Disclaimer: Possessing ownership of the intellectual property of popular books or TV series is a state generally difficult to overlook. Therefore I believe it is safe to assume that if to my best knowledge I have no such rights then they indeed must belong to someone else. Given that fact it shouldn't be overly surprising that when I indulge myself by writing stories based on said intellectual property I do so without intention of making profit.
Summary: Vicki's world started slowly settling down with her friendship with Mike and strange partnership with Henry when consequences of one of her cases threatened to shatter everything.
Special thank you goes to my beta Marlana for all her help with this story.
Warning: I'm afraid you may find this story to be another tearjerker.
Vicki felt awful. That much she needed to admit to herself. She kept thinking that she might feel better if she vomited one more time but didn't seem able to.
It would be fine and good if she could blame her queasiness on indigestion but after three days of only being able to keep down bread and water it was becoming rather hard to support that theory. What's more, her state was rendering her mostly incapable of doing her job. That was what finally pushed her to make a doctor's appointment. She called Coreen to tell her she was going to be late that morning.
She muttered darkly to herself in the cab en route to the doctor's office, wondering if she honestly had to resort to a medical consultation. God knew she always hated those and if anything her enthusiasm about them had diminished since the RP diagnosis.
This time it was probably a stomach ulcer. After all, with what her life was like it would be more surprising if she didn't end up with one eventually.
After spending a while in a waiting room leafing through a couple of magazines which were apparently written for people who considered thinking a process they could easily do without she was a tad irritated. On top of that she learned several minutes later that instead of being offered some solution she had to wait a day for the results. That revelation didn't exactly improve her mood.
In the end, she suspected that after she left, Dr. Brown was torn between relief that he escaped alive and confusion as to why exactly she was that adamant that there weren't to be any marks where she had her blood drawn for tests.
It wasn't like she could tell him that she didn't want her vampire friend to know she saw a doctor and she suspected that would be one of the first things he'd notice. It was bad enough that after she left she changed her clothes and left the ones she wore at the doctor's office at the dry cleaners. As well as used hairspray for the first time in ages to avoid him smelling anything.
By the time she got to her office her mood was so foul that it took one look from her for Coreen to stop in mid-babble and retreat saying she had some paperwork to do.
Vicki sighed and concentrated on work, hoping it would allow her to unwind a bit. To some extent it even worked. She made a point of eating only biscuits and milk the whole day. Still it didn't help much. It definitely didn't bode well that even the thought of Chinese made her sick.
When evening came she still sat at her desk, working, almost afraid of the moment when she would no longer have something to distract herself.
Suddenly she became aware of Henry standing in the doorway, wrinkling his nose.
"You know, if you wanted me to stay away for a while, all you needed to do is say something. You don't need to resort to chemical warfare."
"You aren't referring to the hairspray, are you? I mean, with what your snacks probably treat their hair with, you should have grown immune to that ages ago."
"If I recall, while the smells ages ago weren't necessarily pleasant, hairspray hadn't even been invented yet."
She glared at him wordlessly.
"Though I do admit that I had to get used to this to some extent. One can only hold their breath so long. And getting your lungs to start working again is unpleasant enough sensation that I'd prefer to limit it to a once a night experience."
She found herself unable to stay annoyed faced with his smile.
"Fair enough. Will you survive this time if I promise not to use it tomorrow?"
"You should know by now I'm good at surviving." He smiled and then looked at her with concern. "You look pale and your heartbeat is elevated. Are you feeling alright? Maybe you should see a doctor tomorrow just in case?"
"I only see the doctor when I need to hear him tell me how dreadful I can see. I think I'll pass." He closed the distance between them and looked her in the eye.
"Vicki, be reasonable."
"I am reasonable. It's nothing. And anyway, why should I take advice from someone who hasn't been sick for the last four point seven centuries?" She noted that he actually looked hurt for a moment.
"Am I even denied the right to be concerned about you?"
"Henry, listen, I can take care of myself, alright? It's who I am. It's who I've been ever since I was a kid. I can't just..." She broke off and he nodded.
"I believe I understand. But please, try to realise that I never doubted your ability to take care of yourself. I just wish you'd understand that sometimes you don't have to."
She shook her head.
"Well, this isn't one of those times."
"If you say so. But if you insist on not visiting a doctor you should probably at least get some rest. How about you leave this," he gestured to her desk," for tomorrow and allow me to take you home?"
"What, you came all the way here just to give me a lift?"
"You need some rest. Preferably in the form of sleep. As it happens, night is when people usually tend to do that. I'd rather miss one night with you than spend a number of them worrying about your deteriorating health."
She was about to protest when she realised that this time Henry might actually be right. Her health was apparently deteriorating as the last couple of days made painfully clear. So possibly in this particular case she would go along with the suggestion.
She turned off the computer and got up.
When Henry got to Vicki's office the next night, the PI wasn't there. He did hear the familiar heart murmur inside so he entered.
"Hello, Coreen. Where is Vicki?"
"Henry! You know, most people would either check or ask if she was in or not."
"You know very well that I'm not most people. Well?"
"Oh, right. She got a call in the afternoon and right afterwards she took her jacket and said she was going home. I asked if something happened but she told me to mind my own business. And then she was gone. Leaving me alone with all the work. But to answer your question, she is probably still in her..." Coreen broke off to press a few papers to the desk as they suddenly danced in the air. When she looked up she realised she was once again alone in the office. "... apartment. Good luck finding her."
Henry still registered the girl's words as he exited the building. Moments later he was driving to Vicki's apartment.
He heard her sobs almost as soon as he entered the building. Instantly he was at her door. It was locked. Fortunately a quick inspection showed him that her window wasn't .
She was sitting on her bathroom floor, shaking.
"Vicki, what is it?" He asked immediately.
"What are you doing here? And it's not your problem."
"If you didn't want me here, you'd have secured your windows. Now I ask again, what is it?"
She looked at him. Seeing the despair in her eyes awoke hundreds of horrible possibilities in his mind. By the time she managed to speak again he was almost paralysed with fear for her.
"I..." She started and closed her eyes, breaking eye contact. "I'm pregnant."
"You are... what? With whom?" Frantically he started reviewing his memory trying to remember if he ever could smell anyone from her like that. He couldn't recall even one time. Suddenly he realised that she didn't answer him and resolved to sobs instead. "Vicki?"
"I don't know... I told them it had to be a mistake because I haven't... And all they said was that it wasn't a mistake and if I insist that I haven't slept with anyone then I'm probably the first case in two thousand years and that it was funny because I didn't seem all that saintly and if anything I was more the other guy's type. They thought it was a joke... But... what if that's it? It can't be the dark elf. I had that bath scheduled for that evening so he didn't get the chance. So either someone slipped me a date rape drug so I wouldn't remember or it's Astartoth." She sighed. "God, I never thought I'd one day hope that I was raped."
Not knowing what else he could do, he pulled her into an embrace, whispering words of comfort that even he didn't properly register. She cried quietly into his chest as he stroked her blond hair. Suddenly something occurred to him.
"You said the Svartálfar wanted to give you the bath that very evening?"
She calmed a bit and looked at him. "Yeah, so what?"
"Those children aren't called changelings for nothing, Vicki. Svartálfar can't make a woman pregnant. They can only switch the child for their offspring. If they decided you were ready for that, they must have detected you were already pregnant. And you were given substances that heighten fertility..." He stopped, looking as her eyes grew wider.
"But if they used... Then Mike... God, that's even worse."
"You prefer Astaroth over Celluci? Vicki, while I'd be the first to admit he has his faults, don't you think you might be going a bit too far?"
"Don't you see? It ruins everything. I have to get rid of it!"
Henry looked at her, barely able to acknowledge that it was the Vicki he knew speaking. While he had long come to terms with the fact that perceptions of various things changed through the years, he still could hardly believe his ears. The topic struck perhaps too close to home for him but he couldn't accept what he was hearing.
"Vicki, are you saying you want to kill your own child because it would be an inconvenience?"
She choked a sob before she spoke again.
"No. But it would be better for everyone. Even the child."
"I'm afraid I fail to see how not getting a chance to live would be better for it."
"Did you know RP is among the most often transferred genetic illnesses? I can't have a child, Henry. I would be sentencing it to blindness just by bringing it to the world. And burdening him or her with having to take care of a blind mother..."
"You have the condition and I was never under the impression that you'd rather be dead than live with it. And I honestly can't picture you, blind or not, allowing others to take care of you for any long period of time, even if they were willing."
