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Pay My Respects to Grace and Virtue

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Caitlyn tightened her grip on her revolver as she slipped around the corner into the alleyway. Just like the rumors had said, it was two young women, early 20s, sneaking away with poorly hidden intent; just like her report indicated about activity in the area, one was pink-haired, athletic, heavily tattooed, and failed to appear in most reflections.

As she approached the second turn in the alley, the one the two women had ducked down, Caitlyn checked the chambers of her revolver. The two silver bullets stood out amidst their four brass counterparts, each of them useless as anything more than intimidation, given the circumstances. She cursed Marcus once again for his reluctance to properly arm his enforcers, then, rotating the cylinder to place one of the two silver rounds beneath the hammer, she rounded the corner.

“Hands up! Away from the girl!” As expected, the brunette’s head was lolling to one side, her neck exposed to the open, hungry mouth of the pink-haired woman. However, the wide-eyed horror in the brunette’s face was far less expected, and as she pulled her top back down over her exposed midriff, Caitlyn realized she had quite possibly fucked up.

“The hell’s your problem, lady?” the pink-haired woman shouted as her partner cowered behind her. “You’re that opposed to two ladies making out in public?”

“You know that’s not what this is about,” Caitlyn said. It was double down or make a run for it. If she was wrong, if cops got involved, she was in a world of pain; but if she was right, and she was certain she was…

“Then what, exactly, is this about?” The pink -haired woman shifted her weight slightly and crossed her arms.

“A violation of the Treaty,” Caitlyn said. “This is an enforcement review.” She felt a thrill of satisfaction as the pink-haired woman sighed, turned to the brunette, and waved her hand past her face.

“Outta here, go home, and forget this ever happened,” the woman said. Dazed and stumbling, the brunette made her way out of the alley; Caitlyn didn’t envy her for the headache she’d have when the glamour wore off. “Right, so, it’s been a while since I read it,” the woman continued, “but I don’t remember anything condoning homophobia in the Treaty, so—”

“You were planning on committing an unauthorized feeding on that woman, don’t pretend otherwise,” Caitlyn said, keeping the gun steady and level with the woman’s chest, where her cold, slow-beating heart lay.

“Alright, and what of it if I was gonna feed?” the woman said. “I’m still below quota this month.”

“Bullshit,” Caitlyn said, “eyewitnesses have seen you—”

“Records are up-to-date,” the woman said, fishing through her pockets and pulling out the telltale plastic ID. “I’ve logged it all, like a good little girl. Last I heard, you assholes preferred that to gossip.” She flicked the ID at Caitlyn, who caught it deftly and looked it over. It appeared legit, free of any tampering and still well away from expiration. Reluctantly, Caitlyn holstered her revolver and pulled out her phone, holding the card to the device concealed in its bulky case.

The records flashed on her screen in code, but Caitlyn’s mother had practically taught her hunter’s code as her second language growing up, and she gleaned everything she needed at a quick scan: Violet (Vi), no surname; vampire, sun-tolerant, minor physical augmentation; and, frustratingly, a well-kept and verified log that confirmed she was, indeed, still one feeding short for the month. That settled it: Caitlyn had indeed fucked up.

“This isn’t your area, is it?” Vi said, taking several steps forward and holding her hand out. “Can’t remember seeing your blueberry ass around here before. That your real hair color? Bit rare for a—”

“I was following a lead,” Caitlyn said as she dropped the ID into the waiting hand. But Vi curled her fingers inward, a come-here motion.

“Not so fast, I showed you mine, now you show me yours,” she said, grinning mischievously. Caitlyn groaned as she slipped her badge and wallet out of her coat pocket, slapping them into Vi’s waiting hand. She took far longer in her inspection than Caitlyn had taken, and her brow furrowed as she tapped the laminated photo. “Shit, you’re really a Kiramman? Didn’t realize any of you were still around. Must piss you off, a long line of hunters and stakers, and now you’re just a glorified meter maid.”

“You’re not 100 feet away from a main road,” Caitlyn said as she snatched her leather wallet out of the vampire’s grip. “That’s a minor infraction of feeding regulation, and—”

“And you just interrupted a legitimate feeding over a hunch,” Vi interjected. “You wanna see which one of us comes out on top in that one?” Caitlyn said nothing, and Vi scoffed. “How about you take your badge and your oh-so-scary little gun and fuck off so I can eat, then?”

Caitlyn grumbled under her breath as she shoved the wallet into her pocket. The vampire was right, after all; the Council would certainly stand behind Vi if it came to a hearing, whereas Marcus would gleefully throw her under the bus if it meant saving the Agency from even a drop of embarrassment. “If I find out you faked your logs or don’t register—”

“You do realize you’re being an asshole, right?” Vi said as she pushed past Caitlyn. “I’m just trying to survive, same as you.”

“You’re nothing like me,” Caitlyn said, fists clenching.

“Not surprised you don’t see it. Maybe if you got off that pedestal, you’d have a better view.” With one last flash of a grin and an extended middle finger, Vi disappeared around the corner and into the night, leaving Caitlyn alone with her frustration.

 


 

The full moon was shrouded, but Caitlyn knew that changed nothing about the situation, except that it would make gauging her shot all the more difficult if the time came. The park was quiet, dimly lit by the few lampposts scattered throughout. She had been perched in the tree for hours, and her ass had long since fallen asleep, but still there had been sign of neither hide nor hair in the park. Of course, that might’ve had something to do with the fact that Marcus had stationed her on the exact opposite side of the park from where the last sighting had been, lest she have a chance to actually contribute her talents in a meaningful way.

There was a rustle in a nearby bush, and Caitlyn lowered her old and battered night-vision goggles over her eyes. She watched the bush intently, aiming her rifle down towards it, finger resting on the trigger guard. She only had one shot, but she was ready—

“It’s a fox.” The unexpected voice startled Caitlyn so badly that she almost fell out of the tree. Pulling the goggles up, she saw Vi sitting next to her, all pink hair and shit-eating grin. “Figured I’d spare you the disappointment.”

“How did— what— you know, it doesn’t matter, just leave me alone,” Caitlyn said as she slipped the goggles back down. “I’m busy and I don’t need you distracting—”

“Busy with what, exactly?” Vi asked. “Sure got a lot of firepower here. You looking to scare a whole group of lesbians this time, or what?”

“I’m not a homophobe,” Caitlyn said, “and this is Agency business. There’s an out-of-control lycan in the area.”

“Well, gotta have a Kiramman for that, don’t we? What’s the plan, wait for them to show up, minding their own business, then shoot the poor bastard in the head just for being what they are? Good work, real brave of you,” Vi said with a scoff.

