Michael didn't flinch at all as I approached him. It must have been a deliberate display of confidence, because there was no WAY he couldn't have seen the hatred in my eyes. In fact, it almost seemed to make him smile even wider. Which succeeded in angering me even more.

"I see Taryn's eye healed up nicely." He said. "That's good. You know, he's too 'pretty' to be walking around with a big shiner like that. Good shot, by the way."

"I KNOW what you did!" I sneered through gritted teeth. It took everything I had just to keep from tearing him apart.

"Really now?" He cocked his head to one side, almost daring me to make the confession. "Well why don't you try explaining to me exactly what it is I 'did' to you. Hmm?"

"Don't play stupid with me! You KNOW what the fuck I'm talking about!"

"Ohhh...you mean the little 'parlor trick' I pulled on you and Taryn? It's simple really. Just a minor possession. Nothing major." He stared me right in the eye, never backing down an inch, never flinching, he hardly even blinked. "I didn't know Taryn was such a passionate boy. I can see why you like him so much. When I was there with you...the way his sexy little ass would squirm and wiggle as we were pleasing him...mmmmm...even now I get shivers thinking about it." My fists tightened even more, waiting to punch a hole right THROUGH him if I had to. "He tastes so sweet. And GOD is he warm. His whole body is warm...particular the few inches we were paying attention to at that time. Wow...if we had sucked any harder, we might have burned our tongues."

I reacted! My hands reaching out angrily to grab a hold of his shirt up by the collar and slam him HARD against one of the wrecked cars behind him! "You son of a BITCH!!!!"

"Ah ah ah...temper, temper. We don't want any more 'incidents' like we had last time, do we? You'll give the others a reason to think you're a 'loose cannon'. We really don't have any place for dangerous rebels here...not if they're a threat to our safety." A cocky smirk remained on his face, his stare forever fixed on my eyes.

I loosened my grip on him, but only a little. Just enough to keep my composure. "And what about you, huh?"

"What about me?"

"I know what you did to Gyro." I said, staring directly back at him. "I know you were in the club that night, I know you used your 'parlor trick' on that spice dealer at the bar, and I know that you got him to lead Gyro out of there so he would end up getting twisted out of his mind." I released my hold on his shirt. "You'd like that, wouldn't you? Get me to run off? Get Gyro out of your hair? You get to keep Trevor's attention and deny that you ever had anything to do with it. Well you know what, asshole? It didn't work!"

His look changed, but he was far from being cornered. "Interesting theory, Justin. Where did you come up with that one?"

"Let's just say that I 'know'."

"Let's NOT." He stepped forward, almost close enough for our noses to be touching. "If you're so convinced that this whole elaborate scheme ever took place...then why don't you prove it?" He said. "Go ahead. Tell the others. Tell the whole WORLD if you want to." Then he leaned closer to speak softly in my ear. "However...you may find it difficult to explain how you were able to come across such a vivid description of my activities when neither you nor Gyro were there to see it happen." It was then that I realized...perhaps the cards weren't as far in my favor as I had thought. "Ahhhh...silence. The preffered language of a guilty soul." He said, and I took a step back from him. "What's wrong? No threats to run and tell? No easy explanation as to how all this happened?"

"That's none of your business..."

"Is that the eloquent report you're planning to give Bryson when he asks? Because, frankly, it leaves quite a number of questions as to how you know so much about me and my actions." His grin returned. "Let me take a wild guess here. You, Justin, are a lot more than you pretend to be."

"That doesn't change the fact that you nearly killed Gyro with your little prank."

"HE shouldn't have been spending time 'alone' with MY boyfriend!!!" He sneered, showing a level of anger that I had not seen in him before. "If ANYBODY put Gyro in harm's way, it was YOU! For talking him into taking Trevor to the club that night while you and Dion were out running the streets! I WARNED you...Trevor is MINE!"

"If he was yours..." I said calmly, "...Then why are you so worried about him spending time with someone else?" I made sure to fire a bit of that sarcastic fire right back at him, and I know that he felt it. I could feel it 'through' him. But, instead of answering the question, he let his demonic smile come back to his face, and changed the subject.

