People looked at me a little funny as I rode the elevator back up, but wearing a towel over a wet swimsuit wasn’t really that big a deal. The only reason they were surprised at all was because I had been swimming at night. Generally, it was a good idea for non-vampires to avoid doing things like that.
It wasn’t that late, only a little after nine. I’ve just always enjoyed swimming in the dark, especially after practice. This was the perfect time: Vampires didn’t come out until later, and everyone else was already gone. There was no one around to bother me. Sure, normally I liked being…bothered, but everyone needs time to unwind.
But I was already done swimming. I hadn’t spent too much time doing laps, just enough to cool down from soccer practice. I wanted to save up my strength.
When I finally reached my floor, I didn’t go to my room. Instead, I looked at the door across from mine—Derek’s door—took a deep breath, and opened it. Derek always left the door unlocked when he was inside. Probably so that Akane could come and go as she pleased, I think.
“Oh, hey Ling,” Akane greeted me warmly. “Back from your swim?”
I blinked. Derek and Laura were sitting on his bed, Laura leaning against the pillows with her laptop across her knees. Derek was at the foot of the bed, closer to the door and not actually touching Laura at all. Akane was sitting on Adam’s bed, trying not to mess it up.
I dropped my towel.
Half was from surprise, but most of it was because that was my original plan. Of course, I hadn’t expected anyone besides Derek to be in the room, but my reflexes hadn’t quite caught up with my brain yet.
Laura looked up. “Nice. I’m not sure black is your color, but not bad.”
I blushed and scrambled for the towel. Derek finally registered my presence, and frowned. “Isn’t that a couple sizes too small?”
“That’s the style for bikinis these days,” Laura explained. “I believe the official line is ‘tight in all the right places.’”
Derek snorted derisively. “It looks like it could pop off at any second. How is that any good?”
Laura just shook her head and went back to her laptop, though I noticed she touched her necklace briefly, as if to remind herself it was still there.
I had to agree with her. Dear lord that man was stupid.
But aren’t they always? If the hero understands women at all, he always has a girlfriend. Because despite what men seem to believe, girls eventually get over their desire for ‘bad boys.’ And if the hero doesn’t have a girlfriend, it means he doesn’t understand women. Simple as that.
I finally managed to get the towel wrapped around my body and fled to my own room, locking the door behind me.
I had been prepared when I opened the door, but nothing like running into a couple love rivals to put a damper on that. Okay, Laura wasn’t really a love rival…not important. I had thought they would be gone.
I dressed quickly. I didn’t really spend as much time as I should have, so I ended up putting dry clothes over my wet body. At least they were dark colors, so I wouldn’t be giving anyone a view of my underwear, but they still clung to me uncomfortably. I headed back downstairs, virtually running.
Emily barely glanced at me when I passed her in the lobby (did that girl sleep there?), but I nearly crashed into Lily and Adam coming in.
“Hey Ling,” he said. “What’s up? Wasn’t there a study group or something?”
Right, that was why the girls were there. I had assumed they were going to do it without Derek. Well, I couldn’t go back now.
“Yeah,” I admitted. “But I can’t…” I shook my head. “Just tell Akane I’ll be back tomorrow morning at the latest, and not to worry.”
“Fair enough,” he said, although he looked concerned. “Have fun.”
I caught a light rail going to South Middle, and rode on it for about forty-five minutes. In an emergency the trains could go up to two hundred miles an hour, but generally they stuck to sixty. I got off only three blocks from my destination, took a deep breath, and started walking.
It was a relatively nice part of the city, as far as the residential areas went. Tall apartments lined a clean street. There were a few trees here and there along the sidewalk, but most of the greenery came from the hanging wall gardens lining the trellises. Nearly every wall was covered in plant life, vibrant and bountiful. This time of year, the fruits and vegetables would be out of season, but there were a few herbs and vines that sustained the area.
It didn’t take me long to find the place I was looking for. It had wider balconies than the other structures, since the building was rented as a whole rather than as individual apartments. I heard children laughing, and teenagers yelling at them to knock it off. There wasn’t anyone in the street, but it was getting late, so that made sense. Honestly, everyone should be in bed already, but no one had ever managed to enforce that rule.
I knocked on the door with as much confidence as I could muster, and waited for a response.
I knocked again and waited for another five minutes.
Eventually I gave up and just started pounded on the door as loudly as I could. “Open the door, you damn brats!”
