Blood Price (Vicki Nelson #1)

Chapter 15



She knew better than to go near strange men in cars. She'd been raised on horror stories of abduction and rape and young women found weeks later decomposing in irrigation ditches. She answered the summons anyway, her mother's warnings having lost their power from the moment she met the stranger's eyes.

"The administration offices, where are they?"

She knew where the admin offices were, at least, she thought she knew-actually, she wasn't sure what she thought anymore. She wet her lips and offered, "The Ross Building?" She'd seen an office in Ross, maybe more than one.

"Which is where?"

She half turned and pointed. A moment later, she wondered why she was standing in the middle of St. Lawrence Boulevard staring at a set of taillights driving onto the campus-and why she felt a vague sense of disappointment.

Henry scanned the directory board and frowned. Only one office listed might have what he needed: The Office of Student Programs, S302. He sensed a scattering of lives in the building, but he would deal with them as he had to.

11:22. He was running out of time.

The dim lighting was a boon and had anyone been watching they'd have seen only a deeper shadow flickering down the length of the shadowed hall.

The first flight of stairs he found only took him to the second floor. He found another, found the third floor, and began following the numbers stenciled on the doors.

322, 313, 316… 340? He turned and glared at the fire door he'd just passed through. Surely there had to be a pattern. No one, not even in the twentieth century, numbered a building completely at random.

"I haven't got time for this," he growled.

340, 342, 344, 375a…

A cross corridor carried the numbers off in two directions. Henry paused, there were voices and they were saying things he couldn't ignore.

"Well, what do you expect when you call out the name of a Demon Lord in his consort's temple?"

Temple? Consort? Were there now other groups involved in calling demons or had his assumption that only one person was involved been wrong from the beginning? He didn't have time to check this out. He couldn't afford not to.

Down the cross corridor, around a corner, and the door at the end of the hall showed light behind it. There appeared to be several people talking at once.

"I suppose this means the demon has Elias?"

"Good guess. What are you going to do?"

"What can we do? We wait."

"You can wait," a third voice rose out of the tumult, "but Lexi boots the statue and screams, 'Ashwarn, Ashwarn, Ashwarn, you give him back!' at the top of her lungs."

Henry paused, hand on the door. There were six lives in the room and no feel of a demonic presence. What was going on?

"Nothing happens."

"What do you mean, nothing?"

"Just what I said, nothing." The young woman sitting at the head of the table spotted Henry standing, blinking on the threshold and smiled. "Hi. You look lost."

They were playing a game. That much was obvious from the piles of brightly colored dice. But a game that called on demons? "I'm looking for student records… "

"Boy are you in the wrong place." A tall young man scratched at dark stubble. "You need the WOB." At Henry's blank look, he grinned and continued. "The West Office Building, WOB, that's where all that shit is."

"Yeah, but the WOB closes down at five." Carefully placing the little lead figure she'd been holding on the table, one of the other players checked her watch. "It's eight minutes after eleven. There won't be anyone there."

Eight after eleven. More time wasted on fruitless searching.

"Hey, don't look so upset, man, maybe we can help?"

"Maybe we can play?" muttered one of the others. The rest ignored her.

Why not? After all, he was looking for a man who called up demons. The connection was there, however tenuous. "I'm looking for Norman Birdwell."

The young woman at the head of the table curled her lip. "Why?" she asked. "Does he owe you money."

"You know him?"

"Unfortunately." The group drawled out the word in unison.

They would have laughed, but Henry was at the table before the first sound escaped. They looked at one another in nervous silence instead and Henry could see memories of nine bodies, throats ripped out, rising in their expressions. He couldn't compel a group this large, he could only hope they were still young enough to respond to authority.

"I need his address."

"We, uh, played at his place once. Grace, didn't you write it down?"

They all watched while Grace, the young woman at the head of the table, searched through her papers. She appeared to have written everything down. Henry fought the urge to help her search.

"Is Norman in trouble?"

Henry kept his eyes on the papers, willing the one he needed to be found. "Yes."

The players closest to him edged away, recognizing the hunter. A second later, with the arrogance of youth, they decided they couldn't possibly be the prey and edged back.

"We, uh, stopped gaming with him 'cause he took the whole thing too seriously."

"Yeah, he started acting like all this stuff was real. Like he was bumping into wizards and warriors and long legged beasties on every street corner."

"He's such a dork."

"It's just a game."

"It's a game we're not playing," someone pointed out.

"Is Norman in bad trouble?"


