Decider

Summary:

Based on the Choice of Games hosted game 'Donor' (Chapter 9). In another universe to 'Diner', Lenore has just managed escape her captivity as a blood donor to the vampires Richard and Paul. But her problems aren't over yet! What will be her eventual fate?

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Author's Note:

This fanfiction is based on the Choice of Games hosted game called 'Donor', which is based – in turn – on Elena Hearty's novels 'Donor' and 'Bait'

Elena Hearty has kindly given me permission to write this not-for-profit fanfiction Due credit for 'Donor', and the featured characters of Lenore and Paul belong to Elena Hearty.

If you are not already familiar with the source material, I do recommend that you check out the free trial version of the 'Donor' game on the Choice of Games website, so that you better understand the background to my story.

Italicised text sentences within the first chapter of my story are text copied directly from the game, to provide context.

Themes: Horror. Drama. Friendship. 'M' rating for some bad language and violence (there will be blood!)

Happy reading!

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Chapter One:

One More Night

Your name is Lenore Edgars.

For the past few months, you have been a captive in the basement of a residential block in the US city where you live. The apartments belonged to a thirty-three-year-old landlord called Richard, who brought you to his basement apartment – B14 – to show you his vinyl collection of old records and see what he could sell you.

Well, he appeared as though he was thirty-three.

Instead of a trade, as you both entered B14, there was a tense situation that was playing out between a young goth woman named Angela and a man covered in blood. It soon led to Angela's death in the laundry room at Richard's hands. Even before that happened, your terror was building up as you raced back to the door – only to discover that it had automatically locked when Richard closed it to.

And gradually the truth dawned upon you in those first few days of your imprisonment. Both the blood-covered man – Richard's business partner, Paul – and Richard himself were vampires. And you were now obliged to become Angela's replacement in her role as a blood donor to Richard – a vampire who preferred to dine indoors. The modified PICC line that the now-dead girl used to wear was soon inserted into you, so that Richard could drink from the cups of blood you poured from yourself. On tap. Every few days. Whilst Paul would also ask you to fill a cup for himself, on the rare occasions that he would take you to a nearby café, to give you a break from the confines of B14.

Well, he also did it to build up your strength, so that you could carry on being Richard's blood cow, for as long as possible, naturally…

And there was the only other visitor to B14. Charles, a normal…human. Like you. Only he was Paul's familiar, a wannabe vampire goth, who had stuck with Richard and Paul for over twelve years. On their first meeting, Richard had lured Charles and his girl into B14 – and he had already killed the girl, when Paul stopped him from killing Charles too, on the grounds that their victims were too young. Instead, Paul had adopted the big guy as his 'little brother'.

Over the years, Charles had encouraged the hardcore members of the local goth club to let Paul (and sometimes Richard) sip from willing victims. It was also thanks to Charles that Angela, another wannabe, had volunteered to become Richard's roomie. His 'live-in donor', in the hope that she would be appreciated and later be 'turned' by Richard and Paul into a vampire herself.

And yet, in spite of Angela's demise, you later found out that Charles still hoped that the vampires would eventually reward his services and turn him and his current girlfriend into bloodsuckers too.

For the past few months, your life – during which you turned twenty-eight – had been largely confined to B14. You had been granted the meagre luxuries of Angela's former bedroom, her clothes, her nail files, and her (limited channel) TV. You had been deprived of sunlight, robbed of almost all interaction with the outside world. The only things that kept you going were the limited range of foodstuffs in Richard's panty, your supply of Xanax to override your agoraphobia and anxiety attacks, Paul's conditional friendship in prolonging your life as Richard's blood cow – and your wits in making yourself likeable enough to the vampires, whilst you learnt what you could about Richard's and Paul's vampiric condition, their strengths and weaknesses, and also the nature of the strained relationships that Charles had with them.

Despite all the perils you have faced – waking up each day, knowing it could be your last if Richard lost his self-control around you; and despite Paul's annoyance when you failed your first attempt as his hunting partner (as bait for victims) – you have not only somehow managed to survive longer than some of Richard's donors, you also managed to spend a night with Paul in his penthouse on top of the apartment block, just after Paul brought Charles back to B14 to face the music for his attempt to force a starving Richard into killing you.

