Monday, August 19, 2013

Shelter Me: Part 3

How is everyone today?  Good, I hope.  :)  I have another installment of Shelter Me for you to read this fine Monday to help you get through your work week.  I've been really busy working with On My Mind.  I'm over halfway through it now. A pretty big accomplishment seeing as the original is only 56 pages and I'm around 81 at the halfway point.  Yay!  I can't wait for you guys to read it.  Anyway, I'm glad you guys are enjoying the new vampire cast and I'm anxious to see what you think about this installment.  Leave me some love.



Shelter Me: Part 3 Playlist
Voices Carry - 'Til Tuesday (I would just like to say this is one of my absolute favorite eighties songs. Aimee Mann?  Yes, please.  Hush hush, keep it down, voices carry.... I dare you not to sing this. LOL)
Mercy - TV On The Radio
Inside Out - Mighty Lemon Drops
Home Sweet Home - Motley Crue
Shelter Me: Part 3
Greg paced his twelve-by-ten office, berating fate for her lack of manners when she’d delivered this shit-storm to his doorstep.  An absence of windows and the drab color of gray coating the walls in his private domain reminded him of maximum security solitary.  At the moment, he certainly felt like a prisoner of his own life—no choices, just rolling with the crack of the universe’s whip.
He kept looking at the phone on his desk, imagining an explosive in its place.  The tension between him and the piece of plastic was electric; ensnaring almost every thought he had roaming about in his head. At any second the damn thing was going to ring and one of two things would happen. 
Greg would either snap and indulge his beast in a verbal battle royale with his father, followed by a enthusiastic redecorating of his office to let out his rage.  Or he’d summon the adeptly tolerant attitude he’d come to use when speaking with his father and slap his beast into submission.  Either way Greg needed to get his shit under control before his friends and coworkers locked him in a padded room and threw away the key.  Not only did his fate rest in his hands.  So did his mate’s. 
Jaska sat in a metal-folding chair in the corner while Quinton relaxed in Greg’s rolling desk chair.  Three grown men plus a few clunky filing cabinets and a desk brought on the claustrophobia for Greg.  Sweat dotted his forehead, found residence above his upper lip, and under his arms.  He gripped the collar of his faded Motley Crue t-shirt and stood under the air vent to cool off.  “I want to just … hit something right now.”
“I don’t have time to explain to the Guards why your knuckles are bloody or get you a bandage until the wounds heal. Relax, Gregory, for all our sakes.”  Quinton glanced at his watch.  “I have to be in the village in an hour.”
“You can wait.  This is important, Quinton,” Greg drawled out his name like a curse.  “I want all of us to be here when he calls.  For all our sakes,” he said, mocking Quin.
“That could be a while, Greg.”  Jaska forced a smile.  “Why don’t we go have lunch with the residents today?   It’ll take your mind off of this, and hopefully, prevent you from going nuclear.”
“Five Guards were killed in the last three days, Jaska.  All of them within a block of this fucking shelter.  Why are you so calm about this? The Haitians are closing in around us.  They think this Trey guy is in this building.  Don’t you get it?  If they get in here, they’ll kill us all to get who they want, even if Trey isn’t here.  There are children three doors down from us, Jaska.  Fucking kids who never asked for this life, kids who certainly didn’t trust us with the lives they do have just so we can let them be massacred.  Don’t you dare tell me to go have lunch.  Food is the furthest thing from my mind right now.”
Quinton stared at Greg.  He sat up with a seriousness that could give any mother a run for her money.  “When was the last time you fed?”
“What?”  Greg stopped.  He turned his head slowly, eyes teeming with barely subdued ire.  He growled, each wicked vibration hinting to the fight he itched to start.   What did you just say to me?”
Used to his friend’s overactive anger, Quinton blew Greg’s subtle threat off with an eye roll.  “I asked when the last time you fed was.  You’re hyperaware.  You’re so rigid it would take a wrench to unscrew you.  You’ve avoided being around residents for two days, especially Alex.  You’ve holed up in here like a prisoner during your shifts.  There are enough gum wrappers in the trash bin alluding to your thirst.  Every time I mention grabbing a bite with me you cringe and make excuses.  And then there’s the power I can feel in the air.  You’re leaking your fear, Gregory.”  Quinton pawed at the space around him, and then shook out his hand.  “Rather suffocating to the rest of us, if you give a shit.  What’s it been, a week, maybe more?”
Greg allowed his fangs to slip from his gums, enjoying the slow slide of his natural weapons over sensitive tissue.  “Don’t you analyze me, Quin.  You’ll regret it.”
“Threats, I was going to mention those as well.”  Quinton smiled at Jaska.  “More than his usual count, wouldn’t you say?”
Jaska shrugged weakly.  He gave Greg his attention.  “Dude, it’s okay if you need to feed.”  He sought out Quinton for help when the only response he received was heavy breathing and swirling eyes from Greg.  Quinton urged him to continue as if Greg couldn’t see.  “If—if there’s something else you want to tell us, that’s okay too.”
“Tell you what?”  Greg’s shoulders rolled back.  His back cracked all the way down.  His hands slapped the desk behind him.  “What do you want to know that you seem to know already, Jaska?  What the fuck are you two getting at?”
Oh, he knew.  Greg knew exactly what they wanted to hear.  The reason he’d avoided residents.  The reason he was on edge, other than the Haitian attacks, although the attacks were just as prevalent on his list of reasons for wanting to kick someone’s face in.  The reason he wanted blood more than he ever had in his entire life.  The reason he was waiting for news from his father. The Manager with a plan, so nothing happened to the people in Greg’s care.
Alex.  Alex was the reason he was about to crawl out of his skin like a zombie from the ground and fillet anyone who got in his way.  But for reasons only known to him, Greg couldn’t bring himself to get close to Alex.  His feet refused to go any farther than Alex’s door, however much the man’s scent curled up his nose and drugged him stupid. Greg had to stay away, keep the others from finding out.  He couldn’t have the man he wanted.  Even though his heart knew, just knew, Alex was his.  It was crazy! 
Greg was dying to look at Alex, smell him, or hear his quiet, yet powerful voice.  God he wanted to touch him, a complete stranger; a homeless drifter slash criminal.  He wanted to know more about the homeless man who’d almost lost his mind to the thirst, the man who’d gone through four bags of blood and then some in his sleep just to stay sane.
Alex was Greg’s.  He had found his...  “No,” Greg hissed, wringing his hands out to relieve the prickly sensation poking his skin.  “I can’t.”
Quinton stood.  He put a hand up to Jaska, telling him to stay seated.  “Can’t what?”
“It’s all wrong.”  Greg dropped on his desk, ass thudding on the surface. He stared hard at the wall, knees bouncing, boot heels clanking against the metal siding. “Just leave me alone.  Go to your meeting or whatever.  Jaska, go check something, I dunno what, just leave me alone before you’re the only thing I have left to punch.”
“We can’t leave you here like this.  Talk to me, Greg.  What is going on?”  Quinton folded his arms over his chest, staying put.  “Ever since that kid came here—”
“Don’t talk about him!”  Greg leaned forward.  He bared his fangs again.  His hand stopped just shy of Quin’s throat.  Greg looked at his rigid fingers and pulled his hand back, cradling it in his lap.  The look on Quinton’s face, the repulsion in his eyes shamed Greg.  “I’m sorry.  I—”
“No,” Quin clipped.  “I’ll take care of this.  Jaska, call the village shelter.  Tell them I’m sorry, but all sessions will be rescheduled for tomorrow, maybe even next Monday if things escalate.  I have an emergency to tend to. That’s all they need to know.”  Quinton stared off with Greg.  “Don’t even think of leaving, Greg.  I’ll drop you on your ass and you know it.”
Greg swallowed.  He gripped the desk to steady himself.  Lightheaded and cornered, he tried to regain his composure enough to give Quinton some snippy response, but didn’t have it in him.  He felt like he was going crazy.  Mad one second, and then vulnerable the next.  Was this what it was like to be a woman?
“Jaska, I meant now.”  Quinton didn’t look away.
Grudgingly, Jaska got up from his chair.  He looked a little hurt, like he wasn’t good enough to stick around and help his friend.  “Fine.  I’ll go tell Lizzy.”
“And while you’re at it, please tell her to send Alex in here.  If he’s not in the cafeteria, he’ll be headed to the gymnasium for art therapy.”
“Are you sure you want him in here, Quin?”  Jaska’s hand hovered over the door handle.
