Nov 08, 2022
12 mins read
The kid stared at me for a long moment, tilting her head. Her lopsided braid was escaping all over her head, dirt smeared across her cheek. She chewed on her bottom lip as she thought about my question. She had one front tooth missing.
I turned away, shifting to peek out of the bushes. As far as I could tell, the troll had returned to her spot under the bridge, but even a vampire could only see so far.
“What, you want me to ... introduce you?” the kid asked, disbelieving.
“Sure, why not? She keeps trying to kill me, and I need to talk to her. This isn’t a good spot for anyone, especially a troll, to turn into their personal den,” I explained, turning back to her. “I’m Seville, by the way.”
“No, you’re not,” she said, her lips twitching into a smirk. “You’re Bunny.”
Damn it, I was hoping she hadn’t heard me say that. She said it like a little song, taunting me.
“Your name is Bunny, and you’re a vampire.”
“No one calls me that, and you won’t be the exception,” I said, flashing a snarl at her. That was a dead-ass lie. My family called me Bunny, but I kept them far away from my professional life, and this kid wouldn’t be meeting them. Ever.
“Good luck stopping me!” she said, grinning. “I’m Frankie.”
She blinked. “Uh. Bridges.”
I stared at her. She stared back.
“You picked Bridges because we’re under a bridge, didn’t you.”
She pursed her lips a little to the side, and shook her head, her braid hitting her cheek. “Nope.”
“Uh-huh.” I shrugged. It ultimately wasn’t worth arguing with the kid over. “Are you gonna introduce me to Rhyun or not?”
“Okay, but only if I get something, too,” she said. The overalls she wore had a yellow-brown sunflower on the front, and she picked at it a little with her fingers. I thought about the sunflowers my father used to bring my mother and I during my childhood, and felt a pang of sorrow-tinged nostalgia. I swallowed it back, and rolled my eyes at the kid.
“What do you want?”
Her grin turned sly, and she ducked her head a little, looking up at me through her lashes.
“You’re gonna owe me one later,” she said, holding up her index finger. “One favor, whatever I want.”
“That seems like a bad deal for me,” I said, scowling. “I don’t feel like owing some random kid a favor of her choosing would be very smart.”
She shook her head, her hand falling to her side. “Then I won’t tell Rhyun you’re cool. Owe me, or I leave to go hang out with her, and I tell her that some weird vampire was bothering me.”
I wished I was standing -- I wasn’t exactly tall, but I was taller than a 10-year-old and, for some reason, I felt like I needed every perceivable advantage over this little grifter that I could get.
I squinted at her. Trying to intimidate her would probably backfire on me, even if I felt like being that asshole. We’ll ignore the fact that I was being blackmailed by a child because, honestly, that just didn’t make me look very good at all.
It didn’t sound like she had a particular favor in mind at the moment, which meant that, if I passed her off to ComRes after this, I could potentially avoid her for the rest of her natural life.
Did perking up at the thought make me a bad person? Probably.
“Fine,” I said, sighing. “You’ve got a deal.”
She beamed at me. She was all teeth, eyes squinting a little, and a dimple appearing in the center of her right cheek.
Were kids supposed to be that adorable? I had the sudden urge to pinch her cheeks and make sure she ate her veggies. Memories of my tias doing exactly that to me as a child flashed through my head. Scratch that. As soon as this was all over, I was dropping her at ComRes and going to the nearest bar. The less time I spent with this kid, the better.
“Awesome!” Frankie stood, and dusted off her backside, before turning to me with her head tilted. “I have a question.”
I sighed. Why did I think I’d be hearing that phrase a lot with her?
“Are there holes in your teeth? Is that how you suck up the blood? Like straws made out of tooth?” she asked.
I suppressed a smile, looking down for a moment. “No, my teeth are not hollow.”
Her shoulders slumped a little. “Oh. Okay, then.”
“But you’re not the first person to ask,” I said, lying through my very not-hollow teeth. “A lot of people wonder about that.”
No one had ever asked me that. Surreptitiously, I poked one fang with my tongue while she wasn’t looking. I was … pretty sure they weren’t hollow. I was pretty familiar with the warm slide of blood down my throat, so if they were...I hadn’t figured out the trick, and neither had anyone in my family.
“I’ll go talk to Rhyun,” Frankie said before taking off.
Immediately, I stuck a finger in my mouth, shoving the pad of it against the tip of my right fang, wiggling it a little.
No ... it wasn’t hollow. Probably.
I waited a minute before I started inching my way closer to the bridge. I kept myself hidden in the brush as much as I could, but tried to keep my eye on Frankie’s small form as she made her way towards Rhyun.
Relying on the kid to keep the troll from killing me wasn’t my best idea, but it was the most expedient. I watched Frankie stop where the shadows began, and waved her arms, yelling to get the troll’s attention. Rhyun emerged like a sleepy bear out of her self-made den and towered over the child for a second before laying an affectionate hand on her head. The troll let out a growly sort of a laugh, and shook her head. Immediately, Frankie’s hands fisted on her hips, and I could hear her high-pitched voice rise in volume.
Sam’s voice echoed through my head. Don’t antagonize them, she’d said.
Note to self: lie as much as possible when I file my report of the night’s events.
Yeah, Sam never needed to know about this.
