Janice re-read the letter that had been placed in her mailbox sometime during the previous day.
"Miss Masterson, you are being manipulated by one does not have your best interests at heart. You may be loathe to believe it, but I can help. Consider what your life will be like under Cameron Beckerís thumb. Meet me at the my office on the top floor of the TransAmerica Pyramid at eleven pm this evening, and we will discuss things.
Janice was extremely worried. She had moved her haven since her last encounter with Blake and she thought she had been discreet. Apparently, she was wrong. She suspected that Blake had found her with little difficulty.
Carefully, she held a lighter to the letter and dropped it into her kitchen sink to burn to a damp blackish ash. She took her time washing the ashes down the drain, ensuring no particle clung to the porcelained sides. No way was she going to go to him. Besides, she was doing alright, with Jeremyís help. Of course, if Cameron found out that his hold over me has been broken, she thought, things could get dangerously difficult.
She shut off the faucet and looked around. It felt like she had barely gotten unpacked from her last move and now she feared she would have to pack it all up again. It was almost more than she could bear.
She sighed and shook her head. Well, she could look for a place tomorrow, she decided. Tonight she had planned to make some prints from a roll of film she had shot last weekend. She set up her darkroom equipment on the kitchen counters, next to the enlarger on an end table and got to work.
The hours passed quickly. Janice was satisfied with this roll. It was various portraits of night time city people in their element. She was thinking of perhaps putting together a collage, rather than a conventional portrait suite. Maybe she could incorporate some of her more recent paintings. The vivid oils would contrast well with the black and white prints.
She had just hung a print up to dry when they came in. Janice heard the door burst open and she dived for the bag on the floor that held her gun. She didnít bother to look at who had broken in. Whoever they were, they werenít welcome.
Her hand had just closed around the bag when a solid kick thudded her onto her side, pushing her onto the floor. She had a momentary glimpse of a large figure and then she was taken from behind, a hand twisting in her hair and another pulling the bag out of her hand. She felt the pressure of a knee in the small of her back.
Janice tried to wriggle free, telling herself that she could grow back any lost hair, but the hand that had removed her bag was now encircling her throat and pulling her up onto her knees. Janice became aware that her assailant could easily break her neck, not fatal for her, but certainly inconvenient. She was bodily turned to face the second of the two.
He was a heavily built black man. His lack of breathing after the effort of breaking down her door betrayed him as Kindred. She thought she recognized him from Blakeís entourage, one of those who had managed to chase her down an elevator shaft a few months ago, but she wasnít sure.
He looked at her for a long moment and then said with careful formality:
"Mr. Blake has requested your company this evening, and he fears you may have forgotten."
She was hauled up onto her feet and the hand around her throat took her left arm and twisted it up behind her back.
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. Janice tried to collect herself and faced the messenger with her sternest gaze.
"Let me go!" she commanded, allowing the full force of her anger to saturate her tone. It was usually effective on mortals, and occasionally useful with Kindred. It wasnít this time.
"Please donít try that again, miss." he said dully. "And donít make a fuss when we leave, youíve already kept Mr. Blake waiting long enough.." She realized that she was going to be brought before Blake in one state or another and allowed herself to be pushed towards her door.
Janice glanced at clock on the kitchen wall and noticed the time: 11:20. It hadnít taken long for Blake to take offense.
Janice sat in what, under other circumstances, she would have appreciated as a decadently comfortable leather chair in Edward Blakeís office. Behind her stood the two men who had fetched her, another bodyguard stood across from her, in a corner.
Edward Blake himself sat behind his desk, across from her. The always-Toreador part of Janiceís mind appreciated his expensive suit and noticed that he was of middle eastern descent, with a bone structure that suggested Persia.
"Iím sorry about the abruptness of your arrival." he said simply. His voice had a slightly English accent, as if he had studied the Queenís English at some ivy covered school on the river Cam. Janice forced herself to focus on what he was saying, not how he was saying it.
"I thought you had forgotten." he added.
Fear gave her voice an sharp edge of anger she didnít feel. "As I recall, you invited me here."
He smiled carefully. "Perhaps my communication was inadequately worded."
"Youíre too used to people obeying you." She told him.