“Don’t do it, Jaska,” Greg whispered.  He couldn’t break eye contact with Quin.  Quin knew.  How could he not?  They were best friends.  Quin knew him better than he knew himself.  That was his job.  And from Jaska’s tone, he knew as well.  Double shit.
“I’m sorry, Greg.  I have to.”  Jaska sighed.  “You can’t keep going like this.  We tried to go it the easy way for you.  But you’re losing it, man.”
“Please,” Greg begged.
“Go. Now.”  Quinton moved between Greg and Jaska.
The door opened and closed.  Greg ground his teeth, feeling his jaw pop with each rotation of teeth against teeth.  “Why are you doing this to me?”
“I’m going to tell you why, but you have to promise not to attack me.  In turn I promise you everything said or done in this room will remain between us.  I won’t tell your father.  I won’t say a word to the queen or the prince or any other.  I won’t even say a word to Jaska if you ask me not to.”  Quinton took Greg’s hands in his, prying them away from the desk.  “I love you like my brother and if this is what it takes to finally make you happy the way you make other people happy.  If this is the karma I can release into the world to get happiness in return, I will lie, steal, and die for you.  You’ve been by my side since the beginning and I will be by your side until the end.”
Greg shuddered.  He sharply shook his head.  “I can’t do this with him.  I need to stay away.  It’s safer for us both.  And I won’t put you in the line of fire.  You’re right, we are brothers.  Don’t do this for me.  Don’t do it at all.”
Quinton ignored Greg’s persistent pleas.  “You carried him to his room after you left the clinic and stayed with him for three hours that night, Greg.  If you had allowed me into the room, had you allowed anyone foot through that door, we would have watched you feed him those blood bags by hand.  We would have watched you care for a man you didn’t know, but had to know.”
Greg closed his eyes.  Every time he did so, he was tortured with the memory of Alex’s pale, toned body under a thin sheet.  How helpless and skinny he’d looked, lying limp on the bed with no one to protect him during his comatose state.  His head had been in Greg’s lap, drawing Alex’s lingering scent around them both like a warm, winter coat.  Dark hair had fanned over Greg’s thighs, glossy with oil, but still thick and perfect under Greg’s fingers.  He’d ripped open bag after bag of blood until his hands were covered in it; his desperation to give Alex everything he could eating him alive in that moment.  He couldn’t explain the need to see those jade eyes open.  He just knew he had to keep Alex alive.  Or Greg would die with him.
Eventually the need had been too much.  Alex hadn’t moved after four bags, not one rise or fall of his chest.  The door had rattled nonstop.  They wanted to get in.  They wanted to touch his Alex.  A chair wedged under the handle and a jammed keyhole did the trick. Greg had ignored the door.  He’d pulled Alex further into his lap until his upper body draped over Greg’s thighs.  The weight of the other man in his arms had brought him to tears, tears that didn’t make sense.
Greg had given in to his frustration and bit into his wrist over and over to let the blood splatter on to Alex’s lifeless face.
“You fed him that night.  I smelled you leaking from his pores, Gregory.”
Greg covered his mouth.  He could still feel Alex’s lips on his wrist, full and a little chapped, suckling at his skin.  Greg rubbed the spot on his wrist, remembering the way his dick rose to attention that night, and his mouth watered.  Rapture had lit his body afire.  Alex’s eyes were so green and alive when they’d snapped open. 
He was alive.  He breathed.  He moaned, latched onto Greg’s wrist with both hands, never looking away as he fed.  Each draw of blood fucked Greg from the inside out.  His mate, the sheet slipping over his slender legs to pool over his blatant erection while his toes curled into the mattress, was the most stunning creature in all existence.
“You saw into his mind, Gregory.  Mates connect when they feed.”
Stop it.”
“You know who he is, Gregory.  He’s not just your mate.”
Greg grabbed the sides of his head.  A ragged groan vibrated in his throat.  He had seen the nightmares in Alex’s head.  They’d infiltrated his thoughts, blowing up every goddamned neurotransmitter until his mind wasn’t his own anymore.  Greg had seen Alex’s turn, felt the violent agony of his throat being ripped and fed on; the blurry shadow of another vampire looming over him as Alex’s vision dimmed. 
He had seen the Haitians, been sucked from one sequence of criminal events to another.  He had felt Alex’s fear and confusion, the lies and the heartache of betrayal, the anxiety of standing in the shadows with a liquid weapon for sale night after night.  He knew who Alex really was and it scared Greg to the core.   His mate was a traitor to their race.  His mate was the man everyone was looking for.  Alex wasn’t Alex.  He was Trey. He couldn’t let anyone know.
“The minute you realized who he was, you went and destroyed his hardcopy file in your office.  That’s why you took off so fast that night, once we were finally able to take the hinges off the door.  By the way, you can thank me later for not letting Jaska tear the damn thing down.”  Quinton pushed Greg’s sweaty hair back.  “You thought we would just see a homeless vampire in recovery and think your heart had been so heavy you lost it under pressure.  But I know you better than the others.  I know you well enough to read you like a book. That’s why I went to the clinic yesterday morning before sessions.  I retrieved the original hardcopy and all digital documentation of Alex from Missy, and a sob story apology from our favorite clinic receptionist.”
“No.  Please, don’t, Quin.”  Greg grabbed Quinton’s hand with both of his, overcome with dread. “Please don’t tell anyone.”
Quinton pulled Greg to his chest. He held him in a fierce hug. “I would never betray you, Gregory.  I told you I was on your side.  I can prove it.”  Quinton slipped his hand into his back pocket and pulled out a photo.  “Alex probably thinks he lost this, but I admit to stealing it—only to you, of course.”
Greg looked up at the photo clipped between Quinton’s fingers.  The man from Alex’s mind looked back at him.  A young guy with limp blond dreads, a full strawberry blond beard and pale blue eyes was photographed on half of a Polaroid.  It had been cut down the middle.  The man was smiling at someone in the missing half.  He looked so happy for a man who was dead.
“Where did you get this?  I’ve seen him.  I mean…”  Greg snatched the photo away.  He could still remember the way this man’s head rolled to a stop at Alex’s feet during their connection.  This man had meant something to his mate.  Were they lovers, friends, family, perhaps?
“It was in his backpack.  I took something else too, something I need you to keep safe if you plan on keeping Trey alive.”  Quinton went to his briefcase, clicked it open, and rifled under paperwork to pull out a small notebook.  “This is our leverage should things come to a head with your father.  We both know he won’t stop until Trey is found, and when he does find him, he’s going to call for his head.  This is going to prove Trey’s innocence.”
“What the hell is it?”
“It seems your boy fancies himself a journalist, of the underground variety.  He’s got notes in here of every deal he’s ever made: names, places, and his orders from the Haitians, the threats they made against him.  Personal notes, too.  Regrets, his reasons for action, everything that will show your father he was just a kid who fell through the cracks.  I’ve spent all morning going through it, Gregory.  He kept this for a reason. 
“He wanted to prove his innocence to himself.  In my experience this means he wanted to be found.  He wanted to have another option but no one would offer it to him.  While not an ideal situation we have on our hands, you are his escape from that life.  And when your dad brings the Royal hand down on Trey, we have his defense right here.”
Greg closed his eyes.  “My dad is going to kill him, Quin.  And to keep his reputation clean, if I help Trey, he’s going to kill me too to set an example.”
“You’re his child.  He’d never do that.  You and I both know he’d do anything for you.  Don’t make me bring up that night, Gregory.”
Greg looked up at Quin, so much sadness harbored in his eyes.  “It’s the not the same anymore.  Things have changed with my dad.  He’d do what he had to for his queen.  Love has nothing to do with it.”
Quin growled.  “No.  Your father is jerk sometimes, but you are his world even if he never says so.  When faced with choosing between his son’s happiness or making an example out of you and your mate, he’ll think twice.”
Greg crumbled.  It hurt to breathe.  His knuckles cracked as they left the desk.  He let the picture flutter out of his hand to land on the desk surface. “We have to get Trey out of here.  I don’t know him from Adam, but he’s my mate, Quin.  I can’t just let him die. He’s my mate,” Greg repeated, half dumbfounded he could finally say those words with truth.  This wasn’t one of his daydreams.  He had a mate.  He wanted to keep it that way.
