By Laura Feltyberger
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"It’s not always about what you want. Get that into your head!" Yelled Gavriel. Michael had cornered him in the office after learning that Gavriel had sold some of his share of the club to Winni, rather Winn. The club was currently the bulk of Michael’s income-- Gavriel and Sedrien had other investments-- and he wasn’t happy that the woman he’d been trying to get rid of was now his business partner.
"Gav, why? You know how much I wanted her to leave us and start over."
"This is her new beginning. It has nothing whatsoever to do with you. You hardly spend time here anymore. I gave her the management of the club, so if you want to avoid her I suggest you find a new place to hang out."
Gavriel struggled to hold onto his temper, and something else. "Winn is a friend, and has been for at least ten years. I owe her a lot, and by the way, so do you. You might recall that when you needed blood, or a sympathetic ear she was there for you. It’s because of her that Sed and I found out that you’d been abusing blood before we introduced you to your psionic abilities. I forget who helped you through your first time. Michael, wasn’t it Winn?"
"I owe her more than I could ever repay. That’s why I wanted her to leave. I wanted her to have every opportunity."
Gavriel let out a huff that sufficed for a humorless laugh. "She only wanted one, and she took it." He reached for the door. "Michael, why don’t you talk to her. You used to be good at that."
Michael lay across the leather sofa under the window. Maybe he should talk to her.
Winn was not so easy to pin down. She spent all her time at The Captive, taking care of business that was usually Gavriel’s concern. Whenever Michael tried to corner her at the club she froze him out totally, an icy glare her only answer to his questions. He finally caught her in the office going over invoices.
"Winni, we need to talk."
"I don’t think so, Michael. You’ve said everything that needed to be said, and I’m no longer your concern."
Her coolness stymied him. "Winni, let me explain."
"No need. I know you had my best interests at heart. You just had no idea what my interests really were, nor did you care. You had your ideas of what was best for me and I had mine. Now I have what I need." She didn’t look at him when she spoke.
"Do you? Are you happy now?" It was hard to believe that she was content; the tension in her posture said otherwise.
"Yes. Now if you don’t mind I have work to do, and so do you."
Michael left the office more confused than when he’d entered it.
* * * * *
Michael didn’t look up from the report he was reading when the phone rang. He reached over and answered it while making a notation on the chart.
"Michael, it’s Gavriel. How do you feel about doing a little hunting tonight?"
It had been a while since he’d hunted out in the open, not since the nights he’d suffered bloodlust. "I get off work in an hour." he said checking his watch. "Any particular prey?"
"Heard rumors of a rapist in Gramercy Park. Up for it?"
"Tell me where."
Michael met Gavriel at the designated corner. Gavriel was searching for a scent while Michael probed with his mind looking for their quarry.
"How are we playing this one?"
"My new protege will flush him out. Tonight is her trial run." Gavriel’s declaration surprised Michael. He’d noticed Gavriel spent a lot of time away from the club and the apartment, but had no idea that he’d been training a new predator.
"Anyone I know?"
"You’ll be surprised."
Any further conversation was halted by the sensation of menace that skidded across Michael’s awareness. The prey was out there. He sensed someone else as well: Gav’s protege, hungry and sharp and lying in wait. Michael started off in the direction the vibrations came from, with Gavriel close behind.
The stalker had followed his intended victim into a narrow breezeway between two buildings. He was ready to attack when she turned on him, but never anticipated her strength or speed. She struck hard and he fought back. Michael rushed forward, hoping the neophyte could hold her own.
Shortly Michael and Gav had the criminal in their grasp, holding him still enough that the new predator could open the man’s wrist and drink. Michael concentrated on the terror the stalker felt as his blood drained. They left him lying in the alley unconscious. The wound would heal, but he’d be out of commission long enough for the police to find him. Gavriel walked away to call the authorities on his cell phone. Michael stepped out onto the brightly lit street, looking behind for the protege as she stepped from the shadows.
It was Winn. Blood still glistened on her lips and disturbed him.
"Winn, what?..." Michael recoiled in horror. He recalled the way she’d changed lately and recognized it as the detached attitude of a neo-predator.
"Yes, Michael." Winn wiped the blood from her lips with the back of her hand, then licked it clean. Her eyes glittered like marble in the light of the street lamps.
