The Art of Healing Heroes
The Order recruited Michael two years ago, a kid with scarred knuckles and the stomach for a thousand fights. Born and raised on the more colorful streets of
, he graduated to
the rank of Agent at eighteen and spent months of nights out solo fighting the
good fight. With the dawn, another shift killing vampires came to an end
and he headed below HQ into Sanctuary below. Approaching his room, he
found the boss with a group of kids. London
“Ah, Thirteen, good. You saved me the effort of finding you later. Since you’re the resident Agent on staff, I want you to take an active part in the training of these new recruits,” the Director said.
“Yes, sir.” Great—just what Mike wanted to do—babysitting. The boss introduced him to the kids by their new designations.
“Thirteen? You jinxed or something?” the blonde called Nine said. Jean jacket, matching miniskirt, a golden tan, and mischief and attitude in her eyes. They’d brought in Malibu Barbie. She smacked her gum.
“It’s just a number,” he said, and stuck his key in the lock to his room.
“To some people. So, like, are we going to be like James Bond? Do we get to meet the Queen? Or ooo, Princess Diana?”
“No.” He looked for the boss to corral the children away, but he and Miss
were the only
people left in the hall. “Look, I’ve been up all night, so go away.” California
“Because vampires come out at night, why do you think? You’re supposed to stick with the tour. Shoo.”
He shut the door in her face and flipped the bolt. Quiet. Pieces of gear and body armor dropped to the floor on his path to the bed. He flopped down face first and fell asleep.
Though Mike was only eighteen, he felt ancient next to these fresh-faced buggers The Order let in. Aged fifteen-to-seventeen, they weren’t really “kids” to him in the chronological sense, but they had no clue what they were up against. This particular batch had never seen a vampire, demon, ghost, werewolf, or any other monster other than on a movie screen. Left him with a lot of misconceptions to clear up. Oh, The Order put every recruit through a rigorous training program in and out of classrooms, but these kids seemed to save every question for him, the Agent.
The job wasn’t nearly as exciting as they thought it would be. He spent more nights watching than fighting, and when he did find prey, The Order wanted it taken from a distance whenever possible. Though Agents were more than your average human, they were still very mortal and facing far faster and stronger foes. Their job was to outwit the beasts, not engage them.
Mike didn’t fear vampires. The most special thing about every Agent was their innate ability to burn the undead on contact like holy water. Vampire touched his skin, no more vampire. It was how he’d been identified at sixteen in an alley where he should’ve been lunch. Most of The Order thought it was mystical. He figured it was an act of evolution. Mankind’s genetic fight against the perils of the dark.
See, most of the myths and legends held a grain of truth, at least as far back as human records went. Some things came from other dimensions; others rose up with humanity. Some might’ve even been on Earth before us. Didn’t matter at the end of the day when they were dead at your feet.
Leaving the martial arts to Sensei, Mike took the recruits to the firing range. “Since we’re underground, anything up to a .50 cal can be fired in here.”
“Fifty cal what?” Nine, the
Barbie. She wore the same grey workout clothes of the rest, but her hair
still contained half a can of Aquanet. Malibu
“Point-five-zero caliber bullet, Recruit. Save all questions for after the demonstration.” Just being in the same room with her got under his skin. Every day, she pestered him with questions. Every day, she’d made some smart remark undermining his authority. Every day, the pink gloss on her full lips was a distraction.
He hated having to touch her to correct how she held every weapon. Being that close filled his nose with the scent of all the products she used too much of. He should order her to shower and come back with none of it. Scent gave them away to half their prey. At the end of their time in the range, he said it.
“You. Nine. Don’t come back to a single class until you wash all that shit off.”
“You’re a walking beacon of humanity to every nasty outside this building. Vanity will get you killed, little girl. I’m sure I’m not the only instructor to tell you this, so clean up your act or prepare to send your kit to your parents with a note apologizing for being dead because you were stupid.”
“How dare you.”
“I don’t mollycoddle, Recruit. You wanna be a pampered princess, go home.”
“Who are you to talk with your stupid Billy Idol hair sticking straight up?”
“This is how I roll out of bed, thank you very much.”
“With white hair? Please.”
“The difference is I don’t leave my room smelling like bleach…bitch.”
He towered over her. “Damn straight. I’m not nice. Can’t afford to be. Newsflash, Princess—they’ll come for you whether you bail or not. It’s your job to be prepared.”