“Then we get him out.”  Quin’s eyes flashed then swirled, gold swimming to the surface of his black irises.  “But you have to get it together, Gregory.  Who cares if your mating is fast and hard?  Life sucks.  Get over it and take your mate as yours.”
Fast and hard described the beat of Greg’s heart.  As he opened his eyes they mirrored Quin’s courage, burning gold. His fangs descended. His muscles strained.  “Mine.  He. Is. Mine.”
Trey had always been good at blending in.  It was a skill of his trade to be part of the wall, to lurk in the shadows, and leave as if he’d never been there in the first place.  Now, he was living under a microscope with nowhere to hide.  Guards played sentry in every corner of the gymnasium.  Shelter employees aided residents with paint supplies, and kept each age group in line during art therapy.  At least fifty residents lined the walls of the gym, putting spray paint or brushes to their designated wall space in hopes of making their world a little more colorful.  Vampires and pre-turns were everywhere.  Trey couldn’t breathe.  They were suffocating him in mass, triggering his now constant paranoia.
Trey knew “art therapy” was nothing but a time-filler.  The staff could call it whatever they pleased.  Trey called it bullshit.  Putting paint on the walls to make them feel better, people got paid to do this shit in the outside world.  This was work, work he’d do because it would help him to fit in, to keep breathing under the radar for however long he had left.
All Trey saw was red.  The pigment flooded his mind every time he blinked, every time he scanned the artwork near him, and every time he thought of Greg.  Dwelling on Greg only made his dick stir and his heart race.  Trey couldn’t stand it; being in such confined quarters, being a liar, unable to be with his mate who had saved his life.  It was one of the bits and pieces he remembered from that night, Greg saving him.  Now he focused on the danger at the shelter’s doorstep.  Guards whose job it was to protect the innocent had lost their lives because of him.
Trey couldn’t live like this much longer.  He had no one to confide in or help him.  He couldn’t call up Jackson to ask for advice or to hatch a plan. He didn’t have parents to rely on anymore, they’d been older when he was born, and he was sort of a surprise.  After his turn, he couldn’t go back to them. They’d be too fragile to cope in their drifting age and mind frame.  Besides, after a little research one lonely night, Trey found his father had died five years after Trey’s disappearance and his mother was now living with her sister in California.  Better to let her enjoy the company of her surviving family, for as far as she and the rest of the world were concerned, he was dead.
He was lost to them.  And his last connection, the one hopeful blip on his radar, was his mate.  Then again Greg was a lost cause, a Royal who would eventually out him after they’d connected when Trey fed.  Trey was a dead man walking.  The hours to his life swiftly dwindled.  He could feel every second flip over like he was a living, breathing countdown.
From the first moment Greg entered the clinic that night, Trey knew exactly what Greg was to him. It was a feeling so deeply embedded in his soul, he couldn’t deny it.  There was no confusion as he’d taken in the sight of the rusty-redheaded Royal with his grunge looks and hard, golden eyes. Greg was his, signed, sealed, and delivered but never to be opened.
Trey had kept his eyes down, his breathing normal when all he wanted to do was sob and scream and throw himself at Greg’s feet.  And Trey wasn’t a weak man, far from it, actually.  He’d coped with his life, hardened over the years.  Although somewhere in his heart, there was still a twenty-year-old man who had just begun to live, suffocating in the darkness.  Trey was starting to revert to his past self, letting his prior human emotions seep into his pores and twist his old scars.  He was crumbling.
During the scariest time of his life, near capture and on the run from everyone, Trey had wanted to fall to his knees with relief upon seeing his true mate, the man who was supposed to save him from the dark; the man who was to be his forever.  Between a wide-eyed stare and an inaudible gasp there was hope.  And then there wasn’t.
He’d seen the way Greg looked over the homeless, a predictable Royal scan with his eyes over the mediocre peasants of the human-turned.  Trey heard the gruff anger in Greg’s voice, whether directed at them or not, Greg made it clear he had no want to be there.  And although Trey had smelled Greg’s arousal, a scent only meant for him, he knew it had been chemically forced.
Just like the reaction Greg had the other night when he’d given Trey blood.  He’d wanted to do it because his body told him he had to.  Trey had tasted nothing from Greg except lust and fear.  Fear of Greg’s father, the fucking Manager of SoHo and a Royal enforcer out for Trey’s head.  Fear of getting caught, of how he would possibly mate with a criminal and the hopelessness of a life together.  Lust.  There was a bit of that and a wet patch on Trey’s back that told of Greg’s leaking arousal.  All of it was a recipe for disaster.  Fate was a joke.  She’d dealt an impossible mate with even more impossible kind of love.  Royals did not mix with Trey’s kind.  It wasn’t done, especially with him, the vampire’s most wanted.
Greg would be the knife in his back, his death lingering in his future.  No matter how scared Trey was of what waited outside these walls for him, he wouldn’t stick around to watch Greg betray him.  Scarier still, Trey couldn’t let Greg die for what he himself had done in the past.  He just couldn’t.  So he put a brush to the wall and let the paint fall where it may.  He mindlessly stroked over and over until livid red streaks covered the brick.  He was silent as he plotted his escape from one hell to another.  His mind was anything but quiet.
Next to him a teenage boy held up a toddler, helping the child paint a yellow sunshine on the wall.  A curly haired girl next to them praised the little boy every once and a while, but her presence had everything to do with the teenage boy.  Trey’s eyes lid over her outfit. 
Black glittery ankle boots.  Lacy black tights.  A modest, yet eye-catching blue dress that stopped above her knees, topped with a cropped leather jacket.  Loud silver hoops gave her a bit of street edge, but the sparkly headband told of her age and innocence.  All Trey saw was money, daddy’s money.  Royal.  He held back a snort. 
For how cute and privileged she was, the girl looked rather upset.  “Did they say how soon?”
“My program is up at the end of the week.  I have to reapply to stay or vacate the premises with an extended educational permit.  Or get a Royal’s signature for released guardianship.  Greg lied to me, Ari.  He said I could stay until I was ready to go.  The Managerial Board denied me for the permit already.  They said I needed to be eighteen or have proof I could support myself through school.  Can I pay rent?  Can I feed myself, clothe myself?  Can I stay out of trouble without guidance?  That’s such bullshit, Ari.  I bet they just saw my last name and put a big red X on my file.”
“You have the trust your parents left you, Henry.  But why would you want to live on your own?  My parents will take guardianship of you in a heartbeat.  Stop doing this to yourself.  Just—”
The boy blew his bangs out of his eyes, growing more exasperated with each word.  “I won’t do that to them, Ari.  And I don’t want my parents’ money or their damn house.  The place can sit there forever for all I care.  I want to start over.  I want to be someone else.”
Didn’t see that coming.  Damn.  Trey could relate.  He wanted to live as Alex and start over, but he didn’t have that option for long.  The kid did, though.  He had a full life ahead of him.  As much as Trey hated almost every Royal he’d encountered, the boy was different.  Trey could see a bit of himself in those fighting eyes. 
“You should get of here before you can’t anymore,” Trey muttered.
“What?”  The teenage boy called Henry put the toddler down to let him dip his fingers in paint.
“I said you should take her up on that offer.  Not all of us get a chance like that.  If someone offered me a new life, a fresh start, I’d take it.  No questions asked.  And I’d be grateful for the help.”
“See?”  The girl guided the toddler fingers to the wall.  She was very careful how she touched him.  The boy seemed to appreciate the space, but he gravitated towards Henry constantly.  “You’re being stubborn, Henry.”
“Who the hell are you to tell me what I should do?  You don’t know me or my story, so buzz off.”  Henry rolled his eyes at Trey.
