Blood Lines Chapter Three


'Hi, Mom.’’

'Good morning, dear. How did you know it was me?’’ Vicki sighed and hiked the towel up more securely under her arms. ’’I'd just gotten into the shower. Who else could it be?’’ Her mother had an absolute genius for calling at the worst possible times. Henry had almost died once because of it or, conversely, she'd just missed getting killed because of that same call-Vicki had never quite settled the question to her own satisfaction.

'It's twenty to nine, dear, don't tell me you're just getting up?’’

'All right.’’

There was a long pause while Vicki waited for her mother to work that last comment through. She heard her sigh and I then she heard, faintly in the background, the staccato sound of her nails against the desk.

'You're working for yourself now, Vicki, and that doesn't mean you can lie about all day.’’

'What if I was up all night on a case?’’

'Were you?’’

'Actually, no.’’ Vicki put her bare foot up on one of the kitchen chairs and massaged her calf with the heel of one hand. Yesterday's climb up the tower had begun to make itself felt. ’’Now, as I was home two weeks ago for Thanks-giving?’’ Which is going to have to hold you until Christmas. ’’?to what do I owe the pleasure of this call?’’

'Do I have to have a reason to call my only daughter?’’

'No, but you usually do.’’

'Well, no one else is in the office yet?’’

'Mom, some day the Life Sciences Department is going to expect you to start paying for these long distance calls.’’

'Nonsense, Vicki. Queens University has lots of money and it's not like it costs a fortune to call from Kingston to Toronto, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to see how your visit to the eye doctor went.’’

'Retinitis pigmentosa doesn't get any better, Mom. I still have no night sight and bugger all in the way of peripheral vision. What difference does it make how the visit to the eye doctor went?’’

'Victoria!’’

Vicki sighed and pushed her glasses up her nose. ’’Sorry. Nothing's changed.’’

'Then it hasn't gotten any worse.’’ Her mother's tone acknowledged the apology and agreed to drop the subject. ’’Have you managed to line up any work?’’

She'd finished an insurance fraud case the last week of September. There hadn't been anything since. If she were a better liar? ’’Nothing yet, Mom.’’

'Well, what about Michael Celluci? He's still on the force. Can't he find you something?’’

'Mother!’’

'Or that nice Henry Fitzroy.’’ He'd answered the phone once when she called and she'd been very impressed. ’’He found you something last summer.’’

'Mother! I don't need them to find me work. I don't need anyone to find me work. I am perfectly capable of finding work on my own.

'Don't grind your teeth, dear. And I know you're perfectly capable of finding work, but? oops, Dr. Burke just walked in, so I should go. Remember you can always come live with me if you need to.’’

Vicki managed to hang up without giving in to the urge for violence but only because she knew it would be her phone that suffered and she couldn't afford to buy another new one right now. Her mother could be so? so? Well, I suppose it could be worse. She has a career and a life of her own and she could be after me for grandchildren. She wandered back to the shower, shaking her head at the thought;motherhood had never been a part of her plans.

She'd been ten when her father left, old enough to decide that motherhood had caused most of the problems between her parents. While other children of divorce blamed themselves, she laid the blame squarely where she felt it belonged. Motherhood had turned the young and exciting woman her father had married into someone who had no time for him, and after he left, the need to provide for a child had governed all her choices. Vicki had grown up as fast as she could, her independence granting a mutual independence for her mother-which had never quite been accepted in the spirit in which it was offered.

Vicki sometimes wondered if her mother wouldn't prefer a pink and lacy sort of a daughter who wouldn't mind being fussed over, but she didn't lose any sleep worrying about it, given that her decidedly non-pink and non-lacy attitudes had no effect on her mother's fussing as it was. While proud of the work that Vicki did, she fretted over potential dangers, public opinion, the men in Vicki's life, her eating habits, her eyes, and her caseload.

'Not that my caseload doesn't need fussing over,’’ Vicki admitted, working up a lather on her hair. Money was beginning to get tight and if something didn't turn up soon?

'Something'll turn up.’’ She rinsed and turned the water off. ’’Something always does.’’

'This is absolutely ridiculous! I won't stand for it!’’ Dr. Rax threw himself down into his desk chair, slamming the upper edge back into the wall. ’’How dare they keep us out!’’