He grabbed her arm. “I’ll show you.”
Dragging her through the halls, he swiped his access card at the stairwell and took her to the level below.
To the cells.
He held up his badge to the security clerk at the desk and kept going until they reached an occupied cell. The vampire launched at the electrified clear wall only to yelp at the jolt that brought it up short. It roared at them, red eyes and fangs exposed.
“Oh my God.” Nine hid behind Mike. “What is that?”
“That, is a vampire.” He took her shoulders and turned her around. “So is that.” This one was female, wearing the clothes of a prostitute. “And that is a poor bastard infected with the Lycan virus.”
“He’s a werewolf three days of the month.” They approached the cage with a man curled in a ball, only dressed in a torn pair of shorts. “They stay until they can control the transformation. Be trusted in the outside world. Until we can cure the disease, infection has to be limited.”
“How does it spread?”
“Bites or blood contact. Carried in bodily fluids.”
“Can they infect you?”
“Agents? Yeah, anyone human. Blighters aren’t aware of what they are most of the time, so they do things during the full moon they don’t remember.”
“So The Order helps them?”
“It’s our job. Look…we do two things: save the helpless and kill evil nasties. Call it destiny, a calling, what-have-you, but the world needs people to do the hard shit and that’s us. And if you can’t handle that, you’ll still have to stay. You’re a danger to your family or any place you haunt long term.”
“Why? Why can’t I go home?”
He sighed and led her back to the elevator. “Because we’re like magnets for the supernatural. Nature runs on a balance, see, and they outnumber us.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Don’t have to. It’s what the brain trust says. Just know, if you don’t find them, they’ll find you. It’s inevitable.”
“So no one can quit? I’m stuck with this?”
“Until death, sweetheart.”
“That’s not fair!”
“Life has never been fair. Get to class. You’re already late enough.” Mike pushed her out of the elevator and continued up to street level, and outside.
He lit a cigarette and walked to his favorite pub. The boss would chew him out for taking a recruit to a restricted area, but she needed to know this wasn’t a fairytale. The others took it on faith or didn’t have the balls to speak up, but Nine was trouble.
Maybe he’d follow a lead out of town. Head north for a while, or over the Channel. Dealing with snot-nosed newbies every day made
no longer feel like home. Comfortable.
He wasn’t the teacher type. Enough to be responsible for his own hide.
Protocol said every Agent outside HQ had to have a Guide partner, so the kids
wouldn’t be alone. Plenty of minders about. London
If the boss would let him leave.
“Out of the question. We need a presence in
“Then rotate someone else in.”
“Who would you suggest, Agent Thirteen? You think the others have nothing to do?”
“Of course not—”
“Then the subject is closed.”
“Dammit, sir, hear me out—”
“Dismissed, Agent, or you’ll find yourself on latrine duty!”
Mike saluted. “Sir.”
And left the office. Bullheaded son-of-a-bitch-stick-up-his-arse—
“Hey. I heard the yelling.” Nine, again.
“What are you doing up here?”
He blinked. Didn’t expect her to admit the truth so plainly. “Um, no.”
“Come with me.” She skipped off down the hall. Where was she going?
She’d figured out where the roof access was. “You’re not going—” Bloody hell.
Later, he’d wonder why he didn’t grab her to stop her from leaving.
Later still, he’d wonder why he followed her out of the building and into the night.
Currently, it was the gentlemanly thing to do, to keep her safe. Young girls were bait, especially ones dressed in a halter top and mini she’d hidden under her uniform. Once down the fire escape, she’d stripped out of the sweats, put her coat back on, and stashed the ball of cloth in a dark corner.
“Do this often?” he asked.
“Here? Nah. First time I could get away.”
“My parents never check if I’m in bed after I go to my room. Why shouldn’t I take advantage and have some fun? Only young once.” She grinned up at him. “You must’ve done the same before all this.”
“Do you have any idea where you’re going?”
She stopped short. “Actually, no. Point me to the nearest club?” She batted her eyelashes.
He rolled his eyes. “Come on.” Against his better judgment, maybe letting her dance the night away would get some of this rebellion out of her system and she’d leave him in peace.
