Chelsea and the Kid

The car was silent, except for the occasional sob from the backseat. The kid let out another one and Chelsea’s eyes shot to the rearview mirror. He sat with his face buried in Bentley’s neck.

From the passenger seat, Amber’s disapproval and anger stifled the air. It wasn’t just white knuckles on her ax. There was murder in her dark eyes. Not that Chelsea had much to say.

The kid was a minion and minions were humans that chose to serve vampires. Humans that would kill you to protect that vampire. Chelsea knew that.

This kid, though, skinny and pale and scarred, hadn’t attacked. He’d cried and cowered. And more importantly, Bentley hadn’t attacked. The big mutt had better feel for people than Chelsea or Amber. And the rest of the team had backed Chelsea. So they followed the GPS to the hedge doctor.

They found themselves in an older part of the city. Less concrete and more brick, but unlike their place in Brooklyn, the signs weren’t new and the windows had bars.

Amber got out of the car with a glare. “I fucking hate hedge doctors.”

Chelsea shrugged and fed the meter. “They aren’t all bad. A few of them even owe me a favor or two.

Amber looked her up and down. “You keep coming out with these crazy stories.”

“Says the woman who took me on a nightling hunt for my first hunt. Do you know the looks I got when I told people that?”

Amber opened her mouth and then shut it. She gave a little laugh. “Yeah, that was a Jackson decision, but you have a point.”

Chelsea glanced into the backseat. The kid still hadn’t moved. “Just so you know, I’m not a hundred percent on this. Like I fully understand that I could be making a mistake, but… uh…”

Amber rolled her eyes. “You’re a good person. I get it. And it’s great that you still can think that way.”

That answer ate at her, but this wasn’t the time or place to get into it. She sucked in a deep breath. “Let’s get this over with.”

“I thought you said not all hedge doctors were bad?”

Chelsea glared at the building. “Who says this is one of the good ones?”

Amber laughed again, deep and long. The sound filled Chelsea with hope. She kept looking for the woman she’d known and loved a year ago, but the signs were scarce.

Chelsea opened the backseat. Bentley whined and nudged the kid upright before exiting the car. For a long moment, there was no movement from any of them. Then the boy whimpered and followed her dog to the street.

Once again, his stick-like arms and legs angered her as he fought for balance. Most minions seemed unkempt or dirty, but not sick. Which made sense since nightlings kept them around as emergency rations as well as servants. You didn’t let your food stuffs go bad.

She forced herself to sound calm and asked him, “Do you have a name?”

The kid shuffled away from her, eyes on the street. “Greg.”

“Hey Greg, I’m Chelsea and this is Amber. Bentley is the dog. We’re taking you to a hedge doctor. Do you know what that is?”

Greg shook his head.

Chelsea sucked in a deep breath. “Well, they know about monsters and help people like us. But some of them are assholes, and I don’t know this one. So, if I don’t like the terms of the deal to help you, we’ll go find another one. Understand?”

Fear still colored his face, but he nodded, so she continued. “And if you don’t like something, you let me know, okay? You don’t have to put up with any bullshit either, got it?”

For a moment, Greg seemed about to smile, but it passed and his eyes sought the ground again as he nodded. Anger rose in Chelsea’s chest.

She spun around, coat flapping behind her as she headed into the building. She pounded on the door to the basement apartment.

The woman who answered had a joint in her mouth and a full head of black hair despite her heavily lined face above a flowered silk dress. “You Andy’s friends?”

Uncertainty stifled Chelsea’s anger, and she could only nod in answer. This woman was not like any other hedge doctor she’d ever met.

“Bring the kid in.” The woman turned with a wave. “And the dog.”

The apartment was dark with plants and smelled of incense and pot. A yellow kitchen that hadn’t been redecorated in at least forty years seemed warm and friendly though.

Two Siamese cats called loudly as they approached and then rushed Bentley and Greg.

The woman watched them inspect the boy for a moment and then turned to Chelsea. “Mya Wilson.”

“Chelsea Childling.” She gestured to her group. “Amber, Greg, and Bentley.”

Mya nodded to the huge mutt. “Don’t usually let other animals in here, but Andy said this one would behave.”

“As long as you don’t count begging for food as bad behavior.”

A slight smile warmed her face for a moment. “Now, the boy.” Mya gestured. “Greg?”

He nodded, eyes on the floor.

“You know you’ve lived with monsters?”

Greg nodded again.

“And that you’re lucky this woman found you? Most others would have killed you.”

He swallowed, but still said nothing.

“I need to make sure you aren’t tainted.”

Greg took a step back, and Chelsea found her voice. “Tainted?”

Mya sighed. “He might have been food. He might have caught someone’s eye and be on his way to changing.” She held out a hand to Greg. “You just need to drink some tea.”

Chelsea stepped in front of the kid. “And then what?”

Dark eyes that had no sign of fear stared implacably into hers. “We see if he is a monster himself.”

Amber’s warm hands held her back. “This is how it is.”

Chelsea let herself be restrained. “Fine.”

Mya had the tea ready, of course. Greg drank it with no arguing. After a few tense moments, he relaxed and slumped, snoring, to the table.

Mya smiled. “And the boy is still human.”

Anxiety wormed through Chelsea’s stomach. “Now what?”

“Now, we find out who he was and if he has family. Likely, he doesn’t and will be joining your ranks soon.” Mya sighed. “We’ll try to place him with one of our families, but I doubt he’ll stay.”

Amber rolled her eyes. “Yeah, too bad the kid will get a little payback for what was done to him and his family.”

Mya lit another joint and leaned against the table. “Payback is not justice.”

“But it’s something.” Amber turned to Chelsea with murder in her dark eyes. “We’re done here and you’re up late.”

“Right.” Chelsea hesitated and turned back to Mya. “Thanks… for Greg.” She hurried after Amber, Bentley on her heels.

The ride to Amber’s place was as silent at the ride to Mya’s had been. But as soon as they were safely behind the door, Amber collapsed on the couch in tears.

Chelsea froze for a moment, unsure what to do. Luckily, Bentley was not. He pushed his way into Amber’s arms and licked at her face.

Once Amber had a smile for the dog, Chelsea joined them on the couch. “You okay?”

Amber shrugged and focused on the far wall. “No.”

“I know you don’t want to talk about it, but why?”

“Because Mya means well, but Greg needs someone who gets revenge right now. And she’s just going to make it worse for him.” A look of horror flashed across Amber’s face as she met Chelsea’s eyes. Then she forced a smile. “Nothing we can do about it, right? You should get some sleep. I’ll take Bentley for a walk.”

“Thanks.” Stomach churning and heart troubled, Chelsea headed for bed. Sometimes there just wasn’t any point in pushing a subject with some hunters, especially with Amber.

***

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