AN: There is a slight retcon to Expansion 01 here. Lisa grabbed five people to be blood donors instead of just four. It's a change to a single line in that chapter. I only realized I had goofed when I was basically done with this one and it's easier to alter one line than a significant chunk of a chapter instead.
"Honeys, we're hoooome!" Lisa yelled as soon as the apartment door swung closed.
I glared at her, slipping my jacket off and placing the documents Armsmaster had given us onto the table. "They are probably all sleeping, Lisa. There's no need to wake them up!"
"My counter-argument is that I dislike Red and Cutie, and that Forrest needs to get up for work soon if he's still sleeping."
"And Charlotte or Sierra?" I asked, my glare dropping into more of a grimace.
"Sierra needs to find herself a job," Sierra said, walking into the main room, stifling a yawn. "Welcome back, Miss Vampire. Hey, Lisa, you promised me a list of stores that were hiring?"
"It's on the coffee table in an envelope with your name on it. I also included a few people who have open rooms you can stay in that owe me a favor too if you still want to get out of your parent's house." Lisa moved the side and grabbed an energy bar, pushing it into Sierra's hands. "I was mostly joking, Sierra. The sun doesn't even rise for another hour, you know?"
"Yeah, but I still need to get back home and make sure my idiot kid brother is actually going to go to school today." She yawned again, shaking her whole body and blindly reaching for the coffee machine. "God, the next time I agree to this, make sure it's going to be on a weekend, yeah?"
I winced. "I'm sorry. I, uh, I really appreciate the, uh, the…"
"Hey don't sweat it. Cape stuff is weird, I get it. You're not the first C53 I've run into; I tried getting a job over at the Palanquin a few weeks back. The bitch running the place said I was being racist just because I mentioned I didn't have any problem with her bodyguards."
Lisa frowned. "Faultline? What were you interviewing for?"
"Bartender. The three people ahead of me basically ran away when they saw they'd have to work with Gregor the Snail. I said I didn't have problems with it and it turned into a big argument. So yeah, I got no issues with helping you with your cape thing…as long as it's not shady and I get paid. College isn't cheap. If you want to pay me with job opportunities, that works; if you want to pay me with actual money, even better."
"We need to get a steady income source before we can get you an actual paycheck, Sierra," I said. "That should be soon though so if the things Lisa gave you don't work out, you can come back in three or four days and we might have a secretary thing open."
"Good to know." She finished draining her coffee and tossed her energy bar wrapper. Running a hand through her dreadlocks, she stood, shaking her head one more time. "Alright, I'm heading out. Good luck with your thing, and seriously, call me if that pans out. I'd have a hell of a lot more fun working for a cape than I would working at a convenience store. I'd probably have a better chance of doing my homework on duty too, amusingly enough."
After Sierra left, Lisa quickly walked around the apartment checking the blackout shades, and taping down two that had partly rolled up while we were gone. She sat back down at the table as she finished her rounds, picking up and nursing her own coffee after I pushed a mug over to her.
"Aww, you're good to me, Tay."
I shrugged, hiding my grin as I turned to pet Bunnicula, feeding him a leaf of lettuce. "Well, you did go and get five people to help kick me out of my trance so…"
"Yeah about that," she groaned, stroking her temples. "I think I went a bit overkill there; I blame it on my burgeoning headache and low-key panic. Don't tell anyone I was panicking - I'd never live it down. Anyway, yeah, we probably would've been fine with just Red, Cutie, and me. I'm not comfortable with this many others knowing about you. Especially not now that we know you're not, well, 'normal'."
I shrugged. "I feel like if anyone was going to care, they would've mentioned it already. Considering that the PRT has known for a while, I find it hard to believe that the gangs don't know also. As for me in particular…Lisa, I clawed my way out of my own grave, I wasn't exactly subtle."
"True." She massaged her head again, wincing. "I need to lie down. Your fix helped for a bit, but my headache is coming back. Charlotte and Madison are probably going to wake up soon, if Sierra is any indication. Remind them they have school before you turn in, yeah? The less people who skip, the better."
I sighed. "And Emma?"
"I don't care what the fuck Red does or doesn't do, Taylor." She stood from up and started to walk towards the main bedroom. I reached out to grab her hand. Lisa stopped, refusing to look at me and instead staring at a spot on the wall.
"Lisa, she's trying to make up for the past."
"She killed you. She didn't slam the door herself, but she might as well have. You don't get to come back from that," Lisa snapped. Her fingers tightened over mine and her breathing hitched as she whispered, so softly that even I could barely hear her, "No one gets to come back from that."
"I promise I'll try not to be such a bitch to her, Taylor, but I can't promise a miracle. Good night. Well, morning. Whatever."
I let her pull away and I bit my tongue as I turned back to Bunnicula.
