daydreamerexpress: (gates)
[personal profile] daydreamerexpress
It should be noted that she was paying attention; noted because she respected the established etiquette of her clients, within reason, and wouldn't want to be thought of as neglectful, but it was her humble opinion that a believable expression of interest can only be maintained for so long before the muscles on your face begin to twitch in rebellion.

It didn't help that the chair, though not the molded plastic kind purchased in 1967 for a high school gymnasium, was not comfortable for her back or, for that matter, any other part of her of which it came into contact. That and there were far too many vampires in the room for her to feel especially relaxed or entirely safe: seventeen. She wasn't the only human present, but the others -- six of them -- seemed either enraptured by the topic, or the person speaking, or both. Except for one of them, who appeared mired in the ramifications of the presentation, Helen Wu was leaning toward 'both', but had no real desire to confirm that suspicion. Vamps are hypnotic suckers, even when they aren't trying. Helen was immune to that danger, or so she told herself, but it came with the territory. Nevertheless, when she looked toward the podium -- and it would be considered rude to be looking anywhere else -- she focused on a spot on the elegant floral wallpaper to the left of the speaker's head. There was no point playing with fire without due cause, and even then, burning was the least of your problems.

Keeping a reign on her gifts, she recrossed her legs to prevent her calves from cramping and noted the way one of the guards behind the speaker seemed to be staring at her from across the room. Or perhaps he was just high on a recent feeding and not really paying attention to anything but the singing of his veins. She had remained subdued during the presentation, even when tempted to interject with a correction or ask a question to which she knew the answer already, but it might have been enlightening to the press. Assuming the speaker bothered to reply, of course. There was no reason why any of those present should feel drawn to her, other than the usual 'lure of the living' issue. Surely, even the undead had enough courtesy to avoid contemplating their guests as potential meals in a public venue. The suckers might have rights and privileges, like any number of the accepted beings, but they still had to be careful and put on a happy face for Humanity. Vampires had been legally assigned under the general umbrella of 'Other', even though they had their own form of governing body, and trust was difficult to earn.

She knew that from personal experience.

There are ways to look at one's watch which aren't obvious, but at forty-five minutes into a 'brief' press conference, Helen's patience was thinner than fine copper wire and just as likely to snap at any moment. She had reached a point where she didn't much care what anyone thought of her, not that she was usually concerned at all. She lifted her wrist just enough to shift the cuff of her sleeve and check the time. It was almost ten-thirty and she had been sufficiently irritated with the speaker previous to the beginning of this tedium. That he droned on about things only a vamp might possibly be interested in hearing -- such as a proposal for a stretch of park land near the lake for vampires to socialize at night -- made her discomfort more intense. Why did they need to have an exclusive party place in public? Couldn't they just lounge around someone's mansion, like they did Before? She kept her face as blank as possible, but could someone tell she was reaching her limit?

It was likely that the speaker would know. Helen had no plans to provide any clues or any reason to be singled out.

She had just decided to leave without waiting for 'permission' to leave when the conference concluded. With a soft sigh, she stood, purse in hand, and pulled her long, white coat from its position on the back of the chair. One of the guards approached -- after all these years, it still bothered her that they could move so quickly -- and posted himself solidly at her right elbow. He was taller than Helen and gave the impression that he was used to looming over everyone.

"The Master wishes to see you," he said, in a volume and tone usually reserved for libraries and very important people. Doubtless, the Master thought himself the most important person in the city, the country, the continent, but Helen didn't share the same belief. Besides, he'd just given her another forty-five minutes of his undesired presence, being the speaker who enjoyed the sound of his own voice.

"He saw me earlier," she said lightly, draping her coat over one arm and preparing to move around the vampire. "If he wishes to see me again, he can make an appointment, like everyone else." Helen took a step to the left and the guard followed to block her path. Not an unexpected result.

"He wishes to see you now."

Helen looked up at the vamp, concentrating on the spot between his eyes. She didn't probe him -- there was nothing there, so why bother? -- but she spoke clearly and firmly. "It's late. I'm leaving now. Good night."

