2: Catching Up
Jacob stood cautiously by as Brenda lowered, dropped the hammer on, and safetied the pistol in her hand. She stepped aside, waving him in.
Nodding at her, he entered her small abode, lips tightly pressed together. He was, in no small way, glad that Brenda was willing to hear him out. It had been a big gamble to tell her up front about his experiences on the Tarry and how it had altered his life. But the last thing he wanted to do was start out this journey on a foundation of lies. He refused to play on Brenda's friendship in such a manner.
Brenda trailed him into the house, closing and securing the door behind them both. She skirted well around him, seeming unsure now of what to do.
Seeing a wing-backed chair, he waved to it and asked, "May I?"
A timer went off in the kitchen, not twelve feet away, and it distracted Brenda for a moment.
"Knock yourself out," Brenda bit out.
He watched her as he removed his pack and set it next to his chosen perch. Brenda stumped over to the oven, pulling a pan of biscuits off the counter, opening the door and shoving the cookie sheet into it. He could smell the heat of the oven and the aftertaste of something that had spilled over and burned on a previous meal. He could also catch hints of the stew she had simmering on the stovetop.
Her task completed, Brenda straightened, glanced his direction as if to make sure he wasn't ambushing her, and reset the timer. Then she wheeled as if expecting him to be directly behind her.
When he wasn't, she drew a shaky breath, picked her gun back up, and returned to the area where he made himself stay. She lowered herself with a grunt onto the cushion of the couch and then regarded Jacob in general ways, not meeting his gaze directly. Enrique had hypnotized her to forget parts of her ordeal – almost humane actions, as he thought about it. But her experience kept her from meeting his gaze for fear of being wooed again.
"Explain it to me, Jacob," she uttered.
He could feel that she wanted to trust him, but it conflicted with the bomb he had dropped at her door.
Rubbing a hand over his beard, he took a few moments to consider how to approach the rest of the story. He drew a deep breath and let it out again just as slowly. "It was an ambush. I was the first one through the door. Hattie – the vampire – was newly-turned, barely-blooded, and, truthfully, crazy." Pain hit the backs of his eyes, feeling guilty for using such a derogatory label for a much more complicated issue.
He watched Brenda's face pinch some, as if confused by the conflict between his words and his body language.
"After she laid my face open, the team drove her off." Drawing a deep breath and letting it out again, Jacob shrugged. "I was hurt, sure, but beyond that, I didn't think more on it. It wasn't until later, when the symptoms began to show, that I realized what she'd actually done to me."
"Wait, she didn't bite you. How the hell did she infect you?" Brenda said.
He sighed, "Biting is the preferred method, to be sure, but Hattie's teeth never transformed. So, she came up with, alternate methods." He sat back gazing up at the ceiling and trying to get the conflicting emotions to subside. When he lowered his gaze, he caught Brenda readjusting hers, seeming to aim her eyes at his Adam's apple instead of his face. He shook his head and said, "It was under her nails, in her saliva. Before she was driven off, she smeared it all over my face and licked the wounds."
He physically suppressed a shiver at the memory.
"And your team didn't… show you mercy?" Brenda asked in disbelief.
He dropped one short bark of a laugh. "I talked them out of it."
"Why?" Brenda leaned in, forgetting herself and meeting his gaze. "You wanted to become a vampire? Please tell me you have more sense than that, Jacob."
He laughed once again, bitterly this time. "I didn't want to convert – I felt it would give my team a weapon they didn't already possess. I talked them out of dispatching me, because it could get me close to the rogue. And it did." The pain swelled once more. "She was so lost – so sad and remorseful… she went… peacefully."
Brenda's eyes got large and he saw her swallow. He imagined she was making up the details he'd tried to leave out.
Brenda shook her head. "I'm… I'm sorry Jacob, that's terrible."
Jacob acknowledge her condolence with a tight nod. "After the job was done, my team broke pretty much every Victor Sierra tenet to smuggle me off the ship. I couldn't stay with the team, and I didn't want to die. That was the mercy they granted me."
Clapping his hands, lips pressed together, he leaned back and fell silent. His gut churned with worry, with unresolved emotions about that whole chain of events.
"So, why back here?" Brenda asked. "Why not home? An island off of Greece – the Bahamas. Surely your pay covered that."
"There's no severance package for the dead, Brenda." Jacob said sternly and pain backed his eyes. "My teammates helped me fake my death so I didn't have to fend off Victor Sierra Wanderers after my hide and head. I had to 'die' to stay alive."
"Oh," Brenda uttered, feeling a little sheepish.
"To answer your first question. All I could think about since the day I left Qaanaaq the last time, was how business wasn't finished. How Enrique slipped through our fingers and left you – everyone here – in continued danger." A heavy sigh left him. "I booked what passage I could to get back here as soon as humanly possible."
