12: 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 that 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Cabal had isolated himself in the past week, moody and withdrawn, not yet up to mingling with the new population that now gave life and purpose to the facility again.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 break him of it completely.
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.
"Wh… 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.
"It was more than time for a change, don't you think? I've worn it the same way for over six centuries." He shook his head.
"Yeah, but you had reasons!" Miranda squeaked. "Your mom? How you've felt about short hair since then?" She ran a trembling hand through her bangs to push them back. "And frankly? It worries me that you did this to yourself!"
"You're reading way too much into this," Cabal growled.
"Am I?" Her exasperation made her voice shoot higher. She began ticking off points on her fingers. "You've been holed up here since being released from the infirmary. Insist on eating in your room. Refuse to meet the new guests even when I need your opinion on their character. And now? Now you've lopped off all your hair!"
He avoided her gaze, looking anywhere but at her.
Leaning closer to him, close enough he couldn't ignore her she added, "Please! Tell me I'm being paranoid! I need some reassurance here!" A moment later she quieted, stepping closer to him and pulling him into a hug, one he bent to reluctantly. "I need the truth – because this isn't like you. Are you okay?"
The silence stretched uncomfortably long before Cabal said anything else. "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 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. Turned me back, saying it wasn't my time." Suddenly his arms were tight around her waist. "Forgive me."
"For what?" Miranda asked in confusion.
"I was so tired… of everything. I wanted the struggle to end. I wanted to stay with her." Reflexively he tightened his hold of her middle even more.
Pushing out of his embrace, Miranda leaned back, searching his face.
As he met her gaze with watery eyes he croaked, "Forgive my selfishness. Please?"
She lowered herself in front of where he was now seated. Shaking her head and running a hand down his cheek she said. "Listen to me. There's nothing to forgive. We all doubt. We question our lives, our purpose, our worth. You're not the first to become weary with it. You've had to be the strong one for much too long – taken on so much more than you ever needed to."
Cabal nodded, peering away once again.
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… really different. 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.
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."
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.
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.
He rose to his feet with a heavy sigh. "I'll be fine. I promise."
She shot him an unsure grin.
"Thanks, Miranda." Another sigh and suddenly he changed subjects, heading for the bedroom as he did. "So… about our population boom."
"What're your intentions?" 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.
"Well, they want to stay," Miranda answered, crossing her arms and expecting an argument. "They've all taken up rooms."
"You're evading 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. "Why're you asking me? 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, husband… what do you think?"
As he pulled on a loose pair of pants made of jersey material, he continued, "I have long standing reasons not to trust vampires, you know that."
"Yes," she answered calmly.
"I haven't had the kind of interactions with them that you have. Haven't paid attention to their dynamics. If we agreed to allow their stay, there would have to be some pretty strict conditions for their ticket to ride."
"I was thinking the same thing." Miranda nodded.
"I won't tolerate typical vampire behavior from them. They need to understand that," Cabal continued.
"Then let's agree on our rules, get them all together and let them know." Miranda sighed.
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 herself clinging more tightly to Cabal as they drifted down into slumber.
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 waited on the ancient wooden dining table.
Despite Miranda's want otherwise, Cabal 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 lost 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 announcing his impatience to get this over with.
Maybe it was overkill, but he felt that he held more authority if he faced them in attire normally reserved for the hunt.
When he felt the majority of the crowd was there, he muttered, "Let's get to it then." More loudly he announced, "You… all of you, have remained in the osier facility in hopes of gaining asylum. Until now the permanency of that arrangement has been in question." It sounded so much like he was grandstanding right now, but he was really trying to be sure that his audience had a reason to listen closely. "We'd first like to apologize for keeping you in limbo on the matter."
A low mumble moved through the crowd, a mixture of understanding and disgruntlement.
"After quite a long discussion, we've agreed to allow all who are interested permanent residency. We certainly have enough berthing to accommodate you all."
Another rumble, this one tinged with hope and elation.
He cut it short with, "However…", 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. "Residency comes with certain expectations. We have a few non-negotiable rules you will be expected to follow without exception."
Some hard stares came from Meirakat's cronies.
He waved to Miranda, "This is the Lady of the House. These are her rules, and you will abide by them. Should you choose to disregard or flaunt these rules – 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.
"First and foremost. 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 the house are off limits. Similarly, the livestock down below are off the menu. Instead," Miranda handed him the bottle she was holding. He lifted it high where everyone could see it, "each of you will be allotted 'Salvation' as needed to sate your thirst. While it is artificial, Miranda, Sagira, and I have been living off of it for decades with no detrimental effects.
He tossed the bottle to the group of Meirakat'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, dhampir?" A gargantuan vampire separated himself from the group to the left, squaring his swarthy frame.
"Daemon! I'll hunt if I goddamn good and want to."
"If you can't abide the rule." He waved at the entrance behind the crowd. "There's the door. No one's stopping you from leaving and you've got plenty of time before dawn to find a place to shelter." He settled his frame into a familiar stance, his hands in close proximity to his weapons. He could feel where this was going. "But don't linger in the area, and don't come back."
"Yeah? And what's to stop me… us… from killing 'ya and your 'Lady' and taking over this joint?"
A manic grin crept onto Cabal's lips. "There's always got to be one in the crowd, hasn't there?" he uttered. Cabal regarded the vampire, pursing his lips and spinning one stake across nimble fingers.