'Calm down, Elias, you'll give yourself an ulcer.’’ Dr. Shane stood in the office doorway, arms crossed. ’’It's only until the autopsy comes back and we know for sure it was a heart attack that killed that poor janitor.’’

'Of course it was a heart attack.’’ Dr Rax rubbed at his eyes. Trapped in a cycle of frighteningly realistic dreams about being buried alive, he'd welcomed the phone call that'd freed him in the early hours of the morning. ’’The police officer I talked to said you could tell just from looking at him. Said the mummy had probably scared him to death.’’ He snorted, his opinion of anyone who could be scared to death by a piece of history clear.

Dr. Shane frowned. ’’Mummy??’’

'Oh, for God's sake, Rachel. You can't have forgotten the baron's little souvenir.’’

'No, of course not?’’ Except that for a moment, she had.

Dr. Rax rubbed at his eyes again;they felt as though bits of sand had jammed up under the lids. ’’Funny thing is, I knew young Ellis. Talked to him on a number of occasions when I'd stayed late. He had a good mind, all things considered, but not what I'd call much of an imagination and I'd have expected him to take anything he ran into in the workroom in stride.’’ He surprised himself with a dry chuckle. ’’Unlike Ms. Taggart.’’

Although she continued to clean the department offices, Ms. Taggart would not go into the workroom alone since the incident last summer with the mummified head. No one had ever admitted placing the Blue Jays cap on the artifact, but as Dr. Rax had made no real effort to find the culprit and had been more than vocal about the lack of depth in the bull pen, the rest of the department had its suspicions.

'You realize this is only going to encourage her.’’ Dr. Shane sighed. ’’She'll probably transfer to Geology or somewhere else without bone and we'll lose the best cleaning lady we've ever had. I'll never again be able to leave papers on my desk overnight.’’ Escorting her into the workroom was a small price to pay when measured against the knowledge that Ms. Taggart was the only cleaning lady in the building who never disturbed office work in progress. ’’Speaking of papers?’’ She waved a hand at the curator's overloaded desk. ’’Why don't you use this time as a chance to catch up?’’

'The moment we can get back to work?’’

'I'll let you know.’’ She pulled the door closed behind her and walked slowly across to her own office, brows drawn down into a worried vee. Her memories of the mummy slid over and around each other as though they'd been run through a blender and she just couldn't believe that for one moment she'd forgotten its existence entirely. Obviously, I've been more affected by that young man's death than I thought.

The ka he had taken in the night told him of wonders greater than even Egypt in all her glory had known. The great pyramids had been dwarfed not by monuments to the glory of kings but by gleaming anthills of metal and glass built for fat-assed yuppies. Chariots had been replaced by four cylinder shit-boxes with no more pickup than a sick duck. Although he was unclear on many of the other concepts, beer and bureaucracy, at least, seemed to have endured. He was halfway around the world from the Mother Nile in a country that fought with sticks upon frozen water. Its queen sat in state many leagues away, no longer Osiris incarnate, although he who ruled for her here seemed to think himself some kind of tin-plate, big-chinned god.

Most importantly, the gods he had known and who had known him appeared to be no more. No longer would he have to hide from the all-seeing eye of Thoth in the night sky but, more importantly, there were none to replace the priest-wizards who had bound him. The gods of this new world were weak and had claimed few souls. He would go among them as a lion among the goats, able to feed where he willed.

He recognized that the one known as Reid Ellis had belonged to the lower classes, a common laborer, and that the information he had absorbed was tainted by this lack of position. That mattered little, for he had long since chosen the one who would feed him with what he needed-the history of the time that had passed and the way to prosper in the time that was now.

The life had also given him strength. Although his physical form remained bound, his ka had been able to wander throughout the minds that knew of him.

And how pitifully little they knew.

With each touch, he took bits of the knowledge away;it was knowledge of him after all and thus he could control it. Those with the weakest wills forgot in a single passing, the stronger lost memories a piece at a time. Soon, there would be none who knew how to bind him again.

He would be released;he had not touched the one who would ensure it, except to strengthen the bond between them, and he left the other enough to assist. They would peel the binding spell away and he would rise, magic restored, ready to claim his place in this strange new world.

