Saturday, May 28, 2011

Revenge of the Troll

Jack and I had all kinds of problems working together. He snapped at me for every little thing, and was generally a grouch. I didn’t hold it against him. He had good reason. Hopefully, after a while, he’d forgive me, and we’d go back to being a well-oiled team. I missed my partner, maybe even more than I missed my boyfriend.
We had a couple of routine calls, one heart attack false alarm. Guy was just having a panic attack. An old lady fell and broke a hip, a motorcyclist took a tumble, broke a leg and lost some skin, and a guy rolled his brand new sports car. The car took a lot more damage than he did, but he acted so heartbroken, you’d have thought it was his wife lying on her back, shattered and bent.
Then we got a call about a possible OD, someone passed out on the sidewalk downtown on 6th, unresponsive. It was originally dispatched to one of the other units, Angela and the new guy, Terry, that I’d almost gotten saddled with. They turned it down. Too far away, they said.
That made a little irritated line appear between Jack’s brows. Their last reported position was only a few blocks from there. A lot of the EMTs don’t like taking OD calls. They can get violent, and are almost always pretty disgusting.
We were only a quarter mile away, ourselves. Jack radioed in and took it.
Jack’s taken calls to haul away gunshot wounded bystanders in the middle of gang fights. He doesn’t scare easy. He also always keeps an up close style of taser on his belt, even when he’s off duty, and I’ve seen him take out a Protector with it. Jack can take care of himself.
And besides, after being one of the three only super-powered defenders of the city of Austin for a few weeks while the Protectors were off making headlines, I felt pretty confident of my own ability to handle one, lone addict if things got rough.
Then, we arrived, I saw who it was, and my confidence in my ability to handle him dropped several notches. It was the obnoxious troll that I’d run across at Stubb’s on my date with Vlad. The six-four mountain of bad-mannered jerk was no longer unconscious. He was awake, pissed, and tossing bar bouncers off of him like a Heisman trophy winner shedding linemen.
Apparently, the bouncers of the bar he’d staggered out of before passing out on the sidewalk had tried to get him to go drool on himself somewhere else. A stinking passed out drunk in front of your bar isn’t the best advertisement. The jerk had woken up mad and started taking it out on anyone within range.
We really could’ve used the Elvis Avenger about then.
Jack and I approached the big guy cautiously. There were a half dozen well-muscled men lying around the area groaning in pain or crumpled in heaps.
I tried to get Jack to hang back and let me handle it. “This guy’s a supe, Jack. I’ve seen him before. Strength and invulnerability enough to take out a Protector.”
Jack just gave me a dirty look and kept walking. “Hey, big guy. How about you let us give you a ride home?”
The troll panted and wobbled on his feet. He seemed to have trouble focusing on us. “She kicked me out, the bitch.” He rubbed his hand over his face.
Jack made sympathetic noises. He edged slowly closer to the massively muscled wall of drunken rage. “That bites. Women can really mess you up.”
“She cheated on me!” the troll yelled at Jack. “We’ve only been dating a few weeks, and she’s already got some other guy.” He gestured wide and took out a bike rack.
Jack snorted. “Same exact thing just happened to me. What is it with women, huh?” He got within arm’s reach of the troll and didn’t get hit. “I’ll tell you what. You can crash on my couch until you find a new place.”
“Really?” The guy blinked a couple of times and focused carefully on Jack’s face. “I don’t even know you, dude.”
“It’s no big deal. Just try not to break anything, and be nice to my cat.” Jack got under one of the guy’s tree trunk arms, and started guiding him toward the ambulance.
“I like cats. Thanks, dude. You’re great, you know that?” The troll hugged Jack and I could hear him gasp for air. “I won’t forget this.”
Jack patted the guy on the back, and shoved him off hard so he could catch a breath.
“I’m Brad,” the troll said and thrust a callused hand big enough to palm a basketball at him as he staggered along. “Brad Spiers.”
“Jack Nguyen.” Jack squeezed his big hand and kept him moving, one staggering half step at a time.
Brad? The obnoxious drunken super jerk was named Brad?!
I’d just stayed out of the way during this whole thing. Jack clearly had things under control. I opened one of the back double doors of the ambulance, figuring I could help with that at least.
