We were getting soaked in the storm. The stuff that was taken from us was getting even more horribly damaged by the constant falling of heavy rain, and our spirits had already been shaken enough for one night. So Bryson told everybody to grab the sacks the raiders left behind and bring them to the abandoned building where we'd have some shelter. At least then we could clean up a bit and dry off. We made sure to bring some dry clothes to change into also, and made our way over, going up a couple of floors as the first floor and basement of the old place seemed to be flooded. Max and Dion helped to take Doc and his chair up the steps. Doc wasn't all that heavy, but they were sure to take good care of him while bringing him up, one step at a time. We went into one of the empty rooms and found a dry spot on the floor, where Bryson had everyone dump out the five sacks. The looks on everyone's faces...it was a feeling of helplessness. A feeling of being totally invaded. These meager possessions were all we had in this world to remind us of what it was like to be human. To remember something from the lives we used to lead, minute details, no matter how small. It was like having our entire life history attacked. While looking at the wet piles on the floor, we didn't know which was worse....to have had these things stolen from us, or to have had them destroyed by the rain. Either way, the best we could do was salvage what we could from the pieces of leftovers in front of us.

There were small heaps of past memories all over the floor. Everyone took turns sifting through them, trying to pick out what was theirs and drying it off as best as they could. Two of Taryn's past journals were in there, but despite some small rips and running ink, they looked salvageable. Dion's radio seemed to be ok, but some of his favorite cds were smashed, scratched, and broken during the fight. Jenna's magazines and a few photo albums were ruined, and Dylan had some smashed frames and a few pair of shoes taken. The more everyone reached in, the bigger each individual vampire's pile got. We had all definitely lost something this night.

I picked up a notebook with a heart etched into the cover with a red pen. I sorta thumbed through the wet pages a bit, and saw cut out photos of teen celebrity heart throbs, with little notes written next to them. Corey Haim, Fred Savage, Chad Allen, Noah Hathaway...probably late 80's teeny boppers from the looks of it. "That's MINE, thank you!!!" The book was abruptly snatched out of my hands, and Trevor gave me an unimaginable dirty look for touching his stuff. Funny...I never thought of Trevor as being much of an 'admirer' to anybody. I guess, at one time in his life, he was a normal gay boy just like I was. I forget tidbits like that sometimes when he's being a total 'bastard'. Then, I looked down, and I saw a photo sticking out from underneath one of Taryn's diaries in the heap. It was my picture of Richie. The one with him and me in front of the fountain. The only one I had left of him. I felt a rush of sadness clog my throat as I leaned over to pick it up. It had been soaked through, and almost ripped in half. I held it gently between my fingers, but there was no way I'd ever be able to put it back together again. Not ever. I don't think the theives really cared about this stuff at all, they just picked up whole drawers and dumped them into a big bag to sort out later. Probably throwing half of these priceless memories in the garbage if they found out that they couldn't use it or sell it. Looking at that picture of me and Richie, wet from the rain, the chemicals in it bleeding through to the other side and making it look faded and bleek...it brought tears to my eyes. That picture represented the last bit of daylight that I had left. The last time Richie was ever healthy enough to join his buddy in the park and smile with me, side by side. It was all I had left of my best friend in the world...and they 'trashed' it! They trashed it and they didn't even care. They had NO idea what kind of emotions I had wrapped up in something as simple as this photo...especially now that what it stood for was so far out of my reach. A memory to be just as faded and forgotten as this picture someday. I held it to my chest, and felt two tears drip from my eyes. Why did they do this? Why?

The emotion was a bit heavy in the room for most of us. But no one really wanted to show it. Max was visibly angry, occassionally hitting the wall with his fist or cursing outloud everytime he found one of the items to be his. It was the first time I had ever seen Kid cautious about being around him. Gyro seemed more concerned that his clothes were wet than anything else. Might make him look bad in case he had to go out partying somewhere. He had most of his 'personal' stuff back with the other tribe of vampires he was living with before coming to visit with us at the lot anyway. So the sentiment, I guess was different for him. Michael, on the other hand, didn't seem distraught at all. In fact, he just kept rubbing Trevor's back while he dug through the stuff to find both of their possessions again. I suppose that all Michael needed was Trevor, he didn't care about anything else. Through all his mean spirited tricks...it was almost a touching display of affection. As twisted a relationship as it might be, it seems to work out for Michael just fine.

Dion picked up a walkman, "Is this yours, Jun?"

"Um...no, mine has my initials on the back." He answered.

Dylan mumbled softly under his breath, and Dion couldn't understand him at first. "Say it again? I didn't hear you."

Dylan cleared his throat and extended his hands. "It's...it's mine." He was practically trembling when he whispered it, and Dion handed it back to him with a heatfelt look of concern.

"I'm sorry, Dylan. It looks like it's out of comission, man." Dion said, rubbing his shoulder lightly for a moment of comfort.

"It's...it's ok..." Dylan's face was so heartbreaking, but he tried to keep from complaining. "It was kinda old anyway, I guess." He simply turned around with his broken walkman, and set it down on the top of his pile. "...My mom gave me this." He added, and sat down crosslegged with a sigh in front of his stuff.

It was hard for me to look at anyone around the room. And I was doing my best to make sure that Jenna's extra didn't turn on and intensify the emotion for me. I would have burst out into tear filled theatrics for sure. But one face stood out for me as my eyes glanced over him from the other side of the pile in the center of the room. Taryn's. He would occassionally look up at me, his eyes snatching little concerned glances and peeks...and when my eyes met his, he would turn away. Almost as though he didn't want to be caught staring. I think that hurt most of all. Something had changed, and I wondered if things were going to be different between us, now that he knew the truth. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut for a little while longer. For just ONE more day! I never wanted Taryn to be afraid for me, or scared of me, or give me that....that...look. That look that made me feel like a stranger to him all over again. All this agony over telling him who I was....and now that I have, I wish I could take it all back.

Max cursed outloud, violently kicking one of his damaged auto repair books across the room. "How the fuck did they do it?!?! Huh?!?! How the fuck did they get in to DO this?"

