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Walk Eight Miles in My Shoes


From Chapter Two


Poul followed his preternatural senses but used hospital resources as well to find Nicole. He knew her injuries were too extensive for her to be released and he was proved correct when he found her admittance record in the computer at an unmanned nursesí station. He went to the door of room 506. The curtain wasnít drawn so he could see the occupant of the bed, awash with the late afternoon sun. She was sleeping soundly, her thick eyelashes resting on her rounded cheeks. Poul had been focused on routing her attackers and then getting Nicole to the hospital. He hadnít really seen her in the dark of the park path, nor in the hospital as emergency personnel surrounded her almost immediately, taking her beyond his sight. She was a natural beauty. Her cafť-au-lait skin was smooth and clear. Her eyes fluttered open and he noted they were hazel, a gray-green mix that matched her coloring to a tee. Her hair was done in a stylish bob of espresso brown, she had an oval face, finely arched brows and tiny studs in each well-shaped ear. He found her quite lovely.

"Poul?"

Her eyes widened in surprise as she spied him at the door. He heard her heart speed up. He held up his hands in a benign gesture.

"Donít be alarmed, Nicole. I only came to check on you, see that you were well." Nicole took a deep breath and nodded. She reached out a hand, inviting Poul to her side.

He glanced at the wide windows and shook his head. "I donít wish to disturb you. Iíll go now."

"No, please stay." When Poul didnít seem convinced, she tried one more time. "Please, I want you to stay."

Poul nodded but stood firmly in the doorway. The sun reached nearly to his feet. Nicole looked at the window and then at his position and frowned. Her brother and his protectiveness!

"Iím sorry about the windows. They must have raised the shades so I could see out."

"Yes, itís a nice view of the city."

Nicole tried to rise but moaned in discomfort.

"Donít get up," Poul advised sharply.

He snagged the arm of a passing transporter and caught the manís eye before he could protest. "My friend is hot from the sun. Please close the shades for her."

The transporter walked in, closed the shades until the room was darkened and then left without another word or spare glance. Nicole had watched the whole thing with a kind of macabre interest.

"Can you do that to anyone?"

"It helps if theyíre not on guard but I havenít failed often."

"I see."

"Shall I go now?"

Nicole thought only a moment. If he could do that, he could have done it to her and he didnít. "No. Come sit by me."

Poul couldnít seem to move. He didnít want to frighten her. He cataloged her senses and, though he could detect a bit of unease in her body language and the remnants of adrenaline in her blood, she seemed otherwise calm. He approached slowly anyway, as if she were a skittish kitten who would bolt at the first abrupt movement.

"Iím fine," Nicole told him, as if she could read his mind.

She patted the bed but Poul just gave a little shake of his head and stood at the foot of the bed where she could see him without straining her neck.

"Youíll make a full recovery?"

"Yes, thanks to you. You really did save me."

"You probably find that incredible - after all the media saturation to the contrary."

"I donít believe all that propaganda. Most of it is hyperbole meant to scare the bejeebers out of the public."

Poul raised his eyebrows. "What do you believe, then?"

"Everyone is an individual. Iím incredibly lucky youíre a good one, a good person who cared, who was willing to get involved with little thought for his own safety." She gave him a once-over that stirred his blood. He quickly put those feelings aside. He was certain the assessment was just womanly reflex. "Youíre all right?" Poul nodded to assure her. "And the hospital staff and patientsÖ" she prompted.

"Theyíre fine, too." He held up a hand. "Hand to the gods, Nicole."

"Iím sorry for thinking ill of you, Poul."

"We are strangers. I understand."

"My brother is a Hunter," she blurted out. Nicole covered her mouth with her hand. Her eyes held sorrow above her fingers.

Poul nodded thoughtfully. It explained her attitude and knowledge. "Am I surrounded?" He asked the question quietly, with just a hint of nihilistic humor.

"No. I wouldnít do that to the person who saved my life. My brother wants to talk to you, though. He promised there would be no violence - none that he starts," she said pointedly.