Brad, the obnoxious troll, squinted at me. “YOU!” He pointed a wobbly finger at me. “You’re that scaly dude’s girlfriend! I remember you.”
“Vlad is not my boyfriend, Jack is.”
“I am not,” Jack said.
He looked at Jack under his arm, and somehow his drunken brain made the connection. “You’re the one who cheated on Jack!”
“I did not cheat on … well I mean, not exactly.”
Jack raised one eyebrow like Mister Spock. I could never do that.
“Okay, well sort of, but it was just one date, and Vlad saved my life. I kind of owed him.”
Brad shoved Jack aside, grabbed me by both arms just under the shoulders, and lifted me up off my feet so he could bellow in my face. “You two-timing, fickle little bitch!” He shook me a little to emphasize each syllable.
His breath was enough to make me dizzy. What did he do? Drink the whole bar?
“Put her down,” Jack said calmly. “I got this.”
Brad didn’t even seem to register that Jack was talking.
“What is it with women? Why do you do this to us?”
“Put me down!” I said. His hand was bruising the heck out of my right arm, and the shaking was getting old.
“I treated you great,” Brad said, half sobbing as he shook me. “Bought you stuff, told you you were hot. What did I do wrong?” Brad’s drink fuzzled brain was not going in a direction I wanted to see through.
There was no way my arms were moving so I kicked Brad as hard as I could in the family jewels.
He bellowed like a wounded elk, but instead of dropping me, he lifted me higher so I couldn’t reach to kick him where even supes tend to be a bit tender. “Bitch!” He slammed my back against the still closed ambulance door hard enough to knock my breath out.
“Um, Jack, a little help here?” I gasped.
I saw Jack pull out his taser and thought things were going to get better. Then a teeth jarring, agonizing jolt made my legs and body jerk uncontrollably.
Apparently, Brad wasn’t affected by electricity, but he made one heck of a conductor. I, on the other hand, reacted to electricity just like anyone else would.
Even after Jack stopped with the taser, I just sort of twitched for a while.
Brad whipped around to face Jack, letting my limp, twitchy self dangle by one arm. “Dude, that wasn’t cool.”
“Neither is slamming my girl… partner around,” Jack said. “Let her go.”
“Bitch cheated on you, dude.” He held me up to show him like a twitchy rag doll visual aid.
I think I drooled on myself. Not exactly one of my most shining moments.
“Yeah, I know,” Jack said. He stepped in close so that my body blocked Brad’s view of his hand as he reached into his back pocket. He pulled out a shiny metal tube, popped a protective plastic tip off with his thumb, and I realized it was a syringe.
Jack reached up with his left arm and patted Brad’s shoulder. With his right hand, he jabbed that needle into the crook of the beefy arm that held me. “I appreciate the thought, though. This’ll help you sleep. We’ll talk more in the morning.”
Brad twitched a little when the needle went in smooth as silk, and he looked dimly surprised. “Needles don’t work on me. Couldn’t even get a measles shot when I was a kid.”
His eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed in a 400 pound heap. Fortunately, he fell backward into the ambulance, not on me.
Jack twirled the syringe like an old west gunfighter with a six shooter, picked up the plastic tip off the ground and put it back on. “That’s because vaccination guns don’t have diamondite needles.”
That’s because diamondite needles cost like $500 apiece. We have a few at the hospital. Some supes with invulnerability, that’s the only thing that’ll pierce it, so we keep a couple on hand. But they’re under lock and key, and you have to sign about 20 forms to get them.
When I could talk again, I asked Jack, “Where did you get a syringe full of supe effective sedative with a diamondite needle?”
Jack shrugged as he helped me shakily to my feet. “Got the syringe same place I got the taser, on-line. I got the sedative from one of the docs who owes me. I didn’t think there would be time to radio in a request if I really needed it.”
“That’s what I call being prepared for anything.”
Jack grinned and gave me a three fingered salute. “I'm an eagle scout. I’m always prepared.”
I looked down at the sleeping giant, half in and half out of the ambulance.
“So, Mr. Prepared, how are we going to get this guy into the unit?”
Jack shrugged, grinning wider. “That’s your department, partner.” He actually whistled as he got in the drivers’ seat of the ambulance, leaving me to deal with 400 lbs of unconscious stinking drunk.
At least Jack was in a better mood.