Bryson wanted to keep things calm, even though he understood the emotion completely. "That's what raiders do. They form little clans with like vampires who wake up earlier than the rest of us. They don't sleep as long, it gives them an open window of opportunity." Bryson said, shaking one of his shirts off and ringing water out of it onto the floor. "They watch out for vampire clusters like ours in the city, they camp out somewhere close by a few nights before they strike, and then they move in and raid us for everything that we've got before we even get the chance to wake up and defend ourselves."

Jenna added, with a bitter tone, "They take our stuff and sell it in underground 'flea markets' to any vampire that wants it. Memories on the black market. Some people get off on that kind of thing."

"I can't believe people actually buy this stuff. I mean...it was 'mine'. It's not important to anyone but me." Dylan said, almost crying, but not letting out anything more than a sniffle.

"That's the value of it. They get to hold a piece of someone else's life in their hands. They're pack rats, all of them." Bryson told him.

"FUCK!!!" Max said, hitting the wall hard enogh to dent the plaster. Bryson told him to please calm down, but he was literally fuming at having his stuff touched.

It was at that moment that I remembered the weird sensation I had gotten from this building whenever I walked past it over the last two nights. That sensation that I was being watched. I'll bet that they were camping out in THIS building, on the roof, no less. "The roof..." I mumbled to myself. I didn't mean for anyone to hear it, but Bryson turned to me.

"The what?" He said. I suddenly felt timid in front of him, knowing what I know now. I should have done something. I should have TOLD someone!

"Um...the...the roof. They were probably camped out on the roof." I stuttered. "I mean....it would make sense....right?" And I noticed another slightly timid glance from Taryn. Each silent awkward moment between us was like a dagger in my heart. I never wanted this.

Dion shrugged his shoulders. "It's definitely worth checking out."

Bryson nodded. "Ok, you and Jun come with me, just in case he's on to something. The rest of you stay here. See what you can keep."

"Ohhhh no..." Max said angrily. "...If there's even a CHANCE that those assholes are still up there, I wanna piece of 'em!" It was clear that there would be no denying Max's 'request', so he followed them upstairs too. Leaving the rest of us to sort through what was left.

Rummaging deeper, I saw something that truly made my heart sink to the pit of my stomach. It was the small tape player from our trailer, almost smashed to pieces from my fight with the first raider. One of Tim's tapes was still in the slot...and it was pretty much wrecked too. In fact, looking through the pile, all of Tim's tapes had been destroyed...and I knew what that meant. That my last line of defense between me and the Beast....

....Was gone.

"Shit..." I said to myself.

"What's wrong?" Jun asked.

"Nothing. Just...nothing." I told him, and dropped the radio into my own little pile. I found a few more of my clothes, Xairen's crucifix from the sanctuary, my lucky coin...I never knew how attached I was to some of this stuff until someone else tried to take it away from me.

But something else caught my eye amongst some of the articles lying on the floor. Notebooks, folders, cut up newspapers. It wasn't so much the books that caught my attention, it was the fact that the one on top had Dylan's name on it, written in black marker in the upper right hand corner. Underneath that folder was one with Taryn's name, and another with Kid's.....then....my name a bit further underneath the pile. I kinda stared at it a bit, and looked around to make sure no one was watching. Curiousity got the best of me, and I slowly made my way around the pile to pick up the folder with my name on it. It was definately Bryson's handwriting. But why would he have a 'file' on me like this? I took a peek inside...but before I could read anything, Bryson and the others came back in the door. I hid the envelope behind my back.

Max tossed a wet folded tent onto the floor. "Paydirt! The fuckers were right where you said they'd be, Justin. Probably been watching us for days."

"How'd they stay up there that long?" Gyro asked.

"With these..." Bryson held up some black body bags. Five of them exactly. "...They set up the tents, locked themselves in, and zipped the body bags to protect themselves from daylight while they slept. They're definitely not amateurs at this."

"I swear....if I ever catch even a 'glimpse' of the people who did this..." Max was practically grinding his teeth into dust. He was really enraged over this.

"Did you see any faces, Darren? Any at all?" Bryson asked.

"No. They were wearing masks the whole time." He said, and I wanted him to stop there, but somehow...I knew he wouldn't. And it worried me. "I was sleeping, and I heard some commotion outside. Then I heard someone pounding on the doors and windows, telling me to wake up, and that he needed help."

"Someone was pounding on your windows?" Bryson kept asking questions, and I felt the butterflies in my stomach go wild. I was going to be 'outed' to everyone here.

"Yeah...it was Justin. When I got out of the car, I saw him in the rain. He was fighting these guys..." Stop Darren...stop telling them!

"Justin was fighting them by himself?" Bryson looked at me briefly, and all eyes glanced at me momentarily.

"I taught him some techniques..." Dion interrupted, trying to help me out. "...after the whole run in with the scavengers, you know? I figured he needed to know some moves." I don't think Bryson was buying it, but he went back to trying to get the story out of Darren before he forgot any details. But both Taryn and Gyro knew that I was hiding, and their stares seemed to almost shame me, despite their concern. Being this exposed....it leaves you more vulnerable than you can ever imagine. Not just in a freaky paranoid way either. But in a way where you feel completely derailed from the comfort and control of your entire life. Where you know things not only will be different from now on...but chances are they might change for the worst.

"Then...I tried to wake Rain up, and....she wouldn't wake up. And Justin was taking on all five guys, and then there was a flash or something, and this car bent up and started rolling over. It's so weird. I don't think I've ever seen anything like that before." I watched them talking, standing back and out of the conversation. Afraid that the slightest peep from me would draw attention and force me to explain exactly what it is that allowed me to take on five trained fighters at once. I knew the questions were coming, but if I could just avoid them for five minutes longer I would. Before long...they'd ALL be staring at me like that.

"Justin?" I heard Jenna's voice over my shoulder. I wasn't paying attention, and she saw the folder behind my back. "You seem awfully tense. Are you ok?" She said. But Trevor and Michael appeared next to me, all three of them practically surrounding me.

"Feels to me like he just wants to get out of here as soon as possible." Trevor smiled slyly. Michael draped his arm over Trevor's shoulder, giving me an evil grin as well. "What's the matter, Justin? Feeling a little pressured to be honest with the rest us for a change?"