There wasn't much he could do without causing some sort of scene and since a few members of sympathetic press had been invited, that wasn't going to happen. Sympathy only stretched so far when there was a story to be released. The vampire's gaze shifted slightly to look over her shoulder and she knew he was checking for instructions. Without a word more, he turned away. She didn't pause to see who had directed him; she didn't have to.

The revolving door tried to snatch her purse, but she yanked it clear just in time. Then, not wanting to carry her coat upon exiting the building, she looped the straps of her purse around her neck and quickly shoved her arms into the sleeves. Purse in hand once more, she stalked into the night.

It should be noted that Helen Wu didn't smoke anymore; noted because once she had made a decision, Helen had a reputation for not turning back. She had given up the habit in favour of chewing gum after she realized what it did to her ability to run when her bag was stolen on the way to class during her first term at U of T. The thief had escaped, naturally, and she'd nearly heaved her lunch in a campus flowerbed from the exertion. Her identity, gone in a flash, and a Prada bag, hard-earned with extra shifts at a dull retail job in a struggling mall. There had been no one to blame but herself and her nasty, nasty habits. She'd cancelled all the cards and endured the shame of waiting in all those lines for new ID, repeating her story each time and filling out paperwork in triplicate. Smoking, sweets and shopping. Today is sponsored by the letter 's'... Two of the three habits remained. The other was squashed by the patch, a spell a friend of hers knew and sheer stubbornness. It'd been ten years since she'd inhaled the acrid smoke.

It was late and she was tired and the streets of downtown Taft were irritatingly free of taxis. She'd left the Preston Taft Museum and crossed Kersey to wait for a bus, but realized that her hands were tight fists and her jaw was clenched and walking would at least burn off some of the remaining tension in her body. At least there wasn't any snow.

Easing her fingers to relax, she headed south on Ervine, toward the lake. It was three blocks later that she lit up, inhaling awkwardly from a stray cigarette she'd found in one of the inside pockets of her purse. It tasted terrible, but it felt good to do something where she had control, something rebellious. A responsible citizen and paying member of the Psychic Association for Honest Practitioners -- PAFHP didn't even spell anything, useless acronym -- shouldn't consider rebellion a productive solution. Neither should someone with a Doctorate in Antiquities who was long passed the age of being carded in bars, but she inhaled anyway, coughed, and wished she wouldn't grind her teeth.

A certain client -- the speaker at the press conference -- didn't understand what he had in his possession or just didn't care. She had tried to convey the importance of the item she'd presented earlier in the day without being disrespectful, but doubted she had succeeded. It was just another blade, another ornament, another tool. Fucking vampires. His money burned a hole in her pocket: cash or 'no dice'. Who came up with that moronic phrase? Probably someone in Vegas. If she hadn't needed it to ensure the rent went through with enough to spare for the tithe and some groceries, she might have left the envelope on the table.

Maybe.

And if he wasn't one of the founding fathers of fucking Taft, I might have tried to tree him.

She'd never staked anyone in her life.

Helen's jaw ached, her head ached, and she'd have to douse herself with a hot shower and peppermint soap if she expected to sleep tonight; the smell of smoke made her ill. That she still carried a lighter and hadn't cleaned her purse out in ten years reflected another of her habits -- procrastination -- but it didn't start with the letter 's', so she wasn't going to think about it right then.

The street had a few other pedestrians, but she paid little attention to them as they hurried through the cold, February night, desperate to reach home and someone warm to cuddle. Helen didn't have anyone to cuddle, not even a cat, and the word 'cuddle' sounded immature to her. It went with plush toys and gossip, cherry lip gloss and boy-band-crushes, pink ribbons and long hair.

She'd cut her hair after graduating from high school. It had felt like shedding shackles.