“This isn’t a safe spot for lycanthropic activity, there’s a—”

“God, can’t you be normal for five seconds?” Vi said. “They’re werewolves. You can just call them that, they don’t mind.”

“There’s a refuge,” Caitlyn continued through gritted teeth, “outside of the city where… individuals who lose control during their cycle can be safe.”

“Fuck, that’s even worse, now it sounds like you’re talking about their period.”

“You could leave at any time, you know. Sooner rather than—”

There was a flash of movement in the clearing ahead of Caitlyn. Cursing under her breath, she brought the rifle to bear and took aim. The figure was small and quick, and it would be a hell of a tricky shot. But it continued her way, darting back and forth.

“That’s a kid,” Vi said softly. “You piece of shit, don’t you dare—”

Caitlyn felt Vi lean towards her, felt fingers take hold of the barrel of her rifle, just as she pulled the trigger. There was no loud report as the projectile flew towards the tiny beast; the combination of the noise suppression and the low velocity of the round robbing the gun of its usual, satisfying whip-crack. The packed net unfurled as it flew, and when it hit the small creature, it wound itself tight around them, bringing the miniature monster harmlessly to the ground.

Caitlyn ejected the spent casing and immediately collapsed and folded the rifle, slipping it into a holster on her back. “Thank you very much for the vote of confidence,” she said icily as she began her descent.

“Yeah, well… forgive me for thinking a Kiramman might shoot an inhuman, there’s only been several hundred years of evidence supporting that possibility,” Vi said as she dropped from the tree, landing squarely on her feet as if she hadn’t plummeted two dozen feet to the ground. “You’re an alright shot, I’ll admit.”

“I’m an excellent shot,” Caitlyn said as she finished typing her coordinates to her team. In spite of the annoyance Vi brought out in her, she couldn’t help but be happy that she’d been the one to find the target, in spite of Marcus’ best efforts. “Now get out of here before anyone arrives, it’ll be bad for you if the Agency thinks you might be connected.”

“So that means you don’t think I’m connected then?” Vi said.

“I think you’re a pain in the ass, but no, I can’t think of any reason to suspect you. Now go.”

“Wow, first you save the kid, and now you’re worried about me?” Vi shook her head grinning. “Damn, Cupcake, didn’t realize you were such a softie.”

Cupcake? What in the hell—”

“Cause you’re so sweet,” Vi said as she stepped back into the shadows. “But like you said, I gotta split, so until next time, Cupcake.”

“No next time!” Caitlyn shouted. “Just leave me alone!”

 


 

“Care to explain to me why the Council is demanding answers regarding a killing in the sewers last night?” Marcus asked, deceptively calm.

“Sir, I was following a lead downtown and chased the suspect into the sewers. The suspect ingested a drug or poison of some kind by the time I caught up,” Caitlyn said, standing at attention. “They were already in the process of turning—”

“They were a vampire, Kiramman. Vampires can’t turn.”

“With respect, sir, this compound seemed different. They exhibited sudden physical augmentation—”

“Vampires. Can’t. Turn.” Marcus stood up, his knees hitting his desk as he rose, sending papers spilling over the sides. “I’d have thought a Kiramman would at least know that much about vampiric physiology.“

“Marcus, this—”

Captain.

Caitlyn sighed. “Captain, this is something new, something dangerous. We’re lucky to have caught it so soon, but we have to get ahead of it before—”

“You pursued an inhuman without orders and killed them, Kiramman,” Marcus said. “I don’t care why you thought murdering him was right.”

“Captain, I—”

“You violated the Treaty, it’s as simple as that,” Marcus said, turning her back. “Gun, badge, and blade. You’re suspended until further notice. Consider yourself lucky.”

Fighting back a scream, Caitlyn dropped the leather wallet on the table, followed by the revolver. She took some small satisfaction when she propped her soiled boot onto Marcus’ desk to unsheathe the silver knife strapped to her ankle; she made sure to scrape the treads along the edge, a going-away present to remember her by.

Angry tears were already brimming in her eyes as Caitlyn stepped into the bright, orange sunlight outside the Agency headquarters. The sun was just beginning to set between the buildings, and it would’ve been a lovely view, if only she wasn’t so furious that she could punch the next person to get in her—

“Hey there, Cupcake.”

Of course it would be her.

“Not now, Vi,” Caitlyn said, shoving her hands in her pockets. “It’s a bad time.”

“Yeah, well, bad time or not, we need to talk,” Vi said, taking Caitlyn by the arm.

“I have no interest in talking to you,” Caitlyn replied, wrenching her arm free, “and if you put a hand on me again, I’ll make sure you regret it.”

“So I bring my ass up here to Staker Central, in full sunlight, and you’re just gonna brush me off without even listening to me?”

“Spare the dramatics. You’re sunlight-tolerant,” Caitlyn said dismissively, “it’s no different than me being in the sun.”

“You really think that, don’t you?” Vi said. “Newsflash, there’s no such thing as ‘sunlight tolerant’. I just heal faster than the sun can fuck me up, and it plays hell on my metabolism to do it.”

“That’s… news to me,” Caitlyn admitted. “So as we speak…”

“Burning through at more than double rate,” Vi said, “so if you don’t mind us going somewhere shadier before I starve to death…?”

They made their way to the nearby coffee shop that Caitlyn sometimes visited when she had a moment to unwind (which was so rare as to be practically never), picking a dark corner lit only by a dim overhead lamp. Caitlyn felt uncomfortable, treasonous almost, though she knew her apprehension was quite unfounded: there was nothing in the Treaty, nor in Agency regulation, prohibiting contact and association with inhuman entities. Still, she felt countless generations of proud Kiramman hunters spinning fervently in their graves as she ordered her tea; Vi, unsurprisingly, asked only for water, which she never touched.

“So, wanna talk about the bad news first, or pretend I can’t tell?” Vi asked.

“What on earth are you—”

“Heightened cortisol, traces of adrenaline, increase in body temperature,” Vi said, giving Caitlyn a once-over that made her feel even warmer than she already did. “That and your extra-pissy mood.”

“Not that it’s any your business, but… I was suspended. Indefinitely,” Caitlyn said, looking down at a stain on the table.

“Shit, that’s a real bummer, Cupcake,” Vi said; if Caitlyn tried really hard, she could almost pretend it sounded anywhere near genuine. “Was it the ‘pointing the gun at gay people’ thing? It is the 21st century after all.”

“For the last time, I’m not— did you just come here to insult me? Was that what was so damn important?” Caitlyn felt tears welling in her eyes again, but she fought them back; she’d rather die than let an inhuman see her cry, especially this one.

