Disclaimer: As far as the author of the following story is concerned creating anything that can be classified as fanfiction includes an implied statement, that the creator of the abovementioned has in no type or form a claim as to the ownership of the rights to the intellectual property their work is based on. The story below is in no way intended as an exception of the rule.
Special thanks go to my beta, Marlana. If it wasn't for you this story would be nowhere as good.
Summary: After Deep Dark there are decisions to be made. And the fate of everyone can depend on what they decide.
Henry was torn. More than he ever recalled being. And his aching heart, broken after last night into so many pieces that he doubted that even countless years or his nature would be able to heal it, was making it even harder for him to think or reach any decision.
Just last night he caught himself frozen on a thought he hadn't had since he had been left alone after his bond with Christina was broken. He wondered how easy it would be to face his fear and wait outside for the sunrise to take away all his pain and troubles along with his life.
He didn't, of course. He knew that while the pain might not subside right away it would fade in time and his hard-won survival instincts told him that escaping into death was not a good choice. Only as long as he was alive could he eventually regain whatever shreds of hope there were left for him. Perhaps not in this century, or even the next, but eventually.
Changing territories might help the process, he knew that. Starting anew, cutting old ties binding him to his old life would allow him to gain much needed distance. But that was the one thing he couldn't bring himself to do.
He kept telling himself that it was the fact that his honour didn't allow him to surrender a compromised territory. There were moments when he actually believed that, despite the fact that it went against all definitions of 'compromised' and that he had no way of knowing if the demon was even still in the territory. His presence hadn't been discovered and if there was anything – anyone actually keeping the demon here it was the one person he wished he could take with him.
His attempts to convince himself that cutting that particular tie, the one he probably needed to let go of most if he was to ever bring himself to go on were failing, as this was the tie he dreaded severing the most.
He shook his head.
He couldn't possibly care that much, it was physically impossible. Ergo, it must have been the territory issue. He reached for his phone and selected one of the names from the address book. After the second ring, he heard the person on the other side pick up.
"Augustus, there is a slight problem." He informed the black man before he had a chance to utter a word.
"What kind of problem? Something wrong with the move?"
"You might say that. The territory has been compromised." He closed his eyes once again trying to fend off the feeling he was bending the truth almost to the breaking point to support excuses he made to himself.
"I'll see if I can speed everything up in Vancouver then. If someone found out about you, you'd need to leave as soon as possible. If you can find a safe place to stay for the next day, I'll have a plane ticket for you the next night. Toronto will have to be 'quarantined' for the next decade. Can you..."
"It's not the kind of trouble you can solve that easily, Augustus." He cut in as soon as he could. "I think I can deal with it, but I'll need a bit of time. Can the move be postponed a few months?"
"This must be serious. I know you wouldn't have called otherwise. Once you are exposed it's better if you just disappear from the scene and let us humans take care of the matter."
"Not this time. The matters are too complicated." He couldn't help but feel guilty from bending the rules and definitions to suit his needs but it had to be done. Or so he kept telling himself.
"These matters count as emergency situations. That's what we learn to deal with as soon as we learn to talk."
"Thank you for your concern, Augustus, but it's my mess and I need to deal with it myself. Will you be able to halt everything for a few months?"
"I should be. But I really don't want to hear the news of a real vampire in Toronto being killed with you playing the key role in the story the next time I turn on the news."
"Thank you. And I promise if things get out of hand and this gets me killed I'll try to go with as little public attention as possible. Goodbye."
He heard a shocked silence on the other side of the line before he disconnected. Then he sunk into a chair, feeling completely drained by the conversation. But it had to be done if he wanted to stay to help Vicki.
The thought registered and he hid his face in his hands as his heart tightened painfully. It was increasingly hard not to admit to himself that the demon wasn't his responsibility as long as he didn't try to expose him or pose a direct threat to him and everything he was doing, he was doing for a woman who didn't even reciprocate his feelings.
He shook his head at his own foolishness for going against something he wasn't even prepared to fight. Whatever experience he had with fighting demons ended at preventing them from coming into this world.
Closing his eyes and clasping his hands, he said a quiet prayer giving himself and Vicki to the protection of the Lord, asking for the gift of Wisdom from the Holy Spirit to show him a way out of this situation.
To some extent his prayer must have been heard and treated as a high priority in Heaven as shortly after he ended the prayer his thoughts wandered to the one person he knew might be able to offer, if not help, then at least some good advice. He would be old by now, and Henry hadn't heard from him for a few years so he had no way of knowing in what mental condition he was but if there was one person he could trust to know what to do it was him.
That however was a step he shouldn't make alone. He stood up and retrieved his coat and car keys. Seeing Vicki right now would probably tear whatever was left of his heart so much that he didn't know if he would be able to take the pain. But if this was about him he would be packing right now to leave for Vancouver.
He silently closed the door behind him.
Vicki was a mess the whole day. There was no denying it. She tried to do exactly that for a good three hours before finally surrendering so she could say that with a fair dose of certainty.
Once she left Henry's apartment, she managed to focus solely on her desperate wish to find herself back in the sanctuary of her home (of which, she realised belatedly, she never even thought that way before). Once there she barely made it though the door before collapsing in sobs.
For over an hour, she tried to calm herself in vain. Half way through that time she felt she no longer had any tears left but her eyes burnt as if on fire and she still was helpless against the uncontrollable shaking of her body.
She had been through a lot in her life. She was always the toughest and the hardest of them all. She couldn't function any other way. And prided herself that after everything she'd been through, she could handle just about anything life could throw at her without as much as batting an eyelid. Then in the hardest moment of her life, after making a decision nothing in life prepared her for, where every choice was something she could hardly live with, the two people she needed most right now, abandoned her.
Well, it wasn't an abandonment per se, they both made it sound like she had a choice but neither of them seemed willing to accept the only decision she could possibly make. And that reduced her to the little girl, whose father announced that he's leaving with his lover because he was tired of coming home every day to an overcooked meal and a whining brat. It wasn't the ex-cop who fell to her knees and choked on her tears, sinking in despair but that very girl who cried herself to sleep night after night.
Once she managed to collect herself to an extent, she got up and called Coreen. After all it was the girl and not her that just lived (and almost didn't) through a demon possession. And it was her who was probably going through the most trying moments imaginable.
It took the young Goth a moment to pick up.
"Hello?" It seemed the strength she displayed before was now completely gone.
"Vicki..." Her voice was a pale reminder of itself and given that she had surely known who was calling before she picked up, the PI didn't know how to take the girl's almost questioning tone when speaking her name.
"How are you holding up?" Vicki asked knowing perfectly well that if the question was directed at her she would be out for blood. She paused. Bad choice of words. Right now she didn't need anything that might stir thoughts of vampires. Or homicide detectives for that matter, even though the last one came only as an afterthought and for some reason didn't seem to matter as much. She forced herself to focus on her assistant.
"As well as could be expected. I..." Coreen's voice broke. "I never thought I'd say this but right now I feel I can't take any more supernatural stuff. Some Goth I am, huh?"
"I don't think any Goth had to go through quite that much. There is such a thing as an overdose, you know."
"Yeah. Very nearly fatal overdose."
"The important thing is the 'nearly' part. You are alive and that's what matters most."
"No. You make it sound as if it was another close call. I could deal with a close call. It's the fact that my life was the price for allowing him into the world... It's not that I could have been dead. It's that I should have been."
"Don't go there, Coreen. There is nothing worse than wishing you were dead. And that's probably exactly what the demon wants you to do. He would have gotten out one way or another and he knows we are the ones who might fight against him. So he did his best to weaken us."
"You think so?" The girl sniffed.
"Yeah. No doubt about it. But I'll understand if you want to lay off the supernatural stuff for now."
"Wouldn't that be exactly what Astaroth wants as well, though? Besides, I may feel like that now but in a few weeks I'd probably miss it all. After all, there is more to the supernatural than demons, right?"
"Coreen, you are..." There wasn't anything she could say that would give the girl justice. "Take as long as you need. As far as I'm concerned this was an accident at the workplace. The insurance company might disagree but the way I see it you are allowed a paid leave for as long as it takes you to recover."
"Won't you need me though?"
"What I need is to know you are peacefully recovering so I can be free to worry, pardon, take care of everything else on my plate."
"You sure? I could..." Vicki didn't let her finish.
"Yeah. I promise I'll call you if it turns out I need a hand but I should be fine. Maybe you have some family you'd like to visit or something you'd like to do?"
"Nah, that's fine. I'll meet some old school friends perhaps, maybe go shopping."
"Alright. Call me if you need anything. Or if you just feel like talking to someone."
"I'll be going now. I really need to do some shopping."
"I won't be holding you then. Bye, Coreen."
The girl disconnected and Vicki sunk to her couch, face in her hands, as the awareness of being completely alone against a rampaging demon lord sunk in. She really hated her life right now.
She didn't know how long she sat there. At some point the fact that she was getting hungry registered so she went to the kitchen to make herself something to eat.
She took her time raiding the fridge and cabinets for products and then turning what she found into an impromptu salad. She didn't even pay attention to what she put into it but keeping busy seemed to be working for her so she prolonged it for as long as she could.
The final effect wasn't something that would qualify as edible but after grimacing at the first bite she frowned and continued eating. With all the problems she had on her hands, a bad salad didn't even register. But no matter how slow she ate she eventually needed to face reality.
It was just her luck that in this case the so called reality involved either impending battle with a demon or witnessing, as Henry put it, all hell breaking loose. Her heart tightened painfully as her mind wandered once again to the vampire and she quickly pushed her thoughts in a different direction.
She couldn't afford distractions or additional problems right now.
Slowly she made her way to her computer and typed 'demons' into the browser.
Scrolling down the offers of half-priced Halloween costumes and a self-help page for people terrorised by their boss she concentrated on things that might be remotely useful. Then she briefly looked at and dismissed a few dozens of role-playing games pages and about twice as many concerning computer games. On the tenth page of results she finally managed to find a brief historical summary of superstitions.
With a resigned sigh, she decided to try the word 'exorcism'.
After two pages of movie reviews, she seriously started to suspect that at least one of the sponsors of Google lived in a very hot place and had a phone number with a disturbing amount of number six's.
Nevertheless she kept trying even if the results she was getting were rather poor.
She went though the day on coffee, desperation and bad salad, the amount of which seemed to increase proportionally to the realisation of how awful it actually tasted. When it finally started getting dark, making it virtually impossible for her to keep working, she went to switch on the lights but after she had she didn't return to her research.
Instead she poured herself a drink and sat in her chair, staring into space and trying hard not to allow the creeping resignation to enter her thoughts.
She sat there for a while, still not having drunk more than one initial sip. She had to be strong, she reminded herself. She would be damned before she let any demon take over the world. Of course, her sarcastic mind supplied immediately, this was the one situation where things might go a touch too literally.
But she would not give up. Vicki Nelson never gave up, come hell or high water, the former being more likely.
She instinctively tried to tighten her fists, shattering the glass in her hand in the process. She hardly even registered that though, noting only the sound of breaking glass. She had much more important things to worry about.
She never noticed a shadow that breezed through the room until she felt her hair being brushed from her neck. She stiffened slightly, refusing to admit to being startled. With some surprise, she noted that an unfamiliar golden medal was now on her neck.
"I know vampire ideas of savoir vivre might be a bit different but could you at least consider a greeting before going for a girl's neck?" She was proud she managed to maintain a rather untroubled tone.
She heard a chuckle behind her and suddenly Henry drifted into view on her side.
"It's a holy medal of Saint Jude, Patron Saint of desperate cases. Given the circumstances I believe his protection and help might be useful."
"Well, at least you put some thought into the parting gift."
His eyes met hers.
"It's not a parting gift, Victoria. In fact, I have postponed my departure. After I gave it some thought, I had to admit you were right. Something needs to be done about the situation and you can't very well be burdened with it alone."
She was torn between lashing out at him and pulling him into an embrace for not leaving her alone with this mess. Unable to make up her mind, she opted for a compromise and didn't move at all. After a moment she saw worry appear in his eyes.
She shook her head unsure if she did it to fend off the flood of conflicting emotions or in some vague reply.
"Given everything that has accumulated itself I'm beginning to doubt if there is anything any of us can do. Perhaps it's just one of those cases when you just need to fight till you have nothing more left."
"You aren't the kind of person that calmly goes with a gloria victis scenario. It wouldn't match your name, now would it?" He smiled at her, the smile she had grown so used to that she couldn't imagine what it would be like when she wouldn't be able to see it anymore.
