Jorick came back in time to bundle Katelina up and head down to bed. She was too tired to demand answers, as she’d planned, so she made a mental note to press him later. He could only avoid her questions for so long. Though, she sometimes wondered if he was evasive naturally, or had come to be that way after some long uncounted number of years.
That was something she didn’t like to think about, so she didn’t. She curled up next to him in the ridiculous carved bed, and went to sleep. When she woke up the next evening he was already gone, so she got dressed and padded upstairs on her own.
The house was eerily quiet and dark except for a snapping fire in the front room grate. Katelina wrapped her arms around herself and shivered in the thick atmosphere. Some houses felt happy, or peaceful, but this one felt sad; very, very sad. It was like the wood and plaster oozed some old heartbreak.
She shook off her depressing fantasies and made herself breakfast. She’d just finished eating when Jorick and Loren walked through the front door.
“- I will, I will,” Loren was saying in an exasperated voice. “You don’t need to nag!”
Jorick looked beautifully offended. “I’m not nagging you. I simply want to see you do what you said you would.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Loren dropped into one of the wing backed chairs. His dark eyes sought Katelina’s and he asked with a smirk, “Does he boss you around this much?”
Though Katelina couldn’t keep from laughing, Jorick didn’t seem to find it very amusing. “I don’t ‘boss’ anyone around. I merely make suggestions that you’d otherwise not think of on your own.”
Loren gave him an incredulous eye roll. “If you say so.” He turned back to Katelina. “So, what’s the deal with you two?”
A small, choking noise escaped Katelina’s throat. She looked to Jorick for help, but his face was a mask she couldn’t read. What was she supposed to say? That they were… What were they? Even she didn’t know what “the deal” was.
“So what’s the deal with you and Jorick?” the teen repeated. “Are you like going out or what?”
“Going out?” she echoed weakly. “I think I’m a little old for that.”
“Ah, you can’t be that old.” He leaned forward, his eyes narrowed as he scrutinized her. “Well, on second thought.”
Katelina looked suitably insulted and Loren laughed. His mirth was short lived because Jorick smacked him in the back of the head.
“Enough. Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
Loren rubbed his scalp and scowled. “No, not really.” Jorick gave him a hard look and Loren relented. “Okay, yeah, I guess I do. Something super important must have come up somewhere.”
Katelina looked from one to the other, but neither seemed ready to explain. Loren just got up and glared at Jorick. He was barely through the door before Jorick shut it firmly and snapped the lock into place.
“So what was that?”
“What was what?” Jorick asked innocently. “Loren has some things to do, that’s all.”
Ah. It wasn’t hard to figure out what he meant. “You’ve got him running errands?”
His surprise seemed genuine. “What?”
She blinked, confused. “Then what’s the rush to get rid of him?”
“No rush,” Jorick commented casually. “You’ve eaten?”
“Yes.” She pointed to the empty carton in her lap. “But if you’re going to get microwaveable food you really need a microwave. They cook up funny in the oven.”
“Do they?” he asked with no real interest.
It was a conversation bound for nowhere, so she just nodded her head and watched him curiously as he started searching the front room. It was too weird, so she asked, “What are you doing?”
He didn’t reply, but instead wandered off in the direction of the dining room and disappeared through the doorway.
“Thanks for answering me,” she called after him but, if he heard, he made no comment.
Loren’s question popped to the surface of her consciousness and she puzzled over the answer. What were they, really? It seemed to be a relationship that defied a label. Boyfriend seemed a too trendy, too simple word, but lover was far too deep and passionate. They weren’t “partners” They were just… just what?
She had no answer. She wasn’t even sure how she felt about him, let alone how he felt about her. He’d invited her to stay, but he’d never said he wanted it. Maybe he was being polite, or obligated? She knew he felt responsible for dragging her into the mess with the vampires, but how far did his obligation extend?
She sighed heavily and closed her eyes. He might not say he wanted her, or even cared about her, but he did say she was beautiful. Still, that was only so many words, wasn’t it? It wasn’t as though he’d made any moves on her since… since…
She couldn’t finish the sentence. The word refused to slot itself into her thoughts, and she didn’t want it to. It had been since Claudius, hadn’t it? Since he’d hurt her. Jorick had as much as said it didn’t matter, hadn’t he? But maybe it really did. Maybe that was more of his obligatory politeness.
“I’ll ask him point blank,” she thought. But, she knew she wouldn’t because she was too afraid of the answer. And what good would it do anyway? Even if he was interested, would she be? She’d seen movies where woman went crazy after things like that; where they spazzed out suddenly and tried to claw their husband’s face off because of a mental throwback. Did people really do that? Would she do that?