I heard someone approaching loudly, and the door swung open. “Who the hell—Ling?”
The matron of my orphanage was a tall, plump woman of undetermined ethnicity. Well, she looked black, but she changed her skin color every year or so, so that didn’t mean much. She also looked about forty, but she’d looked like that for as long as I’d known her.
She blinked, then grinned broadly. “Ling! You didn’t say you were coming home. Come in, come in, its cold outside.” She ushered me in. I hadn’t even noticed the cold, despite my damp clothes. Was that part of the power package, or was I just distracted?
“Turgay called,” she chirped happily. “Said you and a friend stopped by his warehouse a few days ago.”
“Yeah, Adam needed some ammo.” I cursed under my breath.
In response, Matron cuffed me lightly on the back of the head. “No swearing.”
I rubbed the spot where she had hit me. “Sorry, I just remembered that I had wanted to get some body armor too, but I completely forgot.”
She sniffed. “That’s still no cause for swearing.”
She led me into the dining room, empty now. Dinner had probably ended hours ago; Matron liked to put the little ones to bed early. Of course, for the vampires it was an early breakfast, but who was counting?
“Why are you gearing up so much, anyway?” she asked, as she pulled out a chair and I sat. She then sat at the head of the table, kiddy-corner to me. “Sounds like you’re preparing for a war.”
I looked at her frowning. “Have you…been listening to the news at all?”
She waved her hand. “Angels killed Baal. Nosferatu having another civil war. Zombies running amok. Butler has everything in hand. You’re overreacting.” Well, things were getting worse every week, but I guess she didn’t need to know the full details. “But somehow I don’t think that’s why you’re here.” She gave me that long, level look she has, usually reserved for when someone has done something especially stupid. “It’s a boy, isn’t it?”
I flinched away from her gaze. “Well…yeah.”
She leaned back in her chair and sighed. “When are you going to learn? Even before your hormones kicked in, you used to sneak into the boys’ rooms whenever you got the chance.”
I shrugged, still not meeting her eyes, and picked at the table. The heavy wood was scarred in a thousand places, including one spot where I had tried to write my name in Chinese. That didn’t work out so well.
“This is different,” I insisted. “Derek’s something to work for.”
My Matron just raised an eyebrow. “That’s what you said about Tamaki, Kyouya, Hikaru and Kaoru…”
“Hey, I never said anything like that about the twins.”
She waved her hand. “Fine. Still. This is hardly new, my dear.”
I sighed. “You never understand.”
Before she had a chance to cuff me again, a half dozen kids, maybe ten or twelve years old, swarmed into the room.
“Ling!” a young vampire cried out, hugging my leg. She’d be the leader of this little gang; the rest had baseline eyes, and would need to go to bed soon. Her day was just starting. “Matron said you wouldn’t be coming back!”
The woman in question whacked the orphan lightly on the top of her head. “No, I said she wouldn’t be coming back to live here. She’s welcome to visit whenever she likes.”
“It’s been fun without you,” another of the kids chirped. “Mitchel’s been going crazy. It’s hilarious.” He changed his voice, imitating the surly boy one year my junior. “’Matron, why’d Ling have to leave? Matron, did Ling call?’” He snickered evilly.
I flicked him in the nose. “I don’t want to hear that from someone who still wets the bed.”
He flinched away from my finger. “I do not! You’re the one who got caught fuc—”
Matron whacked him hard this time. “That’s enough. Go to bed. Now.”
They ran off quickly, knowing better than to tempt her wrath.
She rolled her eyes. “Seriously, you kids fight more than a devilfish swarm.”
I bristled. “Hey, I haven’t been a kid for a long time now!”
“I know. I was there when your kids were born, remember?”
I felt my face flush crimson, and she laughed.
“I’m sorry, dear, I didn’t mean it like that. I know you’re off at college now, living without me watching over your shoulder.” She smiled. “Tell me about it. Let’s start with this Derek character. What’s he like?”
I warmed to the subject. “Kind, and strong. Everyone loves him. He’s a high-level monster slayer. He saves lives.”
“Wait, you mean Derek Huntsman?”
I turned to see a boy standing in the doorway, a toothbrush in his mouth. He was wearing simple flannel pajamas, of a red and green pattern.
He was seventeen, and tall, with the ruddy skin of a pacific islander, and garish green hair. That color looks bad in general; contrasted with his skin it looked horrific.