Dee Dragon

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jack of All

When I went to work last night, the boss told me I had a new partner, some new guy.
“Jack is my partner,” I said.
“Well, Jack requested a transfer to a new unit.” He said it in a really grating singsong, like a kid taunting another kid on the playground. He didn’t have to say any more. If Jack, the model employee with the best attendance and punctuality record out of all of us, wanted to get away from the company slacker and onto a new team, he got his transfer.
“But Jack is MY partner,” I said again, as if that would help.
My boss’s face got a pinched expression of perverse glee. “Jack WAS your partner. Now, he’s Angela’s partner.” Angela was the team hottie, all big brown eyes and curves, and she was even nice. Jack told me before, when we were just friends, that he liked her.
“We’ll see about that.” I ran into the bay where the ambulances park. As usual, I was running late, and Jack was early. He and Angela were just pulling out. I poured on the speed, feet all but tearing chunks from the concrete, and got in front of them, waving my arms. I could see through the windshield that Jack was driving, and his lips were pressed in a thin line. The ambulance didn’t slow down.
He thought I’d get out of the way.
Jack clearly did not know just how stubborn I can be. I crossed my arms, scaly armored left arm in the front and planted my feet.
He hit the brakes at the last second, but the front bumper still hit me a good solid thump. If he hadn’t hit the brakes, I’d have left a pretty big dent in the front end, and that wouldn’t have looked good on Jack’s spotless employee record.
I didn’t move. I’ve been hit by bigger vehicles at higher speeds.
Jack rolled down the window and said, “Get out of the way, Dee.”
“No.” I had an odd déjà vu. I’d swear I’d heard this conversation before somewhere.
Jack sighed. “Dee, it’s better this way. Just let me go.”
“We’re good together and you know it.”
“Someone else can work with you just as well as I could.”
“You know me, Jack. No one else does.”
He wouldn’t meet my eyes but the muscles in his jaw tightened. “Vlad does.” He said it soft enough that a human wouldn’t have heard him from outside the unit, while he was still in the driver’s seat.
Angela’s big pretty brown eyes watched the whole exchange from the passenger side.
At that moment, I really hated her. “You’ve never been a coward before, Jack. At least, come out here and talk to me face-to-face.”
Jack looked like I’d hit him when I called him a coward. Jack’s got more guts than sense sometimes. It might be his one big character flaw, but it was one of the things I loved about him. He got out of the ambulance, slammed the door, and walked around to face me.
It made my heart clench and my eyes burn. Jack knew I could throw him through a wall. Jack knew everything about me. And it didn’t phase him.
When he got up close and crossed his arms, waiting for me to say my peace, and clearly determined that nothing I was going to say would change his mind, I just stood there, wondering what I should say. He looked like he wanted to be a hundred miles from me, and I just wanted to get closer to him. “Don’t push me away. Why won’t you just talk to me?”
“There’s nothing more to say. Vlad was right.” He looked like he had a bad taste in his mouth. “He’s a much better choice for you.”
“Damn it, Jack. Shouldn’t that choice be up to me?”
“I can’t protect you. He can. You’re safer if I just get out of your way.” He crossed his arms tighter. “And I’m not going to just keep working with you every day while you date some other guy. Let it go, Dee. We’re done.”
I was losing him. I’d already lost him. There had to be something I could say that would bring him back. If I lost Jack, I wouldn’t just lose my first love, I’d lose my true partner. I’d have to go back to working with someone who didn’t know my secrets. I’d have to try to sneak in help when my partner wasn’t looking.
“Jack,” I said, and my voice broke. I had to swallow and clear my throat a little. “I need you.”
He barked a bitter laugh. “You don’t need me. I’m just a human.” He turned on his heel, grabbed the handle, and yanked the door open.
“Without you, I’ll have to watch people die again,” I whispered.
Jack laid his forehead against the metal of the door and just stood there for a few seconds, then he climbed up into the cab and closed the door.
Angela glared anger at me from the cab. She didn’t know what I said to Jack, but it was clear she didn’t like me hurting him.
She was pretty and nice, and wouldn’t get him into situations where he’d be likely to get hit by flying cars. He’d be better off with her.
I walked back into the building. I had to stop, take a deep breath, and get control.  After a couple minutes, I went back to the boss’ sliding window, where his personal space interfaced with the rest of us peons. I tried to ignore the “I told you so” smirk on the boss’ face.  “So, who’s my partner, then?” I asked, utterly defeated.
From behind me, I heard light footsteps and Jack said, “I am.”
The boss dropped the pen he always chews on because the hospital won’t let him smoke inside. “You’re shitting me. I just finished the paperwork for your transfer.”
“I changed my mind,” Jack said.
I had to blink a few times to see him clearly when I turned around. It felt like someone took a thousand pounds off my shoulders. “Why? How?” I know, gift horse – mouth, but I couldn’t help it.
“You’re right. We’ve saved a lot of lives together.”
I wanted to hug him, and I must have made some sort of movement toward him without thinking about it.
He held a hand up. “I’m your partner, Dee, nothing more.” His jaw was set hard.
“No way,” the boss said. “Your transfer is final.”
“Then fire me,” Jack said. He walked away without another word.
The boss sputtered, speechless. That was the kind of attitude he usually got from me, not Jack.
All I could do was grin so wide my face hurt.
I had my partner back. And a chance, at least, to win back my boyfriend.