The sound of Jorick’s footsteps brought her back to the living room, and she looked up to see him come through the door with an armload of black cloth. He shook it out into a long coat and gave her a smile. “It might be a little big, but I think it will do.”
Katelina stood uncertainly and took the coat. The familiar smell of Jorick wafted out of it as she slipped it on. Her first thought was that he was right; it was too big. The sleeves more than covered her hands and what was meant to be calf length fluttered around her ankles.
Jorick smiled at the effect. “It will do nicely. Go get your shoes.”
“I thought we’d go for a walk, unless you don’t want to,” he added. “If you prefer to stay here?”
“No, no,” she said quickly. “A walk sounds good.”
Ten minutes later Jorick was dressed in the twin to the coat she wore, though his fit better, and they were out the door. Katelina walked beside him, her hands buried in her coat pockets and her head down against a chilly breeze. The sky above them was overcast, with only a hint of diffused moonlight to remind them that there was something above the clouds.
They walked across the yard to the stand of trees and then through it. Katelina was more aware of every small noise than she used to be and the only thing that kept her from turning back for the house was the man beside her. No matter how confusing their “status” might be, she knew Jorick wouldn’t let anything hurt her if he could stop it.
They made it out the other side of the trees without incident, and Katelina found herself in a strange place. Ahead, the sloping grassland suddenly disappeared into sand. It was like standing on the edge of the world.
Jorick smiled at some unspoken thought, then wrapped an arm around her and pulled her closer. “You’ve never seen the beach?”
“No,” she admitted, her eyes on the horizon. In the dark she could hear the ocean waves, but couldn’t see anything. “I’ve never been this far east before.”
He fell silent for a moment, and when he spoke again his tone was somber. “I’m sure it’s far more spectacular in the sunlight.”
“Probably,” she agreed absently. “It’s louder than I imagined it would be. And it doesn’t smell very ocean-y.”
His amusement returned. “Ocean-y? What is that supposed to mean?”
“You know, like an ocean. It just smells like any old river; all fishy and river-y. I thought it was supposed to have a salty tang or something?”
Jorick laughed loudly and Katelina finally tore her attention away to glare at him. “What?”
His eyes twinkled and he squeezed her against him for a moment. “Nothing, little one. Nothing at all. Come, we’ll get closer.”
Jorick guided her through the tangle of tall grass to the sand. Her feet sunk in with every step and she groaned when she thought about the brand new shoes. Of all colors, why had he picked white? But then, he’d admitted before he had a fetish for white, hadn’t he?
As they drew closer, she could see the subtle light on the waves and, when they stopped just out of reach of the tide, she stood mesmerized. There was something about it; something so vast that she couldn’t explain it. In the dark it was as though it just faded away into the sky; like liquid night slapping at the sandy beach.
She laid her head on Jorick’s shoulder and sighed. While magnificent, the view made her feel small and lonely. She was just a very tiny part of a big world, and that big world was one that rarely made any sense.
Jorick turned his face to her, so that his lips were pressed against her forehead. His hand crept up to the back of her neck and tangled in her hair. He inhaled deeply and let the breath out slowly, as though he were trying to hold some memory in his lungs. When he spoke his voice had an odd edge to it, “In the scheme of the world we are all small things.”
She looked up sharply at his too perfect perception, but then realized that feeling small must be a common sensation when faced with such a view. She smiled at him, and he returned it, but somehow it didn’t look right.
He turned away and she continued to gaze at him. The cold breeze blew his dark hair around his pale face and his eyes stared at something far away, perhaps something too far for her to see. His lips pressed together delicately and she imagined kissing them, but she wasn’t brave enough. Still, he was too beautiful to ignore, so she settled for tracing a finger across his too smooth cheek.
He caught her hand in his and held it to his lips. Her heart pounded and she swallowed hard as so many feelings washed over her. Feelings she’d been missing only moments ago.
Slowly, he kissed his way over her knuckles to her fingers. His lips were soft and warm and just moist enough to make her think of other things; other places he could kiss. Goose bumps raced up and down her spine and her eyes drifted closed. She bit her lip in anticipation. She needed this more than she’d realized. She needed to feel wanted and attractive and-
She jerked involuntarily as he nipped her finger. The surprise on his face showed it was an accident, and she was willing to overlook it, but he wasn’t. He dropped her hand as though it burned him, and took a step back.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“It’s okay,” she soothed and closed the gap between them. “It’s not a big deal.” She lifted her hands to his face, but he caught them and lowered them again.
“You’re cold,” he said flatly. “We should head back.”