“Nah, I’m here cause you killed Deckard last night,” Vi said, leaning forward, her voice low. 

“So what, revenge, then? Can’t really stop you, so go ahead, break the Treaty.” But no, Vi’s tone had held no aggression, her face no signs of rage. Besides, it wasn’t entirely true; Caitlyn still had enough silver powder tucked in her pocket to incapacitate Vi long enough to make an escape. Better not make the first move, though: she’d already fucked around and found out once that day, she had no desire to return to Marcus’ office for seconds.

“Fuck Deckard, he sure as hell wasn’t worth breaking the Treaty over,” Vi said. “I’m here about what you might’ve seen when you cornered him. Anything unusual.”

Caitlyn bit the inside of her cheek. Talking to a vampire wasn’t against protocol; revealing Agency intel very much was. But then again, she technically wasn’t an enforcer at the moment, just a citizen. And besides, hadn’t Marcus said what she’d seen was impossible? It couldn’t be confidential if the Agency didn’t think it was even real, could it!

“He took something, when I found him,” Caitlyn said quietly. “It made him… change, somehow. He was stronger, faster, brushed off silver bullets like it was nothing. He could’ve torn me limb from limb, and he sure tried to.”

“So? How the hell did you survive that, Cupcake?” Vi said.

“Stuck a knife in his throat, dumped silver nitrate into the wound.” Caitlyn said matter-of-factly. “Burned him from the inside out.”

“Fuck me…” Vi said, rubbing her own throat. For the first time, Caitlyn’s eyes were drawn to the tattoos on her neck, the detailed gears and machinery… and the cleverly hidden puncture marks, camouflaged within the design. First generation, then; unsurprising, given her demeanor, but the resilience to sunlight, the controlled feeding… not entirely unheard of, but rare.

“Anyway, I have no clue what he took,” Caitlyn continued. “It looked like a purple liquid, but the vial was shattered during—”

“It’s called Shimmer,” Vi interrupted. “Whole goal of it is to augment us, make the average vamp into the ultimate badass. Too bad it also makes us lose our damn minds. Underground is buzzing about it. Can’t believe the Agency doesn’t know, didn’t think you were that incompetent.”

“A substance like that… the Council would dare—?”

“Pfft, the Council’s pissed as hell about it. Last thing they want is to wreck the status quo,” Vi said, swirling the ice in her glass with the straw. “The piece of shit who’s doing it isn’t even registered, he wants to make his own little vampire kingdom. Him and his scientist lackey are entirely off their radar… but I happen to know exactly where the good doctor will be tonight.”

A rogue vampire? A mad scientist? Blatant violations of the Treaty? Caitlyn could practically hear every Kiramman ancestor abruptly stop their spinning and pay very close attention.

“If you’re right, then the Agency has to know.”

“Fuck the Agency, and fuck the Council, too,” Vi said. “You and me, we go down there and stop it.”

“Us? Why us?”

“Cause I’ve seen you shoot, Cupcake,” Vi said, smiling, “and I know you’re itching to actually fight for once.”

“I don’t have any of my weapons—”

“Ten steps ahead of ya.” Vi’s smile widened as she dropped a sheathed knife on the table. “I’ll give you the you-know-what when we’re out of sight, but go ahead and hold onto its friends for now, too.” She slid three loaded magazines across the table. Each clip was topped with a silver bullet; Caitlyn suspected they were all loaded full with them. It was more silver ammunition than she’d ever been given at one time; it made her nervous about their odds, if Vi was willing to hand over that much.

“I… I should report this lead to Marcus,” Caitlyn said, hand hesitating over the knife. Centuries of genetic instinct told her to take them, to charge in. But there was the Treaty… there were the Agency’s regulations… and, of course, the risk of death, and what awaited on the other side.

“You mean the guy who just shit-canned you over this very thing? What if he’s involved, and that’s why you’re all clueless about it? How about you do your own damn thing for once, Cupcake?”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Then stop acting like one and let’s go already.”

Caitlyn knew she should slide the knife back at Vi and leave; she should march back into the Agency, right up to Marcus’ office, and tell him what she’d learned. But… Marcus was a small man with an oversized title. He was a bully, a shortsighted idiot, and a piss poor leader. He wasn’t fit to manage a coffee shop, let alone an entire branch of the Agency.

Besides, Caitlyn was a Kiramman, and when had the Kirammans let bureaucracy stand in the way of their duties?

“Lead the way,” Caitlyn said, slipping the knife up her sleeve and shoving the magazines into her pocket.

“Attagirl,” Vi said as she stood.

 


 

“Cait! Cait, eyes open, dammit!”

Easy enough for her to say, Caitlyn thought drowsily as she forced her eyelids apart. Vi wasn’t the one slumped down in a cramped, disgusting sewer; Vi wasn’t the one who’d had a foot of mutated claw and shattered bone rammed through her abdomen; Vi wasn’t the one who was about to die in the dark, friendless and forgotten.

“We get him?” Caitlyn said, her tongue thick and clumsy in her mouth.

“He’s gone, it’s all gone,” Vi said, patting Caitlyn on the knee. “You did good work, Cupcake.”

“Tell the Agency… about Marcus…” 

“You’re gonna tell them yourself, no way I’m walking into an Agency building—”

“Vi,” Caitlyn said, grabbing the collar of Vi’s jacket with the fleeting strength she had left. “Tell them. Please.” Her fingers slipped away, her hand falling onto her lap. Her eyes grew heavy again, and she shut them; she doubted she would ever open them again. She wondered if she would feel the last heartbeat; she wondered what nightmare lurked on the other side of it.

“Fuck, no, this… if the Council finds out…” Caitlyn heard Vi sigh, then the sound of rustling clothes. “You can’t tell anyone about this, got it? Otherwise we’re both screwed.”

Tell anyone what? She’d never see another soul, human or inhuman, not even in whatever waited beyond. So who could she possibly tell, regardless of the topic? Caitlyn drifted away, so amused by the notion that she didn’t even notice the pressure on her lips at first. Was that the secret Vi wanted to keep: a farewell kiss between former enemies? It was an odd choice, but not entirely unwelcome…

Then Caitlyn felt the cold blood on her tongue. She pushed feebly against the vampire’s arm, trying to wrench her mouth away from the gash in Vi’s wrist.

“You stupid, stubborn— I’m saving your life, you dipshit,” Vi said, somehow grabbing both of Caitlyn’s wrists in one hand and pinning them to the wall. “Of all the ingrates I’ve known, I swear…”

Caitlyn coughed as the blood snaked down her throat, freezing at first touch but leaving a burning trail as it passed over her tongue. The fog in her head began to lift, and her eyes fluttered open. The look on Vi’s face was a mixture of frustration and worry, and when they made brief eye contact, Vi looked away quickly.

