed in her throat at the scared expression on his face.
"I… Lucinda met me there, in Limbo… or wherever that place was." Suddenly his arms were tight around her waist. "Forgive me."
"For what?" Miranda was confused.
Reflexively he tightened his hold of her middle even more. "I wanted to go with her. I wanted it to end."
She searched his face. The remorse – the guilt was evident in his eyes, in the lines around his mouth.
"I was so tired of everything," he dropped his eyes once more. "And she told me, reminded me, of how much I love you – and Sagira. She said my trials still weren't done. I… I wanted them to be." He leaned into the crook of her neck, surely to hide the tears that she had seen threatening. "And I realized that I was walking the same path that Nathan did. I wanted to give up on life."
He drew an unsteady breath.
"Forgive my selfishness. Please?"
She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pulling him in tight to her. "We all doubt, Cabe, our life, our purpose, our worth. You're not the first to become weary with it. You've nothing to be forgiven for."
She leaned back and he did the same.
"You've had to be the strong one for much too long." Miranda smiled at him. "You've taken way more on yourself than you've needed to."
Cabal nodded, peering away once again.
The way his head was turned exposed the shaven temple to her scrutiny, and she noted for the first time the scar that ran just over the top of his right ear. "My god, I'd totally forgotten about this one."
She'd remembered making mention to him on that blind flight from the Cathedral how she could see his skull through the split in his skin. Somehow the bullet missed cleaving his head open for him.
"I'd forgotten, too." He was looking up at her sidelong. "After all, getting my chest laid open made me forget completely about the crease on my temple."
They both managed sincere smiles this time, even as they untangled from one another, and Cabal straightened.
His expression didn't brighten for long.
"What is your intention for the vampires and humans?" he asked her. It was an obvious ploy to draw attention away from his questionable mental state. He didn't stay in the bathroom, but moved back into the bedroom. She followed him and watched as he pulled out his clothes.
"They want to stay," Miranda answered, crossing her arms and expecting an argument. "They've all taken up rooms."
"That doesn't really answer my question." He sat on the bed drawing on fresh boxers, rising only to allow the towel to slip free of his waist and pull the shorts the rest of the way up.
She took a moment to absorb and appreciate the view before revisiting his question. "What do you think?"
A bark of a laugh escaped him. "You're being evasive. The Mosier Facility is your home."
"Our home," she corrected him sternly. "Long gone are the days of you flitting in and out of here. I value your opinion, what do you think?"
As he pulled on a loose pair of pants made of jersey material, he continued, "I have my reservations about it – for long standing reasons. I haven't had as much exposure to their individual and group dynamics. If they stay I'd have to insist on some pretty strict ground rules for their ticket to ride."
"I was thinking the same thing." Miranda nodded.
"They would have to agree to them before they could stay here. I'm not going to tolerate typical vampire behavior from them and they need to know that off the bat."
"Then we should gather them all up and let them know."
The morning was spent working over what they thought were necessary and equitable rules and consequences for breaking such rules. When they agreed or at least compromised, the two of them crawled into bed.
Despite herself, she found she was clinging more tightly to her husband than usual.
They didn't waste time the next evening, gathering all of the new residents into the uppermost floor to brief them on the ground rules and decisions made about their request to stay.
Cabal glanced over the crowd, noting that the vampires from Meirakat's army were gathered to the left and apart from the other group. The second general gaggle consisted of three vampires and twenty-seven humans. Garrett and Sagira were standing close to that group but forward, closer to where Cabal and Miranda stood on the ancient wooden dining table.
Despite Miranda's want otherwise, the dhampir insisted on wearing his harness; carrying around his stakes in plain view of the gathered. He was fully dress, something he hadn't done since his near death experience nearly three weeks ago. Somehow it didn't seem proper to lay down the law standing around in his nightwear.
The turtleneck sweater hid the scars he still sported from his losing battle with Meirakat. It was a somber gray, and two shades darker than the breeches he wore.
His boots clapped loudly across the surface of the table.
Maybe it was overkill, but he felt that he held more authority if he faced them in attire normally reserved for the hunt.
"Miranda and I have discussed the prospect of allowing you all to remain as residents here in our home." He turned as he came to the end of the table once more, this time to face the gathered. "We have decided that those desiring so may stay. There is plenty of berthing."
A murmur rose from both groups, stepping on each other's conversations.
"However," he bellowed, ignoring the itch in his throat. Such volume still hurt him, and he was coming quickly to hate the rasp that deepened and roughened his normally smooth baritone voice. "We have some very simple rules that you must abide by."
Some hard stares came from Meirakat's cronies.
"First and foremost," He waved to Miranda, "this is the Lady of the House, these are her rules, and you will follow them. Those that will not abide by the rules of this house – I am her enforcer. Violation even once will constitute harsh repercussions."
Miranda had argued the idea that she was to be the one to lead the newly established "House." Cabal's irrefutable argument to her protest was that they would more easily digest discipline and structure from another vampire. Were he to put himself charge of the house would only lead to a constant struggle to get him ousted. No one would take much stock in rules established by a dhampir.
"There will be no hunting – none!" the last word squashed the protest starting in several of the vampires, including one from the second group. "The towns surrounding this dome are off limits to your appetites. The livestock downstairs are similarly off limits. Instead," Miranda handed him the bottle she was holding. He lifted it high where everyone could see it, "each of you will be allotted enough 'Salvation' to sate your needs. It is artificial, but Miranda, Sagira, and I have been living off of it for decades with no ill effects. I expect that you will meet with similar results."
