December 20, 2013 (Friday)
Brianna has been laying low over the last week, only venturing out to go to fight club and retrieve her car. On the day of her birthday party, Loomis drives down from Seattle to pick her up. Joey follows in his vehicle and they all head to Produce Row Cafe, where Brianna has reserved a table for dinner.
Ezekiel arrives in his old farm truck. Sydney shows up in a cute party dress and a small reticule. Even in the daylight, Brianna can detect a faint green glow from her handbag. They are sat in a deep, high-backed booth in a corner of the restaurant. When the coast is clear, Regi crawls out of Sydney’s handbag. “You should keep some gum in here,” he tells the young sorceress, “it would smell better.”
Brianna thanks her friends for coming to her party. Everyone orders food and drinks and Brianna offers whiskey to Regi as a token of her appreciation. “Your gift is accepted!” he tells her happily.
Brianna asks Ezekiel how things are going to the north. “The usual, I suppose, which is all we can ask for.”
Everyone sits and chats, clearly having a good time. One of the wait staff suddenly approaches the table, carrying a white box. “Brianna Karkana?”
“Yes, that’s me.”
“This was left at the front desk for you.”
“Thank you,” Brianna is polite, but doesn’t reach out to take the box. The staff places it on the table and walks away. She looks around the table to see if anyone seems to recognize the box, but everyone looks just curious. She looks at Ezekiel and Sydney. “If this contained something odd would you be able to tell?” They look at each other, but confirm that they don’t sense anything. Brianna turns the box, positioning the lid so that it lifts directly towards her, then slowly opens it an inch or two.
Inside is a white gown with a small card sitting on top. Fuck, Brianna thinks, but fishes out the card. The card is an engraved invitation to the New Year’s Eve ball at Nirvana for Brianna and a “plus one.” A hand-written note at the bottom reads “Happy birthday … Nerise.”
Brianna takes the lid fully off the box and holds up the gown. It is very expensive looking, with a long slit up the side, backless, and sleeveless. “Huh. I guess she didn’t want me wearing red this year,” she remarks. She carefully lays the dress back inside the box and puts the lid back on.
Regi pipes up, “It’s a pretty dress, but there’s not much of it.”
Brianna looks distinctly uncomfortable, “No, there’s not.”
“Is this a good present?”
“I think so. This is from the agent for House Raith here in Portland. She throws a large New Year’s Eve party every year, and this is my invitation to attend. Last year it wasn’t dictated what I was to wear, but apparently this year I have my outfit picked out for me.”
Loomis comments, “It gets my vote.”
Brianna tries to respond, but is flustered and not much comes out.
Ezekiel muses, “A White Court party. That must be interesting.”
“It is.” Brianna shifts awkwardly, “It was. I mostly tried to stay on the peripheral. White Court events are probably exactly what you’re expecting.”
Regi props his elbows up on a salt shaker and asks innocently, “What am I expecting?”
“Well, at the end of the night, that gown probably will be covering more than what most people will be wearing.”
“Hmm, sounds like some Fae parties I know.”
Brianna blinks, then just says “I try to stay in good with my Court here in town, so I’ll be going.”
Joey looks like he’s going to open his mouth for a comment. Brianna shoots him a dark look and he apparently thinks better of it.
Brianna is still a bit disquieted, especially by the fact that Nerise knew where she was going to be this evening (and included a plus one on the invitation), and tries to move the conversation onto other topics.
Eventually, the evening draws to a close. Brianna says goodbye to everyone and thanks them again for coming. Then she and Loomis get in his truck and head to the Sentinel Hotel. As he drives, Brianna mentions that she finds it very interesting that Nerise knew where the dinner was tonight even though she wasn’t invited. She pauses, then adds, “And clearly she has some idea of what’s going on in my personal life, because this is the first year my invitation has had a plus one.”
“Ah.” Loomis nods.
“I guess this is part of the danger of staying in one place for too long.”
“There is that, but the other part is that you build a network of support.”
“I will say that this is the largest birthday party I’ve ever had, so there is something to be said for that. It’s usually just Joey and I.”
“So, why do you think she wants you to know that she has this information? Because I doubt it was a slip up.”