She looked at him for a moment. Either knowingly or not she brought her hand halfway to her abdomen before letting it drop to the bathroom floor. Henry took the opportunity to take hold of it and gently massaged the palm of her hand with his thumb. For a moment she seemed to relax before her expression clouded with worry again.
"That still leaves the Mike issue though," she whispered.
"What about him?"
"Things were slowly starting to become clear between us, you know. We were getting over the time we were together and becoming friends again, like we were before. It wasn't easy but it was working, especially since we both missed our friendship. If he learns about this, he will want us to be back together. Then it won't be long before all those things that made it not work out between us rear their ugly head again. That will either end with him leaving and making the kid go through what I did or with both of us suffering in a dysfunctional relationship with the kid stranded somewhere in the middle. Or I tell him no at the start and he'll think I want him out of the kid's life, which would be the definite end of our friendship."
"I see. But I don't think this is the best place to continue this conversation. C'mon, let's get you to the couch, alright?"
He stood and extended his hand. For a moment it seemed as though she might refuse to take it but eventually she did and he helped her up before leading her to the living room to sit on the couch. To his surprise not only did she not protest but she also leaned against him when they sat. Which made what he knew he needed to say even harder.
"Now, coming back to the topic at hand. It's possible that now that you know each other better and had some time to think about what went wrong, your potential relationship with Celluci would stand a chance after all." It tore his heart to voice that, but how could he not, when Vicki's happiness was at stake?
She shook her head.
"I want him as a friend, Henry. It wouldn't work."
"Sometimes choosing to develop something with your best friend is the best you can hope for."
"I distinctly remember thinking that the first time. It ended so well that if I wasn't a witness to a homicide we probably still wouldn't be talking to each other. Why are you pressing the issue? Do you want me to get together with Mike?"
"The only thing I want is your happiness. If Celluci was able to give that to you, I would learn to accept that. He already gave you a child, which is something I could never do. Perhaps..."
"Henry, don't. And you know as well as I do that the pregnancy was an accident at best. Hell, I didn't even sleep with Mike before it happened. I don't want to have anything more serious with him and I very much doubt either of us would be happy if I tried." She focused on him. "Look, I know this whole thing probably struck a cord for you, but trust me when I tell you it's not any easier from my side either."
"It was never my intention to imply otherwise. But if you meant what you said earlier, perhaps you could tell Celluci, but only after extracting a promise from him first that whatever you say won't change your relationship in any way."
"I doubt he would keep that one once I'd tell him what it was about. Perhaps I won't tell him anything."
"He's bound to notice and start asking questions eventually."
"And then I'll tell him to mind his own business."
"If that's what you wish. Give it some thought before making the final decision."
They sat in silence for a while.
"Henry?" she eventually whispered.
"I didn't really want to abort the child. Even if it was Astaroth's. Just so you know."
"Thank you for telling me. Even if somehow I had that feeling already."
"Since I'm keeping the child, do you think I have any chance of being a decent mother?"
"I'm certain you'll be an excellent one." He made a show of tasking her with sight. "Though it would probably be better if the child was a boy."
"Now I'm pretty sure you're starting to sound like your father."
It turned out that not telling Mike was harder than she expected. Somehow there suddenly seemed to be thousands of things she somehow hadn't included in her plan.
Like the next day, when he came to her with beer and Chinese, hoping to talk to her.
She was pretty sure that locking herself in the bathroom after only glancing at him and then refusing to come out until he left was pretty much the last thing he expected. Before he was gone she could hear him asking Coreen if the girl had any idea why she was angry with him. She couldn't remember ever regretting any plan of hers so much as she did right then, listening as the door closed behind him.
She cursed her body that it somehow had to find the smell of Chinese of all things so nauseating before deciding that she had to find a way to get used to it if she was to stand any chance of keeping her pregnancy a secret. She slid out of the bathroom and was instantly hit by the smell of Chinese again. She managed to combat her instinct to run back to the bathroom and forced herself to go to her desk.
There, she found a carton of Chinese with a note 'Whatever it was I hope this can appease you' attached to it. She felt another wave of nausea but still stood her ground.
"Mike was pretty upset, you know." She heard the voice of her assistant behind her.
"Yeah?" She managed, not risking any longer sentences. She glared at the carton hoping it would just disappear. After all, with everything else she's seen happen, it wasn't exactly against all reason that it would, right?
"C'mon, spill. What did he do? Because he didn't have a clue either and it usually works better if people know what they should be sorry for."
"That bad, huh? I'm waiting for all the gory details, you know."
"Forget it." She shifted the glare from the carton to her assistant causing the girl to slowly retreat to her desk. Then she looked at the carton again, which seemed to be taking pleasure in sending its whole nauseating smell her way.
She thought for a moment. Despite nausea she managed so far to withstand all the nasty side effects of the Chinese. And if she continued to give her favourite takeout a wide berth for the next couple of months (she cringed at the thought) there would be no way anyone would stay oblivious for more than a moment. And after all she promised herself to find a way to get used to the Chinese and this was proving itself a perfect opportunity.
"Coreen, why don't you go home? We are done with clients for today and I owe you for yesterday."
"You mean it?"
"Thanks!" After receiving Vicki's look, Coreen thought better of giving her boss a hug and wisely chose to grab her cloak and leave instead.
Vicki saw the girl leave before focusing back on the carton that ominously continued existing on her desk. After she was sure her assistant wasn't coming back, she wearily reached for the chopsticks, promising herself that she was going to learn to eat Chinese again even if it killed her.
Half an hour later she wondered why exactly she thought that dying would be the worst outcome.
When Henry arrived, she was still in the bathroom, seriously wondering how the human species managed to survive if that was how being pregnant felt. If it wasn't for the fact that she couldn't at that particular moment, she would tell the vampire to get out and don't come back in hopes of being spared being seen like that.
As that proved not to be an option however, she felt moderately grateful that at least instead of sending her some sarcastic comment he came to her and held her hair back while at the same time gently massaging her back. After a moment, when she sat miserably on the floor, he handed her a damp towel.
"Thanks." She managed. "You know, one would think that if something is called morning sickness it should be over after the morning."
"It will go away eventually."
"Not anytime soon though." He remained silent. "It's awful. I can't even eat the things I used to like without tossing my cookies."
"Believe it or not but I know the feeling."
"Yes. Though I'm afraid my solution wouldn't be of any use to you."
"How can you be so sure? What was it?"
"I stopped trying to eat human food no matter how much I might miss it." He smiled at her ruefully.
"Oh." She scrambled to get up from the floor, which resulted in him silently offering her his assistance. "But then again, giving up on food altogether seems a better idea with every passing minute."
"I don't think that's what the doctor would recommend. Why don't you find out what you can eat and start from there? And apropos, has the doctor given you any suggestions?"
"Not really. After the insinuation that Astaroth might be the daddy-to-be I slammed down the phone."
"I see. Don't you think it might be a good idea to find another doctor then and schedule a visit, hopefully without touching the subject of your relations with hell residents?"
"Probably. But if I do, it would be much more likely that the secret would come out."
"You are aware that if I adopted that mindset I would have to starve for fear that I might reveal my secret otherwise, aren't you?"
"Well, I don't happen to have handy mind-wipe skills at my disposal so forgive me for being cautious."
"How about this – you will see a doctor and I promise that if anyone tries to spill your secret I will take care of modifying any memories?"
"You've got yourself a deal." She paused. "Do you think I could risk eating a donut?"
"Only one way to find out."
"Gee, thanks for making me a guinea pig. I honestly can't imagine being like this for a couple of weeks."
"Others have before you, you know. So it's probably something you can survive."
"You're all heart, aren't you?"
"Do you want to go get some donuts or not? I don't care either way, you know."
"There should be some rule about giving ultimatums to pregnant women."
"I have a feeling you'll see to it that one is created within the next few months."
"And don't you doubt it."
Superficially it seemed that agreeing to Henry's idea of finding another doctor was an idea that couldn't possibly have any drawbacks. A fact easily proved as she tried to find one, if just for the sake of discussion and wasn't very successful.
Then again she should have known that nothing in this word is perfect.
Finding a good obstetrician was easy enough. While doing so in secret might have been a bit harder, it was a hiccup she would be willing to overlook. No – it was the fact that with all the praise her doctor received, the information about how much she loved making life harder for her patients must have gotten lost in translation.
Because there wasn't really any other explanation.
First, she had said that the only free time she still has for her patients was in the afternoon. A fact deceptively innocent at first glance, but after seeing Coreen's shock at her leaving the office early to be there on time, Vicki had no doubt that it had to be fate getting even for whatever it was this time.