That evening had been gruelling, whilst you were stuck in the laundry room with Richard, hoping for Paul to bring back Charles in time, before Richard could lose his patience and drain you dry. Instead of dying, you had ended the night falling asleep on Paul's shoulder whilst on his sofa. You felt sorry for Charles's girlfriend dying in your place, to sate Richard's thirst, but you had no sympathy for Charles being tortured by the imaginatively sadistic Rick.

And that evening, you had suggested to Paul that the only way he might be able to keep Charles alive after his failed stunt with you and Richard, would be if Charles was turned into a vampire himself. A process that, going on Richard's and Paul's almost unanimous failed attempts to create more of their kind, was likely to end in Charles's death…

Only, once you were back in B14 – and Paul had taken the torture-broken Charles away with him – Richard wanted to guarantee Charles's demise, getting you to grant him your Xanax, so he could poison Charles at a crucial stage of the turning process.

But whilst you had been furious at Charles attempt to get you killed, you refused to directly help your keeper – wanting to be left out of their personal feud, fearful of the consequences if Paul found out about this betrayal…

In order to get Richard out of the bathroom, whilst you were enjoying your bubble bath, in exasperation you told him to take your remaining Xanax.

Well, you had been planning to wean yourself off from them. For too long, you had been addicted to your pills, and you did suffer a seizure during your first days in B14…

"Oh, and one thing…," Richard added, pausing at the doorway, given that you hadn't been fully on board with his scheming. "If you even hint to Paul in any way that I tried to poison Charlie, I will kill you. Got that, roomie?"

You gulped, suddenly conscious of how vulnerable you were in the bath, with Richard between you and the only door in the room.

"Y-yes…," you stutter.

Richard gave a hard smile, his eyes glinting with satisfaction. Then he exited the bathroom, leaving you to hug yourself. Despite the warm water, you had suddenly felt a chill running along your spine…

Charles didn't survive the turning process, thanks to your crushed up Xanax being sprinkled into the cup of blood given to him by Richard. Whilst you breathed a sigh of relief, worried what your captivity would have been like with three vampires in your orbit, Paul was mortified at his familiar's death, asking himself why he had failed again to create another vampire. The downside for you? A grieving Paul visited B14 less often, which meant that no one was going to the local store anymore to buy you food. Although Richard and Paul weren't actually undead, as vampires they only needed to drink blood every few days as their sole sustenance. They had long ago stopped eating ordinary food. And Richard was a careless keeper of his captive donors when he was focussed on his work…

So, you swore to yourself that you would escape as soon as you had the chance. Before you would starve to death.

As it happened, you managed to turn the tables on Rich. Thanks to your efforts at befriending Paul, he had helped you find the silver dagger that Angela had previously attacked him with. And with that dagger, along with some silver powder, you had managed to ambush Richard – before stabbing him in an outburst of frustration and rage, throwing your small frame against his tall, stronger one, whilst the silver powder blinded and weakened him.

Shocked that you had defeated your captor, you knelt beside the body and ran your shaking hands through your blonde hair – your mind taking in the fact that you had actually killed someone directly for the first time. You even cut out his heart, to make sure that he wasn't going to rise up from the dead, like Dracula in a Hammer Horror film sequel.

But the door to freedom was there before you. Still open. So, gathering your breath, you stepped outside into the cold night air. Fearful that Paul would soon call round, only to discover his dead friend, you started to run…

It soon became apparent that the months of being stuck inside, with no real exercise, wouldn't get you very far. Kicking off your now-uncomfortable shoes, you had then dashed through quiet, deserted streets. Eventually, an elderly man approached you as you paused to gasp for breath.

"Miss? Are you okay? Do you need help?"

And thanks to both your ordeal and your lifelong anxieties, not only did you suddenly consider that no one was going to believe your story of being held prisoner by vampires, you now also realized that you were damaged goods. The voice in your head called you a murderer. Not just for killing Richard and failing to stop him poisoning Charles – but also for not preventing Richard committing the collective deaths of Angela, Stacy, Deirdre, Mrs Grayson, and the homeless people and prostitutes whose blood was used in the failed process to turn Charles. Paul had been jointly responsible for some of them. But Rich was definitely the crueller vampire.

You shook your head, in an attempt to deny your inner critic. It wasn't true.

Isn't it? How many people have died to keep you alive, Lenore? Five? Six? Ten? Twelve? You'll never know for sure. But what you do know for sure is that the experience changed you. Life among wolves has made you less of a lamb, a sheep with claws and fangs. How can you possibly live among the flock now?

