Saturday, December 6, 2008

Episode 24: Real Lessons

Lia headed for The Strip flying low over the building toward the Stratosphere Hotel’s tower. She’d been there only once or twice since she’d run off in the night looking for Lex.

She knew that he’d probably had to move on. He’d been running. Both of them had been running. And to a certain extent she wanted to go back to running again, leave Mohan’s pack and go back to the “good old days” when it was just her and Lex.

In the books that she’d read with Annabelle, when someone did what Lex did, you swore vengeance against them. It was one of the reasons that she thought Lex was so sad.

But he’d never hurt her. In fact, he’d done everything that he could to make sure that she was okay and if she found him she’d do everything in her power to make sure that she was okay. He’d been working so hard to support them before she’d run away.

If she had too she could challenge Mohan and force him to let her bring Lex back to the pack compound. She could buy him some real clothes instead of the ratty jeans and jacket he always wore and he wouldn’t have to worry about food or money ever again.

And if anyone so much as hinted at trying to bite him she would rip out their throats with her bare human hands. It wasn’t like he wasn’t unusual for a human. Lia was sure that Lex could have contributed significantly to the pack if they would let him.

She just wanted to see him happy and not worried anymore. There had to be something that she could do to make that happen, something that she could say that would make him understand that she didn’t hate him for what he’d done but that she loved him for caring about what it meant to her.

She flew into the MGM amusement park and settled behind a trellis and next to one of the outer walls and resumed human form. No fuss, no feathers. No nudity. She was often thankful that was one of her gifts.

She didn’t have any money. Annabelle or Miss Chi-Wong always paid for everything and since she wasn’t supposed to be out by herself anyway they wouldn’t bother giving her an allowance. She probably could have tried to picked pockets or something but she really didn’t want to get caught. She’d have to call Miss Chi-Wong to come get her out of trouble and even the thought of that made her wince.

So she wandered to the exit and found a daily ride pass armband from a family that was about to leave which was good enough. She just wanted to ride the rides and remember the day that Lex had brought her here.

She went on a few roller coasters and even though she could fly now it was still surprisingly fun. Lex had always smiled on the steepest hills and now she threw up her hands and screamed with the rest of the passengers when they took a quick turn.

It was another evening so she didn’t have to wait long between rides. Even though the sun set it didn’t deter her from the roller coasters. She could see almost as well in the dark as most people could in the day.

It started to cool down but she didn’t want to leave yet. She was just hungry. She could shift into her raven form and then come back but decided to see if she could figure out some way to get food from one of the food courts.

She took a seat at one of the tables with a bored expression on her face and looked around. There a few groups of boys a few tables over and they weren’t bad looking. She pointedly made a point of not looking or talking to them.

Despite eying her for a few minutes, it wasn’t any of the groups of boys that approached her but a guy.

He was tall pale and blond and gorgeous. He was wearing a tight black shirt and jeans and looked like he was about twenty four. He was also incredibly familiar looking.

“Can I join you?”

Over the smell of grease and broiling cheese came another set of smells. The strongest one was . . . aftershave? An expensive one she would have guessed, because the guy smelled something like Mr. Mohan. It was covering something else.

The smell of carrion and rot.

The blond guy was a vampire.

She stiffened for a moment. “Aren’t you a little old to be hitting on teenagers?” she said.

He politely laughed and then sat down anyway. “Oh, I doubt you have any idea. I’m just a little curious what a werewolf is doing alone in the middle of this tent after dark.”

Well, crap. “I’m not—,” she started, but he interrupted.

“Let’s not pretend. You can probably smell me just as easily as I tell what you are. What exactly are you doing here? This area is most definitely off limits to Mohan’s activities. Whatever business you’re conducting here, you didn’t check with your pack leader or he would have told you that.” His incredibly pretty blue eyes were trying to bore into her and he was doing something to try to make her speak.

“I’m not here on business,” she said, genuinely surprised now, and looked directly into his eyes. “It’s . . . my day off. I came here to relax,” she lied.

There was a sea of old power behind those blue eyes but Mr. Mohan could pull the same trick. Lia had long ago learned to resist him and suspected that the vampire didn’t realize that could push him off so easily.

At her answer it was vampire’s turn to look surprised. “Relax?” he asked and she watched his face for some sign that he didn’t believe her.

“It’s an amusement park,” she said. “I’ve been riding the roller coasters.”

He blinked, as though he hadn’t realized that and glanced around. “Uh, well, what are you doing just sitting here then? It looked like you were waiting for someone.”

She sighed. “Actually, I don’t have any money and I was going to try to get one of those guys over there to buy me dinner.” She looked at the vampire and realized that he seemed familiar. “Which they won’t do now that they’ve seen me talking with you,” she added.

The vampire looked at the group of guys that was now studiously avoiding her.

“Oh. Look, I’m sorry for that. If you want, I can buy you something to eat.”

She hesitated wondering if he was lying to her the same way that she’d lied to him. “I’m not going to let you bite me,” she said and wondered if vampires could fly.

“Uhg. Bite you? No thanks. No offense, but you all taste like wet fur to me.”

He thought she was a wolf then. He could tell that she was a werecreature, but he couldn’t tell what kind. She wondered if feathers tasted better to him than wet fur.

A guy was approaching their table. He was wearing a security guard uniform. “Everything all right?” he asked Lia.

“Sure,” she said. “He’s my uncle.”

“I just saw her as I was passing through and thought I’d say hi,” the vampire added easily.

The security guard looked at her and then at the vampire. She was small and had dark skin and hair. He was tall, pale and blond. The security guard and the vampire’s eyes met for a moment and the security guard smiled. “Of course. Sorry to bother you.”