He would deal with them then.

'Where is everybody?’’

'Well, as no one knew when we were going to be allowed back into the workroom, I told them they might as well finish up any paperwork and then head home.’’

Dr. Rax turned to stare at his assistant curator. You told them what he wanted to shout. We have the first new mummy in decades and you dismissed my staff? But somewhere between thought and speech, the words changed. ’’That seems reasonable. No point in them hanging around with nothing to do.’’ He frowned, confused.

Reaching the door to the workroom, Dr. Shane peeled off the six-inch strip of bright yellow and black police tape that has been pasted over the lock. ’’I'm glad you agree.’’ She hadn't been sure he would. In fact, now that she thought about it, she wondered how she could have? could have? ’’And it's not like we'll need them for what we're about to do.’’

'No?’’ He had the strangest feeling that they were walking into deadly danger and half expected the door to creak open like a bad special effect. We should get out of here now, while there's still time. Then they were in the workroom with the mummy and nothing else mattered.

Together they removed the plastic shroud, bundling it carelessly to one side.

'I do feel a bit guilty about young Ellis though,’’ Dr. Shane sighed as she pulled two pairs of cotton work gloves out of the cardboard box marked Wear these or die! ’’Heart failure might have been the cause, but our mummy certainly contributed to the effect.’’

'Nonsense.’’ Dr. Rax worked his fingers into the gloves. ’’As dreadful as it was, as sad as it was, we are in no way responsible for that young man's fears.’’ He picked up a pair of broad-tipped tweezers and bent over the coffin, breathing through his mouth to minimize the almost overpowering smell of cedar. Very, very gently, he caught hold of the hieroglyphic strip at the point where the winding ended on the mummy's chest. ’’I think we'll need some solvent. It appears to be attached to the actual wrappings.’’

'Cedar gum?’’

'I think so.’’

He continued to apply a gentle pull on the ancient linen while Dr. Shane carefully moistened the end with a solvent-soaked cotton swab.

'It's amazing how little the fabric has deteriorated over the centuries,’’ she observed. ’’I send a shirt to the dry cleaner twice and it begins to fall apar?!’’ The hand holding the swab jerked back.

'What is it?’’

'The chest, where I touched it, it felt warm.’’ She laughed a little nervously, knowing how ridiculous it sounded. ’’Even through the glove.’’

Dr. Rax snorted. ’’Probably the heat from the lights.’’

'They're fluorescent.’’

'All right, it was a by-product of the slow and continuing process of decay.’’

'Felt through the wrapping and the glove?’’

'How about pure imagination brought on by misdirected guilt over that janitor?’’

She managed a doubting smile. ’’I suppose I'll settle for that.’’

'Good. Now, can we get back to work?’’ Deliberately not touching the body, Dr. Shane stroked on a little more of the solvent. ’’This is the damnedest funereal setup I've ever seen,’’ she muttered. ’’No Osiran symbols, no tutelary goddesses, no Ded, no Thet, no hieroglyphs at all except on this strip.’’ Her brows drew down. ’’Shouldn't we? shouldn't we be studying the strip before we remove it?’’

'It'll be easier to study once it's off.’’

'Yes, but?’’ But what? She couldn't seem to hang onto the thought. Suddenly Dr. Rax smiled. ’’It's lifting. Stand back.’’

He could feel the end of the linen lifting, each separate hieroglyph a weight of stone rising off his chest. The spell stretched and tore as it was pulled more and more out of alignment. Then, with a silent shriek that cut through bone and blood and sinew, it ripped apart.

He welcomed the pain. It was his first physical sensation in three millennia and a joyous agony. Nothing came without price and for his freedom, no price was too high. Had his limbs been capable of movement, he would have writhed, but movement would come slowly, over time, and so he could only endure the waves of red that raced the length of his body pushing all else before them, pounding all else beneath them. He only wished that he could scream.

Finally, the last wave began to ebb, leaving behind it a stinging of nettles in his flesh and the red glow of two eyes in the darkness.

My lord? He should have known that if he survived his god would have survived as well.

The eyes grew brighter until by their light his ka could see the birdlike head of his god.