"Whatchya hiding, newbreed?" Michael piped in.

Jenna looked down at my hands, and lightly lifted the file from my fingertips. "Justin...we just want to help."

"Yeah, Justin...let us help you out there, kiddo." Trevor teased.

"Shut up, Trevor." She said, and turned my back on them as she looked at me dead on. "Justin, don't listen to them. Talk to me. What's wrong?"

"It's nothing, alright?" I said, avoiding her look, just wanting her to leave me alone.

"Are you sure..."

"I SAID it was nothing!" I said louder, angry at her, angry at myself, angry at the whole world. Why the FUCK do people have to know anything about me anyway, huh? Everything was going JUST fine before! Why'd they have to go an fuck it all up?

Jenna seemed a bit hurt by my outburst, and she nodded quietly, backing away from me. Taking the folder with her. I heard Michael snicker a bit over Trevor's shoulder, and Trevor grinned at me. "Way to go, dude. You're sure to be high on everyone's list if you keep this up." And he turned to walk away. But not before Michael giggled...

"You might wanna start 'apartment hunting', freak! Hehehe!" And he trailed behind his boyfriend, the two of them marching happily back to their pile. They were right, weren't they? Chances are...I'm going to really cause a flare up when Bryson hears about this. He won't let it rest, not this time.

A hand rested on my shoulder, and when I turned to see who it was, Taryn was there at my side. Still looking worried as ever, but doing his best to show some level of support. I closed my eyes softly, taking his hand in mine and lifting it up to my lips in a silent apology. He rested his head on my shoulder...as if to give me the nod that it wasn't neccessary. Without a single word spoken, love said it all.

Everyone had broken up their little group discussion, and was back to collecting what they could from the diminishing heap in the center of the room. What my eyes noticed most, however, was a little conversation going on in the hall just outside of the doorway. I saw Rain and Darren standing there, having what could only be an explanation of who, and what, we were. I could see it on Darren's face. The disbelief, the confusion, the fear, the enchanting idea of it all. As they discussed it, I could see Rain doing her best to persuade him away from being scared of us. He was shaking his head, unable to process the concept. Unable to put his everyday logic aside and actually accept the notion that there would be a place and a purpose in this world for creatures like us. Somehow, I didn't think Rain was going to succeed in changing his mind.

"Do you think he's gonna join us? Darren, I mean?" Taryn asked, head still resting peacefully on my shoulder.

"No..." I said, honestly. Seeing his reactions turn into something a bit more withdrawn. "...I don't think so."

"Me either." He agreed. "Rain isn't going to take this well." And he was right, she didn't. She had tears in her eyes, but didn't let anything but anger show on her face. Almost as if she felt betrayed by him turning down the 'gift' of eternal life. There was some name calling and a hint of sadness in her actions, but Darren didn't budge. He chose what was best for him....he chose life.

And to be honest, I envied him for doing so.

I saw Rain push him up against the wall and hurriedly walk away down the hall to be alone. Darren had no intentions of hurting her feelings. But he had no intention of giving up his life either. One of the two sides had to give. And unlike me when I made my choice, I guess Darren had a lot more left in daylight to live for. He seemed nervous, trembling, but he walked back in the room anyway to say goodbye. "Um.........listen up, everybody..." We all turned to see what he had to say. Then again...we knew what he had to say. It was just an interest in how he was going to say it. "I know...that I haven't been here that long, and I know that I didn't really know you guys as well as I wanted to...but I really appreciated you guys opening up your...um...'home' and all." He fidgeted with his hands a bit as he fumbled for words. "But........I think it's time for me to be going." No one said anything, so he continued. "I mean, you guys are really great and all. I just...I don't think...I'm up for something like....like...this." Then he reassured us, "NOT that there's anything WRONG with 'this', or...whatever. I mean, you guys are fine if you're....this way." He was trying so hard not to put his foot in his mouth that he was swallowing both fists whole. "This isn't coming out right at all..."

"We understand, Darren." Dion said, and looked over at Bryson, who was stuck in the limbo between disappointment and joy over winning another chance to be at Rain's side. Not to mention that he was conflicted over what made him happy, and what would make RAIN happy. You never know how unbalanced and odd emotions are until you feel them through someone else. It's so strange. "It's not for everyone. Sometimes, better decisions are made when the choices are a bit more clear." I didn't know whether Dion was saying it to ease Darren, or if some of that regret was leaking back into his demeanor. It seemed to be a little of both actually. "So you're ok."

"So....I can get my stuff...and just...'go', right?" He asked.

"Yeah. Jenna here can walk you back to the lot." Bryson offered with a nod.

"Ok, thanks." Darren was a bit sad himself, making the smaller of two sacrifices in order to keep his life. But I think he genuinely liked Rain, and he seemed sorry to let her go. His head dropped a little as he gave us a timid wave goodbye, but he stopped once he got to the door. "Um...I hate to ask...but...you guys aren't gonna, like....kill me or anything, are you?"

"Kill you?" Bryson said.

"Because I'd never tell ANYBODY about you guys! Honest! I'd never say anything...."

"Calm down, Darren. Nobody here is going to 'kill' you."

Trevor joined in, "Don't be too sure about that Bryson. He does look awfully tasty." Getting a rather frightened look from Darren while he licked his teeth.

"Darren, you're ok. Just go." Bryson told him. And I think he started to leave while he was still ahead. But he gave Trevor another look over his shoulder before walking out entirely.

"Watch those dark alleys, cutie pie. They're dangerous." Trevor smiled, and both he and Michael let their eyes flash bright red for a second in front of him. They seemed to be rather in sync with one another since their little holiday. But it was a much more harmless joking than what they were into before. So I suppose I should be thankful for 'mild mannered' mischief this time around.

Gyro tried to appear unaffected, but I think he honestly was concerned for his sister, who had evidently invested a lot of hope and faith in having Darren stay here. "Who cares? He wasn't one of us anyway. Not like you are superman." He said.