From the outside it was a little more impressive than it had been when he’d been focusing the same powers on her. She could do that to other lycanthropes but didn’t know if she could do it to a human. The vampire had stopped trying to coerce her after she’d told him she’d been riding the roller coasters and she supposed it would be rude now that he was trying to be nice.

He stuck out his hand. “I’m Edward.”

She reached out. “I’m Lia.”

As they shook his eyes widened. “I didn’t recognize you,” he said, “without the made up hair and the dress.”

“You were at the meeting,” Lia realized. “With Lo. You had a computer.”

Edward nodded.

“You look a lot different without a suit on,” Lia said. He looked like a clothing store model actually. Not her type at all but still very handsome.

“Thanks,” he laughed.

“No, er, that was supposed to be a compliment,” she said, and then looked back at the stalls that lined the food court. “Er, about dinner . . . ?” she prompted him.

“Yeah, sure, what do you want?”

She ordered a burger with everything on it, a giant soda and reveled in the first real fast food that she’d had in ages. Mohan’s chefs were more likely to serve her veal than a simple burger. The food was good but sometimes she missed the junk food.

She offered some of the curly fries to Edward, but he thanked her politely and sat without eating.

“You guys don’t eat a lot, do you?”

Edward shook his head. “We don’t need to eat. Well, burgers and that sort of stuff.”

“But you drink blood.”

“I’m sort surprised that you’re not grossed out by that.”

She rolled her eyes. “You should see some of the things that I’ve eaten when I’m . . . not human. It’s hard to be grossed out after your first few mice.”

He nodded understandingly. “I can understand that. You just don’t look like the kind of girl that doesn’t get grossed out by drinking blood or eating small animals.”

She looked down at her flowery jeans and shrugged. “I guess so.”

Lia ate for a while in silence until Edward asked, “You don’t get out much, do you?”

She examined him again, and then shook her head.

“The reason that you didn’t know that this was technically our territory was because you didn’t tell anyone where you were going?”

Lia nodded, and sighed as she swallowed. “I think the correct term is “run away,” she said, miming one of Annabelle’s most common phrases.

“I’d heard one or two things about that, now that I think back,” Edward told her. “Why do you run away?”

Lia looked at him and shrugged.

“Do they not feed you or something? From the way that you’re eating it looks like they haven’t given you food in years.”

“No . . . they treat me fine. I mean, I have private chefs and they have tutors and stuff. I just don’t necessarily feel comfortable there.”

“What about Mohan?”

She looked at Edward, confused.

“How do you feel about him?”

“He’s just . . . Mohan. He’s okay I guess.”

“You aren’t part of his pack, are you?”

She shrugged, not sure what he meant by that. She was part of the pack. She lived with them, after all, but she suspected that Edward meant something else.

“See, that’s an answer by itself. You don’t feel much loyalty to him. If you’d been a member of Mohan’s pack you would. You wouldn’t run away. You resisted me earlier, when you lied about coming here to relax.”

Lia thought about shifting and flying away but Edward had been friendly to her so far but she couldn’t stop herself from reflexively tensing a bit.

Edward caught her wrist but made it look like he was just laying his hand on hers. Even with time slowed for her she hadn’t seen him move. His skin was cold and she tried to lift her hand but without even appearing to tense a muscle Edward kept her wrist glued to the table.

“I don’t know why he’s allowing it, but Mohan isn’t the kind of guy to be tested forever. You may have been his pet for two years but sooner or later he’s going to get annoyed and he’s going to add you to his pack by force. You’re strong, you resisted me, but Mohan is an Alpha wereborn. He was born to lead a pack and if you throw your will up against his, you won’t be able to resist him. It doesn’t seem like you want him to do that.”

She slowly shook her head. He looked around and when she looked back she winced.

“Do you know why he’s keeping you?”

She shook her head.

“The witches, they don’t like wereravens. I thought you were just a wolf until you introduced yourself but if I was a witch I would have attacked you outright. The raven is sacred to them and they say that wereravens are a defilement.”

He gave her a look. “That’s what they say, but the real reason is that you terrify them. You have a lot to fear from Mohan, but at least he’ll keep you safe. If the witches find you they’ll kill you without hesitation and if you’ve been going around Las Vegas like this then you’ve been extremely lucky so far.”

He let go of her hand and she immediately stood. He hadn’t hurt her and he’d just told her stuff that she hadn’t known.

Carefully, she picked up the last few bites of the burger and bit into it. The entire time she kept her eyes glued to Edwards.

“For a teenager,” he said after a moment, “you do have a few surprises.”

She finished the burger.

“What do you suggest then?” she asked after a sip of her soda.

“Don’t piss off Mohan. If you keep on ticking him off, he’ll eventually crush you like a bug.”

“I don’t like being kept locked up.”

“Nobody does,” Edward said vaguely and Lia could see that there was something in his eyes when he said that. “But sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do to get what you want.”

“What do you think I want?”

Edward focused back on her. “I’m sure I have no idea, just as you have no idea what I want. But if you want to avoid waking up one day and wanting to do everything in your power to serve Mohan, I would learn from him. He’s a powerful guy and no matter how much you dislike him you could learn a lot from him.”

Lia sat in silence for a moment considering his words.

“Thanks for dinner,” she finally said.

“No problem,” Edward said.

He walked her to the gate. She walked a few more blocks alone before she shifted and made her way back to the compound.

Slipping back into the compound was surprisingly difficult. She’d never done it before on her own.

The clock read midnight before Annabelle entered the room and found her reading her math textbook.

“I thought I’d get a jump on tomorrow’s lessons,” Lia said.

Annabelle said nothing but before she turned and stalked out of the room her face had turned the color of a fresh salmon sushi.

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