He flung the weapon even as he said, "I am!" The weighted silver pinioned the dissenter's shoulder, though it didn't knock him down, just staggered him.
It was all Cabal needed though, already leaping from the table and descending on the troublemaker. 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. "You've had your warning."
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.
"And here I thought my reputation preceded me." He didn't even wait to see if the vampire would try to get back up, the smell of silver burnt flesh lingering in the still, quiet air. He grinned wickedly. "If there are no further objections?" He paused only the briefest of time before adding. "I wasn't quite finished."
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.
"Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Cabal. While that name might not mean much to you, the fact that I was trained to hunt vampires by Corea Nguyen herself, should. It was my profession for over four hundred years – and I'm exceedingly good at it."
He didn't normally like to brag about that, but he knew he needed to make his point in one sitting or else more trouble would crop up later. The statement drew fearful mutterings from among Meirakat's former soldiers.
He continued after that had a chance to sink in. "I have killed more vampires in my lifetime than you have acquainted yourselves with in your accumulated time on Earth. Do not make the mistake of believing I will not end you should you: threaten a coup as your friend here did, hunt our friends in neighboring towns, kill the livestock below, or in any way jeopardize our home by drawing unwanted attention to the facility."
The silence at his pause was more deafening than the cacophony before it had been.
As a condition of your residency you will be expected to earn your keep. There are no free rides in the Mosier Facility. While many of the processes are automated, others have been neglected due to lack of staffing."
His gaze roved over the crowd once again. No one seemed to dare move or speak.
"Learning these processes and helping maintain the facility pays for your board here… for the Salvation you drink or the food that you consume. Even I do chores here."
He shifted, glancing down to Miranda, only to find her looking peevish about his shit-kicking boots on her antique tabletop. A measure of guilt moved through is middle.
Turning his eyes back to the crowd before him, he continued once again. "Conversely. Anyone who thinks they can live off the work of others will find themselves evicted. We have no use for dead weight in this house."
Another rumble went through the room, and Cabal couldn't be sure the mood.
"We don't care who you were outside these walls. Vampire… dhampir… human? This is a level playing field. No one is subservient to another." Pausing once again for effect, Cabal then concluded his windy speech. "Beyond that, the hospitality of this house is extended to you. Welcome aboard. Miranda will help you all get settled."
He stepped down and, without glancing back, headed for the door below.
"Cabal?" Miranda called after him, but he ignored her.
He was ready to get back away from people, to nurse his now scratchy and sore throat. So much talking had done him in.
When a more unfamiliar voice chased him down the wall, Cabal was unable to help slowing at the sound of it. This despite wanting to strip out of his gear, shower and crawl back into bed.
"Mister Cabal!" the voice called again.
Irritably he growled, "It's just Cabal."
He glanced over his shoulder to find a stout, short vampire to his right. He was a rugged sort, and a very new vampire by the aura Cabal was reading. A newsy hat pushed dark curls from under its edge. He wore a simple sleeveless vest that illustrated a thickly built frame. The man approached with a relaxed, easy gait.
"You are?" Cabal asked, not really in the mood to field questions.
"Blaine." The man extended a hand, and Cabal took it. "Pleasure to meet you."
"You… you came in 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.
"With all due respect? Those people are my friends – not blood slaves – rather they're former barracks mates," Blaine corrected, his tone haughty. "They've been free to leave our company at any time. They choose to provide for us."
Cabal halted again, facing the shorter man. Intrigued by Blaine's words, he quirked his head. "Pretty progressive for a vampire."
"Yeah well…" Blaine tipped that newsie hat further back allowing more black curls to party along his forehead.
"I take it there wasn't a choice in the matter?" Cabal inquired.
"Well… there was a choice, but the alternative was oblivion."
"Mmm… I see." Cabal sighed. "Was it long ago?"
"Mmm, 'bout thirty years, give or take." Blaine's shift of subject was obvious a way off. "My friends and I wanted to tell you up front. We're all in. We've got no house… no home. Yer terms are reasonable."
"That's good to hear," Cabal conceded.
"You'll notice Mouse has taken over your kitchens already."
"I had. Please compliment her on the fare."
Blaine smiled. "I'll do that. Most of the others were servants in Klueger's court. While they're not tech trained, their quick and eager learners."
"That's fine." Cabal nodded to emphasize. "They'll all get the opportunity to learn new skills." Turning away again, Cabal added, "It will take a few days to get a schedule together. We'll let everyone know when it's settled."
"Sound good," Blaine said, sounding relieved.
"Don't let Meirakat's people near your friends until they understand that Salvation will sustain them. Don't let your friends donate to their hungers. I know they're used to providing for their vampires, but I need to break the others of the desire to hunt, quickly. They're not to provide a meal for anyone. There's no need."
"Well I'm pretty sure they got the message from your speech. But I'll certainly remind them. And thanks for opening your home to us. We're truly grateful."
"Your welcome," Cabal whispered as Blaine turned away and started back up to the main level. Cabal nodded.
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: This chapter got a serious working over by me before I decided it was what I wanted. One of the interesting things about adapting these stories for webcomics, is often times I end up with a better way to do it doing the adaptation. So for much of this last part to the story, it is reverse engineered from the webcomic back into the written version! Hope you like it!