"Do you want to know what Bryson once told me about my extra, Justin? He said that my possession ability comes from an extremely jealous personality. That I want to have what you have. That I want to see what you see, live like you live. It manifested so quickly that I hardly had time to learn it before it was settled in at full potency." He walked a circle around me, but I made sure to keep my eye on him at all times. Not to mention that I refused to let him 'touch' me again. "Whenever my essence is transferred into someone else, I can pretty much see, hear, touch, and taste everything that's going on. I'm still learning to fine tune it, but I've gotten pretty good at it over the last two years."

"What's your point?"

"My point is...I found something rather 'strange' about my experience with you." He smirked at me, almost pushing me back with his gaze. "I was right there, tasting the incredible flavor of your boyfriend and having myself a grand ol' time in the sack...when I noticed something. Something I never expected. A COMPLETELY different set of thoughts...echoing in the back of your mind. Not just ANY thoughts, mind you...but Taryn's thoughts." Michael said. "It confused me a bit at first, but it didn't take me long to figure out what was going on here. Especially when you were able to detect my presence so easily."

"I don't know what the hell you're talking about!"

"Ohhh, but I think you do, Justin. I think you understand me just fine." He leaned even closer. "You can 'read'...can't you?" He had me...the little BASTARD knew all about it! "Tsk tsk tsk...such a secret to keep from your 'family'."

"You're crazy." I said. "You're out of your mind."

"It makes sense. Your rapid development, your speedy crossover, your visits to Tim, your secretive little chess moves outside of the lot...you've been hiding out all along, haven't you?"

"They won't believe you..." I shivered, wondering what he was going to do next. What he may have already done since I've been gone.

"You're right, they won't. Because I don't intend to tell them.....YET." He said. "It's much more fun to watch you squirm for a while. So don't worry, your hellish little secret is safe with me for now. Let's just make sure that our 'understanding' concerning Trevor is a bit more clear this time around than last time. Because if I find out that he's been tempted in any way...your closet door is gonna swing wide open, my friend. And I'm sure you don't want that." He never put his hand on me, but I could feel a chill from him anyway. "You can run along and play now. Just remember what we talked about. I've already died for Trevor...don't think I'm above killing for him too."

I took another few steps back from him, the both of us locking eyes as though each one was waiting for the other to call his bluff. If he told Bryson about me, my secret would be out in the open. And if I told Bryson about HIM, his menacing little scheme would come back to bite him hard. It was a standstill that we both understood for the time being. But it wasn't the last time we'd meet on this. "This isn't over." I said.

"You're right...it isn't." And with that, I backed away from him. Never losing eye contact until I had rounded the corner.

Walking the maze back through the smashed up cars and auto parts, I felt my emotions sink down to the pit of my stomach. Michael knew, Trevor knew, Tim, Char, and Becca knew. Jun and Dion knew. Dash and Twilight knew, Gyro knew, Comicality knew....every day it seemed to get more and more out of hand. Every day I got more and more defenseless against the idea of being totally open to anyone who wanted to find out that I was a mimic. Maybe Gyro was right....maybe this IS too big to hide. I was going to be forced to confess eventually. Right now, everyone is trying to be polite and respect my privacy as I crossover naturally into their world. But it won't stay that way for long. It CAN'T. It's time to face facts, the walls were closing in and I didn't have the strength nor the strategy to stop it!

I made my way back to the center of the lot and found everyone sort of milling around as they usually did. Taryn was now awake and came over to give me a kiss on the lips. I hoped he had seen the signs of distress on my face. "You left early this morning. I was kinda looking forward to waking up next to you, before I got dressed." He said with a seductive smile. He kissed me again and my arms wrapped around him as I got lost in his very lifeforce all over again. He was soooooo good at kissing! It was magic, every moment of it.

"Where were you?" I broke the kiss and saw Bryson standing right next to us.

"Where was I when?"

"This evening, when everybody woke up. Where did you go tonight?"

"I just....I..." I shrugged my shoulders, hoping he wouldn't dive too deep into the reason I was gone. "I...went out for a bit. Just a walk to clear my head. I woke up kinda early tonight."