Frankie turned around and waved to me -- well, to where I’d been sitting before. I took that as a good sign, and exited the brush, heading towards the duo. Rhyun pushed Frankie behind her with one hand on the kid’s head, completely ignoring the flailing protests.
“Hey there,” I said, giving a casual salute. Trying to avoid crowding her, I stayed a good fifteen feet away from them, keeping myself illuminated by the nearest streetlamp. “Sorry about...earlier.”
Rhyun snorted. “A vampire should know better than to trespass.”
I ducked my head sheepishly, but shrugged in agreement. Her voice was deeper than I expected, an unfamiliar accent thickening her Ts. It was a nice sound.
“The youngling says you are no threat to me,” she continued. She raised an eyebrow at me. “We will see.”
Admittedly, this was already going better than I had expected.
I sighed, nodding a little. “I’m not here to cause you any harm. I’m with the Community Response Network, the supernatural division. They sent me out here to talk to you about relocating your den to a different area, one where you don’t have to worry about trespassers --” I grinned a little at her, inviting mutual amusement, only to continue getting a blank stare in response. My smile died, and I cleared my throat. “-- and you’ll be safe from anyone who doesn’t react well to you defending your home. ComRes has free territories allocated specifically for trolls that might work well for you. But, my friend, you can’t live under one of the busiest bridges in town. It’s just not safe.”
The local werewolf pack had laid claim to one of the free territories themselves, a number of acres with a mix of forest and natural water sources that their members maintained and stood steward over. No one owned land anymore, but with the variety of supernaturals that lived in the area, having designated land for different species kept them from instinctively fighting over territory, which reduced the amount of bloodshed. It took a long time and a lot of graves before we figured that out.
“These territories -- you have map?” she asked.
I pulled out my phone, opening the file and stepping closer to her to show her the map. After scrolling through the map, the troll-friendly areas marked in blue, she shook her head.
I waited, but she didn’t offer any further commentary. “Any...particular reason?”
The troll lands were primarily cave systems, near natural wellsprings, since sunlight was even less ideal for them than it was for me. The area was located far from any creatures that might’ve been inclined to make a meal of the trolls, and decently populated by a variety of animals to nosh on. ComRes had helped a number of trolls set up new homes with few complaints -- and the ones we'd gotten, we'd addressed.
Say what you would about the network, but they took resident feedback seriously.
Still shaking her head, she said again, “No good.”
Frankie tugged on Rhyun’s tunic. “Why not?”
“Yeah, I gotta have more than that,” I said. The ComRes researchers were very good at their jobs. The territories should’ve been fine. “If these won’t work for you, then come with me back to ComRes, and you can work with my dispatcher to find something that will. But if there’s something wrong with these territories that we don’t know about? I need you to tell me.”
Rhyun looked down at Frankie, setting one hand on the kid’s head again. She just stared at her for a long moment before turning to me. “There is something big and mean in those caves. I am not the only troll to have found a new den in the city because the caves are not safe. No good.”
I frowned, and tucked my phone back into my pocket. “Do you have any idea what it is?”
She shook her head. “Only vague rumors. There is a nightmare in those caves.”
I hummed. “Okay. So, those territories aren’t an option. Do you feel up to taking a trip?”
Glancing at Frankie again, she nodded. “Youngling comes.”
Already sending off a text for transport, I looked up at her. “Oh yeah, the kid is not staying out here.”
Frankie scowled. “I’m fine on my own!”
Rhyun and I both started shaking our heads.
“Sorry, kid, I can’t leave you out here. No way in hell. So, grab whatever shit you’ve got while we wait for transport.” I made my tone as firm as possible, attempting to channel the way I remembered my mother speaking to me as a child.
Unimpressed, Frankie stared at me with squinty eyes. “You’re not my mom, Bunny.”
And gentle but firm went out the window.
“Okay, first of all, we don’t know each other well enough for you to say my name so judgmentally. Secondly, if I left you here by yourself, and you got hurt, I’d never forgive myself. So, go. Get. Your. Shit.”
At some point, Rhyun had shifted to stand beside me, and was nodding as I bit the words out.
Frankie’s mouth twisted angrily, and she stomped her foot. “I shouldn’t have helped you! You’re so dumb!”
I pointed at the pile of belongings behind her and didn’t say another word. She continued muttering unflattering things about me as she turned and walked away.
“She is too stubborn and too smart for anyone’s good,” Rhyun said quietly.
I hummed in agreement. “I’ve known her for less than an hour, and I’m already tired.”
The troll snorted. “Making a vampire tired takes talent.”
“You’re telling me,” I said as the rumble of a familiar engine reached my ears. The big-ass truck driving toward us had its brights on, so I couldn’t tell who was driving. “Y’all’s ride is here. I’ll grab the kid before she tries to sneak off.”
I had good timing -- she’d almost made it up the hill before I snatched her by the back of her overalls.
“Let me go!” she snarled at me. Sighing, I picked her up and put her over my shoulder. She struggled and slammed her tiny fists against my back as I walked.
“Listen, brat, you’ve got two choices. You can continue throwing a tantrum, and I stick you in the back of this truck so Rhyun can sit on you. Or you can chill the fuck out, I stick you in the back of this truck, and maybe --” I glanced at the driver. “Drusilla will let you pick the music on the way to headquarters. Either way, you’re not staying here.”
The muffled, frustrated scream that tore out of her throat communicated her choice well enough.
“Alright then. I hope you like ska because Dru is a big fan.”