(Note: This book is set in the World of Darkness originally produced by White Wolf Game Studios. Any tribe names or fictional landmarks are probably borrowed from their sourcebooks. That said, I retain the right to make up or alter any aspect of the gameworld that I feel like changing. Aspects of the following sequence are owed in part to Carolyn Weiss and Sudeep Chatterjee, with much appreciation.
In the previous chapters, we were introduced to Tabbycat, a vampire from Louisiana who has been living in Vancouver for the last ten years or so, in hiding from her former clan and lover. There, she met Gabriel, a recently undead hitman, who has split into two distinct personalities - one human, one vampire - in order to deal with the trauma of becoming a vampire. Tabby feels honour-bound to aid Gabriel, since they're from the same vampire bloodline, and because she feels another kind of kinship with him. Gabriel's human personality has asked her to help with his next contract, and she's beginning to doubt her reasons for helping him. . . They've already been through a long night, starting with a gunfight and going through Gabriel's first hunt, and ending with breaking into a sporting equipment store to 'acquire' a crossbow. All in a night's work for a vampire security guard.)
Baby I've been waiting, I've been waiting night and day
I didn't see the time; I waited half my life away
there were lots of invitations, I know you sent me some
but I was waiting for the miracle to come
- Leonard Cohen, Waiting for the Miracle
Gabriel drove them to a motel. She had thought, fleetingly, of asking Edward to let them stay in the Elysium, but she had the feeling he knew more about her than he was letting on, and it would be unwise to put Gabriel there, after what had happened that evening. And given that he was technically, in some strange way, human, he'd probably have to be Dominated. She didn't want to see that happen. And she didn't want anyone finding out what was wrong with him. You never knew with the Camarilla. They could have him executed.
They walked in to the main foyer of the motel. The man behind the counter gave them a strange look, glanced at Tabby, who was still beaten up from the fight, and still had the little kit fox riding on her shoulder, and with a strange guarded look he handed Gabriel a key. They found the room - a double occupancy. It had a window, onto an interior garden. Tabby went to the window to check - it was half covered in roses, but as far as she could tell the garden was enclosed. "Nice," she said, and dropped her Redhawk onto the bed closest to the window, following it with her coat. The fox jumped up and curled itself into a ball in the folds of the coat. Gabriel pulled the window open, reached out, and cut two of the roses free. He handed her one.
"For you, my dear, sweet Tabby," he said with a half bow, and he pinned the other in his buttonhole, where the first had been.
"Always the charmer, Gabriel," she said, half to herself, without smiling. He shrugged and stretched out full length on the other bed.
"Is there anything on in this country at this time of night, I wonder?" he said, and he rolled over to reach for the remote control on the nightstand. He flicked on the television. "It's the funniest thing, but I don't feel very tired. I must be overtired, or something, though I can't really recall what I did. I seem to have jet lag something terrible this time. I can't figure why."
"Just rest then," she said, without looking at him, and she picked up her coat, ignoring the fox, who jumped down to the floor, indignantly. No obvious holes this time around.
"My, Tabby," he said. "You do seem to have hurt yourself. Did we get into a fight? I seem to recall something, but - it's weird, but my memory seems to be playing tricks on me. I hope it's not serious."
"I'm fine," she said. "It look a whole lot worse'n it is." She dropped the coat. "Hope you don't mind if I take a shower though."
"Not at all, Tabby, not at all. I'm just going to try and take a bit of a nap, I think. I must be tired." He put his hands behind his head and closed his eyes. She went back out to the jeep, got her bag, brought it in, and went to the bathroom for a shower. By the time she got back to the room he was asleep. Or at least, he had convinced himself he was.
She sighed, peeled the shirt off, and held it out. It was a writeoff - the bullets had only torn three little holes into the fabric in the front, but the green cloth had been stained red across the side, and the shirt was tattered where the bullets had exited. She balled it up and dropped it into the wastebasket. Gabriel stirred and rolled over on the bed, and she remembered herself enough to duck into the bathroom before he could open his eyes. Damn. What was she thinking? She'd forgotten. He still thought like a human. And he was enough of a gentleman to be horribly embarrassed if he saw her. The thought made her smile.
She turned on the water, took off the rest of her clothes, pulled out her braids, shook out her hair, and stepped into the shower. Her head dropped with the weight of the water running down through her loose black hair, heavy now that it was free and wet. What had she gotten herself into? If she knew what was good for her she would turn around tomorrow night and head back to Vancouver. She could feel something huge looming. It was coming back to haunt her again; the curse.
She washed herself off absentmindedly. If she still got sore muscles, stiffness - if she were still capable of it - she'd have it. The last two nights had been too frustrating. But her body went on, tireless, unaffected. Always. Her brain wanted there to be sore muscles, to match the way her thoughts drifted in circles. The last two nights had been so frustrating because she could feel herself being pulled out of hiding.
