I shouldn’t have answered the phone.

I berated myself through the entire call, the process of putting on my boots, getting on my bike, and driving across town. But Sam had been on the other end of the line, and I had a damn hard time telling that woman “no.”

And everyone else at HQ knew it, which is exactly why they had her call me. Sam was the only one that seemed to be oblivious, because as far as I could tell, she couldn’t actually stand me. But apparently everyone else in my division was otherwise occupied, so I was her only option. A flattering bit of knowledge, to be sure.

So, despite the fact that it was my night off, I was parking in front of the Community Response Network headquarters. I wasn’t sure what the building had been before the CRN had taken over, but it was a square brick made of plain concrete, a little at odds with the tiny flower gardens under each mid-sized window, vines trailing up the walls. I knew the vines bloomed every day with morning glories, despite having never seen them myself.

Sunlight didn’t burn quite like rumors would have non-vamps believe, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant either. Night shift suited me just fine.
I sighed, dragging myself up the stairs and into the building. It wasn’t like I had anything better to do.

My plan for the evening had been to go to the local bar and find a pretty girl to snack on. I hadn’t eaten in a few days, and hunger was starting to pulse in my teeth. I wasn’t so young a vampire that I had to feed every day, but I wasn’t so old that I could go forever and a day without either.

But as pathetic as it made me, I’d rather do a favor for Sam than find a random girl to hook up with for the night.

“Yo, Seville!” a voice greeted me as I walked in. I looked over to find a familiar black man jogging towards me. Devon was on the Medical Response Team as a nurse. He must have just gotten in for his shift, since he was dressed in a short-sleeved gray t-shirt and black cargo pants with his work boots instead of the MRT uniform. The bridge piercing between his brown eyes glinted silver in the fluorescent lights.

“Thought this was your night off,” he said.

I hesitated, but answered, “Sam called.”

Devon immediately started laughing, his head thrown back, tight black curls bouncing with his shoulders.

“Shut up,” I muttered.

He wheezed in a breath. “God, you’re so easy.”

I rolled my eyes and folded my arms over my chest. “Go ahead, get it out of your system.”

“Tell me, if she asked you to throw yourself onto a sharpened stake, how fast would you be impaled?” he asked, still snickering, his lips in a wide grin.

I thought about it. If Sam looked at me with those brown eyes, sweet smile, and asked me to stake myself with that low, husky voice of hers…

“She wouldn’t even have to finish the sentence,” I answered, absolutely serious. Devon shook his head.

“Seville, you’ve got it bad. The fact that she won’t give you the time of day only makes it sadder,” he said.

I shrugged. It wasn’t like I’d actively asked Sam out, and been rejected. She had made it clear that she didn’t care for my company -- not that I had any idea why -- and I respected that. I wasn’t going to force my presence on someone who didn’t want it. But no matter how much I tried to feel otherwise, I still liked the woman, and if she asked me to do something, I was going to do it.

“What did she call you in for, anyway?” he asked, his laughter fading.

Yeah, it wasn’t exactly funny when I got called in. I only worked supernatural calls, and those usually involved violence.

“Someone reported a troll sighting down by the 34th street bridge. They want me to go check it out, so I’m here to grab supplies before I head out,” I replied. “It’s probably no big deal, but better to check it out just in case.”

Devon blew out a breath. “Trolls aren’t exactly sweethearts. Do you need backup?”

I shook my head. “I’ll be fine.”

Even if I did think I needed it, I wouldn’t have taken Devon with me. Much as I liked and respected the man, he was medical, and he didn’t need to be on the menu for whatever I found.

“But if they manage to take a bite out of my hide, you’re the first I’ll call,” I said, giving him a smile.

He slapped my shoulder with a grin, and made his way past me. “Damn right. Be safe!”

Alone, I made my way to the back of the building, towards the locker room. I stopped briefly at the door to the dispatch room, where I knew Sam’s desk was. She was there, absorbed in a file. Someone called her name, and her head came up slowly as she clearly didn’t want to stop reading. But she shifted her focus and zeroed in on the other dispatcher.

She was in the trademark green military-style jacket that everyone with ComRes wore with the CRN logo on the breast -- I had one in my locker  -- a pair of faded blue jeans, a gray tank, and steel-toes that looked like they’d seen better days.

Her black curls were contained in a thick, messy braid, her eyes obscured behind the wild bangs that could probably have used a trim three months ago. She tried to tuck them behind her ear as she leaned in next to her coworker, but the strands were disobedient and fluffed back into place.

Vague annoyance pinched her brow, and she motioned for the coworker to follow her back to her desk. I watched as she rifled around, and found a pair of clips to keep the hair in place. She smudged the gold highlight on her cheek just a little bit as she tamed the curls into place, but didn’t appear to notice as she continued speaking.

It wasn’t until someone passed behind me to get into the room that I realized I was smiling at Sam like an absolute dope, and had genuinely no idea how long I’d been standing there. I pushed away from the door and continued toward the locker room.

