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ONLY WITH THE HEART
“Come on,” he told James, and the two of them exited the car to enter the police station through the service entrance.
“Do I need one of those too?” James asked with a pointed look at the card on Lance’s chest.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Lance said with a half smile. “Just stay close, all right?”
James took the request to heart, remaining close enough that his shoulder brushed against Lance’s arm in the hallway and up the two flights of steps. From the corner of his eye, Lance could see him dart furtive looks left and right, though he lowered his head every time they crossed paths with an officer.
They soon reached their destination, and, stopping by an open door, Lance knocked twice on the doorjamb to get the attention of the officer seated at a desk inside.
Sergeant Karen Lester was frowning when she raised her head from the papers she was looking at, but she smiled instantly as she recognized Lance. It was a nice smile, wide and bright, that lit up her entire face. Her dark hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail, her navy blue uniform as impeccable as ever.
“Morning,” Lance said, returning the smile. “Can we come in?”
Her green eyes sparkled with amusement and she leaned back in her chair, grinning more widely.
“I don’t know,” she drawled. “Can you?”
Rolling his eyes, Lance walked in, gesturing for James to follow.
“One day,” he said with mock-sternness, “you’ll realize that this station is not a home and vampires don’t need permission to enter it. And even if they did, they certainly wouldn’t need permission to enter a particular office once they were in.”
He held his hand out to her over the desk and she shook it once, firmly but warmly.
“Oh, thank God you’re here to teach me all that,” she replied with a snicker. “They only gave me that vampire unit police badge because they like my poetry. I didn’t spend countless hours learning to fight with a sword like other people.”
He shook his head as he took a seat across from her, but he was still smiling. She always teased him about his training—the sword, in particular, seemed to amuse her greatly.
“And who is this?” she asked, her voice kind, turning to James.
She had two children herself, two girls, though Lance couldn’t remember how old they were.
James, who had been sitting down next to Lance, froze on the edge of his chair, his eyes darting toward Lance as though to ask whether he should answer.
“This is James,” Lance replied in his stead, his smile wavering at how uncomfortable James suddenly seemed. “We’re here for him, actually. I was hoping you could give me a hand locating his family.”
Karen’s expression didn’t change, though her gaze seemed more focused suddenly as it detailed James. No doubt she noticed the state of his ill-fitting clothes, and while she didn’t comment on it, Lance could practically feel her disapproval when she turned to him again.
“Would you care to tell me why we’re doing that?” she asked, her voice now neutral. “This is hardly the lost persons department, and last I checked your job is to deal with vampires, not runaway teenagers. Children Services is across the street, I’m sure you know that.”
“I didn’t run away,” James said in a fierce mutter, though he ruined the impact of the words by staring at the floor rather than looking at Karen.
“He didn’t run away,” Lance echoed, though even as he said the words he realized that James might actually have done so. It might have been how vampires had found him. Still, whether he’d run away or been taken by force, it wouldn’t change much as far as looking for his family was concerned.
“We just went to Children Services,” Lance continued, “and it looked like total chaos in there. I’m sure it’ll be a lot faster if you give us a hand.”
She considered James a little longer before sighing.
“Not their fault,” she said, turning her chair to face the laptop on the side desk. “We’ve had another three buses come in last week. One of them was full of unaccompanied minors.”
Lance grunted. He hadn’t heard about it. Lately, the news didn’t make the front pages anymore, not when it had become so common.
“Where from?” he asked absently.
Her fingers stilled on the keyboard and she frowned briefly.
“Let me think… Somewhere west. California, I think. Or maybe Oregon. A tiny little town. The creatures attacked, and before the military could get there, most able-bodied adults had died trying to protect the rest.” She shook her head and sighed. “The town was basically wiped out overnight. If it happened here…”
She let that thought unfinished. Most towns and even bigger cities that found themselves under attack from those strange creatures the press had dubbed ‘demons’ ended up deserted, their population relocated elsewhere. But as demons appeared in more and more places, how long could this strategy last? Humans would have to figure out how to fight them, or else the war was already over.
“They say swords can kill them,” Karen said, looking at Lance sideways. “That training of yours might end up useful after all.”
“It is already useful,” James piped up unexpectedly. “He killed vampires with that sword last night.”
The mild outrage in his voice gave Lance pause. When had anyone last been so protective of him? He couldn’t even remember.
“She knows that,” he said gently. “At least, if she’s done her job and looked at her reports she knows.”
He said the last with a teasing grin at Karen, who snorted quietly but didn’t reply.
“So,” she said instead, “who am I looking for?”