"Perhaps I am." he admitted. "But thatís not such a bad thing to be used to. Some people like to give orders and others like to take them. We canít have one without the other."
Janice couldnít think of a response to that. The silence between them lengthened until Blake chose to break it.
"Iíll explain. Youíre being used by Cameron Becker, a man I donít care for. It would please me, and irritate him, to liberate you from his influence."
"Right." Janice said, deeply sarcastic. "And what do I end up owing you?"
"Nothing." he smiled. ""Nothing at all." she didnít believe a word of that. After a moment, he added. "You could make a point of staying out of my way from now on."
"If I wasnít Bonded to Cameron, I wouldnít be in your way." Janice snapped. "Fine by me, I can stay out of your way, no sweat. So what do you propose? Thereís no way to break a Blood Bond." she lied.
"Oh, there are ways." he assured her. "Itíll just take a little blood."
"Oh no!" Janice jumped up, only to be pushed back down. "Iím not taking anyoneís blood again! Iíve had it with your kind! Iíve been used by you bastards for sport for too long!" Now she was shouting, desperately, aware of the fact that she may not have any choice. "I was doing just fine with Jeremyís help until you and Cameron came back! I donít want any part of it and Iím not taking any more Kindred blood, yours or his!" She stopped, realizing that anything she had to say probably meant less than nothing to him.
He looked at her steadily. "You were doing just fine, you say? Bonded to a dangerously insane Kindred and delivering bombs to my office? Thatís your idea of fine?" His contempt was evident.
Janice glared at him, not wanting to reveal more than she already had. "Iím doing well enough." she muttered sulkily.
"But you have been bothered by Cameron, havenít you?" his tone was that of patronizing superior, which, Janice had to admit, he was.
"Does everyone know whatís going on in my life?" she muttered. "Is there anyone in this city who doesnít know every time he pays me a visit?"
"Itís more a case of watching Cameron than watching you." he explained. "If you take my blood, the Bond to Cameron will be broken -
"No, nope, sorry, I donít buy that. Uh-uh." Janice snapped. "If it all comes back to your blood, Iíd like to leave now."
He looked at her steadily. "Well, if thatís how you feel." He shrugged. "I wonít sink to Beckerís level."
"How big of you." Janice muttered. She didnít give a damn about relative morality right now. "So can I go?"
Blake nodded. The restraining hand on her shoulder was removed. "If you tell anyone of our meeting," He told her firmly. "Iíll be quite angry."
Janice nodded. She wondered why she was even being allowed to retain a memory of their encounter. Maybe he canít do that kind of thing, she speculated.
"You know the way out." he told her, turning towards the computer on his desk.
"Am I safe?" Janice asked suddenly. "Or do you believe that dead Kindred tell no tales?"
Blake smiled, rather unpleasantly, she thought. "Youíre quite safe." he told her. "If I wanted you dead, you would be. Besides, whoís going believe the prattle of a diabolist Toreador neonate?"
Janice tried to maintain her composure, swallowing a sudden surge of anger and fear. That had struck close to home. "I suppose youíre right." she agreed reluctantly.
"I know I am. Good evening."
Janice turned, ignoring the almost overwhelming urge to back out of the door and headed for the elevators.
Janice was frantically packing things in her apartment. Several bulging bags were already by the door. The door itself leaned precariously in its frame, propped up by a chair.
Janice pulled books off her shelves, looking for her photo album. She was certain that this haven was no longer safe and she had to move. She just wanted to find her album. The key to Jackís house was already in her pocket.
The door feel in with a crunch and crash. Janice pulled her gun out of the waistband of her jeans - no point in making the same mistake twice - and turned to face her newest guest.
"Janice." Cameron smiled. "What a dreadful way to greet your old friend."
Janice decided that this wasnít the time to discuss etiquette. "Get out." she ordered. "Iím busy."
"So I see." he commented. He looked around the apartment. "Leaving?"
"Get out." she repeated.
Cameron gave her that long look, eyebrows raised, that Janice had learned to hate. "But I wanted to talk to you." he wheedled.
"Get out!" despite how scared she felt, she was reluctant to shoot him. Besides, she had neighbors beneath and above her.
"Youíre getting repetitive, Janice." he scolded her. "Give me the gun." he told her firmly.