Someone kept putting the ComRes uniform in my locker.

“I will not wear this crime against vampires, and they can’t make me,” I muttered to myself. The actual design was fine -- form-fitting, stretchy, great for when you needed to make a quick exit and needed maneuverability. But dear god, the council had ordered the damn things in blue and orange in an effort to prevent friendly fire.

This didn’t work well for vampires. Stealth was kind of our whole deal.

The supernatural division of ComRes were essentially the only ones that had access to the armory. Few of us were human, so we didn’t generally use firearms when we could use our teeth and claws, and most of us could see real well in the dark.

I was one of the few more comfortable with a gun and a knife than I was without. ComRes SD didn’t generally work with the other branches, so there was little worry that I’d end up getting shot by one of my coworkers.

Tossing the unused uniform in the dirty clothes bin, I switched out my personal denim jacket -- grungy with pins and patches all over it -- and flannel underneath for the dark brown leather jacket that I wore on the job. The last time I wore the denim, I ended up getting it absolutely ruined, and I’d worked too hard and too long getting the patches just right to put it in harms’ way again.

Leather could be replaced. Good patch placement was an art.

The rest of my clothes were appropriate for a relocation -- black jeans and a dark gray tank top weren’t going to draw unwanted attention, and wouldn’t stain horribly if I did end up bleeding.

After placing the denim jacket in my locker, I headed towards the armory.

It didn’t take me long to gear up with a few knives -- I didn’t expect much in the way of trouble. Trolls were territorial, but not too bright. We had plenty of areas around town that were more well-suited for trolls, but the 34th street bridge wasn’t one of them. The bridge got too much traffic to benefit from a troll bedding down on it. I planned on very simply helping the troll relocate to one of the free territories that might suit them.

But I’d be ready if they decided to fight me on it.

Feeling prepared, I made my way back down the hall towards the exit, only to be stopped in my tracks. Sam stood in my way, holding files to her chest and looking at me with an annoyed slant to her brows. Her lips pursed into a straight line, eyes narrowed on me. She was a good four inches shorter than me, so she had to look up a bit. Somehow, it didn’t make her any less intimidating.

“Seville, when did you get in?” she asked.

I cleared my throat, suddenly parched. My teeth throbbed, and I very purposefully did not look at her neck. I met her gaze instead, relaxing my face.

“About twenty minutes ago. Just stopped by to grab some gear before I go take care of your troll problem,” I said, shoving my hands in my pockets. I leaned back on my heels, trying to look as casual as possible.

If anything, this made her look more annoyed.

Damn it, what did I do now?

“It’s not a troll problem. You can’t treat them like a problem, Seville. If you make them feel bad for needing a territory --” Sam wasn’t even looking at me as she launched into her lecture.

Ah. That was it.

I held up a hand, halting her, but sending her a tiny smile. “Apologies, Sam. I misspoke. I’m off to attempt compassionate relocation with a possible troll. They’re not a problem, and I shouldn’t have said they were.”

She inhaled a deep breath, her shoulders relaxing. Her cheeks flushed, and her eyes fell closed for a moment before opening again to settle on mine.

“Sorry. I have too many people falling into bad habits, and I might have a slight hair trigger about this,” she explained.

“No worries. I get it,” I said. “Did you need anything before I go?”

She shook her head. “No, just make sure you take the file on available territories before you go. If there isn’t one that suits their needs, we’ll have to brainstorm a solution, and we’ll need them to actually come into HQ to do that. Call in if that’s the case.”

That was just policy, so the reminder wasn’t really necessary. But I got the feeling Sam needed to repeat the information more for her own comfort than for my knowledge.

“And try not to antagonize them. Trolls aren’t known for their patience, and you would try a saint without much effort,” she continued, sighing.

I gasped a little, putting a hand to my throat. “Why, Sam, I have no idea what you might mean by that. I am a delight to all who know me.”

She looked over my shoulder, long-suffering, and shook her head. “Whatever you say.”

I wish, I thought, shaking my head as if that would shake the sentiment away. Devon was right; I really was too easy.

“Just try and keep it low-key tonight. I appreciate you coming in on your night off. I’m sure you had other plans.”

I shrugged, grinning a little slyly. “Nothing that can’t wait another night. Worst case, I grab something quick on my way home.”

My smile wilted at the way her brows tightened. “What?”

“Wait. Seville, have you not fed recently?” Sam’s grip on the files tightened, alarm flaring in her eyes. She leaned in, her eyes darting all over my face. “You do look a bit pale. Let me see your teeth --”

She reached up to grab me by the chin, but I stepped back, putting my hands up.

“I will not show you my teeth because I am fine. Chill out, Sam. I’m hardly peckish!”

She scowled at me, but took a step away. “I’ll take your word for it, but make sure you do something about that before your next shift. Your file says you’re not supposed to go more than two weeks without feeding. If I find out that you’re going longer, I’ll have to report it. And I’ll be honest, we can’t really afford to be without you right now with Leon out on paternity leave.”