"Ow!" I hissed. Sticking out my tongue, I prodded at the two new puncture wounds on the sides. Even as I poked at them, I could feel the holes closing. Grumbling, I looked at my bunny. He had finished with his lettuce and was nibbling on the end of one of my fingers now, his little teeth tickling the tips of my finger. "Important safety tip, Bunnicula, don't gnaw on your tongue as a vampire. Your fangs are sharp and they can hurt."
Bunnicula completely ignored me and kept tickling my fingers instead. I rolled my eyes and stroked the hair on his back.
"You could at least pretend to care, buddy. I mean, I didn't eat you, pretending to care is the least you could."
Bunnicula continued to ignore me.
"You're lucky you're adorable."
Bunnicula just twitched his nose.
I had pancakes and eggs ready for when three of the others stumbled into the living room. Forrest was the only one who was showered and presentable. Emma's hair was all over the place, which was rather amusing considering she barely ever stopped looking like her model self. I was strangely disappointed to see that Madison actually had nearly perfect hair without even trying. All she had needed was to add her little butterfly clips and she looked ready to hit the world again. Well, she would have if not for the pajamas and the fact that her eyes were still barely open.
I doubted Winslow would really care if she slept through class anyway, so the last part probably didn't matter too much.
"Does anyone have anything against milk?" I asked, placing plates in front of them and grabbing glasses.
"Do you have orange juice?" Forrest asked. The large man rolled his shoulders, adjusted his glasses, and started cutting up the pancakes. "This smells divine. Thank you, Taylor. You didn't have to do this."
"Well, you guys helped me out, the least I can do is make breakfast."
"I think I can count the amount of times I've gotten breakfast before work on one hand," Forrest murmured. I set the orange juice in front of him and patted him on his broad shoulders. He gave a satisfied groan, his whole beard quivering from the movement. "Hey is Lisa around? I'm pretty sure I passed out before I was able to thank her."
I gestured towards her bedroom. "She's sleeping, but I'll let her know when she wakes up."
"You guys are sure that the owners won't mind? The rent for this place is…ridiculously small compared to, well everything else and…"
Considering that my house was probably in legal limbo at the moment and that Armsmaster had assured us he was going to get everything transferred back into my name now that I wasn't officially dead despite actually being undead…
"Trust me, Forrest, the owner does not care that she is taking less than standard for rent."
"Yeah, but -"
Emma lifted her head and sucked on her lower lip. She stared at me for a second, then met Forrest's eyes. "The owner is Taylor, Forrest. She doesn't care. You helped her when she asked and you need help getting back on your feet. She's a…good person. If you feel that bad about it, just keep track of how many months you're paying a lower rate and you can pay it back later on when you have the funds again."
He frowned. Turning to me, his eyebrows raised. "Is this true?"
"There is a reason I'm staying with my friend. If it makes you feel better, we're probably going to move back into the house at some point so we'll be roommates and you can make up the difference by cooking dinner and getting groceries or something. Lisa needs to make it vampire-safe before we move back though. This place works well enough until then."
The alarm I had set earlier rang and I clapped my hands. "Okay, enough chit-chat! Forrest, you have work. Finish your juice and get going, big guy!"
He chuckled and shook his head as he drained the last of the orange juice. Raising from his seat, he enveloped me in a hug, his chamomile scent filling me. Just as quick as he had risen, he pulled back. "Take care of yourself, kid. Just because you're a rather odd cape doesn't mean you're invulnerable. If you need more help, just give me a call. Apparently you know very well where to find me."
I nodded, smiling back at him, and saw him to the door.
Moving back to the table, I sat down across from Madison and Emma, both of the other girls finally starting to look more awake. Madison's eyes were fully open now and Emma had found a comb from somewhere - at least I assume she had since her hair was straighter.
"Um," Madison started to say, before she stumbled, staring at her empty plate. Emma bumped her shoulder and Madison flinched, starting again. "Uh, we didn't really, um, talk last night. Morning. I don't know what time it…was…We didn't talk. I'm sorry I didn't - I uh - Oh god I can't do this!"
Emma grunted. She took the fork and knife out of Madison's hands and set them on the empty plate. Then she folded the smaller girl's hands onto her lap and murmured, "Just talk, Mads."
Madison hiccuped, I could hear her nails digging into her palms as she whimpered. "I'm sorry! I didn't - I never - I thought - It was never supposed to - I'm sorry!" She cut off again as her chin hit her chest and tears started to fall.
I didn't move. I didn't even breathe - huh, I didn't have to breathe anymore, interesting. I kept staring at Madison, my hands clenched together on the table in front of me. After a few minutes she was able to compose herself enough to start gasping out more words.