"Yeah...I know." He said. "You've been waking up early a lot lately. Certainly a lot earlier than the rest of us. We're going to have to keep a close eye on that, ok?" I nodded in response. "I'm serious, Justin. Your sleep cycles have been extremely irregular lately. We don't want you getting exposed to daylight. Sunburns don't heal, you know? Not the bad ones."

"Ok..." I said. But he didn't walk away just yet. Not even with me and Taryn holding each other in a half embrace still. I looked over to one of the other corners of the lot, just to avoid Bryson's questioning stare. What I saw...for the first time in a few weeks...was Trevor looking back at me from the corner. Michael walked up behind him, to lovingly drape his arms over Trevor's shoulders and place a sweet kiss on his cheek. The both of them looked at me, smiling for two completely different reasons in my direction. The way they embraced, and the way Taryn and I were holding each other....it was almost like looking at a hellish reflection in some twisted mirror.

"Justin?" Bryson asked, and I moved my focus back to him.

"Yeah?" He didn't say anything at first. It almost looked like he was wrestling with himself as to what to say next. Standing at a fork in the road as far as the next few minutes were concerned. He could tell that I was holding back. In fact, wth the look he gave me, it was apparent to me that he could always tell. From the first day that I stepped out of the trailer and into the new world. He could have asked. He could have gotten an answer out of me if he pushed it. But that wasn't Bryson's way. He always seemed to let us come to him instead. Figuring that demanding an answer from any of us only led to outright lies and deception. Lies that would get easier to tell him in time. Instead, he simply left the door wide open, hoping that we would be able to one day get the trust and faith in him that we needed to tell him all about it. That's what he did with them...that's what he did with me. And he remained conflicted, waiting for the day when I'd finally come to him with the truth.

".......Go over to Doc's." He said quietly. "I want you to do some blood analysis training tonight. Ok?"

"Um...ok." I said, and Taryn and I shared one more quick peck on the lips before I left to head over to Doc's. I don't know if I should be relieved that Bryson didn't ask anymore questions....or if I should feel even more ashamed for not telling him the truth. Afterall...he invested a lot of time, energy, and emotion into me. He let me stay here, even when I was going against his rules and regulations. He was helping me to learn and gave me a home. And how do I repay him? But hiding who I am from him and from everybody else here. Walking away, I really began to regret being in this position.

A half hour blazed by so fast, that I didn't even know it. I was sitting outside of Doc's place as he opened up small, half full, test tubes full of blood. Holding them under my nose briefly while I tried to detect any impurities in the samples given. It was just one of those things that we had to learn. "Ok, Justy..how about this one?" He said.

I used whatever senses I could to sniff out the defects. It was almost like you could smell it in the air around you, and that smell turned into a taste in the roof of your mouth. It was that imaginary sense of taste that allowed you to determine whether the blood was ok to drink or not. "Ummmmmmm....." I concentrated on the texture, the so-called flavor that I got without ever touching a drop. "....Hemophilia." I answered.

"Good. And what are the side effects for a vampire?"

"Any severe injury may cause a vampire to bleed profusely from deep cuts and wounds. Causes possible unquenchable thirst until the virus is depleted."

"Excellent." Doc grinned, wheeling his chair over to grab another one. "You're geting good at this. Ok, how about this one?"

The sensation that it gave me was greasy, almost nauseating. "Extremely high cholesterol." I answered.

"Ok...and side effects?"

"Being filled up with high cholesterol blood can cause small blood clots in a vampire's system."

"And...?" He asked, coaxing a more complete answer out of me.

"May eventually cause heart attack. Which, if not revived in time, can lead to a vampire's starvation."

"Damn! You're all aces tonight, kid!"

"I should be. Bryson has been drilling me on this for days now."

"It's not all about the excercises, Justin. It's about senses and instinct. And you've been a total 'sponge' when it comes to this stuff." Doc said. "You must have been a straight A student or something." He leaned forward in his wheelchair a bit to whisper. "Between you and me...it took Taryn TWICE as long to learn this." He giggled and it caused a smile to spread across my face as well.