"Stop calling me that." I told him, still defeated by my hidden persona and pouting it out silently. I turned to Taryn and tenderly lifted his head off of my shoulder. "Taryn...I have to go." He didn't understand, but he was aware that the rules had changed in this part of the game. So he didn't question it, didn't try to fight it, didn't ask if he could follow. Seeing him like that...it bothered me. I don't want him to be a slave to my secrets the way I have been. "Comicality......he's been training me." I whispered. "He wants to see me tonight. But I'm coming back. I'm coming back TONIGHT, and we're gonna have a nice long talk." He smiled sweetly at me, but I knew he didn't believe. It was getting to the point where he never believed. "I WILL be there Taryn. I promise you that....with all my heart." He nodded, doing his best to take me at my word. Even though it had turned to shit after the last times I had led him astray. I just....needed him to believe in me. In this cold world, this unloving world, it was all I had left. The last breath that I couldn't bear to have taken from me. Without him...none of this would have any meaning anymore. I gave my life for him, and it was the final string holding my whole world together.

He smiled at me again, trying so hard to trust me, and a single tear dripped from his eye. "I'll be waiting for you by the lake tonight. Ok?" He said, and hugged me tight around the waist. I held the embrace as long as I could, and never wanted to let him go. I waited until Bryson and the others were involved in other things, and then I winked at Taryn with a grin before using Dylan's extra to blank out and make my escape. With a little focus, I could feel myself go under their radar, and I moved slowly to the door. That's when I felt a gentle tug at my mental strings, a loving message from the boy I cared for more than I was comfortable to admit freely. And in that message, he said, "Thank you for telling me, Justin. Thank you for letting me in. I love you...and I trust you. Always."

I sent him a message back, saying, "I love you too, Taryn. More than I can say. Expect me tonight, k? For once, I won't let you down." And I crept my way out of the building for my second training session with the one person who might be able to protect me in the days to come. The darkness felt like it was swallowing me whole as it was. And yet, the darkest days of them all were rolling in slowly from the horizon. They were coming closer every second of the day...I could 'feel' it.

I stayed 'invisible' until I was far enough away from the old building to be out of sight for anyone that might try to follow me. Then I eased up on it and let myself fade back in gradually with the rest of reality. And I began my journey back to the place where Dizz and Jazz would be waiting for me. The rain had let up an awful lot, now not much more than an annoyingly cold drizzle. But in all honesty, now that I actually had some time to myself to think straight, I kinda wondered how I was able to handle myself so well in an emergency like we had tonight. I mean...I should actually be pretty damn PROUD of myself, you know? Five raiders. FIVE! All by myself. Everything that Com was trying to teach me was falling into place little by little. I was actually becoming somewhat of a lethal weapon with the stuff that I was learning. Just thinking about it gave me flashbacks of car doors and tires and dodging blades and chains. Even blind, I was able to fend for myself. I'll be damned, I was getting really good at this. If only I had known this shit when I was back in high school! I would have beaten down anybody that even LOOKED at me funny! Shit..that would have been awesome!

Walking further into the grip of society, the thought of me in high school, actually being able to fight back for a change instead of being every bully's bitch the whole time I was there, was enchanting me. What if things were different? What if those guys never got a chance to beat me up, or make me feel so bad that I was forced to cry in front of a classroom of people? What if I could have found someone like Taryn to love me while I was still alive? What if.......what if.....?

And then it hit me. The one question that I guess I was REALLY considering in all this. I didn't want to acknowledge it, because it seemed so terrible to even think about it. But....in the long run...it was the one piercing thorn in my side. What if I had never crossed over? What if I had made Darren's choice....and told Taryn that I wasn't ready? What would have happened to me had I never let myself get caught up in all of this. What would have happened to Taryn? I was....I was grateful for all of the things that I had learned and all of the wonderful people I've met. For the confidence and the adventure and the overall philosophy of my new life here in darkness. But...I began to wonder...if it weren't for Taryn, would I even want to be here anymore?

Again, I tried to force the idea out of my mind. It was a hazardous sequence of thoughts that was sure to lead to more bad decisions in the future. I was sure of it. I just....kept thinking back to Darren walking out of that building, and privately wishing that I could do the same. He was lucky. He got out of the car before taking the everlasting ride. He took the other fork in the road, and I wanted to know what that felt like. I miss life sometimes. And that nostalgia for the way it used to be was getting worse and worse. I now know why Taryn enjoys that sunrise so much. I only wish I could have taken the time to enjoy a few more myself.

As I walked closer to the downtown part of the city, I noticed two busses sitting outside of a hotel, surrounded by a bunch of kids. Tourists. Boys and girls in their late teens, probably here to see the colleges and all, trying to find a place to enroll in for next year. I was already walking down that street, and didn't want to look weird taking a detour to hide. Besides...these days, the little bits of contact I have with an actual 'human life' is the only thing that I've got to make me feel somewhat normal again. Even if I was a bit envious of their position. So I just kept walking, and I watched them. Every last one of them. Smiling and playing and giggling...like a teenager is supposed to. Not worrying about death and being hunted and having their private possessions stolen. Not concerned with blood that's tainted with AIDS or fighting for their lives or having to watch their back for whatever weird lunatic might be looking to murder them for something they didn't do. They were 'happy'. And something about that kept me from being happy for them. I remember being that carefree. I REMEMBER it! It wasn't much more than a month ago. Right? Or was it? How long have I been out here on the streets? I couldn't even remember really. My whole concept of time was becoming warped and twisted around certain events that had happened since I had been here. How long was I gone? How could I have forgotten the date so easily? It was surprising how quickly I could lose all track of time when I wasn't in a school or work structure. Without television or magazines. Without that constant need to bring up those tiny detailed bits of information on a daily basis, like the day and the date, a certain holiday or the sudden ring of an alarm clock. Time didn't even exist for me anymore. I didn't have to 'do' anything or 'be' anywhere neccessarily. I was just....'floating'. With nothing to anchor me back down into a concrete physical world of clearly defined rules and regulations. All this time, I wanted to escape that world, because it was unfair and unforgiving and judgemental to the point of social madness. Now...that structure is gone. And I want it back. I want to feel that predictable reality again, just for a few minutes. Just to see the sun, or interact with the living. To sleep in a real bed, eat some junk food, have my mom complain about my messy room again. To go shopping, or to the beach, or to school. To actually have to worry about what I'm gonna BE when I grow up, or have some kind of mental image of what I'd look like if I ever grew old. I just....I never thought I'd miss a life that I hadn't had yet. Especially when the only 'life' that I knew of had treated me so badly. I never thought I'd be homesick for Hell.