Michael ran blindly from the scene. He didn’t know where he was going until he found himself digging in his pocket for his subway card at the turnstile. He remembered nothing from the ride uptown. He didn’t notice much of anything until he was back at the apartment. Sedrien was sitting with a woman; they were so deep in conversation that Sed didn’t see Michael until he was halfway up the stairs.
Michael stood in the middle of his room and wondered if everything he’d seen that night wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t possible, was it? Winn, a vampire-- the thought made his head reel. He’d hoped so much that she’d try to live a normal life and now she wasn’t even human. Had one of her vampire tricks turned on her? Was this how he paid her for her services? The thought made him sick to his stomach.
The creak of his door made him turn. Winn stood silhouetted in the doorway.
"Why?" was all he could say. He sat deflated on the edge of the bed.
"I wanted it. I spent so many years living with vampires it’s all I know anymore. How could I leave it?"
"But you could have had anything you wanted."
"This was all I wanted. Michael, I made my decision. Please be happy for me." Winn stepped closer as if she was afraid he’d run.
"God!" he cried, burying his face in his hands. "I wanted to protect you from getting hurt. I wanted you safe and I failed."
Winn pried his hands free and touched the trails of tears the streaked down his face. "I am safe. I couldn’t be safer." She laid her lips on his, offering the only comfort she could.
Michael’s arms came around her in a crushing embrace. They slid to the floor and stayed there a long time until Michael felt calm enough to look at her. He framed her face in his hands as if she might break.
"How long have you?..."
"A few weeks. Gavriel and Mina helped me through it."
"Mina? From the club?"
"Haven’t you guessed? She and Gavriel,... He’s been staying with her lately. I would never have guessed, but Mina knew about Gav and Sed all this time, and she knew about you and Martine. She actually approached me with Gavriel’s offer."
"What offer?" Michael was confused.
"When I quit the club Mina talked with Gavriel. She told him she knew all about his secrets, and about my problem, and that she wanted to help. It was her idea that Gavriel give me the gift."
He realized what she meant. "Gavriel did this to you?"
"Only because Mina suggested it. I thought of asking him, but knew that he’d refuse. Together we decided it was the best thing.
"Mina realized when I didn’t, that all those years I spent as a donor left me wanting something. I lived in vampire culture, knew their ways and habits, but could lay no claim to them myself. I was a groupie. I wanted what you had. I knew I would never be psi, but I had secretly hoped that someday I could be predatory. I wanted to be a real vampire, not someone who hung out on the fringes."
"That’s a pretty sick ambition there."
"It’s not something you grow up wanting to be, but it’s my life now."
"Guess so." Michael rested his forehead on hers, suddenly tired.
There was a sharp rap on the door. Sedrien had come up.
"I understand we have a new addition to the family. Why don’t we all come downstairs for a celebration?"
"But your guest..." Winn remembered the blonde on the couch.
"She’s left, and Gavriel and Mina are here. Let’s have a toast, shall we?"
It was a strange party they had, celebrating the rebirth of a new vampire. Gavriel announced his plans to move out of the apartment to live with Mina. Winn would take up the empty room.
Mina danced with Gavriel and regarded the rest of the party with a wary eye. Changes come in threes: first there was Martine’s death, then Winn’s induction in the vampire tradition. She shuddered to think what the third change would be and what form it would take.
* * * * *
Lalie and Sedrien were going over budget projections for the coming year in Lalie’s office. It was a difficult task, especially because the donations that they relied on had dwindled in the last few months.
"How about a fundraiser?" Sedrien offered.
"Just putting on a fundraiser would take more money than we have. It’s not realistic." Lalie rubbed her head, hoping her headache would subside.
"Do you remember the club we went to the other night?"
"What about it?"
"I own it."
Lalie stared at Sedrien as if a stranger had just sat down in his place. "What do you mean, you own it?"
"I’m a partner. Three friends and I have a partnership. We could give a fundraiser there. The food and basic drinks would be donated, as well as the space. Charge 50 dollars per ticket, and market price for mixed drinks, and you’ll have made enough to keep us floating another few months." Sedrien outlined his ideas on paper for her.
Lalie slitted her eyes at him. "You’ve done this before, haven’t you?"
"Two years ago, actually. It was moderately successful. Depending on how it goes this year, maybe we should make it an annual event."