Her long, white, wool coat was almost enough to keep out the wind, and thinking about the wind led her to lift her gaze to a person who was walking toward her in clothing that would suggest warmer weather and a pace that said he had no particular place to go. Odd, especially considering the cold that was blowing through the city from Lake Ontario, but not really of interest. She clamped down on her power when she felt it stirring, but the tangible sensation of tendrils snaking toward the figure without her permission was unmistakeable. God, she was tired. Helen's instincts were dulled and her focus was shot and all because of a stupid client who was too short-sighted and self-important to give a shit about history and honour.

The Undead, like jiangshi only without the hopping, and usually with a better sense of style and communication, were frequently arrogant and obsessive, in her experience. She'd damn them, but it would be rather redundant.

She took a deep pull on the cigarette, coughed again, and released the smoke to the night. She didn't feel any fear at the thought of encountering strangers, such as the man approaching. She hadn't been afraid of that in years, not since dealing with other people invading her thoughts, trying to teach her some control. Ah, the wonderful psychic experience of having your mind shredded like lettuce. Blessed childhood. She didn't miss those lessons. Not at all.

Helen's power returned with information about the man. How about... A Shifter? Mildly interesting, but not alarming. As to the type? Hmmm, he's a Were. Well. Not one of the locals, she decided. Not that it mattered. There were plenty of transients with 'gifts' passing through, looking for work, hope, love, before moving on. Just like anyone else. There wasn't a law against the free movement of para-normals or supernaturals.

Yet.

When various factions began to emerge in the latter part of the nineteenth century, it was with a secure power base and excellent protections. No Salem witch hunts, no townsfolk with pitch forks, no burning at the stake, no strains of the violin or screaming victims. The Old Ones made certain to be prepared before they revealed their presence. There was joy and revulsion from the mundane population and some unfortunate 'incidents' occurred; you can't win all the time. And there were laws created to accommodate the 'new' citizens, of course, but nothing involving confinement or restrictions regarding where you could live, work and so on. No shanty towns for shifters or work farms for the Fae. Though one hundred and twenty-one years had passed as of this January first since the Awakening, each year faced someone with a petition, a list of criminal activity, a non-partisan research paper which pointed vague fingers at the Others. If their voices grew louder...

She shouldn't care, but watched the man, regardless, with increasing trepidation.

He was a story in denim, wearing blue jeans and a jacket that matched. A jacket open to the cold wind, revealing a red, plaid shirt that wasn't tucked in and a t-shirt of some kind underneath, peeking over the top of the buttons: the lumberjack look via Eddie Bauer. His boots were worn, leather, practical, the opposite of her Jimmy Choo heels -- except for the leather part. His head was down, shoulders slightly slumped, shaggy hair best described by the headlights of a few passing cars as 'dirty blond' hiding his features. He was tall, he was broad, and there was something about him that was tickling her memory. Her power, of course, was happy to oblige with answers.

Helen didn't want that, not now, not ever. She enjoyed mysteries, but was less interested in the ones that involved the living. Inanimate objects held enough tales and occasional torment to satisfy her 'need to know'. It was part of her job. Besides, she'd had enough male company in the last three hours, living and Undead, to carry her through to the following week, and it was only Tuesday. Whoever he was, she didn't care. She preferred to remain ignorant and damn her power and her own curiosity for letting her evening digress in this manner. Her free hand fingered the straps on her Gucci purse, gripping the leather as if that would somehow give her strength to continue walking. She faced front again, thinking of the gun she was carrying and the silver bullets that were waiting for a Were to try and mug her, or worse. Custom-made bullets, as all of the acceptable, genuine silver ones were, each one stamped with the company mark -- a stylized 'K', for 'Kolchak' -- guaranteed to be of a certain grade and to cause intense pain. If the wound wasn't treated quickly and the silver removed, it meant death to Weres of any heritage.

That and she had a can of mace and knew how to use her keys as a weapon. Hurray for self-defense courses at the Y.