I grinned a little. I’d never get tired of calling it “parental leave” when someone sired a new supernatural. Leon was a werewolf, one big ass motherfucker, and had just bitten a new member of his pack. He was like a proud papa, already showing off videos on social media of his kid’s impressive control.

“I promise I will feed before my next shift. Don’t worry about it, Sammy,” I said, clapping her on the shoulder as I scooted past her. She rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“Behave yourself! And don’t call me that!” she called after me as I walked away. I waved over my shoulder without looking. If I looked back, she’d see my shit-eating grin.

I had just realized that that was the first time Sam had ever apologized for snapping at me.

In the business, we call that progress.

The 34th street bridge was covered in colorful spray-paint where local artists regularly tagged it with new art. By the time I got there, traffic had died down except for a handful of cars that passed overhead occasionally. Streetlamps flickered as I walked towards the curved concrete structure.

I stopped just under one lamp, staring into the shadowed underside of the bridge, forcing my eyes to adjust to the darkness. It didn’t take long to spot the extra-dark spot off to the left side, and I stepped out of the light.

Trolls had a reputation for being giant, hulking monsters, creatures right out of a scary movie. In reality, they were like anyone else. They came in a variety of shapes and sizes. But they all hated intruders.

The closer I got to the shape in the shadows, the more I could tell about it.  This particular troll was about mid-sized, around eight feet tall, muscular, with gray-ish toned skin. They looked up, their eyes shining like a cat’s, and snarled.

I opened my mouth to introduce myself, but...didn’t get a chance. Blunt teeth bared, they surged upwards and towards me.

A vampire’s speed was probably our biggest weapon, and I used it now to side-step their assault.

“Hey, hey, now! I’m not here to fight you!” I yelled as my boots slid through a puddle. I held my hands up, showing my lack of weapons.

Their responding roar shook the concrete around us.

No trespassers!” they boomed, their voice a deep vibration that I felt in my chest.

I gave them a strained smile. “Unfortunately, my friend, this isn’t a safe place for you to bed down. Too much traffic, too many people come here.”

They didn’t appear to give my words much thought as they charged again.

I groaned, but side-stepped again. They ran shoulder-first into the concrete wall, making a dent in it and shaking the bridge above us. 

Oh, man, we needed to not do that again.

“Hey, what’s your name? Mine's Bunny,” I said, hands still held up.

Go away!” they screamed.

“Listen, I completely understand that you’re upset. I’ve intruded into your space, and I’m very sorry for that --”

The de-escalation process wasn’t exactly my strong suit -- and the troll was running at me again.

They had a very large piece of broken concrete in their hand.


Trying to talk to them made my reaction a little too slow, and the concrete slammed into my right shoulder as I tried to run left. I heard more than felt the bone crunch, but didn’t let myself stop. I ran far enough away that they couldn’t immediately tell where I’d gone. I slid behind a large line of bushes, clutching my shoulder.

“Why the fuck do they send me out for relocation jobs?” I muttered to myself, poking at the injury. “I’m not good at this shit, damn it.”

It was dislocated, definitely bruised, but not the worst injury I’d ever had. I took a deep breath I physiologically didn’t need, and wrenched my arm back into place. Hissing through my teeth, I nicked my tongue on one elongated fang.

Goddamn it.”

“I thought vampires couldn’t say the G-word,” someone whispered.

I froze.

“Excuse me?” I asked into the bush.

The very small, very dirty face of a young child poked out of the brush. Big brown eyes stared at my face, highlighted as I was by a nearby streetlamp. Her lips twisted as she examined me closely.

“I thought vampires couldn’t say the G-word,” she said again.

“I’m a vampire; I can basically do whatever the fuck I want,” I said. “Who are you and why are you here? Don’t you know a troll is over there?”

“Yeah, I know. I just watched it kick your ass,” she said. Annoyingly enthusiastic about it. I thought I was doing okay, all things considered. 

“Should you be cussing?” I hadn’t exactly been around many kids. I was pretty sure they weren’t supposed to cuss.

“You did it first,” she pointed out.

“I thought we just covered that I could do whatever I wanted,” I said, scrunching my nose at her.

She narrowed her eyes at me, but didn’t continue the line of questioning. She crawled out of the bush and sat next to me.

“The troll’s name is Rhyun. They let me hang out with them sometimes. They’re actually pretty cool,” she said.

“Why do they let you hang around?”

She shrugged. “I was here first. Rhyun respects that.”

I scowled. “You’re an infant; why hasn’t anyone reported you to ComRes?”

Crossing her arms, she sneered. “I’m ten years old, and I’m fine on my own.”

I tried to cross my arms back, but my shoulder twinged angrily, so I ran my left hand through my hair. I probably shouldn’t do what I was about to do, but I really didn’t want to get killed by a troll, of all things.

“I don’t suppose you could help me get them to relocate?” I asked sheepishly.