“I’m not that cold,” she argued. However the grim look on his face told her it was futile. Whatever might have happened had disappeared into the hazy world of could-of-been.
Katelina walked back to the house, her shoulders drooped and her demeanor one of defeat. If Jorick noticed, he didn’t comment, and once they were inside he muttered a halfhearted excuse and disappeared. She heard him unlock the white door and then shut it loudly. She didn’t know if he’d locked it again or not, but she felt too dejected to go check.
He resurfaced later in the night, and they had a strange, uncomfortable conversation. More than once she wanted to ask what the hell his deal was, but she was still afraid of the answer, so she stayed silent. After all, there was always tomorrow.
And soon a week had passed. Jorick disappeared into his locked room more than once, and never bothered to offer any explanation about what was inside it. Katelina spent a good portion of the week bored and lonely. She had only Jorick and Loren for company and felt that if she didn’t talk to someone else she’d go insane. To their credit, they offered to take her to town when they went for more groceries, but she refused. She supposed she’d been childishly hoping Jorick would insist on taking her. However, he just brushed a kiss across her forehead and promised to return.
On the bright side, Katelina’s wounds were healing, so she could actually look in the bathroom mirror again. Her black eye was just a yellow smudge, and the other scrapes and bruises were nothing more than pink spots. Her forearm was tender and she was pretty sure that the stitches in her shoulder were ready to come out. Except that she had no intention of going to the hospital again.
When Jorick and Loren came in the door, faces flushed and fresh from feeding, Katelina casually mentioned the problem.
Loren threw himself across the couch. “Just do it yourself,” he suggested. “It’s really easy. I had stitches once, when I was a kid, and that’s what Mom did. She just snipped them and tugged the puppies right out with a pair of tweezers.”
Loren’s miniature story brought up an interesting question: Where were his parents? He was a fairly recent vampire, if she was any judge at all, so they ought to be around somewhere. Unless… But she didn’t like to think that the teen would drink his own family dry. Not really.
“Then find whatever we need,” Jorick ordered uncertainly.
“Loren do this. Loren do that. Fetch and carry, Loren.” But even as he muttered he got to his feet. “Where am I supposed to get it from?”
“The first aid kit’s in the bathroom. I assume it will be in there.”
Loren trudged away obediently and returned with a tiny pair of medical scissors, tweezers and the miniature bottle of peroxide. The first aid kit and various tubes and bottles were Jorick’s idea. He’d bought them on the last grocery run because he thought they should have some of “that sort of thing” around.
Katelina’s neckline was too small to stretch, so she had to peel her shirt off. Loren turned around, after Jorick glared at him, but he refused to actually leave the room. When the shirt was off she managed to use it to cover herself, but her cheeks still burned at the too-near proximity to nakedness.
Jorick was quite deft with the tiny scissors. He snipped the stitches in no time flat, however they were harder to pull out than they were to cut.
Loren hunched over the proceedings with a keen interest. “You’ve left them too long,” he commented. “They grew in.”
Jorick grunted and gave an extra hard tug. The thread came free and, as Jorick discarded it, Loren smirked and asked, “You don’t mind if I lick those do you?”
“Yes!” Katelina cried, horrified. “That’s just sick!”
Jorick’s voice was rumbling thunder, warning of an impending storm, “Loren.”
He took a step back, his hands held up. “Aw, come on man, I was only joking. I swear. Really. I thought it was funny.”
“Well it wasn’t,” Jorick muttered as he turned back to his task. “Now be quiet, or go away.”
Loren stayed quiet for the rest of the procedure, and even turned his back obediently so she could put her shirt back on. He turned around, a joke in his eyes, when Jorick went stiff.
Katelina’s ears strained, but she heard nothing. “What is it?”
Jorick motioned her to be silent, and sniffed the air. A dark, angry look took over his features and he glanced back at Loren. “Take her to the basement.”
“Just do it!” Jorick snapped as he moved towards the door.
Loren shrugged and motioned for Katelina to come with him. She stood, but didn’t even make it to the dining room before the front door banged open. She stared in horror as two men, clad in long black coats, strode into the house as if they had every right to be there. One was tall and thin, with a ponytail of long golden hair, while the other was shorter and broader, his skin pale against a dark shock of shaggy black hair that stood at odd angles.
Before they could explain themselves, Jorick was in front of them, his fangs exposed in a dangerous snarl. “What do you want?”
The blonde closed the door and then turned green eyes to his challenger. “Hello, Jorick. It’s been a while.”
“What do you want, Beldren?” Jorick snapped.
“We have business with you.” The blonde glanced over Jorick’s shoulder, to where Katelina and Loren were standing in the doorway. As if by instinct, the teen vampire moved to block her from his sight.