But that still wasn't the worst part.
She heard the gasp of Henry waking and sat a bit straighter on the couch. She couldn't allow herself to be seen in any state resembling miserable. And she had a strange feeling that between her arrival at the vampire's apartment after seeing the doctor and sunset she might have gotten to the point where she could give that impression to an untrained eye. A more trained one would, of course, know she was thinking murder and that Vicki Nelson and miserable never went well together.
"This is a pleasant surprise. Missed me already?" He didn't seem affected by her glare.
"Humility. In that aspect you definitely don't take after your mother's side of the family."
"As long as I don't have anything to be humble about, why bother." He sniffed the air as he drew closer to her. "You've seen a doctor today."
"You know, it usually goes like this. You ask me how my day was, I give you a short summary of what I did at work and then volunteer, or not, that information."
"Very well then, how was your day?"
"You are very quick to change your mind, aren't you? What did the doctor say?"
"Well, let's see. That I need to get more rest now, like that's possible without raising suspicions, take care of myself, great way of implying I haven't before, isn't it?, take vitamin supplements and such and of course, last but not least, follow her orders when it comes to my diet. Now, it's not that I haven't heard about the no alcohol rule before but some of the other stuff... I'm almost sure she made that up just to make me feel worse. I mean, can you imagine nine months without coffee or Chinese takeout?"
"I assume that was a rhetorical question."
She blinked and looked at his infuriating grin. Then she sighed.
"Do you want to know what she said or not?"
"Forgive my interruption. Please, continue." She could have done without hearing it said in the tone that, she was pretty sure, he used mostly when he was still human.
"Right. Well, she generally said that I should vary my diet while removing so many things from it that there is no way it stands a chance of being varied. And I should eat insane amounts of fruit and vegetables. The one good thing I learned was what to do to actually have a chance of keeping my meals down."
"I knew there had to be a bright side. Otherwise I suspect you'd smell of the doctor's blood as well."
"Henry. And speaking of which, I asked if she wouldn't mind seeing me in the evening next time. I'll need someone there to keep me from doing something drastic if she drops such instructions in my lap again and of all the people in on the secret..."
"About that. Don't you think you might consider telling Coreen, if not Mike? You said you'd have a hard time not making her suspicious either way. You'd only make your life easier."
"You do know the girl couldn't keep a secret to save her life? Or rather, couldn't keep the secret to save her life. Because I'm pretty sure that if she breathed something to Mike I'd..."
"What would be so horrible about Celluci knowing sooner rather than later? Because I'd hate to disappoint you if you thought otherwise, but this is the one condition you won't be able to hide forever. Not unless you forbid him to see you for the last couple of months."
"But at least for as long as I can keep it secret..."
"Wouldn't you rather tell them on your own terms?"
She went silent for a while.
"Perhaps. But not right now anyway. I need to psych myself up for that first. Hell, I will probably need to treat Coreen for shock when I tell her. Perhaps I should have you there so you could monitor her health, just in case."
"She's told you about her heart condition then?"
"She has a heart condition?"
"I assume that's a no." Henry gave her a light smile.
"Seriously Henry, is it something I should worry about? Perhaps I was pushing her too hard. And I don't think telling her might be such a good idea in that case."
"Vicki, relax. Don't you think I would have said something by now if anything you did endangered her health? Other than employing her in the first place, that is? There is a slight anomaly in the build of her heart causing a heart murmur. If she has any heart problems in the future it might be a factor but as it is, it's pretty much harmless."
"Good to know. You will keep an eye, or as the case may be, an ear on her just in case, right?"
"Of course. Would you mind if I left you here for a while? I'm afraid that as much as I enjoy your company I still need to go feed."
"Yeah, sure. Do you have a kettle or something here? I want to make myself some tea." She lifted a bag containing ginger tea and a few packs of gingerbread cookies.
"A bit monothematic, don't you think?"
"Look who's talking. And the doc said ginger might help so I decided it's worth a shot even if I have to survive solely on it until the morning sickness goes away completely."
"I see. To answer your question I believe you should find one somewhere. I know I bought one in case I had any guests but as often as you can imagine I use it, I'm afraid I can't recall its exact location."
"Well, that's something. I'll be waiting for you."
"I'll try not to be long then."
He smiled at her and started preparing to leave while she went to his kitchen in search of a kettle.
When Henry came home some time later, he could still hear Vicki's heartbeat inside. It was calmer than one would expect from someone awake, so he took care to open the door quietly when he slid inside.
True to his suspicions, Vicki was sleeping on the couch. On the table next to her stood a cup of unfinished ginger tea and an open bag of cookies.
His first impulse was to move her to his bed to allow her more comfortable sleep but the thought was quickly discarded for the risk of waking her. Instead he brought a pillow from his bedroom and gently slid it under her head. Then he went to get a blanket to cover her with and finally dimmed the lights in the room.
He smiled at her sleeping form and whispered pleasant dreams wishes to her ear. Then, with one last glance at her, he went to his work area.
Somehow hearing her steady heartbeat so close to him while working was both distracting and comforting at the same time.
When Vicki awoke it was dark. Or at least dark enough that she couldn't really see properly. Still being very sleepy, she tried to figure out what was wrong with her surroundings. The position she was in wasn't particularly comfortable but nothing that would make her want to move just yet. Especially since it would mean having to lift her head from the soft satin pillow...
Her eyes snapped open and she started straining them to see something that would give her some answers. What she did manage to find was a lamp on the table, next to her, that she was pretty sure she never saw there before. Not certain if she should take that for a good sign or not she switched it on, only to have the room flooded by the light of a hundred watt bulb. She blinked a few times as foggy memories of falling asleep at Henry's slowly started coming back to her.
She looked back to the table. Now she could see a note lying there as well. She picked it up and started reading.
'I didn't want to wake you as you did say you needed your rest. I'm afraid I had to close all the blinds but I hope the lamp will suffice until you can switch the rest of the lights on. You will find some fruit in the kitchen. Hopefully, if what you said was right, at least this kind of breakfast should agree with you. I will see you in the evening. Henry'
Vicki sighed. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't pretend that some tiny part of her didn't think that being cared for like this was kind of nice. And who said hormones weren't fun? Trying to pretend it wasn't being cared for but just a major coincidence, down to her vampire friend shopping for fruit, wasn't much help either.
She didn't have a chance to think about it when she was hit by a wave of nausea. She desperately grabbed at the gingerbread cookies in hopes of quieting her stomach. As she was munching on them, she felt that her desire to throw up was replaced by just the discomfort of having one too many rides on a rollercoaster. Not really pleasant, but something she felt she could manage.
She dragged herself to the kitchen and selected a banana from the bowl of fruit deciding that together with the cookies she had probably made just about as solid breakfast as she could take at the moment.
She made herself another cup of ginger tea before glancing at her watch. She winced seeing how late she already was. It figured that without Henry having any alarm clocks and with no sun to wake her up, her inner clock had chosen this particular day to betray her. A few more stunts like this and she would either have to tell Coreen soon or think of one hell of cover story.
Without rushing to avoid further upsetting her stomach she started getting ready to leave.
She was working at her desk, munching on gingerbread cookies, that she had gotten used to over the last couple of days but was silently promising herself she would never touch again after the pregnancy. She just finished transcribing the phone conversation between her client's husband and his 'personal assistant' and had just printed a copy of that along with the photo of said pair, when she became aware of a presence in the doorway.
"Are you planning on looming there all night?" She asked without really looking up.
"Actually, I'm listening." She did look at him now, only to see his grin.
"Oh, really? To what exactly if it's not a secret of any sort?"
"A truly wonderful sound. Your heartbeats."
He took a few steps closing the distance between them while his expression shifted to a gentle smile.
"Today, for the first time I heard two heartbeats coming from you. Yours and that of your child."
"Oh." She wasn't really sure what she should say to that. But she had a feeling that she was really lucky to be sitting already or her knees might have made the decision for her. She hesitated. "How does it sound?"
"Fast. Twice as fast as yours, actually. Urgent and delicate. But despite the speed it still sounds very much in tune with your own. It's hard to describe."
"Somehow I think you managed to do it quite well all the same." She sighed. "It makes it more real, doesn't it? That he or she is growing inside me."
"Wasn't it real before?"
"Not like this. Not to the point of making you realise that it's getting closer every day." She paused. "Perhaps I really should tell them already."
"Perhaps you should. It would make things easier for you."
"It would make some things easier. Others – not so much."
"I think most things would be easier in any case. And they probably deserve to know."