"I try not to be violent, Nicole, especially with an overprotective Hunter brother." He tried a small smile on for size and when she matched it, they both chuckled in a release of tension. "Really, I have no intentions of hurting anyone."

"So youíll talk to him?"

Poul nodded. "Iíll talk to him."

Jack walked in on the heel of Poulís promise. Poul immediately moved around the other side of the bed, closer to the windows. He subconsciously put the one deadly force in the room under his control. In a strange parallel, Jack put his hands out in that same ĎI come in peaceí gesture as he approached Nicole. The bed had become a DMZ. Poul didnít like putting her in the middle but he needed a buffer between them. Hunters bristling with weapons, and ancient vampires made very poor companions.

As a gesture of good will Jack disarmed, even though the creature in front of him was always armed and dangerous. He placed stakes, cross and Taser on the tray table by Nicoleís bed, then stepped away.

"When did Hunters start carrying Tasers?"

"When one of our own was nearly killed by one in a traitorís hands. There was a swift paradigm shift at the top." Jack took another step away from his weapons. "I have no intention of using it, unless Iím forced to protect and serve," Jack said with some warning in his tone.

"Iím not going to give you a reason. Will you introduce us, Nicole?"

"Poul, this is my brother, Jack Evans. Jack, Poul - Poul?"

"Poul Bekvšm," he supplied.

Poul offered his hand over the top of Nicole and after only the slightest hesitation, Jack shook.

"Please be at ease, Jack."

Jack nodded slowly. "Nicole says youíre one of the good ones. You saved her life, so Iím willing to suspend my disbelief."

It was Poulís turn to nod slowly. He understood exactly where Jack was coming from and he didnít have any plans to prove Nicoleís opinion of him wrong.

"So why were you in the Park at that hour?"

Poul frowned but he knew he had to pass this test, he had to endure what could be a painful interrogation, otherwise heíd have to fight his way out of the room and perhaps hurt Jack and the woman whose life he had struggled to save. That alternative was distasteful. "Iím homeless. I was looking for safe place to spend the day."

"Homeless? Why?" Jackís tone dripped with suspicion.

"I was at work, towards the end of the shift. Iím a mechanical engineer, a machinist, in this lifetime. A brake gave way, would have taken off a colleagueís hand. I suppose I moved too quickly. The usual fear and censure were expected but still shocking in its swift retribution. I was fired and though I feared a squad of Hunters, none showed. The place I lived had a viable employment clause. They found out I lost my job and I was summarily evicted. Itís hard to find a new place when you canít enter without an invitation, and job hunting - even for the night shift - is usually conducted during daylight hours."

"Thatís as sad as my reason for being in the Park," Nicole said. She gave Jack a look that he knew from their years growing up together.

"I think I can help you," Jack told Poul in response to his sisterís pointed look and the vampireís sad circumstance.

"Why would a Hunter help a vampire?"

"Thatís not it, man, or not all of it. Youíre the man who saved my baby sisterís life. And a homeless vampire can be a danger, one a Hunter canít ignore."

"How do you think you can help me, Jack Evans?"

"I can help you find a new job, a new crib."

"Really?"

"Yeah, but -"

"Thereís always a but," Poul said rather acerbically. "Drop the other shoe."

"You have to go through Adjudication."

"Oh, Hells!" He slashed his hand emphatically before him. "Absolutely not!" Poul exploded, taking a few steps towards the bed.

"Hey, now, weíre chilliní, aíight?" Jack inched closer to his weapons.

Poul took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Easy, Jack. Iím not going to lose control." He put his hands at his sides and stepped back. "Weíre good, yes?"

Jack feigned nonchalance and he was good at it. "Weíre good, Poul." They each took a beat to truly relax.

"Adjudication," Poul prompted after a moment.

