Blood Pact Chapter Sixteen
Henry heard the pounding as he raced down the corridor leading to the lab, heard it and would have ignored it had it not been accompanied by a fine libretto of Italian profanity. He rocked to a stop in front of an old paneled door, saw that the doorknob had been bent down in such a way as to render it nonfunctional, and solved the problem by bracing one hand against the wall and yanking the entire mechanism out of the wood.
The door crashed back and Celluci exploded out into the hall, the force of his exit throwing him to his knees.
Grabbing him by the collar, Henry hauled him to his feet, blocking the resulting flurry of blows with his other arm.
Celluci's snarled challenge broke off as he finally recognized the vampire. ’’Where the hell were you?’’ he demanded.
’’Finding my way back,’’ Henry answered coldly. ’’What were you doing in there?’’
’’Trying to get out.’’ The tone matched exactly. ’’I heard Vicki scream.’’
’’So did I.’’
Together they turned and ran toward the lab.
As they raced through the doorway, the bloodscent hit Henry an almost solid blow, too close now to be masked by either decay or the alcohol vapor still seeping into the air. Far from replete, the Hunger rose. For Vicki's sake Henry held it, and forced it back;he couldn't help her if he lost control. While he struggled to maintain reason, Celluci pulled ahead.
It seemed there were bodies all over the room, but Celluci only saw one that mattered. Sprawled on her back to one side of the isolation box, Vicki lay motionless except for the purely kinetic jerk that occurred when a blow landed. He saw the steel bar go up and come down, then, howling in inarticulate rage, he grabbed the pale-haired woman by the shoulders and flung her behind him.
’’Your fault, too!’’ Catherine screamed, launching herself back, the jagged end of the bar dripping crimson.
There was no time for Celluci to prepare himself for the attack. Then, all at once, there was no attack.
His arm darting out faster than mortal eye could follow, Henry caught Catherine by the back of the neck, wrapped his other hand around the top of her head, and twisted.
The pale eyes rolled up. For the second time that night the metal strut rang against the tile as it fell from fingers suddenly slack.
Tossing the body aside, Henry threw himself to his knees, his hands joining Celluci's as they frantically searched for the wounds below Vicki's blood-soaked clothing.
The iron bar had torn a chunk of flesh from her left shoulder and had scored the right side of her ribs in two places. Ugly wounds, all three, but hardly fatal.
Then they lifted her fingers out of the puddle between hip and thigh.
’’Jesus!’’ Henry pressed his hand down on the spot and met Celluci's wild gaze. ’’Arterial,’’ he said quietly and strained to hear her heart above the painful pounding of his own.
The blood spattered across the flashlight lens made Rorschach patterns on the ceiling.
Number nine lay, head to one side as she had left him, waiting for her to come back.
And then she was there.
But she didn't see him and she didn't smile.
’’Fifteen minutes. It takes fifteen minutes to bleed to death from that kind of wound.’’
’’I know that!’’ Henry snapped. He had her heartbeat now, but it was frighteningly faint.
’’Of course you do.’’ His ringers trembling, Celluci looped the arm of her glasses back over the curve of her ear. ’’You're a f*king vampire. You know bleeding. So do something about it!’’
Henry glared at him. There was no way to do a tourniquet in the joining of torso and leg. No way but direct pressure to stop the bleeding and he was already doing that, even if he did it too late. ’’Do what?’’ he demanded, sure there was nothing else he could do.
’’How the f*k should I know! You're the f*king... Jesus!’’
Pulled by the intensity of Celluci's terrified stare, Henry twisted around. Across the lab, by the wall of boarded up windows, one of the bodies rose slowly to its feet.
One of them had killed her.
Killed her dead.
The anger number nine had known before was less than nothing in comparison to what he felt now.
My gun? Where the hell is my gun? Swatting aside panic, Celluci scanned the floor and finally spotted it almost under the cavader's feet. F*king great...
Scrambling to his feet, he launched himself forward, dove, got both hands around the weapon, rolled, and pulled the trigger at almost point-blank range.
The bullet plowed through the putrefying tissue with almost no loss of velocity and rang against the brass casing of the oxygen tank directly behind. It ricocheted up the curve, hit the next tank, and sprayed bits of the valve across the room. Oxygen began to hiss free.
’’Jesus H. Christ!’’ Still on the floor, Celluci crabbed back. Although pus and fluid and God-knew-what poured from the hole, the dead man continued to shuffle forward. ’’What the f*k do you think this is? A f*king James Cameron movie?’’ His hands were shaking too hard to try a head shot. He watched his second round blow a chunk from the outside curve of the thing's thigh without any noticeable effect. ’’God-damnit, stay dead!’’
The third round passed through the abdomen again, rang against brass and sparked.
All hell broke loose.
Henry threw himself over Vicki.
The explosion sent chunks of the oxygen tank flying through the air like shrapnel. Several of the larger chunks slammed into number nine, cutting him into pieces.
He remembered dying.
