A QUICK BITE

Chapter One

They were picking on her again, they always did. They lured her there under false pretences, usually with the promise of food and copious amounts of alcohol and then, whammo, they attacked her in a perfectly coordinated tag team move. The bitches.

There she was, innocently munching on a slice of pizza and trying not to watch her sister chug from a glass of blood -not that she was against it but it was kinda icky to watch when you were trying to chow down on your veggie deluxe- and they suddenly hit her with a verbal spear, thrown with such precision she was surprised she didn't have a dent between her eyes.

“So, what's going on with you and Nikos? You two seem to get on quite well.” Amethyst said it casually enough, but there was a calculated gleam in her eye that Tanzi was definitely not blind to. Being a reporter, even if it was just for a local rag, she was used to wheedling information out of her sources, not taking no for an answer and framing her questions for maximum impact. Hell, she practically invented that couldn’t-care-less tone that her sister was trying to pull off.

“It won't work you know,” she commented around a mouthful of pizza.

“What won't work?” Amy even had the cheek to sound offended, as if Tanzi had insulted their grandmother. 

“That oh-so-casual way you asked about Nikos. It won't work. There's nothing to tell, so you can stop trying to play matchmaker.”

“Oh!  As if I would!”

Even Sapphire snorted at that one.

Much as Tanzi loved both her sisters, ever since Amy had found her Soul Mate in Cassian, she thought that everyone needed to be as blissfully happy as they were. Having suffered an abusive relationship and survived, learning to love and trust again with Cassian, Amy was now a firm believer that no one was truly complete unless they were part of a pair. And now that Sapphire had hooked up with Avery, becoming ridiculously perky and annoying in the process, Amy was even more determined to get Tanzi mated off as soon as possible. 

She'd already had to sit through nearly an hour of her sisters singing the praises of their respective partners, going into the smallest details of every aspect of their relationship. How perfect they were, how good they were to them, how well they treated them and how good the sex was. Quite honestly, Tanzi was sick of it being the only topic of conversation.

 

“OK, OK, I admit it, I'm interested.  You know how I feel about this. I can't lose you, and now that Sapphire and I are going to practically live forever, we want you to do the same.” Her voice shook and her face crumpled up in that way that warned tears were imminent if Tanzi didn't do something fast.

It wasn't that Tanzi was against meeting someone, especially someone supernatural, she fully understood her sister’s point. She didn't particularly relish the idea of growing old and saggy titted while they stayed all youthful and gorgeous for the rest of their lives, leaving her to shrivel up and die a bitter old hag witch with nothing but a few dozen cats for company. But she wanted to find someone in her own time. She didn't want to be pushed into a relationship just because she needed a Mate. Love wasn't like that. Her sisters had found true love, the kind of love that shone from the eyes whenever they looked at each other, the way they were wrapped up in each other’s lives as if they had always been there. That was real love. And that was what she wanted too.

Tanzi sighed, dropped her half-eaten slice of pizza back in the box and snatched up her wine glass instead, taking a large swallow before speaking.

 

“I know you're just trying to help, and I understand why, I really do. But there's nothing going on with Nikos, not really.”

Her sisters raised their eyebrows in unison, clearly not believing her. Damn them for knowing her too well.

“OK, so we bump crotches on a regular basis, and yes, I'm staying with him when I could be staying here. I get all that, I know what it looks like. But it's nothing serious and it won't turn in to anything serious either. He warned me from the start that he wasn't looking for a long-term relationship, so I'd be stupid to think otherwise. I'm just having fun while it's on offer. It's not like I'm about to drop dead any moment, I’m young…ish, I have time. I'm sure when the right person comes along, I'll know it.”

She said this so convincingly, she almost believed it herself.  Unfortunately, the problem with trying to lie to yourself, is the fact that it very rarely, if ever, works. And there it was, that annoying little voice in the back of her mind, the one that seemed to twist her heart just a little every time it spoke up. The one that told her she had met the right person, and that she was already a little bit in love with him. He just didn't feel the same way. And wasn't that just a kick in the butt?

