Author: PeekabooFang PM
After 172 years locked away in her coffin, the vampire Josette DuPres walks free again. What happens when she encounters the possible reincarnation of her lost love, Barnabas Collins, tutor to young David Collins? Obvious AU, with lots of gender reversal.Rated: Fiction T - English - Horror/Romance - Chapters: 19 - Words: 81,282 - Reviews: 40 - Favs: 21 - Follows: 17 - Updated: 05-15-13 - Published: 05-16-12 - id: 8123525
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The following morning Josette entered the basement humming an old French ditty about love and folly.
She had spent her first night in bed in almost two centuries.
In bed! She still felt the imprint of the pillow on her cheek, the malleable mattress beneath her and warmth from the blankets around her. The sweet smell of jasmine that still clung mysteriously to her bed sheets, lo these many, many years.
She sneered happily at the sight of her coffin. However, she raised a perplexed eyebrow at the stiff back of Eliot Stokes, busying himself with his equipment on the table. Usually he greeted her with every suave civility. Now, there was nothing but silence and that stiff back.
"Good morning?" Josette offered in a singsong, questioning voice.
A long pause, then a frosty "good morning" in return. He still did not turn.
Full of too many whirling, merry preoccupations to worry herself too much about the professor's chilled attitude, Josette gracefully lounged in the armchair Willie had placed in the basement for Josette's use during the experiments, his mistress now stretching her limbs luxuriantly like a cat.
"Ah, Professor! What unappreciated bliss it is to sleep at night like the rest of the world, in my own bed! You know, Barnabas, Willie, and I did quite the job restoring the rooms—it's just how I kept it when I first arrived in America."
"When you were engaged to the original Barnabas Collins," Stokes interposed mechanically.
"Yes," she whispered out of smiling lips, eyes wandering dreamily to the ceiling.
She jumped as Stokes slammed a beaker down on the table, narrowly escaping shattering it. Startled, she turned and studied him.
He was leaning forward on both hands against the table, staring down doggedly, his breathing ragged. She couldn't see his face.
"What game do you think you are playing, mademoiselle?"
She frowned. "Game? What game? Explain yourself at once, Professor! Your mood today is just"—
"The game I am referring to," he said with icy precision, "Is the one you are playing with the current Barnabas Collins." He whipped around, staring at her with fiery accusation. "Do not think me an imbecile, Josette. I have seen your dead fiancé's portrait above the mantelpiece upstairs, like a shrine. What, do you think you can replace him with a newer model?"
A lesser man, a man less wounded and frenzied, would have shrank from the sight of Josette uncoiling herself from the chair and facing him. Her eyes were poison.
The serpentine tone of metal was back in her voice. "Do not dare to speak of Barnabas Collins—either Barnabas Collins—in such a crude manner ever again. I only spare your life now in tribute to the services you've rendered me. But that gives you no right to question my motives, or make it your business what I do, who I see, in my personal life. Understood?" She quivered with rage, clenching her fists.
Stokes did not flinch. His temper merely rose. "Forgive me, mademoiselle, but it is my business! Everything to do with you is my business."
She snorted disbelievingly. "What gall! Why, because I'm your pet project? You are on the brink of curing me of my affliction for good, and that gives you the right to order me about as if I were a prized laboratory mouse?"
For once Stokes stammered, at a loss. "No. No! I…I don't mean it in that way. What I mean is…your…your movements concern me because…." He swallowed, trying to rule the emotions he knew were naked in his face. "Because I care." He looked pained, as if the confession had been surgically removed from him.
Josette stared at him with her wide magnificent eyes, her lips parted in surprise.
Then she laughed harshly. "Oh, Professor! Don't tell me you fancy yours truly as anything more than a patient. Oh, you poor, delusional man. Of course I suspected you of having less than purely detached, scientific thoughts about me, but I assumed it was just friendly flirtation!"
"Am I really so amusing?" He asked in a low voice.
She pursed her lips, studying him once more. "Don't be so gauche, Professor. I admire you very much as a great mind, and I appreciate, truly appreciate all you've done for me, truly. Why, as I've said before, I'm a new woman now, aren't I? All thanks to you."
"That could change at any moment," came the quiet reply.
Josette stiffened, narrowing her eyes. This time Stokes betrayed no emotion, none.
She gritted her teeth and growled. She grabbed him by his tie, shaking him. "Threaten me, will you? You miserable old fool. I could end you in an instant if I so desired, I do retain that much 'supernatural power', as you so call it." She released him, chuckling darkly as she took him in. "How pathetic you are, trying to intimidate me. As if you could. You have so little power and control over me you are but a worm beneath my heel. That's what you are, Professor. And don't you ever forget it. And don't," she held up one exquisitely shaped finger. "Don't ever forget the difference between you—tired, old, ridiculous as you are—and Barnabas Collins is a gap as wide as the sky."
The beast had not fully sheathed its claws after all.
She looked at him. He was shattered, shaking, his eyes glassy and indescribable.
And she looked at the beakers on the table.
She swore under her breath and massaged her forehead.