“That’s enough, at least now you’ll make it outta the sewer,” Vi said, standing up and slipping her jacket back on. “Can you stand?”

Caitlyn took a deep breath, then another, before pushing herself onto her feet. To her surprise, she was able to stay upright for an entire second before falling back onto her ass.

“First I give you the info, then I have to save your life,” Vi grumbled under her breath as she slipped her arms under Caitlyn’s back and knees, “and now I gotta carry your ass through the sewers? You owe me for this, you know?”

“Rain check,” Caitlyn said, her head leaning against Vi’s arm.

“No shit, I’m not expecting dinner and a movie while you’re bleeding all over my shirt,” Vi said. “Hospital? Somewhere else?”

“Agency,” Caitlyn murmured, her eyes slipping shut again. This time, though, it wasn’t the dark, cold emptiness that awaited her, but the warm, comfortable rest of unconsciousness, a respite of confusing dreams, half-formed thoughts of ruby lips and white fangs.

 


 

“What the hell did you do to me?” Caitlyn said as she spun the vampire around to face her. As usual, Vi was frequenting her old haunt, a shitty dive bar near her preferred feeding ground.

“Nothing you complained about when it was saving your life,” Vi said, finishing her whiskey and setting the glass on the bar behind her. “You really wanna have this talk here?”

“It’s been three days, Vi. Three. There’s not even a scar.”

“Yeah, well, you’re welcome,” Vi said, flagging down the bartender and holding up two fingers.

“Vi, that’s… my hair’s grown nearly an inch, my appetite’s haywire… did you—”

“No,” Vi said abruptly, darting a glance at the bartender. “Trust me, you’d know,” she whispered. “This was just… a pick-me-up. Why do you think wackos are always trying to get it from us?”

“And how long is this ‘pick-me-up’ going to last?” Caitlyn asked. “The Agency already has questions.”

“I bet they do,” Vi said as she took the newly poured shots from the bartender, handing one to Caitlyn. “Alcohol helps burn through it faster, so…”

“You can’t even get drunk, why do you bother?”

“If I try real hard, I can pretend like it’s working,” Vi said, “but this is about you, not me. So?”

“You’re full of shit,” Caitlyn said as she grabbed the glass.

“Only one way to find out,” Vi said, winking.

 

By the time they’d finished their tenth round, Caitlyn was certain of three things: first, that alcohol didn’t do jack shit to curb the side effects of what Vi had done; second, that Vi was both more and less than what met the eye at first glance; and third… well, Caitlyn wasn’t ready to admit to the third, even to herself, even if she was growing more and more certain about it.

“So, lemme guess… ‘87,” Caitlyn said.

“Wow, hell of a swing and miss, there, Cupcake,” Vi said, shaking her head. “Didn’t think I looked 19 centuries old, kinda stings to be honest. Would’ve made a hell of a gladiator, though.”

1987, smartass,” Caitlyn said, giggling in spite of her attempts to frown at the joke.

“You gotta be specific, there’s  B.C. vamps still out and about,” Vi said. “But at least you’re close this time. 1991, got me at a fucking Nirvana concert, of all places.”

“Not a fan?”

“Not any-fucking-more,” Vi said, finishing her glass in one gulp. “Found out later I was nothing more than a quick fix to a bad fuck-up. The dude drained me instead of feeding, panicked, and just turned me to cover his ass. Should’ve left the concert with a headache and some weakness. Instead, well…”

“God, that’s…” Caitlyn said, feeling suddenly far too drunk. “What about your family? Parents, siblings?”

“Left most of them, but…” Vi crossed her arms on the bar top and rested her head on them, looking straight ahead. “I’ve got a sister. I broke the rules, told her about everything. She went into med school after that, looking for a cure, for treatments, anything… then the Council found out she knew.”

Caitlyn grimaced. The rules and methods of the Council were well-kept secrets, even (and especially) from the Agency, but it was common knowledge that they protect those secrets mercilessly. “And then?”

“Said she knew too much, couldn’t be allowed back into the world, so… it was lock her up forever, or turn her.” Vi’s eyes shut as she continued. “I handled being a first gen just fine, so they thought she would too, but… it fucked her up bad. I’m not even allowed to see her now.”

“Vi, I’m so sorry,” Caitlyn said, resting her hand atop Vi’s arm. “For your sister… for you. You never should’ve been put through this.”

“Yeah, well… thanks.” Vi shut her eyes, the tension in her shoulders easing fractionally. 

“This… this is why we need more regulations,” Caitlyn said. “If it wasn’t for sire’s crimes, neither of you—”

“And if it wasn’t for the Treaty, he wouldn’t have panicked, or maybe he wouldn’t have been so desperate that night,” Vi said, sitting up. “He was starving when he got to that concert, hadn’t fed for over a week because his bullshit arbitrary quota had been met. You ever stop and think that maybe all of this, all the bullshit with the Agency and the Council, is just making shit worse for everyone?”

“So what, you think there should be zero oversight? Let anyone do anything and hope humanity survives?” Caitlyn rubbed her eyes, trying to focus. “That’s how things were for centuries. We both know how that went.”

“No, that’s not how it went,” Vi said, “because people like me spent their entire lives being stalked and murdered by people like you. Maybe if they hadn’t been—”

“So now we’re the ones responsible for the actions inhumans take?”

“If you back people into a corner, the hell do you expect will happen?”

“Not mass killings, like—”

“Oh, here it comes,” Vi said, raising her hands in exasperation. “Can you name more than two actualmass killers from the last thousand years? Every inhuman for the rest of time has to live in fear because of a couple long dead pieces of shit?”

“There’s been far more than two killers—”

“And how many human murderers have there been? How many human serial killers?” Vi rose an eyebrow. “All your complicated tracking and surveillance could put a real dent in that, wouldn’t it? So why don’t you hunt and harass humans the same way, huh?”

“We have police agencies for that—”

“Cut the bullshit! You don’t focus on humans cause you’ve never cared about protecting humans.” Vi leaned in close, nostrils flaring. “You do this shit because you hate inhumans. You and your lot would’ve sooner killed us than sign the Treaty, if you hadn’t thought you’d lose.”

“That’s what you think of me?” Caitlyn said, leaning forward to meet Vi, noses less than an inch away. “That I’m just some gun-happy murderer? You don’t know a single thing about me.”

“Oh yeah? That night in the park,” Vi said, “did you have silver rounds loaded after that net?” Caitlyn opened her mouth, then shut it. Vi scowled. “That’s what I thought.” Pushing the stool back, she waved her hand in front of the bartender’s face. “Forget everything we said. And she’s paying.” Shoving her hands into her pockets, Vi left the bar, slamming the door shut behind her.

