Disclaimer: All rights to intellectual property connected to Blood Ties are property of Tanya Huff and parties she allowed to purchase them in part necessary for the creation of the show under aforementioned title. As I deny being such party or the author herself and by publication on specific sites actively classify my story as fan fiction it should be understood that I neither have nor imply possession of rights as to the abovementioned intellectual property in no part or form.
Summary: It takes only a moment for a tragedy to happen. Coming to terms with it is another matter.
The credit for making the story readable goes to my beta Marlana. Thank you for your help with this one.
Warning: Another story of mine that may require a tissue backup.
In My Heart
„Aye, in my heart thoult have a place,
Among the friends held dear, -
Nor shall the hand of Time efface
The memories written here."
Ann Virginia Ruffner, 1856
Vicki closed the file on her desk ostentatiously.
"I think we are done with the case, Coreen. I thought we'd be haunted by it for months to come."
"Well, yeah." The Goth grinned at her boss. "You have to admit that Mrs. Forrester liked her life busy and exciting."
"You don't say. I have a strange feeling that the only men she didn't sleep with in Toronto were Mike and Henry. And with Henry it's still debatable. Maybe we should have composed the list by elimination."
"We can try that next time. I don't think we'd get any photos that way though."
"Who needs a photo-illustrated version of Kama Sutra anyway?"
"Mr. Forrester, apparently. He's paying you for one, isn't he?" The grin in the girl's voice was almost tangible.
"I hope he enjoys it more than I did collecting that. What time is he coming tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow is Saturday. He's leaving for the weekend. You're scheduled to meet him Wednesday at eleven."
"Wednesday? What does that have to do with the weekend?"
"His words, not mine. Anyway, I should be going. Unless there is something else you need me for?"
"No, I'm fine. You're free to go. See you on Monday, Coreen."
"Yeah, see you then. Have a nice weekend."
"Thanks. You too."
The girl threw on a black poncho and like a buoyant storm cloud was gone.
Vicki had just finished putting her office in order when she looked at her watch. She glanced at the window. Needing to turn on the lights as soon as the evening light started greying always made it harder to realise how fast the time was flying. Of course, it was still early but at least it was already dark.
She fished out her phone and dialled a number.
"Hi, Henry. Are you busy? No, I don't need anything urgently. I was just wondering if you'd want to drop by later... Sure. I'll meet you in my office then! Bye!"
She set down the phone and went to make herself some coffee. And perhaps get something to read. She would need something to occupy herself before the vampire came. She never even noticed the slight smile blossoming on her face.
Much as she may object if said aloud, Vicki had to admit something to herself, as she was finishing the rice with vegetables Henry picked up for her on his way, all while engaging in a heated conversation on the reasoning behind the design of chosen military uniforms over the ages – this was exactly what she needed after a couple of dull, exhausting days of dealing with her case.
She swallowed. "Still it doesn't make sense for them to stand out like that."
"At least they discarded the idea of white uniforms a bit into the second half of the nineteenth century. That with the colourful collar couldn't possibly be missed. Not that the purpose of such attire was to blend in at the time."
"That would be pretty pathetic if it was."
"Besides, you can turn around and use the same argument for police uniforms. While under certain circumstances it might be profitable not to have it seen, it is mainly supposed to identify you as belonging to law enforcement, not the other way round."
"That logic would sure explain how khakis became so popular."
"You are purposefully mixing concepts at the moment."
The telephone ringing made Vicki forget what it "just was" as she stared at the item for a second in confusion, wondering why it was ringing at this hour. Finally, her mind switched from standby and she grabbed the receiver.
"Vicki Nelson Investigations, Vicki Nelson Speaking."
"Ms. Nelson? Could you please come to Metropolis General Hospital? Your name was listed as a contact person for a patient that just arrived after being involved in an accident."
Vicki didn't even need her instincts to know this couldn't be good. Bracing herself for what she was about to hear she forcefully made her voice sound calm.
"Who's the patient?"
"According to her documents, her name is Coreen Fennel."
"According to her documents? You weren't able to ask her?"
"Ms. Nelson, it would be of great assistance if you arrived at the hospital as soon as possible. I know the hour is rather late but..."
"I'll be there as soon as I can. Could you at least tell me what state she's in?"
"It's critical at the moment. Hopefully by the time you arrive we'd be able to tell you more."
"Thank you, I guess."
The call ended, leaving Vicki shaking. She couldn't control it. Every time she thought she had her reaction almost under control she thought of the smile on the girl's face as she was leaving earlier. This was incomprehensible. There had to be some mistake...
She felt a hand on her shoulder and became aware of Henry holding her jacket to her.
"I believe we should leave now, Vicki. Time seems to be of an essence."
She swallowed before she managed to voice anything. "Yeah, we probably should." She was half-way though putting on her jacket when her resolve faltered. "Oh, God, Henry. This can't be happening. Please tell me this isn't real."
"I wish I could. As it is, the best we can do is pray that everything will turn out well in the end."
For once Henry drove showing exactly how far his reflexes and the class of his car could take them. Still it seemed too slow for Vicki who wished at the moment she could just magically teleport herself to the hospital instead of wasting time by actually needing to go all the way from point A to point B.
When they finally pulled into the parking lot, she was out of the car before the vampire even had time to turn off the engine. He caught up with her after five steps as she ran into the place, quickly zeroing in on a person behind a desk who she hoped could provide her with some answers.
"Hi, the hospital called me some minutes ago to tell me that my friend was taken to the emergency room. Where can I find her?"
"Could you give me her name?"
"Coreen Fennel." The reply was shot back so fast the receptionist probably had a hard time catching it.
She looked at something on the screen.
"You must be Ms. Nelson."
"Who I am doesn't matter. How is she?"
"Ms. Nelson... Perhaps you could go take a seat. Doctor Brown will be here soon to talk to you."
"Can't you just tell me..."
"Doctor Brown will be with you shortly. Please, have a seat."
Vicki almost refused. She was tempted to, as if it could change anything. She was all too familiar with the routine. She had been at the other end of it before. She only hoped she was wrong. Maybe she was reading too much into that?
After all, who said hospital procedures had to be the same? Maybe such talks were a normal thing and there was nothing to make a fuss about. Or perhaps Coreen was seriously injured. But Vicki was confident she would somehow be able to deal with that. She would make sure she helped the girl and hell, she had dealt without an assistant before, she could do it again so the girl would know that at least her job was safe and waiting for her when she came back...
She felt the cool hands of the vampire trying to guide her to the chairs in the corner. She let him lead her.
"Ms. Nelson?" An artificially calm, well-practiced voice registered next to her and she looked up to see the man before her. "I'm Doctor Eugene Brown. I need to talk to you..."
Vicki didn't have the patience for that. "How is she?"
"Miss Fennel was brought to us from an accident site. She suffered extensive internal organ damage..."
Was? That couldn't be right. But then he was just referring to the situation, right? It didn't yet mean anything. She felt Henry's hand take hers. No doubt the wild thumping of her heart was hard for him to ignore. Her focus was elsewhere though as she interrupted the doctor once again.
"You didn't answer my question."
"Immediately after her arrival Miss Fennel was brought to surgery. She crashed on the table three times and the final time I'm afraid we were unable to..."
"No!" Vicki's lips moved but she couldn't even be sure if any sound came out.
"Despite out best efforts bringing her back wasn't possible. I don't know if you're aware but she had a slight opening between the ventricles which combined with pericardial tamponade prevented sufficient blood flow..."
"No." This time she was pretty sure she didn't make any noise. She attempted to collect her thoughts into one final effort. He never said those fateful words after all... "You can't be telling me she's..."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Nelson. Miss Fennel died on the table. We did everything we could but sometimes despite our best efforts it's impossible to save someone."
She almost lunged at the doctor for repeating those pathetic worn-out lines she had been taught to use herself. She would have, if after the first sign of movement she didn't find herself held in arms much too strong to be human.
"If there is anyone else who needs to be informed, you probably should do that as soon as possible. Are you Miss Fennel's family? It's usually them who should be responsible for funeral arrangements..."
Funeral arrangements? How could the man think about those in a moment like this? But Coreen wasn't all that close to her family, Vicki knew that. How could she allow anyone who didn't even know the girl all that well anymore be responsible for that?
"I will take care of those. And don't worry. I will call her family."
For a moment, the doctor hesitated. Then his sense of self-preservation apparently won out.
"I'll leave you with forms to fill out in that case. You will need to name the funeral home you want the body to be sent to. If you don't know any..."
Body? Thinking about Coreen in those terms was simply incomprehensible. Making the doctor shut up and go away suddenly became a priority.
"I know one. I even have their number in my cell. Anything else you need or can I start with the forms now?"
"Of course. Just please, allow me to say I'm sorry for your loss." He handed her the forms and walked away, leaving Vicki to do the only thing she had the strength to do at the moment. Collapse in tears into Henry's arms.
It took her a while to calm down. When she did, she finally felt detached from reality enough to look at the forms she needed to fill out. Still she was grateful for Henry's stoically calm presence that provided some grounding for her. A brief thought crossed her mind, if his calmness was due to the manner of his upbringing or with witnessing countless deaths of his friends along his path. Whichever it was, she was grateful to have his support.
The vampire took the forms from her as soon as it became obvious that with her unsteady hands her handwriting would be unreadable. He quickly filled in the first few fields without stopping to ask her anything. Apparently, despite not spending much time with the girl he knew her well enough all the same.
Then he stopped and looked at her.
"Do you really have the funeral home chosen?"
"Kind of. I figured Ulyanov is as good choice as any. At least with his son behind the bars. Plus, Rajani knows him."
He nodded and continued filling out the form before stopping again. He frowned as if he reached something that was bothering him.
"What is it?" She asked quietly.
"Denomination. I can't quite recall any time she might have mentioned it."