"Now would be the time when you tell me you actually have some idea what to do."
"We'll just have to solve it one problem at a time. Starting with the most obvious." He reached down and took her hand. "May I?"
Only now did the pulsing pain in her palm register, creating a feeling as if her hand was on fire. She looked down taking in the fact that her hand was bloody, injured when the glass broke. A few shards were still embedded in the wound, either stopping the bleeding or injuring her further, she wasn't sure which. She was both surprised and horrified at the fact that her state a few moments ago prevented her from as much as registering the injury.
"Go ahead. You are more competent in this department anyway."
He brought her hand closer to him and stroked it a few times. She felt her muscles relax despite the pain she was increasingly more aware of. Then he carefully started removing the shards. It hurt even more and she couldn't stop herself from gasping in pain. She caught a compassionate look in his eyes and a second later he brought her palm to his lips. Suddenly the pain started fading, additionally clouded by a unique electrifying sensation.
She couldn't tell how long they stayed like that. She knew it couldn't have been more than a minute, maybe a couple of minutes but in that particular moment she felt as if they were locked in an eternity.
When he let go the sensation was gone, only the red lines on her palm testifying to the whole thing being more than her daydream. She did her best to collect herself quickly.
"Well, there goes an important lesson on not venting your frustrations on anything made of glass."
"If you need object lessons even in such matters I start to wonder how you managed to survive this long."
"Keep telling yourself that, if it gives you comfort. At least it sounds better than fools luck."
"Hey, you'd do well to remember that I have a few hours each day to exact some revenge without you being able to stop me." When Henry's smile died suddenly, her stomach tightened in realisation how close it hit to a territory she really didn't want to venture into. And carefully tried not to for the last weeks.
"I do remember that, Vicki." His voice was calm, barely above whisper and yet it tore her heart to hear him speak like that. She would much prefer anger or a snide reply. "I remember that as well as the fact that you don't even need the day to do what you will. I wish I could remember it less clearly."
She tried to keep a calm face but eventually she had to cover it with her hands, sighing.
"At least you recovered faster than Mike did after I shot him." She didn't even consider it as a strategy but his honest surprise at her words seemed to break him out of the demeanour.
"You shot Celluci." His voice carried so much disbelief that it was hard to decide if it was a question or a simple summary of her words.
"Yeah, when I was still on the force. We were on a case, cornering a suspect, the situation heated up and of course he had to move forward playing macho when I... Never mind. Let's just say we agreed not to talk about it again."
"If I recall, you had similar accusations when it came to me." A smile slowly found its way back onto his features. "But if your first choice of correcting character flaws of others is by use of lethal weapons then I think we might have pinpointed exactly why some are of the opinion that you aren't an easy person to be in a relationship with."
"I resent that." She shot back automatically.
"I thought you might."
"Of course. Only in Mike's case the use of weapon was potentially lethal."
"Should I take that as a compliment of my character?"
"Do you consider 'you might possibly not be a hopeless case' a compliment?"
Their conversation was slowly shifting to the banter she grew accustomed to and she allowed herself to relax a bit. Soon however her thoughts drifted back to the events that were pivotal points of the conversation and things that happened since. Her already fragile composure didn't hold and she again resorted to hiding her face in her hands hoping to conceal that fact at least to some extent.
Even to her it was obvious she wasn't very successful but she couldn't bring herself to care anymore. She felt Henry silently put a hand on her arm. It helped her calm herself enough to be able to speak. She shakily drew a breath.
"It's all my fault. Everything that happened. By what I did I gave him Coreen on a silver platter. And endangered you. He couldn't have made it clearer when he hurt you. It was his mocking of what I did. I just... I just wanted to keep you alive. Not..." She broke off and heard him sigh.
"You believed that magic could offer a solution to the problem. You are certainly not the first one to fall into that trap. I only hoped I would be able to spare you learning that lesson first-hand. To prevent you from being marked by darkness. If it helps you any then try to remember that I foolishly brought myself to Astaroth's attention over a century ago and Coreen had sought magic again, on her own, before she was possessed. Don't presume the blame is entirely on you, Victoria."
He took her hands and kneeled before her looking deep into her eyes.
"Vicki, you must understand one thing. With the life I lead, I'm forced to see those I care about pass away. Often much sooner than I expect. The only way I can stand it is by knowing that when they leave this world they find eternal peace and happiness. I already feared for your soul knowing your careless approach to faith. If you stain your soul with dark magic, whatever hope I might have starts fading. And knowing the risks you take and how fragile human life can be that leaves me with nothing but fear for you."
She sniffed trying to tell her heart to slow down and not betray her feelings to the vampire. She wasn't very successful so instead she decided to slip into her familiar stance. It took some effort but she finally succeeded.
"Call me fragile again and so help me, I'll see to that the last thing you see will be blinding sunlight." His features softened slightly but he didn't smile. "Henry, I promise, I'll never dabble in any rituals ever again. The last time cost me so much that despite everything else I'm not sure I'd be able to stand it."
He caressed her cheek with one hand, still holding her hands with the other, and for a second he looked as if he was going to say something. That moment passed though with his response remaining unspoken.
Vicki was the first one to break the silence.
"But explanations and promises aside the fact remains that we still have a demon on the loose to take care of."
"Yes, about that, Vicki. I wanted to discuss something with you. I know a person who may be able to help us."
"Then how come you never mentioned them before? Or done something sooner for that matter?"
"It's more complicated than that, Victoria." He sighed and locked eyes with her. "The person I'm talking about... I met him in the early fifties in Europe. He is something of an exorcist. A special agent of the Vatican to deal with things such as demons breaking loose. He was assigned to Eastern Europe at the time. Only to the atheistic system it seemed more likely for him to be a western spy than exorcist. When I heard about him being arrested, I decided to help him escape and get to Italy. I never intended for him to find out about me but apparently Heaven had different ideas."
"Don't tell me – you haven't seen him since and he'd jump at a chance of staking you if you were to meet again."
"No, actually. I will admit that his first reaction was rather... violent but after I didn't turn to dust on contact with Holy Water or at the sight of a crucifix he became willing to keep an open mind. Especially since he didn't have any other allies available. We travelled to Italy together sharing knowledge and exchanging stories from our lives. We've become sort-of friends. Later he went to the Vatican and I returned to Canada. Since then our contact has been purely an epistolary one. We would exchange a few letters and he'd send me copies of texts concerning vampires from the Vatican library every time he thought I might find them amusing. I haven't heard from him for the last three years though and at his age..."
"Ok, I can see why he might not be able to help us but shouldn't we at least check with him before going straight to the backup plan? And since we're at that, why not call him sooner?"
Henry looked at her without replying at first. His gaze held concern so deep that she was almost overwhelmed by it.
"There is more to it, Vicki." Again he took hold of her hands as his voice dropped nearly to a whisper. "You see, Herberto believes that no price is too high for defeating a demon and..." His gaze slid to the marks on her wrists.
Vicki's throat tightened as understanding dawned.
"So we might have a plan but more likely than not it will only work at a sacrifice of my life." She desperately wanted to sound matter-of-factly but she failed spectacularly.
"Herberto always had respect for life of others. I couldn't however rule out that he'd ask you to sacrifice your hands and lock you in a convent for the rest of your life to keep you safe. So I kept quiet about him."
Vicki was shocked silent for a long while. Then she gently squeezed his hands still tenderly holding hers, imagining what it would be like to be unable to do that anymore. What it would be like to be blind and unable to explore the world by touch. Without even registering what she was doing, she slid to the floor to sit next to him, rested her head on his shoulder and cried. He let go of her hands and held her without a word. She didn't know how long she cried, only that by the time she stopped she felt like she didn't have any tears left. With her puffy eyes, she looked at Henry.
"Call him. Or write him, or whatever. This is too big to be about me."
He still held her tightly as he quietly answered. "I will."
An hour passed and neither of them made any attempt to move. Finally Vicki spoke.
"So how do we contact that friend of yours?"
Henry sighed. "If time wasn't of the essence, here I could try writing him as usual. As it is...perhaps we could see if we can find a way to call him."
"We could?" She looked at his face. "I guess we could. I like the sound of that."
After working together for the rest of the night and then alone for most of the day Vicki had to admit to that she seriously underestimated the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church. Especially when it came to keeping some data secret.
When she finally thought she found something she was already so tired that instead of being happy about it she allowed her eyes a moment of rest by closing them and promptly fell asleep.
She awoke to a cool hand caressing her cheek.
"Good evening. I was wondering if I should try to wake the princess with a kiss."
"In case you haven't noticed, your grace, I'm not a princess."
"There are always ways to remedy that." He grinned at her. "Marrying a son of a king being one of the more popular."
"Oh very funny. Ever pondered the fact that a pencil, an item very common around offices like this one, is effectively a piece of sharpened wood?"
He chuckled. "Only you would contemplate a pencil as a murder weapon."
"I have to tell you, after years in homicide that certainly wouldn't be the strangest thing I've seen."
"Death threats aside, have you found anything?"
"Actually, yeah, I have. I don't know if it's any good though."
"We'll have to see then. Though perhaps a bit later. It's the middle of the night in Italy now."
"And that should stop us?"
"It might not be the best idea to wake a person you want to ask a favour of."
"Ok, you may have a point. But what do we do in the meantime?"
Henry surveyed her office. His blue eyes finally rested on her, studying her intently for a moment.
"Have you gotten any rest at all today? Or eaten for that matter?"
"There were more important things at hand."
"You won't be any use against Astaroth if you manage to completely exhaust yourself or starve to death. So order yourself some food. You are going to have some rest even if I need to force you to."
He watched her getting ready to argue and then resignedly reaching for the phone without saying a word. He picked up a notebook and a pencil from her desk, smirking briefly at the latter item, and began sketching her as she was ordering the food.
Before Vicki knew it, the time had passed and Henry was reaching for the phone.
"So what was the number you've found?" He asked and waited for her to dictate it.
"I'm not sure it's right." She provisioned after she did.
"If it's the best we have, it certainly won't hurt to try." He replied as he waited for someone to pick up. After a moment someone obviously did, as Henry started a fast conversation in Italian.
Given that her only contact with the language were a few swearwords Mike picked up from his grandfather and eventually learned not to use around her since she hated not understanding, Vicki had no idea what Henry was actually saying. He seemed to be asking for something though and trying to convince whoever it was on the other side of the line about something.
After a few minutes it seemed an agreement of some sort was reached and Henry once more waited silently. She was about to ask what the outcome of the conversation was when he spoke again.
"Salve care amice!"
Now basic Latin she did understand. What followed though was a one-sided dialogue in the strangest mixture of Latin, Italian, English and, she was pretty sure a couple other languages, she had ever heard or even thought possible. From the bits and pieces she could understand she figured out that Henry was describing their situation to someone.
As he finished the story, it became even harder for her to follow the conversation as the weight of it shifted apparently to the other party. She saw the vampire frown and ask a few questions in a concerned tone. He switched completely to Latin by then but Vicki soon discovered by listening to the rapid flow of words, that she was sadly completely out of her depth.
Finally she resigned herself to wait until the end of the call. It took Henry a while to finish and by the time he did she was slowly starting to lose her patience.
"You know, if you couldn't make up your mind about the language you could have picked something easier to understand. Like English perhaps."
"I've known Latin since I was a child, which I cannot say about modern English, and it's still the official language of Vatican." He answered half-heartedly, without the usual sparkle usually associated with their banter.
It didn't really take using her detective skills for Vicki to tell that something was bothering him.
"What is it, Henry? What did he tell you?"
He shook his head. "Give me a second, Vicki, alright?"
"I repeat, what is it? You don't usually get upset that easily. Or react this strongly." She pressed on.
"Nothing I wasn't able to foresee. Or shouldn't have expected." He shook his head. Looking into his eyes Vicki had a feeling she could see the burden of his age weighing heavily on him. "It's unbelievable how fast the years go by after a while."
"Perhaps the fact that we only wrote to each other is to blame. I was aware of the passing time but still some part of me maintained the image of the relatively young man I knew. Hearing him now... struggling for breath... I was aware that he had grown old by now but I suppose it was hearing him that made it so real. I barely recognised my own friend... It's a horrible feeling."
Vicki almost instinctively placed her hand on his shoulder. For a while neither of them said anything but words weren't really necessary. Then, when it seemed the tension finally eased a bit Vicki spoke.
"So what did he say? Will he help us?"
"Not directly. He said he isn't able to travel that far anymore and after hearing him I'd have probably known that even if he had kept quiet about his health."