"I honestly don't know what to tell Mike."
"How about the truth? That seems like a good place to start."
"He thinks I'm mad at him for something, you know. At first it was unintended, a misunderstanding, but then I didn't know what to tell him without actually telling him that so by now he thinks I'm really pissed at him. And when I do tell him, our friendship will be over. Seems like I'm screwed either way."
"You don't know that for sure unless you tell him. Perhaps you underestimate him."
"I just can't honestly see him casually reacting to having a child with his friend. Not to mention that even if he somehow comes to terms with that, I pretty much screwed up his life. Any woman he might be interested in after hearing that he has a kid with me is bound to jump to the conclusion that as long as we are friends there is no hope for a serious relationship of any kind."
"And aren't you worried that you'd be pretty much in the same boat? Not to mention that you would additionally be a single mother which probably wouldn't help matters."
"I'm not really worried about that being a problem any time soon. If ever."
"Oh really? Why is that?"
"How can you hope to manage telling Mike and Coreen if you can't bring yourself to answer my simple question?"
"Ok., if you insist. I think I may be feeling something for someone already but since that's pretty much a hopeless case and something I would never allow myself to get tangled in, it doesn't matter. There isn't probably much chance of me getting over it any time soon so the options for the future are somewhat limited."
Henry's face displayed a myriad of feelings before he schooled it into something resembling polite interest.
"Would it be too much to inquire who the man fortunate enough to have hold of your heart is?"
"Yeah. It would be too much."
"Perhaps then you could at least tell what makes the case so hopeless. Is he married?"
"Not anymore, if memory serves. Do you really need to make it harder, Henry?"
"If your happiness depends on a person you refuse to let go of and yet are unable to be with then the least I can do is help you find a solution."
"There isn't any solution here. Do you honestly have no idea who I am talking about?"
"Much as I wish I could say otherwise I have no part in your life during the day. I have no knowledge of who you meet then or what your relations with these people are. Nights are the only time I can share with you and as long as you don't choose to share with me the news of your daytime life I remain ignorant when it comes to them." Now there was no mistake that she could see deep sadness in his eyes. Quite ironic in a way.
Suddenly, pushed by what she could only assume to be a surge of hormones she felt her eyes growing glassy before tears rolled down her cheeks.
"There are only four people that have any part in my life, Henry. My mother is one of them and you know the rest. Don't you get it? You want to know so badly what's keeping me away from that guy? Well, here it is – his immortality and eternal youth, the fact that sooner rather than later I will be nothing but a burden to him. The fact that he is one of my closest friends and the last time I tried that it ended with my heart being broken and the simultaneous loss of a good friend. That even now, without particularly trying he could get any girl he wanted and I'm pretty much the last person anyone would want. Do I need to go on?"
She looked up to see his eyes shining with unearthly brightness. Suddenly he lifted her off the chair, swirled her around as if she weighted nothing and finally ended the movement by putting her down and pulling her into a hug.
"Vicki, my dear Vicki." He whispered and then went silent for a moment. "You should know better than to think of me as just anyone." She could now detect a faint teasing in his tone, the moment of emotion slowly fading away.
"It doesn't really resolve anything, you know. There are still the other issues."
"And don't you think we should work at overcoming them instead of pushing the other away? Or is there something else to it that you haven't mentioned before?"
She lowered her head.
"Vicki? Is there something else?"
"I don't believe in love, you know. I stopped when I was six and my dad... well I stopped when I was a kid. It's not that I didn't know there could be something real between two people. As far as I could tell the closest approximation was friendship with a bit of physical attraction thrown in. That I had with Mike. It didn't work to say the least. Then you came along and I started to feel something. I don't know exactly what. I think I don't want to know. And I'm almost as afraid that it won't work out as I am at the thought that it actually might."
"You gave up on love when you were just six?"
"How can you give up on something that doesn't exist?"
"You didn't think vampires existed either and I managed to prove you wrong. Why don't you give me a chance to do it again?"
"And what if it is me who is right this time?"
"You did say that friendship with physical attraction is the next best thing and we already have that. We might as well act on it."
"I can't lose your friendship, Henry."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because I can't imagine my life without you in it anymore either."
"Well, you'll have about fifty years to get used to the idea."
"Or the idea of seeing the sun one last time. No matter if you believe in the feeling or not, I do love you, Victoria."
She had a vague feeling that she started hyperventilating and a moment later she realised she was seated on the sofa with Henry gently telling her to calm down in his deep, vampiric voice. She shook her head to clear her mind.
"You know that doesn't work on me."
"As long as your mind is present somewhere in the vicinity. It was worth a shot."
"How did this topic start, anyway?"
"I believe we were discussing the idea of you sharing the news with Coreen and Celluci and it somehow went from there."
"Well then, however it started, I think we should go back on topic. What do you think? Should I tell them together or should I tell Mike first seeing how it was him who..."
"I believe telling him first might be a good idea."
"Will you be there when I do? I think I might need you there if not for anything else then to make sure I don't chicken out."
"Don't you think this is one topic which might require greater privacy?"
"Not really. You can say that you heard the double heartbeat and convinced me to tell him. Both are essentially true after all."
"If you insist. When do you want to tell him?"
"Better be done with it fast. How about tomorrow evening? I'll call him in the morning to see if he can come. If not, I'll leave you a message."
"Sounds like a plan. Here?"
"I'll be there then."
They sat for a while after that wrapped in a tacit peacefulness. Finally Vicki broke the silence.
"If we try and it turns out badly, will you promise we'll remain friends?"
The kiss that they shared afterwards sealed the promise. And made it completely unnecessary.
The next morning Vicki probably would have felt dreadful if it wasn't for her still being on cloud nine after the exchange she had with Henry last evening. It took her a while to get herself together. Once she did, she couldn't put off talking to Mike any longer.
She reached for her cell and dialled his number. For a moment she was afraid he wouldn't pick up. Finally he did.
"Hey, Vic. I was starting to lose hope of ever hearing from you again."
"Yeah, about that, Mike. We need to talk. Can you make it to my office at seven this evening?"
"Am I finally going to learn what I did?"
She opened her mouth and closed it, subconsciously glancing at her still very much flat stomach. "In a way. Will you be there?"
"I'll do my best."
"Don't bring Chinese."
"Is it that bad? Now I'm suddenly not sure if I'm ready for this kind of talk. I don't believe you've ever voluntarily refused Chinese."
"There's a first time for everything."
"Honestly, how much trouble am I in?"
"Not as deep as you might think. Or at least it's not that kind of trouble."
"And what kind of trouble is it?"
"I'll tell you everything when you come. Until then?"
"Yeah, Vic. See you then."
She put her jacket on, slipped the phone into her pocket and left for her office. Now she only had to stay convinced this was a good idea. At least until evening.
That evening Henry made a point of feeding quickly to be at Vicki's office as soon as he could. When he arrived, she was still alone, turning a gingerbread cookie into successively smaller crumbs.
"Anxious?" He asked gaining her attention.
"Whatever gave you the idea?"
He looked pointedly at the crumbs before her. "Just call it a hunch."
"Mike called me at two saying that they were working on something and he might be late. How late, he couldn't tell."
"We have all night. Though you might want to take a nap if you're tired. I'll wake you when he comes."
"If he finds me napping before midnight he will assume that I'm at least terminally ill. Or that I have finally snapped."
"I assume that's a no."
"You assume correctly."
He stepped closer to her and pulled her chair, with her still in it, away from the desk.
"Well, you may refuse to sleep but you should still rest. You look tired."
"I haven't done anything hard today. Just wrapping two simple cases. How could I be tired?"
"You tell me. Because whatever the cause, you quite obviously are. You haven't been thinking about the upcoming conversation with Celluci the whole day, have you?"
"I don't want to lose my friend over this, Henry."
"Vicki, if he turns away from you because of this he will prove to be a greater fool than I ever thought he was. And all things considered, that would be no easy feat."
"This is hopeless. I wish he would just come so it would be over one way or another. The waiting is killing me."
"Now, we can't have that, can we?" He bent down and kissed her gently, smiling mischievously at her half-surprised and half-overwhelmed expression. "I'm sure he will be here soon."
"I hope. But until he gets here..."
It was his turn to be surprised when she got up and kissed him with a hungry kiss. It didn't take him long to respond.
After they pulled away Vicki seemed a bit shaky. She tried, unsuccessfully for the most part, to pull herself together enough to resemble her usual self. What she managed wouldn't really fool anyone knowing her for more than an hour but didn't make it obvious what exactly she was trying to conceal so it probably could be considered a success to some extent.