Suddenly the feeling of inadequacy born of suspicion that Henry might have known the girl better than she did waned, as she thought about it.
"Do you think she'd tell a declared devout Catholic?"
"Did I honestly give you the impression that you couldn't talk to me when it came to faith?" To her surprise, this was an honest question, possibly tinged with some note of sorrow.
"It's not that. It's..." Suddenly she found herself at loss for words. "It's just something else, okay?"
He inclined his head, possibly in a gesture of acceptance. Then he glanced down at the papers once again.
"Do you know then?"
"Well, yeah, in a way. There was that one conversation we had..."
"What does 'in a way' mean? What did she tell you?"
"You see, that's the thing. According to her, she was..." Vicki paused to recall the exact wording, "Esoteric agnostic with some Christian inclinations, constantly open for options."
Henry's hand waivered over the paper. "I see."
"See? She probably wouldn't know how to start the topic. Or maybe she would, just never had the opportunity." Recalling Coreen's face just a moment ago combined with the realisation that the girl would never again have an opportunity to do anything broke her again.
As she was shaking quietly, she felt the vampire gently taking hold of her hand. He didn't say anything.
He didn't have to.
Half an hour later saw her still struggling to collect herself. She was now having trouble forcing her breathing to even out.
"Maybe I should ask them for some tranquilizers." She managed to choke out. "I need to deal with everything before I can allow myself to fall apart."
"I doubt those would help. If anything you would be too irresponsive to deal with anything."
"I can't now either."
"Do you honestly want to artificially calm yourself when you obviously need to let out your grief?"
"For now – yeah. I need to have a clear head. If only for all the formalities."
"Let me in then." Before she could even ask what he meant by that his voice changed. "Stay calm, Victoria. You will remain collected until you choose to let go."
He repeated the words a few times before she actually caught on and did her best to allow them to have an impact. The resulting reaction wasn't perhaps the perfect quality she hoped for but at least it brought a certain degree of clarity accompanied by an almost eerie calmness, which would have to do.
"Thanks, Henry. Now we need to finish the forms before the end of the night. What do we put down for denomination then?"
"I propose 'Christian'. It won't leave a blank and is general enough that it should be close to her beliefs. If you want me to, I will ask a priest I know to lead a funeral mass and the funeral itself."
"You know a priest? Never mind, figures you'd know one. But it doesn't matter. Wouldn't she need to be Catholic for that?"
"How we choose to pray for her soul is not as important as that we wish to pray for it. And every soul needs prayers. Traditionally the praying of the rosary should also be conducted until the funeral."
"Don't look at me for that. I wouldn't even know how to approach that." She didn't care to interpret the look in his eyes upon her saying that.
"I think it should be possible to ask the Ursulines to handle that. I'll try to call them but it may be possible that there would be no one to answer the phone given the hour. In which case you'd probably need to go and ask during the day."
"They wouldn't listen to me. I'm not even Catholic. If you need to send someone, send Mike." A thought suddenly flared in her head and she quickly reached for her cell. After a moment, the call was answered.
"What is it this time, Vic?"
"Mike. I need you to find anything you can about a car accident that took place this evening. Possibly sometime around half past nine."
"A car accident this evening? Sure. Perhaps you'd care to broaden it a bit more, I don't think you made it general enough. And why the hell would I do that anyway? I'm not your bellboy, in case you never noticed."
"Please, Mike, I need that."
"Don't you always? What is so important about it this time? Gremlins behind the wheel? Sirens luring the drivers?"
It was at that point she felt the phone removed from her hand.
Henry observed the conversation until it reached the point when Vicki started shaking, threatening to break from the already barely holding suggestion. It was then that he decided to intervene. He reached for the phone Vicki was holding and took over the conversation.
"While your petulant behaviour might be amusing at times, Celluci, I advise you to try to develop some compassion before you find yourself having it forced upon you without the
involvement of your will."
"Full of yourself, aren't you, Fitzroy? If you want to play the knight in shining armour it's all nice and good but, shocking as it may be, my job profile doesn't involve bending to Vicki's every whim. And I just came home after staying overtime again. Despite working tomorrow as well. I have no intention of going back to the station just to keep Vicki happy, digging through a dozen file stacks."
"Perhaps narrowing down what you are searching for would help you out then. This time what Vicki was asking you to find was an accident with at least one fatality, in person of Coreen Fennel."
For a moment there was a stunned silence reigning on the other side of the line. Then it was replaced by a rather colourful string of Italian profanities. Only after those stopped did the detective address him again.
"How did that happen?"
"All we were told was that it was a car accident. I believe Vicki called you in hopes of finding out more."
"I'll see what I can find. I need to go to the station again anyway to take tomorrow off. I'm not leaving her alone with that."
"Thank you, Detective."
"Where should I meet you?"
"We are almost done with the formalities. I'm bringing Vicki to her apartment afterwards. I believe that would be the best choice."
"I'll see you there then. Try to be there in an hour and a half."
"We will." There was a click as the call disconnected. Henry tried to convince himself that it was urgency and not lack of any sort of awareness of propriety that led to such an end of the conversation. And he even succeeded.
If it seemed the way to her apartment took a long time, the wait for Mike's arrival was stretching to the borders of eternity. She didn't even know where the anticipation for his arrival was coming from.
Though if she was honest with herself she would have to admit that somewhere deep within her there was still some irrational hope. Hope that this was all some giant misunderstanding and the girl who was killed was some other Coreen Fennel that just coincidently had her listed as a contact person. Or looked pretty much the same.
She shuddered involuntarily at the memory of confirming the identification of the body. That was another moment when one of her most desperate hopes disappeared. It wasn't some girl that could have just stolen Coreen's purse. Unless her eyes deceived her. Which, for the first time ever she wished they did.
Finally, when she almost convinced herself Mike wouldn't be coming after all for one reason or another, her doorbell sounded. Before she even could drag herself from her couch she noticed that Henry disappeared from her side and that there was a sound of locks being opened in the corridor.
A moment later, the vampire stepped through the door of the living room again, with Mike right behind him.
It didn't take more than one look at Mike's face to have her last desperate hope disintegrate. There wasn't a misunderstanding. No filing mistake responsible for the drama. No mistaken identity case. No hope left.
A new wave of grief rolled over her like a tidal wave drowning her in its depths.
"Hey, Vic. I've got the files. How are you holding up?" Her ex-partner's words hit her suddenly, forcing her back to reality. Deprived of oblivion she went for the only escape she had.
"Gee, Mike, I don't know. How do you think I'm holding up? After all, I just lost a close friend. How the hell should I feel?" She hissed the response before sinking back deeply into the couch and grabbing a pillow in hopes it would at least help partially cover her sobs.
"Your tact leaves quite a bit to be desired, Celluci." She heard Henry say, before he slipped next to her and held her until her cries subsided.
"I'll be fine. I mean, I can deal with things like this." She managed to state bravely while fighting hiccups. "Just give me a moment."
"Do you want me to calm you again?" The vampire's voice was so quiet she barely registered it. She almost refused but stopped just as she was about to shake her head upon realisation that she would need some clarity again for a moment. She nodded.
A moment later some calmness hesitantly settled over her mind. It seemed to be even shakier than the last time but she was grateful for whatever she got.
Feeling a bit more collected she straightened herself and took a deep breath.
"What do you have for us, Mike?"
The detective hesitated for a moment, combing his hair with his fingers in a manner that always spoke of his nervousness.
"Well, first of all, there wasn't just one fatality in this accident. A silver Honda Accord ran through the red light and crashed into the side of a red Ford Focus. Both drivers were DOA, the passenger of the Ford was critical and transported to the hospital. The driver of the Honda had one point thirty five BAC. It's a wonder he was able to get into a car let alone drive one. He was identified as James Braxley, twenty six. ID on people from the other car was Adam Senders, twenty four and..." He broke off and as he looked at her, she suddenly understood why. Mike could put himself into dispassionate report mode but even that could go only so far.
"Coreen," she finished for him in a whisper and he just nodded.
They were silent for a while. Finally, Vicki broke the silence.
"Could you take this case?"
"Even if it fit into homicide, there isn't much of a case there, Vic. You must see that. If Braxley was still alive he could possibly be arrested for that stunt but he isn't."
"But there is still someone who let him get this drunk before he got behind the wheel."
"Selling alcohol to an adult isn't a crime, Vicki. And driving while intoxicated was his decision."
"He wasn't fit to make any decision. Someone should have stopped him! And I need... I need something that I could do... Knowing that I can somehow at least do one final thing for Coreen."
"Vicki..." The soft vampire's voice joined the discussion. "What Coreen needs right now is a prayer. Not a witch-hunt in her name. Justice was already served here. The one responsible is dead. There isn't much more to be done except letting her pass on in peace."
'I can't really..." She broke off, trying to form the thoughts into a sentence. "It's too hard," she finally amended.
"It will become easier in time." She felt really grateful for the arm that embraced her. When she looked at him, Henry was already focusing on Mike. "Thank you for finding that information, Detective."
"I didn't do it for you, Fitzroy."
It sounded somehow forced and he went silent for a moment after that.
"So what do we do now?" It sounded more like a try to reaffirm his position with the 'we' than anything else but it didn't matter at the moment anyway.
"We have plans to make." Henry's quiet tone rang with some forgotten regal tones, making Vicki wonder if he was trying to gain the upper hand with Mike or was slipping a bit too deep in his schooled manner in attempt to remain calm. "Sit down, Celluci. It might take us a while."
Vicki looked warily at the box containing what was described as Coreen's personal belongings. Out of those items probably only her handbag, a little black velvet thing bound with silvery rope, could be described as salvageable.
She didn't really feel like doing the next thing she needed to but knowing she had no choice she forced herself to do it all the same.
Opening the bag, she found a cell phone. It was still in one piece. Vicki didn't know if she should regard that as luck or as an even bigger mockery courtesy of fate. She quickly went through the address book, finally stopping at the number marked as 'Mum'.