The others are dead, it said.

This confirmed what the taste of the laborer's ka had told him.

There are gods, but not the ones we knew. Its beak wasn't built for smiling, but it cocked its head to one side and he remembered that meant it was pleased. I was wise when I created you;through you I survived. The new gods have been strong in the past, but they are not now. Few souls are sworn. Build me a temple, gather me acolytes until I am strong enough to make others like you. We can do what we wish with this world.

Then he was alone again in the darkness.

Nothing held him now except millennia-old fabric already beginning to rot under the pressure of accumulated time, but he would remain for a little longer where he was. His ka had one more short journey to make and then he would gather his strength before he confronted his? savior.

Build a temple. Gather acolytes. We can do what we wish with this world. Indeed.

He had not really planned beyond gaining his freedom, but it seemed he would have much to do.

Rachel Shane stepped out of the elevator on the ground floor, the rubber soles of her shoes making very little sound against the tile floor. She was worried about Elias. He'd always been an intense man, determined to make the Egyptology Department at the ROM one of the best in the world despite budgets and bureaucrats, but in all the years she'd known him-and they were a good many years, she admitted silently to herself-she'd never seen him this obsessed.

She paused just inside the security door to pull her trench coat closed. Although the looming bulk of the planetarium limited the lines of sight from the staff entrance, water glistened on the pavement between the two buildings. If it wasn't raining at this moment, it had been in the recent past.

Recent past? She thought back to the workroom and the almost dreamlike way they'd unwrapped the linen strip from around the mummy. No documentation. No photographs. Not even a notation of the hieroglyphs. It was very stra?

The sudden pain snapped her head forward and exploded red lights behind her eyes. She sagged against the security door, the smooth glass pulling against the damp skin of her cheek as she fought to stay on her feet. Is it a stroke? And with that thought came a terrifying vision of complete and utter helplessness, so much worse than death. Oh, God, I'm too young. She couldn't catch her breath, couldn't remember how her lungs worked, couldn't remember anything but the pain.

As if from a great distance, she saw the guard run for the other side of the door and manage to open it without throwing her to the ground. He slipped an arm around her waist and half guided, half carried her over to a chair. ’’Dr. Shane? Dr. Shane, are you all right?’’ She grabbed desperately onto the sound of her name. The pain began to recede, leaving her feeling as though she'd been scoured from within by a wire brush. Nerve endings throbbed and for just an instant a great golden sun blotted out the security area, the guard, everything. ’’Dr. Shane?’’

Then it was gone and the pain was gone as if it had never been. She rubbed at her temples, trying to remember how it had felt, and couldn't. ’’Should I call an ambulance, Dr. Shane?’’ An ambulance? That penetrated. ’’No, thank you, Andrew. I'm fine. Really. Just a little faint.’’ He frowned. ’’You sure?’’

'Positive.’’ She took a deep breath and stood. The world remained as it always had been. The tension went out of her shoulders.

'Well, if you're sure?’’ He still looked a little dubious. ’’I guess you must've been working too hard, what with the cops keeping you away from your stuff until this afternoon.’’ He went back behind his desk, still watching her with a wary eye. ’’So, they gonna take the mummy away?’’

'Mummy?’’

'Yeah. They say Reid Ellis bumped into a mummy up there in the dark and it scared him to death.’’

'Oh, that mummy?’’It was amazing how rumors got started. She smiled and shook her head. With the police in and out of the workroom there was no real point in the department keeping quiet to save face. They'd just have to convince the scientific community that they'd meant to buy an empty sarcophagus. ’’There never was a mummy, Andrew. Just an empty coffin. Which I suppose is frightening enough in the middle of the night.’’

Andrew looked a little disappointed. ’’No mummy?’’

'No.’’

He sighed. ’’Well, that certainly makes the story less interesting.’’

'Sorry.’’ Dr. Shane paused with one hand on the outside door and fixed the security guard with a look she kept just on the edge of intimidating. ’’I'd appreciate you spreading the real story around.’’

He sighed again. ’’Sure thing, Dr. Shane. There never was a mummy?’’

His fingers had torn through the bottom sheet and his heartbeat echoed off the walls of the bedroom. He'd woken again to the memory of a brilliant white-gold sun centered in an azure sky.