Never looking away from the wall, Trey said, “For one, I can tell you aren’t supposed to be here.  Even in a shelter and unturned I can tell you’re Royal, you all look the same.  You can hide behind the basic t-shirts and jeans, but you sound educated enough, and you don’t slouch.  I can smell your cologne, too.  The homeless can’t afford that shit.  And her, she’s a volunteer from the outside, and she knows you.  I mean, one look at her and I can tell she’s a classy girl.  The homeless don’t just have friends like that.”  Trey kept painting.  “You went through something shitty just like the rest of us.  You’re embarrassed about it.  But what sets you and me apart is I don’t have anywhere else to turn, pretty boy.  This is the end of the line for me.  So whatever happened to put you here, fuck it.  Just say fuck it and move on, bro.”
His fingers curled towards his palm, clenching into fists.  Henry leaned in like he was about to get physical.  His coppery eyes said he wanted to.  “My parents killed each other after they took in a Rush-fucked blood slave.  I’m supposed to just say fuck that and forget about it?”
Trey closed his eyes. He almost dropped the paintbrush.  Victims of Rush had never hit him so hard until now.  This kid, this rich little brat was hiding from the world because of people like Trey; people who dealt a lethal drug to humans, killing vampires on a daily basis, and for what?  Did he do it for money, or to eradicate the good little Royals for his old bosses to rule?  No. Although none of that mattered now.  Only those left behind to clean up the mess mattered, people like Henry.
“I’m sorry.”  Trey turned to Henry.  “I’m really sorry for your loss, bro.”
Henry breathed heavily, looking Trey up and down.  “That it or you wanna keep going?  I dare you to make fun of parents.  The “Royals,” he hissed, rushed air quotes made with his fingers.
“Kid, the last thing I’ll ever do to you is make a joke of your parents’ death.  It’s not funny at all.”  Trey noted the way the toddler clung to Henry’s legs, getting paint all over his jeans.
“But they were traitors.  They betrayed our race with a slave.”  Henry egged Trey on.  “Come on, you know you want to say it.”
“Henry, I’ve done things that make taking in a slave look like child’s play.  I’ll never belittle people for making mistakes.  I’ve made so many I’m lucky to even be standing here right now. That doesn’t change the fact you need to get on with your life.  Your parents wouldn’t want you to waste away here, traitors or not.  Mine wouldn’t either if they were around to have an opinion.  So from a homeless fuckup to you, I’m saying get out while you can before you become someone you’re not.
“I had never a choice on who I wanted to be.  That was taken away from me, not you.   You have a life to live.  Don’t live it here.  Think about your little brother.”  Trey eyed the toddler, throwing out a wild guess.  “Do you want him to grow up here?  Don’t you want him to grow up strong and civilized, with a healthy future?  Because he ain’t about to get that here.”
“He’s not my brother.”  Henry reached down and picked up the little boy.  His protective grip said otherwise.
“He’s special to you.  I had someone special to me once, basically my brother.  He was my best friend and I looked out for him, but we were too naïve to see how deep we were, deep in criminal activities, the wrong sort of life.”  Trey crouched down, somehow connected to the line created by his paintbrush as if he could paint his pain on the wall.  “There was no one to tell us what we were doing was wrong.  We didn’t have families or mentors to pull us out.  What we were doing was surviving in the big bad world because we didn’t have anywhere else to go.  We were street kids who wanted somewhere to call home.  We thought we found it.”
Trey stopped and looked up at Henry.  “They killed him in front of me.  They took the only piece of safety I had left and turned on me.  I chose that life, even out of stupidity and fear, I chose to go down that path.  I was the friend who was supposed to tell him what we were doing was wrong.  I was supposed to save him, but I didn’t.  I’ll live with those nightmares all my life and so will you if stay here and let all these broken people weigh you down.  Our pain and yours will eat you alive, kid.”  Trey’s ragged exhale was hidden as he turned away.  “Do us all a favor and get out.  Take the boy with you if you care about him at all.  Give him a life.”
“I can’t,” Henry murmured.  “He’s not my blood.  They won’t let me have him. Besides, I’m still a kid myself.  I can’t raise him.”
“No, but you can guide him.”  Trey flicked his eyes to the girl.  “From what little I’ve heard I bet her rents will take him too. He’s cute.  The cute ones always get by with the Royals.”
The girl’s lips turned down with pity.  “Were you an orphan too?”
“Not in the beginning.  I used to be somebody before I—yes.  I am now.”  Trey’s lips pressed tightly together.  He sloshed the tip of his brush in bright red paint, reminded of the blood on the floor of his room the night he fed from Greg.  It had pooled near his bed, under his head, red everywhere.  In the shower the next day as he’d huddled in the corner, watching blood swirl down the drain.
“Wow.  I—I’m sorry for your loss, too, man.”  Henry shifted the toddler onto his hip, petting his hair as the kid laid his head on Henry’s shoulder.  “What’s your name?”
“Alex?”  The receptionist came power walking across the gym floor.  Her street shoes squeaked, gritting Trey’s teeth together.  “Alex, can I talk to you a minute?”
Trey looked at the paintbrush.  It fell from his fingers, swallowed up by the bucket of red like a foretelling of his future, sinking into blood, ending his life as punishment.  He stiffened.  His still sensitive body ached as he stood automatically.  He studied the wall as he rose; the violent red brush strokes that told his life story.  This was it.  They knew about him now.  Greg told on him.  It was time to accept his fate, find the strength to keep his pride intact, and go out with dignity.  No tears.  No running from fate.
Trey turned, unable to get a decent gulp of air.  He faced the pretty blonde receptionist with fear.  “Yes?”
“Hey, I’m sorry to interrupt here.”  She regarded Ari and Henry with a smile, even leaning forward to bop the tot on the nose with a finger.  The kid turned his head, burrowing into Henry’s neck.  The blonde didn’t seem too put off by it.  “Anyway, uh, Jaska would like you to come to the office.  Our therapist is here today.  He wanted to evaluate you one-on-one after the other day.  He was concerned.  How are you, by the way?  Pretty scary stuff back there.”
Trey nodded.  It was all he could do to keep from throwing up.  She put her hands behind her back as she rocked from heel to toe.  “Oh, well, all right.  Henry, make sure you keep Rascal with you until his teacher comes to get him for cleanup.  Ari, remember, five pm rolls around and you meet your Guard escort in the lobby.  Your dad called and said he’d be out front to pick you up.   No funny business today, guys, we’ve got enough trouble around us right now.”
“Was there another one today?”  Ari stepped closer to Henry.
“I’m not at liberty to talk about the deaths, Ari.  You’re too young for that.”
“There was, wasn’t there?”  Henry tightened his grip on Rascal.  “How close, Lizzy?”
“Close enough,” Lizzy admitted.  “Don’t you two worry about a thing.  The Manager and his team are on it, that’s all that matters.  Keep painting, okay?  Alex, would you please come with me?”
“Alex doesn’t need to talk with Quin.”  Henry smirked.  “Alex already has the wise stuff down.  He could teach all of us a thing or two.  Thinks he’s a street Yoda or something.”
Lizzy beamed.  Trey didn’t know why, although her stare warmed his heart.  “I’m glad to see you’ve taken your exit letter with a little maturity, Henry.  I know you’re still pissed and Greg is going to do everything he can for you, but things will be much easier if you stay positive.  If not for you, then keep smiling for Rascal.  I still can’t get over how he took to you.  It’s so strange.  I have no idea what we’ll do if you’re gone.”
Henry looked down at Rascal then at Lizzy.  “You won’t have to deal with it.  I’ll take him with me wherever I go.”
“Henry, you know you can’t.  I don’t understand why he’s taken with you, and I can see you two have quite the bond, but…”
Ari grinned.  “Then you don’t know Henry.”  She raised a challenging brow.  “If he says he will then he will.  You just watch.”
“Okay.”  Lizzy shook her head.  “Whatever you say, Ari.  I still need the wise man to come with me, though.  Alex, shall we?”  Lizzy held out her arm for him.  Trey was taken aback by her kind smile and willingness to touch him.  She was Royal.  No Royal outside of the Haitians had ever openly given him attention like that.  And his boss’s attention wasn’t the kind he wanted.  Trey reached out, hesitantly at first, then looped his arm through hers.
“Bye,” he said over his shoulder.  The toddler raised his little hand.  For a second, Trey almost saw a ghost.  Rascal’s mouth turned up on one side.  His wide, blue eyes slanted a bit with a familiar look, a happy yet mischievous intonation.  Jackson?  Trey’s face fell.  He craned his neck for a better look, but Lizzy pulled him along.  The little boy turned back to Henry, their strange moment lost.