And then Paul appeared from nowhere.

The old man with you worked out the meaning of your panicked expression. But even as you tried to dash away, Paul had grabbed the man's cell phone and smashed it. Both the man and you took off, running in opposite directions. Naturally, Paul gave chase after you.

It was clear that he was toying with you, even as you forced your now-heavy legs onwards. Though they weren't the vampires of classical fiction, Rich and Paul still had touches of the supernatural about them. They did not age. They were stronger than normal people. They could extend and retract their fangs. And you had seen both of them move impossibly fast – to seemly 'zip'. So, Paul could've caught you easily. He was just enjoying the chase as you eventually found yourself before an alleyway, heaving for breath, trembling in the cold.

And now you watch your shadow trembling. It looks small, frigid, tried. Broken.

Dashing into the alley, you find a chain-linked gate blocking your path.

So, this is it… You sob to yourself. Paul will slaughter you here. You will be another victim to add to the list of… Well, however many people he has killed.

Still, you draw your dagger. You refuse to die without at least some token effort to defend yourself. You have been helpless for too long. The ever-present PICC line jammed into your arm a constant reminder of your victim status.

"Rich wouldn't want me to kill you right away," Paul calls out from the darkness. "So – in his honor – I'm going to drag out your death for days. You'll be…"

"Please don't hurt me!" you interrupt him, playing for time. "Can't we still be friends?"

"After what you did to Rich!?" Paul steps into what moonlight is available in the alleyway. But despite his exposed fangs, you see his distraught expression, the shaking of his slim frame. He is just as upset as you. He begins to cry. "I know Charlie had been mean to you. But why did you cut out Rich's heart?"

There are various answers that flash into your mind. That Richard was a torturer who deserved what he got. That he would've killed you eventually. That you weren't sure that he even had a heart. But the distraught look on Paul's face pains you. So instead, you tell him: "I'm so sorry, Paul. I didn't mean to hurt you. I wanted to break free of Rich. For good!"

Paul narrows his eyes as he wipes away his tears. "I held you prisoner too," he points out.

"But you…you allowed me trips to the diner, Paul. You went to the store, so that I had some food and other things… You took me to your penthouse, so that I didn't have to hear Richard killing Deirdre and torture Charles. And even… Even if our friendship wasn't real, you made the effort to care for me. Even if you were playing me, you played with me, like friends do. Richard didn't," you sniff.

You see Paul's clenched fist tremble. "I should never have let you have that silver watch, or given you that dagger," he fumes. "You killed Rich with it!"

And then creative inspiration strikes you. So, you blurt out the truth. "If you were never my friend, you won't have allowed me the right to defend myself! And you should know that Rich killed Charles!"

"What!?" Paul steps closer, the tips of his fangs still visible, his gaze never wavering from you, as you lean against the wall and hold aloft the silver dagger in your shaking, sweat-soaked hand.

"After you returned me to B14, and then left with Charles, Rich wanted to punish him for trying to get me killed. He decided to poison your familiar, with my Xanax, in a cup of blood…!"

"…and you allowed Rich to take your pills away from you, just like that?" Paul flexes his pale fists.

"Paul! I wanted nothing to do with it! Yes, I hated Charles for the way he had treated me – but I wasn't going to stand in Richard's way, once he was set on doing something that was dangerous."

He draws closer to you now, just out of the reach of your wavering blade. Paul is watching your expression closely. "So, you were in the parlor with me, playing games and watching Charlie, whilst Rich poisoned him… I see... Your drug-soaked body masked the scent of the Xanax in the cup. You were Rich's accessory…"

"Yeah," you admit, your head bowing a little.

"Why didn't you warn me!?"

"Because Richard threatened to kill me, if I did so!" you yell back, sobbing. "I couldn't take the risk…"

Paul's shoulders slump. Seconds later, he holds his head between his raised hands. He paces back and forth, and moans. He knows about Charles's attempt to get Rich to feast on you in the laundry room. He knows how long Richard has hated Charles. During your captivity you've been a model prisoner. Compliant. And you've been mainly truthful. Paul's smart. He can read your body language. He knows you've not lying to him now…

"Jeeze… Rich!" Paul wails as he rocks from side to side. "Why couldn't you just let me turn Charlie? He could've kept out of your way, after that. Now you've both gone! I…I miss you guys… I've got no family again. I'm all alone!" And with that, he collapses against the wall behind him and his back slides down it until he's squatting on the concreate, with his knees raised before his tear-streaked face.