Janice recognized the attempt to control her and steeled herself for her reply."Iím not giving you the gun and youíre leaving."
"No." he said flatly. "Give me the gun." he repeated, more forcefully.
Unwillingly, and without control, Janice threw the gun to Cameron and tried not to growl in frustration. Was everyone but her able to resist commands?
"Bastard." she said quietly.
The eyebrow-raised smile returned. "My heart bleeds." he pocketed the gun and leaned against her kitchenette counter. "I had the most interesting phone call earlier." he said conversationally.
Janice sank down onto the floor. "Let me guess, Edward Blake, right?"
"Got it in one." he smiled. "He told me that he had offered to liberate you from my influence, and you churlishly turned him down."
Janice nodded. There was no point in trying to be sophisticated. "Yeah, arenít you proud of me?" she said dully. "What is it with you two? I didnít think age old enemies could just call each other and chat."
"Thatís the good thing about ancient rivalries. You outgrow the gesturing and posturing and become civilized about the whole thing."
"Remarkable." Janice thought this whole conversation was gesture and posture.
Cameron grinned. "Oh good." He walked into the kitchen area and started looking through her cupboards. "What I thought was very interesting was he relayed a comment of yours. Something about doing fine since Jeremy helped you out. What did you mean by that?" He took a mug from the sink, began washing it.
Janice thought quickly. "I didnít mean anything. I was trying to convince him that I was useless to you now - that we werenít getting on."
"Thatís interesting." He said, bantering gone. "You sounded very convincing on the tape." Now he was drying the mug with a paper towel.
"Tape?" Janice asked. "Shit." she grumbled.
"Indeed. Iím not going to ask whether Jeremy has helped you or not. Iím going to assume the worst. Based on that information and your behavior this evening, I believe that the Bond has been compromised."
Janice didnít say anything, she was too busy trying not to shake. The lengthening silence was broken by the chirp of a cellular phone. Cameron sighed and took a phone from inside his coat.
"Yes? Canít this wait - what?" he listened for a few moments. "Iíll be there as soon as possible, Iím busy now -" Janice clearly heard an urgent voice on the other end of the line. "Iíll be there soon." he repeated and closed the phone. "Now, where were we?" he asked with forced bonhomie.
"I think you were about to bleed into that cup and tell me to drink it." Janice sighed. Why avoid the inevitable?
"Oh, yes I was." Cameron grinned. "Good guess." He took the cup in hand, bit into his other wrist and filled it with his own blood, held it out to her. "Here you are."
Janice wanted to cry, or run, but she knew that both would be useless. She closed her eyes and swallowed the contents of the cup. Just the once wonít hurt me, and maybe heíll be satisfied.
Licking her lips, she said drily, "you should go take care of your business. It sounded pretty urgent."
Cameron nodded, got up and brushed some dust off his coat. Walking out of the apartment he said without looking back at her: "Iíll be here first thing tomorrow. Donít leave, Iíll find you."
Janice managed to retain her composure until Cameron was out of the door. Then she threw the stained mug across the room and cursed, bloody tears running down her face.
She was going to have to leave now. She grabbed her coat and ran.
Janice woke up and stretched, and was surprised by it. What happened? There was a hole in her shirt and a dull ache in her chest. She looked around and tried to figure out where she was. A memory of being jumped by someone as she left her haven surfaced. Oh, shit...
She was in a basement. Not one damp and dark, but one with clean white walls, track lighting and ugly carpet. The set of stairs in the room led up to a sturdy door. Janice didn't bother to check if it was locked.
Janice decided to sit and wait. Whoever had captured her was sure to introduce themselves sooner or later. The door opened a few minutes later and all her questions were answered.
Cameron, fucking Cameron, she thought bitterly.
I knew I was right when I told myself that I shouldn't trust him, even after he found Golconda. Hell, it was too late for me, even then.
He shut the door behind him, sat down at the bottom of the stairs and looked at Janice with a deadpan expression, dark hair and eyes perfectly arranged. Janice had never seen Cameron like that before and she didn't like it.
"Janice." he finally said. "I told you not to leave."
"Oh, I'm fine thanks, the hole in my chest healed okay and I'm really not that terrified. How are you?" My mouth is going to get me killed.