They stopped talking after that. They didn't have the concepts to deal with the tone of Henry's voice.

Grace handed him the paper tentatively, although not entirely certain she'd keep her fingers in the deal.

"Wait a minute," the tall young man protested. "I don't like Norman either, but should we be giving out his… " Henry turned to look full at him. He paled and closed his eyes.

As he slammed his car into gear and burned rubber the length of the parking lot, Henry checked his watch. 11:36. So little time.

"… and one final join here." Norman straightened up and beamed proudly down at his apartment floor. The white outline of the pentagram had almost been obscured by the red and yellow symbols surrounding it. He caressed the open page of the grimoire, tracing with his fingertips the diagram he'd just finished reproducing. "Soon," he told it. "Soon."

The smell of the acrylic paint so close to Yield's face added to the nausea and made her eyes sting and itch. She no longer had the strength to ignore it, so she endured it instead. Scrubbing out a bit of the pentagram before it dried had seemed like a good idea until she realized that it would only release the Demon Lord to the slaughter that much sooner. But there had to be something she could do. She would not, could not, admit Norman Birdwell had won.

Coreen stared from the pentagram to Norman and back to the drying paint. It was real, all of it, and while she'd always believed, now she began to believe. Her mouth suddenly dry and her heart beating so loud she felt sure the skinny geek should be able to hear it, she tried harder to free her right leg. When Norman had tied her back up after taking her to the bathroom, she'd worked a bit of slack into the socks. Ever since, while he'd puttered about doing who knew what, she'd been working them looser, stretching them little by little. Sooner or later, she'd have her leg free. For now, her mind refused to deal with anything beyond that point.

The five candles Norman placed around the pentagram were new. Red and yellow spirals had been much easier to find than black candles of any description. He kept the grimoire with him, tucked under an arm when he needed his hands free, clutched close to his chest when he didn't. He had begun to feel incomplete without it, as if it had become a part of him, even taking it to Canadian Tire that afternoon when he bought the new hibachi. Holding it, he knew that his wildest dreams were about to come true.

The throbbing in his head had become louder, wilder, and more compelling. Its tone varied with his actions… or possibly his actions varied with the tones- Norman was no longer entirely sure.

As he pulled the tiny barbecue out of its box and set it up by the balcony door, he checked to see if his audience was impressed. The older woman had closed her eyes again, her glasses having slipped down far enough for him to see over them, but she was still breathing and that was really all that counted. He'd be pissed if she died before he killed her 'cause then he'd have to use Coreen and he had other plans for her. Coreen didn't look impressed either, but she looked scared and that would do for now.

"You're not laughing." He prodded her in the back with the grimoire, noting with pleasure the way she flinched away from its touch, then squatted to set up the three charcoal briquettes.

"There's nothing to laugh at, Norman." Coreen twisted around in her chair. He was a little behind her and to one side and she hated not being able to see what he was doing. Although she wanted to shriek, she tried to keep her voice from rising too high. You should talk softly to crazy people-she'd read that in a book. "Look, this has gone far enough. Ms. Nelson needs a doctor." A little pleading wouldn't hurt. "Please, Norman, you let us go and we'll forget we ever saw you."

"Let you go?" It was Norman's turn to laugh at her. He didn't think the Demon Lord could give him anything he'd enjoy so much. He laughed at her the way everyone, all his life, had laughed at him. It grew and grew and she shrank back under the weight of it. He felt it echo in the grimoire, felt his body begin to reverberate with the sound, felt it wrap in and around the pulsing in his head.

"Norman!" It wasn't very loud, but it was enough to cut the laughter off. All right, so maybe there is power in a name. I've been wrong about other things lately. Vicki tried to focus on the young man's face, couldn't manage it, and gave up. The insane hysteria of the laughter had stopped. That was the result she'd spent her strength for and she'd have to be content with the victory she'd won.

His brows drawn down into a deep vee, Norman scowled at the woman on the floor. He was glad she was going to die. She'd chased the laughter away. Still scowling, he lit the candles and flicked off the overhead light. Not even Coreen's quick intake of breath at the sudden twilight was enough to put him in a better mood. Not until he got the briquettes burning and the air in the room grew blue with the smoke from a handful of frankincense, did his expression lighten.

Only one thing left to do.

When Vicki next opened her eyes she came closer to panic than she had at any time that night.

When did it get so dark?

She could see five flickering points of light. The rest of the room, Coreen, Norman-gone. And the air… it smelled strange, heavy, it hurt to breathe.

Dear God, am I dying?

