It was night in Chicago.
The winter wind whipped through dark alleys where drunk men slept and dangerous men waited. It skimmed along roads, not deserted even now, near midnight. It flapped warm coats, bringing its chill to the skin underneath. It beat against buildings, raging against them, but there it was forced to accept defeat and move on.
Despite its reputation as the Windy City, Chicago was generally more temperate than on this night. Tonight, the winter wind whipped and howled and cut through clothing with contemptuous ease. It was more than enough to convince most people to seek the safe haven of a nice warm bed until daybreak.
For some people, though, daybreak never came.
The wind ran up against a club. It wasn't a high-class club, but it was a good place to have a good time, if you didn't mind the loud music. A small neon sign in one window proclaimed that it was called the One Night Stand. Contrary to the name, it was not a place you were likely to find prostitutes, at least not more than at any other club. Most people guessed it was called this because it opened at sunset and closed at sunrise. Now that it was winter, of course, the club stayed open longer, but its silence during the daytime was enough to give the place a feel of... mystery. Among other things.
Why didn't it open even a minute before sunset? Why was Ann, the owner, bartender and part-time bouncer of the place, never seen during daytime outside her apartment on the second floor of the club? Who was the man who showed up every night and held long talks with her?
People wanted to know the answers to these questions, but they didn't actually ask. For one thing, they figured it was better not to know. For another thing, they liked the feel of the mystery. It somehow made the club that much more enticing. Also, they were afraid that if they asked too many question they'd be banned from the club.
And then they wouldn't get to talk to Ann.
"Sho I sed..." Derek blinked uncertainly. He'd very recently had one too many beers, and was trying at the moment to remember exactly what he had said. In the back of his mind, something told him that he'd already told this story five times, but he ignored that as unhelpful. "Oh!" he exclaimed as inspiration struck, "I knnnow. I sed 'Oh yeeah? You an' what Navy?' Wait, no, umm..."
Ann sighed and handed him another beer to shut him up, which he accepted gleefully. She closed her eyes, glad to be rid of Derek's incessant, boring prattle, and turned to a nearby customer to see what he wanted to drink. This one stuttered a little at being confronted by her, but most men did.
She was beautiful, and she knew it. She was extremely pale, and since the lights in the One Night Stand were often turned low, the paleness made her seem wraithlike. Her skin was perfect, though, like a porcelain doll's. Her hair, which fell to her shoulders in ringlets, was white, but again in the low light it was possible to assume it was simply bleached. Her eyes, though usually hidden by overhanging hair, were dark and framed by long eyelashes and pointed eyebrows. Her lips were a dark red, and her nose was thin.
Her body, like her face, was a work of art, thin and thick in all the right places, and her clothes were designed to accentuate this. Tonight, as with most nights, she preferred black: calf-hugging black leather boots, a black miniskirt, a black tank-top and a black jacket, which hung down only to her midriff. This was one of several variations on her favorite outfit, though she tried new things occasionally. The men of the club still talked about the night when she'd outfitted herself mainly in leather straps held together with rings. Her clothes, skimpy as they generally were, were ill-designed for cold weather, but even on a night as cold as tonight, she never shivered.
Her eyes entranced men, and the DJ who came every Friday often forgot about charging money after seeing her smile. She was well-practiced in the expressions and mannerisms that would make a man's heart stop and his eyes burn with desire. She was a natural-born temptress, and she obviously enjoyed the role.
The man who was presently sitting at the bar had never been here before. He hadn't heard of it from a friend, because the club's members generally tried not to invite trouble-makers. He had simply wandered in, bored. He was, as most people who knew him could tell you, a jerk, and he took pride in it. His name was Russell Svenson, and he was big, blond, and swaggered. He'd brought his fiancée along, a woman by the name of Francine Douglas, but he wasn't paying much attention to her. She was used to that, and was listening to the rather loud music playing at the moment, sitting with her back to the bar so that she could stare at the crowd. At present, Russell was paying much more attention to Ann.