"You're babbling. Stop it." and she did. God, I hate it when he does that. "Iím going to have to take steps." he told her. "You may want out of the arrangement, but you don't have a choice."
Her skin crawled. It's never pleasant having one's worst fears confirmed.
"You're uneasy." he stated. "You should be." he shrugged. "However, your opinion is irrelevant. You still have your uses. There are things that I need you to do that I don't think you'd do as normal favors."
"So like I said. What's the problem? Right now, I'm under your thumb." Why mince words, she thought.
"Iím not so sure." he told her. He stood up. "We can, as they say, do this the easy way or the hard way."
"Um, what's the easy way?" she asked, fearing the answer.
Cameron pulled up the sleeve of his suit, unbuttoned his shirt cuff. "The way it's always been." He held out his wrist. "I need to make sure you're securely Bonded to me."
"Uh-huh." His wrist was still extended. She looked at it warily. "So what if I don't want to do this the easy way?"
Cameron looked at her for a second or two, a long look that she knew meant he was examining her aura. "Then we have to do it the hard way." he almost sighed, but not quite. "Well, Janice, look on the good side of this, you should be flattered that I think you're worth the trouble." with that, he was next to her and punched her in the stomach. She doubled over as his knee smashed into her face. She decided that the floor was a good place to be.
"You see, Janice," he picked her up and slammed her into the wall. "you can either use blood to remain conscious, whereupon you'll be starving and won't be able to resist an open vein." He caught her downward slide and shoved her into the sheet rock again. "Or, I can beat you into a torpor and shove my blood down your throat."
She slid back down to the ground, and hard kick landed against her ribs. A pause, she saw his jacket fall to the floor. He turned her over and looked at her for a long moment. A casual open handed slap, and her jaw cracked. Despite her intentions, she felt her wounds healing. He picked her up and slammed her into the wall once more. The sound of cracking plaster covered any noise made by her ribs.
Catching her as she slid, he looked at her again. "You're lucky I'm not using claws." he said casually, and threw her down.
She spat out teeth and blood. "Then stop pulling your punches."
He paused. "Alright, you deserve that much." Another blow and consciousness fled.
Silence. "Janice..." Pain all over. She groaned. "Janice..." She heard it again, a familiar voice she associated with the pain. She wanted to get away, crawl even, but she couldn't. Just thinking made her hurt. "Janice." Again, God, couldn't he shut up?
Silence again, and then a smell, very familiar. Her mouth was pried open and blood filled it. Instinct took over, she swallowed and hated herself for it. But The Beast won't listen to reason. She felt Cameron's other hand on top of my head, pressing her mouth against the wound in his wrist. "There's a good girl." he said, stroking her hair as she drank. Sated, he released her. Janice curled up in a wretched ball of self pity and passed out.
I don't need this.
"Are you saying you want me to leave?" Janice asked her brother a night later, staring at him across his kitchen table.
Jack looked uncomfortable and didnít reply.
"Okay, fine." Janice snapped, trying not to feel betrayed. "I understand. Your blood sucking sister shows up looking for a place to stay and her brotherís place isnít it."
"That was a cheap shot." he told her quietly.
"Youíre right." she agreed, sighing. "Iím sorry. And youíre right, itís not safe here. Besides," she added, trying to revive her sense of humor. "While I really like you a lot, bro, it wouldnít feel right to be crashing out in your bed."
Jack smiled "Well, Kim rigged the bedroom to be light tight. I thought youíd rather have that than the closet."
Janice smiled too. "Yeah, thanks for the thought." She stood up. "Iím sure I can find somewhere tonight. Does Kim still have that place down on Shattuck?"
Jack thought for a moment. "No, heís just moved up to some place by College Avenue. Iíve got the address around here somewhere. No phone, though."
"Okay, thanks." She paused for a moment and decided to risk it. "Do you mind if I take a shower here?" She still felt filthy from last nightís occurence.
Jack looked surprised. "Sure, if you need to."
"Even vampires get dirty, you know." She tried to tease him. "Itís hard work when youíve got to catch your dinner." If only...she thought quietly.
Jackís smile was a little forced. Janice almost kicked herself. "Oops, I goofed. Sorry, bro, I keep forgetting that vampire humor isnít always appreciated."