"So we are on our own after all."
"Not quite. Herberto promised to see if he could find anything that could help us from where he is and while he's been retired for a few years now he says he still has connections he can use."
"Do you think he will find anything of use?"
"I can only assume. But he does have experience in this field that surpasses that of both of us monumentally."
"And if he does find something?"
"He promised to send you whatever he finds as soon as possible."
"Because the hours I keep make me the worst nightmare of couriers of any kind."
"Worst? Wouldn't that be the one where you explained why you were unavailable in daylight hours and then still expected them to come?"
"Having seen their looks the few times I did need something delivered that wouldn't have made that much of a difference."
"That bad huh? Anyway, do you have any idea when I can expect something, if there will be something to expect?"
"In a few days I'd think. Even if he will use air post we still need to give him some time to look into the matter."
"And what are we supposed to do in the meantime?"
"Research as well. Prepare ourselves. Gather some strength before what's coming. Pray."
"I guess we can do that."
It wasn't long after the conversation ended that Vicki's sight drifted to a framed photo on one of the cabinets. She felt a lump in her throat so she sat back in her chair and took a deep breath, trying to pretend she was fine.
"What's troubling you, Victoria?" Apparently she wasn't very successful.
"How do you deal with ruining somebody's entire life? With ruining your friend's entire life?"
"I assume this would be about Celluci?"
She nodded absently. "I warned him it could cost him his career. Back when we were dealing with the O'Connor case. But even if he said he would be able to take it I don't think he seriously considered it as a possibility. If there ever was one person that was more cut out to be a cop than I was, it's Mike. And I barely managed to get over not being on the force anymore. I'm afraid this is gonna break him."
"Do you know how he is dealing with it?"
She shook her head. "He hasn't called. I'm probably the last person he wants to hear from right now. But if I know him he is probably holding onto the thought that the review board might still reinstate him. If that fails though, and given how pissed Crowley was with him..."
"But not all hope is lost yet."
"Given the situation he's in, it might as well be." She looked up giving him a humourless smile. "In a way it's all your fault, you know."
Henry lifted his eyebrow. "Indeed? How so?"
"Mike's first contact with the supernatural was when I was trying to convince him that I wasn't crazy and that there really was a vampire in Toronto."
"It's really heartening to know how well my secret was kept."
"If you want to be precise that was the day before I met you in that club whatever-its-name-was. After our meeting in the park I tried to back out from that but the damage was apparently already done. The fact that before the case was over he managed to run face to face with our least favourite demon probably didn't help to reaffirm his scepticism."
"No, it probably didn't. But perhaps if he still has to face the board there is something that can be done."
"Mike won't be amused if he finds out someone vamped the review board for him to keep his job."
"Unless you could give me names and addresses of all the members of the board that would be a bit problematic anyway. I'm glad to hear you are not opposed to... certain flexibility, shall we say, when it comes to influencing the decision though."
"Henry, what are you planning?"
"To employ one of the greatest powers available for our purposes. Sometimes we cannot afford to be gentle." He grinned mischievously.
"Henry, that's not funny. What do you have in mind?"
"You will have to wait and see. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a few arrangements to make. And you could probably use some sleep. Goodnight." He sent her one last smile and suddenly disappeared from view.
Vicki growled in frustration and started wondering if she should be worrying about her former captain.
The next night Henry appeared only an hour after sunset but adamantly kept silent about his plans, sending her an occasional smile whenever she tried to push the matter. When she asked him outright what he was planning, he only smirked and then responded with all seriousness that whatever was to happen was out of his hands now.
His secretiveness didn't help her work, but given that she didn't really know what to look for anyway she couldn't really bring herself to feel guilty about it. Finally when the morning was approaching Henry looked at his pocket watch and suddenly asked her to accompany him as he needed to return to his apartment.
Sensing some kind of play she almost refused, just to see how he'd react but eventually decided not to risk it, taking a chance at satisfying her curiosity. Which only grew when it appeared that Henry decided to take a rather large detour near the redaction of the 'Toronto Sun' to pick up the early edition of the paper.
Confused she squinted at the newspaper he handed her, hoping her eyes would allow her to take a look at what it contained despite the lack of proper light. After straining her eyes to the point of impossibility she finally resigned herself to waiting until they arrived at Henry's condo.
Almost as soon as he closed the door behind them and turned on the lights, she looked at the front page. And stilled. From the paper a little girl looked at her, smiling. A bit below her, there was an old photo of Mike wearing uniform. Above the heading was screaming in bold black letters 'Who will save the saviour?'
Vicki forced herself to tear her eyes from the paper.
"There is nothing like a bit of public pressure if you want to achieve your ends." He took the paper from her and started skimming the article.
"How did you...?"
"I just made a few phone calls, tipping media that they might want to look into who really solved the Hannah Tam case. And what was happening with them now. The rest is the reporters doing their job. Oh, look, it seems Detective Lam decided to play along and gave a short interview about Mike's role in the case. And there are a few opinions of his colleagues illuminating his previous successes." He kept the conversational tone people normally employed to talk about weather.
"Wait, did you say phone calls? And media? In plural?"
"It wouldn't do to limit the target recipients of the news, now would it?"
"I just can't believe you..." She went to his couch and sat heavily. "Mike is going to throw a fit when he sees this, you know."
"He will probably be too busy fending off the media. And preparing for the review. Though I doubt the board would dare to take the risk of the kind of attention they would get if he was not reinstated."
"Is nothing sacred anymore? When did you become a sly manipulating type anyway?"
He sent her a mischievous grin. "You might say it runs in the family."
She groaned and muttered something that sounded very much like 'damned Tudors'. His grin widened.
Vicki still stared at the fresh newspaper in disbelief as she was riding a cab back to her office. She almost dreaded finding out what the other media sources were going to do with the story.
Once in her office she turned on her computer to see if she could find any clue on just how far Henry went this time. If this went also to the national papers...
Thankfully at least in the Toronto Star the tone of the article was bearable. A cop not afraid to use unconventional methods gets kicked out for using said methods but still cares enough to keep working and is eventually the one to find the kidnapped child. This polished nicely with sizable quotes from both Kate and Dave and a few shorter ones from a bunch of other people. All in all digestible enough that she hoped Mike would see that first before going to some other versions.
Her cell rang. She reached for it and sighed seeing her former partner's name. Well, at least if he was calling it could be taken as a sign that he was speaking to her again.
"Vic, one question. Are you somehow behind this idiocy?"
"If you are referring to the article about you, I can honestly tell you that I first heard about it when I saw today's paper."
"Actually I'm referring to the reporters camping out on my doorstep like some hungry hyenas and the fact that I had to disconnect my phone because the damned thing kept ringing non-stop not allowing me to even gather my thoughts."
"Hey, it could be worse. Those reporters made you a hero, you know."
"Try prey. They are like a bunch of leeches. And speaking of, do you have any idea if Fitzroy could be connected to this somehow?"
"This? Why do you think he would do something like that? Actually though, when Henry and I talked about possibilities of giving you a hand he said that he could vamp the review board if we got all their names and addresses. " Well, it wasn't exactly a lie. Not really.
"No way in hell I'm allowing you to do that!" How nice of Mike to take the bait when offered.
"Come on, Mike, it's not like he'd do that without asking you first. He might like baiting you but he wouldn't do something like that to you."
Mike grumbled something which could be interpreted as not exactly believing that. He didn't reply in any understandable way.
"And how are you doing, by the way?" Vicki asked eventually not wanting to listen to the silence anymore.
"You mean aside from the lunacy show going on outside? It's a wonder they aren't salivating in anticipation of 'something big' whatever it might be."
"They will get tired after a few days, you'll see. And for now you can as well use that to your own benefit."
"I'm not going to play on people's hunger for sensation and sell myself to those..."
"C'mon Mike, nobody asks you to do that. But some well-delivered gesture or a few words..."
"Speaking of which, have you had a chance to take a look at those articles? Kate has a few nice lines there."
"Kate? You don't suppose she's the one who...?"
"How would I know? She doesn't report to me. And no matter what you might think we have yet to have an honest evening of girl talk."
"You and girl talk? Wouldn't that qualify as learning foreign language?"
"Oh, shut it. And I'd rather learn Swahili. Better chance of it coming in handy. When is your review?"
"Tomorrow. Crowley is going to be in a right state if those vultures don't get lost by then."
"Wouldn't count on them doing that unless you are lucky enough to have some war break out by tomorrow or a coup happen in some significant country."
"Or if I'm really lucky a tsunami will flood Vancouver."
Vicki sighed trying desperately to swat the thought of 'wouldn't that be nice'.
"Yeah. Though even Crowley will have to understand you didn't actually invite them."
"Did you just insinuate that Crowley might be understanding? Get some rest, Vic, I think you are overworked to the point of frying your brain."
"Hey, it might happen, right?"
"Vicki, I know you dabble in strange things on daily basis, not to mention your relationship with a vampire, but enough is enough. There needs to be a line somewhere."
"Not that she can get any madder with me than she already is."
"Finally some optimism. I'm proud of you. Seriously though, good luck with that review."
"Promise me you'll call me to tell how it went."
"I promise. Now I guess I have to go face the hyenas."
"Have fun with that. Bye Mike."
She was smiling when the call ended but she still couldn't help a sigh of relief. But she could now hope Mike was going to be alright. That was the thought that gave her energy to go through another day of futile search for something that could help them get rid of the demon in case Henry's friend didn't get back to them.
She went through the rest of the day trying to work as if nothing was going on. She eventually found a mention of a manuscript written by some crazy medieval monk, claiming that one can bribe a demon to go away in exchange for the blood of a hundred virgins.
Containing her distaste and wondering how frustrated and bored the monk had to be to come up with that she briefly thought if, in case all else failed Astaroth would go with that if only for the amusement of seeing them go about the task of somehow collecting the hundred virgins.
She shook her head and really hoped Henry's friend was going to come up with something.
When evening came, she surfed the Internet looking for more mentions of Mike's story as she awaited Henry's arrival.
Some TV reporter even went to the trouble, either wanting to play devil's advocate or simply being nasty, to dig up the story of Felicia Bannock and went to her to hear her opinion on the matter. He must have been really surprised when instead of ravings about unfair arrest he heard praise as well.
The mental image of the pesky reporter trying to bait the werepanther family into giving him some dirt on Mike almost made her smile.
"Working hard?" She heard a voice behind her from where she was sure nobody was a second ago.
"You know, sneaking up on a half-blind person in the dark isn't really that much of a challenge. I have no idea why you keep doing that."
He smirked at her but didn't reply, choosing to switch the light on enabling her to see him.
"Found anything interesting?"
"Depends. How would you classify the information that according to unconfirmed medieval sources you can get rid of a demon by showing him you can very well do his job for him up here?"
Henry quirked his eyebrow.
"Do I even want to know why you were looking into those kind of options?"
"Hey, know thy enemy and all, right?"
"To be honest I'd feel better knowing you weren't going with ideas of getting to know demons better."
"Do you have some better ideas?"
"All things considered just about anything would qualify as a better idea compared to that."
"Anything specific you have in mind?"
"Other than taking a good look at how Celluci's new fame is developing?"
"How did he take it by the way?"
"Let's just say that so far I managed to cover for you but given his enthusiastic way of taking the reporters stalking him I wouldn't admit to being behind the whole thing if I were you. Unless you want to find out just how long would it take Mike to find a wooden stake."
"Ah, he's back to his usual self then. Good to know."
She sighed tiredly almost despite herself deciding to let the topic go. This must have worried Henry as the next thing she knew he was looking at her with concern clearly visible in his eyes.
"You've been pushing yourself too hard again."
"Well, what else can I do? All I can choose from during the day is trying to work on something or sinking in despair. And I'd rather do the former if you don't mind."
"Well, it's not day now so I believe we can see to it that you get some well deserved rest."
"I can take care of myself just fine."
"Apparently only as far as taking care of yourself involves slowly completely depleting your strength by overworking yourself constantly."
"Don't tell me you can really think of relaxing now."
"You can't constantly run at full capacity. You will burn out eventually if you do."
"We can't afford to waste time right now, with everything we need to deal with."
"Neither can we afford to have you become a wreck because you pushed yourself too much. Come on, let's go for a walk, let me buy you a dinner and then we can resume researching if you wish."
"Henry, that's not..."
"The only part of that I consider open for debate is what you want me to buy you. Now let's get your jacket and go, alright?"
The fact that she managed only a defeated sigh was a true testament to how exhausted she really was.