The last time, she had been there when it was over.
He hoped she'd be there again.
With a whoosh, the alcohol vapor in the air ignited, then the alcohol, then the desk.
Then the emergency light shut off.
Celluci picked his way back to Vicki's side. ’’F*king place is on fire. At least we can still see.’’ He squinted at Henry, the pale skin of the vampire's face and chest just barely visible in the flickering light. ’’You okay?’’
Henry hesitated, praying he'd hear something different, knowing he wouldn't. ’’She's dying.’’
’’F*k that!’’ Ripping off jacket and shoulder holster, Celluci yanked his shirt over his head, ignoring the buttons. Folding most of the fabric into a rough pad, sleeves dangling, he shoved it at Henry. ’’She said your saliva causes clotting.’’
’’Yes, but... ’’
’’Spit on this and tie that wound off. We're practically on top of a f*king hospital. You get the bleeding stopped and we move her.’’
’’It's too... ’’
Although he knew it would make no difference, Henry took the shirt and bent over the jagged hole. Michael Celluci had lived less than forty years and still thought death could be fought. Four and a half centuries had taught a different lesson. In a battle between love and death, death always won. He could feel Vicki's life ebbing, knew that nothing they could do would change that.
His fingers maintaining pressure, he covered the still bleeding gash with his mouth. At least when she died, he would have contact with her blood. He pulled the touch, the taste, the scent of her into memory. You are mortal, my love. I always knew you'd die, but I never dreamed we'd have so little time...
Suddenly, Celluci's fingers were in his hair and the contact broken.
’’I said wrap it, Goddamnit. Not f*king take what she has left!’’
Henry drew bloodstained lips back off his teeth. ’’Get your hands off me, mortal!’’
The explosion had jerked Vicki back out of the twilight zone of pain and darkness she'd sunk into. She hadn't thought it was possible to hurt so much and still be alive. She could hear the two men arguing and fought against the weight hanging from her tongue.
’’Vicki?’’ Henry forgotten in the sound of her voice, Celluci twisted around and cupped her face in his hands. The fire licked at the plywood over the windows. Celluci ignored it. The high ceiling drew the smoke up and away. The path to the door remained clear. As long as the fire posed no immediate danger, it could be ignored for more important concerns. The highly polished metal of the isolation box reflected the orange glow of the flames out into the room. In its light, Celluci saw Vicki's eyelids flicker, once, twice. ’’Hang on, we're going to get you to the hospital.’’
The hospital? She wanted to tell him there wasn't any point but couldn't figure out how.
’’Michael.’’ The pain in the detective's voice damped Henry's anger and drew his own grief to the fore. With one hand still foolishly, hopelessly holding pressure on Vicki's leg, he gently grasped Celluci's shoulder with the other. ’’There isn't enough time.’’
’’She'll be dead even before you get her out of this building.’’
’’I can feel her life ebbing.’’
’’I said, NO!’’
Listen to him, Mike. He's right. She thought she was still breathing but she couldn't be certain. I'm still here, I must be breathing.
’’Damn it, Vicki, don't die!’’
Oh, God, Mike, don't cry. She'd thought it couldn't hurt anymore. She'd been wrong.
’’There has to be something we can do!’’
Henry felt a vise close round his heart and squeeze. ’’No.’’ One word, two letters, somehow carried all he felt.
Pulled by the sound of suffering as great as his own, Celluci looked up and met hazel eyes washed almost gold by the firelight. They held a truth too bitter to deny. Vicki was dying.
I'm cold. And it's dark. And it isn't fair. I could tell you I love you now. Could tell both of you. Love was enough to bring my mother back. I guess I'm not as strong. Her body didn't seem to be a part of her anymore. The flesh wrapped around her like a badly fitting suit of clothes. Oh, shit. I can't feel anything. This sucks. This really sucks. I DON'T WANT TO DIE!
Her eyes snapped open. She could see a familiar shadow bending over her. Her fingers trembled, aching to brush the curl of hair back from his face.
She pulled enough strength from him to form a single word. ’’Hen... ry.’’
The name pierced into Celluci's soul and ripped it to shreds with barbed hooks. She wanted Henry. Not him. Wanted to die in Henry's arms. He bit his lip to keep from crying out and tried to jerk his head away. He couldn't. Something in her eyes held him. Something that insisted he understand.
She saw the sudden white slash of his smile and carried it with her into darkness. She'd done what she could. Now it was up to him.
Henry had heard his name and was bending forward when Celluci lifted his head. He froze. He'd expected to see on the other man's face the pain of Vicki's choice written over the pain of her dying. He hadn't expected to see a wild and insane hope.
Henry felt his jaw drop. ’’What?’’
’’You heard me!’’ Celluci reached across Vicki's body and grabbed a fistful of leather coat. ’’Change her!’’
Change her. He'd fed from her deeply only a short time before. And fed from her the night before that. His blood held enough of the elements of hers that her system might accept it, especially as she had so little blood of her own left to replace. But considering his condition, did he have enough for them both?
