4: Uncommon Knowledge
Jacob heard Brenda's arrival, but made sure he remained in his room while she settled in. The last thing he wanted was to make her uneasy by meeting her at the door like some over-eager, vampiric puppy.
He was sure that she'd been hashing things out all day. About his situation and current circumstance, and her decision to accept him into her home – where that left her. While he wondered what conclusion she'd come to on it all, he knew hovering wasn't the way to find things out. In fact, it would most certainly negatively affect any decision she might have already made.
"Jacob? Are you here?" he heard her query from near the front door, and took that as permission to present himself.
He made his way out of his room and up the hall, ensuring he was casual about his approach. He paused at the junction between it and the small living room. "Oh," he said as if he'd been surprised. "Hey, Brenda. Welcome home."
She tilted her head, and seemed to force herself to move closer to the couch. Her question sounded just as forced. "So, how was your day?"
He smiled. "Restful, actually. You definitely live in a quiet neighborhood."
She snorted, "Neighborhood? You do remember I am surrounded by tundra, right?"
Jacob's smile widened, "I was being facetious. Quieter than I'm used to, figured that would make it harder to sleep. Not to mention last night's nap. I wasn't sure I'd still be tired, but I fell right to sleep. Didn't wake up until nearly six."
She grinned, but it was an unsure expression.
Jacob waved the general direction of the kitchen, saying, "I did manage the chicken and dumplings. I hope they came out alright. It may be too light on the salt and pepper. My taste buds are… off, but I figure too little is better than too much."
As subtle as he tried to make that sound, he wondered if he'd tipped off his enhanced senses to her again.
"True, but I'm a bit of a salt hound, so." She shrugged. "But that's what they make salt shakers for."
"Right," Jacob added.
Slipping her coat off her arm, she backtracked toward the door and hung it on a clothes tree that was poised just outside the radius of its swing. The action was a dead giveaway that Jacob was still throwing off her routine.
After that was accomplished, she entered the kitchen and pulled a bowl down for herself. Pulling the lid off the dinner, she waved her hand over the steaming pot, pulling the vapor into her face, and taking a deep whiff. "It smells like you managed it right."
Jacob could hear her stomach rumble in anticipation of the food. He watched as Brenda tilted her head to one side and shrugged as if impressed. She ladled a few cloudy, tan, lumps of dough into the bottom and then another ladle full of shredded chicken pieces and broth.
He detached himself from the dividing wall of the hallway and moved around the far end of the table. Brenda was already seated by the time he got to the opposite side. She smiled up at him as he lowered himself into his seat.
"Thanks for fixing," Brenda said, sounding genuinely grateful. "It's been a long day, and normally that means I'm eating prepackaged stuff when I get home."
"You're welcome," Jacob said. "So, how'd your day go today, besides being long?"
"Well, Qaanaaq's set for winter," she sighed. "It won't be fresh caribou and vegetables, rather Spam and canned beans, but no one will starve."
Jacob found himself laughing. When she finally dipped her spoon into the bowl and tasted it, Jacob said, "Well? Am I kicked off kitchen duty for the duration of my stay?"
Brenda seemed to choke on her bite for a second, and Jacob feared that he'd botched it, after all. Then she started laughing around the remainder of her mouthful.
She settled a few minutes later, coughing to clear her throat, and waved his concern away. "Actually, I may hire you. This is well better than anything I could have done with it. Can't even tell how stringy the birds were."
"Really?" Jacob said brightly, straightening in his seat. "Well thanks. Glad you like it."
"Have you… eaten yet?" She grimaced a moment later.
"I made sure to take care of that before you got home," he responded, his previous happy mood evaporating.
Unable to look at him, Brenda nodded. "I didn't get a moment to breathe today, so I wasn't able to talk to Chuck about an alternative. I'll make some time tomorrow for that. I'll let you know what he says when I get home tomorrow."
Jacob tried to smile, unsure how well it came off, knowing that Brenda couldn't be comfortable with all this. "I guess if nothing else, there's a caribou hunt in my future."