However, as much as I appreciated Doc being so proud of me, I still had this weakness eating away at me inside. This 'pressure'. It felt like time was moving at twice its normal speed, and that the secrets I've kept and the reasons to keep them were all getting crushed underneath a giant cinder block. My smile never lasted long, not when I had such troubling thoughts swimming around in my head.

"And.....this one?" He asked, holding another test tube open for me.

"Leukemia..." It was an easy one for me to get. "Known as 'blood cancer'." My mind was focused on other things though. And I wanted to ask a few important questions. "Doc....how well...I mean...do you share everything about yourself with the people here?"

"Pretty much so. Not that there's much to know. I don't lead much of an 'exciting' life." He grinned. "What about this one?"

"Sickle Cell Anemia. Causes blood clots and painful episodes until the next feeding."

"Very good..."



I made sure to get my thoughts together. To say JUST enough, but not too much. "Do you 'talk' to the others much? I mean...about why they did this? Or why they're here? Whether or not they....'regret' making this choice?"

Doc gave me a look, and knew right away that this sudden line of questioning had a deeper meaning than your typical conversation. He leaned back a bit, willing to listen. "Well....we talk about just about everything. Everyone here has a specific history, or a specific reason for doing what they did. And sometimes....sharing that with someone can be a truly liberating experience when the time comes to do so." He said, then wheeled himself closer to me. "Why? Is there something on your mind that you want to share?"

"No..." I answered, quickly. I think it was more on reflex than anything else. But deep down...I wanted to tell somebody. I NEEDED to tell somebody! Before this whole stupid secret life of mine opened up and swallowed me whole. If for no other reason than to take away the power that this secret had over me and the people who were using it to keep my mouth shut. "I was just asking."

"I....see." He said, and without much further prying, grabbed another test tube to continue the lesson. "What do you sense here?"

With my head resting on both of my hands, I answered simply, "Dengue Fever. Delivered by possible mosquito bite from person to person. May cause fever, back and joint pains, severe headache, and nausea. Has particular effect on the make-up of a vampire's eyes, causing strain, ache, and occassionally short term blindness until the vampire's next feeding." I said, and got another rewarding smile from my 'teacher' for the night. Then, I sighed to myself, and asked, "Suppose there was something about you that you weren't sure the others would understand?"

"Something like what?" He said, while looking for another test tube to pick up.

"I don't know...anything."

"Well...I don't know. What if there was?" He said.

"Would you tell the others if you had something...'wrong' with you?" He turned to me with a look of concern. "Well...not WRONG, so much. Just....different."

He wanted to know what I was getting at, but decided to play along. "I guess...I would determine how serious the situation was, and tell whoever I felt needed to know."

"But what if someone else told you to keep it quiet?"

"Well, that may be the case. But you're the one who CHOOSES to remain silent about it. If your heart wants to express itself, the decision about whether or not to do that is ultimately up to you." He looked down and reached for another test tube, but I knew it before he even put his hand on it.

"HIV positive..."

"SHIT! You really ARE a whiz at this!"

I didn't let the excercise break my concentration though. "What if....sighhh....what if you had a secret, and it was getting increasingly dangerous to keep that secret from the people you care about?"

He looked at me and said, "Omigod...you're not gonna tell me you're GAY or something, are you?" His face was so serious, and we burst out laughing about the same time! Hehehehe! I suppose he had to do SOMETHING to lighten the mood so I could talk straight. But after a good chuckle, he gave me a warm smile, leaning forward and placing his hand on my knee. "Justin...the road to the truth is a path to be traveled at one's own pace. When you're ready, you're ready. When you feel the rest of us are ready, WE'RE ready. Until then, just focus on telling the people you trust most and spreading out from there. You'll know when it's time."

I couldn't tell if he's was just patronizing me and telling me what I wanted to hear, or if he really meant what he was saying. Whichever one it was, it bought me a little more time until the big confession, and somehow that comforted me a lot. "Ok..." I said. "Thanks, Doc. Honestly."

He smiled, and reached for another test tube. "I tell you what...if you get this next one right, we'll take a break, ok?"