Then....as I got close enough to pass by the kids coming off of the bus, I felt my stomach implode all at once. It sucked in involuntarily, so suddenly that I had to stop in mid step and reach out an arm to hold onto the wall. My vision blurred for a moment, and I felt my mouth go as dry as cotton again while my heart began to spasm in my chest. My body shivered, and as I heard the jovial laughter of the kids enjoying themselves...my hunger began to throb deep inside of me all over again. It almost made me sick.

I sorta crawled alongside the wall as I got closer, hoping that I didn't look too weird in front of all of the teens out here. Hoping my eyes hadn't turned red with hunger, shining brightly enough to be seen through my contacts. I had already been covered in mud from the fight, and I'm sure that clean clothes and a few expert wipes from a wet paper towel don't necessarily make me look 'sparkling clean'. I walked closer, hoping to just pass them and get it over with. But I could hear their heartbeats. Their delicious, blood pumping, heartbeats. An entire living buffet of children right there in front of me, unsuspecting of the danger I was bringing their way, closer and closer with every step. I saw one boy, a blond with a sexy slim body and blue eyes, and felt myself lock in on him in the most sadistic way. My mind was already starting to break down, thinking of possibly taking his sex as I drained him dry. To suck at him while he was in shock, to touch him, caress him, to kiss those sweet red lips of his as he gurgled blood from the fatal wounds I had given him. Too weak to move, too far gone to even beg for his life. A bloodlust is exactly that....a 'lust'. There is something sexually satisfying about killing indiscriminately, and taking someone else's essence into you. About knowing that it can be anyone, at any time. You had total control. And there wasn't a THING they could do to stop you. If I wanted it, I could have it. And I wanted it. I wanted to have his warm blood fill my mouth as I felt his pulse weaken beneath my lips. To give him peace through unbearable pain, and playfully indulge myself on the erotic transfer of his life from his body into mine. My eyes almost rolled back with the idea. He was sooo cute, so blissfully unaware. It wouldn't matter if he liked me or not, if he was gay or not, if he was a virgin or not. I could 'have' him. Don't you understand? He's mine. He's mine for the simple fact that I targeted him to be so! That only seemed to make the thirst even worse, and in that instant, I could feel my everyday logic begin to break down into something much more primal.

Instead of leaning against the wall in pain, I stood up straight, and began to monitor all of the teenagers in the crowd. Normally, the idea of doing such a thing to someone so young was out of the question, but this wasn't me thinking now. This was the hunger. And frankly, the hunger didn't give a fuck one way or the other. Everything became so clouded and so clear at the same time. It was like my mind was shuffling through the deck, picking out the easiest targets. I could wait...I could find a way to separate one of the boys or girls away from the rest of the group. Yes...that would be easy. No challenge at all. My mind became obsessed with their movements, the cold unfeeling hunter in me rising to the surface. I could effortlessly analyze the 'weak links' in the crowd, singling them out as possible donors. Not the overly gorgeous ones...chances are, one of the other teens would be watching them. It would be more difficult to pull them away. And not the overly popular ones either. They would be missed too quickly by the others. No...I needed someone who could disappear, and not considered missing for a longer period of time. So that I could drain them dry and the Slag Hunters could clean the scene before anyone thought to look for them. The loners, the rejected, the withdrawn. I could corner them with a smile, use my looks, my blond hair, my blue eyes, to put them at ease. I might even take time for some mild seduction before revealing myself as the demon I truly am. The fear in their hearts would cause their adrenaline to pump feverishly into their bloodstream, only sweetening the nectar for me and making it all the more satisfying. The thoughts that raced through me caused an evil grin to curl up on my lips, and the deed almost seemed 'funny' to me at that moment. I could do it. I should do it. I WILL do it! Now...

I was then startled by the sound of a loud siren screaming past me as an ambulance went speeding by! I hadn't even noticed the sound coming from off in the distance, and I thought for sure that it was the police coming to arrest me for even THINKING of killing one of these kids. The sudden shock of it made me fix up and try to think rationally. There were too many people here, witnessess. The group would be counting heads regularly to keep everyone together. Trying to snatch one of them away would be dangerous. I'll have to find another way. I began walking again slowly, and went right past them. I was almost tempted to wink at one of my targets...slently letting them know just how close they came to extending my eternal youth for another month. But decided against it. Hunger or no hunger, I didn't want my instincts to push me over the edge into enjoying this sort of thing. At least not yet.

>From there, I made sure to avoid any other run ins with the 'public' by taking side streets and alleys to get back to the warehouse. Not being around the 'buffet' helped to keep my urges from getting too strong, but deep down...I was privately hoping that someone would cross my path in these alleys. That some unlucky soul would stroll through and run into me where I could devour them in private. I just wanted to get it overwith. I could hardly believe the thoughts I was having, but I knew it had to be done. There was no other way. And I kept wondering if the instinct would just take me over completely again so I could do it and be completely blind to the act until it was over. Maybe the swift murder and the draining of fluids would satisfy me and I wouldn't have to think about it again for another couple of weeks. As long as it happened fast and I didn't have time to think about it too much....maybe I'd be ok. Maybe.

Walking into the dark warehouse, I saw Dizz and Jazz playing cards in the back of the room. They turned to look at me, but before I could say anything at all, Comicality ripped himself from the darkness around me and scolded me. "You're late."

"We had an 'emergency', ok? It couldn't be helped."

"An emergency..."

"Yeah...our home was attacked tonight. Raiders. They stole our stuff and were trying to make off with it." I said. "But they didn't count on ME being awake when they got there." Dizz, ever the 'mimic fan', looked over with interest. I was kinda proud.

"I imagine you handled yourself well?" Com said, his voice void of emotion.