She tried to move, to fight, to live. Her arms and legs were still bound. That reassured her, slowed her heart and slowed her breathing. If she was tied, she wasn't dead. Not yet.

The lights were candles, could be nothing else, and the air reeked of incense. It must have begun.

She didn't see Norman approach, didn't even realize he was there until he gently pushed her glasses up her nose. His fingers were warm as he wrestled with her arms and pushed the ties back to expose her left wrist. She thought she could see the faint line where Henry had fed the night before and knew she was imagining it. In this light, at this time, she couldn't have seen the wound if her entire hand had been chopped off.

She felt the cold edge of a blade against her skin and its kiss as it opened a vein. And then another. Not the safe horizontal cuts she and Tony had made but vertical cuts that left her wrist awash in darkness and a warm puddle filling the hollow of her palm.

"You have to stay alive through the invocation," Norman told her, pulling her arms away from her body, making them part of the symbols surrounding the pentagram. "So I'm only going to do one wrist. Don't die too fast." She heard the knife clatter down on the floor behind her, and his footsteps move away.

Fucking right I won't…. The anger tired her so she let it go. Essentials only now, never say die. Especially not when die meant bleeding to death on a dirty floor and delivering her city, not to mention the world, into Armageddon. Sagged over onto her left side, her heart could be no more than four inches off the floor. By concentrating everything she had remaining on her right arm, she managed to get it under her left, elevating the bleeding wrist as high as possible. Maybe not four inches, but it would help to retard the flow.

Pressure'll be low…. I could hold on for… hours.

It might only be a matter of time, but as much as possible she'd make it her time, not his.

Through her ear pressed against the floor by the weight of her head, all she could hear was a soft rhythmic hissing, like the sound of the ocean in a shell. She lay listening to that, ignoring the chanting rising around her.

He could have identified the specific building in the complex even without the address. The power surrounding it, the expectation of evil, caused every hair on Henry's body to rise. He was out of the car before it had completely skidded to a stop and through the locked door into the lobby a moment later. The reinforced glass was not thick enough to stop the concrete planter he heaved through it.

Norman spat the last discordant word into the air and let his left hand fall down to the open grimoire balanced on his right. His throat hurt, his eyes stung, and he was trembling with excitement, waiting for the telltale shimmer of air that would signify his demon was arriving.

It never came.

One second the pentagram was empty and the throbbing beat out a glorious rhythm inside his head. A second later, with no warning, it was full, and only echoes remained in the silence.

Norman cried out and fell to his knees, the grimoire forgotten as he raised both hands to cover his face.

Coreen whimpered and sagged against her bonds, consciousness fleeing what it couldn't accept.

Vicki attempted to breathe shallowly through her teeth, glad for the first time she couldn't really see. Every fear she'd ever held, every nightmare, every terror from childhood to yesterday came with the ill-defined shape in the pentagram. She clamped her teeth down on the urge to wail and used her physical condition-the pain, the weakness-to insulate her from the Demon Lord. I hurt too much now to be hurt any further.

The thing in the pentagram seemed amused by that.

Colors ran together in ways that colors could not, creating shades that seared the heart and shades that froze the soul, and they built a creature with blond curls and blue eyes and very, very white teeth. Slender and hermaphroditic, it laid no claim to either sex while claiming both of them.

"Enough," said the Demon Lord, and the terror damped down to a bearable level. It checked the boundaries of its prison and then the lives around it. Coreen, it ignored, but by Vicki's side of the pentagram it squatted and smiled approvingly at the patterns of blood on the floor.

"So, you are the life that opens the way for my power." It smiled and Vicki gave thanks she could see only a shadowy outline of the expression. "But you're not being very cooperative, are you?"

Only the nonresponsiveness of her muscles gave her time to fight the compulsion that she lower her bleeding wrist back to the floor. A sudden shock of recognition lent her strength. "I… know you." Not the face, not this creature specifically, but the essence, oh, the essence she knew.

"I know you, too." Something writhed for a second in the Demon Lord's eyes. "And this time, I've won. It's over, Victoria."

She really hated that name. "Not till… fat lady sings."

"A joke? In your position? I think that your strength might be better spent pleading for mercy." It stood and dusted its hands against its thighs. "A pity I can't allow you to live. I'd get such pleasure from your reactions to my plans."

All Vicki wanted at that moment was enough saliva left to spit.

It turned to Norman, still cowering by the hibachi. "Stand!"

Scooping up the grimoire, holding the book like a talisman, Norman rose shakily to his feet.

"Release me!"