“Oh no, I doubt it as well.” Brianna speaks slowly, thinking, “I just think it has more to do with showing that she knows a lot of what I’ve been up to. A reminder that she knows about anything that goes on in her city.”
“The fact that she is actually dictating what I wear is a bit troublesome. She does have a lot of power here in Portland, but we’ve had a fairly amicable relationship. I currently owe her a favor, but that’s come and gone before.”
“You owe her a favor?”
“She’s owed me a favor before, I’ve owed her. We pay our debts. To me, this seems to be a more overt message of who’s in charge. She knows what I do, she knows who I see, and she’s going to tell me what to wear.” Brianna smiles thinly. “And I will wear this dress, and I will attend her party.”
“Would you have attended the party without the invitation?”
“I don’t think so. She mailed an invitation to our apartment last year and I attended. It’s a major event for my Court. I would never party crash one of Nerise’s events,” Brianna shrugs, “but I was honestly expecting another invitation. To me, the message is that she knew where I was having my birthday party. Everyone sitting at that table tonight was specifically invited. Unless one of those people told her, which I find incredibly unlikely, she found out through other means.”
“So why does someone make a power play? Why does somebody flex their muscle?”
“Usually when they think someone is becoming a threat.” Brianna shrugs again, “I can’t see that she thinks I’m much of a threat.”
“So if you’re not the threat, who is?”
Brianna makes a “hmm” noise. “Maybe there’s someone new in town, who she thinks is a threat, or maybe it’s someone attending the party.”
“All things to think about.”
“Yeah. I’m just worried that she’s going to get angry if I don’t bring someone with me.”
“If you need a plus one, I’m here.”
Brianna looks at Loomis, “I don’t know. It’s not going to be pleasant.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I do unpleasant.” His voice is dry.
“I know. I just try to keep as many people as possible away from the Court stuff. My House is fairly up front about things, as you might imagine.”
Loomis makes a sound of agreement.
“House Raith, on the other hand, likes their intrigue and likes it deep.”
For a moment, neither of them say anything. Finally, Loomis speaks up again, “So, are you saying that you don’t think I can handle myself at a party like that?”
“No. That’s not it. It’s something more primal.” She struggles with words for a moment, “I don’t want to share that part of my life with her.”
“So, I guess the question is who are you willing to share that part of your life with?”
His tone is quiet, but serious, and Brianna doesn’t respond for while, clearly deep in thought. Finally, she turns to face him directly. “Shawn Loomis, do you have plans for New Year’s Eve?”
“Well, I’ll have to check my calendar, but I’m pretty sure I’m free.”
“I would like you to be my date,” she says, enunciating her words slightly.
He smiles at her. “I would like that.”
“I’m going to warn you, this party is going to be in a strip club.”
“You always take me to the best parties.”
Brianna throws back her head and laughs, the last bit of tension in the air draining away. “Well, as strip clubs go, it’s a good one. It will be formal attire.”
“I think I still have my high school prom tux.”
She laughs again, “Well, by the end of the night, we may be the only ones wearing our nice outfits.”
They finally arrive at the hotel and get checked in. Brianna has reservations for one of the luxury suites with a terrace view of the city. They pile everything into an elevator and head for the top floor. As the doors slide close, Brianna can feel her nervousness growing. She tries to hide it, but Loomis takes one look at her and asks, “Are you alright?”
“I was only kidding about the high school tux bit.”
Brianna laughs, although perhaps a bit too loudly. “Well, good. This will be nothing like prom. Of course, I didn’t go to my prom so I guess really don’t know.”
“Neither did I. I didn’t go to high school.”
“You didn’t have a high school?”
“I didn’t go.”
“Well, I ran away from home my senior year, so I guess we’re both going to be outstanding in our class together.”
“No high school reunion for us.”
“No, although I suspect mine was a bit longer ago than yours.”
They are quiet for a moment, watching the elevator climb floors. “So how …” Loomis breaks off suddenly, “No, you don’t ask a lady that.”
Brianna snorts, “If you think I’m a lady, then you’ve been severely mistaken about our relationship so far.”
“So, how old are you?”
“Yesterday, I turned 53.”
“If you say something about dating an older woman, I will throw this luggage at you and it will hurt when I do it.”