“He’s cute, huh?” Lizzy chuckled as they exited the gym.  “Poor little guy.  Guards found him crying in an alley one night a few months back.  They had to pry him off his father, a dealer in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The man still had a grocery bag with sandwich stuff was found next to him.  He wasn’t even dealing that night.  He was just trying to feed his kid.  How sad is that?”
“Very,” Trey whispered.  “What will you do with him?”
“He’s been on the adoption list for months, but he refuses to go to a home with the other orphans.  Greg won’t let the doctor sedate him for transfer and he shouldn’t.  If Rascal is comfortable here, then he should stay.”
Lizzy exhaled a laugh.  “That kid is more of a vampire than all of us put together.  He’s got a mean little kick and an even worse bite.  He dresses himself.  He climbs into bed himself.  He eats with a fork and a knife.  He doesn’t let anyone touch him.  He’s totally self-sufficient and he’s a baby.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“His dad probably taught him to grow up early.  The streets are tough. The smarter you are, the better you survive.”  Trey loosened his arm, more at ease by Lizzy’s side.  “Did you identify the father, see if he had any relatives?”  That look, Trey could’ve sworn he saw Jackson’s face when he looked at Rascal.  It was too uncanny not to ask.  Who knew?  Jackson did like his women.  A kid was a possibility. 
“All we got was a nickname from the newspaper guy on the corner and the name Icee didn’t really go well into the system.  The guy is a ghost, rest his poor soul.”
“You care about the death of a dealer?”  Trey looked at her strangely. That was a first for him.
“The facts are: he kept watch over his son and tried to provide for him.  Rascal was clean and fed when we found him.  Whoever Icee was, he wanted his son and that matters to me.  Whether he was a dealer or not the man was still a person with a family.  Even if he hadn’t had Rascal with him, he had a future taken away from him.  He still had room to turn it all around, and now he doesn’t.  So yes, I care that a precious life was wiped out because someone else decided to end it with a knife, in front of a baby no less.  Sick fuck.”
Trey nodded.  He gave her a sheepish smile, scared he was going to reach out and hug her.  “Thank you.”
“Huh?”  Lizzy’s puzzled expression made him want to cry.  She didn’t even know how wonderful she was.
“You are the first Royal who’s ever cared about what happens to someone like me, the not so fortunate, I mean.  Thank you.”
Lizzy stopped to draw him close.  She hugged him good and hard before letting him go.  “We’re all people, Alex.”
“Not everyone believes that.”
She pulled back, slipping her arm around his back.  “Well I do and so does everyone here.  It may not look like a home, but it is.  This is a place to feel safe while you get back on your feet.  And don’t think for a second you’re not family to us.  Don’t think you’re not equal because you’ve had a hard time.  There are rules and a level respect you have to abide by, but that goes with any family you’re a part of.  We just happen to be a heck of a lot bigger than most families.  But we’re still—”
“Family,” he finished.  Trey’s studied her intently.  For a second she looked alarmed, but then tilted her head like a big sister ready to take on a challenge.  “Am I really going to see a therapist?” he asked point blank.
Lizzy looked around, losing her comical flare.  She swallowed and kept walking, keeping her face turned from the Guard as she passed.  “Everyone thinks I’m dumb around here.  I know they love me and I’m kind of a sidekick to Greg, Jaska, and Quinton, but I see things they don’t.  And some they already do.  I’ve been doing this since I was eighteen, Alex.  I’m just a smidge older than that now.”  She offered him a wry smile.
“Your point?”  His fear returned with her whispery confession.  He exhaled in short spurts, staring at the glossy tile floor that never seemed to end.  He counted to ten.  He felt like this was his last stretch of freedom before they threw him to the lions.
“I know what they know about you.”
Trey’s heart thumped a mile a minute like it would explode.  He started to sweat.  “What about me?”
“Jaska had to take the hinges off the door that night, Alex.  I was there.”  She leaned in close, whispering in his ear. “You’re Greg’s mate.”
Trey tensed and then tried to make a run for it.  Her nails bit into his shoulder, reining him back in.  “If you run the Guards will be all over you.  Trust me, you don’t want that.  They just want to talk to you.  No one is going to hurt you.  It’s okay.  You can trust me, Alex.”
“Trust you?” He hissed softly.  “I can’t trust anyone.  You don’t know me.”
“I know that we’ve been waiting for the day when Greg would find his mate and get a life.  You can’t leave him, Alex, no matter how scared you are.”
“Scared?  I’m fucking terrified.” His voice cracked.
“Virgin?”  She giggled.
“What?  No.  I just don’t want to die.”
Her smile faded.  “Die?  Greg would never allow it.” Her tone so serious Trey couldn’t help but believe her.  “Why would you think your mate would kill you?” she asked on a whisper.
“There are things you don’t know, things that make me and Greg impossible.”
Lizzy stopped outside Greg’s office door.  Trey stared at his nameplate for what seemed an eternity.  His body refused to move another inch.  “I can’t go in there.”
“I don’t think you have a choice, man.”  Jaska rose from the reception desk.  “Lizzy, I need you to reschedule Quin’s visit to the village. I can’t get this damn system to work, and I need to take over for you there.”
“Please, don’t do this.”  Trey shook his head, backing away.  “I can’t.  Just let me go.  I’ll never come back here again.  I promise.”  Whatever pride and courage he thought he’d mustered in the face of death was stripped away.  Trey was suddenly terrified. 
“What is going on, Alex?”  Lizzy tried to comfort him with a hand, but he yanked away.  “Jaska, what gives?”
Jaska’s sad eyes closed for a second.  When he composed himself, he marched up to Alex and turned him to Greg’s office with all his strength.  He leaned in.  “I don’t want to know everything about you, because my mind already has its suspicions, but you should know that the man on the other side of this door could not be a better mate to ask for in the entire universe.  He’s a loyal friend.  He’s a good person.  And Gregory Courtenay hurts to help others.  For once, give my friend what he’s dying to have so he can be happy like the rest of us.”  Jaska opened the door, pushed Trey inside and left him staring at two large vampires.  The door clicked shut.  Trey started to hyperventilate.
“Does that look like America’s Most Wanted to you, Gregory?”  Quin gestured at Trey who was trying to become part of the wall.  The human-turned vampire bumped into a chair on his way to the corner; his fear palpable.  His green eyes were as wide as saucers as he almost tripped into a file cabinet.
Greg slid from the desk, planting his feet on the floor.  Every muscle in his body fluidly obeyed as he stood to his full height and took a slow step.  He pushed Quin out of the way to get to his mate.  “Are you Trey?”  Even his shadow looked imposing as it gradually slid over the human-turn in the corner.
Greg’s mate slithered to the floor, trying to tuck his knees as close to his chin as possible.  “Please, don’t hurt me.  I didn’t do it.  I swear to you.”
Primal instinct took over.  Greg lowered to the ground, getting on all fours.  He had no idea where his animalistic actions were coming from but he crawled over the floor like a jungle cat, only having to move so far in the tiny office.  “Answer me,” he growled.  “Are you Trey?”
“Gregory, take it easy.  If he screams, the Guards will come running.  No Guards, got it?”
“Oh God, he’s going to kill me.  Don’t let him kill me.”  Alex, or Trey, whatever his name was, yanked a folding metal chair in front of his body to block Greg.
Quin let off an exasperated sigh.  “Hush up.  If you alert the Guards they’ll report back to the Manager.  We’re trying to keep you safe, Trey.  He’s not going to hurt you, are you, Gregory?”
“Just answer me,” Greg croaked at his mate.  “Are you the man they’re looking for?  Are you Trey?  I want to hear it from your lips so I can believe it.”  Greg’s mind reeled at the thought of hurting the man hiding behind the chair.  Green eyes peeked through the hole in the backrest.  Hands held the seat in place.  Knuckles white.  “I won’t hurt you.  I’m just… Jesus, I can’t control it.  You … you smell so damn good.” Greg inhaled, his mouth hanging open so he could taste Trey’s sultry scent on his tongue.  “So good,” he rumbled.
“He’s going to rape me,” the human-turn said like he knew for certain.  Though his body was primed for the occasion, Greg knew his mate would never trust him if he pounced and devoured.  Slow and easy, he thought, breathing through the maelstrom in his head.
Quinton groaned.  “Would you please get up from behind the chair and sit on it.  If he can see you properly there wouldn’t be a need for theatrics.  I’m surprised you aren’t reacting the same way.  You would think you were being murdered by your own mate.”
“He’s not my anything.”