He tossed the bottle to the group of Mierakat's vampires.
"Any infractions to this rule will result in your death – is that understood?"
"Who are you to tell us we can't hunt?" A gargantuan vampire separated himself from the group to the left, squaring his swarthy frame. "I'll hunt if I goddamn good and want to – dhampir."
"Really?" Cabal regarded the vampire, pursing his lips and spinning one stake across nimble fingers. He flung it without even looking at the challenger. He heard the man's grunt as it impacted his chest. Already in motion, he was on the vampire before the stake had seated itself in the nearest wall. He poised the lighter stake at the man's throat, the butt end flared open and its razor edge pressed against the man's Adam's apple. "I don't give warnings."
He laid the vampire's throat open, ripped the heavy stake out of his chest, and then turned to the remainder of the Seconds standing there. He didn't even wait to see if the vampire would try to get back up. His nose picked up the scent of silver-burnt flesh.
"Allow me to introduce myself." He grinned wickedly, flashing his canines to the crowd. "My name is Cabal – I made it my profession to hunt and kill vampires before many of your great, great, great grandparents were born – much before any of you suffered your Burning Blood. I trained under the vampire hunter Corea Nguyen. I have killed more vampires in my life than you have probably acquainted yourself with in yours. Do not think I will hesitate to take your life if I find out you've killed our friends and acquaintances in the surrounding towns – or taken from the stock down below."
The crowd parted as he made his way back up to the table, and a glance at Sagira met him with an awed expression. There appeared to be a new found respect for him in her eyes.
"You will be expected," He watched as the other vampires returned their attention to him with greater interest than before, "to earn your keep – the room you can call your own and the Salvation or food," He nodded towards the humans, "needed to remain healthy. There are no free rides in this house. While most processes are automated, there are certain items of upkeep that are needed day to day. Each of you will learn these processes and will be required to support the facility in some fashion. Failure to do your share will result in a loss of residence. If there is any doubt as to what I mean by that – let me state it more clearly. I will personally evict you if you think you can ride through your life here on the work of others.
"Beyond that, the hospitality of this house is extended to you. Welcome to the Mosier Facility."
He stepped down and headed towards the hall downstairs, without glancing back.
"Cabal?" This voice was new to him, and enough to make him halt his momentum.
He turned to find a rather short vampire standing just behind him. He was a rugged sort, and a very new vampire by the aura Cabal was reading. A newsie hat pushed dark curls from under its edge. He wore a simple sleeveless vest that illustrated a thickly built frame. The vampire's approach was relaxed and easy going.
"You are?" the dhampir asked, not really in the mood to field questions.
"Blaine." The man extended a hand, and Cabal took it.
"You're the one here with the humans?" He nodded back towards the main floor.
Those gray eyes took on a cautious look. "We are."
"You'll have no need of your blood-slaves here." Cabal started to turn away.
"First off, they're not slaves," Blaine corrected, his tone haughty. "I wouldn't enslave my former barracks-mates."
Cabal halted again, facing the shorter man. Intrigued by Blaine's words, he quirked his head. "It's not often I encounter your kind having such regard for humans. How long have you been a vampire?"
Blaine scratched the back of his head, pushing the bill of the cap further over his face. A moment later he readjusted it and regarded Cabal with haunted eyes. "I was a human slave in the Court most of my life, sold to Klueger when my Lady's house was overtaken by another. The invasion happened eight years later. Wasn't even sure how old I was then."
A chill went through Cabal, unable to imagine not knowing one's own age.
"I've kinda lost track of it, how long it's been. Thirty years, maybe?" He shrugged, looking chagrined. "After Klueger's house fell, Lorna, Mikael and I gathered as many of his former slaves as possible and broke free of the court." He shrugged as if it were no consequence. "The humans with me are volunteer donors – each one a free human. They were given the choice, and could have walked away as soon as we uttered the words. Some did – no hard feelings. The group that remains has supported the three of us since we left Providence."
Cabal couldn't help being impressed by the story.
"My friends want to offer their services to the upkeep of the house. Mouse has already taken over your kitchen."
The dhampir had already noticed the petite woman's presence behind the window – noticed the change in the style of cooking. It was good food, but he still missed Miranda's more flavorful style.
Blaine had gone on. "Most of the rest were employed cleaning for Lord Kleuger. I'm afraid they don't have any more technical skills than that, but I'm sure they have the aptitude if they were shown how it's done."
Cabal made himself grin. "I take it then you've decided to stay?"
"We've got no house, no home. Your terms are reasonable. I've never much liked preying on my friends, no matter that they've vowed to keep us alive day to day."
"Then they, all of you, will get your opportunity to learn trades."
Cabal started to turn away, and then returned his gaze to Blaine. "Don't let Meirakat's people near your friends until they get the idea that Salvation will sustain them. Don't let your friends donate to their hungers. I need to break the vampires' habit to hunt, and quick. I'm sure your friends are entrenched in the notion that they're there to provide for their vampires. You need to make them understand it isn't necessary any more."
"Well I'm pretty sure they got the message from your speech. But I will be sure to make it clear to them."
Cabal nodded. Glancing at the man as he turned, he realized that not once during that exchange had Blaine showed disdain for him, and had actually treated him as an equal. Perhaps there was some hope for this world after all.
A/N: Cabal really does chase his sanity at times... looks like now is one of them!