She reached for her own phone. One should never use the phone of the victim to call their loved ones informing them about the tragedy, she remembered that much.
She sighed, still not having selected a number yet. She could do it. It's not like she hadn't done it before. Dozens of times before. Why should she have a problem now?
Good morning, Mrs Talay. I'm Detective Victoria Nelson. I'm afraid I have some tragic news about your daughter.
Vicki looked carefully at the number displayed and started carefully copying it into her cell.
Good afternoon, Mr and Mrs Wilkins. My name is Detective Victoria Nelson. You reported your son missing four days ago. I'm afraid I'm to be the bearer of bad news. Your son Mark fell victim to a murder. I can assure you that right now we are working tirelessly to find the parties responsible.
She stopped typing and glanced at the number on her cell.
Mr. Chang? I'm Detective Victoria Nelson and this is my partner Detective Michael Celluci. I'm sorry to inform you that the DNA sample from the body we retrieved from the lake matches your wife's.
Her finger waivered over the send button.
Good evening, Miss Fournier. Thank you for receiving me just now. I'm Detective Victoria Nelson. I regret to inform you that last night we found the body that we identified as your brother. I will need to ask you to confirm that identification as soon as possible...
She couldn't do it. Try as she might she couldn't bring herself to press the button. But she knew she had to.
She closed her eyes and dialled the number. She couldn't even imagine what she was going to say. No words were there to aid her. None at all. But it had to be done.
Finally a feminine voice sounded.
"Hello?" She froze.
On the surface, it had even seemed like a good plan. She didn't have much to do that day – Mike agreed to go to the Ursulines, which she was grateful for not the least because it made a better start for telling him she wanted to be alone no matter what he thought was best, meaning the only task she had for the day before Henry picked her up in the evening so they could go make the funeral arrangements, was to call Coreen's parents to inform them what happened.
Easy enough, right?
She even argued that point with Mike who suggested that maybe he should do it for her. But she wanted to have at least some distraction, something else she needed to do instead of moping and reminiscing. And it wasn't like this was something she'd never done before. She was competent enough to handle this.
Or so she thought.
Standing like a statue with the phone next to her ear didn't seem to confirm the theory.
"Hello?" The female voice on the other side of the line repeated. "Who is it?"
Vicki took a deep breath. "Hello, this is de... Vicki Nelson."
Recalling previous times certainly didn't work in the way she hoped it would.
"What can I do for you, Ms Nelson?"
"Am I speaking with Alice Fergus?"
"Yes..." the voice hesitated. "Do I know you?"
"Well, we never actually met in person." Why couldn't she have left this to Mike? At least he could use his position to make it a bit easier. "I'm afraid I have some upsetting news for you."
"What is it?"
"You see, your daughter... Coreen..." At saying the girl's name aloud, she needed to pause for a moment and take a calming breath.
"Coreen? What about her?"
"There was a car accident..."
"Oh, God. Was she hurt? Is she at the hospital?"
This was getting too hard. She knew she shouldn't beat around the bush like this. It was the worst thing one could do. But somehow she couldn't even gather her thoughts properly let alone plan what she needed to say.
"She was in the hospital but... She was very seriously hurt..."
"No. Not my girl!"
"I'm really sorry, Ms Fergus. I can't even express how I wish I could give you some other news. Coreen was a dear friend to me..."
"No! This must be some sick joke. Why wouldn't anyone have called me if it wasn't?"
"Coreen...," Vicki's heart tightened painfully, "was like a little sister I never had. She listed me as a contact person... I'm really sorry. If there is anything you'd need help with... I will take care of all funeral arrangements, of course. You'll just need to fly to Toronto for the funeral if you wouldn't want to stay longer."
"Would they even give her a funeral?"
Why would anyone refuse Coreen the funeral? "What makes you ask?"
"Well, she was a Satanist, wasn't she? I mean, I always hoped she would grow out of it but now..."
Coreen a Satanist? The idea was so ridiculous it left Vicki speechless for a moment. Next thing she'd learn at this rate would be that she spent her lunch breaks with Astaroth.
"How do you know she was one?"
"Wasn't it obvious? She always wore those hideous black clothes and that devilish make-up. Anyone could tell."
Okay, so maybe Coreen was even more distant from her mother than Vicki was lead to believe.
"Well, I can tell you this much – she wasn't. And she will have a Christian funeral." She briefly thought back to what Henry said. "The only real requirement that would cause an obstacle would be if she wasn't baptised. And she was, wasn't she?"
"Of course. I did my best to bring her up properly. But she had gone astray somewhere... Oh, my baby!" The woman sobbed again and Vicki decided it was time to end the conversation. It was hard enough to hold it together as it was.
"In any case, I will call you again about all the details. I'm really sorry once again."
"All right. And... thank you for telling me."
"It was my duty as her friend. Goodbye."
The phone clicked ending the conversation. Now she still had half way to go.
Bringing herself to make the second call was even harder as whatever strength she still had was definitely depleted during the conversation with Alice Fergus.
A part of her wished the father's number wouldn't be in Coreen's cell and she would be in a way relieved of her duty. Not that it even made a good excuse. Not for someone who earned their living by finding information like that.
No matter the quality of the potential excuse, the number was there, with the word 'daddy' as the contact name. If Vicki thought it couldn't get any harder, it just had.
"Hello?" A masculine voice on the other side filled her with a feeling that she was unfamiliar with until now. Paralysing panic.
"Hello." Deep breath. That was what he needed. Breath. "Is this Derek Fennel?"
"No. But I can call him."
"Sure, no problem. Who should I say is calling?"
"He might not know me by name. I'm Vicki Nelson. I'm... calling him with some news he should know about."
"Okay, I'll tell him." There was a slight scrapping that she presumed was a hand muffling the speaker of the phone. "Hey, Derek! There is a call for you, dear!"
There was some answer she didn't quite catch. It sounded so carefree and likeable that she suddenly felt even worse.
Why couldn't she just wake up from this nightmare and be done with it?
Vicki wasn't sure when the evening came. She registered putting away the phone after passing the news onto Coreen's parents and then opening her laptop and cautiously opening the image gallery.
She was so mad at the girl a few days ago for taking the computer and creating, without permission a new album of them in the office – a collection allegedly created while testing the new equipment. To think she let something so trivial bother her at the time...
It wasn't like she minded the photos all that much. And she knew how much Coreen enjoyed her little mischief. Why hadn't she just taken it in stride and let the girl be? She knew she didn't mean any harm and she more than deserved the kind if trust to be allowed to her computer.
Now seeing the pictures Vicki just felt an unbearable tightening of her throat. She didn't know how long she was sitting there, looking at the pictures. What she did know was that when she finally tore her eyes from them, Henry was sitting next to her, looking at the photos sombrely.
"She really looked happy there, didn't she?"
"Yeah, she did. But then again she always seemed happy at work. I have no idea what made her feel that way. Because sure as hell it wasn't my charming personality."
"You were her friend. Best friend, actually. And she really looked up to you."
"She did? I never noticed. She always seemed to have lots of friends and an active social life and such."
"I never said she didn't have friends. But you were the closest one she had. She once said that she felt you would be a good friend from the moment you believed her and took her case instead of ridiculing her as all those she thought to be her friends did."
"Not that she was right. You know, with the vampire thing."
"It doesn't matter. You treated her words seriously. That was all it took. I think that's what made her decide to come work for you."
"Couldn't be the pay, anyway."
"She not only gained an employer but also a friend. That's more than money could ever buy."
"Yeah. She was a good friend, you know. I never had a younger sister, but if I did, I guess that's how I would feel about her... Not that I ever told her that. I never wanted to. But now I wish I did." She sighed. "Why can't I really express my feelings directly when the person concerned is there?"
"It doesn't matter." He embraced her gently and suddenly she felt that was all it took for her to fall into pieces again. She tried unsuccessfully to wipe the tears with the back of her hand. "Don't worry, Vicki. She knew. She knew very well. And I'm sure she's looking at you now and is happy that you brought yourself to say that now."
"Fat load of good saying it does now."
"You may not believe it, but it does." He produced a handkerchief from somewhere and gently wiped away her tears. "Ready to go?"
"What?" She came back to reality and processed the words once again. "Oh, I guess."
"Let's go then."
Before she even got up, he was already there, holding her jacket for her. When she put it on, he wrapped his arm around her back as they walked outside.
Much as she usually disproved such presumptuous gestures, she was grateful for this at the moment.
The Garden Hill Funeral Home of Boris Ulyanov was much as she remembered it. Clean and moderately lit. The owner met them by the entrance, clearly expecting their arrival.
"Good evening, Miss Nelson. I have to say I was hoping that if we met again it wouldn't be connected with business matters. And good evening, Mr..."
"Henry Fitzroy." The vampire introduced himself. "I called you a bit earlier this evening. Thank you for agreeing to meet us at this hour."
"For me there is no such thing as unacceptable hour, Mr. Fitzroy. Please, let's go to my office." He gestured to a glass door and Vicki went through, followed by the two men.
Once they were seated, the mortician spoke again. "I understand the girl brought to me was your close friend?"
"Yes." Vicki nodded for emphasis, not sure if her hoarse voice was audible enough.
"Then allow me to start by saying I am deeply sorry for your loss. And before we move on, let me assure you that in this case, any payments will be costs-only. I could not possibly take money to profit from you."
Vicki's head snapped up as she looked at the man curiously. "Why?"
"You are a friend of Rajani and did a great favour to me before. I couldn't possibly."
"You hired me and paid for my services like any other client. And my investigation put your son behind bars. That's hardly a ground to think you owe me anything."
"You must understand, Miss Nelson, that there were two things I cared for in life. My family and this business. I suspect I lost the first twenty years ago when my wife died. When you found out the truth, my son was already lost to me, you just opened my eyes to it. There was no saving my family so the only thing I had left was this company. You may not have been able to give me back my son but at least you saved my reputation. And I am grateful for that."