Beldren smiled, flashing fangs. “You don’t need to worry. We knew in advance that she’d be here, but that isn’t why we’ve come.”
“Then why have you come? I have no business with The Guild,” Jorick stated flatly.
The Guild? What did they have to do with it, unless….
Beldren’s eyes stayed on Jorick, even as he snapped his fingers and held his hand open expectantly. “Zuri, the message.”
The shorter vampire produced a piece of folded paper from his pocket, and handed it to his partner. As he did, his coat opened to reveal a silver medallion that hung around his neck. A twisted, silver medallion that looked just like –
“Executioners,” Katelina whispered hoarsely. That word conjured strong, terrible images; pictures of fire and blood set to a soundtrack of screams. She well remembered the night when the Executioners had come and burned everything that Oren owned, including his wife and children.
“Yes,” Beldren replied. “That’s one of our titles.” He snapped the paper open and read loudly, “J, I must speak to you. Meet me where the roses grow. Signed, O.” He handed it to Jorick and waited while he scanned it. “Would you care to explain the meaning of this?”
Jorick shrugged and handed it back. “It means nothing to me. However, you’re intruding upon my den. I suggest you leave immediately or I’ll be forced to make you.”
Beldren ignored the threat. “It means nothing at all? Come, we all know you were with Oren a little over a week ago.”
Jorick snorted contemptuously. “And what does Oren have to do with this? For that matter what do I? J and O? The letters could mean anything. This message wasn’t meant for me.”
“Yes it was,” Beldren declared flatly. “It was sent, via messenger, to be delivered to you. Luckily, we intercepted him.”
“Whether it was meant for me or not is irrelevant. I have no idea what it means.” Jorick looked from one to the other. “I do find it interesting that you’re searching for him, though.”
Beldren gave Jorick a tolerant smirk. “Ah yes, I shouldn’t forget about your amazing perception.”
Jorick’s return smile was cold. “Nor I your ability. However, I don’t believe it’s needed here.”
Beldren handed the paper back to the ever silent Zuri. “We’ll find him, you know. Malick has a special interest in his plans.”
Jorick’s face twitched at the mention of that name, but his tone stayed unruffled. “Then I wish you luck. Malick won’t accept your failure easily.”
“He won’t have to, because we won’t fail.”
The two men stared at one another; a silent contest of wills. Finally, Beldren broke away with a soft laugh. “All right, Jorick, we’ll be leaving. But, should you hear anything, or suddenly remember ‘where the roses grow’, you know how to find us.”
“Yes,” Jorick agreed. “But I won’t need to.”
“I’m sure you won’t.” He turned to Zuri. “Come on, we’ll find him on our own. It isn’t like we actually expected Jorick to cooperate. He’s too busy presiding over his infant coven to be any trouble.”
Zuri made no reply and, as quickly as they’d come, the two were gone.
Katelina stood frozen in place, her breath caught in her throat. The seconds ticked by and she slowly came to the realization that they’d really left. The horrible Executioners had left, without killing or torturing any of them. Thank God.
Her body sagged, and she sighed with relief. The sound reminded everyone where they were, and the two vampires snapped to life.
Loren relaxed his protective posture but his eyes stayed on the door. “What was all that?”
“Executioners,” Jorick explained bitterly. “Apparently they’re searching for Oren. I imagine word of his little plan has gotten around and they intend to nip it in the bud.”
Katelina shifted uncertainly from one foot to the other. “Exactly what is his plan?”
When Jorick didn’t answer, Loren explained, “He’s going to attack The Guild.”
Katelina nodded. “Yeah, I know, but beyond that? I mean he’s not planning to do it with just Torina and himself, is he?”
“He’s collecting a coven-”
“It’s unimportant,” Jorick snapped. “He has no chance against them.”
Loren cleared his throat loudly. “Maybe if we helped them?”
Jorick waved the suggestion away. “No. It’s not my fight.”
Loren looked at Katelina for support, but he found none. For once she wholeheartedly agreed with Jorick. This wasn’t their problem.
She gave a soft shake of her head and Loren’s face hardened. He crossed his arms defiantly. “Then maybe I’ll go alone.”
Jorick crooked a heavy eyebrow and snorted. “And what help do you think you’ll be?”
Loren blinked in surprise at the insult, his mouth half open. As if unaware of his reaction, Jorick snapped, “We’re not going!” Then, he turned his back on the conversation and strode towards the dining room.
“You can’t tell me what to do! I don’t owe you anything!”
Katelina flinched unconsciously at the venom in the young vampire’s voice. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes glittered dangerously. Jorick’s remark had wounded him deeper than she thought.
