“Okay, I think we’re done.”
John felt a last dragging swipe on his shoulder and then the tattoo gun went silent. Sitting up from the rest he’d been curled against for the last two hours, he stretched his arms over his head and pulled his torso back into shape.
“Gimme a sec and I’ll clean you up.”
As the human male headed for a stainless steel sink, John settled his weight on his spine once again, and let the tingling hum that stretched across his upper back reverberate through his whole body.
John had always gotten sunburn. No matter how much goo they slathered on him, his skin had always burned to a crisp- until they finally relegated him to shade on the porch. Forced to wait things out on the sidelines, he’d watched the other boys and girls do their thing, listening to the laughter roll across the bright green grass, having his food brought to him and eating alone, witnessing the fun instead of being a part of it.
Funny, his back felt now as his skin had then: tight and prickly, especially as the tattoo artist came back with a wet cloth and made circles over the fresh ink.
Man, John could remember dreading that annual ordeal at the lake. He’d wanted so badly to be with others… although, if he was honest, that had been less about what they were doing, and more because he was desperate to fit in. For fuck’s sake, they could have been chewing on glass shards and bleeding down the front of their shirts and he still would have been all, sign-me-up.
Those six hours on that porch with nothing but a comic book or maybe a fallen bird’s nest to inspect and reinspect had seemed as long as months. Too much time to think and yearn. He’d always hoped to be adopted and in lonely moments like that the drive had consumed him: Even more than being one among the other little boys, he’d wanted a family, a real mother and a father, not just guardians who were paid to raise him.
He’d wanted to be owned. He’d wanted someone to say you’re mine.
Of course, now that he knew what he was... now that he lived as a vampire among vampires, he understood that ‘owning’ thing much more clearly. Sure, humans had a concept of family units and marriage and all that shit, but vampires were more like pack animals. Blood ties and matings were far more visceral and all-consuming.
As he thought about his younger, sadder self, his chest ached- although not because he wished he could reach back in time and tell that little kid that his parents were coming for him. Nope, he ached because the very thing he’d wanted had nearly destroyed him. His adoption had indeed come, but the ‘owning’ hadn’t stuck. Wellsie and Tohr had waltzed into his life, told him what he was and shown him a brief glimpse of home… and then disappeared.
So he could say categorically, it was far worse to have had and lost parents, than have not had them at all.
Yeah, sure, Tohr was technically back in the Brotherhood’s mansion, but to John he was ever away: even though he was now saying the right things, too many take offs had occurred such that now that a landing might actually have occurred, it was too late.
John was done with that whole Tohr thing.
“Here’s a mirror. Check ‘er out, my man.”
John nodded a thank you and went over to a full lengther in the corner. As Blay came back in from his cigarette and Qhuinn emerged from behind the side room’s curtain, John turned around and got a look-see at what was doing on his back.
It was exactly what he wanted. And the scroll work was boss.
He nodded as he moved the hand mirror around, checking out every angle. Man, it was kind of a shame that no one other than his boys were ever going to see this. The tat was spectacular.
Xhex’s name was in his skin. Ever a part of him. ‘Til death did his flesh decay off his bones.
No matter what happened next, whether he found her dead or alive, she would always be with him.
The sight of those four Old Language characters eased him. Which was more than he could say of anything else he’d tried. Drinking, working out to exhaustion, fighting lessers until they weren’t the only ones bleeding... nothing gave him any peace.
These last two weeks since her abduction had been the longest of his life. And he’d had some pretty fucking long days before this shit.
God, to not know where she was. To not know what had happened to her. To have lost her... he felt as if he’d been mortally injured though his skin was intact and his arms and legs unbroken and his chest unpenetrated by bullet or blade.
She hadn’t wanted him, true. She had shut him out, true. But here was the thing: After having become toxic over the rejection, it had dawned on him that although she didn’t feel the same way he did, he could still own his own emotions.
He could still pledge his life to her. And kill to find her. And bring her home in whatever condition she was in- whether it was to heal her or bury her.
She was his. And the lack of reciprocation didn’t change that reality. Even if he got her back just so she could live a life that didn’t include him, that was okay. He just wanted her safe and alive.
Guess that was how he knew he really did love her.
John looked at the artist, put his hand over his heart and bowed deeply. As he rose from his position of gratitude, the man stuck his palm out.
“You’re welcome, man. Means a lot that you approve. Let me cover it up now with some wrap.”
After they shook, John signed and Blay translated, “Not necessary. He heals lightning quick.”
“But it’s going to need time to-” The tattoo artist leaned in and then frowned as he inspect where he’d worked.
Before the guy started asking questions, John stepped back and grabbed his shirt from Blay. The fact was, the ink they’d brought with them had been lifted from V’s stash- which meant part of its composition included salt. That name and those fabulous swirls were in John’s skin permanently- and his skin had already healed.Which was one advantage of being a nearly pure bred vampire.
Blaylock handed over John’s jacket, and as the woman Qhuinn had balled came out from behind the side room’s curtain, it was hard not to notice the Blay’s pained expression. As someone who also had their shorties in a pinch over the whole unrequited love thing, John’s first impulse was to reach out to his buddy, but he held off.
Sometimes all a guy had going for him was his dignity.
“The tat rocks,” Qhuinn said.
As the woman nodded and slipped a piece of paper into Qhuinn’s back pocket, John wanted to tell her not to get her hopes up. Once the guy had someone that was it- kind of like his sex partners were disposable razors he used to shave off the edges of his aggression. Unfortunately said Kat Von D lookalike had stars in her eyes.
“Call me,” she whispered to him with a confidence that would fade as the days passed.
Qhuinn smiled a little. “Take care.”
At the sound of the two words, Blay relaxed, his big shoulders easing up. In Qhuinn-landia, ‘take care’ was synonymous with ‘I’m never going to see, call or fuck you again.’
John took out his wallet, which was stuffed with tons of bills and absolutely no identification, and peeled off four hundreds. Which was twice what the tat cost. As the artist started shaking his head and saying it was too much, John nodded at Qhuinn.
The two of them lifted their right palms at the humans, and then reached into those minds and covered up the memories of the last couple hours. Neither the artist nor the receptionist would have any concrete recollection of what had been done. At the most, they might have hazy dreams. At the least, they’d have a headache.
As the pair slipped into trances, John, Blay and Qhuinn walked out of the shop’s door and into the shadows. They waited until the artist shook himself into focus, went over and flipped the lock...and then it time to get back to business.
“The Iron Mask?” Qhuinn asked. His voice was a little lower than usual, evidence of post-coital satisfaction.
Blay lit up a Dunhill as John nodded and signed, They’re expecting us.
One after another, the three of them disappeared into the night. John was the last to ghost out and he paused for a moment, his instincts ringing.
Looking left and right, his laser-sharp eyes penetrated the darkness. Trade Street had a lot of neon lights and there were cars going by because it was only two a.m., but he wasn’t interested in the lit parts.
The dark alleys were the thing.
Somebody was watching them.
He put his hand inside his leather jacket and closed his palm around his dagger’s hilt. He had no problem killing the enemy, especially now when he knew damn well who had his female...and he hoped something that smelled like a week-old dead deer stepped up to him.
No such luck. Instead, his cell phone went off with a whistle. No doubt Qhuinn and/or Blay was wondering where the fuck he was.
He waited a minute more and decided the information from the Shadows was more important than throwing down with whatever slayer was hanging back in the shadows. Xhex was the focus. She was the only thing that mattered in his whole world. Getting her home safe was the be all and end all.
With vengeance flowing thick in his veins, John dematerialized into thin air, leaving nothing of himself behind.
Excerpts from LOVER MINE