"Better than ever, actually. I think I'm getting the hang of this. Thanks to you guys."

But he only looked me coldly in the eyes without moving. "No Justin, you're not. You haven't even scratched the surface yet." He said, basically raining on my parade completely. He was never impressed with anything. I really don't GET him sometimes. He needs to lighten up and let the preachy bullshit go once in a while. "Come, we have much to learn tonight."

"I can't stay until dawn." He turned slowly to stare at me, and I could tell he wasn't happy. "I mean...Taryn and I...that's my...my boyfriend...we have to talk tonight." He didn't respond. "It's important, ok? I can't put it off any longer. Please?"

"You come late, and now you leave early. How fortunate for you."

I was a bit insulted at how he was talking down to me. It's not like I really wanted to be here in the first place tonight. "Don't. Ok? Just don't. I've already been through a hell of a lot tonight."

"Have you now?"

"YES! As a matter of fact, I have! And I'd think you could show a little concern for my situation."

"Your 'situation' is rapidly escalating beyond your ability to deal with it, and you don't even realize it." Com floated closer to look down on me. "You may be able to fight, and fight extremely well, I might add....but what you need to learn cannot be taught to you until you are ready to open up your eyes and grow up. This is NOT a video game. These people will kill you."

"I'm leaving early tonight, and that's all there is to it." I told him, defying him face to face for the first time. Both Dizz and Jazz glanced at each other, a bit taken aback by my assertion. "For once, just ONCE...I'm going to stop worrying about me and them and some stupid prophecy that got 'handed' to me the day I crossed over. For the first time in my life I've got something special...someone I truly care about with all my heart. And I'm gonna start keeping my promises to him as of right now." Both Dizz and Jazz were really surprised to see me stand so firm on my decision, but I wasn't going to budge. Not tonight. "So...if you want me to stay, you'll just have to tie me to a chair. Because my boyfriend is out there somewhere waiting for me, and I WILL get back to him tonight."

Com's eyes flared up in front of me, spinning at a dizzying speed, and after a momentary pause where he said absolutely nothing, he stood up and turned his back on me. "You start with sparring, the three of you. You have to learn to focus on more than one thing at a time." Was he ignoring me now???

"Did you hear what I just said?"

He turned. "You pass the first two tests...you can go." And that was that. He took his place off at the side, and I guess that meant I didn't have a whole lot of time to waste. This should be a breeze.

The first night, he had us fight there in the center of the room. But this time, he told us to use the space around us. That basically all bets were off, and any weapon that I could use to win quickly...use it. Plates, boards, chairs, tables, hoses...whatever was in the room. I wasn't quite sure what he wanted me to do, but the second we started, Jazz kicked a chair up in front of himself...and with a punch he LAUNCHED it at me top speed! I barely ducked in time to avoid it! "What the hell are you DOING?!?!" I yelled, but the sparring match had already begun, and the both of them came at me with a fury. It was more than just dodging and blocking this time, I had to really MOVE! They made sure that all of thir attacks were designed specifically to get me to roll, flip, or jump, out of their way. While Dizz spun low to footsweep me, I had to jump back on top of a table, and then hop back up to my feet. Jazz, being the prick that he was, reached high kicked me hard in the chest, knocking me off of the table and back down to the floor. Then he turned the table on its side and kicked it at me. I moved in the nick of time, and then had to lean way back to avoid being hit with a brick that Dizz threw at my head! "Hellooooo??? Can we take a BREAK here?" Next thing I knew, Jazz tossed a cinder block at my legs, and I had to dive over it to keep from having it cripple me. Rolling up to my feet, I took them on hand to hand for a moment or two before Jazz kicked me back some for distance. Then Dizz swung at me with a 2x4 while I just tried to get far enough away to keep from having him beat my brains out! "Alright STOP!!! STOP!!!" I shouted, and Comicality gave them the signal to back off. "What the hell is going on here? They're trying to KILL me!"

"If we wanted to kill you, Justin, you'd be toast by now." Jazz sneered, grumpy over the fact that the training had to stop temporarily.

"Take it easy on him, Jazz. He's doing alright for his first time." Dizz was always quick to believe in me, and Jazz was always quick to do the opposite. "He's just coming into his abilities. He'll get it."

"I still don't believe he's even the one. I'm telling you, he's just some kid who got this blessing by some freak occurrence in nature. There's no prophecy being unfolded with this brat. The power of a mimic is too strong, he doesn't even know what the hell he's doing." I gave him a dirty look and walked over to look him dead in the eye.

"I know exactly what I'm doing, asshole." I said. "And if I remember correctly, you didn't get this extra. I did! It's mine! So deal with it!"

"You don't deserve it. You're too young, too stupid, and you're gonna fuck it up for everybody if you don't watch what you're doing."

"Fuck YOU!" I shouted, and wthout even thinking, I felt an electric current shoot through me. Through my arms, my legs, my chest...just like it had in the lot with the raiders. Somehow, I triggered it all over again, and it shot forward as little lightning bolts of static electricity connected with Jazz's chest! He jumped back from the shock, and with a little thought, I got the electric currents to settle down again. It almost felt like I had control over it, but initially it all happened so fast that I couldn't stop it in time. I wasn't sure where the hell that came from, but Jazz certainly helped me to find out.

"Did you steal my extra?" He said angrily, brushing himself off. I didn't answer him at first. I didn't even know what he was asking really. Both Com and Dizz looked at me, waiting for me to respond. "I asked you a QUESTION!" He yelled. "Did you just 'thieve' my fucking extra???"

"No!" I said. "At....at least, I don't think I did."

"Oh, you don't THINK you did?" He stepped closer, and he was really upset. He pushed me in the chest hard, and I had to make sure I kept my balance. "Ok, Mr. Expert! You wanna steal extras and make them your own, right? That's what you do? Fucking showoff little halflife! You think you know how to use that thing you got there? Huh? You think you can use MY extra better than me?" He pushed me again, and I prepared myself to fight back. "Come on, pretty boy! COME ON! Show me what you know!"

