A/N: So if you have not yet figured it out, this story is going to be mostly about Tate… and Cat of course. I always felt for his character despite his jerky behavior. I still hope we'll see a Night Huntress world book about him. To warn you, there may be a little romance between him and Cat in this story, so if you don't wanna read about that, this isn't the story for you. I should also mention that for purposes of this story, Don is actually dead, not a ghost.
I'd never sat and waited for someone to die.
Sure, I'd seen many deaths… caused many deaths… I'd even been there when my uncle had taken his last breath. But somehow, sitting in a chair, waiting for death to come, not having the slightest clue when it would happen, was worse. And the very worst part was, the man I was currently staring at, could have been sleeping.
He looked like himself, more or less; he did still have dried blood on his naked body. I'd covered his lower half with a sheet, thinking it inappropriate to stare at his goods while he was unconscious. Or ever.
The thought had crossed my mind more than once that I should clean him up, but then I worried he would meet his true death while I was touching him and I wasn't sure I could handle that. Despite everything that we'd been through, and partially because of it, Tate was one of my best friends and I still couldn't wrap my head around the fact that he could die at any moment.
Bones and Spade had both assured me there was nothing they, or anyone else, could do, but I hadn't been able to accept that. I'd demanded they call Mencheres and I myself had called Vlad. Both had heard rumors of such a thing, but had never encountered it themselves. I'd felt near defeat when I'd gotten this news. Mencheres was one of the oldest vampires left in the world. If he didn't know anything… we were fucked. Or rather, Tate was.
The only good thing that had happened since the attack was the surviving ghouls had squealed on the location in which they had been called to assembly before being sent for us. The team had decided to ambush it once evening fell. They had elected me to stay behind. It was against my nature to stay away from a fight, but at the same time, I couldn't leave. I didn't want to be here, didn't want to see my friend die, but in a way I felt it was my duty and he shouldn't be left alone.
Tate had been alone for most of his life, being an orphaned child who jumped from foster home to foster home until he was old enough to join the army. Though he had friends now, he'd expressed to me in times past that he still went home to an empty apartment every night with only late night television to keep him company. No one was sure if he could hear us… if he knew I was there, but in the off chance…
No, I couldn't leave him alone now.
But I was itching with the urge to accompany Bones and the rest of the team to take down the ghouls and had to keep reminding myself that I was doing the right thing by staying here. I wished I had a gin and tonic.
A look at the wall told me that it was a quarter till nine. They would be gearing up right about now.
I heard the door to the room open and looked, expecting to see Bones, but instead Juan was standing there. He looked solemn and I couldn't really blame him. Tate was his friend, too. We had all been working together for over five years, and I knew Juan had been here longer than me.
"How is he?"
"Same," I replied.
"There's no chance… could he pull through this?"
I honestly didn't know and told him as much. From the way Bones and Spade had acted, I knew there was no point in hoping he would get better, but some part of me kept holding on to the notion that maybe, just maybe he would wake up all healed.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and let it rest there as Juan attempted to comfort me and himself.
"He was a good man," my friend said. "A great leader."
I felt like he was giving the eulogy a little early, but didn't say anything. Instead I just nodded my head yes. Those things were true after all. I had a brief flashback to when Dave, another member of our team, had died. It had been one of the most difficult things I'd faced emotionally. This would be like that… only worse. The sudden impact of this realization felt like a punch to the stomach and the whole situation suddenly became very real to me. I had watched Dave die. I had watched my uncle die. And now I would watch as my best friend died. I choked back a sob in my throat and the hand squeezed my shoulder. I looked up into the tear filled eyes above me.
I had the sudden desire to hug Juan but thought it better to resist that. Both of us having a crying fest wouldn't do. There were ghouls to be killed and I still had to solve the mystery of how they'd gotten into our building in the first place. But all of that just seemed so… unimportant.
"I should get going," he finally said. "They're waiting. I just came to say goodbye."
Juan finally let go of my shoulder and took a step closer to the table. "I'll miss you, amigo," he said. Then, with no final look at me, he left.