Change her. If he changed her, he'd lose her. They'd have a little over a year but no more before her new nature drove them apart.
’’Do it,’’ Celluci begged. ’’It's her only chance.’’
Henry suddenly realized that Celluci had no idea of what the change would mean. That he, in fact, believed the exact opposite of the truth. Believed that if Vicki changed she was lost to him. Henry could read the knowledge of that loss in the other man's face. Could read how he was willing to surrender everything to another for Vicki's sake.
You think I've won, mortal. You're so very wrong. If she dies, we both lose her. If she changes, I lose her alone.
And if you can give her up for love, wondered Henry Fitzroy, vampire, bastard son of Henry VIII, can I do any less? His heart would allow only one answer.
Lifting his own wrist to his mouth, Henry opened a vein. ’’It might not work,’’ he said as he pressed this smaller wound into the hole in her leg, forcing the flow of his blood to act as a barrier for hers. A moment later, he lifted his arm and threw Celluci back his shirt, the motion flinging a single crimson drop across the room like a discarded ruby. ’’Bind it. Tightly. This could still kill her in spite of everything I do.’’
Celluci did as instructed, lifting his eyes in time to see Henry open a vein over his heart with Vicki's Swiss army knife. Even with so prosaic a tool, it held the shadow of ancient ritual and he watched, unable to look away, as blood welled out of the cut, appearing almost black against the alabaster skin.
Sliding his arm behind Vicki's shoulders, Henry lifted her and pressed her mouth to his breast. Her life had dropped away to a murmur in the distance;not dead, not yet, but very, very close.
’’Drink, Vicki.’’ He made it a command, threw all he was into it, breathed it against the soft cap of her hair. ’’Drink to live.’’
He was afraid for a moment that she could not obey him even if she wanted to;then her lips parted and she swallowed. The intensity of his reaction took him completely by surprise. He could vaguely remember how it had felt when Christina had fed from him. It was in no way comparable to the near ecstasy he felt now. He swayed, wrapped his other arm around her body, and closed his eyes. This rapture wasn't enough to make up for the eventual loss of her, but, by God, it was close.
Celluci tied off the makeshift pressure bandage, his hands operating independently of conscious direction. There was something both so blatantly sensual and so extraordinarily innocent about the scene that he couldn't have looked away had he wanted to. Not that he wanted to. He wanted every second of Vicki he could have before he had to face the rest of his life without her.
The firelight turned Vicki's hair the color of spilled honey, danced orange highlights down the black leather enveloping her, and reflected crimson in the puddles of her blood spilled on the floor.
Jesus H. Christ! The fire! All at once, as though it had been waiting to be remembered, he could feel the heat licking against his back. He turned. The entire wall of boarded windows was aflame. The smoke had a greenish tinge and an unpleasant taste, spilled chemicals or burning plastic, it was irrelevant at the moment. They had to get out.
The voice seemed to come from a long way away, but it held an urgency difficult to ignore. Henry opened his eyes.
’’We've got to get out of here before this whole place goes up! Can you move her?’’
It took a moment for Henry's eyes to clear, but gradually he, too, became aware of the danger. He glanced down at Vicki, still nuzzling like a blind kitten at his breast, and pulled free enough to find his voice. ’’I've never done this before, Detective.’’ He had no energy left for anything but the truth and the touch of her life was still so tenuous. ’’She's dying slower than she was, but she's still dying.’’
’’Christ! What more will it take!’’
’’More, I'm afraid, than I have right now to give.’’ He swayed, Vicki's head rising and falling with the motion. ’’I told you it might not work.’’
F*king great. Vicki was still dying, Fitzroy looked like hell, and the building was burning down around them. He coughed and scrubbed his forearm across his face. God-damned cup's not half empty if I say it's half full. Grabbing jacket and holster and gun up off the floor, Celluci stood. ’’If she's still dying, she's not dead. Let's try to keep it that way. Come on!’’
Shifting his grip, cradling Vicki in his arms as though she were a child, Henry tried to stand. The room tilted.
Eyes streaming from the smoke, Celluci shoved his free hand into a leather-covered armpit and helped heave Henry and his burden off the floor. ’’Can you hold her?’’
’’Yes.’’ He didn't actually think he could let her go but he didn't have enough strength for the explanation. Henry leaned on the larger man's strength as his knees threatened to buckle and, together, they staggered toward the door. Unable to see where he was placing his feet, he stumbled over a piece of something wet he didn't want to know what, and nearly fell.
’’Oh, no, you don't.’’ Muscles popping, sweat streaming down his chest, Celluci somehow kept all three of them up and moving. ’’After everything we've been through tonight, we aren't f*king quitting yet.’’
Arms locked around Vicki, holding her life with his own, Henry dredged up the ghost of a smile. ’’Never say die, Detective?’’
Celluci tossed the curl of hair back off his face and led the way out of the lab. ’’F*king right,’’ he growled.