"Oh." Jack said quietly. "Whatever..." They were silent for a moment.
"Hey, no worries." Janice told him. "Iím okay, youíre okay, right?"
"I hate bumper sticker philosophy." Jack sighed. "There should be some clean towels next to the tub." he told her.
Janice cheered up. She really wanted to get clean. "Thanks, be right back." she headed upstairs to the bathroom.
Janice came back downstairs half an hour later, feeling much better, pleasantly warm and damp, her hair wrapped up in a towel. While she was showering, it occurred to her that it wouldnít kill her to treat her brother to a night on the town. She knew a club that she was sure heíd like.
"Hey, Jack." she called out as she entered the living room. "Why donít we-" she stopped in the doorway of his living room. "Oh shit." she breathed.
Jack was sitting rigidly on the sofa, sheet music spread on a table in front of him, looking sideways at Cameron who stood behind him, holding Janiceís gun against her brotherís head.
"You know, the police are going to be dreadfully curious when they find that a bullet from your gun has gone through your brotherís skull." he said casually.
Janice leaned against the door frame, not trusting her own legs. "Ok, Cameron." she said evenly. "You were right, I shouldnít have tried to leave at all. Leave Jack out of this."
"You brought him in-" Cameron began.
"And Iíll get him out." Janice interrupted. "At least put the gun away, please."
Cameron gave her a long look that she knew meant that Jack would be the first to suffer if there was any trouble, and put the gun back into his pocket. He laid one hand on Jackís shoulder. "I was just asking your brother if he was curious about Kindred." he continued.
"And is he?" Janice asked tightly.
"He said no." Cameron replied. "I rather thought he would be, considering his association with you."
"Well, heís not." She was trying to judge the distance between them, wondering if she could get Cameron away from her brother in time...
ĎDonít try it." Cameron warned. She saw his fingers growing into claws. Janice cursed. "Youíre awfully transparent, you should guard your thoughts more carefully."
Janiceís temper almost snapped. She swallowed her anger and took a few careful steps towards the pair.
"I know what you want." she told him evenly. "And Iíll do it if you just promise to leave Jack alone. I mean, always. Never use him again."
Cameron shrugged. "I wouldnít be using him now if you hadnít run away. I donít think youíre in a position to make demands."
"I am if you want the Bond back." she snapped.
"So it was broken." He commented. "Curious. How?"
Janice glared at him silently, furious at her slip.
"So be it." he stated. "Iíll find out sooner or later." Cameron glanced at Jack. "I suppose I can agree to leave him alone." he said blandly.
"Good." she said flatly. "Thanks a lot, Iím riddled with gratitude. Get away from Jack and youíll get what you want."
Cameron nodded and moved away from Jack towards her.
Janice closed the gap and, wishing to get it over with, grabbed one of his wrists and bit through the flesh. She swallowed a few mouthfuls, somewhat annoyed at the perverse twist of fate that made Kindred blood taste better than the alternatives. I donít think Jeremyís going to be willing to help my ass out of the same sling twice, she realized bitterly.
She pushed Cameron away from her, wiped her mouth clean. Briefly, she glanced at her brother. He was still sitting, stiff and pale, on the sofa.
"Thank you, Janice." That wasnít Cameronís voice.
Janice stared at him and his face melted like a cinematic effect. Edward Blake stood before her. "Now, at least, I know youíll stay out of my way." he told her.
Janice didnít think. She flew at him, claws and fangs bared. One wild slash shredded his suit jacket and shirt, but only grazed the flesh beneath. She tried to strike him again, only to be blocked and shoved easily across the room.
Janice thudded into the wall and scrambled to her feet, ready to attack again when she noticed Blakeís expression. She realized that she couldnít hurt him, not fatally.
"You shit." she spat out at him.
Blake shrugged. "Your opinion means nothing." he said flatly. "Come to my office on the first of every month and stay out of my way, otherwise. Iíll send someone for you if you forget your appointment."
Janice wanted to scream with the frustration and the anger. She couldnít believe how easily she had been duped. She also knew that Blake meant to make good on the threat of sending someone after her if she disobeyed. I hear Los Angeles is good at this time of year, or maybe Paris...