“Fun? Is that really all it is? Just sex? I mean, you two seem to have a lot more going on than that.” Sapphire spoke up for the first time. She wasn't one to indulge in idle chat or to butt in and voice her opinion unless she felt that she had something worth saying. For her to comment with a question told Tanzi that her sisters were seeing the truth of the situation no matter how much she denied.

Tanzi nodded, fingers toying with the stem of her wineglass, not meeting their eyes.

“It is more than just sex, or, at least I feel it is. It's comfortable, you know? Like I've known him forever. It's been so easy, fitting him into my life. I didn't think it would be, everyone else I've been with has either tried to change me, to hold me back and make me be sensible. They would try to convince me that everything I believed in is pure rubbish. But Nikons just lets me be me. We've got a nice little routine going, sometimes he cooks, and sometimes I order in. We sit and chat about everything and anything, or we can sit in total silence and it's not awkward. He really seems to care about me and my work, and I’ve been learning all about Wolf culture.  It's been good, better than good. And I don't know what to do, because he obviously doesn’t feel the same way about me as I do him.”

She took another long drink of wine and topped up her glass, not wanting to meet the sympathetic gazes of her sisters. She knew that they heard the unsaid words that hung in the air, they knew that she liked him way more than she was letting on, so much so that she was far along the road to love. But it wasn't her choice.

She looked up when she heard her sisters whispering furiously to each other, something that had never boded well since they were kids. They were up to something, and she knew it.

“OK, spill it.”

Their heads snapped up; eyes wide like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

“Spill what? There's nothing to-” Sapphire was cut off by a sharp jab of an elbow to the ribs. She glared at her sister as she rubbed her side. “Fine, you do it.”

“Tell me what?” Tanzi was highly suspicious now, they were definitely avoiding telling her something. “Whatever it is, you know that it's better to just tell me, rather than make me find out for myself.”

Amy sighed, knowing she was beaten.

“Alright. We've been thinking, well, talking about this issue… “

“What issue? Since when has there been an issue? Why didn’t you tell me there was an issue?” Tanzi demanded, interrupting.

“We’re telling you now,” Sapphire pointed out, like that made everything better.

“The one where you grow old, lose your boob spring and die, or have an accident.  We can't handle that. And since you seem so adamant that you and Nikos are a no go, Cassian… well, he suggested that maybe you should consider turning.”

“It's really not so bad,” Sapphire hurriedly added, as if to sweeten the deal her sister had offered. “You don't feel the pain, not really, it’s all very abstract and once you wake up, you feel a bit like you're suffering from a bad hangover and are craving a fried breakfast. Thirsty and hungry, all at the same time. But you also feel good, so good. Stronger than you have ever been before, and healthy, nothing hurts. And once it's over, you never have to worry again, we won’t have to worry again. We won’t worry that something or someone will hurt you.”

Tanzi expected to be shocked, they had honestly just suggested that she voluntarily let herself be killed and then turned, something that was never guaranteed to be a success, yet surprisingly she wasn't. It wasn't that she didn't like Vampires, she did. She knew rather a lot about them, knew and liked quite a few of them, and she was well known for being a bit of a champion of all beings, but that didn't mean she wanted to be one. She liked the sun and food too much to give it up if she didn't have to. It just wasn't for her.

“No.”

“But…  you can't just say no.” Amy was looking at her like she was a nasty bug on her nice, clean windshield. 

“I can, and I did.” Tanzi shrugged, reaching for her pizza, yelping as Sapphire slapped her hand away. “Hey!”

“Do you realise what you are turning down?”

Tanzi nodded, rubbing the back of her hand and sliding a sideways glare at her sister. “I get it. You want me to be safe. But that might not be in my future. You two, you were destined to meet Cassian and Avery, and to be with them. I might not be. If I'm destined to find someone to make me happy, someone to live with and love with, then I will. What if I did accept this turning and it worked, but then I met someone, they tried to turn and it didn't work, if they died, I’d be left alone for eternity. I don't want that. I've always lived my life this way, believing in fate and the fact that what will be, will be. And so, if it's to be then cool, but it will happen on my terms and that's final.”

Everyone was silent for a good few minutes, not really knowing what to say, and Tanzi couldn’t stand it. She broke the silence with the first thing that came to mind.

“There’s been a report of a troll living under London Bridge, right under the far-left arch. Apparently, he stole a woman's shoe right off her foot when she walked home from a night out.”