Norman's lower lip went out and his expression grew decidedly mulish. "No. I called you. I am your master." He had the power, not this thing. He did.

The Demon Lord's laughter blew the windows out of the apartment.

As though there were strings attached to his shoulders and the Demon Lord was the puppeteer, Norman began to jerk toward the pentagram. "No," he whined. "I am the master."

He's fighting,  Vicki realized.   She would have expected his will to be swept aside like so many match-sticks. Conceit and self-interest made a stronger defense than she thought.

As Henry stepped out of the elevator onto the ninth floor, the smell of blood almost overwhelmed him. It rose over the pervasive demon-taint and drew him to the door he needed. The door was locked.

The metal held. The wood of the doorjamb splintered and gave.

Vicki heard the noise as though it came from a great distance away. She recognized it, understood its significance, but just couldn't seem to care much.

The Demon Lord heard the noise as well but ignored it. It kept its attention on Norman who stood inches from the edge of the pentagram, sweating and shaking and losing the battle.

The word seemed mostly consonants and it tore at the ears as it tore at the throat.

The Demon Lord snarled and turned, its patina of humanity slipping as it moved. When it saw Henry, its features settled and it smiled. "You call my name, Nightchild, are you the champion here? Have you come to save the mortal world from my domination?"

Henry felt it stroke at his mind and swatted the touch away, his own snarl barely less demonic as he answered. "Go back to the pit, spawn of Satan! This world is not yours!"

"Spawn of Satan?" The Demon Lord shook its head. "You are showing your age, Henry Fitzroy. This world does not believe in the Dark Lord. I will enjoy teaching it differently and you cannot stop me from doing exactly as I wish."

"I will not allow you to destroy this world without a fight." He didn't dare take his eyes from the Demon Lord's to look for Vicki although he knew it was her blood scent that filled the room.

"Fight all you wish." It bowed graciously. "You will lose."

"NO!" Norman stood, splay legged, grimoire tucked under his arm, clutching the AK-47 with enough force to turn his fingers white. "I called your name! I AM THE MASTER! YOU WILL NOT IGNORE ME! YOU WON'T! YOU WON'T! YOU WON'T!"

The short burst sprayed across the pentagram, almost cutting the Demon Lord in half. Howling with rage, it lost control of its form, becoming again the maelstrom Of darkness it had been at the beginning.

Firearm violation, Vicki though muzzily, as the slugs tore up the kitchen cabinets behind her.

The noise startled Coreen into full consciousness. With panicked strength she began to fight against her bonds, throwing herself violently from side to side, bouncing the chair legs inches off the floor at a time.

Like night falling in on itself, the Demon Lord reformed and the temperature in the apartment plunged. It smiled, showing great curved teeth it hadn't had before. Once again, Norman began jerking toward it.

The lights came on, throwing the scene into sharp relief, and a voice yelled, "Freeze! Police!"

The first instant of frozen expressions was almost funny, then Henry raised a hand to shield his eyes, the Demon Lord spun about to face a new adversary, and Norman raced toward the door, screaming, "No, it's mine! You can't stop me! It's mine!"

Coreen's leg came free of the socks at last. As Norman passed, she kicked out.

He fought for balance, arms flailing. The grimoire dropped to the floor. A second later, Norman fell into the pentagram.

Then Norman wasn't anymore, but his scream lingered for a heartbeat or two.

Mike Celluci stood at the light switch, his .38 in one hand, the other, under no conscious volition, making the sign of the cross. "Jesus H. Christ," he breathed into the sudden silence. "What the hell is going on in here?"

The Demon Lord turned to face him. "But that's it exactly, Detective. Hell is going on in here."

This was worse than anything Celluci could have imagined. He hadn't seen the punk with the assault rifle disappear into thin air. He didn't see the thing standing in the middle of the room smiling.

But he had. And he did.

Then he caught sight of Yield and all the strangeness became of secondary importance.

"Who did this?" he demanded, moving to her side and dropping to one knee. "What is going on in here!" The question came out sounding more than a bit desperate the second time around. While he felt her throat for a pulse, he kept the Demon Lord covered-the direction of the threat obvious after what he'd seen as he came in.

"Pretty much exactly what it looks like," Henry told him. Clearly the stalwart officer of the law was a friend of Vicki's. What he thought he was doing here could be settled later. "That is a Demon Lord. He just destroyed the… person who called him and we're in a great deal of trouble."

"Trouble?" Celluci asked, not bothering at the moment with whether he believed all this or not.