And the sight of him – lying there – breaks your heart.

The dagger clatters on the hard ground as it slips from your fingers. Paul looks at you suspiciously. "So, you can kill Rich… But you can't kill me?"

"You're my friend, Paul. That is, I hope you still are…" Feeling numb, you slowly approach him. Instead of running past Paul, to freedom, you sit against the wall alongside the vampire, your posture imitating his.

"I'm all alone, too," you croak. You gingerly touch his forearm. "Maybe… Maybe we can be alone together. If that makes any sense…"

Paul inches his puzzled expression upwards to meet your gaze. "Don't you want your life back, Lenore?" he asks you. "I once offered to let you go, when we talked in my penthouse. But that was…before you killed Rich."

You hug your knees, as a tear runs down your cheek at the memory. You managed to befriend Paul enough for him to offer you your freedom the next time he took you to the diner – and, in your gratitude you had hugged and kissed him on the cheek. Maybe that's when you had started to fall a little for him. You had already felt sorry for Paul after he told you about being the last of his family. You saw beneath the veneer of his eternal, youthful self, and glimpsed an old, lonely man, who hated himself for causing the deaths of two of his sisters…

You hope that Paul can now forgive you for killing Richard… Because suddenly the thought of not even having a half-friend in your life anymore scares you. What kind of an existence awaits you now if you did contact the police? What would be the consequences if they managed to track down Paul, and try to arrest him?

Someone would get killed, of course. Maybe several people.

"I… I don't know, Paul. You managed to squeeze enough information out of me in our talks. So, you'll know…," you trail off.

"…that you've been so much of a recluse, in order to avoid your anxieties, you've ended up having no friends," he answers, nodding. "Your mom's dead, your father lives several states away with his own family. You broke away from your fiancé when you found out about the face behind the mask. And you wouldn't be surprised if your landlord's sold off all your furniture and personal belongings." Paul rests his hand on your shoulder. He looks pained. "Well, I'm going to tell you the truth, Lenore. I didn't…want to tell you this before. To protect your feelings, I guess. In the weeks after you become Rich's donor, I checked out the local news. Even bought newspapers for a week, to check how much of a search there was for you, amongst any reports of missing people. You… You didn't even feature once. Sorry, kiddo."

You give a croak – and then burst openly into tears. Taking pity on you, Paul gently pulls you into his embrace. His face feels cool to the touch, not cold. Hopefully that means that he fed not too long ago…

"It's alright, kiddo. But it looks like it's you and me against the world."

The two of you cry together for several minutes. When your tears do eventually dry up, Paul takes off his jacket and wraps it around you, to keep you warm.

You smile weakly. "Then I guess this means neither of us will be killing the other, now," you point out.

"I guess so." The ends of Paul's lips flick up momentarily, before his expression turns morose again. "God. After Charlie died, I was so wrapped up in my grief that I just…abandoned you, didn't I? I should've realised Rich wasn't up to the job of taking care of you by himself. The selfish, moronic…" He stops and takes a deep breath. "I'm so sorry, Lenore. I'm going to miss Rich – but it's probably only because we needed each other to survive, that we managed to live together for so long."

"You sometimes drove each other up the wall," you suggest.

"Yeah. Rich should be shitty now and then." Paul reaches into his coat pocket for a moment and pulls out his lighter and a pack of Marlboro Lights. You accept his offer, and soon the two of you are smoking together in silence for a several minutes. The calmness feels surreal, given that you were expecting to die. Once again, you've cheated death. Then as he takes a long drag, Paul smirks at a memory resurfacing in his mind.

"You once told me 'I feel like I speak for all women when I say none of us want to talk to you'. Or something like that," he challenges you.

"Well, you nearly killed me that evening, Paul. Because of your vampire instincts. So, I was angry at you. But I lied. Out of you, Rich, and Charles, you were the one I most wanted to chat to. Especially when you came by less often after Charles died," you tell him truthfully.

"I'm glad that you stood up to me. I…I wish we could start over again, Lenore."

"Maybe…we still can," you reply, your smoke ring merging with his.

But Paul shakes his head. "I called our lawyer when I found Rich. He's got your name. Once word gets out that you killed one of us with silver, a lot of people are going to be looking for you."

"Oh…," you whisper. You finish off your cigarette, squashing it against the wall next to you. "C-can you protect me?" you plead to him.