Greg sat back on his heels.  Like he’d been stung he grimaced.  Not my anything?  Fuck. “I’m not crazy.  I know you feel it too,” Greg snarled.  “You feel this.”
“Yes, because I have to,” his mate said harshly.  Those green eyes and the body that went with them leaned back into the shadows of the chair.  Apparently, that was enough argument to kill this conversation for Alex, Trey, whoever he was.  Greg, on the other hand, wasn’t so convinced.
“You what?”  The current of dominance overriding Greg’s body shattered completely.  His mate was terrified of him, hiding behind a chair, begging not to be raped and killed.  Do I look that awful?  Does he really believe what he says?
“Gregory, he’s only scared.  Don’t take it to heart.”
“Heart?  You’re joking, right?  I know who he is and what he wants. But I didn’t do anything!  I don’t deserve to die because your kind fucked my life up to begin with.”  Greg’s mate collapsed against the wall, hiding his face in his hands.  “I thought I could just get it over with.  Behead me.  Shoot me.  Cut my throat.  Whatever the Guards have on special this week for suckers like me. Turns out I’m scared of dying. Thought I could just harden up.  But truth is I was always scared.  It’s what got me in trouble in the first place.  It’s why I’m here, a fucking vampire.  It’s why I had to give up my life and my family, to be this.  I was just a kid.  I was just a person,” Greg’s mate shrieked, no doubt half insane from his own morbid imagery.
“Trey,” Greg murmured and pushed the chair out the way. 
The instinctive pull to comfort his mate, whether they were friendly or not was overwhelming.  Greg’s tendencies and his mate’s need were too extreme to ignore.  Greg fought his mate, holding onto his squirming form with his Royal strength.  He didn’t let go.  His fingers bit into Trey’s shirt, kneaded into Trey’s muscle until he was sure his fingerprints would leave momentary bruises and quiet the fighting man in his arms.  His mate was still malnourished, a little bony in the back.  As Trey moved Greg’s hands were forced to shift, allowing him to feel each tiny bone making up Trey’s spine ripple under his hand.  It broke his heart.
“Don’t fight me.  I will never hurt you.”  Greg squeezed until Trey’s beast surrendered in a whooshing breath of defeat.  Trey fell limp in Greg’s lap, his legs hanging over Greg’s thighs.  It was in Trey’s stilling eyes, how long he’d defended himself against his own emotions and more than enough physical pursuit.  “You have my word I will never hurt you, Trey.  That is your name, isn’t it?  I want to hear you say it.”
It took moments of thick silence for Trey to lift his face to Greg.  Jade green eyes ringed in dark brown took Greg’s breath away, reminding him of a summer leaf crippling under the chilly hand of fall.  So innocent and hurt, yet street wise and cunning, Trey’s eyes spoke to Greg’s body and his thoughts. 
Greg never wanted to look away.  He never wanted to move from this spot.  Trey’s weight molded to his body, tense muscles relaxing over his lap and chest.  Trey belonged in his arms. Greg didn’t care if their mating had been stuffed down their throats.  Trey’s scent in the air was comparable to a bit of his soul coming home with every inhale Greg took.  Was he in love?  That was up in the air.  Greg had only spent a few minutes with the Trey; although, he’d thought about him every waking and sleep-filled minute of the day, every day, since he’d first laid eyes on Trey.  And no matter how confused he’d been at first, when Trey had gone down on the sidewalk that night, Greg had jumped and jumped hard.  There was an irrevocable bond between them.  Not even Trey’s holey defense or fear could deny that.  They were mates.  It was fact.
“Let me go.  I know who you are and what you’re going to do.  Just let me leave.  You’ll never hear from me again, I promise.”  Trey’s Adams apple bobbed slowly up and down.  Even he knew, by the look on his face, there was no way Greg would let him go.  “Please. I’ll beg for my life if I have to.  I don’t have any dignity left, man.  I’ll do whatever you want.”
Quin crouched next to them.  He put a hand on Greg’s shoulder, lending him support.  “Why do you think your mate would hand you over for execution, to the Haitians or the Royals?”
“Because he’s Royal.”  Trey shuddered.
“And because he’s Royal that makes him a terrible person?”
“They’re all like that.  Do you know how many times I tried to ask for help over the years from those fucks? Do you know what they did?”  Trey’s eyes narrowed as he faced Quin and Greg.  The hatred in his eyes was almost palpable.  “They called me trash.  They called me Halfling, weak. They said I reeked, turned their noses up, and told me to get lost. I tried to go to school with them at first after I got my bearings.  They wouldn’t let me because I didn’t have proper lineage documentation, and then they started grilling me, asking me I was a spy or a traitor. 
“I heard about the Nick after I was turned, went to get one.  They denied me because I didn’t have SC insurance, but couldn’t get insurance because they didn’t know me.  I starved half the time because I was so scared, and then Jackson helped me find my feet.  He wasn’t in any better shape than I was, but he was willing to act like I was a fucking person.  He was like me; turned because some asshole thought it was entertaining, scared to go back to his family because he was a monster.  So he turned me on to the Haitians.  They gave me a bed.  They taught me how to feed without getting caught.  They gave me a job, a purpose.
“And you know what the most fucked up part of my job was, aside from dealing when I’d never touched drugs a day in my life as a human?”
“Tell me.”  Greg pushed Trey’s hair out of his eyes.
Trey recoiled from the touch, although his eyes said he craved it.  He was fighting his feelings tooth and nail.  He was trying to be strong.  “I dealt Rush to your kids who thought they were being bad-asses feeding their prey twisted party drugs like.  I guess the usual thrills didn’t excite them anymore and they wanted to impress their rich-as-fuck friends.  I dealt to your friends who aren’t really all they seem, to the very Royals who treated me like shit when really; they were just as dirty as I was.  Ain’t that something?  Your queen is so blind.  She thinks her people are so loyal to her, demands the dealers’ heads, when she don’t know shit about what happens on the streets.
“She wanted to help us get on the straight and narrow.  She implemented all these rules and programs to civilize and guide us, to integrate us lowly human-turned vamps with the Royals.  But tell me what’s helpful about being gunned and knifed down without a trial, without asking me or all the others like me what the fuck happened to get us where we were.  Someone should tell her I was a college student, that I had a future, that I had parents who fucking loved me until one of her precious Royals left me for dead in an alleyway because he was out having some fun.
“Tell me I should trust you and your kind.  Tell me I should bow to your queen and kiss her fucking feet when she does nothing but hunt me and the other human-turned dealers.  Tell me I should put my life in your hands and trust you will take care of me when not one of you has ever cared for me in the entire fifteen years I’ve been a mutant.”
Greg was speechless.  He’d seen residents come and go; both the good and the bad.  He’d seen dealers hesitantly come to the shelter all out of options.  He’d seen them thrive in his care.  But he’d also seen them end up back on the streets in a body bag.  Nine out of ten times a Guard had been the one to end their lives, no questions asked. 
Trey was right.  The dealers were being hunted.  And if Greg was being honest, taking a step back from the situation to view it as an outsider, he’d see a pack of misfit kids who’d lost their way and wanted to feel special.  They too wanted a family just like the humans who were taken in by gangs and drug dealers.  Not all of them were bad.  Not all of them deserved to die.  They deserved to be heard, to be tried justly, and to be given a means to dutifully serve the time for their wrongs.   Or be rehabilitated in a way that made them want to change, to relight the passion they’d had as a human.
Quinton sighed next to Greg.  “You’re absolutely right.  The system has been faulty for many years and what happened to you was wrong on many levels.  What continues to happen to those less fortunate is inexcusable, but you can’t base your hatred of Royals by those you’ve already met.  It’s a hard concept to grasp, but hear me out.  If you judged an entire group by those few you’ve encountered you would miss out on many valuable relationships with those Royals who do care.  Royals like those who run these shelters.  We don’t judge one person who walks through these doors.  We aim to help the homeless and those without anywhere to turn by providing them with a safe home, Trey.”
 “This place is a prison and you know it.  We’re criminals to you.”  Trey squirmed again.  “They lock my door at night.  The rooms are white on white.  Everything is fucking scheduled.”