"I can still pay you like a normal client."
"No. I will not hear of that. I could not take the money. The only costs that will be involved are those connected with materials. I'm afraid they are unavoidable."
"I will take care of those." Before Vicki could even take in what Ulyanov said Henry spoke at her side. "No matter what they would be I assure you they wouldn't be a problem."
The man nodded. "All right. I believe it would be best if we moved to the details..."
Ulyanov carefully looked through all the papers and notes on his desk, nodding to himself as he did. Once he was apparently satisfied, he looked back up to the people before him.
"It seems we are almost done. There is just one more thing I need to ask you for."
"What is it?"
"I will need some photo of your friend so we can have an idea of how to do her makeup for the funeral."
"Oh. Sure." Vicki replied in a tired, subdued tone she barely recognised as her own. Then the realisation struck. "Actually, there might be something... she was a Goth. Wouldn't that look a bit too morbid in top of everything? She was always so full of life..."
The mortician seemed to give the problem a thought for a moment. "I suppose I could try to give her another makeup, if you think that would be better."
"That's the thing. I'm not sure it would be. Because at the same time her style was such a big part of who she was..."
"Maybe try to soften the Gothic element while keeping its basic characteristics, mixing it with Sleeping Beauty effect?"
Two pairs of eyes turned to look at Henry. Finally Ulyanov decided to speak.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I was simply wondering if you could use the makeup in a way that... may I have a pencil and a sheet of paper?" Having his request realised he sketched, at a sped barely passing as human. "Naturally the colouring I had in mind was still Gothic."
Vicki glanced at the sketch the vampire handed to her, passing it on to the mortician. She didn't even rightfully know which had caused the painful twinge of her heart – the fact that Henry captured the girl so perfectly, down to every detail, or that the 'sleeping' image was just a prelude to seeing the girl lifeless, captured in the stillness forever.
Vicki didn't know exactly how that happened but once they were done she could barely stand when she rose from the chair. She probably would have fallen if it wasn't for Henry quickly appearing at her side and holding her. She still wasn't sure how he managed to do that without giving away his vampire skills but at the moment she was hardly in the mood to ask.
They left the building slowly, exchanging obligatory goodbyes with Ulyanov. They were nearly out of the driveway when Vicki's stomach growled. She probably wouldn't have even paid it any mind if it didn't draw the vampire's attention.
"Are you hungry, Vicki?" He asked, concern visible in his eyes.
"Not really, no." Unfortunately, at the thought of food her stomach chose to betray her again.
"You realise that only courtesy was behind formulating it as a question. But perhaps it would have been wiser for me to ask why didn't you tell me you were hungry."
"I'm not. Really. I can't even think about eating anything right now."
"And when was the last time you ate?"
"No idea. Why does it matter anyway?"
"Because you are obviously hungry and look ready to pass out."
"I just had a horrible day, in case you didn't guess. Is that so hard to accept?"
"Not at all. But it doesn't mean you should stop eating. And you haven't answered my question. Did you eat dinner today?"
"I wasn't hungry."
"How about lunch?"
"And what makes you so interested? I ate breakfast, alright? I think I have the right not to be hungry."
"What did you have for breakfast?"
"That's not funny, Henry."
"Never said it was. So what was it?"
"I don't know. Toast, I think. I really didn't feel like cooking then. Satisfied?"
"Hardly. But I will be when I see you eat something at Sassafraz."
"What? Henry, no. I'm really not in the mood."
"You need to eat something. And the restaurant is practically on the way."
"It's Saturday evening and we don't have a reservation."
"That's not a problem."
"And I don't feel I could eat anything."
"But you need to. Please, Victoria. I know this is all very hard on you but if you can't manage to take care of yourself at the moment, at least let me do that for you."
"Henry, no. I can manage. It's just that I can't..."
"May I take you to the restaurant then?"
"I'm really not hungry."
"But you are smart enough to know you need food."
"You aren't going to relent, are you?"
"Not on this one."
"I can guarantee if you make me eat something I'll just throw up."
"If so, only as a result of stress and starvation, not lack of hunger."
She didn't really have the energy to argue so in the end she didn't respond. Henry used it as an opportunity to choose the restaurant as their destination.
At the restaurant Vicki wasn't really sure what to do with herself. To her mild surprise they were quickly led to a good table as if one of them was at least a regular customer, which, she was pretty sure, could be said neither about her nor the vampire at her side. Once again though, her investigative nature laid idle as she was unable to bring herself to inquire about it.
After they were seated and she spent a while staring blankly at the menu without even bothering to look through it, she became aware of Henry making an order. At that, she put the menu aside.
"Spontaneously decided to change your diet?" She asked but even to her, the tone was distinctly lacking the intended edge.
"Decided to order for you for fear that you were too weak to speak or turn pages."
"And so you ordered for me at random?"
"Hardly. I chose from things light enough that shouldn't upset your stomach after the day of fasting and that I know you don't dislike. And I ordered, for all the appearances for both of us so you can decide which meal you prefer. The other one we'll later take with us so you don't starve yourself tomorrow."
"If you say so." Vicki went silent for a moment before a thought somehow slipped unnoticed out of her mouth. "The funeral is on Monday so I'll probably need to get back to work on Tuesday. Or Wednesday at the latest. I have no idea how I'll manage to do that, knowing that she won't be there..."
To her relief, instead of offering some platitude, Henry reached over the table and took her hand.
"You may want to delay going back to work till next week, Vicki. It won't make it any easier but at least it wouldn't be coming straight after the funeral, piling the whole experience on you."
"But I will need to go back to work all the same. And I can't be skipping work like that. If people think I'm not reliable, I'm broke."
"Those are circumstances where a temporary absence is more than understandable."
"And I will need to look for a new assis-" She couldn't finish as the rest of the sentence was lost in a choke that escaped her.
"Not right away. And during the nights I can help you with the work until you're ready to look for someone. Just remember, nobody expects you to replace Coreen. Just find someone able to fulfil tasks she did until now."
"You shouldn't make it sound easy. It's not."
"I know very well it's not. But while moving on despite the pain is never easy I'm in a unique situation of having to deal with it enough times to familiarise myself with it. And if because of that I can help you in any way, I won't hesitate to."
"Henry..." She took a deep breath. "Thank you."
"You are most welcome, Victoria."
Vicki was pretty sure that whatever would be on her plate would taste like cardboard to her right now so the fact that she found herself actually reluctantly liking the dish came as a mild surprise. She didn't speak and neither did Henry, giving her time, she had to assume.
When she was half way through the meal, he excused himself for a moment and went away. With some curiosity, she observed how he approached one of the waiters and shortly after having a few words with him was already speaking with another man in a suit. The man was nodding and jotted something down.
Still munching on the food, she looked as they shook hands and Henry returned to the table.
"Want to tell me what that was about?"
"As soon as you finish your meal."
"You do realise that will make me announce I'm not hungry right now, right?"
"Victoria, be rational. There is no great mystery there. I just made some preliminary arrangements, to finalise when we have more details."
"What arrangements?" Vicki set down her fork decidedly to the accompaniment of his sigh.
"For Monday. I asked if they have any reservations for then and booked the restaurant when they didn't."
"Booked it? But the hour of the funeral isn't yet set. How did you know for when to..."
"I told them the whole Monday. You will call them later with specifics for which hour they need to be prepared."
"Whole day? You can afford that?"
"Easily. And people will need to eat after the funeral anyway."
"Well, yeah. But this restaurant?"
"Is there something wrong with the food? You seemed to be enjoying it before."
"No. I mean I did. But the costs..."
"Aren't something you should worry about. I will take care of those."
"You don't have to..."
"There might not be any actual obligation but doing this for a friend is the least I could and should. Please, don't fight me on this. It's just money."
Vicki wasn't sure what to say to that. So in the end she opted for changing the topic.
"You said I would need to call them?"
"Yes. I have their card. I needed a contact person for the daytime."
"You didn't actually tell them that like that, did you?"
"They think I work all day and can't pick up my phone at work, if you must know. Now you should probably finish your meal before it gets completely cold."
"I was already finished."
"You haven't eaten enough to serve for the only meal of the day."
"It wasn't," she protested half-heartedly.
"Almost nonexistent meals don't count. Please, eat."
She wasn't even completely sure when she took the fork again.
Somehow, Vicki managed to get lost in thought over her meal, contemplating possibilities and impossibilities. The most upsetting of it all was that she could now clearly see how many options of what could have been were stomped whether consciously or not by her.
Finally, she became aware of Henry studying her. She met his gaze.
"Nothing in particular. I'm simply contemplating the next move. I was planning to go to church now. Do you wish to come with me or would you rather I dropped you at your apartment first?"
She considered briefly the perspective of being alone with her memories again, trapped in those walls with silence echoing in a thousand voices of the past.
"You wouldn't mind if I came with you?"
"Of course not, Victoria. Why would I possibly mind?"
The place felt odd when they entered but at that point, she was too numb to care. Churches gave one an odd feeling of detachment and one's insignificance as definition but a church at night, devoid of anyone save them was pushing way into the land of foreboding.
After Henry kneeled and crossed himself at the entrance, they silently went to one of the pews and sat. The silence of the place was almost ringing in Vicki's ears and she had an odd feeling that she could still hear the echo of their footsteps dancing in the air.
A moment later, the vampire untangled the rosary from his wrist. He made a sign of the cross while sliding to his knees. The PI watched curiously, trying not to be obvious about it. His pale fingers moved to the first bead, as he bowed his head, hiding his face behind a curtain of brown curls.
"Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen Tuum. Adveniat Regnum Tuum..."
She suddenly felt like she was intruding but couldn't move, rooted in spot by the very weight of it all. With effort, she shifted her gaze to the altar that stood out, lit in the shadows of the church.