Dee Dragon

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Elvis, Dracula, and a Steamed Troll

The Elvis Avenger rocked the house. He played a bunch of Elvis classics, and some new songs he’d written that were along the lines of something Elvis would have sung. He wore a rhinestone spangled jacket with a popped collar, but that was the only physical similarity. EA is a slender blonde guy. He didn’t look much like a superhero, but he was one heck of a performer. He owned the crowd, what little there was of it. I was surprised at how small the turnout was. EA isn't very well-known, either as a superhero or a singer.
Vlad shed his stuffy jacket and tie, and unbuttoned the top couple of buttons on the ruffly tuxedo shirt. It was a hot look on him, and he jammed with the rest of the crowd. When Elvis started singing Blue Suede Shoes, he dragged me to an open area off to the side, and danced with me like it was a sock hop.
We went to get a drink afterward, far enough from the music that we could talk. Vlad bought me a Sprite and some of the crawfish with Cajun spices. They dropped them live into a big boiling vat of water and spices. Even after all the great seafood I’d already eaten, I couldn’t resist.
“He is as skilled a performer as his namesake,” Vlad said as we sat at a little picnic table way in the back, still listening to the great music, but at a less overwhelming volume.
“You saw Elvis perform?”
“Many times. I lived in Las Vegas for much of the sixties and seventies. It was a tragedy that the world lost such a talent after so few years.”
“I forget that you’re as old as me, older, I mean. There aren’t many people who still remember Elvis when he was young.”
Vlad looked a little faraway. “There are a lot of things I remember that others have forgotten. The older you get, the more disconnected you can become.” Then he grinned wide. “It can make beautiful women call you a stalker if you lose track of the current cultural rules.”
“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when it was cool to stare in women’s windows at 3 AM.”
He coughed a laugh. “Perhaps not. But I have not been in danger of being arrested for it in other times.”
“It’s time to break the habit …” I broke off the banter as I watched some big ugly guy swat a girl in a short skirt on the ass. “You don’t want to be like that asshole.”
The girl turned with a “Hey!” and slapped the big bruiser in the face. “Hands off, jerk.”
The lady had guts, I have to say. The guy looked like he could snap her in half with two fingers. He looked big enough to snap Fafnir in half.
The giant jerk chuckled and invaded the lady’s personal space. He rumbled something low and no doubt obscene.
“Leave me alone,” the girl said, voice quavery as she backed up. But the crawfish stand was behind her, so she couldn’t go far.
Vlad got a look like he ate something sour, and sighed. “Some things do not change.” He walked up beside the big guy, and completely ignoring him, said, “Oh, there you are, dear. I’ve found us a good spot up front.” He held his hand out to the girl as if they were old friends.
She eagerly took the offered escape, and Vlad immediately pulled her behind him.
Big and ugly poked a finger at his chest. “I saw her first, buddy. Go back to your own bitch.” He looked over at me and grinned, showing some teeth replaced with gold. “Or, I’ll just trade you.”
Vlad took a step left, so he was standing between me and the troll. He pulled the girl along behind him. “Perhaps you should go enjoy the show from up front,” he suggested mildly over his shoulder.
“Thanks,” the girl said, and beat a hasty retreat toward the stage.
The troll tried to follow, but Vlad got in his way. It was almost comical. Vlad was about my size, 5’10” or so, with a swimmer’s sleek build. The other guy was 6’4” or so, and clearly weighed three of Vlad. It looked like an uneven match. I thought it was, too, but not the way other folks might think.
“Get out of my way, wuss.”
Predictably, the guy tried to shove Vlad out of his way.
Vlad caught his arm and pivoted around in the direction the guy was shoving, pulling the big guy with him, and adding a shove of his own once the guy was faced the opposite way. The guy stumbled a few steps, then turned around and growled. “You’re going to wish you hadn’t done that.”
“Undoubtedly,” Vlad agreed. “I already wish I’d simply taken you out, rather than trying to give you a gentle hint.”