Greg pulled Trey against him so hard his hands hurt. He rattled Trey gently until his mate gave up and looked at him, huffed, by truly looked at him.  Greg’s chest puffed then deflated with a slow exhale through his nose.  “I gave up the Royal lifestyle when I was eighteen years old, Trey.  I was one of those brats once.  I was living it up on daddy’s dime, flaunting my goods to anyone who looked at me because I knew I was the shit.  It was the nineties in New York City.  The party never stopped and the vibe was dark, perfect for a bunch of rich teenagers to wreak havoc on one ginormous playground of a city.  Then one night I was out with my so-called-friends, having the time of our lives.  My buddy Drey was being a drunken dick and took us down under the bridge where the homeless people slept.  There were so many of them.
“Drey and his girlfriend Mazy were trying to stunt, act like they were so fucking cool when everyone really hated them. Drey was a pretentious snob who thought you were never good enough and Mazy was evil, man.  She’d do anything to keep Drey around and others away.  But we followed them, because that’s what teenagers do.  Can’t be the odd one out, right?”  Greg didn’t realize how carefully he was holding Trey or how Trey’s hands curled around Greg’s arms.  “Drey and Mazy said to pick one, a homeless person.  They didn’t say what for.  So I pointed at this one guy.  He was younger, younger than us by a few years. He was the first one to break away from his box and smile hopefully.  I thought they were going to give him our leftover tequila or some money cause they were totally wasted, and give that homeless kid one hell of night, but they didn’t.
“Drey went over to the skinny kid and threw him to the ground.  Mazy dumped the liquor over his head while Drey kicked him over and over.  The kid was so weak already and he curled into a ball to try to protect himself.  The other homeless men and women slowly crawled away.  They weren’t going to intervene because they were scared.  I tried to stop it, but my other friends pulled me away.  They made me run.  They didn’t want to get in trouble.  I heard the kid screaming for help as we got into my car.  I heard him beg.”
  Quinton hung his head.  “Greg called me from a payphone near the bridge, crying. Greg never cried.  He told me what happened and that he had to go back, that he needed me to come.  We’d been fighting at the time.” Quinton looked at Greg and squeezed his shoulder.  “I didn’t like the kids he was hanging out with.  They were trouble and he knew it, but he wanted to be popular and I wasn’t.  But he called me because he didn’t trust anyone else, because he gave a shit about that homeless kid.
“We grew up before all the Guards patrolled the streets in mass like they do now.  The security detail was just being implemented for vampires to live in the states, so no one was out to babysit us and the cavalry wasn’t coming to our aid.  Our families thought we were safe, but just like humans, Trey, there is no safe from each other.  But Greg and I were raised properly, even though we had teenage urges just like everyone else.  We had good hearts.
“Greg screwed up by going with them that night, but if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have believed in fate and that boy would’ve died.  Because Greg cared for a boy he’d never met, because his heart was bigger than most, he did the one thing he was more terrified to do than anything else.  He had me get his father.”
Greg nodded once.  His eyes never left Trey’s.  “My dad wasn’t the manager then.  He was a Royal just like the rest, still entitled and a kind of snobby, but he was a father first.  My dad came without asking any questions because his son was scared.  He knew if Quinton came to him it had to be bad.  He found me holding that boy in my arms.  My friends stood to the side in shock. 
“Mazy was throwing up on the ground.  And Drey… He was dead.  I’d gone back without waiting for Quin and my dad.  I don’t remember how I got past my friends, but I couldn’t help myself; I heard him still screaming even from the payphone.  I picked up that bottle and beat Drey with it, even after it busted, and didn’t stop until he quit moving.  In my mind if he was going to kill that poor, defenseless boy, he deserved to die too.”
“You killed a Royal?”  Trey’s hand pressed to Greg’s chest.  Greg’s heart sped up.
Greg dipped he head in shame, fully aware, in the back of his mind that he had done the right thing.  “Drey deserved it.  I knew no one would punish him for what he’d done when he went home to his rich ass parents who thought he was perfect.  He’d always been foul, always picking on the unpopular Royals, the ones who wanted to fit in with the humans.  He’d even talked about one day joining up with enemy because he thought humans were too stupid to be the majority.  They should be slaves to us because we were a superior race.
“I couldn’t let him live.  I still don’t know how I did it, how I could murder another person like that, but I saved a man that night; someone who didn’t have a choice, just like you.”  Greg wiped a hand over his face.  His skin was burning up.  His mind hurt from reliving such a heinous memory.  When Trey’s arms went around him, he relieved his burden by slumping against his mate.  His lips whispered over Trey’s hair.  His mate’s scent was like chamomile tea to his upset stomach.
“The boy died in my arms.  I grieved for him.”
Trey’s head shot up. “You said you saved—”
“My father turned a human that night, a homeless boy who was dirty and smelled; a boy who he would’ve passed on the street without a glance in any other situation.  Not only did he do it to heal me in some small way, he did it because the boy deserved a second chance at life. He also broke the cardinal rule with vampire kids.  He swiped every one of them except me and Quin.  He saved them from the nightmares and he saved me from the fall out.”  Greg paused, remembering his father’s fear for him.  He could still feel how hard his father had hugged him, their tears as they held each other.  Everything was different now. Greg couldn’t help but miss those times.  “Some of us care about what happens to people like you, not all, but more than you think.”
“What happened to the kid?”  Trey’s eyes watered.  “He was just a teenager.”
“Our family took him in for a few years, taught him how to live like us, and got him into night school.  He’s a counselor for human-turned youth at the Brooklyn Shelter now.  But he changed my life, Trey.  After Sam showed me how life was for him on the streets, I couldn’t get it out my head.  Were there others like him, other human-turns that needed help?  I found there were.  There were quite a few of them, even back then, and no one did a thing about it.  From then on I dedicated my life to making sure they had a place to go.  It started with human shelters and foster vamp homes, people willing to take them in for a while to get on their feet.  And then when the Second City came in to play, I hooked up with some people and here I am.
“I care about what happens to you, even if you weren’t my mate.  I would do anything within my power to give you a life that you’d be proud of, give you structure, give you a home and affection like any real family would.  But whether you want to admit it or not, you are my mate.  And because of that I will die before I let anything happen to you.  You are my one shot at being happy, having a real home and a real family of my own, Trey.  You don’t have to love me.  You don’t have to want me.  But trust me.  You have to trust me, Trey.”
Trey clung to Greg as he let out a lifetime’s worth of grief.  He fell against his mate, letting his body melt.  Greg’s strong arms held him up; a strong man, both physically and emotionally, who refused to let Trey sink.  Greg kissed Trey’s hair, still stunned over what he was doing, of who he was holding, and the things he’s revealed to a man he didn’t know.  Acceptance perfumed from Trey’s body.  Greg could feel the rapid beat of Trey’s heart begin to stabilize.
“I’ll get you killed,” Trey finally whispered.  “They’ll kill you for helping me.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Trey.”  Quin ruffled Trey’s hair, and then pulled away at Greg’s warning growl.  “We have a plan.”
Greg nodded against Trey’s head, marking his mate with his cheek like a fucking animal.  He wanted his scent left behind, even if his mated signature could be dangerous when they moved past the Guards.  He eyed Quin, and was relieved to see confidence in his best friend’s gritty stare.  “Let’s do it.”
“I’ll alert Jaska.”
“Quin, don’t.”  Greg shot out a hand.  “Don’t you dare.”
“Like he doesn’t know, Greg.  Trust me, he knows and if there’s anything you need to remember about him, it’s that he’s just as loyal to you as I am.  We need him, Gregory.”
“If he gets hurt because of this, Quin…”
“I know.  You’ll tear my balls off. Got it.”  Quin got up from his crouch, and then the phone on the desk shrilled through the silence.
Greg tensed, holding on to Trey with the protectiveness of his true inner beast.  “Shit.”
To be continued…