Lalie stood and walked around her desk. "You know what you’re doing, so I’ll leave it in your hands." She left the office.
Sedrien stayed glued to his chair. He’d sensed her discomfort as they talked; the headache, the nausea. She’d gone to the ladies room, probably to be sick. He’d dreaded this moment.
He was waiting in the hall when she emerged, decidedly more pale than she’d been moments ago. She knew what he was thinking.
"It’s just the Ôflu, no more than that. I’m on antibiotics as well as my usual meds. I’ll be fine in a few days." She tried to walk past him but he wouldn’t have any of it.
Sedrien led her into her office for her coat and purse, then took her outside and hailed a cab. She thought he’d leave it at that, hoping that she’d go home and rest, but he got into the cab next to her and prompted her for her address. She gave it and the driver sped away.
He followed her upstairs and took her keys from her to open the door. She tried to thank him there at the door but Sed pulled her into her bedroom, stripped her, dressed her in her nightgown, and put her to bed.
"Now you listen to me. You are staying in bed until you have gotten over this, whatever it is. I will come back at night before I go to work and make sure that you are taking care of yourself. If you do not, I swear you will have to answer for it." Sedrien tucked the quilt close under her chin.
Lalie reached out and drew Sedrien’s face closer to hers, kissing him on his chin. "I’m very lucky to have a champion like you to come to my rescue."
Sedrien looked into her eyes a moment before he kissed her. Because she wasn’t feeling well it was only a brief brush of the lips, but still a meaningful kiss. When he pulled back to look down at her again her eyes shone with tears. He caressed her cheek before he turned and left the room.
Sedrien let himself out of her apartment and walked down the stairs. He was standing on the sidewalk debating between the subway and a cab when Lalie’s condition finally hit him. She was sick, and she had AIDS. How quickly could the flu turn fatal? How strong was she really? He started walking, thinking, Now I understand, Martine.
Lalie continued on her drug cocktail as well as the antibiotics and whatever took away the symptoms of her illness. Sedrien bullied her into staying home and in bed. He brought her herbal teas, Chinese food, chicken soup, magazines, flowers, and cold medicines. Once he even brought her a teddy bear dressed like a doctor, to watch her when he wasn’t there he said.
Every time Sed visited her he would wait until the last minute to soothe her mental distress. She was worried about something, probably her health and all the medications she was taking.
"I can make a whole meal out of all the pills I’m taking these days." Lalie joked. He tried to get her to eat as much as she could stand. Between the flu itself and the drugs swirling throughout her system she vomited most of it, but that made Sedrien even more determined.
"You’re going to gain ten pounds by the time I’m done with you." he threatened. The fact that she was losing weight didn’t alarm him nearly as much as the cough that had settled in. Sometimes she coughed so hard it brought on another fit of retching. It disturbed him that instead of getting better she seemed to be getting worse.
Sed spent a minimal amount of time at the hospice. He flitted back and forth between Lalie’s apartment and his own, only going to his office for the papers he needed pertaining to the fundraiser planned six weeks away. The rest he left to Gavriel, Winn, and Michael. He kept in touch with them constantly by phone; his attention was needed elsewhere.
He stayed all night the night her fever spiked. He lay in the bed with her, reading out loud. He’d found the book on her nightstand and it intrigued him. It was about a woman who corresponded with a ghost via email. It seemed his Lalie was a romantic at heart, and he’d never known it. He cuddled her closer to his side. She was sleeping again, as she’d done off and on since he’d arrived.
Sed put the book down and reached for the aural thermometer he’d bought for her; he could never tell her temperature by touch. The gauge showed that her temperature had gone up to 104 degrees and he panicked. He called Lalie’s doctor, who instructed him to bring her to the hospital.
The doctor met him at the entrance to the emergency room. Lalie was whisked away to a curtained room where she was hooked up to IV’s and monitors. Sedrien’s heart dropped when he glimpsed her hand lying limp on the white sheet. He turned away and left the hospital. He didn’t want to, but his watch alarm had gone off; dawn was coming.
Lying in bed waiting for sleep, Sed thought about Lalie’s condition. He didn’t want to lose her this way, but what could he do? He was powerless to help her, or was he? No. He couldn’t do that to her. He wouldn’t make a sacrifice of Lalie’s life to assuage his guilt. He’d wait until the next night to check on her condition.
End of Chapter Three
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