Blake regarded her, his contempt plain. "And one more thing." he added. "I lied."
Quicker than even Janice thought was possible, Blake grabbed Jack by the hair and tore into his throat. It took Janice only a moment to cross the room to him, but Blake had already dropped Jack down on the sofa and moved away, grinning.
Janice stood frozen for a moment, staring at Jackís body. "You better do something." Blake told her. "I was rather hungry."
With that, Janiceís thoughts of revenge fled and she moved closer to Jack, tried to find a pulse in his wrist. It was there, but only just. His throat was a mess, trickling blood onto his shirt and down onto the sofa. Faintly, she noticed Blakeís exit and didnít care. The thin pulse might stop at any moment. She stared at Jack for a second, trying to make a decision she hoped she would never have to face.
Shit, I said I wouldnít, not unless he asked. She told herself. But heís hardly in a position to ask now, and heís my brother. Oh God, what do I do know?
She tore her wrist open with her teeth and decided that to follow another bumper sticker philosophy. Itís easier to ask for forgiveness afterwards rather than permission beforehand. She placed the wound at Jackís lips and tried not to think about recent, comparable situations.
"Címon, Jack." she coaxed, trying to remember how she felt when she was in this position. "I know Dadís there, cheering you on, but I still need you here. Hell, the whole world still needs you. Iím not going to let you be another Mozart. Swallow this down and everythingís going to be fine." Janice blinked tears away, not sure who she was crying for. "Come on, damn you."
Jack swallowed her blood once, then again. His throat began to heal. He swallowed again, and Janice recognized the appetite driving him.
I hope he forgives me for this. Thereís no going back now. Janice let him take as much blood as she could spare and pulled her wrist away. She sat on the floor and waited for him to awaken.
A minute or so passed, Janice counted the ticking of her wristwatch. Jackís eyes opened at he looked at her, confused.
"What? Did he...?" Jack paused, looking at Janiceís stricken face. "Whatís wrong?" he asked her quietly. She tried to answer but no words were coming. Jack reached for his own throat, tentatively feeling for the wound he knew should be there. "What happened?" he finally asked. "Janice, whatís going on?" He shook his head, as if dizzy. "I donít feel good." he stated.
"Um...youíre not going to feel good for the next day or so." Janice told him slowly. "Youíre..." she paused, steeled herself. "Youíre dying." she said flatly.
"What!" Jack stood up quickly and then grabbed for the arm of the sofa for support. "But why? Did that bastard...?" He began. "I feel fine." He shook his head again. "No I donít." he qualified, and ran into the kitchen. Janice waited for his retching to stop and then followed him. He was rinsing the sink, obviously disgusted by his own behavior.
"You see, Jack." she began hesitantly. "Blake kind of killed you."
He looked at her. "Kind of killed me." he repeated slowly. He thought about that for a long moment. "I thought Ďkind of deadí was like Ďkind of pregnantí."
"Well, not really." Janice said carefully. "Iím kind of dead." she pointed out.
Jackís expression was one of horror. "And you mean Iím kind of dead, now, too. Is that it? He turned me into a vampire?"
Janice realized she should be honest. "Not exactly. Blake killed you. I brought you back."
He looked at her. "Wait, I thought you said youíd never do that to me. Not if I didnít want it."
"You couldnít exactly answer-" she began defensively.
"How could you?" he suddenly shouted at her. "How could you do this?" he demanded.
"Easily!" she shouted back. "It was that or let you die, really die! I couldnít do that to you. Youíre my brother and I love you and I didnít want to lose you! Thatís how!" I couldnít let you and your music die because of some bastard Settite, she wanted to tell him. I always wanted to give you The Gift, but you never let me...I suppose I should be happy. She tried to convince herself of that.
Her outburst stopped him. Jack turned away from her and stared at the clock over the sink. "So what do I do now?" he asked her quietly. "Iím not exactly prepared for this."
"Youíre more prepared than I was." she admitted. "But not by much. Sit down, Jack.You can shout at me as much as you like later, Iíve got to tell you a lot of stuff in a real short time.."
He faced her again. "I guess you are. I should tell you that Iím pretty hungry. I assume a Snickers bar isnít going to cut it."
She smiled wanly. "See, youíre getting the hang of it, already..."