'I don't want to die!’’

But then, why the sun?

One night he could force himself to ignore;wash it away in the hunt, in blood. Two nights made it real.

He fought himself free of the sheet and sat up on the edge of the bed, hands turned up on his thighs. His palms were moist. He stared at them for a moment, then frantically scrubbed them dry, trying to remember if in over four hundred and fifty years he'd ever sweated.

The stink of his fear filled the room. He had to get away from it.

Naked, he padded out into the condo and over to the plate glass window that looked down on Toronto. Pressing palms and forehead against the cool glass, he forced himself to take long, slow breaths until he calmed. He traced the flow of traffic down Jarvis Street;marked the blaze of glory a few streets over that was Yonge;flicked his gaze over the bands of gold in nearby office towers marking where conscientious employees worked late;knew that as dusk deepened to full dark, the other, still human, children of the night would emerge. This was his city.

Then he found himself wondering how it would look with dawn reflected rose and yellow in the glass towers, the interlacing ribbons of asphalt pearly gray instead of black, the fall colors of the trees like gems scattered across the city under the arcing dome of a brilliant blue sky? and wondering how long he would last, how much he would see, before the golden circle or the sun ignited his flesh and he died for the second and very final time. ’’Jesu, Lord of Hosts, protect me.’’ He jerked himself back off the glass and sketched a sign of the cross with trembling fingers.

'I don't want to die.’’ But he couldn't get that image of the sun out of his head. He reached for the phone. ’’Nelson.’’

'Vicki, I?’’He what? He was having hallucinations? He was losing his mind? ’’Henry? Are you all right?’’

I need to talk to you. But he suddenly couldn't get the words out.

Apparently, she heard them anyway. ’’I'm on my way over.’’ Her tone left no room for argument. ’’You're at home?’’

'Yes.’’

'Then stay put. I'll grab a taxi. I'll be right there. Whatever it is, we can work it out.’’

Her certainty leeched some of the tension out of his white-knuckled grip on the phone and his mouth twisted up into a parody of a smile. ’’No hurry,’’ he told her, attempting to regain some control, ’’we've got until dawn.’’

Although guilt was a part of the reason that Dr. Rax remained at his desk plugging away at the despised paperwork long after Dr. Shane had gone home-he had let the pile achieve mammoth proportions-it was more a vague sense of something left unfinished that kept him in his office, almost anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop. He scrawled his initials at the bottom of a budget report, slammed the folder closed, and tossed it into his out basket. Then he sighed and began to doodle aimlessly on his desk calendar. If only it wasn't so damned hard to concentrate?

Suddenly, he frowned, realizing his doodle hadn't been that aimless. Under the day and date-Monday, October 19th-he'd sketched a griffinlike animal with the body of an antelope and the head of a bird crowned with three uraei and three sets of wings. He'd sketched the creature who had been watching his dreams.

'And now that I think of it,’’ he pushed his chair back so that he could reach the bookcase behind the desk, ’’you look awfully familiar. Yes? here we are?’’ His drawing matched the illustration almost line for line. ’’Amazing what the subconscious remembers.’’ Ignoring a cold feeling of dread, he skimmed the text. ’’Akhekh, a predynastic god of upper Egypt absorbed into the conqueror's religion to become a form of the evil god Set?’’ The book slid out of hands gone limp and crashed to the floor. The eyes of Akhekh, eyes printed in black, had, for an instant, burned red.

Heart in his throat, Dr. Rax bent forward and gingerly picked up the book. It had closed as it fell and he had no desire to open it again.

Elias. Come. It is time.

'Time for what?’’ he called before he realized the voice he answered was in his head.

He carefully put the book on the desk then rubbed at his temples with trembling fingers. ’’Right. First I'm seeing things. Now I'm hearing things. I think it's time I went home and had a large Scotch and a long sleep.’’

The weakness in his legs surprised him when he stood. He held onto the back of his chair until he was sure he could walk without his knees buckling, then made his way slowly across the room. At the door, he grabbed his jacket and flicked off the light, trying not to think of two eyes glowing red in the darkness behind him as he made his way across the outer office.