If her psychic mentor had taught her anything, it was to keep from being a threat until it was absolutely unavoidable. No one -- not humans or vampires, shifters or the Fae -- responded well to danger. So she focused on remaining as calm as she could and took to counting her steps as a distraction. The man would walk right by her and she would reach West Clark Way, cross Sycamore Bridge, ideally hail a taxi there and that would be that.

And then she felt it. The mixture of emotions, raw and very much on the surface, revealing his identity as her power did what it always did and deciphered the clues. Helen paused, threw the cigarette to the ground when it still had a few smokes left in it. Littering. The fine was three hundred, if she was caught, but she didn't care. Let some passing cop fucking fine her. They might need to arrest her, too, if her renewed fists did the damage she was contemplating.

Helen's footsteps slowed, expression becoming gradually more attentive, her body somehow increasing in tension despite already being in a bit of a state. It was probably related to nothing and due to no one that he was here, now, after such a frustrating conclusion to over a month of research. A mountain becomes a mole hill in three easy steps: exhaustion, irritation, paranoia. You're an idiot, Doctor Wu.

It was the last thing she wanted to contend with after a long day in courteous Hell. He wasn't walking toward her, on Ervine Street, at night. He was out in British Columbia or was that California? Hadn't she heard from a colleague that he'd found a pack, started a new life? Didn't a friend of a friend at a museum function seven years ago say he was dead?

Maybe she was wrong, so lost in her anger and tired with her life that her memory was playing nasty tricks. Bad day? Have a nightmare to go with that, little girl.

Hands in his pockets, denim jacket open to the cold night, and jeans a bit loose on his hips, Royce Wolinski crossed the road in old boots without a sound, eyes down, apparently lost in thought. Go west for fifteen years and look what happens? You come home for a hug and get slapped in the face. Serves you right. Disappointment was something he could almost taste and he hated it. It had been a steady feature of his diet lately. He needed a 'welcome home' banner, and though he knew he wasn't going to get one, something close would've been nice.

He smelled the smoke before he smelled the woman.

He wasn't getting old -- not at thirty-six -- so he blamed it on his pre-occupied mind and the alcohol that he hadn't noticed her sooner. Royce Wolinski inhaled, nostrils flaring slightly, separating her scent from that of the cigarette. She was coming toward him at a steady pace, a woman of Asian heritage in a long, white coat. Maybe she'd smile. Maybe he could buy her a drink. He probably looked feral -- which was appropriate, considering -- and he doubted he'd be appetizing to anyone. Who would want a drink with some scruffy shifter?

Digging his hands further into his pockets, he thought of Vancouver and her and a part of him wished he was dead.

Shit.

She was closer now, but it wasn't until she tossed the cigarette away, pulling him back to the present, that he focused on her again. She was upwind and Royce couldn't read her properly. He watched the cigarette as it sparked on the pavement, thought of the fine she'd get for littering if this was San Diego, and wondered why she'd stopped walking. His steps were still silent on the sidewalk as he continued on, hoping to find another bar.

Am I an alcoholic? Nah...

He should have been more alert, but this was home. He was safe, right? It was a joke. There was no such thing as 'safe'. No such thing as 'always'. Everything changed.

Helen's power had been correct -- when was it ever wrong? -- and the tormentor from her childhood was less than a block away from her.

She was four and playing in her neighbour's yard only to have the little boy next door turn a garden hose on her. She was soaked and embarrassed and scared, and her mother had been cross with her for getting her new dress wet.

She was eight and finding crickets from the biology lab hopping in her locker. She'd screamed and the hall monitor had scolded her for disturbing the other children. She'd escaped with a firm warning.

She was twelve and crying in the girl's washroom because he'd teased her about the teddy bear hair clips she was wearing. She'd missed a history class and been summoned to the principal's office for a stern reminder of the school's expectations.

She was sixteen and his bicycle wasn't in the racks beside the gym doors. Maybe she'd be spared any pain from the boy that day. But he wasn't at school the next day, either, or the next week. She found out much later that he'd left Taft, without his parents, and no one knew why or where he'd gone.

She hadn't cared, glad her tormentor had disappeared, and faced new challenges that pushed his memory aside.