Hiding. She spun around, her hair plastering itself to her shoulders, and shut the water off with a violent motion. The premonition was back. She shook out her hair and stepped out of the shower.
She looked into the eyes of the reflection in the mirror. A tall dark woman, brown-skinned, black-haired, longboned and built like a cat, looked back, her eyes sixty years old in the face of a young woman. Sometimes she could barely see the resemblance between her and the rest of her family anymore. Between her and her brother. When they'd always looked so much alike. It was almost scary. If she'd thought about it anymore.
She pulled down one of the brilliantly white towels, dried her hair, scrubbed at her arms and legs. She pulled on a black T-shirt and a pair of black jeans, tugged a comb through the black masses of her hair, flicked it back out of her way and braided it with a few quick flips into a heavy braid at the back of her head. She had to get out of here. She had to be alone. She had to think, away from Gabriel or anyone else. She pushed the fox off her coat, and felt its dim protest in her mind, but she was shutting it out, and as she pulled the coat on and picked up the Redhawk Gabriel rolled over and opened one eye.
"Hey, Tabby," he said. "You have a good shower?"
"Fine," she said.
"Where you headed?"
"Goin' for a walk. I'll let myself back in. You sleep." She put the Redhawk inside her coat and went to the door. She turned to look back before she left - she had to. He'd closed his eyes again, and looked for all the world like a sleeping human.
She burst out onto the street as though driven by a force from inside the motel. The lone man behind the counter watched her go, a puzzled look on his face. She didn't care what he thought she and Gabriel were doing together, and no one would be asking questions.
She stopped long enough to light a cigarette, and then headed down the street, walking quickly, back towards what passed for a downtown in this place. She'd left the jeep behind, feeling a need to walk, to slip into the night again. She'd felt like herself again tonight, and once woken, the old feelings were hard dying.
There was something padding at her heels again, something that had been there ever since the night she'd walked into the bayou nine years ago. Hell, maybe it had been walking behind her even before that. Maybe it had followed her the night she trailed Michel out into the darkness when she was fifteen, the night she found out what he was. Maybe it had only started following her that night in the graveyard when Jeanette had Created her. Maybe she had created it herself when she sold her pack to the Mokolé for the price of her lover. Whatever had caused it, it was there again. And this time it had a face. It was asleep in a motel room three or four blocks away.
The night had been too damn close. That hunt had been too close. She hadn't shared a hunt like that since she lost Grace. There had been the nights they'd gone out to find some poor unfortunate human, someone drawn to them by Grace's dark beauty and Tabby's sensuous reserve, and brought him home together to feed; or when the pack had picked a target, sometimes one of the Garou, and hunted him down through the city, running, pacing him like wolves, following him along the rooftops, and lost in the frenzy of the hunt they would finally corner and descend on him. . . She hadn't felt so much a part of her nature in a long time. That hunt, with Gabriel, had felt like old times. But she had known even as she did it that she was getting too close, she was running a thin line, that climbing into that ultimately sensual moment and drinking from one man with Gabriel - meeting his eyes in that split second, so completely unguarded, so true - had brought her horribly close to the edge she walked every night.
She came to a doorway, and she could hear the sound of smoky blues coming from inside. Sounded live. She turned and went in, found a seat, surprised that there were any bars still open this time of night. She smoked, and watched the smoke curl through the air, lost in thought.
She and Gabriel were too much alike. If he was a finely trained killer hound, an attack dog, then she was a wolf. He was a more predictable weapon - you could give him a target, slip the leash, and he would kill. Cleanly, effectively. She was less predictable, more generally destructive. She could hurt the innocent if they got in the way. But they were alike nonetheless. It could destroy them both, that similarity. And she could see him beginning to trust her. She couldn't let him do that. She heard, in memory, a light, tenor voice, lilting Creole with the edge of insanity in it. . . "Because you have betrayed trust never know trust, not your own, not that of others. . . In the moment you draw close there is a knife between you - the knife is in your hand or in theirs, in their heart or in yours. . . the Lord of Graveyards lays this on you, the Mistress of Love lays this on you . . . "
She knew what the terms of the curse were. If she got close to anyone, if she cared for anyone. they would turn on her, as she had turned on her pack. If they didn't turn on her, she would cause their destruction, as had happened to her brother, afterwards - and she had never known if he had been the first victim of her curse, or if it had been inevitable from the beginning.
If she knew what was good for her, she found herself thinking again, she would turn around and get into the jeep and get as far towards Vancouver as she could, starting the next evening. Or even now. But she knew even as she thought it that it was futile to think that way. If nothing else, Gabriel had asked for her help. His vampire half had asked her, begged her, to help him protect the human Gabriel. Damn. What a mess.