The next day Vicki woke up late. She frantically tried to do her morning routine three things at a time when her mind finally caught up and supplied the awareness that she didn't really have any cases and the only thing she was working on was practically a lost cause when it came to conventional research.
She could probably use Coreen's help but after everything the girl had been through it was much more likely that asking her to help would only result in traumatizing her further and slowing her recovery.
Still, as long as she was doing something Vicki felt her time wasn't completely going to waste. After dragging herself to her office she realised that right at that moment Mike was probably facing the review board. That thought made it even harder for her to concentrate.
She kept checking her watch every five minutes wondering desperately when she'd hear some news from her former partner. Her cell remained stubbornly silent as she slowly approached the point of going crazy from the lack of knowledge of what was going on.
After four hours of her moping around, her phone rang.
"Hi, Vic." His voice wasn't breaking which she took to as good news but she still wanted a confirmation.
"Hey Mike. How did it go?"
"I'm reinstated. I guess public opinion breathing on the board's necks did mean something after all. But with the circus surrounding the review I'm this close to doing something drastic. I don't think visits of heads of state get this kind of media coverage."
"Hey, you're the star of the day. That's not exactly a ground to complain, you know."
"The only person that seems happy about it, according to what Molly said yesterday, is Dylan. And I'm certain even he will get over it once telling his friends it's his uncle everybody treats like a trained poodle loses its novelty."
"Trained poodle?" Vicki questioned letting out a stifled laugh.
"That's probably the best way to describe how I feel at the moment. The only way I could get some privacy would probably be by locking myself in my apartment. The hyenas won't leave me alone even at work. I got to the point of telling them to stop bothering me while taking off the safety of the gun but they failed to notice the subtle clue."
"If it really bothers you so much tell archives to bring you some old cold cases and look through them over the next few days. They might not be discouraged by the risk of earning a bullet but forcing them to cover old news might do the trick."
"You know what, Vicki? That might be the best idea so far. Thanks."
"Don't mention it. I'm glad to know things worked fine for you."
"Yeah. But I should probably avoid getting involved in your freak cases from now on. One close call was enough for me, thank you very much."
"Hey, I don't blame you. Good luck with getting rid of your media tail."
She could swear she could hear a groan.
"Thanks a lot, Vic. I should probably get back to work now. My reputation with Crowley is still somewhat fragile."
"Like it was ever possible to get on her good side. But I won't hold you up any longer. Thanks for the news. I'm really happy for you. Bye!"
As she was putting her cell away she had to admit that she felt a huge weight lift from her heart.
There was a knock at the door and she unglued her eyes from the monitor to see who it was. She regarded a young man wearing a T-shirt promoting some delivery company, presumably the one he worked for. He was holding a pad with some papers and had a package resting at his feet. To Vicki's confusion he looked a bit uneasy.
"Yes?" She asked when he didn't make any move for a moment.
"I, uh, have a package for you, ma'am." What was it with his behaviour? Was it his first day at work or something?
Deciding to ponder on the matter later she gestured him in. He placed the package carefully on the desk, asked her to place her signature on a manifest and retreated quickly stealing one last uneasy glance at her.
Vicki's attention shifted to the package and she suddenly snorted.
The package carried a seal of the Holy See that was really hard not to notice and had 'only for the eyes of the Church high officials' stamped in red in several places. What completed the look was a piece of paper that informed in three languages, in a wonderful law babble that the package was under the protection of the Vatican and as a sensitive item to the matter of state was exempt from just about every rule that would cause it to be delayed, touched or even probably breathed upon or looked upon from less than five feet distance by anyone not specifically stated on an included list.
If the poor courier tried to connect that fanfare with her in some manner remotely resembling logic, then it was probably commendable that he behaved as professionally as he did. He was probably still trying to figure out if he hadn't somehow confused the address.
Vicki reached for the package and suddenly stopped in mid-movement with a sinking feeling in her stomach. What was in the package?
That question wouldn't let go of her but also somehow prevented her from bringing herself to open the package. She sunk in her chair. With some pieces of normality restored over the last few days she somehow let herself believe somewhere along the way that the final solution and very probable costs of it could be postponed indefinitely.
But this was it. No escaping it now. She agreed and now probably the relatively unassuming package on her desk held the sentence for her future. She shivered slightly wondering what it will be like to finally read that she had to sacrifice her hands, with no options of avoiding it or chances of getting out of it.
But she knew what she agreed to, right? How would they do that, she wondered suddenly, her mind trying to deal with the matter grasping onto small details. She couldn't very well stroll into hospital and ask them to cut her hands off, even if that was the only way to have it done somewhat painlessly. So outside any medical facilities – meaning the method would have to be by necessity a more primitive one. A sword perhaps? The wounds would still need to be cauterised but if she was lucky she would pass out or go into shock after loosing her hands so she wouldn't feel that at least. And Henry would surely make certain she wouldn't bleed to death. Maybe he could take her to a hospital afterwards so they'd at least dope her up.
She was feeling really sick now and still hadn't made any move to open the package she was staring at intensely as if she expected it to jump to her and bite her any second.
She had no idea how long she sat like that, only that the first thing she registered from the outside world aside from her staring match with the package was Henry's hand placed on her shoulder. Somewhere between the current moment and the package's arrival a few hours had apparently passed, the sun set and Henry had arrived at her office and came within a step of her without her being any wiser.
"Victoria, are you alright?" He sounded really concerned.
She blinked. "Yeah, why wouldn't I be?"
"I just called you six times without getting any response. What is it?"
"The package arrived earlier today."
"Yes, that was one of the first things I'd noticed. And commented on. I still fail to see how studying it while it's still closed was fascinating enough to completely ignore my presence."
"Didn't mean to, sorry."
"You got me worried. What happened to you? Why didn't you open the package?"
"I was waiting for you. And I guess I just got lost in thought."
"And that somehow got you into a coma-like state and had your emotions broadcasted so clearly that it's almost impossible to breathe in here?"
She didn't know how to respond to that. When she was first creating her routines of not showing her feelings to others she never considered a scenario in which someone could read your emotions despite your blank face and was persistent enough not to let go when he should.
In the end she decided to settle on omission.
"Never mind, Henry. It's not important right now. Shouldn't we be opening the package?"
The look he sent her clearly indicated he wanted to press on further but in the end he apparently decided to go with her on this one and simply nodded.
"I suppose we should. There is no point in delaying that." He said and broke the seal on the package. A moment later she was staring inside a box that contained three smaller ones in varying sizes. She had a vague Alice-in-Wonderland feeling for a moment.
Henry took one of the boxes – the biggest one – out. There was a note attached to it saying, in English – for her benefit she had to assume, 'the solution'. Quickly, the vampire opened the box where they found a sizable file, two pieces of chalk, three candles and a large cross.
"So what now? Do we try until we figure the odd item out or do we try to piece all those together?" She asked trying to prevent her previous emotions from rearing their ugly head.
"Actually I believe in reading the instructions first."
"You are one of those cheaters who actually read manuals instead of trying to figure out how something works themselves, aren't you?"
"Guilty as charged. And I believe it's a rational thing to do on top of that." He opened the file and started to read.
He didn't say anything for a moment and finally Vicki lost her patience.
"And apparently the cross, chalk and the candles are all blessed by the pope. Seems our problem went to register even higher than we could have expected."
"Great. But what are we supposed to do with those? Stare at them until they confess how to use them?"
"You'll need the cross first..." Henry started only to be interrupted by Vicki.
"I will? I thought we were in this together."
"We are. But I'm not the one carrying demon's marks. According to the text Herberto sent us, the fact the demon hadn't started wrecking chaos of apocalyptical proportions yet is because he doesn't have his full power in this plane yet and needs to draw it through the doorway he created."
"You. But if we can shut the door, then two things are bound to happen. One he will stop being able to draw energy from hell and two, because of that he will start getting weaker so he will be bound to start searching for you to open the doorway again."
"Great. So we deal with the demon only to have him on my tail."
"Actually that will save us the trouble of locating him and allow us to choose the ground for the ritual needed to send him away. It won't give us a great advantage but we could use any we can get."
She sighed. "So what's with the cross?"
"You have to hold it and recite the denunciation ritual. Then you kiss the feet of the cross to complete the ritual."
"And Astaroth will be cut off from his resources."
"Basically. You will of course need to strongly want the demon to lose his power but I'm guessing that won't be a problem."
"No drastic solutions and necessary sacrifices?" She couldn't quite hide her relief completely.
"Not at that point. If Astaroth finds us before we are ready, things could easily go drastic. And our lives would be sacrificed."
"Nothing like a healthy dose of optimism before setting out to deal with the problem. The other ritual – you have the instructions as well?"
"Of course. It's a bit too important part of the process for Herberto to let it slip his mind, don't you think?"
"Good. What's with the other two boxes?"
"We'll have to see." Henry reached inside the package for the second box. This one had a note as well. This time it spelled 'for your protection'. With her dread over possible sacrifice gone she looked at it with honest curiosity. It contained another two boxes and a short letter.
"What is this supposed to be? A matrioshka?" She voiced as soon a she saw what was inside.
The vampire quickly unfolded the letter and scanned it with his eyes. Then he reached for one of the inside boxes and opened it to reveal two small crosses on a silver chain. He handed one to Vicki, looking unsure for a moment.
"Those are gifts for us to give us some protection."
"Gifts?" He nodded and she suddenly realised that there was something he wasn't telling her. "Gifts from whom exactly?"
The vampire stilled for a moment. The question apparently hit the target.
"The same person that blessed the items for the ritual."
"Oh." That was all she could manage. After all what was the proper protocol for someone who wasn't even a Catholic to react to the pope sending them gifts? In the meantime Henry opened the other little box. Which contained mostly Styrofoam. "And what would this be?"
"This," He fished out a slightly bluish, elaborately shaped bottle. "is another gift for our protection in case we might need it. Holy water. From Lourdes."
"This is just getting better, isn't it? I'm almost afraid to check the third box."
"I'm afraid we should anyway. They have all contained pretty useful things so far."
"I reserve the right to tell you that I told you so."
"If a situation allowed you the opportunity, you would no matter if you had the right or not." He said reaching for the final mysterious box. This one was marked as 'just in case'.
Henry opened the box revealing more papers. There were only a couple of them this time though and most of them looked official. She saw her partner's hand tremble for a second as he regarded the two documents and a short note attached to the first one.
"Dispense. For killing Raymond. One for each of us."
"Apparently there is a good chance according to Herberto's experience that when dealing with a demon like that we might be forced to kill the one whose body he possessed. This is actually why Herberto went to the trouble of bringing the matter to the pope himself. He wanted us to have clear conscience if in the result of the struggle against the demon we..."
"I get it." All too well, even if she hated to admit it to herself. Then another thought suddenly struck her. "It 'slipped your mind' to tell them I'm not Catholic, didn't it?"
"I will admit that I didn't correct any assumptions Herberto might have made. Does it really matter that much to you which church you don't go to aside for major holidays when you go just because you feel you should?"
"Force of habit? Besides faith is a manifestation of your religious devotion no matter the version, right?"
"Still, in your case it's the worst possible argument to support. I can assure you that creation of Anglicanism had nothing to do with true faith and wish to better serve God. Take it from someone who had an opportunity to gain a unique insight into the matter."
Suddenly that, combined with the pressure from the day fading a bit, had her laughing hysterically. She was doing her best to stop, aware that she was probably hurting Henry's feelings but it took her a moment before she managed to speak.
"Don't you ever dare to tell me I'm carrying my father issues too far." She managed to choke out before surrendering to laughter again.
After she became serious again a moment later, she looked at the items collected on the desk.
"Are we going to do this tonight?" She finally asked.
"We probably should. There is no telling how long it will take Astaroth to collect strength here and then we would be completely powerless. And it's still early enough that we shouldn't have a problem managing to do everything tonight."
"Look through the texts for yourself once as well. Then we may begin."
Ten minutes later Vicki had her new cross hanging from her neck and was reaching for the crucifix. She was carefully trying to appear calm but judging by the way Henry was looking at her she could tell he wasn't fooled.
They entered the park hoping that the demon would really be able to sense them and follow. At night it was a secluded enough area to avoid any bystander being caught in the middle of the struggle.
"We need to prepare the place before he arrives." She heard Henry's quiet voice.
He lit the three candles placing them in a triangle and handed Vicki the page specifying the circle that needed to be drawn within it. He handed her a piece of chalk and took one for himself as she tried to read the paper using her flashlight.
Henry just managed to start the outline of the circle when a chilling, cruel laugh sounded not far from them. They both looked up.