All that had been so long ago. They were adults now and different people from their younger selves. At least, she knew that she was different. And though Helen was surprised to find herself considering how to best make her revenge for all that pain he'd put her through, she was also aware that it was childish and stupid and dangerous. Such thoughts and any actions associated with them were a waste of time and energy.

What were the odds that he'd be back, though, tonight and alone? And in the same part of the city as her? Was she being tested? Are the Fates really that ticked off with me?

Not that it mattered; she had no influence with the Sisters. But Taft was her home, her territory. She figured a Were would understand that much. If he was just visiting, fine, but if he planned on staying, he'd have to choose another section to roam. Somewhere away from downtown and the west end, so they'd never encounter one another. Somewhere she didn't frequent. Like Woodgrove Lawn. It was a new housing development located in the east end of Taft, surrounded by highways and industrial malls, and it sounded like a damn cemetery. Who'd want to go there?

Of course, if he kept walking, then she was in the clear.

It wasn't until they were perhaps twenty feet away from one another that he caught her scent and found it familiar. His thoughts fell in step with his pace.

When she broke eye contact and stared resolutely at the sidewalk, Royce found his voice. "Helen?"

She groaned internally. Well, shit. The shiny, revised plan to keep walking if he didn't say anything hadn't worked. She was busted. Her power had been correct about his identity, damn, damn, damn. Should she just keep moving anyway? It was difficult to ignore him, though, once he'd said her name. Her mother had raised her better than to be rude, even to someone she didn't particularly like.

She hesitated. "Yes..."

When he said her name, she came to a complete stop and replied with a wary acknowledgment. Royce stopped as well, blue eyes wide with surprise that he shouldn't have had, body paused in the act of pulling his hands from his pockets. Her scent was very clear now, despite the wind, the cigarette, the smells of the city, the alcohol in his system. He hadn't consumed that much, after all. Had he?

It was her. The girl he'd tormented since he was -- what, five? Six? Someone he'd come to count on at those boring kiddie parties thrown by the Neighbourhood Watch, someone close in age to talk to and scare. They were disjointed memories that had lingered.

And he realized that she couldn't miss who he was, surely. And that if he hadn't said anything, she had probably planned to just walk on by.

Like the song...

His moment of elation choked. Of course. Why be surprised when he'd probably done nothing but been a monster to her most of the time? No welcome here. There was no welcome at all in Taft. Everywhere he turned, just things that might have been, if he'd stayed, and people who had vanished with no forwarding address. Or people who hated him.

Like Helen.

Something twisted inside of him. The wind slapped his hair around as he stood, motionless, disappointed, sad.

"No, sorry," Royce mumbled. "My mistake." Even though she'd acknowledged her name. Even though he'd accept any company at this point. He reasserted the firm grip of his hands on the inside lining of his jacket pockets and started forward again, to continue into the night.

Helen pressed her lips together, displeased with being dismissed and confused about why she should give a shit. He knew her and she knew him and unless Royce Wolinski had a twin hidden away somewhere, he fit the image of what an older version of the troubled teen could resemble. Maybe she thought he'd have more muscle mass, shorter hair. A broken nose from a fight. Something to mar the rather attractive face before her. She'd never been able to figure him out anyway and this was no surprise. She had spent her childhood trying to flee or hide from him most of the time.

Everything changes.

"Your mistake?" she repeated, disbelief clearly apparent. She was stronger now, wiser, smarter. A shamed, shy part of her that was still a child wanted him to know it. Her jaw set, she lifted her chin slightly and glared up at him. "You're not welcome here." A lie. It made her feel brave and foolish to be baiting a Were, but he wasn't just that. He was a mean boy two years ahead of her and hiding crickets in her locker.

That stopped him. He met her gaze, apparently surprised that she wouldn't just let him go, ignore him, shun him. He looked stunned by her short, sharp words, as if they cut him where she couldn't see, like they shouldn't have been able to. What did he care?