Paul frowns. He rises and paces around in the alleyway, puffing at the last part of his smoke. As he finishes, you huddle inside his jacket, watching the moon. Apart from the sound of distant traffic, the city is quiet. The loudest noise seems to be your irregular heartbeat.

He suddenly spins round to face you. "Be straight with me, Lenore. Why's your heartbeat so messed up?"

Your throat goes dry. "I'm BRCA 1 positive. Thanks to my DNA, my health's a potential ticking time bomb, like Charles was. I'm scared that I'll get cancer, like my mom did. And that it'll be fatal, too."

Paul's expression turns contemplative. Then his jawline tenses. It is the face of a man whose mind has just been made up and is determined on the course he's set for himself. "Then you're coming with me, Lenore. I'm not letting you struggle in the world by yourself – especially if my kind is coming after you."

"You give a sigh…of relief? "I wouldn't know what to tell the authorities anyway. They won't believe me, if I told them about…vampires."

"Maybe not." He chuckles and holds out a hand to help you up. "C'mon. Let's get you to the diner. You need a good meal inside of you, Lenore."

"Okay… And then?" you ask, your voice wavering.

"To my penthouse. If you want me to protect you, kiddo, you're going to have to do exactly what I tell you. Understood? I hope I can grant you at least one more night to live."

"But won't your…kind…find me if I'm th-?"

"Please. No questions right now, Lenore. Food first. I'll explain after we get back home."

Home…, you think. Suddenly, it's no longer the run-down apartment you left behind, that day you first met Paul…

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You eat well at the diner. This time he doesn't ask for any blood from you. And although you are grateful that you're still alive, and that Paul is seemly on your side, a part of your mind is uneasy at what he's planning for you.

But the time for fighting has passed. The silver dagger was left in the alleyway by Paul, who refused to go near it.

Paul doesn't eat, of course. He switches his attention between his cell phone and talking to you.

Once again he pays. Your purse is still back in B14, anyways. You forgot to pick it up, in your eagerness to escape.

When the two of you are in Paul's penthouse, he locks the door and locks the rotary phone away. After dosing you with a powder in the hot chocolate that Paul's gives you (he told you in advance it was to help you sleep), he tucks you up in his bed and kisses your forehead. The last thing you remember before everything fades to black is hearing him talking on his cell phone, from his lounge. You know he's talking about you, but you can't make out the words. His tone is frantic…

The next day sees three newcomers enter the penthouse. Two of them are silent, sullen-looking men, dressed in suits and sunglasses. They act like they're bodyguards or hired muscle. But from their fluid movements and pale faces, you can tell that they're vampires. As is the black woman, with dreadlocked, gray-flecked, dark hair who arrives with them, dressed in a smart, cream-colored pants suit. Looks as though she's in her early fifties. Her dark eyes regard you with interest, before she introduces herself as Bernadette.

The interplay between Paul and the woman is interesting, as they talk in the kitchen whilst drinking from cans of beer. They've definitely met before.

"You are still going by your original name? I thought that my contact on the council was joking when she told me about you and Rich, after all this time."

"Yeah. It's not like any of the normals have been paying attention to me and Rich not getting any older!"

"It's reckless!" the black woman retorts. "Most of our kind take greater care. We change our identities every few decades."

"Even if anyone noticed me and Rich not ageing with the years, they've probably told themselves they must be mistaken! That's stupid mortals for you! When confronted with something that they can't explain, they'll try to convince themselves they just hallucinated, or were dreaming…," Paul protests.

"You're lucky that the vampire hunters haven't tracked you idiots down. They could've arranged a stake out on you and Rich. Prior to a getting a stake into you!"

"Very punny, Bernie." Paul grimaces.

Well, that answers your unspoken question on if Paul…really is called Paul. Still, you wonder just how large and organised the vampire community is…

One of the bodyguards stays in the penthouse to make sure that you stay put, whilst the others go down to clean up B14. Paul tells you that, after a minute or two of respectful silence, Richard's body will be burnt in the furnace that was used for their victims.

Karma, you think to yourself.

You get jittery. Although you take the time to wash and see to your own personal needs, you are unable to relax whilst watching the TV afterwards. What the hell is going to happen to you? The grunt doesn't speak to you, and barely reacts to you at all. The only distraction from his guard duty is when he checks his cell phone and texts.