"Thereís a network of people, some are vamps, some mortal, that my partner and I are part of. Itís called Kind for Kind. All of the people in the network were helped, so they help others, but thereís a lot on the line, so they need proof, they need that shiny gold CertifiCard. That will open a lot of doors. Iím not sure I can do anything for you without it."

"Thanks anyway but I think I can make it without help, especially that kind of help."

Jack tilted his head and regarded Poul thoughtfully, appraisingly. Heíd learned to pick up a lot of cues from his partner, Kevin Vaughn, the only Hunter who was also a vampire. "Think your age will get you through," Jack surmised.

Poulís eyebrows bounced once in surprise. "Canít hurt," he said noncommittally.

"How old are you?" Nicole asked directly.

"I think if I answer that question, Jack will pick up all his weapons with deadly intent."

"Jack," Nicole warned. She waited until Jack took another step away from the tray table. "Poul, please tell us."

"Iíll be 828 in a few months."

"Eight miles!" Jack whistled through his teeth. "Holy fuck." He nodded to himself. "Itís how you could save my sis even though you were critically injured."

"Itís easier to corral the blood lust as you near the millennium mark."

"So I hear."

"I meant what I said. I mean you no harm, either of you, but I canít let you remand me, Jack. Theyíll never let a vampire of eight centuries just walk away."

"Who says they have to know?" Jack asked in a voice almost too soft to hear across the room but of course Poul could hear the stunning question, with even more stunning implications.

"You would keep my age a secret?"

"Like you said, some bad things would go down and knowing your true age wouldnít make any difference in the end."

"I have to think about this."

"Trust comes hard between mortals and vampires, especially when one is a Hunter. I get it, Bekvšm."

"Gods." He shoved his hand through dark blond hair. "I donít like the uncertainty of being homeless, living like a leech off society."

"So let me help you. I know I canít force an 800-year-old vampire to do much of anything. It would take the whole squad with Tasers. Very messy and dangerous. A lot of us would get hurt. Just donít say no yet. Take my card." Jack reached slowly into an inside pocket and pulled out a card emblazoned with the Hunter emblem, his name and his direct line at headquarters. He offered it to Poul between the ends of two long fingers.

Poul took the card and glanced at it before putting it in his pocket. "Iíll think about it," he promised.

"Iíll leave you and Nicole to finish your visit. Iíve gotta get to work. Looks bad when the squad leader is late." Jack leaned over the bed and kissed Nicole on the forehead. "Get well, Cola." Jack sheathed all his weapons and then offered his hand again to Poul. "Thanks again for the timely save, man."

Poul shook and gave a quick bow. "Your servant, Sir."

"Be safe, Jack," Nicole called after him.

"He actually left us alone."

"My brother has a unique perspective."

"I can see that. How does he come by it?"

"His partner has that same unique perspective. They couldnít work together if they didnít share a philosophy."

"How many more incredible things can happen today," Poul mused.

"I feel that way, too. Itís all kind of surreal."

"It will be dark soon. I should go."

"You can stay at my place while Iím in the hospital," Nicole offered with a generosity of spirit Poul hadnít seen in a long time, and even longer being on the receiving end.

"Iíd need an invitation, Nicole, from inside the dwelling. That was a very deep hearted offer, though, that I appreciate."

"Please let Jack help you. I promise you, itís not a trick. Heís not doing this just so he can bring down another vampire and add a notch to his belt. Heís a really great guy." Nicole made an offhand gesture. "I know he comes across all chippy but thatís a persona he had to build in order to survive as a Hunter."

"I think youíre a bit too close to have an unbiased opinion."

"Of course, him being my brother is part of it, but a lot of other people have the same opinion of him. I shouldnít give the secret away but his partner is a vampire."

"His partner. You do mean his Hunter partner." Nicole nodded. "Thatís not possible."

"He went through Adjudication. Heís the progeny of your king."

"Your brotherís partner is Kevin Vaughn?" Nicole nodded again, more slowly this time and with hope in her eyes. "Iíll think about all youíve said, Nicole. Be well." He bowed to her before taking his leave in the blink of an eye.






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