He laughs. “I was just going to say something about you dating a younger man.”
“If it’s any consolation, the last I dated anyone was in high school, so it’s been a while.”
“Well, you’ve go to take the training wheels off sometime.”
“I agree with that,” she murmurs, almost to herself.
They arrive at their floor and finally enter their suite. It’s very spacious and modern looking. The weather is too cold at night to explore the terrace, but it will most likely be a nice view in the morning. Brianna holds up the white box. “Well, I guess I can go try this on. I’m sure Nerise has my exact size, but it doesn’t hurt to be sure.” She heads for the bathroom and slips into the dress. It’s very slinky and clings to her body in all the appropriate places. At the bottom of the box are a pair of matching stiletto heels, which she puts on as well.
She emerges from the bathroom and does a slow turn in front of Loomis. “So, what do you think? It looks like she got the size right.”
His eyes fix on hers, intense. “It’s breathtaking.”
She smiles at him. “And if anyone gives me trouble at the party, I’ll always be able to take off my shoes and beat them to death with them.” Brianna pauses for a moment, then quietly takes a deep breath and moves to stand right in front of him. “Will you unzip me?”
Brianna turns around so that her back is to him. He’s so close that she can feel the heat of his body behind her. Loomis reaches out and slowly unzips her dress. Brianna’s heart feels like it’s pounding in her chest. “Thank you,” she manages, then walks quickly back to the bathroom. She shuts the door and leans against it for a minute. Chicken shit, she tells herself, Get it together. She carefully places the dress and shoes back into the box, then puts her clothes back on.
Back in the suite, Loomis is still standing where she left him. Brianna moves in close and places a hand on his shoulder, gazing into his eyes. “I’m very glad you were able to make it this weekend.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it.”
Her voice lowers, “I’m glad I met you.”
Brianna slowly leans in and they kiss, softly at first, but then it deepens and grows into something more hungry and intense. It’s not long before Brianna leads Loomis back to the bedroom. They slowly disrobe, never taking their eyes off each other. Then Brianna moves onto the bed, pulling Loomis down with her.
As their bodies move together, Brianna feels the stirring of her demon deep within her. It never awakens fully, but it’s all tightly wrapped up with everything else that she’s feeling: the passion, the love, the insecurity, and the tinge of rage that never leaves her completely.
Later, as they lay naked in each other’s arms, Brianna lightly runs her fingers over the scars on his body. She asks Loomis to tell her about them and he tells her stories of hunting vampires, fights when he was a bear out in the wild. One of them was even from a fight on the Rez.
She makes a small noise, “It must have been a hard life.”
“It was like living in any ghetto.”
“I know about living on the wrong side of the tracks,” she says softly. She takes his hand and uses it to trace her scars, telling him how she got them. When she gets to the huge bite mark on her abdomen, she comments “That one was from a wolf. He was crazy.”
“Was that when you went out of the country?”
“Yep. Got it protecting other people. It was going to be me or him, and I’m the one here. So there you are.”
“Sometimes that’s what it comes down to.”
Brianna is silent for a moment, her hand still entwined with his. “So, this is the first time I’ve been intimate with someone since I turned.”
“Oh,” Loomis says, sounding surprised. “I knew it had been a while, but I didn’t realize it was that.”
“Well, like I said, it’s different for me now in many ways.”
Loomis’s voice is soft. “Thank you.”
She squeezes his hand, “It’s different, because I can still feel it moving when there’s so many other emotions.”
“Feel what moving?”
“The Hunger in me. I didn’t think it would be there for this.”
“It’s part of who you are. It’s why this is so scary and intimate: you lay bare all of it.” He pauses slightly, then adds “I was mentally prepared for the possibility of your hunger stirring, but I trust you.”
“I trust you too,” Brianna says, “I just wanted to say something in case I ever push you away. I don’t want to do that to you.”
“I appreciate that. A fellow could get confused.”
Brianna laughs softly.
“It hasn’t been since the 70s, but it’s been a while for me too.”
“Have you dated anyone since your ex-wife?”
“I’ve dated, but nothing …”
Brianna shifts to lay her head on Loomis’s naked chest. “All of this intimacy necessitates a level of trust that I hadn’t really found before. Joey’s the only one I’ve trusted to have my back and that’s not how it is between the two of us.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better I do come with my insecurities as well. They don’t come with berserker rage, but I do have them.”