It's only later, after Paul, Bernadette, and the other guard return, do things become clear, as Paul speaks to you, in front of the others. He bites his lip as he hands you your purse.

"You are gonna be put on trial, Lenore."

"What!? Where the hell…?"

"Conference video call, over my laptop. Gotta love modern technology," Paul chuckles. But then his expression turns sober. "Sorry, kiddo. This is the best I can do."

"Our people want to hear exactly what your story is, Miss Edgars," Bernadette tells you in her smooth, cultured voice. "All of it. We know that you killed Richard. The death of one of our kind is never taken lightly. But the jury needs to decide your sentence."

"…and that's dependent on what you tell them, Lenore. So, my advice would be to tell them what they need to know," Paul implores you. He checks his watch. "The trial starts in half an hour."

You jaw drops. But you try to process Paul's subtle advice, as you tug at your hair, fretting over what you're going to say.

You try to keep your composure when the conference call on Bernadette's laptop starts. But you are unnerved by not only by having both hands cuffed to the chair you're sitting on, but also by being blindfolded. The vampires surrounding you want you to only hear their stern, reproachful voices, whilst they look over your cowed, trembling, bound form, and your blindfolded face, as you sit before the computer screen.

You know that the online vampires haven't switched on their cameras, so why…? Oh. You can guess. Paul doesn't want you to see the messages on the Chat function…

After confirming your name and former address, you are asked to plead to the charge of killing Richard Nadir.

"Guilty," you croak. "But if I hadn't made a break for it… He would have killed me, sooner or later!"

"So?" one of the male jurors sneers. "He was your keeper. You were his to kill, if he so decided to…"

"He tortured people for fun! Paul doesn't do that!" you scream back. "Have you been vampires so long that you've forgotten the value of a human life…!?"

"Silence! The accused will only answer questions put to her!" the voice of the male judge hisses at you. "Our kind look out for each other. An attack on one of us, is treated as an attack on us all." There is a pause, and then the judge speaks again to you. "Tell us exactly what happened to you after Richard and Paul took you captive…"

It's a long story – and you often stop and rewind to fill in certain gaps, including the night when you and Paul visited a nightclub, only for you to run out of the building during your anxiety attack, and so failed to hook a man to accompany you back to B14, for Richard to feed upon. But, feeling Paul patting your shoulder when you then recount the evening Richard forced you into the laundry room, you manage to overcome your emotions and tell the vampires about how close you came to death that night. But you don't tell anyone about how you asked Rich to put you out of your misery…

And so, it goes on. You tell them about how Richard made Charles pay for his ploy to get a starving Richard to kill you, by torturing Charles and the innocent Deirdre. That Deirdre was fed upon by Richard so that you would still live. That Richard then plotted to use your Xanax to poison Charles, despite you wanting to stay out of it. Despite your resentment of Charles's behaviour towards you. How Charles later died during his turning.

You end your story, crying, telling your unseen audience about your flight from the apartment block, only to be tracked down and trapped by Paul. How you refused to fight him. How you threw down the silver dagger and surrendered to Paul.

"Where did you get that dagger?" a female juror snaps at you. She has a voice that makes your skin crawl. Something high and mighty and disdainful about the way she talks to you, as if you were something that had ruined her shoe when she stepped on you.

"Lenore must've found it in the furnace room when she went looking for that watch…," Paul mutters. And you realise that he's throwing you a bone.

"Do not interrupt, Paul!" the judge barks at him, before addressing you. "Answer the question, mortal!"

Gulping, you respond.

"I went searching for Mrs Grayson's silver watch, in the furnace room. And I did find the silver dagger there too… I wanted to defend myself. To live. Put yourself in my shoes. Some of you must've been held prisoner by vampires before you were turned…"

"Enough!" the judge screams his frustration at you. A long moment of silence then follows. It is broken by one of your jurors speaking up. He has a refined accent. And he sounds like he's a Latino.

"Paul. Is it true that Richard killed…your familiar?"

"I believe that Lenore's telling the truth. So yeah. He hated Charles. And he certainly had the motivation and opportunity, after Charles tried to get Lenore killed," Paul replies.

"This…complicates matters," the Latino juror concedes.

"Look… I've lost Charlie. Now I've lost Rich! Please don't take Lenore fr-" Paul suddenly falls silent, as if aware that he's overstepped his place.

"I see," the judge rumbles ominously. "You have spent so much time playing with your prisoner, that you've started to fall for her."