'This is ridiculous.’’ He squared his shoulders and took a deep breath as he started down the hallway to the elevators. ’’I'm a scientist, not some superstitious old fool frightened of the dark. I've just been working too hard.’’ The dim quiet of the hall laid balm on his jangled nerves and by the time he reached the door to the workroom his heartbeat and breathing had almost returned to normal.

Elias. Come.

He turned and faced the door, unable to stop himself. From a distance, he felt his hand go into his pocket for his keys, saw them turn in the lock, heard the quiet movement of air as the door opened, smelled the cedar that had been filling the room with its scent since they'd opened the coffin, tasted fear. His legs carried him forward.

The plastic over the coffin had been thrown aside.

The coffin itself was empty save for a pile of linen wrappings already beginning to decay.

The physical compulsion left him and he sagged against the ancient wood. A man stooped with age, eyes deep sunk over ax blade cheekbones, flesh clinging to bone and skin stretched tight, walked out of the shadows. Somehow, he had known that it would come to this and that knowledge kept the terror just barely at bay. From the moment he had first seen the seal, he had felt this moment approaching.

'Des? troy those.’’ The voice creaked like two pieces of old wood rubbing together.

Dr. Rax looked down at the linen wrappings and then up at the man who had so recently worn them that the marks still showed imprinted on his skin. ’’Do what?’’

'There must be? no evi? dence.’’

'Evidence? Of what?’’

'Of me.’’

'But you're evidence of you.’’

'Des? troy them.’’

'No.’’ Dr. Rax shook his head. ’’You may be?’’ And then it hit him, finally broke through the cocoon of fate or destiny or whatever had been insulating him from what was actually going on. This man, this creature, had been entombed in the Eighteenth Dynasty, over three thousand years ago. Only his white-knuckled grip on the coffin kept him standing. ’’How??’’

Something that might have been a smile twisted the ancient mouth. ’’Magic.’’

'There's no such?’’ Except obviously there was, so he let the protest die.

The smile flattened into an expression much more unpleasant. ’’Des? troy them.’’

As he had been while opening the workroom door, Dr. Rax found himself shunted off into an enclosed section of his mind while his body obeyed another's will. Only this time, he was conscious of it. The fog was gone.

He watched himself gather up the linen wrappings and carry them over to the sink.

'That? too.’’

Fighting to stop himself, he lifted the strip of hieroglyphs from the worktable and added it to the rest. When he went into the darkroom, he knew the creature was using his mind-fire would have been an Eighteenth Dynasty solution, chemicals were not. A bottle of concentrated ascorbic acid dissolved the rotting fabric sufficiently to wash the entire mess down the drain and although his hands trembled, he couldn't prevent them from pouring it. His heart ached at the destruction of the artifacts and the anger gave him strength.

Slowly he jerked his body around and met eyes so dark there was no telling where the pupil ended and the iris began. ’’That wasn't necessary,’’ he managed to gasp.

The eyes narrowed, then widened. ’’A good thing for me? your god has not recognized? its power.’’

'What the hell?’’ He had to stop to breathe. We sound like a couple of badly tuned transistor radios. ’’? are you talking about. My god?’’

'Science.’’ The ancient voice grew stronger. ’’Still only an aspect. Not strong enough? to save your ass.’’

Dr. Rax frowned, his thoughts tumbling over themselves in an attempt to pull order out of the impossible-that was not a phrase a dynastic Egyptian would use. ’’You speak English. But English didn't exist when you were?’’

'Alive?’’

'If you like.’’ The son of a bitch is enjoying this. He's allowing me to talk to him.

'I learn from the ka I take.’’

'From the ka??’’

'So many questions, Dr. Rax.’’

'Yes?’’A hundred, a thousand questions, each fighting to be first. Perhaps the loss of the artifacts could be made up. He began to shake with barely suppressed excitement. Perhaps the holes in history could be filled. ’’There's so much you can tell me.’’

'Yes.’’ Just for an instant, something very like regret passed over the ancient face. ’’I'd enjoy? shooting shit with you. But, unfortun? ately, I need what you can tell? me.’’