Brenda snorted at his wording, and a grin lifted the corners of his mouth in response.
Rubbing his hands together, he uttered, "The trip has left me… truthfully, with very little capital."
Side-eyeing him a moment, she guessed, "So you want to crash on my couch?"
He felt sheepish to have to ask for such a favor. "It was a small hope?"
"If I'd tried to put a bullet in your head instead of letting you in, what then?" She tilted her head, brow lifted over her calculating eyes.
An easy laugh left his throat at that, and the sincere smiled lingered after the sound of it died away. "As I said on the porch, I would have headed out into the tundra to make an ice cave before the sun came up."
"You would, wouldn't you?"
He nodded vigorously, that grin never losing its brilliance.
"Then I guess you're lucky I bought into your sob story."
He laughed. "No one's crying here, Brenda, really. After four years of working for Victor Sierra, I've learned to plan for contingencies. Though I am grateful you allowed me across the threshold. It can't have been easy."
She demurred, "I'm trusting my memory of the man who saved my life. Don't make me regret it."
Jacob folded his hands together and nodded. "I promise."
She sat back and crossed her arms. "I've got to say, I thought something so traumatic and violent would change a person. You still seem very much how I remember you."
Jacob glanced away, unable to help the grin that cropped up. "People keep saying that." He leaned back into the cushions. "But, beyond the obvious vampiric flaws," she jumped when he flashed his claws and retraced them again, "I don't really feel much different."
"What about the main flaw of vampirism?" She pursed her lips and looked at Jacob meaningfully.
"I hope never to have to prey on a single human." He patted the backpack. "Haven't yet, and don't plan to start."
"I'm going to hold you to it, y'know. That gun's not for show, and you know it."
Jacob acknowledge her promise. "You'd have every right to."
"Can I ask a favor? A couple, actually."
"Beyond being an unexpected guest?" Brenda griped, obviously not as put out as her words suggested. "Don't wear out your welcome so soon, now, son."
"The… perishables." The last of the supply off the Tarry sat heavy in the bottom of the bag, he was already risking them being unusable. Still… "Do you have a place I could cold store them?"
Despite carefully avoiding calling a spade a spade, Brenda's face told him she understood what he was talking about.
She hooked a thumb over her shoulder. "Straight back, cold storage is there, if you need something frozen hang a left just inside the door."
Shaking his head in the negative, he regarded her again and uttered, "This won't last me more than a week. After that I may need… assistance."
Brenda tilted her head higher. "What kind of help? Don't expect me to break into a blood bank for you."
He smiled charmingly. "No, but as the only grocer in Qaanaaq, you do know the local butcher. Would they be weirded out if you started to ask for fresh blood here and there?"
Brenda took her turn admiring her carpet as she thought it over. "Chuck probably would go for it if I put it the right way."
"You could mention there's some new recipe you want to try that needs blood and go from there?" he suggested.
"You've been working on this plan a while, now, haven't you?" she asked.
Jacob merely nodded.
"I'll see what I can do, no promises." She rose from her seat. With a sigh, she added, "Guess I'll get that back room ready for you. Though… I doubt you'll be sleeping soon."
He didn't answer her because he was sure she didn't need it. Vampire lore was steeped into most societies, even if all the details of the real deal weren't readily available.
"I'll get this put in storage." He rose slowly, giving Brenda plenty of space to keep from feeling threatened. When she had cleared enough distance, he headed back for the cold storage.
Jacob admired the refrigerator for just a few moments before finding a high shelf to stash the three pints of blood remaining from his raid of the Tarry's blood bank. He didn't want them in plain view. Brenda needed no frequent reminders of his changed state of being.
As he returned to the kitchen, the timer on the oven went off, scaring the crap out of him. Without thinking, he moved to his right and turned the bleating warning off. Locating a pair of hot pads, he opened the oven and retrieved the perfectly cooked biscuits from its interior and set it on the stovetop next to the skillet.
As he completed that, Brenda rounded the end of the hallway into the main area and halted, seeing him there.
"That," Jacob pointed to the stew, "smells really good."
He sidestepped to the hook where he found the hot pads and returned them.
"Are you able to…?" She pointed to the stew. "There's plenty."
Jacob declined with a shake of his head. "No, thanks. Doesn't mean it doesn't still smell good."
"Well, join me at the table, won't you. It's been a while since I had company for dinner."
"Same." Realizing his poor wording, he lifted warding hands. "Sorry, since I've had an adult conversation. I promise, I'm not hungry."
Rising from the chair, Jacob approached the table, while Brenda served herself. He reseated himself kitty-corner from her empty place setting, as Brenda gathered her steaming bowl of stew and a heavily buttered biscuit, stumped over, set them down, pulled out her chair, and seated herself.