"You stupid boy," the snide male juror pipes up. "Maybe you should be punished for failing to protect your former friends from getting killed…"

You hear Paul draw in his breath. "Damn you! Br-," he hisses. His voice was barely a whisper. Did the online vampires even hear him?

"No! Don't hurt him. He's suffered enough!" you yell out, surprising yourself. And then you realise that you care about Paul more than you thought possible…

"Stop! Don't strike her! Back to your position, Orville!" Bernadette warns one of her wingmen, as one of them moves closer to shut you up.

He grunts and steps back.

"Interesting….," one of the other jurors declares, and you can tell she is talking about your outburst.

"I think we have heard enough," another voice adds.

"The accused has admitted her guilt. It is just a case of deciding her sentence," declares the judge. "Number One. In your opinion should Miss Edgars continue to be kept as the prisoner of Paul and Bernadette? Or should she be put down?"

"I say kill her," the arrogant-sounding woman calls out.

"Number Two?" the judge calls out, going around the jury.

"I agree. The girl cannot be trusted. Drain her," the snide man responds with glee, making you shiver. No doubt he would do so in person, if he could be there with you.

Paul's hand is on your shoulder again. It feels tense, and it then balls into a fist. Is there more to this interplay that you can't see, thanks to your blindfold?

"Number Three?"

"I disagree," the Latino American answers. "She has that PICC line. Paul can keep her prisoner, as his donor."

And on it goes. You heart pounds faster as you await each verdict, your eyes still blindfolded. Your sweating hands still handcuffed behind your back to the chair. By the time Number Nine has given her verdict, six of the vampire jury have voted for your death. It'll take all of the remaining three to vote in your favor, just to bring about a hung sentence. Even then, it seems nobody wants you to have anything like the half-freedom Charles enjoyed as Paul's familiar.

Your throat has gone dry. "Paul…?" you croak. "I'm scared… You said you would protect me! Oh, God… I don't want to die!" You wonder how many women before you have said similar things, only to be betrayed in the end. Angela had pleaded with Paul for her life, only for him to let Richard take her away to her death in the laundry room…

"No! This is not cool!" Paul suddenly yells out. "Lenore's my responsibility now. I want to be the decider of her fate! I want to invoke Rule 22 of our laws!"

The jury falls silent.

"Since I've been asked to be the new landlady here, I'm also willing to help my new business partner," Bernadette speaks up, addressing the online jury.

"Thanks Bernie," Paul mutters. "I owe you one."

"You owe me several favors by now, actually, Paulie," she purrs at him.

"We will confer by Chat," the judge eventually declares.

The next few minutes drag for you as you feel the tears streak down your face. They are both soaking and escaping the confines of your blindfold. You hear someone – Paul you think – tapping away at the keyboard. Another moment of silence. Then…

"The verdict is agreed," the judge tells Paul. "You and Bernadette are to make the arrangements as soon as possible."

"I will call upon my contacts, and get my two boys here, to sort things out quickly," Bernadette reassures the judge.

"Then this trial is over. If anything goes wrong, you and Paul will be held accountable. Goodbye, Miss Edgars." And with those last words from the judge, the computer goes silent.

Paul pulls your blindfold off and looks at your pained expression. He holds you, and you gratefully hug him back.

"What's going to happen to me?" You swallow hard. You can barely speak. "What the hell is…Rule 22?"

"I can't tell you yet, Lenore. But I've done the best that I can," he tells you. When he releases you, he is unable to look into your brown eyes. Instead, he glances at the black vampire next to him.

And, pulling out a crystal pendant from around her neck, Bernadette gets one of 'her boys' to hold you still, whilst she swings the spinning jewel before you.

"Look into the light from the faces of the crystal, Lenore," she coos to you. "Listen to my voice…"

Hypnotism! But try as you might, you can't fight off the influence as Bernadette lulls you into a sleepy state. Moments later, prompted by her, you tell the vampires all about your past life, and your relationships – good and bad – with the people you have met…

*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*o*

Try as you do, you are unable to get Paul to tell you what's going on during the next two days. He and Bernadette take it in turns to keep you company in the penthouse – and when they are both away, informing the apartment residents of Richard's sudden, fatal 'heart attack', and that they now have a new landlady – you are locked inside Paul's home. You are unable to find a way out, and even if you did, you ask yourself what would you do? The thought of leaving Paul now pains you. What exactly does he think of you now? Each night he allows you to sleep in his bed, whilst he uses the sofa. But during the evening on the second day, when he brings in a takeaway meal Chinese meal for you (with some of your favorite bites), you manage to ask him the question that you are dreading to hear the answer to, as you finish eating.