Dr. Rax started as an ancient hand wrapped around his wrist, the grip almost painfully tight. I learn from the ka I take. And the ka was the soul and a young man had died this morning and English hadn't existed? ’’No!’’ He began to slide into the black depths of ebony eyes. ’’But I freed you!’’ There's still so much I don't know! And that gave him the strength to fight.

The grip tightened.

His free arm flailed, slamming his elbow into the cupboards, knocking the empty bottle off the counter, accomplishing nothing.

But he fought all the way down.

He lost the fight question by question.

How and why and where and what? And finally, who?

'I don't think you're crazy.’’

'But how can you know?’’

Vicki shrugged. ’’Because I know crazy and I know you.’’

Henry threw himself down beside her on the couch and caught up both her hands in his. ’’Then why do I keep dreaming of the sun?’’

'I don't know, Henry.’’ He desperately wanted reassurance, but she didn't know how much she had to give;this was going to take more than a ’’poor sweet baby’’ and a kiss on the nose. He looked, not frightened exactly, but vulnerable and his expression sat in a knot at the base of her throat, making it hard to swallow, hard to breathe. The only comfort she had to offer was the knowledge that he wouldn't face whatever this turned out to be, alone. ’’But I do know this, we aren't going down without a fight.’’

'We?’’

'You asked me for help, remember?’’

He nodded.

'So.’’ She traced a pattern on the back of his hand with her thumb. ’’You said this has happened to others of your kind??’’

'There've been stories.’’

'Stories?’’

'We hunt alone, Vicki. Except for during the time of changing we almost never associate with other vampires. But you hear stories?’’

'Vampiric gossip?’’

He shrugged, a little self-consciously. ’’If you like.’’

'And these stories say that??’’

'That sometimes when we get too old, when the weight of all those centuries becomes too much to bear, we get so we can no longer stand the night and finally give ourselves to the sun.’’

'And before that happens, the dreams come?’’

'I don't know.’’

She closed her hand around his. ’’All right. Let's take this one step at a time. Have you gotten tired of living?’’

'No.’’ That, at least, he was sure of and the reason for it stared at him intently from less than an arm's length away. ’’But, Vicki, as much as I have changed, the body, the mind is still basically human. Perhaps?’’

'Perhaps the equipment is wearing out?’’ she interrupted, tightening her grip. ’’Planned obsolescence? You start heading toward your fifth century and the system starts breaking down?’’ Her brows drew in and her glasses slid down her nose. ’’I don't believe that.’’

Henry reached over and pushed her glasses back into place. ’’You can't disbelieve the dreams,’’ he said softly.

'No,’’ she admitted, ’’I can't.’’ She sighed deeply and one side of her mouth quirked up. ’’It'd be useful if you lot did a little more communicating, so we weren't approaching this blind-maybe put out a newsletter or something.’’ He smiled at that, as she knew he would, and he relaxed a little. ’’Henry, less than a year ago I didn't believe in vampires or demons or werewolves or myself. Now I know better. You aren't crazy. You don't want to die. You are therefore not going to give yourself to the sun. Q.E.D.’’

He had to believe her. Her no-nonsense mortal attitude slapped aside the specter of madness. ’’Stay till morning?’’ he asked. For a moment he couldn't believe the words had come from his mouth. He might as well have said, ’’Stay until I'm helpless. ’’ It meant the same thing. Did he trust her that much? He saw that she understood and by her hesitation gave him time to take back the request. He suddenly realized he didn't want to take it back. That he did, indeed, trust her that much.

Four hundred and fifty years ago he'd asked, ’’Can we love?’’

'Can you doubt it?’’ had been the answer.

The silence stretched. He had to break it before it pulled them apart;pulled her apart, forced her to hear what he knew she wasn't ready to hear. ’’You can tie me to the bed if I start to do anything stupid.’’

'My definition of stupid or yours?’’ Her voice was tight.

In for a penny in for a pound. ’’Yours.’’ He smiled, planted a kiss on her palm, and turned to face the window. If Vicki thought him sane, then he had to think so, too. Perhaps why he dreamed of the sun was of less immediate concern than how he dealt with the dreams. ’’More things in heaven and earth?’’he mused.

Vicki sagged back against the sofa cushions. ’’Christ, I'm getting tired of that quote.’’

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