And just like that, the room was once again full of chatter as her sisters launched into a spirited discussion on the possibility of a troll claiming squatter’s rights. Tanzi relaxed back in her chair, picking up her cold slice of pizza, safe for the moment.

 

 

                                            ***

 

“I'm telling you we cannot allow this madness to continue!”  Leonardo smacked his palm down onto the table in front of him, the sound like a gunshot in the room, shocking the others into silence. “This will bring nothing but death and destruction, mark my words. I want no part of this.” He shook his head, as if reinforcing his stand, his hair fanning around his face, moving in soft waves as it settled back around his shoulders. It was the colour of spun gold, flashed through with strands of copper and bronze, the whole effect giving a glimpse at the beast within, his lion’s mane prominent even in his human form.

“Oh, come now, Leo, surely it cannot be as bad as all that, you worry too much.” Giselle, the female elder for the leopard pride, waved a dismissive hand. “These meetings bore me. What will be, will be. “

“This isn’t something you can just brush off, Giselle. It is something that will affect us all, something that will change our lives, don’t you see that? This is a threat to us all. We will be hunted in the streets, our young will be attacked and killed, you know this!” Leonardo took a deep breath, apparently gearing up to spout more dire warnings, but was interrupted when a polite cough sounded behind him.

More than twenty heads immediately swiveled in the direction of the doorway and the man that stood there.

“Nikos,” Imani inclined her head in greeting, prompting several others to do the same, although most refused to acknowledge his presence. This didn’t bother nor stop him, he was more than used to being ignored or treated like a child who knew nothing of the real world, something that was particularly frustrating for someone of his age.

Mathias, the elder of the wolf clan, shot a look at Imani, but wisely held his tongue. It wasn’t done to glare at an ancient just for greeting someone, but he sure wished he could. In the world of Mathias, he was right and anyone that had a view that differed from his own, was wrong, plain and simple.

Nikos took the one remaining empty seat and settled back in the chair, looking calm and collected as dozens of eyes rested on him, watching his every move.

Imani took charge, raising a hand to silence the murmurings that had begun to rumble through the assembled beings.

“We called you here today to give your views on this threat. Please begin.”

Nikos shook his head lightly, a smile on his face. “I hardly call it a threat, though I’m sure to some who prefer not to partake of the modern world, it must seem like a rather strange concept.” Keep it polite, Nik, he reminded himself, don’t insult them by reminding them just how out of touch they really are.

Beings such as those gathered there were used to knowing all there was to know about the world, although for them that referred more to history than to modern times. They didn’t concern themselves with the problems of mortals, things like war and terrorism was only something to worry about if it affected them directly, otherwise they simply hauled up in their own corner of the globe and waited for it to blow over. And when you had lived as long as they had, you knew that eventually everything came out in the wash, you just had to wait long enough.

The elders were not impressed with his starting words.

“What do you mean, it’s not a threat?” Leonardo roared, literally roared, a sound that shook the cavernous room in which they sat. “You cannot sit there and tell us that you truly believe it. You cannot say that you think revealing our existence to the world would be a good thing? How stupid a pup are you?”

Nikos tried to stay calm, he really did, knowing that he had to make his point as eloquently as possible, giving them his opinion, making them see that, even if they couldn’t agree with him, there was always another point of view. But that didn’t mean he was about to let someone walk all over him and basically call him an ignorant child.

“Yes, I can sit here and tell you that.” He rose from his chair and leant forward, arms resting on the tabletop. “You sit here in your protected, safe little world, when really you are the ones that are ignorant.” Cue the disgusted splutters as they all began to talk at him at once. He straightened, allowing them to yell themselves into silence. It took a while. But finally, he was able to finish.

“I did not mean to be insulting, I know you are the most intelligent, fair and just members of your species, or you wouldn’t be sitting here at all. But in protecting yourselves and those under you, you have neglected to follow the outside world. It is not the world you left behind. It is no longer ruled by superstition, people are open minded and in fact, they rather like us. Or the Hollywood view of us, anyway. They are intrigued by us; they find us a thing of mystery and magic. They want to believe that we are out there. They are fascinated by us and all we are, there had never been a better time to show ourselves for what we truly are.”