The sound of her cell sobered her suddenly, wiping all traces of her feelings from her face. She frowned as she looked at the caller's ID.
"Hi Kate, what is it?" At hearing the female detective's name Henry decided to forgo insignificant issues such as privacy of conversations.
"Vicki. Could you come to Toronto General? It's Mike." Vicki paled and instinctively he came to her and wrapped an arm around her waist to steady her if her legs were to betray her.
"Accident during an intervention. I'll tell you more when you come."
"I'm on my way. I'll see you there."
Her hands shook as she ended the call. Her heart was beating at an impossible speed. He pulled her into a hug for a moment. After being certain that she would be able to stand on her own for a second he went to get her jacket. Then, still without a word, he held it to her and led her to his car. Soon afterwards they were driving to the hospital.
When they arrived at the hospital, Vicki felt numb. Not worried, as probably a normal person would be, but numb. She had a feeling that if Henry hadn't taken the initiative she would still be standing in the middle of her office staring at her cell. Somehow, the fact that Kate didn't think she could share the details on the phone made her more worried than anything.
She simultaneously wanted to go inside and finally get some answers and dreaded doing so. Once again she felt Henry's arm wrapping around her waist to lead her. Once they stepped inside, Henry paused. She looked at him questioningly. He looked worried.
"Henry? What is it?" He shook his head. "C'mon, whatever it is, tell me. I promise I can take it."
He closed his eyes for a second. She couldn't tell if he was concentrating or just unwilling to meet her gaze for a moment. Then he looked at her.
"Celluci's blood. There are thousands of smells here and it still stands out over them." He whispered and measured her with his gaze. "It might not mean anything. Perhaps it's just the most familiar smell for me here or it is so distinct because it is still fresh."
"And what's your best guess?"
"I don't have one. He was bleeding which could have happened for any number of reasons. And if we want to know anything we should find Detective Lam instead of lingering in the doorway." It didn't escape her that he lowered his gaze when he was speaking.
"Let's find Kate then. Perhaps she can tell us something."
They didn't need to search long as they found her in the waiting room, sitting in a chair with her head in her hands.
"Kate? What happened?" Vicki sat in the chair next to the cop and heard Henry's sharp intake of breath as he settled next to her. Only then did she notice the blood on the detective's clothes.
"We were working the case and Mike suggested that we return the scene to check our theory. Only that gang was already there. They hid something at the scene before and went back for it. Or to dispose of it, who knows. We called for backup but they saw us. It was eight on two, both sides armed. By the time backup arrived Mike was hit."
"I'm not really sure. I think one of the bullets hit him in the stomach and another in the chest, so... He was taken straight to the surgery and I'm waiting here for some news. His sister was called but she hasn't arrived yet."
"Don't worry, Kate. Mike will make it. He is tougher than that." Even to herself she didn't sound very convincing.
"I hope you are right, Vicki."
Soon after she saw Molly arrive. She hasn't seen the woman for the longest time but she still pulled her into a hug. Somehow, she felt comfort was the only thing they could offer each other.
When Vicki sat down again she found herself leaning into Henry's embrace, as he whispered words of comfort into her hair. The time seemed to be leaking rather than of flowing but it was still too soon before she had to surrender that gentle comfort when he needed to leave because of the approaching dawn. By the time he left they still didn't have any news.
Henry awoke the next evening and immediately reached for his cell to check for any messages. One text message. Vicki wanted him to meet her at the hospital. She didn't add anything more but he allowed himself to hope that her continued presence there meant that Detective Celluci was, if not fine, then at least alive. After all, what else could have kept Vicki in the hospital the whole day?
He dressed quickly and a moment later he was in his car. He took a detour while driving to the hospital, stopping briefly in an unpleasant neighbourhood where he stepped out of his car. His meal found him immediately and without any effort on his part. The whole affair didn't cause more than a fifteen minute delay in his arrival at the hospital.
Upon entering the place he was once again hit by an overwhelming wave of scents and feelings that humans in the building were broadcasting. To save his sanity he immediately concentrated on finding Vicki. Her scent no longer lingered near the entrance but after a moment he managed to distinguish a familiar heartbeat among the thousands sounding from all directions. Listening more carefully he confirmed that initial recognition, focused on it and followed it.
He found Vicki in the same waiting room where they were the previous night. She sat in the furthest corner with her face hidden in her hands. In such close proximity he could tell she was crying. He stepped closer and was hit by an almost suffocating feeling of despair.
"Vicki?" She didn't answer. Looking at her, he doubted if she even registered someone had spoken.
He kneeled in front of her and gently took hold of both her hands. He feared he already knew what news he was going to hear but right now his first priority was her.
"Vicki?" He tried again and this time he saw her eyes focus on him. A moment later he was sitting next to her as she buried her face in his chest.
She sobbed quietly for a moment before she could bring herself to say anything.
"He's gone, Henry." She whispered huskily. "They were working on him for hours but in the end they still couldn't save him. It wasn't supposed to be like that. And I never got a chance to tell him... He never knew that..." She dissolved into sobs again.
He held her for a moment. There wasn't anything he could say or do to make it better. If there was, he would have done it no matter what the cost. As it was, all he could do was watch as she spent the last reserve of her energy on shedding the tears that brought her no comfort. Finally he made a decision.
"You need to get out of here. Sitting here is doing you no good."
She shook her head.
"I couldn't move from here. Molly had some paperwork to do and Kate left eventually but I couldn't. As long as I sit here I can still hope it's some sort of nightmare that I am going to wake up from. If I leave, I'll have to face reality."
"You will have to, sooner or later. And it would be better for both you and your child if it was sooner."
An expression of fear crossed her face and she paled, unconsciously lifting her hand to her abdomen.
"Oh God." She whispered before falling silent again.
"Come, Vicki. We need to get you home. Have you eaten anything?"
"Three sandwiches and a yoghurt from the hospital's cafeteria when we were still waiting for news. I managed to keep down about half of that."
"Then we need to get you something to eat as well."
"Please, Henry, I don't think I would be able to swallow anything anyway. Just leave me be."
"I'm afraid I care about you too much to do that." He lifted her up and carried her to his car. The fact that she never moved in his arms the whole way worried him even more.
For Vicki's sake, he remained composed. The loss of a friend was something he had learned to deal with over the years. If anything surprised him, it was how soon he started considering Detective Celluci his friend despite their differences. But this was not the time to mourn his untimely passing. Michael Celluci didn't need any worldly help, other than a prayer. Vicki, on the other hand, did, and at the moment only he was there to offer it.
He stopped at a restaurant as he was driving her home. While it wasn't a place that would normally offer takeout, he had all the advantage he needed in this materialistic world to convince them that delivering the food to the address he gave them might easily be the single best transaction they did in their career.
After that stop he drove straight to Vicki's home. He was ready to carry her again if she needed it but this time she just took his arm, insisting she could walk on her own. Looking into the sudden emptiness of her eyes he didn't argue, leading her gently to her apartment.
When they got there they were met by an unsuspected sight of Coreen sitting on the floor next to Vicki's door. The girl looked up as they approached.
"Vicki! I was worried about you. You didn't come to work and weren't answering your cell. I thought something might have happened. I tried calling Mike thinking that maybe he would know something but he didn't answer either so I came here to check..."
At the mention of the detective, a sob escaped Vicki again even if a moment ago it seemed she had no energy left for crying. Henry quickly opened the door and led her inside. The Goth stood in the corridor for a second before following them. She kept talking, apparently not connecting Vicki's reaction with her words.
"So I decided to stay here but kept calling the office every few minutes in case you finally got there. I tried Mike a few more times but without effect. Had I realised that it was already after sunset I would have tried..."
Seeing how the girl's words seemed to be affecting Vicki, Henry interrupted.
"Coreen, could you make Vicki some tea? I believe she could use it right now."
The girl blinked. "Sure, Henry. But did something happen? Neither of you said..."
"Coreen, go make a cup of tea for Vicki, now." This time, unsurprisingly, the girl listened without any protests.
Once the Goth disappeared into the kitchen, Henry turned his attention to Vicki again. She was shaking badly as he seated her on her couch. He helped her out of her jacket. Without warning she leaned into his embrace. He wrapped his arms around her and kept stroking her hair until her crying subsided a bit.
"What if it's all my fault, Henry? What if he was distracted, already thinking about the meeting I scheduled and made a mistake?" He heard her whisper into his chest.
"Did you ever know him to be careless at work for whatever reason?"