I didn't hold back any longer. SCREW him! I felt the energy build up around me again, and it made the hairs on my arms stand up. The hair on my head was soon to follow, and I fixed my eyes on my target. I let it go, and saw the room flicker with the blue light of the little electric strikes as it pushed forward to attack him. He dodged to one side, then to the other, but on the third shot, I hit him square in the chest with it! There was no time to celebrate though, as he stood there, taking it all and not moving. In fact, it felt like he was absorbing it all! The more I shot out of me, the more his body seemed to suck it in. Then....he began taking it in with such a mental suction that I couldn't STOP! It was like he was 'pulling' the energy out of me now that I had gotten it started. I tried desperately to shut it off, but he kept pulling. Harder and harder. I felt myself getting weak, as though my body was losing it's very ability to stand.

"Come on kid! You wanted to play house with MY extra! Then DO smething!" He said smugly, watching me fall to one knee in front of him. "Since you know so much about the abilities you steal from other vampires, tell me....exactly what do you plan to do in this situation? Huh? I hope you come up with something soon. Because that tingle you feel at the front of your forehead? It's about to get really hot, really fast." He was right. The energy pouring out of me was beginning to burn, and I couldn't shut it off as long as he was taking it in. I tried to get back up, but my body wouldn't let me. I whimpered outloud, and was starting to realize that he could use this ability a hell of a lot better than I could.

"Jazz..." Comicality said it quietly enough, but Jazz got the message. He released me from the energy drain, and then let the excess electricity shoot out into the air around him to burn it off.

I rubbed the front of my head, feeling the skin still hot from the energy shooting through it. That's when Jazz walked over and said, "Next time, halflife...know what you're getting into when you snatch somebody else's extra. If it's not meant for you, then leave it alone."

"Come with me." Com's shadows swirled up tightly and he led me outside of the room to talk alone. We went back upstairs and outside, his pace almost as slow as a funeral march. He didn't say much at first, but as we got closer to the river, he began to speak again. "You are still using your abilities as a crutch, Justin. They overpower you at every turn. And combined with your lack of emotional control you are more dangerous to yourself and others than you can even imagine. Had Jazz been an enemy, he could have killed you."

"I didn't mean to take his extra, Com. I swear to you...it just sorta happened. I didn't even know what his extra 'was'..."

"You've been absorbing pwoers from other vampires since you first chased Chad down the streets of Chicago, Justin. But acquiring these abilities and using them safely and efficently are two different things." He stopped by the river, almost where we were standing the day before when he found me. "There is nothing more unique about a vampire than his extra. It is based on his emotional make up, his past history of positive and negative influence, his personality...it's a fingerprint that no other vampire can ever hope to master. They can only imitate what they know of it, and somehow bend it to fit their own personality. But using someone else's extra against them? There's no contest. You will lose....every time."

"But...I thought that mimics..."

"Were all powerful with the extras they adopt? No, not hardly." He said. "A mimic's true power doesn't come from the use of one extra. It comes from a combination of all the extras you've learned used simultaneously. Being able to switch between them as quickly as you can think it, and still maintain control. It has to become as natural and as fluid as breathing. But you are not ready. You are still carrying too much baggage from your human life to ever hope to get a handle on the powers you possess."

"Why do you keep saying that? Why do you, and Jazz, and half of the 'important' people out there think I'm so incapable of using the gift that I've been given? Is it because I'm young? Is that it? Justin's just some stupid little boy who doesn't have a clue as to what he's doing?"

"You're still a boy. You have no idea the amount of damage you could possibly cause to somebody right now. You don't know how badly you could really hurt someone through your actions." He said.

"Well, I want to LEARN! Isn't that the point of all this? But all I ever get is doubt and disbelief and people telling me I can't do what I need to do. You know, a lot of other people are pretty damn impressed with my fighting skills."

"I told you before, Justin...you have to learn how to 'think'. Then you learn how to fight."

"What does that MEAN?"

Com turned to me, and leaned up against the railing. "Tonight, when you were sparring with Dizz and Jazz, you panicked. Take on one opponent and you seem fine. Take on two, you begin to breakdown. And when you add the fact that you have to dodge weapons and furniture, you want to call a time out. You have to learn to visualize and think three dimensionally. Many factors are involved with every fight and with every enemy. And these factors are NOT physical." He told me. "The powerful blast that you shoot out of your mind when you're angry, the brain geyser, it's still building up inside of you. Right now at this very moment. I can sense it." I didn't feel anything. What did he mean? "Do you know why your extra is so hard to control, Justin?"


"Because you are not honest with yourself. Your feelings, you hold them back and suffocate them without an outlet. You've been spending your whole life trying to control emotions that weren't yours to command in the first place. When you crossed over into our world, that same method of suppression manifested itself physically. Right now you are holding back what you feel, even from yourself, and that energy is building. In the back of your mind, it is struggling to be free, but you keep it tied down...adding strength to it night after night. Until it gets to be too much for you to handle anymore. Then, in times of anger...it explodes. All of that built up energy, all at once, in whatever direction you send it. When this initial 'power surge' is gone, you may find that you have better control over what you do with it. But right now, you're building up another powerful, uncontrollable, blast. It won't stop, Justin. Not until you learn to deal with your problems and face your demons." He turned back to the river. "Until then...your anger, your depression, your ego...they will always have complete control over you."

"Com...I'm trying so hard to understand all of this, but I don't. One moment you're telling me to control my emotions, the next...you're telling me that I can't control them no matter what I do." I said.

"Balance can be found in being aware of what you feel, being honest with who you are, and being careful with what you allow to consume you. The key is in understanding what each emotion is trying to tell you, Justin." I tried, I wrapped my mind around the concept as tightly as I could, but it just wouldn't make any sense. That's when he said..."So young."

"I'm NOT 'young'!" I stood defiant behind him. "I'm not an idiot, you know? Don't treat me like a child."

"What you lack in experience, you make up for in passion and eagerness. Despite what Jazz may have said, I think the fates were wise in choosing you to carry out the deeds of this prophecy. Perhaps....nature has a system of balance all its own." He stood up and walked over to stand beside me, and he put a hand on my shoulder. "I realize that you have someplace else to be tonight. So go. We'll continue this another time."

"I can leave?"