Brenda glared at him, but he wasn't sure the reminder of his need of blood was the driving factor for the emotion behind her eyes. He started to inquire, but decided it wasn't worth it.
A heavy silence befell the table, one Jacob was in no way sure how to interrupt.
Brenda was nearly done with her chicken and dumplings when she finally broke it with a question. One he wasn't expecting her to ever broach. "What was it like?" She glanced his way, but when he settled his startled expression on her, she found interest in her not quite empty bowl once again. "To go through that? Was it…?" She shrugged and finally looked at him again.
"Hrmm," Jacob cleared his throat, took a deep breath, shrugged, and let it out again. "The people in charge, our trainers, always said it would be like dying. They had first-hand accounts, interviews, videos of people who had turned and were willing to recount their experiences."
"They actually allowed a vampire to live?" Brenda scoffed.
"For research," Jacob stated. "Rumor had it the interviewees were shown mercy after the scientists got what they needed. How true that was, is anyone's guess." He shifted, uncomfortable to be opening up to those memories again. "It was… nothing like those accounts when I suffered my Burning Blood."
"Burning Blood?" Brenda echoed, her expression quizzical.
"The title is apropos." He pressed his lips together. "That's the first symptom. A fire in the veins, a fever that feels as if it will consume all. I didn't escape that part. But rather than feeling as if I was dying, I felt… only the fever: like the flu, like pneumonia. Joint pain, tender, tense, shivering intensely until my muscles ached. I remember my eyes feeling like they were being scoured by sandpaper any time they moved in my head." Jacob shook his head, failing to suppress a shiver. "Nightmares, fever dreams, terrors. Hattie intruding on my thoughts."
Brenda looked both fascinated and horrified. "She got in your head?"
Jacob could only nod, pressing his lips together until they were a thin line. "Victor Sierra briefed us that newly turned Seconds form unshakeable mental bonds with their sires or dams. Fully-formed bonds make the Second somewhat beholden to the vampire who created them."
Leaning closer, Brenda said, "You're her thrall then?"
After a deep, steadying breath, he said, "No. I had expected it, had been trying to employ some of my VS training to counter it – even when I was sure it was futile. But, later, Hattie led me to understand she had no desire to enslave me that way. She didn't rename me."
"Re… name?" Brenda swallowed.
"Rename," Jacob confirmed. "Seconds are assigned a new name, which by all accounts is the way a sire or dam cements their hold of their sireling. They lose their birth name as a way to forever sever them from their human life. They can't even say their name anymore, not without physical repercussions."
Brenda looked dumbstruck. "So how are you…"
"I severed our bond." Jacob interjected. "That is when it felt like I was dying. I don't know how I didn't follow her mind down into the abyss." Reliving that night, Jacob gasped a breath, just as he did when his team's voices brough him back from the brink
"You killed her," Brenda stated, her face paling that much more.
A bark of a laugh escaped Jacob, the pain cleaving his skull as if he had just stabbed Hattie in the heart. He fought his brain's want to shut down at the feel of it. In a voice devoid of expression, Jacob uttered, "She was suffering and wanted it to end. She knew I'd be able to do what her instinct wouldn't allow her to do." He rubbed at his beard and let the fingers wander up into his hair before it curled around the back of his skull.
Brenda seemed struck mute on that point.
"Part of me believes she chose me specifically because I would be… merciful about it. Then I have to remind myself she would have attacked whomever was first through that hatch."
Brenda shivered again. "That had to be horrifying."
Jacob nodded. "It was the first instance since joining Victor Sierra that a vampire got that much of a jump on me, and training only covers so much. I was scared I wasn't going to get out of it at all."
"I bet not."
His expression pinched as his brain swung back to the outcome should Lee or Carlson be in his shoes. "Though, had it been anyone else? Neither of my teammates would have allowed it to progress like I did. Things would be completely different."
"Are you," Brenda started seeming to sense some of his melancholy, "going to be okay?"
Drawing a deep breath and letting it out again, Jacob shook his head. "I'm not sure?" He shot her a pained grin. "I… think the Victor Sierra training has been a benefit in that regard. I knew, for the most part, what to expect when I convinced my team to let me live.