As they disappeared down the hall, the door to the storeroom slowly swung open and, coughing, Dr. Burke stumbled out into the lab.
’’Now that,’’ she declared, ’’was a most edi... fying evening. Who says eaves... droppers never hear anything good?’’ She wiped her streaming eyes and nose on her sleeve and picked her way carefully through the smoke and debris toward the door.
From the sound of it, Marjory Nelson's daughter and her companions had problems of their own. Problems that could easily be used to convince them that Dr. Aline Burke might be better left alone, that her involvement in this whole sordid affair was nothing more than chance.
Donald was dead. She didn't want Donald to be dead, but upon consideration there wasn't anything she could do about it. Why should she suffer just because Donald was dead?
Catherine was dead, too, and therefore a convenient, nonprotesting scapegoat.
’’I had no idea what was going on, your honor.’’ She started to giggle and gagged instead. Whatever chemicals were burning were undeniably toxic. ’’Go ahead, burn!’’ she commanded. ’’Let's give Catherine and her friends a fine Viking send-off and in the pro-shess... ’’ A fit of coughing doubled her over. She staggered to the isolation box and sagged against it, stomach heaving.
’’And in the proshess,’’ she repeated when she'd caught her breath and swallowed a mouthful of bile, ’’destroy as much evidence as possible. A little vampiric blackmail, a little-what's the word?-con... fla... gration and I'll be out of this with no major career damage done.’’ Her flame-bordered reflection appeared smugly satisfied and she smiled down at it, patting herself on the cheek. The box was becoming warm to the touch and the skin of her face and hands was beginning to tighten in the growing heat. Time to go.
Head lowered to avoid the worst of the smoke now billowing down from the ceiling, coughing almost continually, she started for the door, lifting her feet with alcohol exaggerated caution over bodies and parts of bodies.
Then she spotted the disk. Spilled half out of Catherine's lab coat pocket, very blue against the bloodstained white, it could contain only one thing: the copies of the tests made that afternoon on the vampire. What else would be important enough for Catherine to carry around with her?
Only this afternoon. Seems so long ago. With one hand resting against the end of the isolation box, her balance not being exactly stable, Dr. Burke bent to pick it up. It didn't seem to be damaged. Having been sheltered in the curve of Catherine's body, it didn't even seem to be very hot. She shoved it into her own pocket, suddenly realizing that not only would she come out of this with her career essentially undamaged, but with information the scientific community would award high honors for.
A few simple experiments, she thought, grinning broadly, and that Nobel prize is...
One of the oxygen tanks had remained amazingly undamaged after the earlier explosion had flung it out into the lab. It had lain, partially under the far side of the isolation box, safely away from the main heat of the fire. But temperatures were rising. The plastic valve finally began to melt. The metal collar below it expanded a very, very small amount. It was enough.
The blast slammed Dr. Burke to the floor where she watched in horror as a giant, invisible hand lifted the isolation box and dropped it to fall, impossibly slowly, across her legs. She heard bones shatter, felt the pain a moment later, and slid into darkness.
When the light returned, it was the orange-red of the approaching fire and almost no time had passed. She couldn't feel what was left of her legs.
’’That's all right. Don't need legs.’’
Catherine's extended hand had begun to sizzle.
’’Don't need legs. Need to get out of here.’’ The isolation box was on its side. The curve would give her a little room. If she could just push against it, she could pull her legs free and crawl out of the room. Crawl away from the flames. She didn't need legs.
Dragging herself up into a sitting position, she shoved at the box. Nestled on an uneven surface, it rocked. Something squelched beneath it but that didn't matter.
The flames were licking at the sleeve of Catherine's lab coat. Over the stink of chemical-laden smoke, came the smell of roasting pork.
Swallowing saliva, she pounded at the box.
It rocked again.
The latch that number nine had partially turned, gave way.
The lid fell open, knocking Dr. Burke back to the floor as it rose into the air on silent hinges, spilling the body thrown up against it by the explosion out onto her lap.
The naked, empty shell of Donald Li rolled once and came to rest in the circle of her arms, his head tucked back so that it seemed his face stared up into hers.
The flames stopped the screaming when they finally came.
’’Christ on crutches!’’ Detective Fergusson ducked behind his car as the explosion flung pieces of burning wood and heated metal out into the street. ’’Next time I investigate drunken confessions in the f*king morning!’’ Snatching up his radio, he ignored the panicked shouts of the approaching security guards and called in the fire with a calm professionalism he was far from feeling.
’’... and an ambulance!’’
He thought he could hear screaming. He hoped like hell he was wrong.
’’It's just after two. I need to feed. In about an hour, if she's still alive, I need to feed her. And then I need to get her back to Toronto before dawn.’’
’’Why Toronto? Why can't she just stay here?’’