"Thank you for a lovely treat, Paul… But… Was that…my last meal?"

He can't meet your accusing gaze, as he runs a hand through his messy, light brown hair. "It might be your last dinner, kiddo. Shit. I… I care about you, Lenore. I want you to stay with me. I want you to live. But you might die tomorrow. Don't ask me why. Okay? I'm under orders to remain silent. Please… You need to…trust me."

And his expression stops you from pressing him. He looks as if he could cry again at any moment.

After your meal (Paul has already fed, he tells you, without providing details), the two of you play board games. Then Paul goes through his CD collection and puts on a waltz. He grins as he holds out his hand to you. "May I have this dance, my lady?"

With your eyebrows raised in surprise, you smile before you take up your promenade positions and dance away on the available floorspace to the music, spinning around. Once or twice the pair of you bump against the walls, and you both laugh it off.

You go on to dance to more classical music. Then you're dancing to the 'Tango In The Night' by Fleetwood Mac. Followed by more bopping - to Michael Jackson, and then 'This Night' by Billy Joel. For a while, you forget about tomorrow, and just enjoy being with Paul. Being with your only friend. The music becomes slower. You hold Paul and gently sway to Phil Collins's 'One More Night', and Judy Tzuke's 'Stay With Me 'Till Dawn'.

Then as the music finally stops, the two of you look at each other, not knowing what to say. Slowly, you tilt your face and lean forward to press your lips to his. Paul sighs with relief, and then he holds you tightly to him, his tongue fighting for entrance to your mouth. Taken aback, you pause – then let him in. Eventually, he lets you do the same to him. His hands caress your body, lingering around your modest breasts and hips. Then he is trailing his fingers through the ends of your shoulder-length blonde hair – even as you run your palms down along his chest, his back, and his bum. You giggle as you feel the start of his erection…

Paul breaks his contact with you and looks down. "That should be impossible…," he gasps.

"What? Why? I don't understand…"

"My…condition, Lenore. Since being turned, the only primal thrill Rich and I got was from killing people and draining them. I've tried prostitutes, before I decided to be a good guy. I couldn't satisfy them, as a man. I only got a high when I bit into them and was drinking them dry. We don't have much of a sex drive, kiddo."

"Oh," you whisper. Then you smile. "But you like me, without biting me?"

He looks down for a moment. If Paul could blush, he would do so, there, and then. You guess vampires can't. "I suppose vampires…can't reproduce naturally?" you put to him.

He shakes his head. "The turning process is the only way we know how. Male vampires are sterile. And the ladies of our kind don't have…periods."

You think about that, and nod. "Makes sense, I guess. Otherwise, Bernadette and others like her would be a nightmare to be around, once a month," you observe, grinning. "So… Should we take this any further? If this is my last night, then I don't mind…making love to you, Paul. I… I really care about you. Despite…our darker moments."

Paul looks embarrassed. "I'm sorry for being mad at you when you chickened out at the club. You know, failing to hook a full kill for Rich. And… I'm starting to forgive you for killing Rich. I'll get over him…eventually."

"Like I said before, I'm sorry for hurting you, Paul…" You force yourself to look him in the eye. "But I'm not sorry for killing Rich. He didn't care enough for me. I was wasting away in those last days."

He nods. "We've been together for so long. But whilst I've tried to change my ways, to get by in the world, Rich was so set in his… And sometimes, he was too brutal with his prey…" Paul whispers. "It's not always easy…denying the killer streak in us, Lenore. Over the years, Rich has indulged his inner monster…maybe too much."

You nod. Then you frown, thinking back. "Paul, what is Rule 22?"

"You'll see…" Paul lays his hands on your shoulders. "Look. I care about you, too, kiddo. But I can't risk making love to you. I didn't have that big a meal, earlier."

"Oh… Well, I don't want to be your dessert," you confess, feeling somewhat disappointed.

"I'll keep you company tonight, though… If you want," Paul offers. "Just like in that last song."

So, you take up his offer. With your permission, he fixes you a pill and a drink to help you sleep – and soon you are in Paul's bed, feeling surprisingly safe as you drift off in his cool embrace …