It was all I could do not to scream when I saw the state Liam was in. His face was bruised and bloodied, clothes torn, limping and he held his side gingerly, the parts of his face not the deep blue-black of fresh bruises, a nasty grey-white. Not asking anything about it was even harder, but I decided not to complain. This time.
"It might be nothing but a woman out there gave me the creeps in the too-much-attention kinda way if you know what I mean."
I rolled my eyes as I went, vampire-speed, to investigate. If it was giving Liam the creeps then it was something. When I saw what, or rather who it was, I cursed steadily all the way back to Liam.
"We're about to have a visitor. Stay here."
I knew Liam wouldn't listen, he never did, but I hoped that he would. The shock of flaming copper hair making its determined way up to our door was unfortunately unmistakable. I just had time to flick the TV on and slip my half-swords behind the door when the knock came. I waited a couple of seconds and then opened the door. I registered a stream of curses coming from Liam before I shut them out. Unbidden, a typed sheet of print rose in my mind's eye while we engaged in an exchange reminiscient of wildcats with barely sheathed claws.
SPECIES/DETAILS:Vampire of around 100 years old. Turned around 80 years ago. Sire, unknown.
MOTIVATION: One-time lover of the shape-shifter Liam, previously the consort of another vampire, identity uncertain.Turned Hunter after an incident around 50 years ago, involving the shape-shifter and tunknown associate(s).
KNOWN ASSOCIATES: None outside Hunters.
KNOWN ABILITIES: None beyond vampirism and Hunter training.
ESSENTIAL DETAILS: Known to be prone to extreme emotional outbursts.
WARNING: TARGET IS KNOWN TO BE HIGHLY VOLATILE AND HIGHLY DANGEROUS. APPROACH WITH CAUTION.
The final phrase always rang clearly in my mind. APPROACH WITH CAUTION. The bleak typeface somehow made it worse. As though the warning itself, to me, legendary bounty hunter The Shadow, was not bad enough. They never warned me with caution. The sparse information was also disturbing. Too many 'unknowns' and 'uncertains'. Usually, the orders came in a dossier several inches thick. They had dossiers on every known contact, down to the one-time barrista in the target's local coffee house. The single sheet, the lack of information, the only job I didn't complete. And now, she was here. My hand automatically strayed to my swords. I stayed my hand previously due to the unforseen influence Liam had exerted and a desire to cause him as little pain as possible. I had regretted it ever since.
And now, she was bringing it all up. She actually had the nerve to smirk, over-confident in the safety of the exposed doorstep, in full veiw of the street.
"As I remember, we parted company with you vowing revenge while bleeding to death somewhere in the Australian Outback." Vampires have long memories. It is considered impolite to bring up past grievances. To build up a hatred like that between Imogen and myself, we had to put real work into it. The hundreds of clashes we'd had over the years had always ended in a manner that was...unsatisfactory.
Imogen played a parody of someone looking back on fond memories. "I remember. You seem to have forgotten the legion of Hunters that descended on you and followed you for around fifty years after."
"Yeah, I knew we should have decapitated you when we had the chance." I was more than angry now. My patience was frayed.
"Just a pathetic turncoat vampire who is still hung up on a one-night stand."
I saw from the sudden change in her expression that I had scored a direct hit.
"It was five months!" Her voice, already higher than average, ascended to octaves best reserved for bats.
I shrugged, inwardly triumphant "Still a traitor. Working with the Hunters."
Imogen glowered darkly. "Says the exiled bounty hunter. I wonder if Zelthar knows how his pet is doing these days?"
I practically growled at that one. Zelthar had been my 'handler' before I retired as the Shadow. He hadn't taken it well and promptly exiled me, making me Vampiric Public Enemy Number One. It was quite an honor. "Get out, before I make life really difficult for you." I let my old habits creep back, using subtle techniques to intimidate her.
Imogen smiled again, though her thoughts raced like a panicked rabbit. "Didn't you know? I'm moving in. I'm sure we'll be really good neighbours."
I slammed the door. Fuck subtle, her laugh had pissed me off to heights I'd only attained once, fifty years ago.
I only picked up the fact that I was swearing when I saw the expression on Liam's face. After a brief discussion, I allowed myself to be persuaded to go over to Cody's.
Cancer answered my knocking, dressed only in jeans, cuts and bruises and looking grumpier than usual. He took one look at me, dressed in old Shadow uniform, a long coat concealing my weapons and tossed a comment over his shoulder.
"Cody. Yours I believe."
The surge of anger I felt at his dismissive comment was almost eclipsed by the storm of rage and fear Imogen's appearance had stirred up.
Cody appeared quickly, appearing chilled and just as good-looking as I'd left him, a few hours before.
"Thought you were coming over in the morning." He gave me a smile that I loved before I pulled him close to me, closing my eyes against his chest. Surprised, he returned the sentiment, kissing the top of my head. I breathed in his smell for a few moments, before I had calmed enough to let him bring me into the living room. Aria, Cancer and Rayn were all there. Rayn sprang up to greet me cheerfully. I forced a smile for him even as my eyes found Aria. She had registered the clothing and looked at me.
"I think y'all got some explainin' to do, Asha." She said softly.