"I thought we were doing something everyone did. I thought that everyone got picked on, that everyone got petty pranks played on them. They picked on me too when I didn't say stuff to you. I thought that was how school worked. I didn't realize that you were alone. I thought you hung out with people outside of school. I thought Emma was exaggerating when she said that she was your only friend. I thought that Sophia was making things up when she said that she had pushed you down the stairs. I didn't think that was real! No one does that! That's not - that's insane! And at Winslow, for a black girl to do that to a white girl with the Empire there to watch?! When I saw them pull you out of the locker I realized it wasn't a joke - it had never been a joke - and I - I - I tried to make it right - but it was too late - it was so late - and I - I couldn't - I didn't know how - I tried to - I'm sorry!"
She collapsed into sobs again, her hands rising to cover her eyes, her hair clips flying off. As I tracked the hair clips, I caught a brief glimpse of dark fabric out of the corner of my eye in the hallway and the faint scent of mint and rosemary drifted towards me as well. I ignored it for the moment.
I let Madison cry for a few seconds before I stood and moved behind her. Leaning down, I wrapped one hand around her wrist, gently pulling her hand from her eyes enough to grasp her fingers. My other hand I laid on her shoulder, gently kneading. Madison's sobs slowed, eventually petering off into sniffles.
"Madison," I murmured. "I don't remember enough to be able to forgive you. It wouldn't be fair to either of us. I know you weren't directly involved in the end part, but you still hurt me. You're making up for things, and if I'm willing to let Emma try to pull herself back up, then I don't see why you can't either. We can try to start over, but you have to do better this time."
"I will. I swear I will," she whispered. "I know you're not a cape. I know enough about capes to realize that. I'll keep whatever secrets you need me to keep. I'll help however you need me to help. If you want me to stay away and only come to help you, uh…feed, that's fine too. Just tell me how I can make things right."
"Rest, get your strength back, sleep. Then, tomorrow, go to school. I'll call you if I need anything specific. Okay?"
She nodded, still sniffling.
Emma kept biting her lip, staring at her lap.
"Emma," I started to say, but she shook her head.
"I should go to school. We can't all be absent."
"I'll talk to you tonight, Taylor. I'll put Charlotte's meal in the fridge. She was pretty out of it still. I think she's going to be asleep for another few hours probably."
Emma stood and cleaned up the plates. Without another word, she was gone.
After Emma left, I helped Madison back to the spare room and made sure that Charlotte was okay. She seemed fine, if the happy little grin was any indication, though I didn't particularly like that the brunette was the only one who hadn't woken up yet.
"Madison, can you -"
Madison was also nodding, cutting me off. "I'll come get you as soon as she wakes up. She was up a few hours ago while you guys were gone. She crawled over me to get to the bathroom and kicked me in the stomach in the process."
I breathed out. "Okay, so she is alright."
Madison looked down, running her hand over her wrist. The puncture wounds from last night had long since closed and vanished. "She was here before the rest of us. You might have, um, drank a bit more from her than from us. She's also tiny. Well…tinier than Emma and Forrest at least. No one's tinier than me." Madison yawned, quickly lifting her hand to bite her fingers to try and stifle it.
"You're both tiny. Now sleep. I'll probably be awake before either of you, but if not, please ask her to stick around until I am."
Madison nodded. She dropped her rescued hair clips on the end table, laying down fully as I pulled the door shut. My rounds finished, I moved to the main bedroom, slipping inside and silently shutting the door behind me.
If I hadn't seen the flash of Lisa before, I never would've known that she had ever left the room. She was the perfect picture of rest and relaxation. And it was so, so fake. No one was that composed while laying in bed.
Laying down next to her, I breathed deep, her mint and rosemary scent infusing everything around me. I could actually feel the tension draining out of my muscles as I sank deeper into the bed, my eyes drifting closed. A weight settled onto my outstretched arm and rolled into my side.
"Hey," I murmured.
"I really am sorry I'm such a bitch," Lisa murmured.
"You don't have to apologize for being who you are, Soţie," I said, pulling her closer.
Lisa was quiet for a few seconds. Then she said, "You know, I looked that word up. It means something like wife, consort, partner…should I be worried about my chastity here, Taylor?"
I tucked her head under my chin, my breathing slowing. "You're my companion. I'll protect you." I yawned, my voice getting quieter. "We protect…our…people…" I was so exhausted. The meeting had taken a lot out of me, I was so tired, and it was like it was all hitting me at once.
"Hmm, I think I like the sound of that. Moving a bit fast, but I can deal." Lisa squirmed, getting her head up onto my shoulder, her hair tickling my nose. "I heard what Madison said, and I saw Emma in the graveyard - when she knew you were dead and it was her fault. I'll…try to get over my problems and give those two a chance."
I made an agreeable noise in the back of my throat. Lisa just chuckled. "Okay, I'll stop trying to talk. Goodnight, Taylor."
I breathed in the mint and rosemary and let the apartment fall away.