"Spice." I told him, without even flinching.

He was shocked, he hadn't even taken the little cork out of the test tube yet. "Jesus!" He said, confused. "I'm not even gonna ASK how you knew THAT one!"

"Trust me, you don't wanna know." I told him.

"Indeed." He smiled, his dimples sinking deeply into his cheeks. "A deal's a deal. Take five, we'll come back to some others later. Especially calculating the level of alcohol content in the blood. K? It's hard to make an escape if you're drunk off your ass during feeding."

"Ok." I told him. I stood up on my feet, brushing the dirt off of my pants, and walked away to take a breather. I swear, all of this new information and training techniques was making my head numb from trying to absorb it all. I'll have to admit, I was happy to get away from the 'homework' for a bit.

Making a calm, but swift, escape from my lessons, I walked over to one of the makeshift tables in the lot, and saw Rain sitting there with her newly acquired boyfriend. Also at the table, was Jun, Taryn, and Gyro...mostly just there to gawk at the new kid. Looking at him as I approached, he really was a cutie pie. But I found myself feeling that weird separation again. Seeing him as 'human' instead of just another boy like myself. Humans were so....'outside' of who we were now. You can't imagine how weird it is to see one and just have it feel like an entirely different lifeform from yourself. I walked over to join them and see what was up.

"Hey!" Darren said, his perkiness practically ripping our usual 'dark' surroundings to shreds with its enthusiasm. Not that we were brooding moody people. But in comparison, his energy seemed to have a caffeine boost that shadowed us all. "Justin, right?" He asked. I nodded and took my place right next to Taryn, instinctively taking a hold of his hand on the table. Darren took notice, but didn't say anything. It kinda turned him on to see us being so close. I kinda smiled to myself, almost showing off the cute boy holding my hand. It must have been driving Darren crazy to be thinking about him so much. But then...I remembered that Rain could read his thoughts too, and she was giving me quite a murderous look for tampering with her new companion. So I decided to tone it down a bit.

Taryn gave me a kiss on the cheek, and they went back to talking. Darren seemed so cheerful, so satisfied. I know it hadn't been that long for me, but I was already starting to forget what it was like to live life the way he did. I could hardly remember what it was like, when every day was full of so much excitement. So much ignorant bliss. It was the first time that I felt 'filled up' inside with all of this illusion shattering information. About people, and life, and....everything else. I almost envied his position. Along with his ability to sleep so peacefully at night. Something I wondered if I'd ever truly be able to do again.

Darren lit up a cigarette and took a deep drag from it. "I just want you all to know that I think this is the coolest place EVER! You guys hanging out in an old junkyard like this? It's totally the way to go for a weekend. I like it." A weekend? Hehehe, he thought this was our 'getaway' from home, no doubt. Sorry, buddy...but this IS home as far as we're concerned. "I'm kinda hungry. What have you guys got to eat around here?" He asked, and we all sort of traded looks at one another over the table.

Rain made sure to answer before the pause got to be too uncomfortable. "We can go out and get something to eat, if you want. Grab a burger or something."

"I don't have much on me. But I'm sure I can afford one for me and one for you." Darren said, leaning over to give her a little kiss on the cheek. Her eyes looked at us with a silent dare, keeping even the most harmless of grins from crossing our faces as this was going on. It was odd to see someone show Rain this kind of affection. Even MORE odd to see her accept it. Not even her brother Gyro could get that close. If it had been anyone else at that table, she would have stabbed us with a pocket knife and broken off the tip in our chest by now.

"It's ok, you just buy for yourself. I'm not hungry." She said.

"You sure?"

"Yeah...I'm sure."

"Suit yourself. As long as we get to spend some time together." He told her, and Jun snickered a bit to himself, causing Rain to kick him HARD under the table to shut him up.

Gyro, on the other hand, couldn't let the moment pass. "What do you wanna spend time with HER for?" He said, and his sister gave him the most hateful look imaginable. Not that he cared much.

"Don't you have somewhere ELSE to be, pipsqueak?" She grumbled.

"I WISH! This is making me sick." He replied, making mock kissy faces across the table.

