The group gathered in the kitchen seemed like a rather sad war meeting. At the table a girl with dark hair sat between her parents. A tall blond man, looking a little scraped up, and his son were standing before them.
"Vampires," said the larger of the two men. Dark haired, and broad shouldered. Jeff Parker's eyes were wide and baggy, haunted by the events of the last two days. "Actual vampires."
"Yes, Mr. Parker," said Richard. "Actual vampires. They're surprisingly common in college towns. All the symptoms of blood loss are easily mistaken for a bad hangover."
"But they're gone?" asked Abby Parker, her arms still protectively around her blanket-covered daughter. "You got them all."
Richard's eyes slid sideways, to his son standing like a miniature version beside them. "Yes, I believe we got them all. However, I would like to leave Regan stationed here tonight while I make sure."
Every other pair of eyes turned to the young slayer, except the girl who had already been watching him, as he tried very hard to seem unfazed by the scrutiny.
"But he's just a boy," Jeff protested.
"He's not." Milly's voice was a surprise to the adults in the room. Both of her parents looked down at her, startled. "He saved me. He got the two that had me."
"As I said, Regan should stay here I while make sure everything's okay," Richard continued, calmly.
"He can stay in my room," Milly said.
"I'm sure the guest room is fine," Abby started, but Milly shook her head.
"You didn't see them, Mom," Milly said. "The way they moved…the guest room is too far away. I want him close."
"I can keep her safe," Regan said softly. Even though his voice was subdued, there was a surprising maturity in the way he spoke. "Nothing will happen to her if I'm here. I promise."
"Is something likely to happen?" Abby asked, fear edging into her voice. "I thought you got them?"
"Vampires are pack forming creatures," Regan said. "Where there's one, there's always more. They almost never travel in less than two or three. That's why I should stand guard tonight. Just in case."
"I believe we destroyed their nest tonight," Richard put in. "But in our line of work, you can't take any chances."
"A-Alright," Jeff said heavily, like he couldn't process any resistance right then. "We'll throw blankets down in Milly's room."
"I'll do it," Milly pushed her chair back from the table, shaking off her mom's arm.
"I'll help you," Abby said, starting to rise.
"Actually, Mrs. Parker, I would like a word with the two of you," Richard said. "Son, while Milly his preparing her room go and get your things."
Regan nodded and headed to the door, while Milly escaped up the stairs. Richard waited until they were both out of earshot to speak.
"I know that you two are very happy your daughter is home safe," he said. "But I feel I must warn you: the hard part starts now."
"But she's home now," Abby said, almost pleading. "It's over."
"The vampires are dead, but the effects of tonight will live on for her," Richard continued. "For all of you. All three of you have been through something life changing, especially Milly. Not many people survive an encounter with a vampire, but she did. She's not going to be the same after something like that. There are times when she might even seem like a different person. That's normal. Milly will need your love and support, but she will also need the space she needs to work through this. No matter how much you might want to help her, there is a lot she has to deal with all on her own."
"I'm just glad she's safe," Jeff said, squeezing his eyes tight for a second as he fought tears. "Anything else we can work out as it comes up."
"She's alive, and she's home," Abby added. "We can make it through anything, now."
Richard gave a calming smile. "I'm sure you're right. I'll be back in the morning for Regan. Now, I've got to go finish the job."
"We can never thank you for bringing her back," Jeff said, shaking his hand.
"You'll never have to," Richard said.
He left the Parker's house, walking at a sedate pace, and headed out to the car where his son was waiting for him. Regan's weapons trunk was on the sidewalk by the car, and his duffle bag was thrown over his shoulder. The boy had known to wait for his father to be done with the Parkers.
"Are you gonna be okay, Dad?" Regan's hazel eyes swept over his father. "You're moving a little stiff."
"Cracked a rib in the fall," Richard said. "But I've had worse. I'm all but positive there's no more leaches. This is just a precaution."
Regan nodded. "I'm sorry I didn't wait for you before moving in. I got nervous."
"Just this one time, we'll call it a wash." Richard's hand cupped his son's chin, forcing eye contact. "Just this once. You did well tonight,s but there will be no more disregarding my orders in the future."
"Yes, sir," Regan said solemnly, but hid a smile.
Richard pulled his son close, and after a beat Regan hugged him back.
"I'm proud of you," Richard said. "Two at once."
"It's no big deal," Regan said, but he didn't raise his face from his father's chest just in case he was blushing.
When they pulled apart, Richard clapped Regan on the shoulder. "I'll be back in the morning, soldier. Nothing will happen, but keep your eyes peeled anyway."