He would turn on her. She knew the terms of the curse. If she started feeling more than a duty toward him, he would turn on her. And she'd seen him in action. He was deadly. She didn't want to fight him. And she didn't want to see him lose his trust, see him betrayed. She wanted less to be the betrayer.
She hadn't really felt the full weight of the curse until this moment, had she? She had never had to face how painful it was to be trusted and to know she was unworthy of the trust, to recognize trust and not be able to accept it. She had lived on the trust of her pack, of the people around her. She hadn't realized until it was gone how much she depended on it. She hadn't faced that the night of her betrayal, not completely - there had been too much going on, too much blood and fire and other pain to notice. And she had run after that, and her pride had sustained her ever since. Her pride had been all she had left to her; her pride and her honor, and even her honor was shadowed by what she'd done. She'd pretended to herself that it would go away. She'd been hiding in Vancouver.
And then the thought she'd pushed away in the motel came back to her. She'd been hiding in Vancouver, sitting back, hoping to weather a storm that she hadn't realized she carried with her, that she'd only pushed aside. How long had she thought she could hold it back? She'd been waiting for a miracle, waiting for some revelation. And when it had come, it had been in the form of a shattered soul that mirrored her own and needed her help. He needed her. She couldn't hide forever. Something had been going to change in spite of her.
And she'd been spinning her gears, going static. She'd become a survival machine. The nights she'd hunted with Grace, the sleek joy in existence she'd known, had been trimmed down to quick and deadly stalkings, patrols, discipline, respect. The side of her that had loved Grace, that had loved Michel, had been buried so far beneath pragmatism and her own denial that she'd lost track of it. Maybe it was good that she was out of Vancouver, out of the routine she'd constructed for herself in order to hide from herself the fact that she was hiding. Maybe she needed to find her direction again. She was done lurking behind the walls of Sigfried's law, on the opposite corner of the continent. She was going on the hit with Gabriel. And she would just keep him from getting close. She could use his trust without trusting him. She could protect him without getting close. She could try. She had to, or he would turn on her. But something had to change, and she was going to have to face herself eventually. She wasn't safe otherwise.
The musicians started to pack up, and she sat at the table, dimly aware that at a table further off a group of young men, kids, were trying to convince each other to go talk to her. They were all fairly drunk, and their voices would carry until one of them exaggeratedly shushed the others. None of them gathered up the courage to talk to her, though, and finally the bartender called out, "All right, folks, time to go, I'm closing up here." She sighed, crushed out the last of the cigarette she was on, and wandered out, past the young men, who quieted drastically as she went by. She felt them watch her on the way out. She was tempted, by the memories she was lost in, to stop and take one of them, but she had fed enough for one night, and she was still reeling in the wake of the hunt with Gabriel, the look in his dark eyes over the body of the heaving man; and still fighting off the effects of the homemade acid. She didn't need to be drunker.
She headed back towards the motel, slowly, her mind still running in circles. Something was happening. Maybe the last nine years had just been the beginning. Maybe it had been the calm before the storm.
She finally made it back to the motel, a little before the grey light at the corner of the sky began to turn to blue. She came in through the silent lobby, and went down the back hall to their room. She let herself in, silently, and dropped her coat on the chair. Gabriel was asleep, for real this time, she thought, since the rising sun was beginning to make her own blood sluggish. The Bible that every motel kept in the nightstand was lying flat on his chest, as though he'd fallen asleep reading it. She picked it up, gently. He'd gotten to the second page of Genesis. His head had fallen sideways, and the television was playing a test pattern. She shut it off, and closed the curtains of the window. She locked the door. As she turned around, he moved.
"Listen, Tabby, don't take any offense or nothing, but can I see your gun?"
"Why?" she asked, defensively.
"Cause, sugar, you might still be affected by that acid, and I wouldn't want you waking up, seeing a fly on your leg or something, and thinking the best way to get it off there would be to shoot it off. Now don't laugh, I've seen weirder things happen. That's crazy stuff, LSD." She hesitated a moment, and then shrugged, unloaded the gun, put the clip on his nightstand, and the gun on the dresser.
"That okay?" she asked.
"That's fine." He smiled sleepily. "Night, Tabby."
"Night, Gabriel." He closed his eyes, and she watched as he stopped breathing.
She stood for a long moment, watching him. He lay still, deathlike, totally vampire, left completely defenseless against the sun, the passage of time, the inevitable disaster. She looked at him silently, and then suddenly whispered fiercely to herself, "I don't care."
She turned, lay down on the other bed, and sank into darkness.
- ©Kathryn Hunt, 1996