Astaroth stood there, still using the body of Father Cascioli.
"Well, well, well, what do we have here? Are you really so proud that you believe you stand a chance?" He got closer. "Two against one. Now, that hardly seems fair, does it? After all..." his face twisted in a maniacal malicious smile, "Legio sum!" (1)
He suddenly charged at them at a speed Vicki never thought possible considering he was using a human form. At the last moment Henry stepped in front of Vicki, protecting her from the impact.
Before they engaged in the fight, he managed to whisper over his shoulder. "Finish what we started."
He no longer looked like a man. That much was obvious to Vicki as she looked at Astaroth-possessed Father Cascioli fighting Henry.
She hurried to complete the final symbols. As she looked at the page with the incantation somewhere in her head appeared the thought that this was definitely not the use of Latin she envisioned while taking it in college.
She had just started incanting when she heard Henry scream. Without stopping the recitation she looked up to see the vampire thrown away from the demon with incredible force. He landed on the ground like a ragdoll. His chest was marked with terrible wounds, deeper than she'd ever seen. He didn't get up.
"Ego te exorciso, spiritus immunde... Per Deum, apage asmodee..., ad infinitias infinitio."
Astaroth didn't have time to get out of the circle. The demon howled horribly and Vicki felt her wrists flare with fire. The air smelled of sulphur and tar. Then everything went quiet and Father Raymond's body fell limply to the ground.
She hurried to Henry not bothering to see if the priest was still alive. Judging by the disfigurement of the body and with what she knew of Astaroth's methods, there really wasn't a point. As she kneeled next to her partner, she was suddenly faced with a problem she'd much rather ponder theoretically. How does one check an unconscious vampire for vital signs?
Getting a closer look at his wounds didn't make her feel any better either. Deep gashes ran all over his chest and abdomen. In some she could see a glint on white. He didn't respond to any of her attempts to call his name. Finally in desperation she decided to take advantage of his still having fangs elongated.
She rolled up her sleeve and pressed her forearm against his fangs. Upon contact with the sharp teeth her skin gave in almost instantly. Desperately she wished for him to respond. She rested his head on her lap and stared absently playing with his hair.
She closed her throbbing eyes for a second to fend off threatening tears when she felt his teeth sinking deeper into her vein. A moment later he was already feeding with the desperation of someone grasping onto life. She never stopped running her fingers through his hair almost afraid that if she did a spell would be broken and he would once again slip into unconsciousness never to wake again.
She was already starting to feel dizzy when he finally opened his eyes. For a moment he looked disoriented. Then he retracted his fangs from her forearm. He tried to speak, in gasps, and Vicki had to actually bend over to catch the words.
"Standen... ve stille in daunger?" It took her a moment to realise that he was speaking a language she actually knew.
"Nope. It's over and done with. He's gone." Her heart sunk when instead of relief she saw confusion on his face. She desperately tried to gather thoughts. "Ne more." She finally managed.
Henry's features almost instantly calmed.
"Thanked be God." He whispered slipping into oblivion.
"Henry? Henry, please, stay with me. You can do it..." She frantically searched for the older words but her mind refused to help.
After a few more attempts she realised that she had to get him out of the park. The sun was going to rise in just under two hours and even if it wasn't she couldn't let him be found like that.
She took out her cell with the intention of calling Mike – or Coreen, only to find the battery dead. Given that it had been fully charged only that afternoon she had to assume that the Hell's-gates-open magical discharge didn't have a healthy effect on electronic equipment.
Then again she wasn't sure if they had time to wait for help anyway. Or even could afford to stay there waiting for it to arrive.
She rose to her feet, placing Henry's arm around her shoulder and shifting his weight on herself to enable her to drag him away. Silently she begged for his forgiveness if she was causing him any more pain.
Slowly she managed to get them to his car. She reached into his jacket for the keys. Fortunately he never really bothered all that much to hide where he kept them. Any pickpocket foolish enough to try to steal them was practically volunteering to be taught a lesson.
With some effort she managed to secure Henry in the passenger seat. Then, with a silent and rather unconvincing prayer to any deity that bothered to listen she took a sit behind the wheel.
Going to Henry's apartment wasn't an option, she decided as she tried to do a realistic assessment of the situation. There was no chance she would manage to drive through half of the city in the dark. Not to mention the longer the distance the more her hesitant driving was likely to draw attention. And if she was stopped by a patrol the only way either of them would stand a chance would be if Mike happened to hear that a patrol called in a woman driving a black jag with its owner, badly mutilated and not showing any signs of life in the passenger seat. If he connected the dots of course. All in all not a chance she was willing to take. On the other hand, her own apartment was considerably closer but had a serious flaw of not being sun-proofed.
She glanced at Henry. Her apartment it was. She would have to improvise. Plain and simple. It didn't seem they were really in the position to have time to look for other options.
The next fifteen minutes of driving were definitely something on which she would blame any stomach ulcers she might ever develop.
After she parked as close to the building as she could, (thankful that it wasn't really an hour when many people were awake let alone out on the streets) she went to the equally hard task of dragging Henry out of the car and up to her apartment.
She struggled under the dead weight of the vampire and by the time she got him to her bed she was seriously wondering how it was possible for someone who lived on nothing but blood for the last four and a half century to be so heavy.
For a moment she slumped heavily on the edge of the bed and looked at Henry. Then she did something she would have normally never dared to do before sunrise. She reached out, gently caressed his cheek and then bent down to place a butterfly kiss on it.
"It will be fine, Henry. You will be fine. Just don't give up, alright?" She whispered.
He didn't give any indication of even hearing her words.
With a half-resigned sigh, she rose and closed the shades on the window. She looked at them critically. Then she took a blanket and covered the window with it. Almost as an afterthought she went to close the blinds on the other windows in her apartment. She didn't want to take any chances.
When she was done, she returned to the bedroom hoping Henry would wake again, if only for a moment, before sunrise. He didn't.
She dragged herself to her feet and made herself a cup of strong coffee. She didn't really feel like having breakfast but knowing she should eat something she made herself two sandwiches. Slowly chewing on them without really registering any taste she went to the living room.
She reached for the phone twice, each time putting it away without dialling any numbers. For a second her eyes rested on her bookcase. Her eyes glided over the titles until finally pausing on one. With a frustrated sigh, she removed the book from the shelf and threw it into the paper bin without looking.
She turned on the news. No word yet about a body of a priest found in a park. Suddenly irritated by the noise she pressed the off button. She stubbornly refused to admit to herself that she was pacing.
Almost without noticing making the decision to do it, she returned to the bedroom. She looked at Henry and absently went closer to him to stroke his hair. He was badly injured and it didn't look like he had started to heal.
She struggled to remember the exact speed of his healing from the time he was clawed by the demon after they first met. It seemed like ages ago but she had a distinct feeling that some improvement should be visible by now. Then again he had been considerably better to start with, then. And he needed blood to heal... Probably if he took as much as he needed this time she wouldn't be standing there to ponder about it. With a sinking dread, she suddenly wondered if he would have enough strength to wake the next night.
She left the bedroom again. Deciding with a sudden certainty that Coreen couldn't be still sleeping, she reached for the phone once again and called the girl.
"Hello?" The voice suggested that the Goth couldn't have been awake for too long.
"Coreen, did I wake you?"
"Don't worry about it. I was getting up anyway." Vicki's tone must have finally registered as the girl paused. "What is it? Did something happen?"
"A lot. We fought Astaroth tonight."
For a moment there was only silence on the other side of the line.
"Are you alright?" The girl finally asked. Then almost as an afterthought she added. "Who won?"
"If the demon had, I doubt I'd still be here to call you." Vicki said before her voice dropped a few tones. "Henry got hurt." She finally managed.
That statement met another pause. Then Coreen spoke again.
"Badly? I mean he heals, right? Like every vampire?"
"Badly enough that I'm not sure if he can heal by sunset. Which brings me to another point... Listen, Coreen, do you think you could get some bagged blood? Just in case if he looks like I should keep him in bed tonight?" The Goth snorted and Vicki suddenly was hit by what she said. "This is hardly a time for that."
"Sorry. But you have to admit it was... Anyway, I should be able to organise something. There are a few favours I can call. How much do you need?"
The question caught Vicki by surprise. She had never put much thought into that. Given that Henry would have to replace the blood he lost plus his normal meal... That was getting her nowhere as she didn't know either of the figures. But then... Probably the max would be the average amount of blood in the human body. And Henry was still alive so he might need a bit less. Probably. The unit was half a litre so that would make it...
"Vicki, are you still there?"
"Yeah. Do you think you could get about ten units?"
"Shouldn't be a problem. Give me an hour or two."
"When you are done get them to my apartment."
"It was closer." She said almost defensively. Then she collected herself. "I'll be waiting for you in a couple of hours then."
"Yeah, bye!" The girl hung up.
After the call, Vicki found herself once again at loss for what to do next. Every five minutes she would find herself drifting in the direction of the bedroom to check on Henry. By noon she had an impression that he did heal a bit, even if it still looked bad.
She ordered herself Chinese, twice as much as she actually felt she could eat, just in case it proved to be a distraction. Her cell rang.
"Vic?" She heard Mike's voice. "Care to tell me what's going on?"
"What do you mean?"
"Picture the following situation. I get called to a body found in a park. I go there, only to see the body actually belongs to a priest I happened to know. And the last time I saw him he was possessed by a demon. You with me so far?"
"What do you expect me to say? Admit to sending away the demon and killing the priest in the process?"
"For Christ's sake, Vic! Don't you think that's something you could have told me about?"
"You didn't want the supernatural in your life anymore. You nearly lost your job over it once already."
"That's pretty heavy-handed stuff to try to cover up."
"Sorry I caused trouble for you then."
"I didn't mean it like that, Vicki. You should have told me what was going on."
She wasn't sure how to take that one.
"Well then, Astaroth is out of your hair. Gone to hell, quite literally." She paused. "Does the body look human again?"
"What do you mean 'again'? Some parts are badly damaged but generally human, yeah."
"At least that's one less thing to worry about. Do you have something to explain the whole thing?"
"Badly damaged body of a catholic priest, a few occult symbols and the smell of sulphur? Satanists should work nice. Do you want me to come to..."
Her doorbell rung.
"No need Mike. I have to go now. Bye!"
She hung up and went to open the door to see Coreen with a portable fridge hanging from her one arm.
"I've got it." The girl announced instead of greeting. "It was a bit harder than I expected to get undivided blood. At least it's fresh though. The platelets hold up only about five days. It's all AB, Cameron wouldn't give me any other type in case they run short. Henry won't mind, will he?" She didn't give any indication of breathing in between sentences.
Vicki regarded the Goth for a second.
"Coreen, you are babbling."
"Sorry. I guess I'm just worried. How is he?"
"It's only been one day, Coreen. It's a bit hard to tell. And calm down." Vicki felt like a hypocrite saying that. "And incidentally, I don't think he is going to complain about the type of blood you brought."
"Can I see him?" The girl inquired quickly.
Vicki thought about it for a second. On the one hand she knew that Coreen was asking out of concern and probably earned the right if not by anything else then by helping now. And Henry would never know either way. But...
"I don't think he would want anyone seeing him so vulnerable unless it was absolutely necessary. That I did was probably bad enough. Do you really want to make it even harder for him?"
For a second Coreen's face fell but then she seemed to shake it off.
"I guess not. Is it really bad?"
"I've seen him better" 'like the time he got clawed across the chest by a lesser demon or was tortured by Mendoza'
"Just... tell him I hope he gets well soon when he wakes." The girl was visibly disappointed but tried to keep that out of her tone and while she didn't quite succeed Vicki still appreciated the gesture.
"Of course. Thanks Coreen. And..." Vicki paused for a moment. "Thank you. Just thank you."
"Sure. I guess I should be going now. Call me if you need anything else. Bye!" The Goth retreated from Vicki's apartment before the PI had a chance to reply.
Once again left to her own devices Vicki sighed looking down at the portable fridge she was now holding, feeling as if she was thrown into some kind of a dream-like game she didn't know the rules of.
Not knowing what else to do she carried the container to the kitchen and put it on the table. She looked at her watch not really sure if she actually wanted to speed up or slow down time. Then she went to check on Henry again.
As the sunset started approaching, she went back to the kitchen and stared at the portable fridge not sure what to do.
Sure, it was easy to ask for blood bags. It seemed the logical thing to do, ergo she didn't spend too much time considering it as she had other things on her mind. The technicalities of the process didn't even register until that moment.