She felt lost. More than she ever was. Not even after her diagnosis. Nothing made sense anymore. How could it. Her unofficial little sister was lost so... senselessly and she was simply numbly going through the motions waiting for someone to tell her it was all some giant mistake and that everything would be set straight. Only no one was saying that.
The whisper next to her stopped for a second, making her realise how loud it seemed in the eerie silence of the place. Then it started again before she could turn back to look at him again.
"Ave, Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum..."
She wondered if it was from his faith Henry got this inexplicable calmness he displayed right now. Maybe it was. She would never know. She couldn't imagine how it would feel.
She always believed in taking her fate in her own hands and while it didn't necessarily mean she had anything against believing in God as such, deep devotion like this wasn't something for her – it seemed too much like giving the reins to anyone for her to contemplate it. But every now and then she couldn't help the feeling that some power was rubbing that stance into her nose. Like now for example.
"...ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae..."
Feeling too much like an intruder, she stood up and, tracing the line of the pews with her left hand to guide her, moved slowly forward. The vampire's whispered words seemed to fill the church, clearly audible in the silence brought by the night.
"... benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui Iesus..."
There was a small chapel to the side of the church, separated from the main nave. There was a stand with a number of candles flickering, casting odd shadows around.
"Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio..."
Vicki stopped and did her best to focus on the image in the chapel. It wasn't easy but she did her best.
"...Dominus tecum: benedicta tu in mulieribus..."
How could this place be so calm? Have such a self-assured air about it when things weren't going fair at all? How was it even possible that she was standing here now while Coreen... While the young, perky Goth was never to be anywhere again?
"...Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis..."
She eyed the ornate cross in silence for a long while. Then she sighed.
"You are supposed to be all-knowing and almighty. So how come you keep making mistakes like this, huh? Don't you even check what's going on anymore? Lost view of the detail in the larger picture?" She didn't even realise she was crying until the tear sliding down her cheek registered. She quickly wiped it away. "Or do you somehow think this is fair? For a girl like her to die? Hell, I could give you a list, at the drop of a hat, of people who deserve to die more than she did. How the heck did you compose that list of yours if you took her but failed to notice them?"
She finished her rant and suddenly realised that the eerie silence reigned in the church again. Before she had a chance to turn around and try straining her eyes looking for the vampire, she felt his arms embrace her.
"We cannot be expected to understand everything, Vicki." He whispered, pulling her closer to himself. "But moving to the next world isn't a punishment. While it can be painful for those who are left behind, those who lead good lives, have nothing to fear from death. Coreen might not be with us anymore but I'm certain she left us to happiness."
"But she wasn't supposed to leave at all yet! She didn't even get a chance to live!"
"Didn't she? Her life might not have been long but she already discovered the taste of love, friendship and happiness. As well as that of fear and sorrow. She learned how to take joy from her days and tried to bring it to others." He sighed and for the first time she looked in his eyes, finding there something she couldn't fully understand. Something which looked very much like poignant acceptance under the weight of almost five centuries. "I would be lying if I told you I don't wish her life was longer. But if she was meant to part with it when she did then at least we can take consolation from the fact that she never wasted a day of it. And with the way she led it, I'm certain she passed to greater happiness."
"But she was supposed to live. She had so much still before her."
"How do you know that, Vicki? Perhaps she didn't. Perhaps she was meant to live her life quickly before she became another soul disappointed with life and the world."
"Still, it isn't fair, the order in which..."
"It might not seem fair to us. Maybe there even isn't an order, with the many things that depend on the free will of the people. If we were given that, how could we expect our lives to be scripted?"
"So in other words, God doesn't care if an innocent, full of life girl is killed by a drunk driver?"
"He cares. But if He wants us to retain his gift of freedom of will, He can only lead us, not force us on certain paths. Maybe our moment of death is written already. Maybe not. Maybe it is, but is subject to change depending on decisions we make. I spent hours in the chapel wondering if I should go with Christina but in the end, I believe the decision was mine and it most certainly had an impact on the length of my life... I can't give you answers, Vicki. I wish I could. But in the end I'm just as ignorant as you are. But I don't believe that can be a reason to doubt the ultimate justice of the Lord."
She didn't answer but relented and let him pull her into an embrace. Then he loosened his hold and she suddenly heard a startlingly loud sound of a coin against the metal. She blinked trying to clear her eyes of tears that temporarily took away what was left of her vision. When she did, she saw Henry taking a new candle and lighting it from the fire of another before setting it on the stand.
Then he held her again.
"In the end there is only so much we can do, Vicki. But I can tell you this much – Coreen would never want to be the cause of your anger and misery."
She was silent as she let him slowly lead her out of the church.
The sound of the telephone tore though her mind viciously and refused to stop until she grabbed her cell and answered. She didn't know what time it was. She was woken by the call but that hardly said anything. Judging by the pinkish-grey light she remembered filling her bedroom as she was tossing and turning battling her thoughts, Henry might have actually beaten her to falling asleep last night.
"Miss Nelson?" The voice of Boris Ulyanov was rather unmistakable. "I hope I haven't caught you at a bad time?"
"No such thing as a good time at the moment. But no, I wasn't busy with anything." 'Other than useless sleep.' She peered at her watch. Noon. She blinked.
"In that case, I was wondering if you'd have a moment to tell me if the arrangements I made would be acceptable."
"Several details pertaining to the ceremony being conducted. Including the exact hour of it. We agreed yesterday that I would check at what hours the funeral could be conducted."
"Well, yeah, about the hour..."
"I already took steps to ensure it could be in the evening. I know it was just one of your suggestions but I believe that considering that I always believed that the ceremony should be arranged to the tastes of the deceased, who in this case was a Goth and in the light of the fact that when I talked with Rajani she mentioned the condition of your partner making it hard for him to be in the sun I thought it most appropriate."
'That's an understatement. But whatever you said, Rajani, thank you.'
"It would be perfect, yes. So the cemetery administrators won't have any problems with that?"
"No, they won't. I know them well enough so they know I won't cause any problems for them. The ceremony will be at seven p.m."
"Now, as I understood Mr. Fitzroy will be contacting the priest himself? Or do I need to call him to confirm?"
"No, it's already done. He called last evening and everything still stands. It would probably be a good idea to call him with the hour. I don't have the number though so I'll ask Henry to do that toni- today."
"Excellent. Now if you could give me the time when it would be most convenient for you to bring clothes for Miss Fennel...?"
"You really don't have to do that yourself, Vic."
"Mike, I might not be a fashion expert but I'm at least a woman. Someone needs to get the clothes. I can do that."
"You know it might be hard on you, don't you?"
"Gee, how did you guess, Mike?" She eyed the ring of keys she dug from the girl's bag as they were on the way to the Goth's apartment. It seemed surreal.
"You know, despite how hard it is, you should ask yourself a question – while it's hard for you now wouldn't you rather be happy that you met her at all and had her for a friend, for however short it was, than be spared those feelings now?"
Vicki's fist tightened around the keys.
"If you remember, that section had a footnote saying that the technique is particularly recommended for the loss of offspring scenario. And there was a yellow diagram on the right relating to something else completely, from the previous page I think." She gritted her teeth. "Don't you dare go textbook on me, Mike. I read all those as well. And you know what? All that crap is bloody useless."
"No. Hearing any of that right now is the last thing I need. Did you ever notice how freaking useless all that advice was? Tell them how they should be happy for the time they got, because it's all about that and not, heaven forbid, about somebody dying before they should. And while they didn't deserve it. Calm them down and if you can't, have a doctor do that for you with drugs, because why the hell should we let anyone deal with it in their own way if we can subdue their reactions and have them cooperative if numb?"
"What kind of idiot made those rules anyway? And who the hell they were to think they have anything to say in the matter? You know what? I don't need any of that! I just want Coreen back."
"Vicki, I know this is all hard for you, but you know it's not possible for..."
"Of course I bloody know that! Do you think I am an idiot? But right now I'd kill for a chance to just finish those conversations that I thought we could always put off to another day... To just go along with some crazy idea of hers for once just for the heck of it and see if we'd have fun... Why the hell did it have to be her?"
"It couldn't..." She cut him off with a glare.
"I didn't ask for an answer, Mike."
Only when she said that did she realise tears were streaming down her cheeks. She didn't even have the energy to wipe them away.
Her heartbeat was erratic, giving the impression of being on the edge of overexertion and her breathing was shallow. Those were the first things Henry noticed as he approached her apartment and, to be honest, he didn't wait to register more before he sped inside, ignoring a minor hiccup of a locked door in favour of a window.
She didn't answer and her heart if possible beat with even greater desperation. There was nothing in the place that would give a reason for such reaction so he opted for finding the source.
Vicki was in her living room, trashing about on a couch where she had fallen asleep, fully clothed. He approached her.
"Vicki?" He tried her name again.
She didn't respond and her breath was getting less even with every second. Seeing how persuasion failed, he opted for a more direct option and laid his hand on her arm before finally lifting her and pulling her into an embrace. The last one worked.
It took her a while to speak.
"Henry?" Her voice was failing and she started shaking as soon as she spoke, as if the action took the last reserves of her energy.
"Shh, Victoria. It's all right now. Calm down. Everything will be fine." He realised that he started unconsciously stroking her hair. If she was acting normally that alone probably would end for him in a way that involved sunrays. Now she didn't even seem to notice.
"No it won't." She choked out before suddenly the dam of her control broke completely and she dissolved in tears.
It was hard to tell how long he held her in his arms trying to soothe her in vain. Finally, after a while she must have run out of energy as she slumped against him powerlessly.
"I saw her," She managed in a hoarse whisper.
"She was so lost... She spoke to me, said she couldn't find Ian and that she had nobody else there. She was alone and scared and I couldn't do anything about it. Every time I tried to touch her, she was becoming paler, coming closer to disappearing."
"It was only a dream."