  1. As the saying goes, shit's about to get real! Loving this as always. This chapter is great. Lots of emotions, lots of stuff happening. Can't wait to see what happens next :)

  2. That what an awesome chapter Night. Like always you know how to keep us hooked with your cliffhanger. Where is a time machine when you need one?

  3. This chapter was truly amazing! When Greg recounted the story of the homeless guy I almost cried! Can't wait for the next chapter!!!

  4. Breathless, fighting back the tears. Smothering under the effects of crippling emotions. And you leave me like this? As much as I love you, your killing me. LOL
    Seriously though, this was an unbelievably amazing chapter. How you can evoke so much emotion in one chapter boggles my mind. (Not that my poor feeble mind need much help in that department!)
    As always thank you for this incredible journey your are leading us on. I wait on the edge of my seat for the next chapter.
    At least Friday is not that far away and i get my fix of you and Elaine with Flash Friday.
    Thank you again.

  5. Amazing chapter!!! Can't wait for the next chapter/installment!!!!

  6. You don't need feed back you're perfect everything you write is amazing. I loved this

  7. Wow, very emotional,loved it! Thanks too for making it nice and long! Can't wait for more!

  8. Ok, so you've been a great storyteller for a looong time. Reading this, I realized that you have - after tons of practice and hours of creative heartache - become a true author (baby's growing up). Wanna know how I know? It's all in the realism and beauty of a single sentence from this part:

    "Jade green eyes ringed in dark brown took Greg’s breath away, reminding him of a summer leaf crippling under the chilly hand of fall."

    Beautifully written. That one sentence made my creative day; the visual made my heart sing.

    Congratulations, Night!


  9. OH, Wizard of Words! **bowing low** You can write a rant like nobody's business!! Alex/Trey laid it all out there..and Greg's telling of his turning point? Awesome. I love this story (as if you didn't already know). :o)

  10. OMG, another amazing chapter. Sooo Good! Beautifully written and full of emotions. Well done!

    And love your playlist for this chapter! Even after all these years I still love Til Tuesday! I bought the album when it first came out, way back when they were called records not vinyl, lol! Yeah, I’m showing my age :).

  11. How do you do it Night!
    Every time I read something new from you,my expectations are always surpassed!
    This is so damn good.
    Can't wait for more.


  12. I never fought back the tears. I let them pour! What a chapter. So beautiful and so dark as well. Both of Trey's an Greg's stories are full of emotions I couldn't stop crying! Thank you!

  13. This chapter was perfect. Especially loved when Greg was taking in his mate's fear (hiding behind a chair, begging not to be raped and killed) and interpretation of the situation. Then there was the resignation...
    Can't wait til the end of this week!! You make my day every time you post!