She couldn't very well expect Henry to feed from plastic bags. Suddenly she snorted at the idea of Vicki the cop, whom she was just two years (was it really that little?) ago would think of seeing herself contemplating how to serve blood to a vampire.
Deciding that the simplest choice was probably the best one she took a glass out of the kitchen cabinet and looked at her watch.
Ten minutes to sunset.
With a bit of hesitance, she reached for one of the bags. Somehow she had a feeling that when her mother insisted that she should know her way around the kitchen if she wanted to keep a man, this wasn't exactly what she had in mind.
The sun outside sunk over the horizon and Henry awoke.
The first thing he felt, quickly overcoming all other sensations, was a blinding pain that almost instantly engulfed him. Immediately he wished his awareness didn't return. Distantly he became aware of something – a glass – pressed to his lips. He could smell blood but it had to be his mind playing tricks on him due to his state.
Someone – Vicki judging by the familiar scent – helped him lift his head to drink. The taste of blood filled his mouth to his mild surprise. He hadn't been hallucinating after all. Something about the taste was slightly off but still it was what he needed desperately at the moment.
He swallowed a mouthful before he mustered enough strength to force his eyes to open.
"Hi." Vicki's eyes immediately met his and he could see worry written in them. "I know you hate the bagged stuff but if you drink it like a nice vampire I'll let you have some of mine at the end to change the taste."
Bagged blood. That would explain the difference in the taste. Still he couldn't argue even if he wanted. Whatever strength he had left, evaporated as soon as she spoke.
Instead he let his concentration shift to the glass she was holding to his lips. He sent her a questioning look.
"How...?" He let the unfinished question hang in the air. He took another gulp as the taste of blood helped soothe the pain a bit.
"Asked Coreen to get it. Don't ask me how she did. After the flamethrower, museum property and the FBI software I figured it's better not to know." She smiled at him for a second before her face became serious again. "I'd ask how you feel but under the circumstances I don't know if I'll like the answer."
It took a bit of an effort but he managed to smile at her apparent concern.
"I think I'll live. So you might say it's better than expected."
She stiffened for a moment.
"Don't joke about it, Henry. At least not yet. Please." She whispered and then watched silently as he finished the glass. "I'll get you more. Don't go anywhere."
"Somehow that hasn't crossed my mind."
They shared a brief smile and she left the room. Only when she did, did he get a chance to take a better look at his surroundings for the first time since waking. With some surprise he noted that it wasn't a familiar one.
He was in a bedroom but not his own. Everything in the room smelled of Vicki – including bed sheets – very strongly so. Right besides the bed was a light switch. Just within the reach of someone who would be unable to see in the dark. Vicki's bedroom then.
Just as he reached that conclusion he saw Vicki coming to the room.
"I must confess that if I ever envisioned you inviting me here it wasn't under circumstances such as these." It took some effort but he managed to achieve a playful, teasing tone that, while a bit paler than usual, sounded convincing enough.
"Well, enjoy it while you can. And I hope you didn't seriously expect me to drive through half of the city in the dark. Frankly you'd be safer if you stayed in the park and prayed for a cloudy day."
"You apparently did well enough driving here."
"Which is only a sign that over the years you must have gathered enough brownie points for someone up there to really look out for you." She paused "Don't ask me to do it again."
"Trust me, if I have any say in it, I don't intend to let the situation ever repeat itself." He regarded her for a second, his expression growing more serious again. "Vicki... Thank you."
He could see he caught her by surprise, she collected herself quickly though.
"Don't mention it. And enough of the talking. You need to concentrate on healing now."
Again she brought the glass to his lips. His hunger overcame any intentions of replying as he drank. He didn't attempt to restart the conversation as she went out of the room several more times to refill the glass. Finally, when he felt his hunger and pain subsided, he couldn't help himself.
"How much did you get anyway?"
She looked down at the half-finished glass she was holding. She seemed to hesitate for a second before smiling.
"Approximately enough to keep you in bed until I'm convinced you are fine."
"Until you are convinced? Don't I get any say in this?"
"No, why do you ask?"
He smiled at her.
"I honestly wonder why I still bother. So how much do you have left?" He asked in honest curiosity.
"Three units. Not that I can't call Coreen and ask her to obtain some more." She looked down at the glass. "Are you going to finish this or what?"
"If you insist. But between you and me I don't really care for cold drinks."
"Well, sorry, but while 'fresh' is something possible to organise when it comes to bagged blood I can't say the same about 'still warm'."
"One more reason to avoid it when possible." Despite his words he finished the glass and then looked at Vicki, letting his sight slide from her bandaged wrists up to her neck. "Especially if there is another option available."
Her heart rate quickened and his faint teasing smile quickly died upon recognition of the signs of nervousness and even possibly slight fear.
Vicki saw as Henry looked at the makeshift dressings over the burns caused by her marks. His eyes traced her vein up to her sleeve before shifting to her neckline.
This was the first time she stopped to consider the logistical side of her promise. She didn't have a problem with giving Henry her blood. Which was why she was caught by surprise by the sudden speeding of her heart, which started fluttering in her chest like some trapped butterfly. It's not like she didn't before, she reasoned with herself, she knew for a fact that he wasn't really hungry anymore and he could probably use a bit of normalcy under the circumstances.
Her stomach tightened and the sudden realisation that the last one was exactly what was bothering her dawned. Normal for Henry was... let's just say that disturbingly close when it came to surroundings. And rather impersonal at that.
She saw a brief flicker of hurt cross his face before he hid it behind a mask of indifference.
"I don't expect anything, Vicki. You don't have to worry." It was disturbing how well he could cover his feelings behind a light tone of voice and calm face. What was even more disturbing was the realisation that she heard that tone more than once before. She took a deep breath making a decision.
"Henry, don't be ridiculous." He met her eyes and she could read a certain amount of surprise – and confusion – in his look. "If you recall, I offered. Out of my free will."
It took her only a look at him to tell he didn't quite believe her.
"There is no need to hold you to that promise."
Some rational part of her mind made her realise how utterly ridiculous position she was in at the moment. Still, driven by something she couldn't quite define herself she found herself determined to press on.
"Henry, it's not like that. Just... would it hurt you if you tried to sit up? And I want an honest answer."
All emotions visible on his face dissolved into pure confusion.
"In a minute or two I'll probably manage. Why?"
"It's just..." How the hell was she supposed to gracefully get out of this one? Or forget gracefully, get out of this one period?
Unfortunately her sudden speech impediment seemed to provide enough of a hint to Henry, who started adding things together. Belatedly she realised that the way she looked around, taking in her obviously familiar surroundings, probably didn't help concealing her thoughts.
"Let's see if I get this right. You trust me with your life but the thought of me getting closer to you is enough to send you into panic mode?"
"It sounds awfully irrational when you put it like that, you know."
"Were it about anybody else I might agree with that assessment. When it comes to you, I wonder how I could even expect something else." He visibly relaxed a bit again.
"It's not really that easy, you know."
"Things never are, are they? I just wish you would feel you can trust me without provisions. Even if such a reverted configuration of trust is... refreshing."
"Well, when it comes to trusting a vampire I don't have years of disappointments to go by. I can't say the same about trusting a man. You had it easier in the first field." Suddenly she stilled. "I said that aloud, didn't I?"
"I must be tired. Are you sure I did?"
"Pretty sure. Unless I suddenly developed a skill of reading your thoughts. Which, much as it would make my life easier at times, I'm afraid I didn't."
She groaned and didn't respond.
"When you have a moment to spare, be so kind and compose a complete list of those men responsible for letting you down, alright?" His eyes darkened and fangs became visible but he kept his tone light and nonchalant, even bordering teasing. "I think I'd like a word with them."
"Don't tempt me."
Vicki smiled despite herself. At the same time noting that this was the first time Henry let her see this part of his nature without any reason other than making a point in their banter. Somehow the fact that he felt comfortable enough around her to do that awoke a strange sensation of both warm comfort and sudden almost-apprehension inside her.
She allowed her sight to slide to the still not healed completely gashes on his chest.
"Are you sure you are doing better?"
"Yes. I heal fast but not instantly. You can't expect miracles as soon as I start healing. Besides, didn't you say that you used up the miracle limit by driving here safely?"
"You may have a point."
"But I assure you I'm feeling much better already." To prove his point he started shifting into a half-sitting position. Vicki immediately reached for an additional pillow for him to lean on and he gave her a small smile. "Thank you."
She simply smiled in reply.
"You could now, you know, if you can do that in such a way that it won't hurt you."
That earned her a chuckle.
"I was under impression that it's not the vampire it's customary to worry about during the feeding."
"Never been that much for tradition. And if you dare to make some wisecrack now it may appear that there is even more ground to worry about the vampire."
He suddenly looked at her very seriously.
"Vicki, I meant it when I said I don't need to hold you to that promise. You don't have to do anything."
Even though she knew he meant it in an exactly opposite way, upon hearing that she became more certain than ever and in some unexplainable way the whole issue started to resemble to her some kind of test of their relationship. A test with very foggy and shifting rules and most certainly an unintended one, but a test all the same.
"Well, my offer still stands. So it's all up to you. The choice is yours completely."
He looked deeply into her eyes before slowly lifting his hand and pulling her closer to him. She found herself supporting her weigh by her hands, just above his injured chest.
"Aren't you afraid I may hurt you?" She questioned.
"Under the circumstances I don't think we could do without a bit of mutual trust." He paused for a second. "I trust you, Vicki. And... Please, let me show you something."
The last bit was whispered softly into her ear and she had to struggle not to shiver upon hearing it.
"Alright." One whispered word was all she could manage to say.
She felt his lips on her neck and a second later the sensation of his fangs piercing her skin and sinking slowly into her flesh. Logically, she knew she felt pain. It was a large part of the sensation spreading from her neck throughout her body. But the fact that it was Henry, combined with their closeness and the breathtaking, intimate connection created between them made the focus of the sensation shift completely.
Suddenly, just when she almost got accustomed to the feeling, the connection strengthened and unfamiliar, alien emotions were carried by it, blocked in most part by her firm self-awareness and the fact she didn't quite let het guard down. She considered fighting them for a second but then, upon an impulse, gave in.
She felt her head swirl. The feelings and emotions still read as not her own but their strength and intensity took her breath away. There was trust, attraction, devotion and love, strong, true and passionate love, unmatched by... anything found in centuries? That brought whatever part of her mind she was still able to use rationally to a stop.
Before she managed another thought, the sensation was gone. She gasped and then took a deep breath. Sudden realisation that Henry's lips were leaving her neck registered. She blinked a few times and with no small effort came back to reality.
"That's how I feel about you." She heard him whisper as she was shakily trying to straighten herself. "Please, don't doubt me, Victoria."
She was still trying to catch her breath.
"Damn, you could have given me some warning." She managed. "Do you really..."
"Yes." He answered earnestly.
"Is it really that surprising?"
"Over the years you must have met thousands of women, most of them more worthy of loving."
"You cannot mean that." He looked at her closely. "Do you know what the price of becoming a vampire is, Vicki?"
"Aside from depriving yourself of the sun permanently?"
"Yes, aside from that. It would be quite a disproportionate deal if it ended there, don't you think?"
"You mentioned before seeing all those close to you eventually die." She recalled quietly wondering where the discussion was leading.
"That particular thing has nothing to do with vampirism. It's universal and linked to a longer life. Humans also see their dear ones pass away. Grandparents, parents, older cousins. When they live long enough also friends and siblings. And as we are unable to have children, at least the experience of needing to bury our own children is likely to be spared us."
"What is it then?"
"We fall in love just like humans. That doesn't change with turning."
"How is that bad?"
"Not bad. In fact it's one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. But just like humans you get one chance. Perhaps two if you are lucky." He looked away and lowered his voice to a whisper. "I made my peace with the thought that I had my chance with Christina and was bound to spend the rest of my days never having a chance to experience it again. And then I met you. You might say meeting you took me completely by surprise."
"Henry, I..." Vicki was looking at him feeling shocked and more terrified then she ever had been before. It didn't help matters that her own feelings, while confusing seemed to be pushing her to wander even further into this unfamiliar territory, where Henry placed her with his statement. She felt tears forming in her eyes but made no move to wipe them away. She made a few more attempts to say something but no words left her mouth.
Finally, she did the one thing that didn't require her to voice anything she was even afraid to admit to herself.
She stood up and left the room.