"Hello," he greeted her in his best manly voice. "You the bartender?"
Ann looked him up and down and made note of several things, as she did with all of her customers. First, he was handsome. Second, a woman was sitting next to him, and they were both wearing inexpensive rings on their left hands. Third, he kept glancing at her chest and trying to hide it. Fourth, he didn't look like much of a drinker. He'd probably just sit at the bar staring at her the whole time. Fifth, judging by the question he'd just asked, he was either stupid or trying out a pickup line, or both. Sixth, he was dressed in an outfit that had been out of style for about ten years.
Having noticed and processed all these things, Ann gave him smile number eight. She had a little over twenty, of various degrees of warmth, and number eight was designed to be friendly, yet not provocative. Some other time, she may have been willing to indulge the guy for a brief night, but she didn't really have any wish to break up a couple, especially one either engaged or already married. "Uh huh," she replied pleasantly enough.
Russell's smile widened, and Ann was mildly irritated to discover that Russell was the kind of guy who regarded all smiles as invitations. "A little young, aren't you?"
It was dark, but even so Ann was clearly not even twenty-five. If anyone was generous, they might guess she was at least of legal drinking age, but she looked more like she was eighteen. Russell didn't know if there was a minimum age to become a bartender, but he was pretty sure it was older than eighteen.
Ann changed her smile to number three (pleasant, but disinterested). "I'm old enough for the job," she replied, hoping that would steer the conversation away from the awkward territory of her age. "What do you want to drink?"
He blinked, having expected something else. He was trying to start a conversation with this woman, and she wasn't responding. Such a situation was rare for him, and confused him somewhat. "Uh... Bud."
Ann nodded and turned. She was aware that Russell was almost certainly staring at her from behind as she got him a Budweiser and a glass, but she was used to stares, and generally enjoyed them. In Russell's case, she simply withstood it. She turned back and placed the beer and glass in front of him. "And for the lady?" she asked.
Russell blinked, again surprised, and glanced at Francine. He frowned, considering whether to disturb her, but eventually turned back to Ann and said, "Water. She doesn't like to drink much."
Ann raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything, instead turning again to pour some water in a glass for the woman. She placed it on the bar, ignoring Russell's stares, but Francine didn't turn around. Ann looked around for another customer at the bar, but tonight most of the people were at tables. Everyone who needed a drink at the bar already had one, although Derek's wouldn't last long the way he was going at it.
"So how long you worked here?" Russell tried again.
Ann didn't express her irritation at having to carry on a conversation with this clod, but only with some effort. "Five years." She leaned against the bar on her elbows, facing slightly away from Russell. She hoped he would get the point and realize she was trying to end the conversation.
He didn't. "Five years? Wow. So you musta' been... how old?"
Ann closed her eyes. This man was trying to find out if she was legal. "Old enough," she replied again. She almost wished he'd just come out and ask if she was old enough to have sex, so she could turn him down. Any attraction Ann had felt at his good looks had been lost by now, victim to his personality.
"And the owner lets someone your age work as the bartender? Must be a family business or something."
Ann blew her hair out of her eyes. Her smile was gone now, but Russell didn't notice at all. After all, he wasn't looking at her face. "I am the owner." She glanced at him. "Your beer's getting warm."
Russell blinked at both statements. He cleared his throat, and took a draught from his glass, which was indeed getting warm. "You're the owner? Wow. You musta' come into some money to run a place like this."
Ann rolled her eyes, though he couldn't see them in the dark. She decided that changing the subject might help. "So you're getting married, soon, huh?"
Russell nearly choked. This woman obviously didn't know that he was trying be suave and cool. Talking about his fiancee was not a good way to impress a girl. But she had asked, so... he lied. "No. This is my sister."
"Strange. You're both wearing engagement rings."
Russell cursed quietly and took a drink of his beer. This conversation just wasn't going well. "She's wearing an engagement ring. This is just... I mean, I just like wearing my ring on this finger." He silently reminded himself not to wear it in public anymore. "I just brought her along because she doesn't get out much." He felt the conversation slipping through his fingers, and blurted out, "What's your name?"