She made a move that probably could have been interpreted as a shake of the head. "No. That was one reason we managed to be together while still working as partners without a problem. Once he focused on work, nothing else existed for him. I remember... Molly was furious at him when he didn't show up for her birthday dinner. We were called to a homicide scene that morning and were so busy working the case that he completely forgot he was supposed to be there. Even though he was preparing for it for days and spent hours trying to find a present for her... Oh, God... He can't be gone. This has to be a nightmare."
"Life is so unfair. He's the one that had so many hopes and dreams for the life... You know, I never told a soul about this, but we were both once invited to Molly's. Dylan insisted he show us some new toy so we went to his room and you know how four years old are. He told me that he really wished I was Uncle Mike's wife already. I didn't know how to take that and then things came up with my RP and leaving the force and it was over between us before I knew if he really wanted to ask me or if that was just the kid's imagination..."
"Would you have wanted that? Then?"
"I don't know. I told you I didn't really believe in love. We were friends and an item for some time. It made sense as a possible next step. Perhaps if he asked then... But later I didn't want to believe he might have wanted that. It would have made it too difficult to be friends again if I thought... Henry, what if I ruined his life?"
"You didn't ruin his life, Vicki. If you were both unhappy in a relationship which wasn't working, neither of you would have been better off. And he still had you in his life till the end."
"No he didn't, did he? He died thinking I was mad at him for something he didn't do. I never got a chance to explain... If I could only do everything over again."
"You know that's impossible. But I'm certain that you blaming yourself would be the last thing he would want. And even if you weren't the one to tell him I'm sure he knows now."
They sat in silence for a moment until Coreen came with the tea.
"You did something, didn't you? I can't properly remember how I got to the kitchen."
"Coreen..." He met the girl's eyes and shook his head.
"Is one of you going to tell me what's going on?"
Henry looked worriedly at Vicki as she futilely tried to gather her strength to pass the news to her assistant while still clinging to him as if he was her lifeline. He had to spare her if that was the only way he could unburden her.
"Coreen, Cel... Mike was shot yesterday."
The girl blanched, suddenly starting to look more like a vampire then he ever had. She pulled a chair close to the couch and sat heavily. She tried to say something but for a moment her mouth didn't work. Finally she got her voice back.
"Wasn't... wasn't there anything to be done?"
"I'm sure the doctors did whatever they could to save him, Coreen."
"And couldn't you have done something?" Her voice had an accusatory note and he wondered if he should let her believe that for now if having someone to blame would make it easier for her to deal with the news. Then his eyes met Vicki's as she also waited for the answer and knew he couldn't torment her like that.
"Done what, Coreen? Heal him? A bullet does so much damage that he had a much better chance with surgery than he would have if I tried to do anything. Turn him? Even if I could ever imagine him wanting that it would have been too late after he received his first transfusion, which was before we were even informed what happened."
"You sensed that, didn't you? When we first entered the hospital." Vicki suddenly spoke.
"I thought I smelled another scent mixed with that of his blood. I wasn't sure with all the smells around and couldn't be certain what it meant even if I was correct."
"What do you mean, you couldn't?" Coreen inquired, her mind apparently still trying to cling to distractions.
"I don't visit hospitals very often, not to say I outright avoid them, and the smells of medicine have changed a lot over the years so it wouldn't do to rely on previous experiences." He explained half-heartedly.
"So when I was trying to call him today, he..."
He nodded sadly. For a second the Goth sat absolutely still. Then she suddenly got up and raced out of the room. A second later the sound of the bathroom door being locked reached his ears. Understanding the girl wanted a moment alone he turned his whole attention to Vicki again.
She had her head rested on his arm and was breathing shallowly. He wished he knew what to do to ease her suffering.
"Do you think it's true what they say? That before you die your life flashes before your eyes? Do you think Mike thought of the things he never did? Of the fact that he never had a child, not knowing that..."
"Vicki." Henry gently kissed her forehead before returning to the task of stroking her hair. "Don't torture yourself with that now. It is possible that he was in shock or lost consciousness and never even realised he was dying. And to answer your question, from what I remember death from blood loss feels nothing like that. It doesn't give you time to think of anything. You just find it harder and harder to gather thoughts and feel detached from everything around until finally you slip into blackness."
He noticed she stared at him with her eyes wide open.
"I never really thought..." She started.
They sat in silence and her heart finally slowed a bit as she gradually lost her battle with exhaustion. The doorbell tore through the silence mercilessly, causing her to stir. Henry lowered her to the couch and rose, leaning to whisper into her ear.
"Don't get up. I'll get it."
She mumbled something that was possibly a protest but was indecipherable enough for him not to feel obliged by it. He went to the door. Two employees of the restaurant had arrived. Gesturing them to be as quiet as possible he helped them carry the packages they brought to the kitchen and escorted them back to the door, once again extending a financial form of gratitude. Soon enough they were gone and he returned to Vicki.
"Are you asleep?" He whispered even though her heartbeat suggested she wasn't.
"Not really. Why?"
"You should eat something."
"What, now? I told you I won't be able to."
"I hope you will. Otherwise you are going to feel really dreadful tomorrow morning. And for the sake of the baby you should at least try."
She stilled after that last argument. Then she sat up shakily.
"What have you got?" She asked finally.
"The better part of the menu from the restaurant. I couldn't be sure what you'd be able to eat so I decided to err on the side of caution."
She stood and immediately he needed to steady her when she stumbled dangerously. Without protest she let him help her to the kitchen.
"You'd better tell Coreen to leave the bathroom," she spoke as she started looking into the containers with food. "You know, just in case."
"I will. Will you be alright here?"
"Reasonably." She answered nodding. Then she finally found some food that caught her interest and went to search for a fork. "Just make it fast."
A moment later he was already knocking on the bathroom door. He didn't hear an answer.
"Coreen, can you come out?"
"Do I have to?"
"You probably should."
"Can you give me a minute?"
A moment later the door opened. The girl who emerged from the bathroom didn't look like a Goth anymore. Her dark makeup was gone, the last traces of it detectable as dark blurs around her eyes, which must have been a result of removing the remnants of it with only water. That made the shadows under her eyes to look even deeper.
"Are you alright?"
"No." Came the blunt reply. "How come you are still so collected?"
"I can't afford not to be. If you are hungry, I'm sure you will find something in the kitchen. Just give Vicki the first choice. She hasn't eaten since the morning."
"Ok.," the girl nodded. "Not that I'm really hungry. Henry?"
"Have they caught whoever it was that shot Mike?"
"I don't know." He sighed and looked into Coreen's eyes allowing himself a moment of honesty. "But those who did it had better pray they are under lock and key before I find out."
"You know what? I almost wish they weren't."
"Don't go there, Coreen. You are too young to allow yourself such feelings."
"So I'm just a clueless kid to you?"
"No. But I've learned first hand how easy it is to fall into that trap. And you still lack experience to get out of it if you do."
They stood in silence for a while before Coreen stepped to him and hugged him.
"Thanks, Henry. It's just that suddenly there isn't anything I can do. After Ian... I could concentrate on finding someone to help me find the killer because the police would never believe me that a vampire..." She seemed to have caught herself. "Sorry."
He dismissed it with a shake of his head.
"Anyway, I just had something to do. Now... there is nothing left."
"I believe there is. I have a feeling that Vicki is going to need both of us in the upcoming weeks. And you are the only one who can stay with her by day."
"Then I'll be there for her."
"I knew you would. Thank you, Coreen."
"No. Thank you. I needed that." She wiped her eyes with her hand, spreading the smudges a bit more and marched in the direction of the kitchen.
The next morning wasn't easy for Vicki. When she woke up, Henry was no longer there, for quite obvious reasons, seeing how the sunlight was streaming through the windows of her bedroom. Somehow it felt inappropriate that the sun would be shining like that now.
She dragged herself to the bathroom, almost grateful that her body provided her an excuse to stop thinking about the day before, if only for a minute. Half and hour later she felt it was safe for her to try to get to the kitchen. On the way there she saw Coreen, sleeping on her couch. She let the girl sleep. In moments like these, when sleep was the only escape you had, forcing someone to face reality before they had to would be cruel.
Once she reached her destination she set out to get some breakfast, which turned out to be easier than one might expect, given the amount of still untouched restaurant food that now occupied her fridge. Selecting one of the containers at random, she looked inside and decided to chance it. She closed the fridge, idly wondering if Henry simply went all out or if his idea of the size of a human meal was still based on royal feasts.