"Then why don't you try lying down for a little bit?" She said. "Preferably in front of a TRUCK!" But Gyro just stuck out his tongue at her in response.

"It's ok, hon." Darren said. "It's Gyro's job to protect his big sis. Isn't it, Tiger?" He said, talking down to him. And if it was one thing Gyro didn't stand for, it was being spoken to like a little kid.

Taryn saw the pouted look on Gyro's face, and made sure to interrupt things before they got out of hand. That kid isn't neccessarily known for holding his tongue for too long. Him and Rain were more alike than they'd ever want to admit. "So...I haven't seen you around here before. Are you from the city?"

"Nah, actually I'm just visiting for a while with my parents. I'm actually from Minnesota. I like Chicago though, it's so big."

"Ahhh...a tourist." Taryn said, looking back at Rain. "He's not even from here."

"Believe it or not, there are a LOT of people who aren't from here, Taryn." She said in her defense. I guess she didn't care if he was a tourist, as long as he was willing to follow her back to the lot.

"You should come clubbing with us, Darren. I think you'd like it." Gyro added, again trying his best to be...'civil'.

He looked a bit confused. "Clubbing?"

"Yeah. We'll go in, dance, get some drinks, it'll be solar!"

"I'm not old enough to get into a club. I had a fake ID, but they confiscated it the first time I used it. Hehehe!"

The concept of not being old enough was evidently lost on Gyro completely. "Not old enough.......riiiiight. Yeah. Me either." Rain kicked him again under the table for the suggestion. "OW! Fuck you! I was just trying to be nice!"

"Be nice elsewhere, vermin!" She scolded, and he got up from the table.

"Fine! Forget it! I've got better things to do anyway." Then he turned to Darren, "My apologies in advance, dude. You're a braver man than I gave you credit for, staying with HER!" Then he stormed off to get away from us.

We sat talking for a while longer. Taryn and I were constantly smiling as we watched Darren being so 'normal' and Rain trying to match that normality with an act of her own. There was something about being this conversationally intimate with a human that took us back to the times when we were in his place. High school and fun times, and feeling that incredible life essence flow through you every second of the day. I can't really say that I regretted the decision to crossover just yet...but I did feel a longing for the life I usd to lead. As terrible as it was...it was mine. You know? "I've gotta take a piss." Darren said standing up from the table. He was so undeniably human, hehehe. "You guys don't mind if I just go behind one of these cars or something, do you?"

"Wherever you find a spot." Jun said. "Just not anywhere where we sleep, ok?"

Darren nodded, but before turning to leave, he said, "Say...you know what? Some friends of mine are gonna be having a barbecue tomorrow around noon. Why don't you all come join us?" It was a harmless comment. A friendly gesture. But one that all of us took almost with a weird sense of...I don't know...'shame' I guess. I couldn't describe what I was feeling. What I knew everybody else at that table was feeling at that particular moment. We all traded glances back and forth across the table, our eyes only connecting for a second before dropping to the table with a faked smile and a gentle blush. Darren didn't get a verbal answer from any one of us. "C'mon, you guys! It'll be fun! Fattening food, lot's of sunshine...? We'll make a party of it." He said.

The sunshine comment particularly affected Taryn, whose hair slid gently forward as he lowered his head to hide his eyes from the rest of us. His smile was as beautiful as it always was...but Taryn could never hide the pain in his heart once you looked into his eyes. They would give him away, every time. I squeezed his hand tenderly but firmly, and when he looked up, I smiled in his direction to let him know I understood. And that it would be ok. I suppose this is why vampires and humans don't really co-exist with one another like this. Sometimes different is different. And somebody is bound to be an outcast when their worlds collide.

Finally, Rain whispered, "We'll think about it. Ok?"

"Whatever floats your boat." Darren said, and walked off to take care of business.

Jun was the first to speak at the quiet table. "When had you planned to tell him?"

"I don't know yet." She said. "But I will. Don't worry about it."

"Soon. It should be soon."

"I SAID don't worry about it, Jun! I'm working up to it, and that's all you need to know right now." She snapped. "I'm enjoying this for a little while. Just give me that, ok?"