He looked around, seeing the look of disbelief on many a face, though maybe one or two looked a little interested.

 

“We are sick of hiding, of building up businesses and friendships, only to be forced to move on and leave everything behind. Plus, the humans, their technology is a lot more advanced than it used to be, now you cannot simply pay someone to create a new birth certificate, they have everything on record, everything on computer, easily found by anyone who wishes to look.” He paused to make sure that everyone, or at least the majority of them, were paying attention before continuing.

“It is getting harder and harder to stay hidden, to disappear when we should be growing older, to not arouse suspicion. The mundanes, they have cameras everywhere, they carry telephones in their pockets with cameras on them, they record everything, they see everything, and they gossip about it. In this world of social media…”  The blank look was back on many of the faces that watched him intently.

“You know, social media, things like Twitter and Facebook?”

“A book of faces?” Adal asked, a look of confusion marring the pale perfection of his face. The Fey nobleman seemed to shimmer as he shook his golden head, his hair settling around his shoulders as if blown there by a gentle breeze. “I know not of which you speak, or this, Twitter. Is that not what the birds do?”

 

Nikos sighed, knowing this could take a while.

 

 

                                             ***

 

Nikos was pissed off, raging in fact, as he stormed out of the meeting hall to the expectant faces of his fellow campaigners.

“So, what did they say?” Tobias practically galloped alongside Nikos as he struggled to keep up with his long-legged stride.

“No.”

“No?”

“They said no,” Nikos growled as he threw open the heavy oak doors that led to the outside world.

“Just no? That’s it? That can’t be it.”

“That’s it.” Nik confirmed as he descended the stairs of the former church and crossed the grounds to where their cars stood.

“They didn’t even listen?” Toby stopped suddenly, causing Geoffrey to plow into the back of him and almost knock the smaller male flying.

Nikos sighed, raking his fingers through his hair in frustration as he turned back to his friends. “No, they didn’t listen, and honestly, I didn’t expect them to. They are part of that which we’re fighting. They are so stuck in their ways that they refuse to listen to reason, to see that there is any other way but theirs.”

“Cowards,” Geoffrey snarled, the large tiger flexing his fingers, clenching and unclenching into fists, as if he would like nothing better than to walk back inside and start swinging some punches, although, thankfully he had control over himself.

They had all decided, when they began the campaign, that they wouldn’t resort to violence. That was never the way to move forward. They needed to educate, not dictate, or they would be no better than the council members that were stuck in the dark ages.

“They can’t do this,” Toby raged, “they can’t just brush us off. We aren’t children to be controlled, to be told no and expected to just accept it and move on. I refuse.”

“As do I, my friend,” Nikos agreed. “But we can’t just rush in there, all guns blazing. We need to be patient, to think things through and conduct our campaign with dignity. They aren’t the ones we truly need to convince”

Toby looked like he was about to argue, his mouth opening, but after he received a warning look from Nikos, he stopped and nodded.

“You’re right, mate. You’re right. What we need is support, people that get our way of thinking, people that understand our goal and sympathise with it. I get it now; we can't go in there like a bull in a china shop and just demand to be listened to. They will shoot us down quicker than we can blink. No, we need to make them listen, come at them in a way that gives them no choice but to sit up and pay attention.” He slapped Nikos on the back, grinning. “What would we do without you? You're always the levelheaded one.”

Nikos grinned back. “You’d all end up in deep shit, that's where you'd be.” He laughed as he got in his car and slammed the door shut, winding down the window to lean out. “I gotta run, my shift starts in an hour.”

Tobias nodded, waving him off as Nikos spun the car around and took off down the drive, his mind already churning, running over the meeting in his mind, wondering what, if anything, he could have done differently.

 

                                                ***

 

Nikos wasn't home by the time she made her way back to his flat from Avery's place that he now shared with Sapphire. The house the sisters had all shared up until a month ago was still uninhabitable after the fire that had almost completely gutted it.

 

Tanzi tossed her keys on the hall table and immediately started flipping on lights, illuminating the house as brightly as the midmorning sun. She had found that she couldn’t settle until she had checked that she was safe and alone. The fire had been no accident, neither had her sisters’ turning and, even though the culprits had been caught, it didn't stop her from feeling nervous when she was home alone.