After she ate – and amazingly enough didn't feel nauseous, reality finally kicked her hard. Closing her eyes she could still recall in detail Mike, the way she had last seen him. The idea that she never would again, that he wasn't just a phone call away suddenly felt too unthinkable to be true.
She went to retrieve her cell and for a moment sat staring at it, before dialling Mike's number. Somewhere deep inside her, she desperately hoped that she would hear him answer any second and that everything would prove to be nothing more than a nightmare. An extremely vivid and horrible nightmare but in the end something you can laugh about once you are awake.
She waited a couple of signals but nobody answered the phone. Then the voicemail switched on and suddenly she could hear Mike's voice in the short pre-recorded message. She listened to it with care she could never remember displaying, drinking in every letter he spoke, the tone of his voice and the inflection of every word. Logically she knew it was nothing but a distant echo but hearing him again, now that he was gone, did it for her. She heard the message play out before disconnecting and once again resolving to tears.
Once she somewhat collected herself, she reached for her cell one again. This time to make a call that would be answered. Probably. She searched for the number in her address book and selected it. It took two rings before the call was answered.
"Hello?" A hoarse female voice spoke on the other side of the line.
"Hello Molly. This is Vicki. I hope I'm not interrupting. I just wanted to see how you were holding up."
"Vicki... of course you're not interrupting. And I'm just grateful for having all these things to take care of. Otherwise I don't know how I'd manage. How about you?"
"As well as could be expected, I guess. I woke up this morning hoping that it was all a dream. Realising it wasn't was almost as bad as losing him again."
"I know what you mean. I wonder if I'll ever wake up one day without hoping that it was all a nightmare. And I still have the funeral to organise and the family to inform."
"Is there anything I can help with?"
"Not really. But thank you for asking. Unless... can you think of anyone Mike would want to be at the funeral that wouldn't have heard...?"
"Not really. But if I think of anyone I promise I'll call them. About the funeral... have you made any arrangements yet?"
"I will need to do that today. Do you have any suggestions?"
"Only one. Do you think it would be possible for the funeral to take place in the evening?"
"Why? It's already dark in the evening at this time of the year. Do you think it would have any significance for Mike?"
"It's... it's not that. You see..." Suddenly she needed an argument and the perspective of sharing the news with Molly seemed somehow liberating. "I'm pregnant. Not very far along yet but it's still causing certain side effects. Earlier in the day I feel worse and I'm not sure I'd be able to withstand the whole ceremony before the evening." She heard a glass shatter next to her.
"I'll see what I can do. I'm sure Mike would have wanted you there. And I know these aren't really the right circumstances, but congratulations."
"Thanks, Molly. Will you call me once the final arrangements are made?"
"If you need any help just call me, alright?"
"Thank you Vicki."
"You don't need to thank me. It's natural. Goodbye, Molly."
The call disconnected and she turned to see Coreen, with broken glass at her feet. Suddenly aware of Vicki's gaze, the girl bent down to pick up the shards. Once they landed in the trash she turned to her employer again.
"Tell me you said that only to make sure Henry could attend." She shot at the PI.
"I did try to make sure of that. But I didn't lie to her either."
If she thought the girl's eyes couldn't possibly become wider, in that moment she was proven wrong.
"You are pregnant?"
"It would seem so."
"Even public education isn't that bad, Coreen. I'm sure it will come to you if you think back to your biology lessons." Given that only her sarcasm remained of her defences which prevented her from breaking down completely again she wasn't about to willingly let go of it.
"Well then, who's the father?"
Vicki felt her heart tighten painfully as she sat on a kitchen chair. Her defences were crumbling.
"Mike." She whispered almost inaudibly and saw Coreen clasp her mouth with her hand.
"Oh. My. God." The girl sat in another chair. "Seriously, when did that happen? You never said a word. Does Henry know?"
"There wasn't anything to say, Coreen. And yes, Henry knows. He's been helping me ever since I found out."
"Why him and not Mike?"
"Mike didn't know. I was going to tell him two days ago. I never got a chance." Tears were now streaming down her face and for the first time she could remember she welcomed Coreen's hug.
"It's kind of early for you. Are you going to be able to make it?" Vicki's voice was a bit shaky but otherwise devoid of all emotions as she was informing him of the hour of the funeral.
"I should, if I head straight there. I'm not sure how fast I'll manage to drive through the city so I might be late. And I'm afraid I won't have time to pick you up on the way if we are to have any chance of being there on time."
"That's Ok., I'll take a cab." She looked down. "Henry... shouldn't it become easier with time? I still catch myself expecting him to come through the door of my office or just call me to talk something over or complain about how Crowley is pushing them. It's as though some part of me never registered that he is..." She broke off and shook her head hopelessly, trying to stop a wave of tears that rushed to her eyes again.
"It takes time, Vicki. He played an important role in your life. It's natural that you can't let go of him just like that." He sighed. "Perhaps the funeral will help a bit. You will at least be able to say goodbye."
He looked at his watch.
"It's very late and you need your rest before tomorrow. I'll drive you home."
For a second he thought she might protest, and he felt hope that she was starting to emerge from the numbness her despair put her in, but in the end she just hung her head and nodded. He would still have to wait to see the fire in her eyes flare again.
When he awoke the next evening, he was surprised to hear Vicki's heartbeat in the next room. He dressed quickly and went to meet her. She was sitting on the couch, dressed in black, her face in her hands.
"Vicki? What is it?"
"Henry." She looked up to meet his gaze. "I know I said I was going to take a cab, but I couldn't go there alone. I couldn't stand the idea of facing it all by myself. So I thought that maybe you wouldn't mind if we went together after all.
"Of course I don't mind. But if you want to be there on time we need to be going. Do you have your coat?"
"Yeah." She gestured to her coat bundled in one of the armchairs and he moved to hold it for her.
Five minutes later they were in the car.
When they arrived at the cemetery, the world outside the car was shrouded in darkness to Vicki. It was the price she would have to pay for having Henry there with her – but she would gladly surrender her ability to see if it meant she didn't have to go through the funeral alone.
They weren't late – a fact that she attributed to Henry's driving skills more than anything else – but as they arrived pretty much last minute there weren't many people still around the parking lot.
She got out of the car and paused, paralysed by the impenetrable darkness around her. Then she felt Henry's arm around her waist, offering guidance though the night as well as comfort. She allowed him to lead her, clinging with her very being to his presence, almost overwhelmed already and dreading the moment when she might not feel his gentle touch .
The whole way to the chapel he didn't let go of her. Once there, he did, for a moment, as he kneeled and made a sign of the cross when they entered. Then he guided her to the bench where she saw Coreen sitting. While the girl wore something that Vicki was pretty sure she already saw her in, gothic clothes were an ideal choice when it came to funeral attire, she almost didn't recognise the girl at first glance. Without the make-up and with her hair down, her assistant looked suddenly older and very unlike herself.
As soon as they came closer, the girl stood and embraced Vicki in a hug before moving to make more room for them. Not really a necessary gesture but still a heartfelt one, which the PI appreciated.
With the chapel being more brightly lit she could see her surroundings once again and when she sat she took the opportunity to look around. In the front, between the rows of benches, stood the coffin. Closed. Molly's choice to remember Mike the way he was alive and to spare Dylan the sight. Vicki felt her heart tighten painfully and forced herself to look away as she continued surveying the crowd.
Molly was in the first row of benches, wearing sunglasses. She was holding her husband's arm with one hand and with the other she was holding Dylan to her side. Next to them sat an elderly couple, also barely holding up, comforting each other in any way they could. Molly's and Mike's parents. Then more people of the Celluci clan, many of them she didn't recognise. She knew Mike had a big family but suddenly realised that even though she knew he was close to them she didn't really know many of his relatives.
Further along the rows of benches she could see familiar faces of her former colleagues. They all wore uniforms and suddenly she felt jealous of that. She wished she could wear one as well. It helped you hold yourself together in a way. Provided some defence, as somewhere deep inside some part of you remembered that you had to behave in certain way as you represented not only yourself but the force as a whole. She didn't have that defence now.
A bell rang through the chapel and everybody stood as the funeral mass started. Suddenly she realised she told Molly the absolute truth. She wouldn't have been able to endure the ceremony before the evening. Without Henry's presence next to her, she doubted she would stand more than a few minutes.
The rest of the funeral passed in a blur and she couldn't remember much of it. The one thing she did remember was that the vampire never left her side and held her, when she felt her legs would no longer support her once she saw the coffin lowered into the ground.