She reminded herself that this was Royce Wolinski. He'd teased and taunted her for years. Naturally, she wouldn't want him around. Probably just like everyone else he knew, she thought, then decided that was an uncharitable thing to contemplate.

"Okay, who doesn't want me here?" he asked, trying to mask any reaction, any sign that it hurt. "Why should I leave?"

Joking about it wouldn't work. Pretending this wasn't happening would be equally ineffective. She was running out of options and she couldn't seem to curb that part of her that wanted blood any better than one of her vampire clients.

I'm becoming like them. Terrific.

He was close enough to punch or to get a round kick in, if she wanted to, but she wasn't sure she could pull it off. Physical fighting wasn't really her thing and to think that a Were wouldn't be capable of a fight was a fool's notion.

Helen took a breath for courage. She found that lies always required more courage than the truth. "I don't want you here," she admitted. She didn't trust him or maybe she didn't want to trust him. "Take another step and I'll end you." She had been taught to say things like that when she'd been instructed on how to hold a gun properly. All part of the intimidation factor. It had made her feel powerful, but it was an illusion. It just sounded stupid now. She knew better, too, yet fell back to the emotional cushion of her early training.

Royce stared at her. Oh, this was better. This was perfect. It was familiar and it was coming from someone he actually knew, someone who was bothering with him, even if it did seem to be coming from some distant, bleeding hatred. He seized the moment, rose his eyebrows, found a smirk.

"You don't want me here? You're going to 'end' me? Oh... Oh, Helen, that's rich." He threw back his head and crowed to the night, "That's beautiful! Thank you. I was having such a shitty day." Royce spread his arms to either side of him, palms up. "You think you can take me, China Girl?" He faced her again, his grin becoming feral, and his body slid into a fighting stance that would have made his high school gym teacher proud.

Arrogant, self-important bastard. Helen's skin flushed at her neck, but the collar of her coat would keep it hidden. Still treating her like she was a helpless little girl who cried when he picked on her hair clips. And still calling her by that stupid nickname. God, Bowie had a lot to answer for. She didn't have her parents to run to, nor would she really be tempted to do so even if they were still living in Taft. She was alone, but she wasn't afraid. She was a different person.

One of Royce's hands stretched out, palm up, fingers curled into a beckoning gesture.

"Bring it," he growled softly.

An older couple on the other side of the road increased their pace to gain distance from the scene. A young man wearing headphones at the bus stop further down pulled out his cell phone in anticipation of an interesting video.

"You think I can't?"

The Gucci purse slid from her shoulder, the leather straps dragging at the folds of her coat sleeve as gravity pulled it down. Helen didn't wait for it to hit the ground to start on the offensive. Heel planted firmly to the pavement, she spun on one leg, kicking the back of his hand until his -- showy, annoying, disrespectful -- pose was thrown slightly off kilter.

"Think again."

She managed to place her foot back on the ground without losing her balance and falling on her ass. Go, me.

Helen kicked his hand. He maintained his pose -- mostly -- and stared at her, like she was the treasure at the bottom of the cereal box. Like the promotion he'd been pushing for years ago at the lumber mill. Like the Hope Diamond -- only without the curse.

Release. He was going to find some sort of release, after all, in this -- this encounter, this potential fight. How long would she last? How well had she been trained and in which arts? Had she fought a Were before?

What has she been doing the last fifteen years?

"Oh-ho! You can fight back. I might have to get religion, so I can thank someone's God."

"Surprised?" she asked, a little too self-confident. It wouldn't do to show her opponent all her cards, especially since in a one-on-one, she didn't have many of them, but she wasn't about to hide or play dead while he flexed his muscles. She was done taking it, especially from people she knew. Especially from someone like him.

Only seconds had passed. Royce echoed her move with a kick himself, aiming at the leg she was standing on as she lowered her other foot, hoping to destroy her balance. The thought of a fight got his adrenaline going in a rush that was almost as good as the fight itself, manners be damned. You didn't hit a woman, right?

Don't disappoint me, baby.


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