"How can you know that? Didn't you see enough in all that time to know anything is possible? Maybe she was trying to tell me something. Maybe she is really alone there... Scared. Lost..."
"No, Vicki. That was a dream. She is at peace. The Lord isn't so cruel to allow a girl like her not to be when she passed on. And she did. I'm sure of that. She would have come to you by now otherwise if she didn't. You know that."
"Maybe she did and we just couldn't see her. I mean, I was the only one who could see Paul. Maybe someone else can see her?"
"Not that it's a matter to discuss now but he seemed to unconsciously control his skills as a ghost from what you said. He needed to see you and it never occurred to him that you wouldn't be able to see him even when nobody else did."
"Which gets us where exactly?"
"If Coreen hadn't passed on she would have contacted you one way or another. And I'm sure she would never doubt your ability to see her."
"But maybe something else happened to her. Maybe that's why she seemed so lost now. She could be stranded somewhere now. For all I know she could wake in her grave, trapped, helpless..." The vampire stiffened next to her for a moment. Then he held her closer and took a deep breath to calm himself. Only after a second, it occurred to her why. "Henry, I'm really sorry I brought this up. I just..."
"No, it's all right. But I hope I can put your mind at ease with this at least. There is only one way she could wake like that by herself. And trust me when I tell you I would know if that was the case."
She nodded, more in acknowledgment of him saying that than in response. There was a brief moment of silence before she spoke again.
"It felt so real..."
"I know. You are terribly exhausted and the situation is taking a toll on you. You are thinking about her most of the time. If anything, a nightmare like this is understandable."
"I guess," She admitted just to produce some response.
"And speaking of which, you should get some rest before tomorrow."
"I can't. I doubt I'd even be able to fall asleep again."
"You will, if you let yourself. Come, let's get you ready to sleep."
For the first few minutes, she was still too distraught, shaken by her dream with all its implications that she allowed him to take care of her without protest. Only after he coaxed her to clean up and change into sleepwear and led her to her bed did she catch on.
"I can't go to sleep now. I'm not tired and you just got here..."
"Yes, I just got here. And I can see clearly how tired you are so please, forgo the act. It would have been a wonder if you weren't."
"I'm not tired. Perhaps exhausted. And even that in a way where sleep won't do any good."
"I hope it will, if only partially." Henry sat on the edge of her bed looking at her expectantly until she caved in and with a sigh settled under the covers. He absentmindedly smoothed her comforter. "I promise Victoria, I will stay here as long as I can to guard your dreams."
"As if you could do that," came a sleepy response.
Not long afterwards, her heart slowed down and her breathing evened. After a moment of reflection, he risked leaning down to kiss her forehead.
"Have peaceful dreams, Vicki."
The next morning Vicki awoke to the feeling of disorientation, making her hardly even recall where she was despite the obviousness of the location. The reality of the day started setting in slowly. Since deep down she knew there was no way around it, she finally forced herself to get up.
A quick look at her watch revealed that it was barely half past six. Still, she was all too aware that any attempts at going back to sleep would be a complete failure preceded by agonising minutes of waging war with thoughts and haunting memories.
She dragged herself off the bed and to the kitchen with purpose she didn't really have. The very thought of breakfast made her stomach revolt, so in the end she resorted to having three cups of coffee in a row. Not that it made her feel any better – on the contrary – but at least her mind caught a speed necessary to face the day.
Then she found herself at loss for what to do next. She wandered around her apartment aimlessly until her feet led her to her punching bag. Nearly without a thought, she hit it with all she had, an angry, desperate "why?" escaping her lips.
Then she repeated the punch.
And continued punching until she slumped sweaty on the floor still in her nightwear, no strength left.
Only then she started shaking. She felt like sobbing. What was wrong with her? She was Victory Nelson. She never cried.
Okay, so maybe she rarely cried and only when there was nobody to witness that. Not that there was anyone there now. Mike wasn't supposed to come until ten.
Somehow that realisation was all it took.
Vicki couldn't tell exactly how long she sat there like that, sobbing. All she knew was that when she was done she felt different. She wasn't exactly calm – that wasn't it. She wasn't really numb either. That wasn't it. The fact of the matter was that she didn't feel absolutely anything. As if a black hole settled somewhere within her, devouring whatever seemed like an emotion.
It was hard to say if that was actually an improvement. But seeing how for all appearances it probably would allow her to function, today of all days, she supposed she would need to accept it was.
Slowly, methodically, she lifted herself from the floor and went to take a shower as if doing that was the only purpose that ever existed.
Mike didn't have a faintest idea what he should expect as he rang the doorbell two minutes before the agreed time. How could he, after seeing what state she had been in the day before?
Seeing Vicki Nelson miserable and emotional like that was like... like seeing Fitzroy order a fruit salad in broad daylight. It just didn't happen. Yet there she was yesterday...
Vicki opened the door wearing a black dress. If he thought her behaviour was off before, her donning a dress seemed to suggest that her clothing habits weren't far behind it.
"Hey, Mike. Good to see you early. I was ready but didn't want to call in case you had something else to do first."
The detective glanced surreptitiously at his watch. It was one to ten.
"Hey, Vic. How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine." The scary thing was she sounded like she meant it. She grabbed her purse and stepped outside. "So are you going or what?"
"The flight from the Bahamas doesn't arrive for two hours and Alice is taking the later flight so we still have some time to see if everything is alright with the hotel reservation for them."
"Everything seemed in order when I made those."
"Still, doesn't hurt to check. Better safe than sorry, right?"
"Whatever you say, Vicki." A sneaking suspicion awoke in his head. "Listen, did you let Fitzroy calm you or something yesterday?"
"What do you mean? All he did really was making sure I got some sleep. Not that it has to do with anything."
"Yeah." He silently thanked his guardian angel or whoever it was that ensured they pulled to the hotel's parking lot in that very moment. "So let's go have it done if you want so badly."
He never thought his name could sound quite that dispassionately. And he heard it mentioned in reports all the time.
Mike was watching Vicki carefully as they stood in the waiting crowd in the airport, the same way he might watch a ticking time bomb. In other words, he was waiting for the explosion. What was interesting, with every ten minutes the odds of that occurring seemed to be dropping. Or were they simply stealthily rising?
"Derek Fennel and Robert Green? Hello, my name is Victoria Nelson and this is my friend Mike Celluci. Let me express once again, Mr. Fennel, how sorry I am." She could be just as well talking about the weather. Good God, she was actually showing less emotional involvement than she had when addressing a family of some random anonymous victim. "If you have your luggage, perhaps you'd let us drive you to the hotel."
The men looked quietly between each other and nodded.
A black Jaguar parked stealthily nearby as if following its owner's mannerisms. Before the vampire prince even had a chance to properly get out Mike made the decision.
"Fitzroy, could I have a word with you?"
The vampire looked at him briefly, almost distractedly, before his eyes searched for Vicki, currently standing next to Coreen's father, apparently attempting to calm the man down and give her a briefing on how the evening would go. After observing the scene for a minute, he nodded and stepped to Mike.
"This is hardly time or place for chatting, Detective. Is there something I can help you with?"
"What did you do?"
"To her. What the hell did you do?"
"I repeat, mind the place, Celluci. And I still fail to see what you are talking about."
"You don't expect me to believe she is acting normally right now, do you?"
"And you honestly think I am to blame?"
"Don't play with me, Fitzroy. I already know you are dealing those mind tricks of yours like party favours."
"You are forgetting yourself, Detective. And for your information, even if both she and myself wanted that, the effect would never be anywhere near this strong."
"Celluci, please. Yes, really. And if you absolutely need a theory, I think she might be healing. I hope she is."
"This is healing?"
"In her own way. Just enough so that she is able to employ her method of dealing with any overwhelming feelings. Which is suppressing them. Now, if you don't mind, before the ceremony it's more advisable to quiet down instead of leading pointless discussions. Not to mention that no matter her behaviour, I don't believe Victoria should be alone right now."
Without adding anything else he turned and walked away, appearing next to the PI just a moment sooner than could be expected from a human.
It was surreal, the way the pictures were moving around her, almost completely detached from any understandable meaning. The reasoning behind the motions she was going through was there, of course, but at the same time her connection to it all seemed to escape her.
She felt a hand around her back and was suddenly aware of Henry speaking to Derek Fennel. She wasn't sure what he was saying. Understanding would require her focusing and she didn't have the energy for that.
She had a feeling of overload even if she couldn't exactly say where it came from. Before she knew it, Mike was standing next to her as well. He wasn't speaking.
Another blur of scenes and the crowd started growing, pulling them in one direction. Then mass was about to begin. The coffin was displayed and Vicki noted that Ulyanov, following Henry's picture, managed to give the Goth a soft girlish touch.
Vicki was hearing a growing wave of prayers rolling around. On her left, Mike's voice was fading into the chorus of others in perfect unison. All the more the fact that on her right she wasn't hearing English was standing out. Barely audible Latin whisper was mixing with other voices, still in strange harmony dancing with English words in the strangest of dances.
Among this all Coreen was lying irresponsive, eternally irresponsive, pale as ever and yet already resembling a statue – or porcelain figurine – more than a human. In the light of the candle next to her she seemed to be silently crying as shadows danced around her, already trying to steal her away from this mortal world.
And the voices continued, seemingly oblivious to that danse macabre.
Vicki swayed and the Latin stopped for a moment as she felt herself falling into steady arms. Then, in their embrace, she heard the whisper join the other voices again.
As the funeral proceeded, Vicki felt calmness once again settling in. In the anchor of Henry's arms, she felt strange. Not that anything made sense anymore.
Her sight travelled from the coffin to people gathered.
A slender middle-aged woman was standing in the front, staring into distance, supported by her sister and Coreen's aunt. She was obviously drugged.
On the other side was a man similar age, with slightly greying hair, in a tight embrace of another, a bit younger, man. Both were tan and visibly shaken. The Goth's father seemed to balance on the very edge of breakdown.