Henry sank down onto the end of the bed. His head felt almost too heavy to lift. ’’Because if she changes, I need to have her in a place I know is secure.’’ He waved a weary, bloodstained arm at the apartment. ’’This isn't. And if she... if she... ’’
’’Dies,’’ Celluci said emotionlessly, staring down at Vicki's unconscious form. He felt as though the world had skewed a few degrees sideways and he had no choice but to try to keep his balance on the slope.
’’Yes.’’ Henry matched the detective's lack of expression. If the facade cracked now, it would sweep them all away. ’’If she dies, I'll need to dispose of the body. I'll need to be in a city I know in order to do that.’’
’’Dispose of the body?’’
’’Her death is going to be a little difficult to explain if I don't, don't you think? There'll be an autopsy, an inquest, and questions you don't have the answer to will be asked.’’
’’So she just disappears... ’’
’’Yes. Yet another unsolved mystery.’’
’’And I'll have to act as though I have no idea if she's dead or alive.’’
Henry lifted his head and allowed a hint of power to touch his voice. ’’Mourn her as dead, Detective.’’
Celluci didn't bother to pretend that he misunderstood. He jerked his gaze from Vicki and recklessly met the vampire's eyes. ’’Mourn her regardless? F*k you. You tell me what happens, Fitzroy. If she disappears because she's dead, I'll mourn her. If she disappears into the night with you, I'll... ’’ A muscle jumped in his jaw. ’’I'll miss her like I'd miss a part of myself but I won't mourn her if she isn't any more dead than you are.’’
Since they'd found her dying in the lab, Henry had been measuring time by Vicki's heartbeat. He let three go by while he studied Mike Celluci's soul. ’’You really mean that,’’ he said at last. He found it difficult to believe. Found it impossible not to believe.
’’Yeah.’’ The word caught in Celluci's throat. ’’I really mean it.’’ He swallowed and fought for control. Then his eyes widened. ’’What do you mean, you have to feed?’’
’’You should know what that means by now.’’
’’I could hunt.’’ Except that he was so incredibly tired. The night had already lasted longer than any night he could remember. It seemed a pity to hunt when there was... He allowed the power to rise a little more.
’’Stop it. I know what you're trying.’’ With an effort, Celluci wrenched his gaze away and back to the woman on the bed. She was still alive. All that really mattered was keeping her that way. He'd made that decision back in the lab. He'd stand by it now. ’’If it includes anything but sucking blood, you can f*king well order takeout.’’
Astounded by the offer, Henry felt his brows rise. ’’It needn't include anything but sucking blood, Detective. It's not nourishment I need so much as refueling.’’
’’All right, then.’’ Celluci shrugged out of his jacket, dropping it carefully inside out so as not to stain the carpet, and began to roll up his sleeve. ’’Wrist, right?’’
’’Yes.’’ Henry shook his head, wonder and respect about equally mixed in his voice. ’’You know, in four and a half centuries, I've never met a man quite like you. In spite of everything, you offer me your blood?’’
’’Yeah. In spite of everything.’’ With one last look at Vicki, he turned and lowered himself onto the end of the bed. ’’At the risk of offending, after what went down tonight,’’ he sighed, ’’this doesn't seem like much. Besides, I'm doing it for her. Right now, as far as I'm concerned, you're just a primitive branch of the Red Cross. Get on with it.’’
Henry lifted the offered arm, then looked up at Celluci, his eyes dark, the smallest hint of a smile brushing against the outside corners of his lips. ’’You know, it's a shame there's so much between us, Detective.’’
Celluci felt the heat and tossed the curl of hair back off his forehead. ’’Don't press your luck, you undead son of a bitch.’’
As he carried her out the door, her life still balanced on the razor's edge, Henry paused. ’’Doesn't it gnaw at you,’’ he asked at last, unable to leave with knowing, ’’that at the end she chose me?’’
Celluci reached out and gently tucked her glasses into the pocket of her coat. Her purse and her suitcase had already been loaded in Henry's car.
’’She didn't choose you,’’ he said, stepping back and rubbing at the bandage on his wrist. ’’She chose the one chance she had to live. I refuse to feel bad about that.’’
’’She could still die.’’
’’See that she doesn't.’’
A thousand thoughts between one faltering heartbeat and the next. ’’I'll do my best.’’
Celluci nodded, acknowledging truth;then he bent forward and kissed her gently on lips that felt less warm than they had.
And there wasn't anything more he could say.
He dealt with Detective Fergusson. Explained Vicki had had a bit of a breakdown, perfectly understandable under the circumstances, and gone back to Toronto with a friend. ’’I'll let her know what happened... ’’
He dealt with the contents of her mother's apartment, calling an estate auctioneer and putting everything in his hands. ’’Just sell it. The money goes to the lawyer until the will clears probate, so what's the problem.’’
He dealt with Mr. Delgado.
’’I saw her leave in his car;through my window.’’ The old man looked up at him and shook his head. ’’What happened?’’
Just for a moment, Celluci wanted to tell him, just for a moment, because he desperately needed to tell somebody. Fortunately, the moment passed. ’’There's an old saying, Mr. Delgado, 'if you love something, let it go.'’’