Opening the hall cupboard, she took out the baseball bat that Nikos kept there and held it loosely in one hand. She didn't really believe she was in any danger, but she was well known for having a rather active imagination, something that was great for her work but not so great when coming home at 3am.

With her free hand, she delved in her pocket until she found the long, slender quartz crystal she always carried. She balanced it on the palm of her hand and held her arm up around chest height, whispering the words of the spell she now knew off by heart.

“Crystal pure, crystal true, right here and now, I beg of you. Search them out and point to me, those who are here but should not be.”

She held her breath as she waited, her eyes riveted on the crystal, but as usual it lay still in her hand with not even a flicker of movement. 

Feeling better, she tucked it back in her pocket and returned the bat to its shelf in the cupboard, finally relaxing enough to make herself a cup of chamomile tea and settle on the couch. The TV was a comforting rumble in the background as she wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and retrieved her laptop from the coffee table, figuring she would try to get a little work done before Nikos came in.

She tried to focus, she really did, but her mind was as far away from bridge trolls and fainting fairies as it could possibly be. Her sisters always managed to stir up uneasy thoughts in her mind, always made her question everything, even when she didn't want to.

As usual, when she needed guidance, as well as an escape from her own head, she reached into her bag and pulled out her most faithful friends, her Tarot Card deck, the one that had once belonged to their mother. She shuffled the pack, trying to blank her mind of everything but the question she had in her thoughts. She fanned the cards out in her best street magician way and let her hand hover over them before picking one she felt drawn to. She turned it over, not at all surprised with the picture she saw, her mother’s voice clear in her mind as she recalled the meaning she had taught her.

The Moon: Your personal faith will be tested and it’s hard to think clearly. You are confused and easily distracted with fear and anxiety haunting your thoughts. Paranoia, deception and secret enemies put your security at risk and your friends and family in danger. Bad luck for those you love.

Unfortunately, instead of soothing her anxieties, it only managed to make them worse.

Right at that moment, all she wanted was to talk to Nikos, to curl up to his side and feel his comforting warmth sinking into her bones, his arm draped around her shoulders as they watched some old horror movie. Just like they used to before her house had burnt down, and before she had become too much of a wimp to watch them on her own. That was all she seemed to be at the moment, alone.

Nikos was hardly ever home, and she really missed him. Not just that but she couldn’t help feeling suspicious and jealous of whatever it was that was taking up all his time, because she spent more than enough time with her sisters at Carpe Noctem, to know that it wasn't work that was commanding his attention. 

She knew she had no rights to him, that he didn't owe her anything, but she couldn’t help it. She'd asked him where he'd been, of course she had, but every explanation he gave her seemed more like a flimsy excuse. She knew he was lying to her; she could feel it. And she hated it. She had felt like they were closer than that, even if -as Nikos kept saying over and over again- they weren’t in a relationship, they still lived together at least for now. So, she could be forgiven for feeling like she at least deserved the truth. It wasn't too much to ask.

She couldn’t help the direction that her mind drifted off in, the one that conjured up visions of Nikos with others, doing with them the things that he did with her. He was feeling more and more distant as the days crawled by and she felt like it was his way of pulling back from her, so that very soon, he would tell her they were done with whatever their little arrangement was.

She didn't understand his reasons for even having her there with him if he didn't want to be with her. Why had he insisted that she move in with him rather than staying with one of her sisters at their Mate’s places, if he didn't really want her? They still slept in the same bed, he still kissed her goodnight and pulled her closer in his sleep as he always had, but it sometimes felt like he was there in body, but his mind was elsewhere.

She wasn't one to play games, she was a straightforward kind of female that didn't hold back when it came to voicing her opinions and, at that moment, she was more confused than she had ever been before. 

The answer came to her in the form of her computer chiming, indicating that she had a new email. For want of anything better to do, she clicked to open it. It was from a friend of a friend, one that was planning on taking a six-month long research trip, and needed a short term let on his flat. Without thinking it through, she fired off a reply, accepting his offer.

Her own space, that was what she needed.  If Nikos was going to distance himself from her, she would do the same to him.