"I'm in a fairly unique situation. I can't say I've ever heard of an unaffiliated vampire before. No Dam. No bond. No brood. No court. Probably will be pegged as a Rogue as soon as other vampires sniff me out." He glanced away. "Still in my own mind – still feeling human even when I know I'm not. Feels a little like Limbo."
Taking a breath and letting out a long sigh, Brenda said, "And makes you uniquely qualified to deal with our mutual problem."
The shift of gears was so fast it struck Jacob mute.
"I… I guess it does." Thinking back, the same was true for Hattie – he took on this burden to ease hers.
She shifted closer. "We both know they never got him."
"Right," Jaco also shifted closer, folding his hands together. "Word was they injured him when we rescued you. But they never found his body. The last piece of intel I got before they smuggled me off the Tarry was his trail never reversed."
"And there's no settlements north of here," Brenda added. "People round here think he died somewhere out on the Tundra. But as you said, no body was recovered."
"If it had been, the town wouldn't have been the ones to find it," Jacob argued. "But no one ever reported it in VS."
Brenda nodded. "It's possible he fell into a crevasse or died inside another ice cave. Not that I believe it."
"What do you know?"
Brenda rubbed her hands together, before massaging one knuckle. "Most people think round here I've just gotten paranoid – suffer PTSD." She made a rude noise before adding, "But there are indications that monster's still around."
Jacob waited, because Brenda seemed to be waiting for him to scoff at her. When he didn't react the way she had been expecting, she went on.
"It's not obvious. He's not come back for me, thank God. No one else has disappeared from the population." Brenda shivered. "But we keep getting odd reports from the tundra."
Jacob straightened. "Such as?"
"You remember how the bodies were found each time, right?" Brenda's gaze was sharp on him now.
"Butchered. Precisely so," Jacob sighed.
"Hunters have been finding caribou in similar circumstances. Most try to convince me that the arctic wolves are recovering, which is bullshit. I haven't seen or heard of an artic wolf sighting in fifteen years."
"So, you think Enrique's stooping to lesser game?"
Shrugging she reasoned, "He was already hurt when he had me, and you said yourself, he was further injured during my rescue."
"Dhampirs don't heal as fast as vampires," Jacob mused.
"So, humans may be beyond his capability to tackle right now. While he's healing, why wouldn't he go for something easier? Low profile too. No one cares if a caribou gets butchered – there's so damn many of them."
"That makes some pretty good sense," Jacob admitted. "God, it must sting his pride to stoop so low."
Brenda shifted uncomfortably, but didn't comment on his observation. "There doesn't seem to be as much precision to these kills, from what I've gleaned. But there are no heads or hides, and the remains are often found scattered over a small area. The remaining flesh is relatively fresh. That kind of cleanliness and scatter comes months later, not when the flesh is still soft. If it was wolves, the carcass wouldn't look like they're describing 'em."
"Do you think you can get information on the most recent kill?" Jacob said.
Brenda looked somewhat beleaguered. "I'll try. Depends upon who wanders into the store."
Jacob nodded. "A good starting point is all I'm asking for. I can do the rest."
Brenda lifted her bowl from the table and stood up. "You did good on this, Jacob. Thanks for taking a burden off of me tonight."
"It's the least I can do for allowing me to take up space."
He started to head for the kitchen, intent to take care of the night's dishes.
"Nope," Brenda said, holding up a hand. "You plop your ass right back down in that seat. You cooked. I clean. I insist."
"You sure?" Jacob asked incredulously.
"I'm sure. Why don't you just go ahead and watch some of that prime vid programming we got round here."
Jacob laughed, but got up anyway, and moved toward the couch. "Don't mind if I do," he said sarcastically.
A/N: Some reminders here of things that happen with my vampires in this universe. I really want to explore Jacob's situation because there's only one other vampire in my stable who has been severed from her dam and that was Miranda, and due to the violence associated with it, she didn't do well with it initially. As Jacob says, he'd been trained and knew what to expect - and was using it for a purpose. Miranda never thought anything like that would happen to her. So while their circumstances are similar - there are major differences in their level of understanding