“I’m guessing there must be a missing person report for him. That’ll tell me who to contact.”
She let out an exaggerated sigh.
“Yes, Lance, believe it or not, I figured that much by myself. I meant, what name am I looking for?”
Only when Lance gave him a pointed look did James say, “James Mortson.”
Karen typed on the laptop, pecking out letters with two fingers. Whatever she saw made her frown.
“Date of birth?” she asked. “Last address?”
“December 27th, 2019. And I’m not sure.”
Karen turned a severe look toward him.
“You’re almost fifteen. How can you not know your own address?”
“We’d just moved to a new place in California. We were there only a few days before…” He swallowed hard and finished more quietly, “Before the vampires took me.”
For a few seconds, Karen said nothing, her eyes reflecting no emotion as they stared first at James, then at Lance. If she was trying to tell Lance something with that look, he had no idea what it was. She finally turned back to James, and picked up a pen from her desk. She fiddled with it as she said, more gently now, “I’m guessing it won’t be all that pleasant for you to tell me, but it’ll help if I know everything that happened. When you say ‘we,’ that was you and…”
A beat passed in silence. James looked fixedly at the pen in Karen’s hands.
“My mother,” he said at last. “Gina Mortson.”
Karen scribbled that down on a scrap of paper in front of her.
“All right. And you were moving from…”
“And do you remember what town you moved to in California?”
“And your father…”
“Not with us.”
As he listened to James’ emotionless answers, Lance could only think that he should have been the one asking all this. He should have asked last night, or at the very least before they’d gone to social services, so he’d have had an idea of James’ story. If he was entirely honest with himself, he hadn’t wanted to prod what would obviously be a painful wound—and as Karen turned to more difficult questions still, he wished he could have excused himself from the room.
“Can you tell me what happened with the vampires?” Karen asked, her tone even more gentle now, as though she might break something fragile and delicate if she spoke too loudly.
“My mother invited one inside our apartment. He killed her, and then he took me with him when he left. We joined more vampires and we started traveling to a new place every few nights. I’m not sure how much time passed. I was twelve when it started. And then Lance came and killed the vampires and saved me.”
James might have been explaining a mathematical equation for all the emotion he put behind his words. Only when he finished and turned to look at Lance did a spark of life shine in his eyes: gratefulness. Lance wanted to take him out of this room, back to the house, and feed him another dozen pancakes drowned in syrup; maybe that would bring back his small smile from that morning.
Twelve when it started… He’d been with the vampires for almost three years. How had he survived all that time?
“All right,” Karen said. She sounded strange, and looking up at her Lance was startled to see her eyes gleam wetly before she turned away to face the laptop again. She cleared her throat.
“All right,” she said again, more firmly. “I’m going to need some time to look up police reports in Haventown and locate his next of kin. I’m kind of swamped right now but I’ll get to it as soon as I can. I’ll give you a call when I have something, Lance. You’ll have to forgive me for not seeing you out, I just have too much to do.”
More importantly, Lance thought, she didn’t want them to see just how upset she was. He suspected she’d be hugging her kids extra tightly tonight.
“No problem,” he said as he stood, gesturing for James to do the same. “I’ll talk to you soon. And thanks for your help.”
She made a quiet “Hmm mm,” her face still averted, and Lance didn’t push. A hand on James’ shoulder, he guided him out of the office, back down to the car.
“Where are we going now?” James asked, sounding nothing more than curious.
Lance looked at him. James’ expression was neutral… a little too much so. Whatever he was feeling right now, he clearly wanted to keep it to himself. Lance swallowed back the words that were crowding his throat. He could say he was sorry this had happened to James, he could express the wish that he’d killed the vampires and helped James sooner, or that some other Special Enforcer would have, but none of it would help anything, and he doubted James wanted to talk about any of that now.
“Shopping,” he said instead. “Your clothes smell.”
“They do not!” James replied at once, offended.
“Maybe not to you if you’ve been wearing them for a while. But believe me on that: they smell. We could just throw them in the wash but I thought you might want to wear something that actually fits you.”
James was huffing when he climbed into the car, however, Lance noticed with an inward smile, he wasn’t protesting anymore. Neither spoke until they reached the closest mall, but as Lance killed the engine James cleared his throat and said, “I don’t have money to pay for clothes.”
He sounded serious enough that Lance held back the joke that was coming to his lips.
“It’s fine,” he said. “Let’s go.”
But James wasn’t moving. He hadn’t even unbuckled his seat belt yet.
“You’re already giving me a place to stay and food,” he said, looking at his hands, clenched on his knees. “I don’t like owing people.”