Flagging a cab, he asked for the nearest, cheapest hole with music. The working class crowd would probably offend the Princess’ sensibilities, but that could work in his favor. She’d never bother sneaking out again. An ounce of prevention and all that…
Too bad the bloody chit liked to bounce to anything with a fast beat. Her nose wrinkled up until the next song played and suddenly she shoved her coat into his arms and got lost in the crowd of sweaty bodies. Annoying little bitch. He stalked around the perimeter of the dance floor looking for an opening to get to her, senses sharp to any predators in building.
But there were no vampires. The only predator was her, Nine, a Siren in a sea of humanity. Mike couldn’t keep his eyes off the way her hips swayed and twitched to the music. She danced with her eyes half-closed, hands in the air, her breasts jiggling without the aid of a bra. Such perky little tits, too, becoming more obvious when her top stuck to perspiring skin. Turning her back to him, her ass wiggled to the beat below her bare back. No tan lines on all that skin.
He never would’ve known without bringing her here.
The first night, he only watched her dance.
She haunted his dreams after that, then his waking hours, flirting and teasing and always just out of reach, until one day they ended up sparring alone in the dojo.
Somehow, he ended up on his back.
Somehow, her lips touched his.
Fervent kisses were snuck here, a little heavy petting there, until they could hardly be in the same room without wanting to touch skin and shove each other’s tongues down their throats.
Mike was in love.
Sometime in January 1986, the tension was too much, and they snuck out again with a different destination in mind.
was quiet with a dusting of snow, no moon giving away their steps. He
gave the cabby an address before she pulled him into a kiss that made his jeans
too tight. They stopped for Chinese takeout, then walked the block to the
room he’d reserved. London
Unlocking and opening the door, he said, “Happy birthday, love.” Nothing special, but it was clean with a queen-size bed.
She pushed his coat off his shoulders. “Food later.”
They made love for the first time that night. First time for either of them—well, his first, and he was pretty sure she wasn’t experienced, too. Her hands had shaken when she pulled his belt from the loops and unfastened his trousers. Undressing her, he found fading tan lines from a string bikini bottom and nothing else under her dress. Nerves didn’t get in the way of her taking him in hand and tugging him toward the bed. His fearless girl. He didn’t last long the first time, then made up for it.
Nine gave him her real name on her birthday.
The Order said names had power among the supernatural so it was against the
rules to tell, but she couldn’t “have him scream out a number.” Never
mind that he wasn’t the loud one. Bethany
After eating cold dumplings and chow mein, Mike snuck her back into HQ. She was supposed to be in bed, and him out hunting.
Sneaking around worked great until she told him she was pregnant. The most dreaded words every eighteen-year-old lad could hear. “What?”
“It’s all your fault!”
“My fault? Takes two, sweetheart.”
“I’m only sixteen. This can’t be happening. My mother will kill me. It’s your fault!”
“How in hell is it my fault?”
“Because! Because you’re older and hot and…and…seduced me!”
“You kissed me. You asked me to get a room for your birthday. You undid my fly. Thought they put you girls on the Pill.”
“Well apparently it doesn’t work!”
“Stop screaming at me.”
“I can’t help it. I’m scared.” Then the tears started. He gathered her in his arms. Couldn’t stand to see her cry.
“Shh. It’s not the end of the world. Have you taken a test?”
She sniffed. “I’ve missed two periods.”
Shit. “Why didn’t you say somethin’ after the first one?”
“‘Cause it’s happened before. The first year I had my period.”
“So maybe you’re—”
“No. I feel different. Oh god…what are we gonna do?” She looked up at him with those big eyes, begging him to have all the answers.
“What do you want?”
“To still be at home like none of this was real.”
Ouch. But she didn’t mean him. She couldn’t. “Denial won’t solve—”
“I know. God. I don’t know. It’s too scary, Mike.”
“If…if you go to term, the baby should go somewhere safe. Our life isn’t—”
“Obviously. God, this is fucked up. Why aren’t you freaking out?”
He loved her. “I am, love.”
“It doesn’t show.”
“I think we should stop seeing each other for a while. This…this might not last, and we don’t need to get in trouble for a false alarm.”
, I see you every day.” Bethany
“Not that. I mean the secret times. Someone might catch on.” She pulled away. “Just give me space. Pretend, okay?”
She left before he replied. He’d let her calm down. Get a grip. Keep calm and carry on. She loved him. This was just a bump in the road.