 


 

“So, you think Captain Marcus is involved in this conspiracy?” The older woman turned away from the window, her arms crossed. “That’s a serious allegation, Kiramman.”

“Major Grayson,” Caitlyn said, “the manufacturing of this Shimmer has been happening under his very nose, and somehow he’s not received any word about it? And the one time I bring him a lead, he dismisses it immediately? There’s something wrong there, I just know it.”

“Hmm.” Grayson stared down at the clipboard, brow furrowed. Caitlyn fidgeted as she waited; she had never met the major in person, and she was as intimidating a figure as her reputation suggested. “I’ll schedule an early quarterly inspection, see if there’s any indication of what you’ve suggested.”

“Thank you, major,” Caitlyn said, “that’s all I ask.”

“Really? No pleas for reinstatement, for expunging his expunging from your record?” Grayson said, giving a slight smile.

“No, ma’am, I… I think I need to figure some things out first.” Caitlyn sighed, thinking about the bar; the conversation; the shitty way it had ended. “Just wanted to make sure that you knew, for… for the Agency’s sake.”

“Well, if your accusations hold weight, we’ll see that it’s handled,” Grayson said. “Thank you for this. You’re a good woman, Kiramman.”

Caitlyn gave a small, half-hearted smile. For the first time in her life, she wasn’t sure she believed that.

 


 

It wasn’t hard to make ends meet without the monthly salary from the Agency, given the vast wealth the Kiramman family had accumulated over the years, but Caitlyn still found each day more difficult than the last, due simply to a lack of things to occupy her time. The weeks of idleness were beginning to wear upon her; there was only so much time she could spend in her shooting range, or maintaining her personal arsenal, or in trying to come up with a third hobby that didn’t involve weaponry.

If nothing else, the time away revealed a facet of her life that she had never realized: without the Agency, Caitlyn had very little to call her own. Her ancestors had been hunters; her great-grandparents had been wardens, keepers of the fragile peace following the signing of the Treaty; and her parents had been enforcers, just like her, ensuring the Treaty was followed to the letter. The times had changed, and the Kirammans had evolved, conformed with them. But the world seemed very small and dark when viewed down the barrel of a gun. Perhaps it wasn’t enough to evolve and conform; perhaps the only right answer was to start over?

Part of her wondered about wandering to the coffee shop, near the Agency branch. Another part of her considered heading to the dive bar she’d visited once before. But it was too pathetic to frequent the cafe just because it offered a glimpse of headquarters, and far too early in the day to visit a bar (and also probably too pathetic, as well). And so Caitlyn paced the halls of the overly-large estate, crafting apologies she doubted she’d ever have a chance to give.

When the doorbell rang, Caitlyn had to stop herself from running through the manor, trying to pretend she wasn’t hoping for a specific someone. She took a breath as she placed her hand on the doorknob, preparing for disappointment, but her heart began to race as she saw the shock of pink hair.

“Nice place, staker,” Vi said, pulling off a pair of sunglasses and shoving her hands in the pockets of the familiar red jacket. “How many inhumans did your family have to graverob to afford it?”

And, with that, the eager, anxious words on Caitlyn’s tongue turned to ash. “Did you really come all this way just to insult me again?”

“Don’t flatter yourself. Found the big bad vamp himself. Name’s Silco, super old lineage. Ever heard of him?”

“No.”

“Would you lie about it if you had heard of him?”

Caitlyn merely shrugged, and Vi ran a hand through her hair, pushing it out of her face for all of a half second before it fell back over her right eye.

“Look, I know you hate my guts. But this Silco’s building an army. He thinks he can overthrow the Council with it—”

“Vi, I—”

“And do you really think he’ll stop there? It’ll be carnage—”

“I’m not an enforcer anymore,” Caitlyn interrupted. “Take it to the Agency. Ask for Grayson, she’s taken over. I’m… I’m done with that.”

Vi paused, staring intently, as if trying to pry her way into Caitlyn’s mind (for all Caitlyn knew, she was; she’d given up any pretenses of knowing what was and wasn’t possible with inhumans).

“So, no more Marcus, I take it?“

“Mhm.”

“Well, good riddance to that skid mark. And… you’re still suspended?”

“I’m on leave, until I choose to return,” Caitlyn said. “If I choose to.”

“Huh. So then nothing’s stopping you from coming along and—”

“No, Vi,” Caitlyn said firmly. “Let the Council and the Agency take care of it.”

“To hell with that. This is your shot, our shot, to do some good for once, and now you get cold feet? What happened to the hardass who went after the doctor, huh?” Vi took a step forward, and Caitlyn took a step back into the house. Once again, she felt the weight of every Kiramman upon her shoulders, the pressure to take up the fight, to conform.

“Vi, I… I can’t.“ Caitlyn crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I’m sorry.”

“I was so stupid, thinking you’d actually give a shit,” Vi said, turning away. “Fine, I’ll do it myself. Enjoy your little vacation.” Caitlyn watched as Vi pushed her way through the front gate, slamming it closed with enough force to bend the heavy metal.

 


 

When the knock came at her door later that night, it was so faint that Caitlyn barely heard it at all. She walked warily to the front door, taking a silver sword from the rack in the entry hall. Perhaps it was only an Agency courier, relaying an alert; perhaps it was an inhuman with a grudge, eager to make history by sending the last Kiramman to her grave. She tightened her grip on the pommel as she slowly opened the door.

Vi lay on the doorstep, covered in blood.

The sword clattered to the floor as Caitlyn grabbed Vi under her arms and pulled her into the manor. Vi muttered incoherently as she was dragged, then winced as the silver sword came into contact with a patch of bare skin on her leg, where her trousers had been ripped and mangled.

“Shit,” Caitlyn said as she pulled her away from the blade. She propped Vi onto a couch, carefully pulling her legs up onto it, looking her over. “What happened? You actually went down there?” she asked as she slipped the red jacket off; it, like Vi, had seen far better days.

“Told you I would,” Vi said, her voice weak. “Got the bastards, too, so joke’s on you.”

“Silco?”

“Deader than a doornail.”

“How did you… you said there was an army?”

Vi was quiet for a moment, a crease of worry joining the agony on her forehead. “I let Powder out. She went ballistic. Council doesn’t know yet. Probably’ll kill me when they find out.”

A chill ran down Caitlyn’s spine. Vi had mentioned her sister before, the struggles she’d had, but never in a million years had she suspected it was Powder: a vampire very well-known to the Agency, though they had assigned her a different, unflattering designation. It had been a joint decision between the Agency and the Council to lock her away, for the safety of everyone. Vi letting her loose… it was worse than a major violation; it was a breach of the Treaty itself. Death was very much a possibility.