“I wouldn’t say berserker,” she smiles.
Loomis’s voice grows serious for a moment. “Just so you know, when I make light of it, it’s because you have to.”
“There’s really nothing else to be done about it,” Brianna agrees, “It’s how things are. It’s just been a long time. Even when I did have sex in high school, it wasn’t really for the right reasons,”
“It never is.”
“And then it gets all very complicated when the majority of my Court and lives and breathes sex. It gets awkward and then I get angry because I’m awkward, and then it just becomes very confusing.”
“Yeah.” Loomis strokes her arm lightly. “That’s why I’m glad you’re going to let me be there on New Year’s. You’ll have somebody to have your back and make it less confusing.”
Brianna rolls over onto her side and looks at him. “I’m glad you turned out to be a decent person. I didn’t like you very much when I first met you.”
Loomis laughs, turning to face her as well, “That’s because I’m a dick.”
She laughs in return, “Well, I don’t respond well to people pushing my buttons, as you might imagine, and you had my cousin. And were being a dick.”
“Comes with the job. It’s part of the Academy Training: Prick 101. When you graduate you get the cop mustache.”
“Even the women? That must be awkward.”
“Remind me not to come to your Christmas parties.” She pauses for a moment. “I first knew I liked you when we were in that courtroom. When you made the comment about how people like us weren’t used to being hunted like prey. I knew you were someone who gets it.”
“I thought you had nice legs and desperately needed a drink.”
“I desperately needed a lot of things.” Brianna looks at Loomis, her eyes suddenly smoldering as she asks him to slide over and give her a bit more of what she needs. He laughs softly and comes to her.
Over the next few days, they seclude themselves in their hotel room, ordering room service and exploring the new physical aspect of their relationship.
December 22, 2013 (Sunday)
Brianna and Loomis pack their bags and head out of the hotel. He drives her to the apartment and on the way they plan out New Year’s. Loomis will stay the night before heading back to Seattle. Before Brianna gets out of the truck, she leans over and kisses him deeply, then says goodbye.
She carries all of her luggage back into the apartment. She gives a brief greeting to Joey then starts unpacking in her bedroom. As she’s putting things away, Joey yells from the living room, “I hope you nice kids used protection!”
Brianna grins, “You better believe it!” she calls back, “I don’t want a bunch of little White Court vampires running around! That would be insane.”
“Bunch of damn teddy bears with rage issues!”
“No kidding! I don’t want rugrats!” Somehow this conversation is easier for both of them when they’re yelling at each other from across the apartment. “Don’t worry Joey, you’re not going to be a godfather!”
“Wait a minute, that would be cool!”
“No! I’m not having children just you can be their godfather!”
“I’d make them an offer they couldn’t refuse!”
“Whatever!” Brianna is laughing now. Eventually, she heads back towards the living room. She tells Joey that Shawn has agreed to be her “plus one” for the New Year’s Eve party.
“Oh, it’s Shawn now,” he drawls.
“Well, once you’ve seen someone naked, Joey, I feel that last names just aren’t appropriate.”
He makes another sarcastic comment and Brianna throws a pillow at him. Then she then goes back to her room to take a nap. She hasn’t gotten much sleep over the last few days. Later that night, she and Joey go out to fight club so she can feed.
December 23, 2013 (Monday)
After Joey and Brianna get home from working out at the gym that morning, Brianna’s phone rings. She recognizes the number. It’s Hubbard. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, she thinks to herself, but answers. “Yes?”
“How’s tricks?” Hubbard sounds cheerful, which makes her even more suspicious.
“Things are alright.”
“Are you having yourself a merry little Christmas?”
“Not yet, but I will. And yourself?
“Oh, I don’t do the holidays of the White God. But we do celebrate the Solstice.”
“Boy, do we do the Solstice.”
“Isn’t that coming up? It’s around this time of year.”
“Yes, indeed. But we have business. Why don’t you come by the house?”
“I only have a vague idea of where you live. Isn’t it in the Portland Heights area?”
“It is. I’m surprised you don’t have your Baker’s Street Irregulars out looking for me.”