"Yes, sir," Regan said. "I'll see you in the a.m."
"I'll see you…Regan St. James," Richard said with a smile.
Regan hid his beaming grin until Richard drove away. He allowed himself a moment to bask before he schooled his face. Bag on shoulder and chest in arms, Regan made his way back into the house.
Milly thought the boy looked a little silly carrying a trunk with a bag over his shoulder, but she kept her thoughts to herself. She'd seen what he was capable of, so how silly could he be?
"It's this way," she said as he came inside, motioning with her head up the stairs.
"You need any help with that, Reagan?" Her dad asked.
"It's Regan, sir," he replied. "And no, I got it."
Both her parents followed them up the stairs to her bedroom. She wanted to scream. They were worried, she got that, but their constant presence was smothering. Ever since she'd been brought home there had been hugs and squeezes and constant touching, almost as if they thought she'd vanish if they took their hands off her. In the face of their obvious devastation, how could she tell them she didn't want to be touched?
"This is it," Milly said, opening the door to her room.
She had thrown a sleeping bag, a pile of blankets, and a fluffy pillow on the floor next to the bed. Regan plopped down his trunk and the bag next to them. His eyes flowed over everything, her desk, the nicknacks, the posters on her wall. His intent gaze seemed to take in everything, but he made no comment.
"Are you sure this will be alright, son?" Jeff asked again from where he and Abby were still hovering by the door. "You can take the extra bedroom if you want."
"It won't be my first night on the floor, sir," Regan said. If he noticed that Milly's parents seemed uncomfortable he didn't mention it. "Any more leaches show up tonight this is the only place I'll be useful."
"Well, if you're sure—" Abby started to say, but Milly'd had enough.
"Mom, Dad," she cut in. "I'm really tired."
"Of course, honey," her mom said, hugging her tight. "Just get some sleep, it's all over now."
"I'm so glad you're home safe," her dad said when his turn to bestow another embrace she had to fight the urge to shrug off.
"Me too," she said.
They left the door open a crack as they left. Stifling a growl Milly pushed it fully closed. She couldn't help the sigh of relief as the door clicked.
Regan's voice nearly made her jump. "I'm going to check the windows, get a feel for the space."
"Absolutely, do whatever you need to," she said.
While Regan checked the locks, and paced the floor plan, Milly sat crosslegged on her bed. Watching him go through his motions had a settling effect. She wasn't sure if it was the practiced ease that bolstered her confidence, or if it was watching someone her own age be so good something.
"Looks clear," he said.
"Good," she said. "Will you sit with me? I know I said I was tired, but I don't think I can sleep yet."
Regan sat down sideways on the bed, feeling kind of awkward. Milly noticed.
"You can take your shoes off," she said.
"Uh," he looked down at the laces of his combat boots. "They're too hard to get back on if something happens."
"I thought you didn't think anything would happen," she said.
"I don't," he replied. "But if it does I have to be prepared."
"How do you prepare for any this?" She asked, hoping her voice didn't sound too pathetic. "None of it seems real."
He watched her for a moment before answering, "It's like any other emergency situation, really. There are things you can train for."
"You train for vampires?" She asked, but before he could answer she said, "I guess that's obvious. You're pretty handy with a sword."
"It's what I do." He tipped a shoulder.
"So you do this kind of a thing a lot?"
"Yeah, like every day."
"Your dad's cool with that?"
"It's kind of a family business," Regan said. "We do it together."
"Wow," she murmured. "My parents don't even let me stay home alone."
"They're worried about you," he said.
"They'll be even more worried now." Even she could hear the bitterness in her own voice.
Regan opened his mouth, the closed it before saying anything.
He shook his head. "Nothing."
Milly squinted at him. "You were gonna say something."
"You're right. They will be more protective than before," he said. "But if they're hovering just say so."
"Yeah, right," she huffed. "They barely listened to me before, how can I make them understand after this?"
"You just have to be honest," Regan answered. "Tell them it's not working. Tell them when it makes you feel trapped, instead of safe."
Milly looked up at him, almost like she was really seeing him for the first time. "You talk like you know."
He looked away. "I have experience."
"There's a lot more of you, aren't there?" She asked suddenly. "People who know about vampires?"
"I can't really answer that," he said.
"What can you tell me?" She asked. "Please, I…I need to know more about them."
"Well, most of what you hear about vampires on TV isn't true," he said. "Sunlight, crosses, holy water, none of that does jack. And if you tried a wooden stake, it would just splinter in your hand."