He wanted to ask how the prosthetic was treating her, but felt rude even thinking about the question. This was already going to be a hard-enough conversation without reminding her off the bat what Enrique had done to her out there in the tundra.
Hell, just his presence here had done that.
"How long did it take you to get over here?" Brenda asked, just as if he'd come in on the latest relief ship.
"About two weeks, give or take." He shrugged. "Had to be careful about how I booked passage. Night running delivery ships are hard to come by."
"I bet," she said, her brows lifting as she stirred the stew to help it cool a little before spooning a mouthful.
Watching Brenda consuming her dinner, he became more than a little envious that the first real home cooked food he'd seen in over six months was something he wouldn't be able to consume.
"I miss eating," he sighed, without meaning to say it aloud. Brenda stopped chewing, and her gaze fixed on him where he sat.
He gulped despite himself, realizing how weird it must be for Brenda to reconcile she was sitting next to a man who had been human the last time she'd dealt with him.
He was just adding to the awkward.
Rather than saying anything she got up, pulled a small bowl from a cupboard, like those used to hold dipping sauces, and put a small helping of the stew into it. She slid it in front of him complete with a spoon. "Does anything stop you from tasting?" she grunted as she seated herself once again.
He lifted his cheek from his fist and laughed at her. "No, I suppose not."
Sitting straighter, he dipped the spoon first into the thick broth and ran the bottom of the spoon along his tongue. He hadn't even tried to eat human food since Hattie infected him. A brow rose over his eyes at the depth of flavors he was able to detect in that one small lick. With more fervor, he spooned a bit of the meat, already falling apart it was so tender, into his mouth. Chewing slowly, he savored every nuance of flavor in the food, realizing how limited his sense were when he was human.
"Wow," he said around the mouthful. "This is amazingly good."
"There's more over there if you think you can tolerate it."
As much as he wanted to go clean out the skillet, something in him warned that it was unwise. To consume so much of something that would do nothing to sustain his systems would probably also make him sick.
"How have you been anyway?" he asked, pushing the tiny bowl aside and focusing on her.
She nodded, not looking at him, her gaze fixed on her bowl. "Been maintaining. Some days are better than others." Finally, she shot him an insincere grin. "Hunker down and move forward, that's me."
Jacob looked away. "Same."
He folded his arms on the table, rubbing his furry chin on his wrists, still fascinated by the feel of the soft hair decorating his lips, chin and jaw.
"It makes you look older," Brenda observed out of the blue.
He lifted his head again, "What?"
"The beard, you don't look like such a youngster anymore." She tilted her head and smiled, before taking a bite of her biscuit, dripping with the juice from her stew.
"That was not my intent," he answered, glad for a more normal topic of conversation. "I just remember how cold it was here the last time. It was always my face that suffered. So, I've been growing it since I got off the Tarry."
"Never grew one before this." He glanced her direction.
"Never? Not even when you first discovered you could?" Brenda sounded truly surprised. "Most boys in Qaanaaq show off their beard growing prowess the moment they're able!"
That made Jacob laugh. "I was always embarrassed by my facial hair as a teen. Didn't help it was always peach fuzz that really didn't show." He picked at a strand of his blond hair and straitened the curl enough to see it. "blonder than this."
Brenda snorted and took a drink of the water next to her plate.
He rubbed thoughtfully at his new beard, picking and plucking at the hairs on his chin. "At least that's changed."
They spent the rest of her evening with this comfortable, easy banter. Jacob insisted on putting away leftovers and cleaning up the small pile of dishes they'd accumulated. If he was going to board here, he wanted to be able to pay her back in some fashion. He'd love to say killing Enrique would be payment enough, but banking on that happening, he knew, wasn't smart.
They both avoided the earlier conversation or other sore subjects. Dinner done and dishes cleaned they hung out and watched some local vid channels. Jacob didn't even care that it was homegrown and not very polished, it had been so long since he watched anything for entertainment, that he was completely absorbed.
Around nine-thirty, Brenda finally pushed to her feet. "The room's made for you, down the hall on the far-left side. Stay up as long as you like – just try to be quiet – I'm a light sleeper."
"As a mouse," Jacob promised. "Thanks Brenda, again, I'm… grateful for your understanding."
She blinked after staring at him for a while. "I guess I won't see you again until after sundown tomorrow."
He blinked up at her from where he had been reclining on the couch. He took the remote she extended him. "What time will you be off work?"
She shrugged, "Supposed to get the last shipment of the season in tomorrow. And being the last one before the winter, it's going to be bigger than normal. May be late."
Nodding, he offered, "Can I get a dinner going for you?"
Her brow rose above her careworn eyes. "Can you cook?"
"Out of practice maybe, but give me something simple to work with, and I can make you a meal."
She glanced at the small kitchen. "What I've got out wouldn't be simple. Them chickens are stringy and not good for much more than a chicken and dumpling."