No one else came by.
Almost as soon as Juan had gone I found a bit of composure. I'd decided there was no point in crying about something I couldn't change. And he wasn't dead yet. I kept reminding myself of when Bones had died and how that had felt. It couldn't be worse than that, I knew, but it would still be bad.
I found myself replaying our last conversation in my head. I'd come into his office angry because he'd told my mother she was ready to go out on jobs. I hadn't wanted her to join up with them to begin with, much less go out and actually fight things. Tate had insisted she was ready, but just because he was in charge did not mean he always knew what was best. She was my mother. That's how it had begun, and then had somehow made the transition to being about our relationship, which had been on a slippery slope downward since the day Bones had found me.
"She's not ready."
"Bullshit. You just don't want her to be ready. Open your eyes, Cat."
"Or maybe I should just beat the shit out of you."
"Is that what it's going to take for you to shut the fuck up and let me do my job? You wanna hit me? Go ahead." He spread his arms open in invitation.
"I wouldn't give you the satisfaction of touching me."
"Right, because you're such a prize."
"At least people want me."
Despite himself, Tate actually looked hurt by my comment, but only long enough for him to throw my insecurities back at me. And then the argument had been over because we'd been attacked.
I still needed to figure that out, but I couldn't seem to make myself focus on it now. All I could think about was how stupid our argument had been and how I wished I could take it all back. Those had been the last words I'd spoken to him, the last words I would ever speak.
"At least people want me."
I stood up from my chair and stepped closer to where Tate was lying, still completely motionless. "I'm sorry," I found myself saying. "I didn't mean it. I was just angry and…" I reached out a hand to touch his and half expected him to move. He didn't. "I don't want you to die." I realized I was crying, but couldn't seem to stop it. Everything had hit me at once. He was dying; he would die, because of me. He'd jumped in front of that bullet to save me. If he hadn't, I would be the one lying on this table.
This, I now knew, was the only reason Bones and Spade had wasted their time trying to save him.
I thought about all the times he'd told me he loved me and how many of those times I'd rolled my eyes or brushed him off. How many times I had turned away when he'd tried to help me, how I'd chosen everyone over him… even Vlad. I'd turned my back on him more times than could be counted on one hand, yet he'd never turned his back on me.
It was true that he probably hadn't known the bullets were filled with liquid silver, but I knew in my heart that even if he had known, he would have still jumped in front of me. And that thought broke what little resistance to grief I had left.
Another sob escaped my throat and I didn't even attempt to stop it. Nor did I try to stop the tears that flowed freely down my cheeks. The pinkish liquid fell in droplets on his pale face and the earlier desire I'd had to clean him up became stronger. He may die any at any moment, but he would be clean. I walked over to the sink and grabbed a clean rag from the stack on the counter beside it. I managed to find a bowl that I filled with soap and water, and with shaky hands, I began cleaning the dried blood off of his chest and arms.
I'm not sure how long it took me, but eventually I had those areas cleaned as well as his neck and face. I stared down at his legs and decided I should clean those too. I started at his feet and worked my way upwards. I had reached the spot just above his right knee when the voice startled me.
"What are you doing?"
I froze in the position I was in, my eyes darting upwards. Surely I had been mistaken. The voice had come from Bones or Spade or even Juan. But I knew better than that. No one had come into the room. Instead, I found myself staring into blue eyes, eyes clouded with confusion and amusement.
"Tate?" I asked, finding my voice was barely a whisper.
"Last time I checked." He'd started to sit up and I found myself gaping at him.
"But… you're dead." This wasn't entirely accurate, I realized. He hadn't been dead, just dying. And now he wasn't. I'm not sure I could explain what I felt in that moment. Shock, relief, joy, more shock.
"I believe the correct term is undead," he said. "What the hell happened?"
"What do you remember?" I asked him, still wide eyed.
"I remember fighting a hoard of ghouls. It's all fuzzy after that. Until I woke up to you rubbing my legs." He gave me a suggestive smile.
I suddenly realized my hand was still resting above his knee and I removed it immediately. "I was cleaning you."