And speaking of Goths – there was a group of them standing a bit further in the crowd, their looks the definition of macabre grotesque. Suddenly Vicki felt a wave of irritation wash over her. How dare they make this some kind of show-off opportunity? How dare they? Didn't they have any idea that the girl for whom the ceremony was being held came closer than they ever would to their proclaimed aspirations without any moody spectacles and over-the-top looks?
Well, of course they didn't. How could they? And weren't they the same people who ridiculed Coreen for voicing the idea of vampires existing? Damned two-faced hypocrites.
She took in a shaky breath and felt Henry's embrace tighten around her and her anger slowly dissipated as inexplicably as it came.
She surveyed the crowd again. There was some young woman with a tiny kid in her arms. Vicki had no idea who she was but seeing how the woman was shaking in sobs, she and Coreen were probably close.
Then the PI saw a young man with brown hair baring some passing resemblance to Coreen that stood in the crowd like a statue, a look of stricken disbelief on his face.
There were other people too – the girl was clearly well-liked – but their faces and figures were swallowed in the unforgiving darkness imposed by her sight as they stood further from sources of light. Some of them were still a wall of faceless shadows moving on the edge of darkness, others were nothing but a whisper in the darkness.
Vicki stopped looking.
The whisper of prayers finally stopped, morphing into a melody that steadied over the place, carried by fewer voices but filling the air with vibrating clarity.
"In paradisum deducant te angeli, in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres..."
Henry was still next to her, even if his embrace loosened, allowing her to get ready to move as the coffin was slowly leaving the chapel.
In a startling moment of realisation she discovered that the vampire's voice was among those she could hear. Then again, why wouldn't he sing as well? Who knew he had a singing voice though? She'd bet Coreen would have loved to learn that little fun fact as well.
She felt her chest tightening.
Henry stayed close to Vicki as they stepped out in equal part to reassure her and to unobtrusively offer her guidance though the night.
He glanced up for a moment.
The sky was clear as if heaven itself cleared it in preparation to welcome its new angel. The stars were glowing in halos of light in shades raging from purple to Prussian blue, some pulsing with light, changing their crowns from pale yellow to fiery orange. Behind them was a curtain of silvery points, composing a background of fairy lights no human eye would be able to see. Not even the bright light cast off the thin moon distracted from this display of lights.
Beautiful night and beautiful scenery for Coreen.
Tearing his eyes away from the sky Henry focused back on the way. They needed to walk for a while and the finality in which each step brought them closer to saying the last goodbye added weigh to the progress of the procession. Still it seemed ironically short time had passed before they saw the coffin slowly being lowered into the ground.
When the ropes were finally removed and the first bit of dust hit the oak wood, Coreen's mother let out a wail that hardly seemed human and took a step in the direction of the open grave. That led her former husband and his partner to step closer to her. The older man held her as she spoke incoherently.
At his side, Vicki tried to take small, careful steps forward. Again, he initiated contact, folding his arm around the small of her back to help her find the way. As they stepped closer, he dropped a single long rose into the grave.
"Goodbye, Coreen. May angels take you into their hosts."
Next to him, Vicki was shaking slightly.
The crowd dissolved slowly as people moved away from the cemetery toward the cars they were driving to the restaurant. Finally only two groups remained. Vicki, Mike and Henry and Coreen's parents.
Vicki tried to meet Mike's eyes, which wasn't easy given the darkness. All the same, he nodded, hoping the vampire would pass the message to her. Then he approached the other group.
Someone had to take charge.
"Celluci is taking her parents. We should probably be going as well." Henry whispered gently to the woman in his arms that hadn't displayed any obvious signs of movement since the end of the ceremony.
The rhythm of her heart changed for a moment, a minute quickening before going back to the previous tone, so he chose to assume his words were acknowledged. Still, it was a while before she spoke.
"Give me a minute," she whispered and freed herself from his embrace.
Then she proceeded to go forward, taking small steps and stumbling. Despite the fact that she was but three steps from the grave the whole process took her about five minutes. Finally, though she managed to kneel next to the mountain of flowers that hid the girl's last resting place.
Vicki's hand, cautiously avoiding the fire of candles, managed to find a free spot of the ground and rested there.
"Coreen," the PI whispered and then went silent again, as if wondering what to say next. "You really were my kind-of little sister, you know. And the best assistant I could ever have but you already knew that one. I will miss you. But don't worry about it, okay? I know all that fluffy angel stuff isn't really your style but try to enjoy yourself, you hear me?" Another pause. "And what had you been doing, riding with that guy around the town anyway? Couldn't you have made him spring for a long romantic evening in a restaurant or something? Never mind, I could never do romantic evenings either. It's just... It won't be the same without you around, you know. I need to go now, make sure your parents are taken care of and such but I'll be back soon, I promise. Goodbye, Coreen."
She turned and looked in what she probably assumed was his general direction. To correct her, he placed a hand on her arm. She looked startled but allowed him to help her to her feet.
"I think I'm ready to go now, Henry." Somehow, in her calm voice he heard more vulnerability than was there when she was breaking down.
"Let's go then."
Once again, he guided her through the night.
The restaurant was oddly quiet when they entered. It wasn't perhaps for the lack of sounds altogether – that would have been strange, of course but perhaps not as unsettling as the strange quietness of a place where none of the people present seemed willing to speak in normal tones. The effect was not so much a murmur of a crowd but a wall of whisper accentuated with occasional sounds of cutlery.
For a moment, Vicki stood in the entrance, adjusting to both the atmosphere hanging in the place and the fact that she once again could rely on her eyes when it came to the surroundings. She took a deep breath.
"Oh, good. Everybody found the place." She said surveying the tables.
"Indeed. And I believe there are two seats free at that table near the wall."
"Yeah." She nodded but made no move to head in that direction.
That was when the vampire offered her his arm. She probably should have ignored it, but that would be just delaying the inevitable so she eventually took it and let him lead her to the table.
Henry observed as Vicki rearranged the food on her plate for the fifteenth time. He tried to decide if she was doing that absentmindedly or if it was a calculated attempt at pretending to eat. At that point, he was starting to lean towards the second answer.
He leaned to her.
"Something wrong with your food?" he asked quietly making her look up.
"So far you haven't managed to even eat a bite of what you have on your plate. Nobody else seems to be complaining about the food though, so I would have to assume it's an individual case." He made sure his voice sounded in a perfect matter-of-fact manner that matched her earlier stance.
"Hey, I ate. I'm just not hungry anymore."
"You might be fooling those who were busy with their own plates. I wasn't and I had an excellent seat to observe you not eating anything. Given that I had drunk some water that makes you the person who consumed least here. Intriguing, if you take the circumstances into account."
"So I wasn't hungry in the first place. Big deal."
"Perhaps it isn't. Why try to make a point of pretending to eat then?"
"Because there is nothing else to do here. Honestly I'm just trying to think of a way to get out of this place. It's getting on my nerves."
"You should probably wait for Celluci. You shouldn't be alone now."
"Says who? I can decide for myself perfectly well, thank you very much. And why the hell should you decide who I am with? Got bored with my company and decided to send me off to Mike?"
Her skin started glowing with a web of gold as her blood rushed through its vessels. He blinked a few times to regain control and force his eyes back to their natural colour.
"Have you honestly finished tormenting your food?"
"Didn't I say that a moment ago?"
"Then please, accompany me for a moment so we can speak in private."
This gave her a momentary pause but then she nodded and rose from her chair a moment before he could help her. No matter how odd her behaviour some things about courtesy she would still not accept. Still, she graciously took his arm as they left the main room.
Once out of anybody's view or hearing range she let go of his arm and whirled around to face him.
"So what was so important that you couldn't tell me at the table?"
"Call me overly cautious if you like but some things I will not discuss in public. Among them the reasons for why I said what I did, which should be pretty obvious to you."
"I'd think so. Given that you know well enough that I had to head here straight after sunset to be on time and that, unlike Celluci, I won't be able to keep you company during the day tomorrow."
She thought about it quietly.
"You know, you are overly cautious. Nobody should be able to guess what you're alluding to if you said it like that at the table."
"I don't want to be with Mike right now."
"You shouldn't be alone."
"It would be probably a good idea if you let him keep you company."
"No. I can deal with being alone. But not with Mike being himself. His cop self."
"I won't pretend to understand that statement. But if you have your mind set about him maybe there is someone else you could..."
"Are you sure you're not mistaking me for someone? Just leave me be. Since you already got me out of there it would be nice if you gave me a lift home before you go feed. Other than that, I'll cope."
"You shouldn't need to 'cope'," he replied before closing his eyes for a moment. He needed to feed, that was true. Between staying so long with Vicki and visiting church last night, he didn't get a chance to. He was hungry, true, but he wasn't starving yet. And the thought of going hungry was much more bearable than the thought of Vicki sitting alone trapped in memories and grief. "I don't think I need to feed tonight, Vicki. You could stay with me tonight. You should know by now that your company is always welcome. I just wish you weren't alone tomorrow either."
"You do?" It was hard to say if it was surprise or disbelief ringing in her tone. He couldn't quite justify either.
"And you don't mind me around?"
"What kind of question is that? Of course not."
"Then how about that. You don't want me alone, I don't want anyone bothering me, maybe I could just stay the day at your place?"
"That hardly solves anything."
"Is that a no?"
"My home is always open to you, Victoria. If you wish, you can stay there, of course. But that doesn't change the fact that you would be alone all the same."
"There is a difference between not having company and being alone, Henry."
"If this is what you wish, Vicki. I just hope you won't regret the decision. And if you do reconsider, no matter at which point, please, don't hesitate to seek Celluci's company."
"I won't reconsider."
"To be honest, a more comforting thought would be the knowledge that you didn't make any such declarations."
"Doesn't matter. So can we get out of here now?"
"If you wish. Just let me ask someone to give you the food to take with us."