When she lifted her head again it was as if the animal hatred had been erased by magic. The enchantingly grateful girl was back again, imploring him with her melting eyes.
"Dear, dear Professor," she spoke in the sweetest tones man had ever heard. A hand as soft as a fluttering butterfly touched his arm. Her chin trembled almost unperceptively—almost. "Forgive me. Oh, do forgive me! I…I can't even guess what came over me." With the unique artlessness that excused such maudlin gestures, she wrung her hands as she glanced sadly about her. "I…I suppose I'm not nearly as cured of my evil as I thought. Sometimes…sometimes I still feel it grip me until I cannot resist its lure. Oh, dear man," that delicate hand squeezed his arm. "Forget what I have said, and let us be friends again."
She was so imploringly vulnerable as she looked up at him with her beseeching doe eyes that any man, lesser or not, would have forgiven and forgotten at once.
Professor Timothy Eliot Stokes was not any man.
Yet his voice, if not his expression, gentled as he stared at anything but directly into her eyes. "Friends again, Josette." He turned back to the table.
He didn't see the satisfied curl of her upper lip as she sat back down.
And she didn't see how hard his eyes were. She didn't see how the hand holding the syringe shook.
That evening, Barnabas joined Liz and Roger for an after-dinner drink in the drawing room at Collinwood.
It was a lazy evening, the kind that rolled out satisfactorily with the sunset, with each party in easy, garrulous moods.
They were helped by their surprisingly happy topic: young David's progress.
"Really, Barnabas," Elizabeth said smiling from her armchair, "You've done absolute wonders with your charge."
"Yes," Roger assented, filling Barnabas's glass for him. "Even I have to admit the boy's become almost tolerable these days."
"Now, really, Roger," Liz scolded.
"I know, I know. But you must admit in the past our David was a churlish, wild devil on his best days. Yet," he shrugged, "I haven't heard a word in weeks about Stefan, and David's even gotten some color in those wan cheeks of his."
"Well, yes, you know," Barnabas said humbly, "That's only because I'm such a natural outdoorsman and make him learn half his lessons out in the open fields. With the coming winter weather, I should probably curtail that policy just a bit."
"Nonsense!" Roger slapped him on his shoulder. "Keep up whatever it is you're doing! You're working marvels with the boy."
Barnabas bit his tongue before he could point out that the best way to make David even better adjusted would be if Roger himself took some responsibility for the boy. Instead, Barnabas changed the subject, turning to Liz.
He lowered his voice with his sensitive question. "Speaking of burgeoning relationships, Liz, if you don't mind my asking, how do you feel about"—
"Paul's burgeoning relationship with our daughter?" Liz finished for him wearily. She sighed and shifted in her seat, crossing her leg over her knee as she stared at some distant point to her side. "I simply don't know what to make of Paul anymore. I had long wrapped my head around the idea he was a shallow, good-for-nothing cheat, and now this." She squinted, an assessing gleam in her eyes. "I never thought I'd say this, but I actually believe he genuinely cares for Carolyn, and genuinely wants to make things up to her."
"However," Roger added in a suspicious vein, "Let us not forget how strangely he's been acting since her return."
Barnabas frowned. "How so?"
Roger smirked. "I don't suppose you'd have noticed, seeing as your attention these days seems to be divided between improving my son and improving your relations with a certain lovely young neighbor on the grounds, but our Paul has become a bit of a shut-in up in his room when he's not spending time with his daughter."
Liz nodded glumly. "Yes. He sits for hours at a time up there. Sometimes I hear him pacing, and mumbling something under his breath—almost reciting something, I should say. Notice he skipped dinner? My suspicion is he's up there doing so even now."
"Have you asked him about it?" Barnabas inquired.
"Oh, yes. He just brushes me off with some excuse about trying to sort out some of his bills, keeping track of the numbers out loud."
"Wouldn't surprise me," Roger mumbled into his glass. "That man's always been drowning in debt."
Mrs. Johnson tapped on the door, and at Elizabeth's summons peeked in. She was swallowing a coy grin. "Miss DuPres is here to visit." She exchanged a knowing glance with Elizabeth, who in turn gave same to Roger.
Then they all glanced at the sheepish Barnabas.
"Show her in, Mrs. Johnson," Liz said through her own small smile.
The vigor of rosy red upon her cheeks, Josette stepped with lively, sure grace into the room, beaming graciously to all assembled. "Elizabeth, Roger! I hope I do not intrude?" She lowered her eyelids as she looked sideways at Barnabas. She murmured his name in tender acknowledgement.
Brother and sister agreed in silent, mutual amusement that this was their cue to exit.
Liz took Roger's hand he offered her as she stood. "You intrude not at all, Josette," Liz assured her. "However, Roger and I need to go over the accounts in his office. If you'll excuse us, I'm sure Barnabas wouldn't mind entertaining you in our absence."
Casting a knowing, joking glance at the slightly rueful tutor, Roger and Elizabeth made their goodbyes and withdrew.
Josette sauntered with kittenish coquetry toward her love where he stood by the fireplace. She ran a fond hand over his cane he was faithfully holding on to. "I see you meant what you said about keeping this with you always."