She nodded, taking it in. "What does work, then?"
"Have you heard of vanadium?"
"It's a metal," Regan explained. "For some reason vampires are weak to it. We use vanadium in the tempering process of our swords, and they'll cut a leach like butter."
"It's more than just your swords, though," Milly said. "You moved like they do. I mean it didn't seem like you were moving super fast or anything, but they couldn't touch you. Do you have powers too?"
"No," he said. "I'm just really good at martial arts."
"Oh," she said. "But they do have powers, right?"
"Most leaches have the basic power set," he said. "We call them the Three S's: strength, speed, and stealth. They're really strong, really fast, and when they move they don't make a sound. Besides that they also have their mind tricks."
"Mind tricks…" Milly murmured. "Is that why there are things I can't remember right?"
"That's part of it." He nodded. "A vampire can put a human under its thrall, and make them do anything. Even forget stuff. It's how they stay hidden, and how they feed."
Her hand rose to her neck as he said that, like she didn't even realize she was doing it.
"Will I ever remember?" She asked quietly.
"I don't think so," Regan answered, voice gentle. "My dad says it's like being black-out drunk. Once the memories are gone, they're pretty much just gone. Sometimes with time and therapy people can get back bits and pieces, but not usually."
"I've never been black-out drunk," Milly said, mostly for something to say.
"Well, we're only thirteen," he pointed out.
"How often does this happen?" She asked. "I mean, how common is it, what happened to me?"
"Very," he said. "I don't know the exact number, and we'd have to estimate anyway, but a significant portion of disappearances are vampire related."
Her face grayed. "Really?"
"Yup," he said. "Don't get me wrong, most crime and kidnappings and stuff are just humans being horrible to each other. But lots of times it's vampires."
"My God," she said, voice faint.
"And that's just the sloppy ones," he continued. "We think there are a lot more that keep their victims alive and just erase their memory."
The unease she'd felt since coming home started to creep back in. "How do they get away with it, if it's so common?"
"Did you believe vampires were real before this?" Regan asked.
"No, of course not," she said. "Why would I have?"
"Well, there has been lore for millennia," he said. "Practically every culture has believed in blood-sucking monsters."
"Most cultures believed diseases were caused by angry gods, too," Milly countered.
"True," he admitted. "But even in modern times. I mean, there's a whole movie series and everything. A terribly inaccurate series, but still. You never wondered why the vampire 'myth' sticks around?"
"I never wondered about unicorns, either," she said. "…Wait, those aren't real too, are they?"
"Of course not," he scoffed.
"Right, because that would be ridiculous," she muttered.
"My dad always says that people don't think vampires are real because they don't want to," he said. "That most people only see what they want to see. I always wondered whether that was really true, or if the uninitiated just pretend they don't know what's out there."
"Looks like your dad's right," she said. "I never for one second thought they could be real. Until two days ago, anyway. I guess that's my next question. Where did they come from?"
Regan hesitated. "There are different beliefs, just like people believe different things about where humans came from."
"Okay," Milly said. "So, what do you believe?"
Instead of answering, Regan got up from the bed and rummaged in his duffle bag. When he returned he was holding a book against his chest that, from what Milly could see of it, looked almost like a Bible.
"I'm not supposed to show anyone this," Regan said. "It's Taboo; I'd get in a lot of trouble. Can you promise to keep a secret?"
Milly stuck out her hand, pinky out, towards Regan. He just stared at it, then slowly looked up at her, eyebrow raised.
"You said promise," she prompted.
"…Do you not know what the pinky swear is?"
"The pinky what, now?"
Not sure if he was messing with her, Milly said, "Stick your pinky out like mine."
He gave her a look that made her grin despite herself.
"Just do it," she said.
Regan rolled his eyes, but stuck out his little finger.
"Okay, now hook your pinky around mine." She waited until he had before continuing. "Alright now, without letting go, bring up your thumb to touch mine."
"What is the point of this?"
"Just trust me."
Sighing, he touched their thumbs together.
"Now repeat after me," she said. "Pinky promise, thumb touch, seal it with a kiss!"
With her free hand, she blew him a kiss, laughing as his eyes went wide. "It's the unbreakable swear," she said, still giggling. "Me and my friends do it all the time. Now you."
"I'm not doing that," he protested.
But Milly clamped her pinky tighter. "You promised!"
Cheeks flushing, Regan mumbled the vow. "Pinky promise, thumb touch, seal it with a kiss." He brought two fingers of the hand holding the book up to his mouth, and then lowered it quickly in the most aborted air kiss ever.