“I figured we’re at a different place in our relationship now. If I need to talk to you, I know how to get in touch.”
“Mmm.” Hubbard makes a noncommittal noise, but then gives her the address of 1017 Southwest Rivington Drive. “I’ll have the eggnog.”
“Let me get cleaned up and I’ll be there.” She hangs up the phone and looks at Joey. “That damn fairy. I’m off to Hubbard’s home.” She gives him the address in case something goes badly. She takes a shower, dresses in her best manager’s outfit, and get into her car. She also makes sure that the box of nails is in her glove compartment before driving off.
The address is for a very sleek, modern, and expensive-looking home. Hubbard himself answers the door. He’s barefoot, in jeans and a button-down shirt that’s open about midway down his chest. “Come on in.”
Hubbard leads her into a fashionable living room. She can’t hear anyone else in the house. He gestures to a couch that probably costs more than her apartment. She sits.
The Sidhe sits down across from Brianna and pushes a mug of eggnog in her direction. “Greetings and salutations on this festive holiday.” He picks up a mug of his own.
Brianna takes the mug. “I thought you were just joking about the eggnog.”
“I never joke.” Hubbard tilts his head, “Well, that’s not entirely true.”
Brianna smiles slightly, “I don’t know that I would call that a truth, and I thought you were supposed to be careful about that.”
“Well,” Hubbard, “I sometimes jest. I sometimes exaggerate.” Brianna holds onto the mug, waiting to see if Hubbard is going to take a sip. She truly doesn’t like eggnog, but also is hesitant to eat or drink anything offered. “I have a job for you,” he continues.
“Alright, perhaps this one won’t involved targeting a business that’s directly sponsored by the Envoy.”
Hubbard gets a very serious look on his face. “You’re not telling me my business, are you?” He voice has chilled considerably.
“I would never dream of telling you your business.”
“I will remind you, though, of the terms of our agreement. I won’t be doing anything that would go against the interests of my House or my Court.”
“And the Envoy has nothing to do with the interests of the White Court.”
“Well, politics have a way of getting back to one’s Court, don’t they?”
“If you’re going to make that argument, then everything touches everything else. What are you? Some kind of holistic healer?”
Brianna looks at him flatly, “You have a job for me?”
“Yes. I want you to collect some blood from a guy named Thomas Cromwell. He lives in Beaverton. He’s a writer. He owes a debt he hasn’t paid, so I’m sending you to collect in pain and in blood.” Hubbard explains further, “The guy writes best-selling crime novels. You know the type.”
“He made a deal with me to receive some insider information on some of the doings in Portland. I know some things. I’ve my fingers in various pies. He was supposed to pay me a year of his life. He’s reneging on the deal. Thus, I want the blood, and the pain is a lesson.”
“This is a mortal?” Brianna asks.
“Oh, very much so. Should be easy peasy for someone like you. Of course, if you let him talk to you, he may, you know, set you off. He tends to get under the skin. He knows how to push buttons. You already have rage issues.” Hubbard’s voice is almost hopeful.
“I know all about my issues,” Brianna says drily.
“You looked a little confused,” Hubbard retorts. “I have an address for you. 15890 Southwest Nighthawk, Beaverton. Oh! I almost forgot,” he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a little vial. “Here you go.”
Brianna takes it. “Do you need this full?”
“I need it ample.”
Brianna knows that blood can be used for a lot of things: to control a person, locate a person, or to get information about a person. If someone was a magic user, they could even key a spell to a specific person. “How exactly do you reneg on paying someone a year of your life?” she asks, curious. “How do you have any control over that?”
“Not your business.” His voice is pleasant, but steely. “Your business is blood and pain. That’s why I called you.”
“How’s the Glenfiddich working out for you?”
“Hmm. Warms the tummy, don’t you know? Chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug.” Hubbard actually sings the words in a soft tone.
Brianna finds that she can still dislike the Sidhe even more than she did before, but she tries not to show it. “Has there been any word in your circles about the events at Raven and Rose?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Well, I don’t know if it came across in the dialog that I had with your man, but I was spotted on the way out. I was yelling quite a few things at him at the time, so perhaps he didn’t pick up on that fact.”