"If you trust me with going from a recipe, I'll give it a shot." Jacob said.
"I'll jot it down. But, you screw it up, you're off dinner duty forever." Brenda threatened, softening it with a smile.
"Then, I better not mess it up." He tilted his head further up to catch her laughing.
He listened as she moved through the back of the house, surely doing a routine that was so ingrained that a friend-turned-vampire wasn't going to halt it.
When he woke up again at three in the morning to the sound of snow, both on the vid and outside the cottage, he was surprised. Or maybe not. Honestly, his sleep schedule hadn't been all that consistent. Switching from a diurnal creature to a nocturnal one wasn't immediate, it seemed. Add to it all, he had become a bit paranoid of being found out. Brenda was the first person outside of his team that he had told about his changed nature. It made for some unique reasoning for his need of night passage, but he'd managed to keep people off of his scent over it. But that didn't make for comfortable sleeping during the day. The third strike to all of that was what Taryn commented on before the Tarry incident really blew up.
He was a cat-napper, and he wasn't sure being a vampire was going to change that.
So, for him to fall asleep in the middle of watching local programming on the vid was only a sign that he'd finally relaxed.
Still he turned the vid off and rose from the sofa, stretching grandly to get kinks his unexpected sleep gifted him pulled out. As promised, he moved on cat-like feet to the room Brenda provided for him.
It was quaint.
A single twin bed with a gingham quilt in pastel colors. One small nightstand on the bed's left supported a small digital clock and a decorative lamp. Between them and the surface was what looked like a handmade lace doily.
On the opposite side of the bed was a miniscule closet, stuffed nearly to the brim with cleaning supplies and nonperishable food items. A few blankets and sheet sets were tightly packed on the uppermost shelf. Jacob wondered for a moment if that was something she'd done between his arrival and just after dinner to make space for him.
He shook his head, directing his steps towards the small, antique looking dresser facing the end of the bed and set his pack on top of it. He opened the drawers, hoping to have at least one to put his meager collection of clothes into. Luckily there was, plus one.
Taking a few moments to unpack his things, he flattened the bag and tucked it into the space under the dresser. That done, he occupied himself with a book he'd downloaded to a non-traceable device.
The following morning, he was on his third or perhaps fourth book and only paused when he heard Brenda get up and start puttering about.
Jacob almost rose to greet her, but thought it might be best if he just stayed in his room and not remind her about weirdness of this situation. He did get off the very comfortable bed and start making preparations for the day. While the windows were shuttered on the outside and heavy curtains insulated the room from the inside, Jacob wanted to be entirely sure no daylight found its way through.
When a knock came at his door, he wondered if he'd been louder than he thought. He paused long enough to make sure the blanket wasn't going to skitter off of the curtain rod, and then made his way to the door.
He pulled it open, finding Brenda leaning against the opposite wall. "Figured you'd be in bed by now," she uttered, and it was obvious her sleep wasn't the greatest.
"Working that direction," he grinned. "I napped after you went to bed, actually."
She raised a brow but didn't ask. "I left directions for the chicken and dumplings on the counter. I'll call and leave a message when I'm on my way home. No need to pick it up, just let the machine take it. It's about a thirty-minute drive, so time it accordingly."
"Sure," Jacob answered.
"I… made sure all the windows are shuttered, in case you get restless before the sun goes down."
"That's very kind of you."
"Bathroom is just down the hall to your left." She flushed a moment. "Do vampires… do that?"
"Unless I'm a more messed up vampire than I thought… yes?" He found himself blushing.
"Well okay, now you know where it is." She nodded and started away.
He leaned her direction lifting a hand to stop her as something else occurred to him. "Is there anything else you need done. I highly doubt I'll sleep all day."
She looked dubious. "Uh… I guess? If it looks messy straighten it, just don't completely rearrange things."
"Okay I'll pick a project if it comes to downtime." He smiled once again.
"You don't have to, you know," Brenda said, seeming to understand that he was going to anyway.
"I know." He nodded, knowing that he needn't explain further.
"Okay," she sighed. "Gotta go or ravenous hordes will break down my doors. First storm always brings the panic. Then there's the whole inventory for the winter stores."
"Have fun with that." Jacob saluted her.
She smiled and turned towards the front door. "Sleep well, Jacob. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"You go it."
He retreated into his room, finished his preparations for the day, and laid down to try and kill time by sleeping through it.
A/N: Being that I'm over 2k words into the next chapter, I think it's safe to go ahead and post this up here! :)
Going to be a bit of a different feel in this story than either White Out or Refuge... I'm charting new territory in that Jacob is a vampire who severed his tie to his dam well before it was formed. Only one other vampire in my stable can claim that and Miranda found the process much more traumatic. Jacob's VS training has given him a bit of a better handle on what to expect I think.