Born in August, Hope was a preemie. Michael named her.
didn’t want to hold their tiny
girl. They were sending her to her grandmother in Bethany . He didn’t know what it
took to get California ’s
mother to agree to take an infant, but he was grateful. Their baby girl
deserved a nice, boring life and that was far away from here. Looking
into her big, trusting blue eyes, he felt an immediate resolve to do anything
to keep her safe. Bethany
He looked up at
“I don’t have a bottle.”
“You have nature’s bottle.”
“I don’t want it chewing on me.” She wouldn’t look at him.
“’Chewing on you’? Giving our daughter milk is what your tits were made for.”
“I’m too tired. Take her away.”
A nurse took Hope from him and put her in a pram to go wherever they put newborns. Someone else wheeled
out of the delivery room. No one cared about the new father. A
nineteen-year-old fool. Bethany
They cast him out of the only life he’d known for three years. Gave him his walking orders and stripped him of all but his personal belongings. A duffle bag, a bank account, and a passport were all he had in the world the day after Hope was born. Should’ve expected it, really. He’d never been a favorite at HQ and the Director had a soft spot for the girls. Looked at them like daughters. Perhaps the old man had one.
He wrote letters to
never replied to. Bethany
Found her mother easy enough, though. Looked in on Christmas and birthdays. Hope was always happy to see him and the missus was kind.
He traveled anywhere that would make use of his skills, human or supernatural, until 1999 when she called him.
The love of his life and his damnation. Bethany
The very ex-lover that beat his face in tonight.
No, she wasn’t a big bruiser of a woman. That would be less humiliating, but he got this way because he didn’t fight back. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
He faded in and out of consciousness. His face was massively swollen on one side, his left eye forced shut, and the back of his head bled from repeated impact with the asphalt.
Bruised from the waist up.
The location didn’t matter. His job concerned street names and sewer tunnels more than city borders. It all looked the same at night, anyway.
It was a long story…
Their thirteen-year-old daughter was too much to handle. Asking hard questions and acting out. And they needed money.
had left the Order, though he didn’t
know when. Didn’t matter. They still had to fight, either
way. The ability to burn the undead didn’t go away when the paychecks
He settled as near to them as he could afford. He’d visited Hope before, but
never wanted him
around long once she moved back home—no longer than it took to scratch an itch,
anyway. He’d always been good at making her scream. Bethany
Only civil parents here until last fall, she took some news hard in the doing-things-you-shouldn’t-in-the-dark kind of way.
Sometimes him. She’d always had his number and he’d do anything to ease her pain.
Even let her kill him.
Corinne turned down the alley to walk to her car parked behind the building.
“Oh my God!” She rushed to an injured man on the ground. “Sir, can you hear me?” He didn’t respond, so she took out her phone to dial 911. “I need an ambu—”
A pale calloused hand clamped around her wrist, bringing the phone down from her ear.
“No hospitals,” he croaked.
“Listen, buddy—you need medical care. I’m pretty positive you have broken bones and a strong concussion.”
The man opened his good eye. “Really, I’ve ‘ad worse. Just need to get home and I’ll be fine,” he rasped. He tried to sit up.
“Look…” She pushed him back down.
“Mike. I’m a doctor, okay? I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”
He tried to get up again, but he was too dizzy to push her out of the way.
“Don’t be so stubborn! I bet you can’t even walk straight in your condition. My car is behind the building. Let me pull it around and take you home…please?”
He gave a tiny nod. She smiled and hurried off.
She pulled up in a late-model import, headlights off, and ran around the front to open the passenger door, then went to help him.
“Okay, we’re just going to take our time and do this nice and easy,” she said. “It’s only a few feet, but don’t be afraid to tell me if you need to stop.”
They moved in stages, getting him to sit up, then rise on his knees, then put one foot on the ground, and the other. Finally, he was in the car, and his eyelids were drooping.
She smacked the back of his hand. “Hey! You can’t sleep, yet. Head trauma like this, you could slip into a coma.” She ran around to the driver’s seat.
“I didn’t lose consciousness. It’s just bruises.”
“How do you know for sure—”
“It wouldn’t be my first concussion. I just need to get home.”
She frowned, then handed him her phone. “I’d feel better if someone watched over you tonight. Is there a friend you can call?”
He scowled, punched in the numbers, and pressed “send”. “Pete…yeah, can you be at my place in around ten? Thanks, mate. I’ll explain later.” He closed the phone with a grimace and handed it back to her. “There, you happy?”
“Don’t have to get snippy. I’m just trying to be a good doctor.”
“Sorry. I’m not at my best,” he muttered.