“Where is she now?” Caitlyn asked.

“Brought her back. She fought me. Fed on me.” Vi grimaced and clutched are a patch of raw, red skin on her forearm. “But she’s contained.”

“Ok, well, let’s get you somewhere to… feed.” The last word fell off Caitlyn’s tongue like razor wire. Of all the things she ever expected to do, helping a vampire feed from a person was near the bottom of the list.

“Not exactly… mobile right now, Cupcake,” Vi said. Her words were coming slower, slurring together. “Just gotta… sleep a bit.”

“That’s not how this works, you need—”

“What do you know?” Vi locked eyes with Caitlyn, but her stare held no malice, the eyelids half shut. “Just came… to rest a bit. You were close… safe…”

It was a hell of a mess, and not just the blood trail Vi had left as she was dragged down the hall. There was a dying fugitive vampire on her couch, and every moment she didn’t spend contacting the Agency about it, the higher the odds of her being lumped in as an accomplice. There was no room for half measures, no logic in looking for a third choice; it was either pick up the phone and dial Grayson… or…

“Do you think your sister will talk? Tell the Council about…”

“No way… she hates them more than me.”

“Any survivors?”

“Really doubt it.” Vi coughed weakly.

“Then we get you on your feet and keep our mouths shut, too,” Caitlyn said as she knelt beside Vi, rolling up the sleeve of her shirt.

“The fuck are—?”

“Shut up, just… shut up.” Caitlyn pulled a knife from her pocket and grimaced as she cut a small but deep gouge into her forearm. Blood immediately began to pour, and she pressed her arm to Vi’s mouth, closing her eyes and bracing herself.

It was the last thing she’d ever wanted, absolute bottom of the list, but oddly, Caitlyn found it to be far less unpleasant than she’d imagined. There was no sense of draining, of life slipping away; it was really no more dramatic than giving blood, aside from the tingling sensation that spread from her arm, moving across her body in a slow, steady wave, like the tide washing over her. It was soothing, like a gentle caress; yet it was also electric, like the rush of a first kiss.

When Vi pushed her arm away, Caitlyn felt… regret? Longing? Whatever it was, it was quickly replaced by horror and revulsion: horror at what she had done, revulsion that she’d hadn’t wanted it to end. Vi wiped her mouth, taking a deep breath as she sat up. Caitlyn pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and held it over the wound, though it was already clotting.

“Better?” Caitlyn asked. Vi merely nodded, not looking at Caitlyn. “You’ll need more, but you’ve got places for emergencies, right?”

“Yeah, no, I’m… I’ll be fine.” Vi stood up, trembling slightly. “Just… thanks, Cait.”

“Don’t mention it. Need help getting anywhere?”

Vi chuckled weakly. “Bring a Kiramman to a blood center? Things aren’t that progressive, Cupcake.” She slowly made her way down the hall toward the front doors, looking at the trail of blood as she went. As she opened the door, she turned and gave a small smile. “Speaking of progressive… I’m proud of you.”

“I… wasn’t going to just let you die,” Caitlyn said, feeling her face flush. “It doesn’t make feeding any less ghastly—”

“Oh, not that, I meant letting another woman touch you,” Vi said, her smile widening. “Working on overcoming those prejudices, we’ll make an ally of you—”

“I’m a lesbian, you dumbass,” Caitlyn said, shaking her head. Vi stood still, mouth slightly open, looking almost as though she’d been staked through the heart. It would’ve been funny, if Vi wasn’t covered in blood.

“Oh,” Vi said. There was a pause. “Uh, solidarity, then, I guess.” Rapping her knuckles twice on the doorframe for no apparent reason, Vi slipped outside, pulling the door shut behind her.

Caitlyn sighed, falling back onto the utterly ruined couch. It would be a pain, finding something that fit the decor of the house. It was also an antique that had been in the family for several centuries, but tradition and heirlooms seemed less important than they once had.

Her eyes fell upon the discarded red jacket. She frowned as she picked it up off the floor, annoyed that Vi had forgotten it. But then again, what would she have done with it if she’d taken it? The jacket was shredded and stained, less a garment than a source of scrap leather and fabric. It would take a lot more work and time than it was worth to make it even wearable again, let alone presentable.

Sighing, Caitlyn pulled out her phone and searched for leather repair techniques. She leaned back on the couch as she started the first of a dozen hour-long videos. After all, she didn’t have much better to do.

 


 

“Jesus, Cupcake, it looks like you let a dog loose on it,” Vi said as she took the jacket, inspecting the front and back with a frown. “You sure you didn’t accidentally look up taxidermy techniques by mistake?”

“‘Wow, Caitlyn, you managed to fix up the jacket I wrecked and left on your floor! After I ruined your antique sofa, to boot! Thank you for your generosity!’” Caitlyn said, poorly imitating Vi’s accent.

“Fine, fine, I admit you didn’t have much to work with,” Vi said, slipping her arms into the sleeves. “And… it’s not that bad. Just had to give you shit.”

“Oh, you had to? Even after—” Caitlyn took a quick glance around the almost-empty bar before continuing, “—I saved you from starving to death?”

“That just makes us even, Cupcake,” Vi said, taking a sip of her whiskey. “I saved your ass, now you saved mine.“

Caitlyn nodded, staring down at her own gin and tonic. “Any word?”

“People know he’s dead, but nobody knows who did it,” Vi said. “And the Council isn’t too worried about justice for it, so… problem solved. Good work,” she added, clinking her glass into Caitlyn’s.

“I didn’t do anything.” Caitlyn said, confused. 

“You patched me up after, that’s not nothing. Besides…” Vi gazed down at the drink, swirling it in her hand. “Shit got bad there. Me and you-know-who were fine, but if you’d gone… dunno that you’d have gotten as lucky as I did.”

“Is that concern I hear?” Caitlyn teased. “The big, bad Violet was worried about a hunter?”

“No way am I gonna be responsible for you dying,” Vi said, nudging Caitlyn’s arm with her elbow. “If anyone would come back as a ghost to haunt my ass forever, it’d be a Kiramman.”

“Ha ha, real funny, asshole,” Caitlyn said moodily. But her annoyance ebbed away as she saw the puzzled look on Vi’s face. “Ah, guess that’s not common knowledge anymore. Kirammans can’t come back as anything. We’re damned.”

“No shit?” Vi said, setting her glass down.