"Yes," said the Demon Lord, and stepped out of the pentagram. It effortlessly pulled the gun from Celluci's hand and tossed it out the window.

Celluci watched it go, there being nothing else he could do, then with lips a thin, pale line he bent over Vicki, ignoring the cold sweat that beaded his entire body, ignoring the terror that held his heart in an icy fist, ignoring everything but the one thing he could change. Fighting the knots out of the ties, he bound up her wrist with the first one he got free.

"It won't do any good," the Demon Lord observed. With all attention focused on Vicki, it sidled sideways, whirled around, and dove for the grimoire.

Henry got there first, scooped up the book, and backed away with it. To his surprise, the Demon Lord snarled but let him go. "You have no power," he realized. "You're in this world without power."

"The invocation is not finished," the Demon Lord admitted, its eyes still on the book, "until the woman dies."

"Then the invocation will never be finished." Brute strength forced the bindings off her legs and Celluci threw the ties across the room with unnecessary force.

"It will be finished very soon." the Demon Lord pointed out. "She is dying,"

"No she isn't," Celluci growled, easing Vicki's limp body over onto her back.

Yes, I am. Vicki wished she could feel the hand cupping her face, but she hadn't been able to feel anything for some time. Her eyes itched, but she didn't have the strength to blink. She wished it wasn't happening this way. But she'd given it her best shot. Time to rest.

Then the Demon Lord raised its head and looked directly at her, its expression gloating and openly triumphant.

When she died, it won.

The hell it wins. She grabbed onto what life she had left and shook it, hard. I am not going to die. I am not going to die!

"I am… not… going to die… "

"That's what I said." Celluci didn't bother to smile. Neither of them would have believed it. "Listen."

Through the glassless window, up from the street, she could hear sirens growing closer.

"Cavalry?" she asked.

He nodded. "I called in an officer down when I reached the building-the place felt like it was under siege. There'll be an ambulance with them. I don't care how much blood you've lost, they can replace it."

"Concussed, too… "

"Your head's hard enough to take it. You're not going to die." He half turned to face the Demon Lord, throwing his conviction over his shoulder at it.

It smiled unpleasantly. "All mortals die in time. I will, of course, try to make it sooner than later."

"Over my dead body," Celluci snarled.

"No need." Henry shook his head. "It can't kill her or it would have the moment it left the pentagram. Her death is tied to the invocation and it can't affect the invocation. All it can do is wait.

"If you stay," he told it, moving closer, "you'll be fighting every moment. We can't destroy you, but without all your power you'll have no easy time of it."

The Demon Lord watched him move, eyes narrowed.

No, Vicki realized, it isn't watching him, it's watching the grimoire.

"So what do you suggest?" it scoffed. "That I surrender? Time is all I need, and time I have in abundance."

Vicki pushed at Celluci's arm, moving him out of his protective position. "A deal…. You want… the grimoire." If only her tongue wasn't so damned thick. "Go…. Break the invocation… it's yours."

"In time, I will take the grimoire. You have no idea of how to truly use the knowledge it contains." It made no effort to hide its desire as it stared at the book of demonic lore. "There is nothing in your deal for me."

"Power freely given has more strength than that taken by force." Coreen went deep red as the two men and the Demon Lord turned to stare at her. "Well, it does. Everyone knows it."

"And power freely given is not a power often seen where you come from" Henry added, nodding slowly. The girl had brought up an important point. "It could be the makings of a major coup."

"The name… written on the… city." The demonkind had proven they were not without ambition.

"Upstart, grasping." The Demon Lord ground out a number of other words in a language that sound like a cat fight and its aspect began to slip again.

"Why wait for this world when you can have another now?" Henry prodded. "You want the grimoire. With it you can control others of your kind. Defeat your enemies… "


"We give it freely if in exchange you break the invocation and return where you came from. He who called you is no more. Nothing holds you here. Why wait when you can rule?"

With an effort the Demon Lord maintained its shape.

holding out hands that were no longer quite hands. "Give it to me. I will make your bargain."

"Swear it on your name."

"I ssso sssswear."

"And that you'll never use the book against humankind," Coreen added in a rush, before Henry could move.

"It holdsss knowledge only to be usssed againssst demonkind."

Her lower lip went out. "Swear it anyway. On your name."

"I ssswear. I ssswear."

Henry took a step forward and placed the book on what remained of the Demon Lord's hands. Grimoire and Demon Lord disappeared.

Vicki stared to giggle.

Celluci looked down at her and frowned. "What?" he snapped.