Jorick stopped in the doorway, his shoulders tense. “Why do you want to go so badly?”
“Why not? I’m not as weak as you think. I know how to fight.” He dropped suddenly into a defensive stance, his knees bent and his arms tensed. “I can take care of myself!”
Jorick shook his head and turned away again. “You’re an idiot, Loren.”
Before Loren’s objection could sound, Jorick spun around, closed the distance between them and slammed him into the door with a force that jarred the house and made Katelina gasp. Loren struggled loose from his grip and circled Jorick warily. With one hand Jorick snatched him off his feet and threw him across the room where he crashed into the chair and sent books scattering.
Jorick glared at him as he tried to stand. “Just stay down.”
“No.” Loren grimaced and righted himself. “You’re not my mother! And I’m not some little kid!”
“Compared to some of the vampires you’d be facing you’re only a toddler.” Jorick’s voice rose, “Do you understand how powerful they are, Loren? Do you remember the other time the Executioners came? Do you remember what they did to the Rogues? Do you?”
Loren shuddered involuntarily, then looked disgusted at his own weakness. “That was a long time ago!”
“No, not so long ago.” Jorick appraised him with cold eyes. “Can you defeat me? If not, you have no hope of winning against them, either.”
For the first time since the fight started, Loren looked uncertain, but he quickly hid it beneath a veneer of determination. “Maybe I could.”
Jorick shook his head, and the ghost of a smile tugged at his lips. “No, you can’t.” He turned back to the dining room. “This conversation is finished, Loren. When you look back on it later you’ll realize-”
Loren launched himself across the room at Jorick’s back, and Katelina shouted a warning. However, before her noise even registered, Jorick stepped out of the way and Loren ended up sprawled on the floor.
With a savage growl he pulled himself up and flung himself at Jorick, his fists swinging. Jorick blocked his punches and tossed him to the side. He landed near Katelina’s feet in a heap, but he was soon up again. A thin stream of blood tricked down the side of his face and his eyes blazed hatred.
“Loren?” Katelina whispered and pressed herself back into the wall. Until now, she’d never been scared of the boy but, with that face, he looked like some of the monsters she’d fought before; the ones hiding in Claudius’s den.
Jorick took a step forward. “Stop, Loren, before you get hurt.”
“No!” he roared. “I can take care of myself!” He launched himself at Jorick again, and again Jorick sidestepped him. But, at the last second, Loren whirled and landed a punch to Jorick’s gut.
Jorick stood there and looked at him, unfazed.
Loren gaped in surprise, and for a moment his resolve appeared on the brink of crumbling, but something in Jorick’s cold face strengthened it instead. “Fuck this!” He stepped back and straightened his hoodie. “Fuck this and fuck you!” Then he stalked out the door, slamming it behind him.
It took Katelina a moment to gather her wits and then she glared at Jorick, who was innocently righting the furniture. “Was that really necessary?”
“Beating the crap out of him. He’s just a kid, you know! He just wants your approval. Like it would kill you to give it to him? Why do you have to be so… so unrelenting all the time?”
Jorick stacked the books haphazardly without looking at her. “Am I unrelenting?”
“Yes,” she seethed. “Unrelenting and judgmental! You think you know what’s best for everyone! You act like-”
“Like what?” He snapped around to face her, his tone angry. “Like sending him to that fight would be sending him to his death? Because it would be, Katelina! Would you rather I encouraged him to go die? You, with all your sentimentality?”
“Well, no,” she faltered. She’d seen what they were capable of. They were as strong as Jorick and he’d defeated Loren effortlessly. But, even so. “He deserves to be given a chance. If he’s going to fail, he should be allowed to find it out for himself. He has feelings too, you know.”
“Stupid feelings,” Jorick remarked thoughtlessly, but her furious look made him do a double take. “What?”
“That’s exactly what I mean. You’re so unrelenting and judgmental. Like you have a right to decide what’s valid and what isn’t!”
Jorick stopped what he was doing to focus on her. “No, I’m not. I was only saying-”
“You were only saying that his feelings were stupid. Are mine stupid too?”
Jorick started to answer, then held up his hands. “I don’t know what this is over, but I’m done with this.”
“Oh, you’re done?”
“Yes,” he said quietly. “When you’ve figured out what you’re mad about, let me know.”
“For your information, I know what I’m mad about!” She broke off as he strode from the room. “Jorick! Get back here now!” she shouted, but his only response was the slam of the door.
“Loren’s right,” she muttered furiously and threw herself on the couch. “Fuck you, and fuck your secret room too!”