“Nine generations back. Full coven curse, ‘souls of your children and your children’s children’ and everything.” Caitlyn drained her drink, grimacing. “No clue what it actually is, doubtlessly something terrible. But no Kiramman has ever been contacted on the other side or brought back from death, not even with CPR. Once our heart stops… that’s that.”

“Nine generations, and you still can’t break it?” Vi whistled. “Talk about some seriously shit luck. And here I thought all you Kirammans had it easy.”

“Yeah, well, nobody has to worry about it after me,” Caitlyn said. “Last of my line, and a disappointment, at that.”

“What, since you have a conscience and don’t just kill us willy nilly? If that’s what they’d consider disappointing, then I say, be proud you’re not like them.” Vi rose her glass, clinking it against Caitlyn’s once again. “To the most disappointing woman I know,” she added, grinning.

“Nicest thing anyone’s ever said about me,” Caitlyn said, rolling her eyes. She hesitated, trying to work up the nerve to say what she’d prepared, the words to join the jacket.

“So,” Vi said, breaking the silence, “are you gonna make the move, or do I gotta bail you out yet again?”

“Move? Bail me out? I don’t know—”

“Cupcake, your heart’s about to jackhammer its way outta your chest,” Vi said, leaning closer. “Not that I need to hear that to know. I’ve had a lot of flings, but nobody, absolutely nobody, has learned how to fix a jacket for me.”

“This isn’t— I just— you’re assuming—”

“Cait, either kiss me or take a drink,” Vi said, pushing her whiskey towards Caitlyn, “whatever it takes to stop your babbling.”

“I…” Caitlyn began. She hastily picked up the glass and swallowed it in one gulp, wincing at the burn that worked its way down her throat. Vi had many fine qualities, but it appeared preference in alcohol was not one of them.

“Your loss, then,” Vi said shrugging, “I’ve been told I’m—”

Whatever it was that Vi had been told in the past, Caitlyn never found out, as she leaned forward, her lips meeting Vi’s, silencing her. It was a chaste kiss, awkward and short, but when Caitlyn pulled away, Vi closed the distance once again. Their second kiss was anything but chaste; Vi’s teeth nipped at Caitlyn’s lip, her tongue pressing into Caitlyn’s mouth. She was cold, yes, but not nearly as cold as Caitlyn had always been led to believe; not the empty chill of death, but the lingering frost on an early spring morning, one that promised warmth and comfort to come.

It was unlike anything Caitlyn had ever experienced; entirely unlike what she’d imagined, first unwillingly, then longingly, and finally hungrily. Her ancestors… no, who gave a shit what her ancestors would’ve thought? She wanted this, needed this, and that was enough. And when Vi’s mouth moved to her neck, her fangs only grazing lightly over her skin, not puncturing, Caitlyn realized she wanted so much more.

“My place or yours?” Caitlyn asked.

“Yours, duh,” Vi said. “Your living room could fit my entire apartment.”

“It’s a longer drive.”

“I’m sure we’ll find a way to pass the time,” Vi said mischievously, her fingers tracing  their way down Caitlyn’s jaw, to her neck, her collarbone. She shivered under the touch.

“The hell are we waiting for, then?” Caitlyn said, standing quickly, throwing whatever bills she could find in her wallet onto the table and pulling Vi out of the bar, and onto the street; into her home, and into her bed.

 


 

“Huh,” Vi said softly, nestling close to Caitlyn, head resting on her chest. “Think it’s been… god, 20 years or so since I’ve done that.

“What, had sex?” Caitlyn asked.

“Just with a human,” Vi answered. “Werewolves, vampires… had an orgy with some nymphs a few years back. Sounds more fun than it was, though.”

“Nymphs, huh?” Caitlyn said, raising an eyebrow.

“Knew you’d focus on that one, you homo,” Vi said, grinning.

“Well, hopefully I measured up well against the others,” Caitlyn said.

“Oh, Cupcake… not at all,” Vi teased. “Inhumans got stamina like you wouldn’t believe, and talk about experience… you never had a chance.”

“Is that so?” Caitlyn said, her hand tracing its way up and down Vi’s abdomen, working lower with each pass. “Well, I’m far from exhausted, if you’re willing to give the poor human another chance.”

“I’m just fucking with you, Cait. It was good, really good. It’s just… this part’s not as fun.

“What part is this?” But Caitlyn didn’t need to ask, not really. There was only one thing it could possibly be.

“The ‘what-the-hell-is-this-now’ part. The ‘are-you-there-Sappho-it’s-me-Violet’ part.”

“Well… what is this to you, then?” Caitlyn asked slowly.

“A good time and a bad idea,” Vi said, shutting her eyes. “Hunters and inhumans don’t mix. It’s like oil and water… hell, more like a gas leak and a lit match.”

“I don’t think I’m a hunter anymore,” Caitlyn said. “Or an enforcer, or whatever you want to call it. Just… for what it’s worth.”

“What, I made you come so hard that it fucked the hate out of you or something?” Vi said, chuckling.

“No… it was way before that. When you asked about that night in the park,” Caitlyn said softly. Vi opened her eyes, staring up at Caitlyn. “You were right. If I’d missed, if that child had gotten close to me… I hate myself for what I might’ve done. I never want to be in that position again.”

“Well shit, never expected to hear that,” Vi said. “I guess for me… I dunno, I’ve never had anything that lasted longer than a couple weeks. So just, don’t be surprised if this crashes and burns and we both end up hating each other.”

“Trust me, my own track record isn’t that much better than your’s,” Caitlyn said. “If this falls apart in a couple weeks, it falls apart. But…”

“But what?” Vi asked.

“It’s… not the time,” Caitlyn said. She ran her hand further down, enjoying the tensing in Vi’s body, the anticipation in her face. “Let’s just focus on now.”

“Sounds great to me, Cupcake,” Vi said, biting her lower lip.

 


 

Somehow, it didn’t fall apart in a couple weeks, nor in a couple months, nor even in a couple years. The secrecy hadn’t lasted long, and the nasty looks and rumors on both sides persisted for far longer, but there was nothing in the Treaty forbidding it (nor was anyone brave or foolish enough to make an issue of it with them). There was probably some Agency regulation against it, but that mattered even less than the snide remarks: somewhere, in some Agency file cabinet, her badge was just sitting and collecting dust, or perhaps someone finally stumbled across it and shredded it. That was the past, and it held no appeal to Caitlyn; Vi was her future, just as she was Vi’s.

It was on the evening of their fifth anniversary that Caitlyn finally broached the topic, the one they’d both danced around for years. Even after the second glass of wine, her hands trembled slightly as she cleared her throat.

“I found a gray hair the other day,” she said.