She didn't volunteer any more, or ask for his name, but Russell was pleased, and told her anyway. "Mine's Russell." She didn't respond in any way, so he continued, "Nice music, huh?" Again, no response.
Doggedly, Russell tried again. "So, you own this place, huh? Must be pretty tough for one person. I mean, you probably have a co-owner to help you out, right?"
Finally, Russell received a nod. "So you do have someone to help you out. That's good. Wouldn't want to get over-worked, right? So... Who helps you out? Your boyfriend? Husband? Girlfriend?" Those were the only three reasons he could think of that she was not already all over him.
She sighed in disgust at the obviousness of this question. She looked up just in time to see a pale man in a black jacket walk into the club, and smiled (number nineteen, pleasantly surprised). "My brother," she said, stood up straight, and walked over to another part of the bar.
Russell's jaw dropped in amazement as Ann walked away. She'd just turned him down! Maybe he was out of practice or something. That girl should have been drooling to get him somewhere private. Then he saw a pale man in a black leather jacket sit down at another part of the bar. Ann walked to him, smiling, and began to have a conversation with him. The man seemed almost bored, but she seemed happy enough to see him. She turned to get him some water, still talking to him over her shoulder. Once she put the glass of water on the bar, she leaned over and gave him a quick peck on the cheek, to which he barely reacted.
Russell saw this exchange in the only way he could see it. This guy had just waltzed in and stolen his babe! The utter failure of his recent conversation faded from his memory, and he convinced himself that Hannah, or Annie, or whatever her name had been, had been unable to keep her eyes off of him. And so he resolved, at one point or another during the night, to prove his superiority to this pale son of a bitch.
Alexander Tepes, or simply Alex, again tried to wend his way through the dancing twenty-somethings and teens. Teens were allowed to enter, but of course they never got a sip of alcohol, since Annabelle, or Ann, as she was now called, knew a fake ID when she saw one. Besides that, she could usually hear their hearts beating quickly if they tried to lie, so the average teen had little chance of getting past her scrutiny. To be honest, Ann didn't really care if a few teens got drunk, but out of respect for Alex's wishes, she obeyed the laws of Chicago. After all, Alex was the one who had payed for her club. When one is alive for a few centuries, one can make quite a bit of money, on interest alone if nothing else. Saving money, however, was not one of Ann's strengths.
Once again, as it was every night but the first Sunday of every month (also according to Alex's wishes), loud, annoying music buffeted him from everywhere as he tried not to run into anybody. He never tried to talk to anybody, as he was usually too busy, and everybody was a little scared of him. He didn't look particularly strong, but he had that presence that said he knew what he was, and he didn't have any reason at all to be afraid. As a result, most people left him alone, and moved out of his way when they noticed him.
A few women (and one or two men) had tried to hit on him in the past, but he usually didn't notice, or simply became confused at their advances. One woman, inaccurately named Prudence, had been so tenacious in her approaches that he had eventually paid her to go away, a response that she had been completely confused and hurt by. Upon Ann's instigation, he had gone to Prudence and apologized. Unfortunately, the woman had somehow gotten the impression that he was simply in a relationship, and that he'd call her as soon as it ended. He hadn't had the heart to tell her otherwise. Ann had found it hilarious.
Ann found many things funny that Alex would have just as soon avoided. Being a few centuries old and not looking a day past eighteen, she tended to take life rather lightly. Too lightly, Alex thought, but at least she had found them a place to live, even if she had insisted on setting up a club on the bottom floor. He glanced back to see her in her element, serving drinks, flirting, and wearing as little as she could get away with. She had always hated wearing dresses, and since walking around naked was illegal, she settled for wearing next to nothing.
Alex didn't approve, but that didn't stop Ann. In fact, he almost thought she did it because he disapproved. Had it been legal, or had Ann been the one with money, Alex didn't doubt that Ann would have gladly set up a brothel rather than a night club. Ann's life seemed to revolve around physical satisfaction, a great contrast from Alex's focus on mental and spiritual growth.