"I always keep my word," Barnabas whispered huskily in her ear. He massaged the back of her neck.
She closed her eyes as she leaned her head back, practically purring. "Good. I like a man I can trust."
"Josette," Barnabas said, his tone energetic and excited like a young boy's. "Why don't we go somewhere tomorrow? Just you and me? Or maybe take a long weekend and go to Boston?"
Josette looked up at him in surprise. "Really?"
"Yes, what's stopping us?"
At that, Josette bit her lip as her eyes darted about the room. She thought. Why not? But what if—no, she was doing far too well to fear any setback. Yes? However, maybe she shouldn't stray too far away from the professor and her coffin, just on the small chance something did go slightly wrong. And yet—
Josette looked once more into Barnabas's face. That was all she needed to decide.
"Yes," she smiled.
He returned her smile as he bent down to meet her kiss.
But then she thoughtlessly cast her eyes down to her hand still stroking his cane.
And a terror unlike the many harrowing frights she had experienced before shot through her.
She gasped and turned away with jarring speed, smothering her hand in her sweater's sleeve.
"Josette!" Barnabas said in alarm. "Darling, what is it?"
Her voice shook, and she would not face him. "Nothing. Nothing. Nothing, nothing at all, Barnabas. My love, my sweet. I…I'm not feeling well, that is all. I…I have to go now!" Her next words burst out in a heart-wrenching sob. "Please don't follow me!"
She tore away from him and ran out of the drawing room, out of the house, leaving the door open, where the harsh night wind blew it banging against the wall.
"Josette!" Barnabas raced to the doorway, watching her retreat. "Josette!"
Willie was dusting out some of the cobwebs in the area by Josette's now neglected coffin when he heard the basement door fly open above, and heard the sickly sound of panting breath. "Willie!" a thin, scratchy voice called.
Perplexed, Willie advanced toward the stairs, where uneven, clumsy steps were quick descending.
He cried out at the figure that reached the bottom.
A cadaverous looking old woman, hair tangled and white, face wrinkled and eyes yellow, stared at him out of Josette's clothing.
"Willie," she croaked out frailly, her dull eyes brimming with tears. Shaking, apparently requiring all her strength, she held up her hand with the ruby ring on the now withered, unrecognizable finger. Her voice was twisted with age. "I…I noticed my hand…."
Willie rushed toward her, first to support her, then unwillingly recoiling from the sight of her. "Jo…Josette?" Tears stung his own panicked eyes. "What the hell happened to you?"
She shook the yellowing, age-spotted head. "I don't know."
Closer to her now, Willie recoiled anew as he saw that her fangs were out, apparently out of her control. She suddenly clutched at his shirt collar helplessly.
"Save me, Willie. Save me!"
Her watery, unfocused eyes widened. "Blood!" She hissed. "Oh, how I have never needed blood more than I need it now! Willie, raid a blood bank if you must, but get me all the blood you can find."
Whether because her vampiric nature had reasserted itself more strongly than ever, tightening her psychic grip on her slave, or whether it was Willie's own empathy for the broken elderly visage before him, he nodded instantly. "Yeah. Yeah. I'll go do that. Right now."
Without another word he sped upstairs, breathing heavily, almost as frenzied as his mistress.
For a number of agonizing minutes, Josette tiredly roamed about the cold, hidden home of her coffin, groaning to herself as she felt her renewed mortal life force slip away as she grew more decrepit and reverted more rapidly back into an elderly parody of a vampire. "Why, why….?" She asked herself in monotonous intervals, more heartbreaking than if she had sobbed openly.
At last a voice on the stairs answered her. "Because I willed it so."
As quickly as she could in her altered state, Josette turned to see Professor Stokes staring down at her with grim stoicism, hand behind his back like a grotesque imitation of a butler.
"You," she snarled, suddenly understanding. She held up her aged hands. "You have done this to me!"
"Yes," he answered matter-of-factly, calmly descending the stairs. He faced her. "I have."
"Why?" She curled her emaciated, bony fingers, baring them as she would have claws.
Josette finally saw the true extent of his misery, painted plainly in the eyes that met hers. "I am not a man who is easily swayed emotionally. But when I am, Madame..." She thought she saw tears. His voice was thick. "When I am, I am poisoned for good. So I have discovered. I loved you with all the power there is in me to love. Yet as an 'old, ridiculous' man, I soon found out how little you truly valued me. How little you comprehended my abilities to destroy you."
All at once he whipped out from behind his back a cross.
It was too much. Coupled with her frailty, Josette cried out, covering her eyes in vein as she cowered from the sight.
He advanced perseveringly until she backed up against her coffin. "Get inside," the hollow voice ordered her.
She had no choice but to comply.
He loomed over her, one hand holding the cross to her face, the other on the coffin's lid. "For all I want to, I cannot kill you. Old and ridiculous as you now are, the hold you have over my heart still beats. I will chain you here again, Josette DuPres. Once more you will be deprived of sunlight. Once more you will be deprived of your Barnabas." That name came out chokingly from the painful, hateful emotions it evoked in the professor. With tired finality in his slow movements, Stokes closed the lid over Josette's screams.