"Oh you were?"
My shock had worn off and I felt a bit of irritation rising in me. I picked up my bowl of dirty reddish water and took it back to the sink. "You were covered in blood. I was just trying to help."
"I'm surprised you didn't eat me."
I spun around, fully prepared to sock him in the jaw when I realized he was serious. I'd completely forgotten about my hunger in my weepy state, which was good, since vampire blood was my food of choice. The smell had hit me when I'd first entered the room, but since then I hadn't noticed it at all. But now that he'd mentioned it, and now that I was no longer full of sorrow, it hit me with a pretty big force. I stared down at the bloody water in the sink. I could drink that.
"Where is everybody?" Tate asked, pulling me out of my thoughts and turning my head away from the sink.
"They went out. Goblin headquarters."
"And you stayed behind? How'd the vampire manage to keep you here?"
I bit my tongue to keep from reminding Tate that he was now also a vampire. Instead I said, "He didn't do anything. I chose to stay."
"Why would you do that?"
"You were dying. I didn't want to leave you alone."
He seemed touched by my words and that made me regret saying them. Our relationship had been on thin ice for some time now and I didn't want to give him any reason to ram into it with his undying affection.
"Thanks. I guess," his tone didn't match his eyes and I wondered if he was brushing it off for my benefit. Sometimes I wished I could read minds, and then I would remember how much that sucked and stopped those thoughts immediately. He was fully sitting on the table now, the white sheet still covering important areas. He rubbed the back of his head with his hand and seemed to be in deep thought. After a moment he said, "So what did happen?"
"You were shot."
"I think I do remember hearing a shot, maybe feeling a sting… One of the goblins had a gun. He was going to shoot you," he seemed to be remembering.
I nodded. "He was aiming for me, I think. But you stepped in front of me."
"Why would they want to shoot you?"
I shrugged. Why indeed? Maybe I was more well-known than I thought in the goblin world. Maybe someone had assigned soccer dad the task of taking me out. It wasn't so unreasonable. A sudden thought occurred to me. "What if it wasn't meant for me," I said. "What if it was meant for Bones? Maybe the ghoul never intended to shoot me. He just wanted me and whoever was watching to think he was. He knew Bones would jump in the way. What he didn't count on was you getting there first."
Tate smiled slightly, looking proud of himself for a moment, and then his face hardened. "Cat, I didn't just get there because I was faster. I was standing right next to you. Of course I would have gotten there first. Though he had no reason to believe I would do it."
I snorted. Tate wore his emotions on his proverbial sleeve. And though he had declared to me that he just wanted to be friends again, he couldn't fool anyone when he looked at me.
"Am I that obvious?" he asked, seemingly sensing my thoughts.
I didn't respond, but my face gave me away.
"Let's say it was intended for Bones," Tate continued ignoring his previous comment. "That makes sense. He's a master vampire; I'm sure he has enemies." He did his best not to sound like the idea of someone going after Bones appealed to him, but failed.
"It wouldn't be another vampire, surely," I said with a slight irritation. I refrained from telling him that he shouldn't be so quick to wish the worst on Bones, a man who had spent hours trying to save him. I would save that for a later argument. "That would start a war. And as far as I know, Bones hasn't done anything bad enough to warrant that risk."
"As far as you know."
I shot him a death glare.
"Look, I'm just saying that it's possible that Bones pissed off the wrong monster, vampire or otherwise. You can't keep tabs on him 24/7 and I'm sure he hasn't told you every detail about the hundreds of years he spent roaming the Earth before you knew him."
I was attempting to control my anger. Having people question my relationship with Bones was a trigger to my dark side, and Tate had a nasty habit of doing that whenever the chance presented itself. I knew it was me being insecure, as stupid as that was, and that was all that kept me from bashing his head in right then. I thought of our earlier conversation/argument and bit my tongue hard enough to draw blood to keep from rehashing it.
It was strange that not twenty minutes before I would have given anything to take back what I'd said to him, and now here I was, about to say it again. Why did he make me so angry? I just couldn't figure it out.