Once Henry drove her home she finally broke down completely and cried the rest of the night. When she awoke around noon the next day she felt something had changed though. Perhaps the ceremony didn't bring her any relief but it closed some chapter of her life and even if her heart bled every time she thought of Mike she felt that perhaps now she could hope to go on. Somehow.
Vicki was sitting at her desk working on yet another boring case. This was a result of a conspiracy between Coreen and Henry, who decided, behind her back that for the duration of the pregnancy she should be taking only low-risk cases. Which was, of course a terribly misguided attempt to help her, she was sure of that, but at the same time probably the most irritating thing either of them ever did.
Normally she wouldn't have gone along with the plan once she realised what was going on, but before the apathy that had a hold of her for the first few weeks after Mike's funeral started fading, their plan was already in full swing and it was impossible to do anything about it while continuing to save the face.
She sighed and looked at the black and white photo that now occupied her desk. Mike was smiling at her from it, with a smile she missed so much. But at the same time, on her bad days, she had moments when she needed that picture to recall exactly how that smile looked, despite seeing it so many times over the years. That scared her more than anything.
Suddenly a sharp pain in her finger brought her attention back to the file she was working on. And to the billing in it, that was currently responsible for the nasty papercut she had just received. She looked at her finger, seeing a drop of blood already forming as she automatically brought her finger to her lips.
"Care to share that?" She looked up hearing a voice from the doorway, only to see Henry grinning at her.
"Since you ask so nicely. I didn't expect you for at least another half an hour."
Suddenly he was standing next to her without any obvious movement from his previous location.
"Apparently I missed your company more then you anticipated." He licked the blood off her finger and the cut immediately closed. He frowned. "Your iron level is a bit low. Try to watch your diet for the next few days."
"I don't recall asking for medical consultations. And you're even worse than Coreen. Not an easy feat, considering she already brought me half the pharmacy 'just in case'."
"Did she get any iron supplements?"
"Probably. If they only were available. Everything is in the top drawer of the file cabinet."
"Interesting placement." He went there and looked through various packets and bottles before selecting one. "In any case perhaps it is time to make use of her efforts." He handed her the bottle.
"How are you feeling in general?"
"Truthfully? Odd. It seems the kid is bringing my body places it never expected to be."
"In what way? You don't have any problems, do you?"
"No. I can even eat a meal without any sensations again. Just most of the time I feel strange. Not good strange or bad strange. Just different."
"I am no expert in the matter but 'different' is probably what you can expect given that you have a baby growing inside you."
She flinched at that and could see concern immediately rising in his eyes.
"Vicki? What is it?"
"Nothing. It's just the baby..." She looked at his face and suddenly lost the courage to say what she wanted. "Never mind. It doesn't matter."
"It sounded like it did, at least to you."
"Even if it does... saying that would do more harm than good."
"How can you be sure?"
"It just would, alright?" She looked down again only to feel his hand lifting her chin gently to make her eyes meet his again.
She shivered and shook his hand away.
"I had to grow up without a father. I remember how hard it was at times. How I cried at nights wishing I had two parents just like all my friends. And now my child will have to face the same fate."
Suddenly nothing could describe the pain she saw appear in his eyes even if his face remained calm.
"You are thinking about finding someone who would take that role. Someone you don't love but would at least make a proper father figure." He whispered in a strangely forced way.
"Not before I ask you a question. Some time ago you said something. About us. Did you mean it? How long do you think it would be until you came to your senses and searched for someone else? A year? Two?"
"If you are referring to how I feel about you then all I can say is that I love you, Victoria. And if it was only up to me I would never leave your side. Not willingly. But if you want to find someone else, someone who wouldn't perhaps love you the way I do but would make a good enough husband and father..." His blue eyes suddenly glistened with what had to be tears.
"Henry, please, hear me out first. This is not easy for me to say, alright? And I know that you may hate me for what I'm gonna say..."
"No, Vicki. If there is one thing I'm completely incapable of feeling towards you, it's hate." He sounded resigned, and she couldn't help but feel the whole conversation was deteriorating with every passing second.
"Henry, you should know that even if I still feel something for you, I don't believe in love any more than I did before. If anything I was let down by it too many times to allow myself to think it ever existed. But what we had for that couple of weeks, the way you were there for me and helped me when I felt my whole world was collapsing, all that for the first time made me doubt my beliefs in that matter."
"Vicki, if you want me to let you go, please say it and spare me this torture." He whispered lowering his head but not before she had a chance to see the tears that threatened in his eyes sparkled even more clearly, about to fall.
"No! Please, could you listen for a moment without jumping to conclusions? I had a very hard time preparing myself to talk to you about it and you aren't exactly making it any easier."
"Very well." He looked up again, meeting her gaze. "You have my undivided attention. Now can you tell me what you wanted to say?"
"I've been thinking about it all for the last couple of days. And about what you told me concerning your feelings. The conclusion I came to was that if you really mean it... well vampires might not be able to have children of their own but that doesn't mean they are unfit to be parents. The baby will need a father and there is no one else I'd rather see in that role. But if you don't want that then I will have to ask you to let me go so I can search for someone... because I'm not going to let my child go through the hell I did."
She closed her eyes, feeling as if she was waiting for a sentence. The silence seemed to stretch into an eternity and with a sinking feeling she thought what it most likely meant. Hell, there was even a possibility that Henry was no longer in the room and she was only prolonging her torture by waiting in vain. With a heavy heart she slowly opened her eyes, readying herself to face the world where she was once again alone.
The sight that met her eyes definitely wasn't what she expected. Not only was the vampire still there – he had tears rolling down his cheeks as his eyes remained fixed on her.
"Henry?" She tried cautiously.
"Vicki... If you are just a shadow brought to life by my desperate hopes and prayers, then please allow me at least this one moment of happiness before disappearing and shattering my heart."
That was definitely something she didn't know how to answer. Instead she reached out and took his hand, resulting in him immediately bringing her own hand to his lips and placing a kiss on it.
"Victoria, in just a few seconds you offered me so many things I thought I could never have, that if I were still able to dream, I would be certain that this is nothing but a wonderful illusion, an embodiment of my hopes that will disappear the moment I wake."
"You know, before you go all Shakespearean on me, it would be nice to have some down-to-earth, understandable answer."
"Please, forgive me. I can't promise you much in return for such generous offer. You will always have my love, never doubt that, but if you go through with your decision it might prove to be a cause of many difficulties for you."
"Perhaps." She smiled suddenly strangely certain that after all her struggles she made the right choice. "But then again I never really believed in taking the easy way. And I can't honestly think of anyone I'd rather be with."
Before she knew what was happening she was in his embrace, showered with soft kisses that seemed to be washing away any lingering doubts she might have.
She leaned into his embrace. She definitely made the right choice.
There weren't many doctors eager to extend their working hours to the night, but she quickly found out that Henry's financial arguments usually proved to be enough to convince them to change their minds. As the result, she was now sitting next to Henry, resting her head on his arm, in a very much empty otherwise hallway.
She did her best not to appear nervous about the ultrasound she was about to have but she could see she wasn't being very successful. Then again, trying to fool a vampire about your mood was just about as effective as trying to empty an ocean with a sieve.
"Everything is going to be alright, you'll see." She heard him whisper into her ear.
"Easy for you to say. If the kid has any health problems, I'll make sure to quote you on that."
"There aren't going to be any problems."
"How can you be so confident? Last I checked there could be a number of things wrong with a child. Starting with underdeveloped limbs and ending with heart defects."
"Well, if it helps you any, at least I can assure you that if there was anything wrong with the baby's heart I'd have heard it by now."
"I guess that's something."
He smiled. "And I believe the rest of your doubts will dissolve soon enough."
A moment later she, too, could hear footsteps coming down the corridor, signalling the arrival of the doctor.
"Ms. Nelson? I'm sorry if I had you waiting. I'm afraid I'm not used to coming to work at this hour."
"That's alright. We weren't here long. Can we get on with it?"
The doctor chuckled quietly under her glare.
"Of course. Please, follow me."
After the examination was finished Vicki felt a bit calmer. Not calm enough, though, that she wasn't instantly alarmed when the "Just one more thing." words of the doctor registered.
"What is it?" She asked, not even sure herself if her tone was a result of impatience or worry.
"Would you like to know the sex of the child?"
She looked briefly at Henry and saw him smile. "Yeah, it would be nice."
"In that case, it seems that you can start looking for a name for a boy."
"We already have it." She heard Henry speak and looked at him in surprise. Then, meeting his gaze, she suddenly understood.
"Yes, we do." She nodded and then, almost inaudibly, she added "Michael."
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