Alex sighed in relief as he neared the door at the back of the club, leading to the stairs which would take him to the sound-proofed apartments above. Alex continued to weave through the mass of people, but couldn't avoid bumping into a rather wide, blond man. The man turned around and blinked. "You?" he said in surprise.
Alex had no idea who this man was, or how the stranger had recognized him, but he soon forgot all about the man. Standing behind the man and to the left was the most wonderful woman Alex had ever seen.
She wasn't really beautiful. Her figure was nice enough, but mostly hidden by a long brown coat. Her hair was blonde, straight and short, not quite reaching her shoulders. Her face was heart-shaped and surprisingly pale, though not anything close to his or Ann's complexion. She was tall and thin, almost willowy. Her nose was small and sharp, and her mouth was wide and thin-lipped. But what caught Alex's attention were her eyes. They were bright, startlingly blue. They were intelligent, and expressed emotion better than words possibly could.
Alex stared at her. She smiled, rather pleased at the attention, but when Russell turned to see what Alex was staring at, she immediately looked at her feet and tried not to be noticed. Alex couldn't hear heartbeats like Ann could, but he would have been willing to bet she was scared, or at least nervous around this man.
The man noticed, however, and turned back to Alex, his expression belligerent. "That's my fiancee you're staring at, pal."
Alex looked back at the man, as if he'd only just then appeared there. "You're very fortunate, then."
The woman smiled and blushed slightly, but the man became, if anything, even more angered. "Whaddaya mean by that?"
Alex raised an eyebrow. "I mean she's lovely. You should be proud to be engaged to her."
"I know that. But I don't appreciate you staring at her like that."
Alex didn't care much for this stranger, but he nodded. "I apologize." He started to walk on, but the man stepped in front of him. He tried again, and the man moved again.
The woman finally spoke out, in a nervous, squeaky voice. "Russ, I don't think-"
"Shut up, Frankie," Russell snapped. "When I want your opinion, I'll have my head examined."
Alex's expression darkened. "I don't think she deserved that."
Russell turned back to him. "Well, I don't give a damn what you think," he replied. He suddenly pushed Alex's shoulder, knocking the taller man a step back. "You plan to do anything about it?"
The music still played, but nobody danced anymore. They didn't know why, but someone was picking a fight with the mystery man. The fact that the mystery man was so close to Ann only served to harden the general opinion against this big blond guy. Some of the customers stood up from their seats and drinks, ready to act if necessary.
Alex stared down at Russell coldly, but a glance at... what was her name? Frankie? A glance at Frankie calmed him down, and he closed his hazel eyes. "No. I don't plan to do anything but go upstairs. If you'll excuse me..." Alex tried to walk around Russell again, but was blocked by the smirking man.
Frankie shifted her feet uneasily. "Russell, you shouldn't-" This time she was interrupted by a back-handed slap from Russell. With a cry, she fell to the ground.
Russell turned around to face Alex, and Alex broke his jaw with one punch. The blond man was knocked clear off the ground and crashed into a nearby table, scattering drinks.
At just that moment, Ann pushed through the crowd, and ran up to see what was going on. She looked around, took in the unconscious man, Alex's horrified expression, and the woman sitting on the floor quietly crying, and placed her hand on Alex's shoulder. He looked at her, and she nodded her head toward the nearby door.
Alex nodded back, and bent over to help Frankie up. Her nose was bleeding slightly, and Alex told her, "Come with me. I'll help you with that."
At first, she looked unsure, but she nodded, and went with him. Ann turned to her customers and placed her fists on her hips. "Well," she said, "Who wants to help carry this guy out? Every volunteer gets a free drink."
Neither of them realized it, but that was the moment that Alexander and Annabelle Tepes went to war.
"Compassion Creates Monsters
And The Mouse Threatens The World."
-Chapter 3, Verse 6 of Destinations, by Adrian Fahrenheights Tepes a.k.a. Alucard