"It's possible that the ghouls are doing it on their own. Maybe they're out to take out all vampires and want to start with the strongest," Tate said, brushing off my apparent rage. "They may have been after you all along. I'm sure they've heard of the Red Reaper."
"You should put some clothes on," I said. "I'll wait outside." Without waiting for a response, I exited the infirmary, closing the door behind me. I didn't know how long it would take him, but I needed a minute to collect myself. I'd gone from being angry to being depressed to being so relieved I might faint and back to being angry. That was a lot of emotion for one evening. I closed my eyes and tried to get a grip on said emotions.
My friend was alive… undead… whatever. That was good. But how? What had happened to cure him? To reverse the effects of the silver? I'd cleaned him off, but I'd just used water, not some magic potion known to cure silver poisoning. Nothing else had happened since I'd been sitting there. It was possible, I supposed, that he could have healed himself. Maybe the liquid silver had only been a trick, only meant to immobilize someone for a length of time, not kill them. That seemed like a stretch, but I'd learned not to underestimate the supernatural, even ghouls.
Thinking of the ghouls reminded me that I still didn't know how they'd gotten into our building. I really needed to ask Tate what he remembered.
As if on cue, the door opened to reveal the man in question. He'd put on the clothes he'd been wearing before and when he turned his back, I noticed the bullet shaped hole in his shirt. "Decent," was all he'd said to me and I walked back into the room.
"Okay. So I was shot," Tate began, "And this somehow almost killed me. I thought it was near impossible to kill a vampire with a gun. Even with silver bullets..."
"The bullets were filled with liquid silver. When it hit you, it released into your system." I explained to him Bones' theory of how it had spread so quickly and how he and Spade had tried to cut it out.
"They did that?" he sounded surprised. "Huh." He contemplated this. I thought for a moment he might show a little gratitude, but he simply shook his head. "So what did cure me?"
"That I don't know," I said honestly. "You just… woke up."
"You didn't do anything?"
"Not that I can think of. I mean I was washing you off, but that shouldn't have mattered." I was thankful he didn't make more comments about that. And I only hoped he wasn't storing it away to use in any future conversations. "Is there anything you can remember? When you came to, did you hear or see anything?"
He shook his head. "No. I just felt like I was waking up. My first thought was that I'd been knocked out. And that my mouth tasted salty," he added, almost as an afterthought.
"Yeah. You know, like… of salt."
"I know what salty means, jackass." That earned me a smile. "That's unusual right?"
He nodded. "It wasn't extreme, but it was definitely there."
Salty? What that was salty could have been in his mouth? What tasted salty, besides salt itself? Ocean water, of which there was none in our near vicinity, sperm, something that was unlikely to be in his mouth (though I had a brief flash of Spade and Bones jacking off on his face… not that they would… I hoped…), and… tears. Tears. I had cried and my tears had fallen on his face. It was very possible that some of those could have fallen in his mouth. But how would my tears cure someone of silver poisoning?
"Cat? You still in there?" Tate was waving a hand I front of my face.
"Tears," I said.
He raised an eyebrow at me in question.
"Maybe it was tears you tasted."
"Was I crying?" he asked, looking abashed at the very idea of that.
"No I…" I broke off when his eyes met mine. "I was."
I expected him to make a snide remark about how I'd cried over him, how that must mean I'd been lying to myself all this time about my true feelings, but he didn't. Instead he looked a little surprised and only nodded. "You have powerful tears," he said, and I couldn't tell if he was joking or not.
I realized we were standing really close to each other and wondered how that had happened. Instinctively I took a step back, putting more space between us. The setting was feeling a little too intimate to suit me. "There's something else I wanted to ask you," I said, attempting to get my footing back. "We haven't been able to figure out how the ghouls got into the building. When we were attacked, the ghoul got me from behind. Did you see where it came from?"
"Nowhere," he replied.
"Nowhere? It had to have come from somewhere. If you didn't see…"
"No, I did see," he said seriously. "It literally came from nowhere. It appeared out of thin air."