Lance didn’t even try to disguise his sigh. He’d had plans for the morning after he dropped off James at Children Services. This was necessary, but he still didn’t want to spend his day talking about it.
“Then we’ll find a way for you to work it off,” he said, and when James frowned at him added, “We’ve got six months worth of filing to do in the office. You can do that for us and we’ll be even.”
The offer seemed to satisfy James and finally they came out of the car.
Shopping for clothes was not Lance’s favorite thing to do, far from it, and it soon became clear that James was the same. As they walked through the teens clothes aisle of the mall’s largest department store, James kept his hands in his pockets, looking around without showing any particular interest in anything.
Lance sighed. If he didn’t help, they’d be there all day and still have nothing to show for it.
Leading the way to the jeans display on the wall, he picked up the first one in front of him and unfolded it, holding it next to James who observed the proceedings with a detached expression. The jeans looked too short. Lance folded the pants again and picked up the next size. Those looked better.
A nearby table sported polo shirts and tees. Lance did the same thing, picking up a t-shirt, checking it against James’ frame, and this time going for a smaller size. He picked up a polo shirt in the same size, then held all three items to James and looked around, quickly locating the changing rooms.
“Go try these on,” he said, pointing James in the right direction. “If they fit, we’ll know what size to get.”
James dutifully did as asked. Just as he was coming back out, a saleswoman approached Lance and offered her assistance along with an overly bright smile.
“Actually, yes, we could use some help,” Lance told her, before asking James, “Do they fit?”
James eyes the woman with undisguised wariness.
“The pants and t-shirt, yes. This doesn’t, the sleeves are too short.”
The saleswoman—Clara, she made a point of saying even though she wore a nametag—was quick to find a better fitting polo. When Lance asked her to help them find duplicates of everything, so James would have three similar outfits, she looked almost scandalized.
“That’s not how you should shop for clothes! What about variety? What about having options?”
James just stared blankly at her, much as he might have if she’d been speaking a different language. Lance refrained from saying that was how he’d shopped for himself for the past fifteen years and he saw nothing wrong in it.
“We’re in a hurry today,” he said instead. “We’re just covering basics. We’ll come back when we have more time.”
The brief glance of distaste James cast toward him made it clear what he thought of that. Clara, however, would not be deterred. She darted around the aisles, gathering jeans, khakis, novelty t-shirts, button-up shirts, polo shirts, sweatshirts, a couple of packs each of boxers, undershirts and socks, all of which she laid out on a closed cashier’s desk in little more time than it would have taken Lance to find duplicates of his initial selection.
James approached the growing piles with the same reluctance he might have shown in front of a bear trap. He set the button-ups aside as well as the sweatshirts, keeping only a hooded one that could double as jacket, and went through the rest with darting glances toward Lance until he was down to three pairs of pants, three t-shirts, three polos—what Lance had initially suggested—as well as the packs of underclothes and socks, and the hoodie. When he was done sorting things out, Clara’s lips were pursed in disapproval, but it was to Lance that James asked a quiet, “Is this all right?”
“If that’s what you want,” Lance replied neutrally. “Anything else?”
James looked down. At first Lance thought he was being shy, but he quickly realized he was looking at his feet, and the sorry-looking sneakers he wore.
The store had a shoe department; Clara was all too happy to help them there, too, though she was disappointed she couldn’t get James to pick anything else once she found him new sneakers to wear similar to the old ones.
The total ended up somewhat higher than Lance would have expected or hoped for, but it was hard to mind all that much when, clutching the two bags, James asked, “Could I go change and wear some of it now please?”
For someone who’d been so adamant there was nothing wrong with his clothes, he certainly seemed eager to get out of them, but Lance didn’t comment on that and simply waved him to the dressing room.
“Is he your brother?” Clara asked, her smile firmly back into place. “You don’t seem old enough to have a son that old.”
Caught by surprise by the question, Lance replied without thinking.
“Nephew,” he said, and somehow it instantly felt like a betrayal toward Ellie and Evan.
Clara started saying something else—her smile a little wider still, so that Lance couldn’t help but wonder if he was being hit on—but she fell silent when he pulled his ringing phone from his pocket and excused himself.
By the time James came out in a new outfit, the soles of his shoes squeaking on the floor with each step, Lance was hanging up his call with Ellie. His mind buzzing with white noise, he led James out of the store without even thinking of thanking Clara for her help or saying goodbye.
“Where are we going now?” James asked, sounding considerably more cheerful than when he’d asked the same question earlier.
“To help an old friend of mine,” Lance replied after a beat.
He didn’t think that ‘To bring blood to a vampire’ was something James might like to hear.