"I'm not trying to make trouble for you, Rain. It's just..."

"Just WHAT?"

Jun sighed, choosing his words. "Rain...he's gonna eventually start thinking something's up when you keep turning down his barbecues. When he finds out that you're not just 'camping out' in this car lot, you actually live here. He's gonna notice that you never go out during the day. That you don't eat. Sooner or later he's going to figure out that we're different."

"You just let me worry about that, and stay out of my business."

Taryn was next to speak. "Are you...gonna change him?"

Rain's face had changed, as though she really wasn't sure what her answer was, or what it should be. And she simply said, "I don't know. Maybe."

"Did you talk to Bryson about it?" Her face twisted itself up again and she got visibly upset.

"NO! No I DIDN'T 'talk to Bryson' about it, Taryn. And I don't have to! I already know what he's gonna say, and I don't wanna hear it." She glared at me, and then back at Taryn. "You got YOUR future to share with somebody...maybe I want one too."

We saw Darren walking back to the table and clammed up immediately. Putting our masks back on and making sure that the secrets stayed secret. This life is more cloak and dagger than I ever could have imagined. "So..." He said, "What are we all gonna do tonight?" They joked around a bit, tried making some plans that didn't involve clubs and activities suited only for our kind. Just hearing the way he talked, or seeing the way he moved...it was like 'life' was just oozing out of every pore of his body. There was this...glow, this...aura, around his presence that was so alluring. Seeing the people at Navy Pier the other night was like watching a heard of cattle being slowly led to the slaughter. But this was different somehow. Just observing the very individual essence of just one person...just one...it was an entirely different feel altogther. And noticing that made me start to realize why Dion would have regrets about leaving that life behind. I had to admit...I had a 'few' regrets of my own.

Then it happened. Out of nowhere, without warning. It began softly in my stomach at first. So gentle that I could pretty much dismiss it as nothing. But then I felt it again a few seconds later. And this time it spread a bit further. It was a slight tremor, a gentle shaking. It moved up into my chest, and smaller quakes could be felt in different places on my arms and legs, even one in my back. My stomach tightened up a little...just enough to force a single breath out of me, and then the quakes stopped again. It had been a month since I felt that feeling inside. It had been a long long time since it had invaded me....and now...it was coming back.

I...was getting 'hungry' again.

I let go of Taryn's hand and tried to ignore the feeling, denying it access to my thoughts while I tried to smile and remain calm. But a few minutes later, the rumble returned, and I knew that it wasn't some false alarm that I could just brush off and pretend it didn't happen. My body had depleted the supply of blood that I had fed on, and it needed more. The countdown had begun, and I had maybe a week before the hunger pains started again. I was...I was going to have to...'kill' someone. And soon. I began to silently panic at the table, my eyes staring straight down to the table's surface as my thoughts raced laps around the current situation. My heart was beating so fast that I was sure anyone would be able to see it if they looked at the way my shirt was moving. My mind was pulled back to that night with Trevor...to the 24 Hour Kinkos...to that...that poor man. That poor innocent man that I slaughtered so viciously. I could remember every detail. The taste of his flesh, the tang of his blood as it poured into my mouth in huge gushes of warm liquid. I can still hear the way his cries died out, turning to whimpers, then to whispers...until the last breath was pulled from his lips. So much blood. So much blood.

"Justin, you ok? You look like you saw a ghost." Darren grinned, and the attention of the table was now focused on me. It was almost instantaneous, but from the look on my face alone, I think they could tell. Especially Rain, who seemed to scoot closer to Darren in an attempt to ready herself in case I tried anything. This was just the beginning levels of the thirst, but she took no chances. It was almost like a mother lion protecting her 'food'.

"It's cool. Just...just thinking." I told him, but the rest knew what was going on. The trembles came back, and I felt my teeth start to chatter slightly. "So....you guys figure out what you wanna do tonight?"