"I told you I wasn't hungry."
"I won't force you to eat it. I just want you to have that option were you to get hungry later."
Surprisingly enough, she simply nodded. Somehow, behind her overconfident posture displayed right now he couldn't help to sense something else. Something that spoke of pain and being lost.
It was true that he would need to forgo feeding again tonight to stay with her and that waking tomorrow after two days of fasting to a human nearby would be pure torture but at the moment the only thing he could truly care about was that he would inevitably need to leave her to be alone come the morning.
It was only a few minutes later that they walked into Henry's apartment. As he quickly started turning the lights, narrowing eyes in the brightness filling the room, she had a chance to look around.
Nothing really changed which was in some strange way both expected and startling. She didn't know what she expected to be different or if she really thought something would be. Perhaps some signs of hurry in the evening before he left? Or maybe some memento that she was pretty sure wasn't there?
That was ridiculous thought and she knew it.
Just as she arrived at that conclusion, something caught her eye all the same. She slowly stepped to his work area where a collection of sketches was at display. Sketches of Coreen. Some just in pencil, some partly coloured.
A second shadow appeared on the wall before her, alerting her to being caught browsing. She was just deciding what she should say to dismiss her curiosity when he spoke.
"I'm planning to paint a miniature later. I just cannot decide which composition to choose." Henry spoke quietly from behind her and in a sudden stab of pain she felt some feeling tearing through the carefully constructed shield she had blissfully around her. She shook as she looked at each image separately before selecting one.
In the picture, Coreen was leaning over some old leather-bound book that probably weighed half of what she did, her hair escaping some fantastic arrangement to fall disobediently on her cheek. A violet bodice accentuated the girl's slender figure, contrasting with steel-gray sleeves as a dark skirt flowed to the ground, only slightly revealing boots ties with laces in matching violet.
Vicki couldn't help a feeling that if she stared at the picture just a moment longer the girl would lift her head, grin and ask her for some patience with finding something or another.
"This one, I think. It's her."
He reached for the picture and examined it closely before nodding with a strangely unguarded expression.
"Yes, I believe it is." He didn't tear his eyes from the picture for a long time.
"Do you think you could paint two and give one to me?"
When Henry put the picture away, they moved to the main living area. Silently. It seemed that no words were needed at the moment. Finally Vicki realised Henry was looking at her. She met his eyes.
"You are probably tired. I could make you a bed in the second bedroom."
"I'm not that tired. I can sleep later. Why do you even need a second bedroom anyway?"
"The second one has mechanically operated blinds. Just in case."
"I see." A moment passed. "I may take you up on that one later, when you're going to sleep yourself."
He nodded. "If you had eaten your dinner, I'd offer you some wine. It might not be the best of ideas to drink it on empty stomach."
"Are you planning to keep that up? Wonder what would you say if I kept nagging you about if you were hungry or not."
"I would have pointed out that the only source of blood available is someone who hasn't even been eating properly lately so the topic is closed by default."
"I'm just not hungry. I haven't been at all the last few days."
"I know. But you should still eat. Take care of yourself."
"I am taking care of myself."
"Are you, Vicki? Your body says something else on the matter."
"What does is matter anyway?"
"It does matter. Because you will need to go on. And I know it's hard right now but the further you let yourself fall the harder it will be."
"Yeah. That may sound good in theory."
"It's more than theory, Vicki, I assure you. Siblings are the hardest, I know. And she was like a sister to you. I think on some level you think of them as equal and therefore constant. Perhaps somewhere deep inside we are prepared for the passing of our parents and mentors. But that's not true for siblings, especially younger ones. Those who were in some way equal and yet not quite, because you still felt the need to protect them, shield them in some way. For me, Elisa was the hardest. Even if weren't even particularly close if only for age difference."
"If every time I think of her my first thought is of a little girl with impish smile and fiery braids that needed redoing every two hours it's hard to call her her royal highness Elisabeth the first."
For the first time in three days, Vicki actually smiled. "Impish smile?"
"And huge dark eyes. If she looked at you with those, you couldn't deny her."
"I guess that's a way to put a new spin to the golden age."
He smiled distantly. "I know it was foolish but for some reason it never quite occurred to me that she was mortal as well. I wasn't used to my new nature yet and she was young after all... I knew she was getting older. I could see that. But at the same time the older she got the more I got used to the fact that she was still alive. That she would be there. And then..."
"She died. I knew she was almost seventy at the time. Since the beginning of the year there were rumours that she was unwell. But none of that managed to soften the blow. By then I somehow managed to cope with the deaths of my parents and many dear friends. I thought it was easier for me as, by necessity, I was no longer so close to them. My heart broke each time but I thought myself more immune as years passed. It even occurred to me that maybe with what I became came the strength to deal with such loss. It wasn't until Elisa that I understood how wrong I was."
"Then how can you think that there is some way to control how much something like that will affect you?"
"Perhaps there isn't one as far as the impact on your heart goes. But it is up to you to whether you let your grief overwhelm you. If it does, and we fall under its weigh, finding the strength to rise again can be a frightful task."
"Lacking strength was never a problem for me, Henry."
"I never said it was. But do you truly believe it would be Coreen's wish that you use it all that way? That you do that to yourself?"
Silence fell after that and for a while Vicki didn't know what to say. She wasn't sure how it happened but she suddenly realised that her head had eased onto his shoulder and he moved slightly, pulling her into an embrace.
"I will miss her," she finally voiced.
"I know. Probably most of all of us."
"Nothing will be the same without her."
"No it won't. But with time it will probably become simply different rather than harder."
"With time. Right."
"You may believe it or not but it really heals. It may be a cliché, but it does."
"I guess you'd know something about it."
"Yes, I would."
Then they sat in silence. Surprisingly, it wasn't an uncomfortable one.
Vicki awoke a bit disoriented, registering some movement. She opened her eyes immediately and tried to assess her surroundings. Her eyes fell on Henry leaning over her.
"I'm sorry to wake you. I wanted to move you to the bed when you fell asleep."
"Oh. What time is it?"
"A bit past three. Time when humans usually are asleep."
"The bed is already made for you. Do you want me to open the blinds on the window?"
"What kind of question is that?"
"One where I'm trying to determine if you'd prefer not to be woken by light or be able to see something when you do wake. I can put a curtain over the door."
It took Vicki longer than it should to process that. When she did, she considered the options.
"Leave it closed. I'll just make sure I remember where the light switch is. Not that I'd probably sleep long past sunrise anyway."
"You need more than four hours of sleep."
"Till seven thirty two tonight."
"Thirty two? You have it written down or something? I won't buy that you can tell so precisely by yourself."
"It varies about a minute from year to year. And it's a rather important detail for me to remember. Ready to lie down?"
"On a bed?"
"I'll have nightmares anyway. So what's the difference?"
"You were having nightmares?" He sounded surprised.
"I thought I told you about them?"
"You did. But your heartbeat was peaceful right now. As it was yesterday before I left for that matter."
"Well, right now I might not have had time to slip into a nightmare."
"I'm going back to work on Wednesday." She said just to change the topic.
"I will need to, sometime. And I have to give photos to my client."
"Are you sure you're up to it?"
"I have to be. Therefore, I will be."
"I see. What was your second nightmare about, yesterday?" Clearly, the vampire was hard to distract.
"If you don't want to tell me..."
"No. That was the answer. It wasn't even so much a nightmare but a short dream just before I woke up. About nothingness."
"Yet you were ready to classify that as a nightmare."
"Just because somehow, on the edge of the dream, I was able to realise that it really was nothing. I was staring at nothing and I had nobody around. Just nothing."
"Or perhaps solitude?"
"I'm not in the mood for dream interpretation, Henry."
"I'm not attempting to interpret anything. Just trying to determine what very real factor could be behind the dream. If you were already close to waking, you might have subconsciously registered my leaving."
"I could sleep peacefully without anyone around since before I was two."
"I doubt you had such things to deal with, then."
"There isn't much I can do about it, is there? So there is no point wondering."
"There is always a choice. And I will be close all the time. I hope this will be enough to give you peaceful dreams. If that's the only relief you can have right now, let you have at least that."
"Who says I need relief?"
"I don't. What I need is knowing that when I go to the office on Wednesday, Coreen will be there. And we both know that won't happen."
"No, it won't. Not in literal sense at least."
"In what then?"
"She left but that's that. Her existence wasn't erased. Her possessions will still be there. The touches she added to the office. Even some insignificant notes she left. All marking that she was there and in some small way providing evidence for all she achieved through her work. And most importantly, there would be the imprint she left on all those who knew her. She was part of our lives and, being who she was, she made it a visible part. But it was most profound on you, both through the time you spent together and because of how exclusive the list of those that had gotten close to you is."
"Yeah, I saw her every day. But there are so many things I didn't know about her, talks that we wanted to finish some other time..."
"Of course there were. You could know a person since the day they were born and still not know everything about them. The more facets someone's personality has the more impossible that becomes. And unfinished conversations are nothing but a testimony of your friendship. There could be nothing more tragic than not having anything more to say to each other."
"I don't think I can get over her death, you know."
"Perhaps. But then such loss isn't something you get over. You lost a friend, a sister and a confidant. Instead of pretending it changed nothing, try to make peace with it. Instead of shutting off all reminders of her, cherish her memory and everything you gave each other. Give her your memory, not your grief."
"As if that was so easy."
"I never implied it was. It's not. But you won't be alone."
"No, Victoria." To her astonishment, he took her hand and kissed her knuckles. "You won't be alone. I promise you that much."
"So what do you propose we do now?" The last part of the question was slightly distorted by a concealed yawn.
"You should go to sleep. Those four hours are now down to three, you know."
"I'll see. Perhaps once you're asleep I'll get started on those miniatures."
"You promised me one, remember?"
"Of course, Vicki. I keep my word."
Reviews will be appreciated.