’’I know this saying. I read it on a T-shirt once. It's bullshit, if you'll excuse my language.’’ His head continued to shake like it was the only moving part of an ancient clockwork. ’’So she made her choice.’’
’’We all made a choice.’’
He dealt with driving back to Toronto not knowing. He wouldn't call Fitzroy. He'd bent as far as he could. Let Fitzroy call him.
He dealt with the message when it finally came and thanked God he only had to deal with Fitzroy's voice on the machine. Even that was disturbing enough. He tried to be happy she was still alive. Tried very hard. Almost managed it.
He found out what was happening next by accident. He hadn't intended to walk by her apartment. It was stupid. Ghoulish. He knew she wasn't there. He'd gone in once, the night he'd arrived from Kingston, cleared out his stuff, and without knowing why, had taken a picture of the two of them that he hated off her dresser. When he got home, he shoved it up on the shelf in his hall closet and never looked at it again. But he had it.
’’Hey, Sarge.’’ A slender shadow detached itself from the broad base of the old chestnut tree and sauntered out onto the sidewalk. ’’There's no point in going in, her stuff's all gone. New tenants coming next week, I expect.’’
’’What are you doing here, Tony?’’
The young man shrugged. ’’I was dropping off the key and I saw you coming around the corner, so I figured I'd wait. Save me a trip later. I got a message for you.’’
’’A message,’’ he repeated, because he couldn't ask who from.
’’Yeah. Henry said I was to tell you that you were one of the most honorable men he ever met and that he wished things could've been different.’’
’’Different. Yeah. Well.’’
Tony shot the detective a glance out of the corner of his eye and hid his disappointment. Henry wouldn't tell him what he meant by different, if he meant with Vicki or what, and now it looked like Celluci was going to be just as close-mouthed. Although he'd been given the overall story behind that last night in Kingston, he had none of the details and curiosity was almost killing him. ’’Henry also wanted me to tell you that a year is a small slice of eternity.’’
Celluci snorted and started walking down Huron Street, needing the distraction of movement. ’’What the hell does that mean?’’ he asked as Tony fell into step beside him.
’’Beats me,’’ Tony admitted. ’’But that's what he wanted me to tell you. He said you'd understand later.’’
Celluci snorted again. ’’F*king romance writer.’’
’’Yeah. Well.’’ When they reached the corner at Cecil Street, and the detective hadn't spoke again, Tony sighed. ’’Mostly she sleeps,’’ he said.
’’Who sleeps?’’ A muscle jumped in Celluci's jaw.
’’Victory. Henry's still pretty worried about her, but he thinks things are going to be all right now that the hole in her leg finally healed up. We're moving to Vancouver.’’
’’Yeah. She's pretty helpless right now. They need someone who can deal with the sun. And... ’’
’’Never mind.’’ Vancouver. All the way across the country. ’’Why? For the sea air?’’
’’Nah. So nobody recognizes her when she starts to hunt. Apparently they're pretty messy at first.’’
They'd eaten a thousand meals together. Maybe two thousand. ’’Tell him she's not likely to get a lot neater.’’
Tony snickered. ’’I'll tell him. Anything you want me to tell her?’’
’’Tell her... ’’ His voice trailed off and he seemed to be staring at something Tony couldn't see. Then his face twisted and, lips pressed into a thin, white line, he spun on one heel and strode away.
Tony stood and watched him for a moment, then he nodded. ’’Don't worry, man,’’ he said softly. ’’I'll tell her.’’
He dealt with everything until Detective Fergusson called from Kingston about the inquest.
’’Look, she's moved to Vancouver, all right. Other than that, I don't know where the f*k she is.’’
Detective Fergusson jumped to the obvious conclusion. ’’Dumped you, eh?’’
In answer, Celluci ripped the phone off his kitchen wall and threw it out the back door. A few days later, after he'd been brought in by a couple of uniforms for racing a jet down the runway at the Downsview Airport, the backseat of his car rattling with empties, the police psychologist suggested that he was suppressing strong emotions.
Still painfully hung over, Celluci barely resisted the urge to suppress the police psychologist.
’’I hope she's worth you flushing your career down the toilet, because that's what you're doing.’’ Inspector Cantree's chair screeched a protest as he leaned back and glared at Celluci. ’’You know what I've got here?’’ One huge hand slapped down on the file folder centered on his blotter. ’’Never mind. I'll tell you. I've got a report from the department shrink that suggests you're dangerously unstable and that you shouldn't be allowed out on the street carrying a gun.’’
Lips compressed into a thin, white line, Celluci started to shrug out of his shoulder holster.
’’Put that the f*k back on!’’ Cantree snapped. ’’If I was going to listen to the pompous quack, I'd have had your badge days ago.’’
Celluci shoved the curl of hair back off his face and tried to ignore how much the motion reminded him of her. ’’I'm fine,’’ he growled.
’’Bullshit! You want to tell me what's wrong?’’