"You still need more training. MUCH more. You learn fast, but you're trying to grow faster than your knowledge can handle. You're headstrong and stubborn and emotionally unstable."

"Gee, thanks."

He continued. "But...if balance is the key to unlocking who you are inside, then maybe spending time with Taryn is the best thing for you right now." I looked at him, hoping he was really being serious about freeing me from more 'training' tonight. "Whatever it is that that boy gives you, it empowers you to truly be the best you can be. And if anything is going to help you even out, it's him."

"You mean....you're letting me go because Taryn will help me fight better?" I asked.

"I'm letting you go....because I remember what it was like to be so in love. And because that feeling creates in you the most honest emotions there are, both good and bad. It does that for all of us."

"Yeah.....he does." I said softly. But before leaving, I told him, "He knows. Um.....about me, that is."

Comicality merely nodded his head. "Frankly, I'm surprised you kept it from him this long." He walked around me, but this time I made sure to keep my eyes focused on him before he pulled another disappearing act on me.

"I'm sorry. I just....I couldn't keep it bottled up inside me like that anymore."

"Don't be sorry, Justin. You told someone that you love who you really are. There has never been a crime in revealing your true nature to someone you care for." He said. It was then that I felt a split second hint of sadness in his demeanor, but it was cut short and returned to its stable, ice cold, calmness. It was so fast that I doubt I really felt anything at all. "Go. Taryn is waiting for you by the lake."

"How do you know that?" I said, but he gave me a look out of the corner of his eye, and I guess I should have known. "Right. Of course. You know everything." Still, I couldn't leave. Not just yet. "I really do love him, you know? He means the world to me. I doubt I ever could have made it this far without his affection."

"Yes. I know. It shines through you whenever he crosses your mind. I can see the love in your heart. It's blinding."

"Then you KNOW why I must go to him. Right? I mean...haven't you ever been so in love with someone that you were willing to risk everything to make them happy?"

There was a long pause, almost as if he didn't want to answer. As if he didn't even want to remember. "Vaguely..." He said softly. "...A few times. More than I would like to admit."

"And you stuck by them, no matter what. Right?" I said. "You were willing to give everything you had in order to keep them close."

"No...I didn't." He replied, and the feeling inside him grew more intense. I think he sensed me locking onto his emotions, because he shut me out completely, and refused to let me back in. "They're all gone now. As should you be." He was trying to get rid of me, but for the first time since the dark figure approached me in an alley, for the first time since he attacked me in that graveyard...I saw a tiny faded light of humanity shine through his shadowed mask and present itself to me honestly.

"Are they dead?" I asked.

"No. Just gone." He almost seemed agitated with my questions, and turned around to leave me again. But I refused to let him out of my sight this time. I refused.


There was another pause, and then he began to speak again. "Years after my crossover...once I had a better understanding of my position here, I began to write my own version of philosophies that were to be added to the vampire scriptures. They were accepted. The more I wrote, the more the whole concept began to unravel for me, and the writings kept coming. It was like channeling a voice not my own. Scripture after scripture, passage after passage...it was endless. Whenever I finished one, I just...started on another. It took almost every waking moment I had to give to any 'one' person, and the passages never ceased. They were needed out there."

"Well.....couldn't you just stop? I mean...you could just walk away right?"

Somehow, I don't think that was the answer he was looking for. "Justin...what you have to understand is that these scriptures...they are helping to change our perception. Helping to inspire new levels of thought in those that can someday really make a difference." He said. "There is no 'walking away' from this. Eventually, the idea of purpose grew to be bigger than I was, and it took control of what was a priority and what wasn't."

"I...I don't understand." I told him. "You can't just carry all of humanity on your shoulders. No offense, but it did just fine without you for a few million years before you got here."

"Let me give you a case scenario. Say you see a raft floating out in this river. And on it, is everything that you desire in life. Whether it be money, or fame, or love, or simple peace of mind. The raft is floating away, and you know you only have one opportunity to catch it. But as you're running for it...you see someone drowning in the waters of the river. They are calling to you, to YOU specifically, asking for help, and deep down you don't know whether or not you can save them. But you know that you'd be a scoundrel for not even trying. Tell me....what would you do?" He waited for a few moments, as I wrestled with the idea in my mind. To be honest, the answer wasn't as easy as I wanted it to be. "Sometimes, Justin...'duty' is more important than 'happiness'. And once you've tapped yourself in to the needs of the people around you, there's no escaping what you truly feel is right. I risk the joy of a lot of people by thinking selfishly."

"But..." I started, shaking my head, "That's ridiculous. I mean...you can't just give up everything and everyone that's important to you for some stupid 'cause'. Jesus, Com...you can't save everybody."

"It's not in the saving, Justin. It's in the willingness to try that makes it worthwhile. For me...that is my balance. Even if it is a rather lonely one."

"So you're going to sacrifice everything....to what? Be a martyr? Die alone? That's stupid." I said, and he looked over at me with a raised eyebrow. "Um......sir."

He sighed outloud, and was obviously done with this conversation. Saying only, "Sacrifice would require me to give up something I was ever destined, or even capable of having in the first place. That 'feeling' you speak of when you talk about Taryn...is not one of those things." He pointed out towards the East, telling me to go. And I knew that I would get no more answers from him tonight. "You have something important in your life that has made it worth the breaths you take to sustain it. Don't lose that Justin. Don't ever trade your own happiness for that invisible reward at the end of the rainbow. It can't be seen in the dark. Not ever." He seemed to be fading quick, even though I kept him in front of me. "That which takes the most courage requires vulnerability, Justin...not strength. For what it's worth, I envy you." With that, he seemed to vanish right before my eyes, dispersing himself into the shadows around us until there was nothing left. I was left feeling a bit strange after the conversation, and wondered if my seeking his help had somehow added to this self imposed burden of his. If I was one of those lost souls, drowning in the river, making him miss his raft yet again to save me. But more importantly, I began to think that Chad was right all along. There's nothing special about him other than he was willing to help. This myth, this legend, was no more real than the shadows he used to hide himself away from the rest of the world. I didn't know whether to be disappointed in that fact.....or take comfort in knowing that he was just like me. Lost.