The troll swung a bowling ball fist at Vlad’s head. Vlad ducked, stepped in close, and hit him hard in the gut with an open hand strike, a lot like I did to him the first time we met.
The guy flew backward off his feet, straight into the crawfish boiling pot. It spilled steam and boiling water mixed with cayenne all over him. He bellowed in agony, and I put a hand over my mouth, horrified.
Vlad had been gentle, not intending to do serious harm, but the boiling water and steam meant severe burns to any normal human. I might have to heal the guy. Bleah.
But he got up, and instead of blistered and burned, he just looked pissed off. He hit Vlad back, and Vlad went flying over the heads of the crowd and into the side of the building. Yikes! Not an ordinary human obnoxious jerk. This troll was a supe.
He went after Vlad, lying in a pile of splintered wood siding and looking more surprised than hurt.
I rabbit punched the troll hard in the kidneys as he was reaching for Vlad. He looked at me, laughed, and said, “You can tickle me later, after I finish off your boyfriend.”
It was hard to hear him because we were back close to the stage, and the music was louder, but I think that’s what he said. Crap. This was looking bad. A super-powered fight in the middle of a crowd of normals was a guarantee of collateral damage. And this guy wasn’t going to go down easy.
He picked up Vlad by the throat.
Vlad shifted to dragon form, doubling in size and getting black and scaly, and a lot harder to hurt, just as Heartbreak Hotel started playing at an ear-splitting volume.
The massive jerk didn’t even blink when Vlad shifted, just drew back his fist for another punch while holding Vlad’s throat in the other hand.
I had a bad feeling that invulnerable scales or not, Vlad was going to feel that punch, and it made me feel really sad and lonely. Why can’t I find a guy who can deal with me being different who isn’t from another time?
I’m always the one who doesn’t fit in in any crowd.
I looked at Vlad, and I just wanted to hug him. He understood. He’d been alone in a crowd even longer than me.
The big troll set Vlad down. Vlad hugged me hard, and held on tight. My heart was breaking. I’ve never felt so lonely in my life.
Vlad shifted back to human form, and laid his head on my shoulder. My shoulder got a little wet.
Vlad sniffled in my ear, and said, “We are being controlled. This feels too sudden and out of place.”
I looked up, and in an area several feet around us, folks were hugging each other and looking weepy. The big guy who had been about to smash in Vlad’s face was crying and the girl he’d assaulted was patting him on the shoulder. “I just didn’t want to be alone again tonight. I’m sorry,” he said, and the girl hugged him while he bawled like a baby.
"I'd totally go out with you if you'd just been nicer about asking," the girl said, tears in her eyes. "I really wanted someone to take me home tonight."
I looked up at the stage, where the Elvis Avenger sang, with the same skill and passion as the original, his gaze focused hard on the big troll, “I feel so lonely baby, I feel so lonely, I could cry.”
The superhero with the guitar and the sparkly jacket caught me looking at him with my mouth open, and winked.
Wow, that’s a hell of a superpower.
Elvis Avenger switched to a happy, upbeat song next, and the tears dried up. Folks started laughing. The big troll asked the girl he’d groped to dance, politely, and she said yes.
Vlad wiped his eyes subtly on my shirt, but didn’t stop hugging me.
I wasn’t comfortable with that much PDA, but I shifted to face the stage and let him keep his arm around my waist. “It was him, the Elvis Avenger,” I shouted into Vlad’s ear.
“Ah.” Vlad looked thoughtful for a moment, then looked at the ugly troll dancing with the pretty girl in the short skirt.  “That is a dangerous power. Imagine what might have happened if he hadn't modified the lyrics.”
I shrugged, not worried. The Elvis Avenger used his ability only to defuse a dangerous situation, and while we got caught in some bleed over, he didn’t seem to be using it the rest of the time, even though he could pack the house if he did. “He’s a Protector.” They’re sworn to use their powers only for good.
“So is White Knight,” Vlad said with an ironic twist to his lips.
I didn’t really have anything to say to that.