Her energy lasted only long enough to reach the living room. Once she did, she had to grasp the bookshelves for support as her head swam. She felt weak in the knees and desperately tried to convince herself that the blood loss was to blame for her state. Even in her desperation and with years of denying her feelings it wasn't very convincing.
With a deep breath, she shook her head in hopes of calming herself. It didn't help. A sob escaped her for no particular reason. Her shoulders started shaking and she closed her eyes taking another deep breath to get a grip. It seemed this attempt was in vain as well.
She felt a hand touch her shoulder.
Her eyes snapped open instantly. Henry was standing next to her, a bit unsteadily, one hand protectively on his chest.
"What do you think you are doing out of bed?" She shot at him immediately.
"If the choice comes down to my pain or yours there is no real choice as far as I'm concerned." He looked deeply into her eyes and she found herself unable to avert his gaze. "Vicki, I don't expect any declarations from you. I'm sorry if I hurt you by what I said. This is why I have to leave. I find it increasingly harder to act as if I feel nothing but friendship and it's becoming obvious that is as much as you have for me. Sooner or later one of us would say or do something that would ruin all that is between us permanently. This way we at least get to keep the unspoiled memories."
As he was speaking his voice gradually dropped to a whisper. His eyes glittered with a hint of tears he didn't allow to fall. Vicki found herself shaking even harder, tears openly running down her cheeks. She was gasping for breath to speak but her repeated attempts were for most part unsuccessful.
"Vicki, please..." She never heard his tone carry such helplessness and defeat.
"You don't understand, do you?" She finally managed.
"What more is there to understand?"
"Every time I get close to someone it ends with a disaster. I'm like a ticking bomb that way. Always was, even before I found out I'm going blind. It didn't help when I finally resigned myself to starting something with someone who was simply my best friend. It didn't work either and we were never able to go back to what we had. You know that, you had front seats for the show. I was doing my best to keep my distance from you from the very start, hoping that maybe at least you'd stay around. But despite my best efforts I started growing more attached to you so of course before I even came to terms with my own feelings you are leaving as well. I guess fate couldn't hint more broadly that I'm supposed to end up alone..." She broke off as her voice failed her.
For a moment they stood in silence, absolutely still. Then another tear rolled down Vicki's cheek breaking the enchanted moment.
"Vicki. Victoria..." For the first time since he could remember Henry found himself at loss for words. He reached to her face and gently wiped away the tears wetting her cheeks. "I don't know what to tell you aside from this – no matter what happens, no matter where either of us is, you can be certain of one thing. My feelings for you will never waiver. I will keep them in my heart for as long as I live."
She blinked away the last tears and allowed herself to take in the sensations created by his gentle touch. For the second time the same night Henry was certain he was hallucinating. If he wasn't though – and the familiar warmth of life under his fingers insisted he wasn't – he finally had the explanation for the mixed signals he had been getting from Vicki. Explanation he hadn't dared to hope for in a long time.
They stood silently for a moment. He listened as Vicki's racing heart slowed down as she calmed herself. Finally her eyes became focused again.
"Well, that's one hell of a topic we will come back to once you are well again. But for now off to bed with you. If you recall I never said you could get up."
He chuckled despite himself seeing how short it took her to go back to Vicki-ness. His gaze followed her hand, which was still holding onto the shelves as if they were a safety belt. Then he looked at the titles of the books.
"Impressive collection for someone allegedly reading only firearms manuals." He observed.
"I'm trying to give up reading. And don't think I'll forget you are supposed to lie down."
"Give up reading?"
She sighed and looked down. "If I gradually break the habit I won't miss it as much when I'm finally unable to. It's been getting harder lately anyway."
"It's not like it's all that important in the grand scheme of things. And I don't really remember anymore how much I liked to read."
Henry was about to reply when his gaze rested on an expensive-looking book in the bin.
"What is it?" He went to take the book out and winced slightly at the pain involved in the process.
"Nothing. I've been tidying the shelves lately and it was just collecting dust."
"This is not the kind of book you throw away. And it wouldn't have your scent on it if you haven't thrown it away very recently."
"Why don't you stop playing a bloodhound and go back to bed?"
"Fine." He slowly retreated to the bedroom taking the book with him. With a sigh, Vicki followed.
Once Henry lied down he concentrated back on the book.
"Shakespeare's Sonnet's?" He read from the cover with a raised eyebrow.
"Henry, please..." She started but he already opened the book.
"'To my best History of English Literature student. May your love of books assure that you will never be lonely in your life. Professor Juliana Gray'. Care to share what did this book do to deservebeing treated like garbage?"
"Never mind." She sat heavily on the bed.
"Did you know that you switch back with your language when you are half-conscious?" She asked resignedly.
"I'm afraid that if I ever did I have no recollection of the fact."
"Well, you do. Last night... it was like you didn't even remember modern English. And you were slipping away..." Another tear rolled down her cheek and her voice grew hoarse. "I wanted to tell you to stay awake... stay with me. And I couldn't find the words. Not even a few stupid words. I once prided myself that I actually learnt something in those lessons... I might as well never attended the class."
She felt his hand reach for hers. She had to admit that his touch offered her comfort.
"Vicki, that you collected thoughts after last night enough to bring me here, is already impressive. Don't beat yourself up over it. And don't take it out on a book I'm sure you deserved."
"It won't be long before it will be of no use to me anyway."
"Then perhaps you can allow me to read it to you." He smiled at her. "Come, sit next to me."
To her own surprise, without a word of protest she kicked off her shoes and sat on the bed next to him. Henry opened the book on a seemingly random page and started to read.
"When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many thing I sought
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste..."
She noticed that his accent shifted. Read by him the words of Shakespeare seemed alive and natural. Vicki let herself be engulfed in the poetry that she suddenly started to discover anew. She never let go of Henry's hand.
"...Then can I grieve at grievances forgone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of for-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end."
Henry smiled to himself as he saw her rest her head on his arm. Judging by her heartbeat she was on the verge of falling asleep. He shifted slightly to make her more comfortable and as he did he noted that his pain had now subsided to only a slight discomfort.
The gashes were now barely more then red lines marking his chest and abdomen. They should disappear completely soon, giving him theoretically enough time to go back to his condo for the day.
He read more and more quietly, listening as Vicki fell asleep. He closed the book and, taking care not to wake her, put it on a bedside table. Then he wrapped his arm gently around the woman next to him.
Making sure he wouldn't move his head enough to wake her, he glanced at her. Asleep, Vicki looked so blissfully calm and so fragile that she almost didn't resemble herself. Yet, having had a glimpse at the storm of conflicting emotions she dealt with every day the thought that at least in her sleep she was offered a shelter from that storm was comforting.
He could only hope that one day the time would come when she would let him in enough to help her calm that storm for the waking hours as well. And after everything he heard from her in the last few hours the moment seemed not only possible for the first time but also closer than he could ever expect.
Vicki shifted in her sleep and her head suddenly lost its resting place. She jerked awake and looked around disoriented only to meet the smiling eyes of Henry watching her.
"I certainly liked the pillow. Sorry for falling asleep on you."
"After all the stress I put you through yesterday, not to mention tonight, I probably deserved that."
"We can always try again. I liked listening to your reading."
He gave her an impossibly brilliant smile and, unknowing what to do with it, she looked down and rubbed her poorly bandaged wrists. She winced as the burns reminded her of why exactly the bandages were in place. Which reminded her...
"How are you feeling?"
He turned towards her, letting her take a look for herself. Looking very closely, she could now see a faint hint of lines where the wounds previously were.
"As you can see I got a bit better." He looked at her wrists she apparently brought his attention to. "What about you?"
She sighed. "I'm fine. Only shocking as it might be my recovery rate is a bit slower than yours."
"You should have it at least properly dressed."
"I didn't have time to take care about it."
"We have some time now." He got up. "Where do you keep your first aid kit?"
"Henry, it's nothing, you don't have to..."
"Please, allow me to take care of you, even if it's just a small infraction of showing how grateful I am for everything you did."
"I didn't do any of that for..."
"I know. Which makes it matter even more. Will you let me help you?"
The look Henry gave her disarmed her completely. Suddenly she couldn't bring herself to protest anymore.
"Alright, if you insist. But you don't have to do that. And I will get the kit myself."
"Am I suddenly not competent enough to find a few bandages?"
"I'm not allowing anyone to raid my bathroom cabinets."
"Something you don't want me to find there?"
She sent him a glare and got up to get the kit from the bathroom. She was back a moment later and placed the sizable box between her and Henry.
"One has to wonder what kind of trouble you are planning to get yourself into if you foresee the need to use half of this assortment." Henry looked into the box.
"Actually I believe that there was a pretty realistic risk of me needing most of that with the cases we had last year."
"Not a very comforting thought for someone concerned with your safety. Let me." He reached for her right hand and gently unwrapped the bandage on her wrist. Then he repeated the process with her left hand.
The sight of the angry red of the burns only served to remind Vicki of the hurting injuries. She saw Henry get up and reach into his jacket's pocket, retrieving the bottle of holy water Herberto sent them.
"And what do you need that for, I wonder?"
"I want to try something." He gently took her right hand again and uncorked the bottle.
Vicki watched calmly as he tipped the bottle and poured some water over the burn. She promptly cried out in pain as soon as the holy water made contact with her skin.
She tried to jerk her hand away but that proved impossible with the vampire holding it firmly. A moment later the pain subsided and she could once again gather thoughts.
"What the hell was that?"
"I believe you are directing the question in the exactly opposite way the you should." She heard Henry's reply. "Look, Vicki."
Not having anything better to do she did look at her hand. And stared as she saw ink slowly drip from her hand onto the pile of used bandages, leaving her wrist unmarked again under the burns.
"Will you allow me to do the same with your other hand?" He asked quietly as he applied a pain-relieving salve to her burn and proceeded to bandage it.
Reluctantly she extended her left hand, bracing herself for the pain which was sure to come.
"Perhaps you should try sulphuric acid first. It would be more pleasant." She said through gritted teeth. Then she looked at the concern on his face as he hesitated, clearly unwilling to cause her more pain. "Go on. Better to have it done quickly. But if I ever hear you making fun of the idea of being hurt with holy water..." She broke off as another cry escaped her, despite her thinking she was ready for the pain.
She took a deep breath and as the pain passed she soon realised that Henry was caressing her again-bandaged hand.
"It's over now, Vicki. It's over. And you are finally free from his marks." He was whispering gently.
She couldn't be sure but from the way his eyes glittered as he spoke she could swear it looked for a moment as if he was holding back tears.
Henry noticed that Vicki's hands were still shaking slightly from the strain they took as she tried to pack up the box. He started to move to help her but stopped himself seeing a determined look on her face.
She was struggling, balancing on the verge of complete vulnerability, to retain her strength. No matter how much he wanted to aid her, this was something she needed to do herself. It was her chapter to close.
Instead he got up, still holding the now empty bottle.
"Do you want to keep it as a souvenir?" He asked indicating the item.
She started to shake her head only to stop in mid-gesture, uncertain. He waited for her to carry the first aid kit back to her bathroom and return to the room. Then he stepped closer to her, took her hands and closed her fingers around the bottle. He looked into her eyes.
"Keep it, Vicki. I know it is nothing more than a symbol right now, but sometimes symbols are important."
"Sometimes..." Her grasp around the item became more firm as her certainty apparently grew a bit. She managed to smile at him and he gladly responded with a smile, fending off her remaining hesitance.
He wished he could prolong the moment infinitely but he knew it impossible. Still he waited longer then rationally explainable before reluctantly checking his watch. He sighed.
"I need to be going now, Vicki. I believe I strained your hospitality enough." He said finally, bringing her right hand to his lips for a kiss.
She looked as if she was about to protest, whether about his plans of leaving or the gesture he wasn't sure.
"Henry..." She started and then paused, sadness tinting her look as she turned to him.
"I must go home now, you know that. But I already anticipate meeting you tomorrow night."
A small smile appeared on her face, lifting an enormous weight from his heart.
Vicki was desperately trying to convince herself that she wasn't losing her mind. But there weren't really many other explanations for how disappointed she was that Henry needed to leave for the day. Or, for that matter, why his promise of meeting her the next night, something she could probably foresee anyway, made her suddenly feel better.
She shook her head wondering how exactly she got to this point. Then her defence mechanism finally kicked in activating her rational side. She glanced at Henry before going to the living room to retrieve his car keys.
"I guess you want those back, right?" She asked the vampire who followed her there.
"I will admit they might be useful. Why? Gotten used to having them?"
"No way. I'm not looking to be traumatised again anytime soon."
"Was it really that bad?"