"There, see?" She said, satisfied. "Now we know we can trust each other."
Watching him shaking his head and muttering, she realized it was the first time since she'd been rescued that she didn't feel like she was drowning. They sat for a moment while Regan composed himself.
"I won't tell anyone," she said, wiggling her pinky. "We swore the unbreakable swear."
"Okay," he finally said, and held the book out to her. It really did look like a Bible, only there was no writing on the cover.
"My dad gave this to me when I—uh, well, he gave it to me," Regan stumbled. "It's not as fancy as the one we have at home."
Milly swore she felt a strange thrill run up her arm as she took the book. It was obviously well read, though it didn't seem that old.
"We call it the True Testament," he continued. "According to this when the brightest of the angels fell from grace—"
"Lucifer?" Milly asked.
"If you like," he said. "We don't call him that. Anyway, he fell from heaven and came to earth. During his war with the heavenly host he realized he needed reinforcements, so he gave his blood to humans. When they fell in battle, they just got back up and kept fighting, stronger than ever. Thus, vampires were born. After the war, the Enemy was defeated, but some of his vampires managed to vanish into the shadows. Ever since then we've been hunting them—" He broke off, realizing he'd said too much.
"Do you think that really happened?" Milly stared at the pages of the book as she flipped through it, but it was like the information was too much to absorb.
"Not…not really," Regan said, like he was confessing a sin. "Most religions have some similar stories about a war between gods and stuff, so something must have happened, but was there a literal God who cast out a literal angel who became a literal devil who made vampires? I don't really believe that. I haven't in a long time."
"So what do you believe?" She asked, genuinely curious now. "Where do you think they came from?"
"For as long as there have been humans there have been vampires," Regan said. "So when the ancestors of the human race existed before us, the ancestor of the vampire must have existed also."
"I see." Milly mulled that over. "So you think if humans evolved from earlier life forms, vampires did too?"
"Why not?" He asked. "Every vampire was a human first anyway, right? What I really think is that we'll probably never know for sure, so why stress about it? They're here now, so let's worry about getting rid of them, instead of where they came from."
"Well you're right about that," she said, slowly flipping pages.
"It's my turn to ask a question," he said.
She looked up at him, but he was avoiding her eyes. "What questions could you possibly have for me?"
"Just questions about stuff." He tipped a shoulder.
"Um, okay," Milly said. "Ask away."
"Might sound strange to you." He picked at a loose thread in Milly's comforter, still not meeting her gaze. "What were you all doing out there? You know, when you were taken?"
"Camping," Milly said.
"Camping?" He finally looked at her. "In the backyard?"
"Yeah, it was for Sarah's birthday party." Slowly, he nodded his head, but she was watching his face. "You don't know what that is, do you?"
"I know what a birthday party is!" Regan snapped.
"Then why do you look so confused?"
"I just wanna know why you were all there if it was her birthday," he said.
"…Because it was her birthday party," she said, at a loss. "You know, you invite all your friends for cake and ice cream, and then they stay the night. Except your super religious friends, who leave before the sleep over part incase you talk about boys."
Regan's brow creased.
"You've never had friends sleep over?"
"My birthdays are always just my uncle, my dad, and me," he said. "The other…kids my age don't really do stuff like that. Sometimes big groups of us go camping, but it's real camping. In the woods, for survival skills and stuff."
"So there are more of you," Milly said, sly.
Regan held up his pinky. "You can't tell."
"I won't. Buuuuuuut," she said. "Since we're already sworn to secrecy, tell me more about you. How does a thirteen year old kill vampires?"
"I already said that," he said. "Training. I've been practicing since I was really small. It's what I do, what I was born to do."
"You've never wanted to do something else?" She asked. "Something less dangerous?"
"I'm not afraid of the danger." He shook his head. "I've always wanted to be…right now, I'm just a hunter. But after tonight, I can officially call myself a slayer."
"A slayer?" Milly grinned. "Like Buffy?"
He blinked. "Like who?"
"Never mind, just a TV show." She gave him a look. "Do you watch TV?"
"Not very much," he said.
"Are you not allowed?"
"Mostly just don't have the time."
"We should turn it on," Milly said, reaching on the bedside table for her remote. "I have it on DVD, or it's on Netflix. It's a show from back in the day, but it's really good. There were even groundbreaking portrayals of gay relationships. Oh." She looked over at him. "That doesn't bother you does it?"
He was looking down at his hands. "…No. It doesn't bother me."
"Good." She grinned. "I think we'll start with season three. It's my favorite."