Dee Dragon

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dinner with Dracula, Take 2

The Elvis Avenger was in town, and I heard he was going to play a gig at Stubbs. I saw the original Elvis in concert, and went gaga over him like every other kid in that era. He really rocked the Ed Sullivan show, but seeing him in person was a life highlight. I heard that the Elvis Avenger wasn't so much an Elvis impersonator as a sort of tribute artist, and a superhero, although I'm not sure what sort of powers he has. He's one of the west coast Protectors part time adjuncts.

Since I owed Vlad a date, and I really wanted to see this modern Elvis, I called Vlad up, and told him he was taking me out. I really like the modern woman's option to be the dater, rather than just the datee.

Vlad took me out to a nice dinner before the concert, a fancy seafood place I could never afford on my salary. They had crab legs as long as my arm. We got sampler plates with ten different kinds of shrimp, crab, and shellfish cooked in a variety of ways. I've never eaten so well in my life.

It was pretty awkward at first. Vlad turns me on, and I'm dying with curiosity about a whole lot of his life, but he and I don't quite speak the same language. He showed up at my door with a single red rose, dressed in a full on tuxedo, with tails even. My purple dress, salvaged thanks to Ma's skills with a sewing machine, just didn't seem nearly so nice with him dressed to the nines, but he said I looked lovely.

Vlad took me to the fancy restaurant in a limo, opened doors for me, pulled out my chair, and was generally a perfect gentleman. Probably why I felt so odd. I'm from nowhere, Texas, raised on a farm where putting on shoes was what you did before you went into town. Vlad had the manners of an old world prince, and apparently the bank account to go with it.

He was so formal and stiff and proper and ... kind of ... boring. I was beginning to think this date was going to be the worst in the history of dating when the waiter came over and offered us a wine list. In that campy accent of his, Vlad looked at the waiter solemnly and said, "I don't drink ... wine."

I almost snorted iced tea out of my nose.

Vlad looked at me, face perfectly straight, and winked.

“You did that on purpose.” He’d even exaggerated the accent for the full effect.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But I caught on to the tiny dimple that appeared on one cheek when he was hiding a smile. It made him seem a lot less remote, and broke the ice.

“It must be weird to be so famous, but have all the ‘facts’ be so far off the truth.”

Vlad shrugged. “I give very few people my true name. To most, I am Vladimir Tchovsky, from the former Yugoslavia. These days, people expect vampires to hide from the sun so they don’t sparkle, in any case, so I no longer match the iconic literature of the times.”

“It could be worse. You could be famous for impaling people.” I said, as a joke, then realized how very unfunny that was. Open mouth, insert weird-shaped, scaly foot, with extra opposable toe.

His face lost its shadow of a smile. “Vlad Tepes was my father. He was a hero to my people, like the Protectors are now. In my homeland, a woman alone or an unarmed man carrying great wealth could travel the roads without fear. All knew that a dragon ruled, and he would not tolerate banditry or rape. The sons of Dracul had been guardians for generations, defenders of the land.”

“That’s not how history remembers you.”

“History is written by the victors, and enemies are not kind to the conquered,” He took a sip of water and his eyes flickered red. “Many hated my father for defending his home so effectively, until George came, a Roman general under orders to conquer our land. He turned the followers of Christ against us, said we were demonic. Our own priests betrayed us.”