“It’s okay. I’ve had worse patients. Where am I heading?”
“Oh. Do you…like it there?” She wanted to keep him talking.
“It’s not too bad. Have a proper bed and everything. Electricity, too.”
“So…why aren’t you…?” He waved his hands in the air to simulate a panicking person.
“Freaking out?” She shrugged. “I’ve seen worse during an ER rotation, and you’re in too bad a shape to be much threat to me. Were you mugged?”
“Something like that.”
She soon found the motel. “Is your room close to the street?”
“Not exactly. I think I can manage, though, all the same. My legs are fine.”
“You’re going to need help getting inside.” He was wheezing.
“As you wish.”
With his equilibrium shot, they meandered about like a couple of drunks while she tried to keep him upright. “A fine pair we make.”
“Yeah, yeah—laugh it up,” he huffed, scowling down at her. “Ow. Expressions hurt.”
“Just a little bit farther, and I’ll get you fixed up.” She patted the kit slung over her shoulder.
They got the door unlocked and she turned on the light. He sunk into a chair.
She set the tackle box down and opened it up, revealing a lot more than Band-Aids and rubbing alcohol.
“Quite a stash you have there, Doc.”
“I got my EMT cert before going to med school.” She ripped open a pack of antiseptic wipes. “I always travel prepared. This might sting.” She applied the pad to the cut over his eye.
“Yeow! Might? Bloody hell, woman!”
“Sorry,” she said, wincing. “Once I get you cleaned up, then I can numb this before I stitch the cut. Just try to take deep breaths and focus on something pleasant.”
He closed his eyes and let her work.
“Hmm?” He opened his good eye.
“I’m going to feel around your face for fractures.”
“Alright. Do what you need to.” He gripped the armrests.
“That’s better,” she murmured. “I need to lift your eyelid and check your eye.” She reached for a tiny flashlight.
He was about to respond when a man burst through the door.
“Sorry I’m late! My mother called just as I was out the door. Hi! I’m Pete. Is this a bad time?”
He was huge, and, sorry to say, one of the ugliest people she’d ever seen.
She blinked and shook her head. “That’s your friend?” she asked Mike.
“He’s harmless. Aren’t you, mate?”
Pete closed the door and walked inside. “Oh, yeah! Anybody want some Cheetos?” He held up a new bag.
She shook her head and resumed her doctoring. Mike hissed when she pried open his eye, shining the pen light on his pupil. He tried to jerk away from the bright light, so she released his face.
“A couple broken blood vessels, but the eye appears okay. Do you have any ice?”
“Check the fridge.”
She got up to look. Pete looked at his friend. “Whoa, buddy! What attacked you tonight?”
“Here’s the ice.” She tossed it to Pete.
“Looks worse than it is, mate,” he replied, glancing away.
“I need to wrap your ribs.” She picked up a pair of scissors to cut his t-shirt off.
“Whoa! You’re not cuttin’ into my clothes.”
“It needs to come off and I doubt you can raise your arms.”
He pulled the fabric up to his armpits with his right hand and sat forward. “Just do it this way.”
She sighed, set her biggest roll of gauze on his lap, then grabbed her stethoscope to listen to him breathe. With his breathing only labored from the pain, she got to work binding his chest. His torso was covered in faint scars. Recent bruises stood out more vividly. While not a big man, he was well-built and she wondered what he did for a living. Walking behind him, she spotted the blood on the back of his head and cleaned up the damage after securing the gauze.
“If we’re done playing doctor, I’d like to get some rest.”
“Uh, sure.” She packed her supplies and handed him a bottle of pills. “These are for the pain. Follow the directions.”
“Doc…I’m grateful, really. No one’s…well, let’s just say few people would have gone to so much trouble for me. Thank you.”
She patted his shoulder. “Don’t mention it. Just doing my job.” She slid the strap over her shoulder and made for the door. Her hand was on the handle when he spoke.
“Hey, Doc. What’s your name?”
“Corinne. Corinne Larkin. Goodnight, Mike. Nice to meet you, Pete.”
She left, quietly closing the door.
“Nice girl,” Pete said. “For a human.” He sat down facing Mike. “Wanna tell me what happened?”
“Not particularly.” He sighed. “Want to sleep for a week.”
Pete knew not to press, and helped his friend without another word.
Once Mike was settled in bed, Pete sat watch in the chair.
No one would get a chance to sneak in and finish the job.