"You try to drive wearing a blindfold sometime and then we might talk. Wait, forget it, you could probably navigate by sound well enough to pull it off."
He grinned at her. "That's bats. Not vampires. Cut down on the movies a bit if you can't tell the difference."
"Funny, aren't you? Though between the two of us we have a nice set of bat senses. Me with my eyesight and you with your hearing."
She saw some light faded from his smile when she mentioned her approaching blindness.
"Hey, if there is nothing I can do about it I'm not about to let the problem rule my life when I still can see. Somewhat."
She looked around trying to find a way out of the topic. She strode to the kitchen and came back with the portable fridge.
"Take this. There is a chance you might have some use of it."
He nodded but didn't comment, choosing to look at her instead. He reached out and gently caressed her cheek.
"Thank you, Vicki, for everything." He said so gently it almost came out as a whisper. "Until tomorrow night."
Then he was gone as if disappearing in a gust of a wind.
For a moment Vicki stared at the spot Henry occupied a few seconds before. Then she blinked and stifled a yawn, suddenly realising how tired she was now that the adrenalin worn off.
She sighed and went to her bedroom, with every step the exhaustion created by the last few days crashed down on her. She took the blanket off the window, keeping the blinds still drawn.
She looked tiredly at the bed. Resignedly deciding that the hours she kept certainly wasn't the worst habit she could have picked up from her partner she shed her jeans and T-shirt and slipped under the covers.
Just before she fell asleep she realised, and was really appalled at herself when she did, that she was breathing in deeply, enjoying the lingering scent of Henry.
Vicki awoke some time later, hugging a pillow and with a smile on her face. After figuring out the reason for her good mood, she hastily put the pillow away and got up from the bed as if it burnt.
She looked at her watch. Half past nine. She apparently didn't sleep very long considering how exhausted she was before. Yet she felt more rested than she imagined possible.
She glanced at the bed again as if the poor piece of furniture could offer some explanation for the phenomenon, but when an idea did appear in her mind she forcibly dismissed it and went to take a shower.
She barely managed to shower and dress when she heard her doorbell ring repeatedly. She sighed and went to see who it was. A quick look through the spyhole revealed that she probably wouldn't need the asp she grabbed automatically as she saw the familiar form of Mike on the other side of the door.
The doorbell sounded again, just as she started opening the locks. A moment later she was face-to-face with her former partner.
"Hey, Vic. Can we talk?"
"Now if I only could believe you've spontaneously decided to drop by for a chat."
"I was worried Vicki. First I find Cascioli's body. Then you cut me off when I call you. I wanted to be sure..."
"If you are planning to sputter some overprotective crap, you'd better stop right now."
"To be concerned with someone dealing with the freak show you do just after finding clues connecting them to the latest demon crisis isn't overprotectiveness. It's common sense."
"Don't, Mike." She sighed. "Wanna come in and talk?"
"That would be a start. Why not?"
He stepped in and she secured the locks on her door. He looked at her for a moment before speaking again.
"Do I even want to know what those are about?" He asked indicating her bandaged wrists.
"Come on, Mike you don't think I had slit my writs, do you?" She took in his expression. "You know, if I ever decide to commit a suicide do you really think I'd use a way which would allow my partner to easily bring me back only to lecture me about it? I don't think so."
He shook his head and let go of the matter focusing on something else instead.
"I don't remember ever seeing you wear a cross before."
"It was a gift." She said quickly. Perhaps too quickly.
"A gift, huh? From Fitzroy?"
"No, actually. From someone I never met in my life, and probably never will, who decided it was the best way to wish me luck."
"Really?" Mike didn't even bother to hide scepticism.
"Uh huh. What would you say if I grabbed a beer for each of us and we just simply chatted about things? You still haven't told me how it feels to be back on the job."
"After the hungry hyena hordes finally got bored and went away it was as if I never left, actually." He followed her to the kitchen. "Admittedly Crowley had... What the...?"
Vicki followed his gaze to see what triggered such a reaction. The answer became rather obvious once her gaze rested on the cabinet with empty Chinese takeout containers, a glass... and a number of empty blood bags. She couldn't fathom how exactly it could have slipped her mind that they were still there but now the damage was already done.
The events of the last few days came crashing into her mind. They were still a bit too fresh and she wasn't ready to talk about them just yet. She sighed.
"What? Like we never celebrated over a takeout after wrapping a tough case."
Mike looked a bit queasy as he soundlessly mouthed 'takeout' while his eyes remained fixed on the bags. Not that she could really blame him. Only then did he seem to notice the glass that was standing there as well. In Vicki's opinion someone who had seen dozens of murder scenes in his life shouldn't look so nauseated no matter what.
"Don't tell me you actually let him use your glass."
"And why ever not?"
"You aren't going to use it for yourself now, are you?"
"Not before I wash it, no. But other than that..."
"He drank blood from it!"
"I kinda figured. With him being a vampire and all. What's your problem?"
"You can't be serious."
"What, do you throw away your kitchen utensils every time you nick yourself while cooking?"
"How? A bit of blood that can be easily washed off. What's the big deal?"
Mike just shook his head in disbelief. As much as she hated to admit it, she didn't know if she should be so blasé about the whole issue. It was her idea and it was done to keep Henry alive. Her relief over succeeding in that task was probably enough for her not to care even if Henry decided to feed off some bimbo in her presence. Not that she wouldn't go after him mercilessly if he had.
In the end she managed to somehow convince Mike to leave the kitchen and the conversation quickly moved to topics they were both more comfortable with. Even though he tried not to show it, Vicki could tell that her former partner was very glad to have his job back.
It was to that she attributed the fact that he went with the change to light conversation easily. After years of knowing him, it wasn't hard to tell that he was only now slowly letting go of everything that happened.
She didn't complain about the effects though. All things considered she decided that she, too, deserved a chance to take a break from the latest events and instead hear about the news concerning Toronto's finest and Molly's family.
Somewhere along the way they ordered takeout with only small hiccups of Mike provisioning that he doesn't want his food to go anywhere near her kitchen. She probably couldn't really blame him for that one either, all things considered.
When Mike finally decided he had to go, she was surprised to see how much time they spent talking. After the door closed behind the cop, Vicki closed her eyes for a second. Somehow it felt that now all pieces were in place. The crisis had been averted and now she truly had her friend back.
Her friend... Her thoughts suddenly started going into overdrive as she realised how natural that felt. Her friend. For the first time since she decided to give it a try and start something more with Mike, she had a feeling they were really friends again.
But... where did that leave her with Henry? Did she dare to try something new with him? Based on her knowledge of his feelings gained last night, hope that everything wouldn't lead to a disaster?
She tried shaking that thought out of her mind but the more she tried the more persistent it became. Eventually she got to the point where she thought she would go crazy if she didn't have a chance to see Henry, if just for a moment and see what she would really feel in his presence and what was just some wild creation of her overbearing imagination.
The problem was, it was still a few hours till sunset and the minutes... the seconds, seemed to stretch themselves to the point of impossibility.
As soon as Henry took his first breath for the night, his attention was drawn to the sound of a heartbeat in his apartment.
Intrigued despite himself, he got up and dressed in a flash. He walked out of his bedroom. Vicki was on the sofa, looking at the unfinished sketches of some ideas he had foolishly left lying on the table.
"I was under the impression that I locked the door before I went to sleep." He said approaching her.
She didn't even try to look guilty as she looked up from the sketches.
"Yes, about that. You should pay more attention to security, you know, considering that you are completely helpless during the day. That lock took me only five minutes."
"It's a certified anti-burglary lock." He stated matter-of-factly.
"Which is why I said 'five' and not 'one'. Still, you should buy some quality stuff, all things considered." She paused for a moment. "Of course there is a chance that any potential burglars after breaking in and seeing you sleep would quickly retreat, leaving no signs of their presence, afraid of being charged with murder."
"Not to mention most burglars would probably try to get in at night, making potential charges the least of their worries."
"Self-respecting burglars usually make a habit of learning one's daily routine before deciding when to strike, you know."
"Wouldn't that mean that they would try breaking in when I'm not here, and I am definitely not asleep, meaning that you could have left my lock very well alone?"
"So you aren't happy to see me?" She teased but he could sense a tone of uncertainty underneath.
"I am very happy to see you. I looked forward to it ever since I had to leave your side last night."
She smiled at him and he sat next to her, enjoying their closeness. As he did, she looked at the sketches she was holding.
"What are those?"
"Something you, or anyone else for that matter, weren't supposed to see before it's finished."
"I like them." Her voice didn't carry even the faintest hint of remorse.
Henry smiled at her. He was about to reply when his phone rang. He did his best to ignore the insistent sound but finally even Vicki apparently lost her patience and picked it up in his stand. Her face immediately grew confused as she did and when he listened to the voice on the other side speaking Italian he immediately knew why.
Wordlessly Vicki handed him the phone. He took it and immediately switched to Italian inquiring about the identity of the caller and the reason behind the call. He expected none and in his experience unexpected calls from strangers weren't usually carrying good news.
As he listened to the news, he wished he had been mistaken. He sat heavily. Father Saleta, the voice said, had left to the house of our Father. Before he passed away, he asked one of the people taking care of him to call this number and say that he would carry the prayers for the two of them to his destination. And to thank them, for making him feel in his last days the way he did before his retirement.
Henry forced his voice to stay calm as he thanked the man for passing on the message. Then he quickly ended the conversation, still absently holding the phone.
"What is it?" He heard Vicki's voice close, as she sat next to him.
"Herberto died tonight. He asked that somebody informed me." He didn't bother pretending before her and openly grieved for his friend.
Henry saw her hesitate for a good moment but then she took his hand offering him comfort. He gratefully clung to the waves of poignant calmness carried by her touch. Knowing how much it had cost her to initiate such gesture made the feeling even more precious.
He said a prayer for his old friend's soul, even if in his heart he had no doubt he wouldn't need it. If people like Herberto were not allowed in heaven, then nobody would stand a chance.
They sat in silence for a while and he drew comfort from Vicki's presence until he was able to slowly drift to acceptance. He kissed her hand.
"Thank you Victoria." He looked at her with tear-filled eyes.
"You know I'll always be there for you, Henry."
"Yes." He admitted quietly. "I know that."
He caressed her hand and still hadn't let go as he thought about the implications of what he just said. She was there with him. Despite everything that happened she was there for him. With the glimpses at her emotions she had allowed him to see, he could only hope that his feelings would be to some extent reciprocated.
He studied her closely. His wonderful friend. His miraculous love, who found him against all odds and reasons. Sitting next to her, he couldn't imagine how he could ever let her go. The emptiness that threatened if he tried to live without her would have shattered him.
With a sudden certainty he placed a kiss on her cheek.
"Will you promise to stay with me, Vicki?" He whispered and he could see he startled her.
She stiffened and for a while didn't answer. Then her eyes met his. He could see in them uncertainty and determination, held together only with her feelings. Then, in a voice so quiet that a human ear wouldn't have caught it, she answered.
"Yes." As if the word released some new strength in her, she drew breath and spoke in a more certain tone. "I promise."
He held her close almost afraid that letting her go would break this wonderful fantasy. Then he picked up the phone lying next to him and selected a number.
"Hello?" The familiar voice on the other side spoke.
"Augustus, I'm afraid that in light of certain circumstances I need to tell you the situation has changed completely."
"Do you mean you want me to speed up the things in Vancouver after all? I told you we could deal with..."
"Actually it's the opposite. I'm afraid I will need to stay in Toronto for a while longer."
"How long is 'a while'?"
"The foreseeable future. I hope I haven't caused you too much trouble."
"Is this a larger delay or should I assume Vancouver is available again?"
"I believe you can safely assume that. Goodbye, Augustus."
He put away the phone very aware of Vicki's gaze never leaving him.
"So... You aren't moving?" She asked softly.
"After extracting that promise from you I couldn't in good conscience still plan a move and expect you to follow, now could I?"
"Unless you secretly wish for a home with an ocean view. I'm sure Augustus haven't managed to give away the territory to anyone else in less than a minute so it should be possible to undo the last decision." He teased her.
"No thanks. So it's true? You are actually staying?"
He held her closer.
"Yes. I'm actually staying. With you."
(1) „Legio sum" – Lat. "I am Legion"
Reviews will be appreciated.
A/N: Herberto Saleta is a character appearing in one of the books of A. Pilipiuk. I borrowed him only as far as the name and position are concerned – I would have to create another character in a very similar position so I decided to make it a wink to those (few) who read the "Sorcerer Ivanov".