"Jun suggested the beach. We could hang out there for a while..." Darren was talking, but I found it hard to concentrate. I tried, but as he spoke all I could focus on was this almost 'sexual' need for my thirst to be quenched. He was soooo close. Just on the other side of this table. His skin seemed to glow with the very essence that I was looking for. I saw Rain purposely put her arm on his shoulder, but it only distracted me for a moment. As Darren giggled and continued being friendly...I concentrated on the smell of his breath, the wetness of his lips, the softness of his young skin. My leg bounced nervously on the ball of my foot, as I did my best to push this living specimen out of my focus. God...he would taste good. I could practically feel his body heat from here.

"Why don't you go for a WALK, Justin?" Rain said, now being much more open about her protection of Darren. "You look a bit 'flushed'." The intensity of her stare let me know right away that he was 'hands off'. And the thirst left me...if only for a moment.

I looked over at Taryn who was fixing his eyes on me, knowing in his heart what was coming soon. I stood up from the table. "You know...she's right. I'm not feeling too good. I think I'm gonna go out for a walk. Clear my head." It's happening again. God help me...it's happening again.

"Do you want some company?" Taryn asked, but as much as his love could comfort me...I think I wanted to 'avoid' that comfort right now. Maybe it was the conflict between the two lives I've experienced, one in light, one in darkness, that was keeping me so on edge. But that struggle for my humanity, evidently, was far from over. I was going to have to hunt down another victim and murder him in cold blood in order to survive. The last thing I wanted at that moment...was to feel 'comfortable' about it.

"That's ok, hon." I said, leaning down to kiss him on the cheek. "I'll be back later, k?"

As I walked away, I made sure to put on my sunglasses. If my eyes turned blood red with the thirst, I didn't want them to show through my contacts. Darren called out after me, "Come by and meet us at the beach later, dude!"

"Sure thing!" I said back, knowing that I wouldn't. I couldn't. Being around him was only going to taunt and tease the hunger inside until I began to lose my senses again. And I couldn't have that.

As I headed for the front gate, Doc rolled by. "Back already? Good man. I've got some more samples if you..."

"Sorry, Doc. I've gotta get out of here for a while." I said, and I kept on walking right passed him. Hurrying to get out of that lot.

"But we've got samples left." He said, not that it stopped me from walking. "Justin....you can't just ditch your training, dude."

"Sorry!" I called back, and kept walking away. I had to get away. I needed some time alone. Some time to think. Even if I knew...deep down.that it was only delaying the inevitable. The fork in the road between two definite outcomes. Kill...or perish.

I walked around for what must have been at least an hour and a half. Sticking to dark alleys and lonely streets, hoping to run into as few people as possible. Walking past them was another temptation, another shiver, another moment where my mouth went dry and my eyes burned with the desire to turn over my will to my instincts again. It was gaining energy again, that violent side of me that was searching for sustenance. That 'itch' in the back of my mind, waiting to shut down my logical mind completely if it had to. I was lost. How long was this going to go on? How many people would I have to murder in my years by Taryn's side in darkness? Feeling a despairing emotion well up inside me, wrapping itself in a cloak of fear and confusion, I could feel tears coming to my eyes. The emotion took hold of me, and I was almost weak from its constricting grasp.

I followed a long flight of concrete steps down to a small courtyard next to the Chicago River. I leaned weakly over the railing, and looked down to see my reflection in the water below. Who am I? What have I become? How could a reflection..that once belonged to me...suddenly look so alien? I kept staring at the water, and wondered how I was ever going to make it another hundred years with these thoughts swimming around in my head. This is the part of the deal I could do without.

I felt my focus change at that moment, as the air around me seemed to thicken...cool...as if the wind itself was moving differently to accomadate another presence behind me. I looked forward, not even needing to turn and look behind me. The signature of this presence was a strong one, a familiar one. I recognized it easily. "You show up at the oddest of times, you know that?" I said.

Finally turning around to lean back on the railing, I saw the swirling shadows and blackened cape of Comicality standing before me, watching silently. "You've learned to sense my presence already. I'm impressed."

"It wasn't hard really." I answered. "Besides, due to current events...I figured you'd be coming for me sooner or later anyway."

"Then you, no doubt, know that we have much to talk about?" He said.

"Lead the way..." I told him, and we left the river front. Hopefully to get me some answers.