“‘Bout time you saw it, I noticed it weeks ago,” Vi said, taking a sip of her drink and laying back on the couch (their couch, Caitlyn reminded herself, still giddy at the idea). “Good luck finding dye to match that blue, though. Maybe Hot Topic’s got something?” She gave a little grin that didn’t quite mask the apprehension in her eyes.

“It’s just… we should talk about… that, I think,” Caitlyn continued.

“It can’t wait until tomorrow? I had some rather particular idea for how to spend the rest of the night.” Vi brought her foot up to Caitlyn’s thigh, running along the bare skin. It sent a pleasant shudder down her spine, but she shook her head.

“I think it’s better if we talk tonight. Otherwise we’ll just push it off and push it off, until…”

“Ugh, fine then, you mood killer,” Vi said, sitting up and setting her glass on the end table. “If you’re worried about me sticking around until you… well, don’t be. If I was gonna cut and run, I’d have done it ages ago, so—”

“I’m not worried about you being there until… well, the end,” Caitlyn interjected. “I’m… just worried about the end. Knowing that I’ll never see you again, no matter what. So I… I’ve been thinking…”

“Woah, pump the brakes, Cait,” Vi said, shock in her face, “are you about to ask what I think you’re about to ask?”

“I… think so. I’ve thought about it a long time and… it’s what I want.”

“You’re serious,” Vi said, “you’re actually… Cait, the process kills you. That’s like, basically the most important step of it. It won’t work.”

“What if it does, though? What if it’s different enough?” Caitlyn leaned forward, putting her hand atop Vi’s. “You really think some 16th century coven would’ve ever expected a Kiramman to try this as a loophole?”

“And if it doesn’t work? Then what? I live with having killed you?” Vi looked away, her hand clenching beneath Caitlyn’s. “I can’t take that on my conscience, Cait.”

“Vi… if we don’t try, I die for certain. Maybe in a few decades, maybe sooner. If we try, then maybe I die… but maybe I live. At least this way, there’s hope.”

“I… are you absolutely sure?” Vi said.

“As sure as I’ll ever be. And better to try now than when I’m a wrinkled old woman,” Caitlyn said, chuckling nervously. “And I figure… tonight’s as good a night as any. If you’re willing.”

“Ok. Yeah, ok, well, uh, in that case,” Vi said, standing up and walking back and forth across the room, rubbing her hands on her trousers. “Towels, pillows, maybe a bowl in case you, well… gimme a few minutes.”

Caitlyn nodded as Vi dashed out of the room. She moved to the floor, unbuttoning her shirt and folding it neatly. Vi returned and began arranging a small, comfortable nest of pillows and cushions on the marble floor. She guided Caitlyn into position, reclining her on the pillows, her head raised.

“Ok, so, it’s easy enough, but it’s gotta go just right,” Vi said, gesturing wildly with her hands to hide their trembling. “I, uh, go first, then you drink, and then I finish it, alright?”

Caitlyn nodded. Her entire body shook in fear and anticipation; never had she been so terrified and yet so certain. Vi cleared her throat and knelt on the pillows, holding Caitlyn’s hand.

“There’s some time to back out during it,” Vi said. “If you wanna bail before it’s too late, pull your hand away. Once I move my hand, though… there’s no going back. You ready?”

“Yeah, I am. I love you, Vi,” Caitlyn said.

“Love you too, Cupcake. Well… here goes.” Vi moved forward, her mouth pressed to Caitlyn’s throat. The sting of her fangs was far from unfamiliar, but this was far different from the bites Vi would give her during sex, pushing her over the edge when she was at the precipice; there was a coldness beneath the usual tingling, the chill she had expected so many years ago, the first time Vi had been forced to feed upon her to survive. Caitlyn forced herself to breathe, to stay calm, to not pull away.

After a minute, with one final squeeze, Vi’s hand left Caitlyn’s. That was it; there was no turning back. Her vision began to blur, the colors dimming; the sounds around her grew muffled and distant. She thought she’d almost died once before, a lifetime ago in some forgotten sewer, but it was as different as a spark and a flare, as a raindrop and the sea.

The pressure at her neck disappeared. Cold flesh was pressed to her mouth, wet with blood, but she was too weak, too tired. She leaned back away from it, her eyelids fluttering shut.

“Cait! Cait, drink, goddammit!” But the words were too far away to be important, too difficult to follow. Caitlyn faded, welcoming the black, welcoming even the damnation that waited within.

“I will fucking stake myself and chase you down to kick your dead ass if you don’t drink, Cupcake!” That was right… Vi was waiting for her, back in the light. And so Caitlyn drank, choking as she gasped for air. Her heartbeat slowed, her breathing stopped, but still she drank.

After an eternity, the pain in her throat returned, and as the last vestiges of life were drawn from her body, as her heart beat for the final time in her life, Caitlyn shut her eyes and died.

 

***

 

It came as no surprise to Vi when Caitlyn didn’t rise. Of course she wouldn’t, the idiot had said so herself years and years ago: death meant the end, no matter what. They could’ve had her whole life together, but now… Vi slammed her fist into the floor, finding no satisfaction as the marble cracked beneath her blow. She struck the stone again, screaming at the top of her lungs. She felt strong, powerful, fueled by the life of the last person she’d ever wanted to harm; the feeling was so abhorrent that it took every ounce of her willpower not to take up one of Caitlyn’s antique swords and run herself through with it.

“Caitlyn, come on, don’t do this to me,” Vi said softly, caressing her pale cheek. “Come back, please.” But the body didn’t stir, no matter her coaxing pleas. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she brushed the hair out of Caitlyn’s face. “You’re too stubborn to give up like this, so please, please wake up.”

Seconds became minutes. The silence grew heavier, and the sharp scent of fresh blood began to fade.

“Fine then, be that way,” Vi said, wiping the blood and tears from her face as she sat back. “I hope you know how big of a pain in the ass it’s gonna be, inventing necromancy so I can bring your stupid ass back to life. Guess at least I get to redecorate, get rid of all this old woman furniture.”

“Like hell you will, Violet.” Vi’s jaw dropped as Caitlyn’s eyes opened. Her voice was soft and weak, but her eyes were sharp and alert.

“How long’ve you been back?” Vi said, laughing and sobbing in equal measure as she took Caitlyn’s hand.

“Long enough to hear you wreck my floor,” Caitlyn replied, pushing herself up and looking at the small crater in the marble.

“Should’ve woken up faster, then. How you feeling?”

“Fine, I guess, not much different.” Caitlyn shuddered and pressed her hand to her mouth. “I’m starving, though.”

“Yeah, well, let’s figure that out now before it becomes an issue. Welcome to the club, Cupcake,” Vi said, laughing as she pulled Caitlyn in for a long, deep kiss.