’’Nothing's wrong.’’ His tone dared Cantree to argue the point and Cantree's expression did just that. Celluci had heard the rumors making the rounds about ex-Detective Vicki Nelson's hasty relocation to the West Coast, although he'd heard them second or third hand because no one had the guts to speculate to his face. Obviously, Cantree had heard them, too. ’’It's personal.’’
’’Not when it affects your job, it isn't.’’ The Inspector leaned forward and held Celluci's gaze with his. ’’So here's what you're going to do. You're going to take a leave of absence for at least a month and you're going to get out of the city and you're going to find wherever it is you've left your brains and then you're going to come back and have another little talk with Dr. Freud-enstein.’’
’’What if I don't want to go?’’ Celluci muttered.
Cantree smiled. ’’If you don't take a leave of absence, I'll suspend you for a month without pay. Either way, you're out of here.’’
Betting in headquarters had three to one odds that Mike Celluci's leave of absence would begin on the first available flight to Vancouver. Several people lost some serious money.
A week after the interview in Cantree's office, Celluci found himself escorting his ancient grandmother onto a plane bound for Italy and a family reunion.
’’Jesus, Mike it's good to have you back.’’ Dave Graham's grin threatened to dislodge the entire lower half of his face. ’’I mean, one more temporary partner like the last one and I'd have taken six weeks off.’’
’’Who the f*k left coffee rings all over my desk!’’
’’On the other hand,’’ Dave continued thoughtfully was Celluci began accusing coworkers of messing with his stuff, ’’it was a lot quieter while you were gone.’’
’’You buying one of those, Mike?’’
’’What?’’ Celluci looked up from the paperback book display and scowled at his partner.
’’Well, you've been staring at it for the last five minutes. I thought that maybe you were in the mood for a little light reading.’’ Dave reached past his head at the blond giant cradling a half-naked brunette on the cover. ’’Sail into Destiny by Elizabeth Fitzroy. Looks like a winner. You think you know a guy... ’’ He flipped the book over ’’... think you know his tastes, and then you find out about something like this. You figure Captain Roxborough and this Veronica babe are going to get together in the end or is that a given?’’
’’Jesus H. Christ, we're in a mall! Someone might see you.’’ Celluci grabbed the book and shoved it back on the shelf.
’’Hey, you were the one who stopped to browse,’’ Dave protested as the two detectives started walking again. ’’You were the one... ’’
’’I know the author, all right? Now drop it.’’
’’You know an author? I didn't even think you knew how to read.’’ They watched a crowd of teenage boys saunter past and into a sports store. ’’So what's she like? Does she live in Toronto?’’
He's a vampire. He lives in Vancouver. ’’I said, drop it.’’
There were bits of Vicki scattered all over the city and whenever he ran into one, her old neighborhood, her favorite coffee shop, a hooker she'd busted, it gouged the scabs off his ability to cope. Now, he was finding bits of Fitzroy as well and every copy of the book he saw ground salt into the wounds. Fortunately, he'd gotten better at hiding the pain.
He'd even convinced the police psychologist that he was fine.
’’... and the Stanley Park murders continue in Vancouver. Another known drug dealer has been found by the teahouse at Ferguson Point. As in the three previous cases, the head appears to have been ripped from the body and sources in the Coroner's Office report that, once again, the body has been drained of blood.’’
Celluci's grip tightened around the aluminum beer can, crushing the thin metal. His attention locked on the television, he didn't notice the liquid dripping over his hand and onto the carpet.
’’The police remain baffled and one of the officers staking out the teahouse during the time the murder occurred freely admitted having seen nothing. Speculation in the press ranges from the likelihood of a powerful new gang arriving in the Vancouver area and removing competition, to the possibility of an enraged sasquatch roaming the park.
’’In Edmonton... ’’
Drained of blood. Celluci shut off the sound and stared unblinkingly at the CBC news anchor who silently continued the National without him. Not a sasquatch. A vampire. A new, young vampire learning to feed. Rip off the heads to hide the first frenzied teeth marks. Fitzroy was strong enough. Leave dead drug dealers in the park to make a point. He could see Vicki all over that.
’’God-damned vampire vigilantes,’’ he muttered through teeth clenched so tightly his temples ached. Back before Fitzroy, Vicki had realized that law was one of the few concepts holding chaos at bay. As much as she might have wanted to behead a few of the cock-roaches that walked on two legs in the city's gutters, she'd never have taken matters into her own hands. Fitzroy had changed that even before he'd changed her.
Vicki was alive, but what had she become? And why didn't he care?
Celluci didn't want to face the answer to either question. The TV continued to flicker silently in the corner as he cracked open a bottle of Scotch and methodically set about searching for oblivion.
Time passed but only because there was nothing to stop it.
She stood outside for a while and watched his shadow move against the blinds. There was a tightness in her chest and, if she didn't know herself better, she'd say she was frightened. ’’Which is ridiculous.’’