“George, as in the original Saint George?”

Vlad nodded. “He and his men killed my father with spears and arrows tipped with dragon’s claws from the fledglings they had slaughtered.”

“St. George slew the dragon,” I said softly. Vlad’s father was killed by the original Georgian. The dragon being slain in every painting or stained glass window depiction of St. George was Vlad’s father, Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler. Hard to see him as a hero, but history does tend to get a lot of details wrong. I couldn’t imagine how Vlad had to feel every time he saw one of those paintings or windows. His father was being killed again and again in images all over the world, even on White Knight’s shield. And I thought I had a reason to despise that guy.

“George demonized all dragons to the Christian world, made us out to be evil sorcerers and monsters where before we had been wizards, heroes and rulers. When he was executed by the last ruler of Rome who had dragon blood, it just made him a martyr, and spread the Georgian fanaticism further.”

Fafnir had filled me with bright stories of my ancestors, the dragons of old, before the Georgians. Vlad knew the dark side of those stories, how the dragons were systematically hunted down and slaughtered. He’d seen the beginning, and his family had been among the first to suffer losses in the long war that claimed my father’s life as well. “I’m sorry.”

He shrugged, and smiled. “It was a long time ago. I do not wish to dwell on the dark days of the past.”

“You seem to be doing pretty well in the present.” I knew a polite request for a change of subject when I was hit over the head with it. “I could never afford this place on my salary. What do you do for a living?”

Vlad gave me a solemn face, but I caught the little dimple this time. “I’m a stock broker.”

I saw it coming this time and still nearly choked on my scallops. “Dracula, son of Vlad the Impaler, the origin of all modern vampire tales, is a stock broker?”

His lips twitched sideways. “I thought you would find that amusing.” He shrugged. “I seem to have an instinct for it. I invested most of my own fortune in Apple stock in the early eighties, sold it early in 99 for a fortune, then bought it back in 2001 after the dot com crash for a pittance. On paper, I’m worth nearly a billion dollars.”

I coughed a little. ‘That’s a lot of paper.”

He shrugged. “It could all vanish in a decade. Stocks are volatile. I keep my true fortune in gold, well-hidden and secure.”

“You sound like Fafnir.”

Vlad nodded and raised his glass as if in thanks. “I consider that a high compliment.”

“What brings you to Austin? I thought stock brokering was more of a New York City thing, or at least a bigger city thing.”

“I have had an office in Houston for many years. I came to Austin because Fafnir told me that there was both a Georgian and a fledgling female dragon here” He pushed the food around his plate a little with his fork, looking embarrassed. “My intention was to kill the Georgian before he discovered what you were, and killed you.”

“You came to Austin to protect me?”

Vlad nodded slightly, eyes still on his plate.

“But you’d never even met me.”

“In truth, I came to slay the Georgian before he took the life of another of our kind. It would not have mattered if you were unattractive, or a male, or even, as you are, of a clan that were traditionally enemies of the Black. Such old grudges became meaningless in the face of the threat to all dragonkind. I have hunted the Georgians for centuries, with your father at my side for much of it. We thought we had ended them, and it was safe for Robert to marry and settle down.”

“You knew my father. You were his friend?”

“We were allies. His clan and mine have an ugly history that made it difficult for us to trust enough to be called friends. But he risked his life more than once to save mine, and I would have gladly done the same.” He held my hand and looked into my eyes. His own had a deep red fire in them like black coals at the bottom of a campfire. “I am so sorry, Damson. I thought that we had ended the Georgian threat forever.”

He took a long drink, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, obviously fighting for calm.

“It wasn’t your fault, Vlad. Dad thought the Georgians were all dead, too. He teased me that if I were bad, the Georgians would get me, and I know he only did that because he believed there weren’t any anymore.”

“When I heard that Sir Robert had been killed, I hunted down his murderers, what I thought, again, was the last group of Georgians left. And, now, there is another. I did not know that Sir Robert had a child, but if I had known that you were alive, and living in the very shadow of a Georgian, I would have come sooner.”

I shrugged. “I’ve lived my whole life hiding from the Georgians, not knowing who might be one, or where they might find me. Having White Knight right there in front of me, obviously human and not some invincible, invisible all-knowing force, it’s helped make me less afraid.”