“Mitchel,” I said, frowning. “I thought you would be at the server farm.”
“It was in Triple I,” he explained.
Ah, yes, I remembered the ‘scraper in question. Derek and Laura had used it as a back door into the redoubt. It burned near the end of the fight, when the screamers made a final push.
“The company promised me another job at a new location,” he continued. “But that hasn’t gone through yet.”
I shook my head, clearing my thoughts. “Wait, back up a bit. You know Derek?”
He shrugged. “I read a lot of monster mags. Like you said, he’s pretty high-level. Just the other day, he killed a pair of oversized alley crawlers.”
I laughed genuinely. That’s pretty rare for me, at least around Mitchel. “I think ‘oversized’ is a bit of an understatement. They were two hundred feet long each.”
He raised a emerald eyebrow. “You were there?”
“It sounded fun. Besides, we all thought there was going to be one, normal sized. It didn’t sound too risky.”
“You shouldn’t involve yourself with those kinds of things,” Matron insisted. “It’s too dangerous.”
I rolled my eyes. If only she knew. “I was fine. I can take care of myself, and like I said, Derek is reliable. If something had gone wrong, he would have protected me.”
“She’s right,” Mitchel pointed out, which surprised me. He had always been jealous of anyone I was interested in. “Huntsman is well-known for putting the survival of allies and bystanders above all else.” He shrugged. “It’s the only major criticism against him, actually. They say the only reason he ever fouls up a hunt is because he’s trying to rescue someone instead of getting the job done.”
I smiled. “Yeah, that’s him. He’s definitely got a bit of Chronic Hero Syndrome.”
“From the way you’re talking, I still can’t see why you’d run over here,” Matron noted. “He sounds like the understanding type.”
I wriggled in my seat uncomfortably. “He is. He’s just…a bit of an idiot when it comes to women.”
Mitchel sighed. “You tried to seduce him, didn’t you?”
Before I knew what was going on, I had thrown the chair aside and pinned him to the wall.
He hadn’t said…it. But I knew it was on the tip of his tongue. Even now, his back literally against the wall, his eyes were filled with anger rather than fear.
“Let me go,” he hissed. “Or I’ll tell Derek what you are.”
“Used to be,” I snapped back.
The bastard grinned. “No. What you are.” He moved his face uncomfortably close to my own, until his toothbrush poked my cheek and I could smell his breath. At least it was fresh. “It takes more than a couple runs through a toy box to remove a strain like that, my dear. It’s like they say: You are who you are. The toy maker just lets you show it.” He shrugged. “Or hide it.”
The entire orphanage was made of reinforced titanium, as it was originally designed as a bomb shelter. The foundation was concrete, but a thick carpet separated my feet from the hard substance. Good thing, too.
If I had been touching any kind of stone at that moment, I would have used my powers to kill Mitchel St. John.
I’ve never killed anyone before. I’m not even good at killing animals; it makes me all fluttery inside. But…
I am not what I was.
And I would not let anyone say otherwise.
Who knows what would have happened, if we had been left to our own devices. But thankfully, Matron whacked me hard upside the head before anyone could do anything too stupid. I really should have seen that coming.
“That was uncalled for.” She pointed angrily at our uninvited guest as I released him sheepishly. “Mitchel, go make sure the kids are getting to bed.” He obeyed grudgingly, muttering the whole way.
“Sorry,” I said sincerely, once he was out of earshot. I didn’t mean it towards him. But starting fights in the orphanage was just…off-limits.
“He has a point, despite his rudeness,” Matron pointed out, apparently choosing to ignore my assault. Maybe she just didn’t realize how close I had come to murdering him. “You always choose the worst moment to jump a couple dozen steps ahead in the relationship. And it never ends well. I thought you were over this.”
“It’s different this time.”
“It always is.”
I stamped my foot in frustration. “Dammit, it is. Why is it so hard for you to believe that I might have actually found someone right this time?”
She smiled at me sadly. “Because you came running back here, sweetie.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 40)
This didn’t come out quite as well as I would have liked. I’ll have a better one with Ling later, maybe chatting with some of her other friends from the orphanage.
Also, you may have noticed the site has ads now. Please notify me if something goes wrong—if they’re getting in the way of the text, they disappear or reappear at random, stuff like that. Also, there shouldn’t be any that play sound automatically, so let me know if one of those pops up too.