Wiping her palms against the thighs of her jeans, the movement dictated no longer by need but by habit, she started up the driveway. Waiting would only make it worse.
Her knock, harder than she'd intended for she still didn't have complete control of her strength, echoed up and down the quiet street. She listened to him approach the door, counted his heartbeats as he turned the knob, and tried not to flinch back from the sudden spill of light.
She felt as though she hadn't heard her name spoken for a very long time and couldn't hear his reaction over the sound of her own. With an effort, she kept her voice more or less even. ’’You don't seem especially surprised to see me.’’
’’I heard about what happened last night to Gowan and Mallard.’’
’’No more than they deserved. No more than I owed them.’’
’’The paper says they'll both live.’’
The night flashed for an instant in her smile. ’’Good. I want them to live with it.’’ She rubbed her palms against her jeans again, this time wiping clean old debts. ’’Can I come in?’’
Celluci stepped back from the door. She was thinner, paler, and her hair was different. It took a moment for the most obvious change to sink in.
’’I don't need them anymore.’’ This smile was the smile he remembered. ’’Good thing, too.’’
Closing the door behind her, he felt like an amputee who'd woken up to find his legs had grown back. He couldn't seem to catch his breath and it took a moment to identify the strange sense of loss he was feeling with an absence of pain. He almost heard the click as the piece that had been gouged from his life slid back into place.
’’You know the potential problems with the RP never even occurred to me that night in the lab,’’ she continued, leading the way into the kitchen. ’’Can you imagine a vampire with no night sight? Biting by braille, God, what a mess that would be.’’
’’You're babbling,’’ he said shortly as she turned to face him.
’’I know. Sorry.’’
They stared at each other for a long moment and a number of things that needed to be said were discussed in the silence.
’’Henry owes you an apology,’’ Vicki told him at last. ’’He never mentioned to you that vampires can't stay together after the change is complete.’’
’’It's been fourteen months.’’
She spread her hands. ’’Sorry. I got off to a slow start.’’
Celluci frowned. ’’I'm not sure I understand. You can't ever see him again?’’
’’He says I won't want to. That we won't want to.’’
’’The bastard could've told me.’’ He dragged a hand up through his hair. ’’Henry wanted me to tell you that a year is a small slice of eternity.’’ Taking a deep breath, he wondered what he would've done had their positions been reversed. ’’Never mind. Henry doesn't owe me anything. And the son of a bitch already apologized.’’
Vicki looked doubtful. ’’Yeah? Well, I'm not buying into his tragic separation bullshit even if we can't share a territory.’’ Brave words, but she wasn't so sure that they meant anything, that her new nature would allow a bond to remain without the blood.
’’I'm not giving you up without a fight.’’
Henry turned away from the lights of a new city and sadly shook his head. ’’You'll be fighting yourself, Vicki. Fighting what you are. What we are.’’
’’So ?’’ Her chin rose. ’’I don't surrender, Henry. Not to anything.’’
’’He's got a cellular phone and he just bought a fax machine, for chrissake;I think we'll manage to stay in touch.’’
’’Really?’’ Celluci propped one hip on the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. ’’You never called me.’’
’’I wasn't able to until just recently, things were a little chaotic at first. And then... ’’ She rubbed a pale finger along the edge of his kitchen table, glad she'd lost the ability to blush. ’’And then, I was afraid.’’
He'd never heard her admit to being afraid of anything before. ’’Afraid of what?’’
She looked up and he found his answer in the desperate question in her eyes.
’’Vicki... ’’ He made her name a gentle accusation. Couldn't you trust me ?
’’Well, I'm different now and... What are you laughing at?’’
How long had it been since he laughed like that? About fourteen months, he suspected. ’’If that's all you're worried about;Vicki, you've always been different.’’
The question faded, replaced by hope. ’’So you don't mind?’’
’’I'd be lying if I said it won't take getting used to, but, no, I don't mind.’’ Mind? There wasn't much he couldn't get used to if it meant having her back beside him.
’’It won't be the same.’’
’’Henry says it can be better.’’
’’I don't care what Henry says.’’
’’It won't be settling down and raising a family like you wanted.’’
He slid off the counter. ’’Don't tell me what I wanted. I wanted you.’’
She opened her arms, her teeth a very white invitation against the curve of her mouth.
He met her halfway.
They hit the floor together.
Two hours and twenty-three minutes later, Vicki pillowed her head on his shoulder and stared up at the kitchen ceiling. She'd thought that over the last fourteen months she'd come to terms with what she'd become, vampire, child of darkness, nightwalker, but she hadn't, not really, not until her teeth had met through a fold of Mike Celluci's skin and she'd drawn his life back into hers. She licked at a drop of sweat and could feel his breath, warm against the top of her head, his scent wrapped around her.
’’What're you thinking of?’’ he asked sleepily.
Vampire. Child of Darkness. Nightwalker.
Reaching up, she brushed the curl of hair back off his forehead and smiled. ’’I was just thinking about the next four hundred and fifty years.’’