“Georgians are all too human. The problem has always been that there are so many of them, and so few of us. They blend with the teeming crowds of humanity, and we stand out like hawks among pigeons the moment we show our true natures.”

“Hawks among pigeons.” I chuckled, imagining how the people in the restaurant would react if Vlad and I stood up and spread our wings, or Fafnir poked his horse-sized head in the door in full dragon mode. It was a good analogy.

I’ll write more tomorrow about the rest of the date. Things got pretty wild later.

Dee Dragon

Friday, May 6, 2011

Dragon Chemistry

So, one of the things Fafnir talked to me about before he left was why I went 60 years without a date, and I’m suddenly attracted to two men.  Apparently, it’s chemistry. Dragon body chemistry reacts to the presence of another dragon. I didn’t know that Jack had dragon ancestry, but my body did. And just getting within ten feet of Vlad set off all my alarms like a forest fire.
I don’t like the idea, really. Choosing your boyfriend should be about more than hormones. I like Jack for Jack. He’s easy to talk to. He laughs at the same things I do, likes the same movies. Vlad and I have practically nothing in common, aside from scales. Vlad still thinks like a privileged prince from the days before cars and indoor toilets.
So, I argued with Fafnir. “It was just coincidence that Jack was the first guy I ever asked out, and he was part dragon.  He’s got a lot going for him. He’s smart, brave, has a good heart and he makes me laugh. That’s why I asked him out.”
“So, describe the man you have fought beside for the last few weeks," Fafnir said.
“You mean TakeDown?”
“Yes, tell me of this man.”
“He’s pretty cool. Brave, tough. Never quits. What about him?”
“Is he not attractive, this man?”
“Uh.” I had to think about it for a minute, picture TakeDown in my head. I never thought about him that way. He’s tall, built like a brick wall, pretty blue eyes. “Um, yeah, I guess he’s attractive.”
“And he is a man that you admire, a man who fights at your side, and sees the world much the same way you do.” Fafnir's red beard split in a wide smile.
I squirmed in the kitchen chair in my apartment. I had a feeling I knew where he was going with this. “TakeDown’s a good guy, yeah.”
“And yet, you have no interest in him as a potential mate.”
“Lots of guys are good-looking and brave and honorable and all that. Maybe he’s just not my type.”
“That is exactly right," Fafnir nodded, and took a big swallow of beer. "I can smell no trace of dragon blood in him. He is not your type.”
Ma laughed from the sink where she was washing up. “He’s right, little plum.”
“But Ma, you’re not a dragon, and Dad obviously was attracted to you.”
“You’ve always been so fascinated with your dragon heritage, and the tales your father told you. Do you remember the stories I told you before bed when you were little, about Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent who walked as a man?”
“That’s an old Aztec legend,” I said, then thought about it. Merlin was a legend now, too, my father’s father.
“My mother was the daughter of a priestess of Quetzalcoatl, an inherited position, also called the children of Quetzalcoatl. Before the conquistadores came, there were a lot of legends of serpents who flew, and could also be men.”
“You’re saying that you’ve got dragon ancestry, too?”
Fafnir nodded. “I can detect the scent on her. It is strong, perhaps only three or four generations back, although I have never smelled her clan before.”
I felt defeated. “But that means I’m doomed to only be attracted to people if they’ve got some dragon in them.”
Fafnir laughed loud enough to rattle the chandelier. “How does that make you doomed, fledgling?”
“I want to choose who I’m with based on love, based on who the man is inside, not his species.”
Ma hugged me. “Your father and I were very much in love, Damson.  Chemistry only determines attraction. Love is a very different thing. The right man or dragon for you is out there, and you have plenty of time to find him.”
“What if I’ve already found him, and lost him?”
Ma squeezed my hand and smiled. “If Jack is the one, then he will forgive you.”
“I still have to go out with Vlad. I promised.”
Fafnir chuckled. “You are a prize worth fighting for, fledgling. May the best man or dragon win!” He raised the big mug of beer Ma gave him, and Ma grinned back at him, and raised her tea glass to clink against it.
Next thing you know, they’ll be taking bets.