A low chuckle rumbles out of Hubbard’s throat. “No, that slip-up did not get past him. Or by me.”
“If want a thief, hire a thief. If you want someone to break in, steal something, and then leave, that’s when you point me in that direction.”
“Ah. But like I said, when I want to cause someone pain, that’s when I send you.”
“So, any word getting around?” Brianna ignores his comment.
“You have a vial getting warm in your pocket.”
“Well, I was going to trade you for the rest of the information that I picked up that night, but …” she shrugs and lets her voice drop off.
“Trade me? Now, that is an interesting proposition.”
“Information for information.”
“You want to know if I have any information regarding the word on the fairy streets, as it were, about your little operation?”
“I had thought it prudent not to ask myself.”
“And in return, you want to give me information about … the wine list at the Raven and Rose?” His voice is sarcastic.
“No, just bits of a conversation heard from behind a door that someone didn’t know I was listening at.”
“You were eavesdropping? How gauche.”
“It’s whatever gets the job done. I don’t considering eavesdropping as much as collecting information, something you should be very familiar with.”
They stare at each other for a minute. “The problem is that I don’t know how much your information is worth,” Hubbard comments.
“I guess it depends on how much you like to gamble?”
He chuckles. “I only like to gamble when I win, silly.”
“If you always knew you were going to win, then it wouldn’t be called gambling now would it?” She maintains a cool expression on her face, hoping that the reputation regarding Fae and bargains has some truth to it..
Hubbard is clearly interested. “How about this? We make your little bargain, but if your information is worthless, we add a day to our previous bargain?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh, come now.”
“Considering you’re the only one who’s going to determine if the information is worthless, how would I know I was getting a good deal?”
“Would I lie?”
She makes an amused sound. “No, we’ve already had that conversation. You don’t lie, not directly.” Brianna shakes her head, “You’re either want to know, or you don’t. I’m not interested in potentially lengthening the terms of our agreement. If I want to find out badly enough, I have other avenues I can explore without having to be the one who asks directly. I just thought while I’m here …” Her voice trails off.
“Okay. How about this? You include in your information what avenues you’re talking about.”
Brianna laughs out loud. “No.”
“Oh, come now.” he repeats.
“No, I’m not telling you where I get my information on the Fae Courts.” She looks at Hubbard, who’s clearly getting agitated. “You’re making this to be very difficult. How ever do you get anything done?”
“Very well. We shall make this bargain.”
“Alright. In good faith, then I will go first.” Brianna tells Hubbard more details about what she saw on in inside of the building, the behavior when the Envoy arrived, specific information on David Shenaut, the odd glowing alcohol, and then the exact conversation she heard between David and the owner. Brianna watches Hubbard’s expression to see his reaction to this information. He does seem to be considering her words and then smirks.
“Very good. Well, your little escapade has embarrassed the Envoy and also the fact that you were seen has put you on her radar. Inquiries are being made about you on the street. I, of course, have said nothing.”
“I would assume not.”
“Because we don’t know each other, as far as they know.”
“As far as they know,” Brianna repeats.
“Speaking of which, I do hope you took discretion in coming here.”
“Well, I wasn’t making a big announcement about it.”
“That’s good. Now, is that exchange of information to your satisfaction?”
“It was to me.”
“And yourself? Were you satisfied?”
“I think it’s fair to say I’m never satisfied. That’s how I’ve gotten where I am.” Hubbard points a finger at her. “So, vial, blood, pain. Not necessarily in that order.”
“Am I bringing this back to you here?”
“No, let’s not risk that. Let’s have you take it over to Sam at the B-Side. So, when do you think you’ll have this wrapped up?”
“I have no idea. I’ve even not had a chance to start looking in the situation.”
“Well, you still have Sam’s number. Give him a call when you’re ready to meet at the B-Side, or where ever else you’d like, just arrange to meet with Sam.”
“Alright.” Brianna stands up, putting down her mug, eggnog untouched.
“Happy holidays,” Hubbard tells her, almost cheerful-sounding again.
“And to you as well.” Brianna returns to her car and drives around for while, thinking about her options. She decides to go by the author’s house to see the general layout. It’s a very nice neighborhood and a nice house. Brianna takes one look and thinks That’s going to have security on it, goddammit.