"I was just… wondering… what you're going to… put in… your report."

"I saw Henry." Tony finished off the last of the gelatin and put the bowl back on the tray. "He came and told me what happened. Said I had a right to know. He's pretty cool. I think he was checking me out."

"Probably," Vicki agreed. "You know a dangerous amount about him."

Tony shrugged. "I'm no threat. Don't matter to me what time a guy gets up."

"Doesn't matter."

He grinned. "That's what I said."

The nurse's shoes squeaked softly against the floor as she came into the room. "Visiting hours are over. You can come again tomorrow."

Tony glanced from the nurse to Vicki and heaved himself to his feet. He paused in the doorway and looked back. "Save me the gelatin."

Vicki grimaced. "It's all yours," she promised.

The nurse puttered about for a few moments, rearranged the blankets, checked the IV drip and bandage that covered Vicki's left arm from hand to elbow. On her way out, she ran into Mike Celluci on his way in.

"I'm sorry." Drawing herself up to her full height, she blocked the door. "But visiting hours are over."

Celluci gently moved her aside and, as she started to bristle, flashed his badge. "Police business,' he said, and closed the door.

He shook his head at heavy purple circles under Vicki's eyes, clicked his tongue at the IV drip, bent down, kissed her, and said without straightening, "You look like shit."

"Actually, I'm feeling much better." She reached up and pushed the curl of hair back off his forehead. "Yesterday, I felt like shit. And speaking of yesterday, where were you?"

"Writing up my report." He threw himself into the chair Tony had pulled up beside the bed. "Sure, you can laugh. That's one part of police work you should be glad you're free of."

It didn't hurt as much as it used to. In time, she suspected, it would hardly hurt at all. "What did you say?"

"I told the truth." He grinned at her expression. "Okay, not all of it."

"And Norman?"

"He got away while I was trying to keep you alive. Fortunately the chief remembers you through rose colored glasses and thinks that's a sufficient excuse. There's a country wide APB out on him." He shrugged. "It won't do my arrest record any good, but the killings will stop and I figure he got what was coming to him."

Vicki wasn't sure that she agreed so she kept silent. It smacked too much of an eye for an eye. And the whole world ends up blind.

"Your new boyfriend's a little shy."

She had to grin at the tone. "I told you. He's a writer. He's used to being alone."

"Sure. And I've told you, you're a lousy liar. But I owe him for taking care of that… teenager, so I'll let it go for now."

Vicki's grin twisted. Coreen had no idea she'd finally met her vampire and that said vampire had convinced her that much of what had happened, hadn't. According to Coreen, Henry's version had left out both the lesser demon and the Demon Lord and had placed all the blame on Norman Birdwell. In a way, Norman was at last getting the recognition he craved.

She reached over with her good arm and poked him in the thigh. "That teenager, as you call her, just paid me a decent wage for that little dustup, so I'll thank you to speak of her with more respect."

Celluci grimaced. "Vicki, she's an airhead. I have no idea how he kept her quiet about, well, you know …" He couldn't say it, that would make it too real. "… but I shuddered to think of her getting to the press. And now," he heaved himself to his feet and headed for the door. "I'll get out of here so you can get some sleep." Sleep was a long time coming. She palmed the pills they tried to give her and lay listening to the hospital grow quiet.

It was close to 1:00 when the door opened again.

"You're awake," he said softly.

She nodded, aware he could see her even if she couldn't see him.

"Were you waiting for me?"

She tried to keep her tone light. "Well, I didn't think you'd be here during regular visiting hours." She felt his weight settle on the side of the bed.

"I wasn't sure you'd want to see me."

"Why not?"

"Well, you can't exactly have pleasant memories of the time we shared."

"Not many, no." Some of the memories she found very pleasant, but Vicki wasn't sure she wanted to remind him of that just now. With four hundred and fifty years of experience, he had enough cards already.

Henry frowned, secure in the darkness. She said one thing, but her scent…

"It must have been difficult for you to get in here."

"Hospitals have few shadows," he admitted. "I had hoped I could see you after you got out… ?"

"Sure." Would he understand what she was offering? Did she? "We can have dinner."

She couldn't see him smile, but she heard the laugh then felt the cool pressure of his fingers around her hand. "Do you believe in destiny?" he asked.

"I believe in truth. I believe injustice. I believe in my friends. I believe in myself." She hadn't for a while, but now she did again. "And I believe in vampires."

His lips brushed against the skin of her wrist, and the warm touch of his breath when he spoke stood every hair on her body on end.

"Good enough."


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