By Laura Feltyberger
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Everyone had been working furiously for weeks to get ready for the fundraiser at The Captive. Caterers were hired, as was a band. Tickets were printed and sold. Champagne and wine were ordered, and the club was decorated especially for the occasion. Everyone was excited to see how successful the event would be.
Lalie came home from the hospital after two weeks of recovery. She still wasn’t fully recovered, but she was tired of sitting at home. She came into the hospice two or three nights a week for a few hours at a time. Sedrien bullied her into going home most of the time, but he was glad to see her up and around. He just wished that she would take more care with herself.
Something seemed to be missing from the apartment after Gavriel left. Winn certainly fit in, but Michael and Sedrien both missed having Gav around. They saw him often enough at the club, but it wasn’t the same.
Gavriel spent a lot of time at the club just watching Mina sing. More often than not her eyes wandered over to Gavriel as she sang. Anyone watching the two of them would know what was going on. Michael laughed every time he thought of the menace he’d seen in Gavriel when he first met him; his behavior now was so contrary to that first impression.
The evening of the fundraiser was crisp and cold with the scent of snow and the air practically sparkled. The Captive was crowded with wealthy patrons. Sedrien and Michael circled the room looking to coax a little extra funding from their guests. Lalie had insisted she was well enough to come, and Sedrien had set her up in a booth like a queen at court.
Mina sang with the hired band as if she’d been singing with them for years. Everyone was having a good time. Even Michael and Winni were on good terms tonight, and had danced once or twice. Lalie left her cozy nest and ventured out into the crowd, searching for Sedrien.
"May I have this dance, Mr. West?" she asked when she finally found him.
Sedrien smiled easily. "Of course, Miss Wyatt. I’d be delighted." He didn’t ask the question that was on the tip of his tongue. He didn’t want to embarrass her in front of their guests. He waited until they were out on the dance floor.
"Are you sure you’re feeling all right? You’re not dizzy? You’re breathing all right?"
"I’d be breathing better if you’d stop smothering me." she laughed. "Stop worrying and enjoy yourself."
"I can’t stop worrying, Lalie. I love you."
Sedrien’s words stunned Lalie. She’d been so touched by his attentiveness, his thoughtfulness while she’d been sick, but she’d never guessed his true feelings. She couldn’t let him love her; it would only bring him pain.
"I don’t know what to say to that." he could barely hear her over the music.
"Don’t say anything. You don’t have to. I haven’t loved anyone in a long time. I didn’t think I could anymore. I’m glad you reminded me that I can."
"You shouldn’t care about me."
Lalie sighed, rested her head on Sedrien’s shoulder and breathed in his scent. "It is too late for me."
When the song ended Sedrien loosened his hold on Lalie, reaching to pull her pashamina shawl closer around her. He knew something was wrong when his fingers brushed against her skin. She was far too warm. The way she leaned against him was wrong too. She was running a low fever again, and she hadn’t told him.
Sedrien packed her into a cab and took her to his apartment instead of hers. He led her into the penthouse determined to tuck her into bed. She stopped him.
"I’m not sick, Sedrien, no more than usual."
"You shouldn’t have come out tonight. You should have let me take care of everything." He sounded angry, but she knew he was just concerned.
"I’m fine. Really."
"We’ll get you to bed and in the morning we’ll call the doctor."
"Stop it, Sed." her hands stilled him before he could bundle her off to bed. "I won’t let you railroad me. I feel fine."
"But you’re not fine!" he yelled. "Lalie, please understand why I’m doing this." Sed swept Lalie into his arms and carried her up the staircase. He kicked open the door to his room and asked her to switch the light on for him. He laid her on the bed so gently she thought her heart would break.
Reaching up, she laid a hand to his face and drew him down to kiss her. He returned her kiss with all the passion he thought he’d lost three centuries ago.
In his mind Lalie’s image melded with another, long forgotten. In his mind’s eye he saw her charcoal eyes, skeins of chestnut hair falling over alabaster skin. Annaliese, he thought, I know why you did what you did, and I forgive you. When he parted his lips from Lalie’s he looked down at her and saw Liesel in her face.
"Stay here. I’ll be right back."
Sedrien went down to the bar in the living room. He poured half a glass of red wine, then took out a knife. With grim determination he sliced a finger open, allowing several drops of his blood to fall into the glass. The wound healed in an instant and he took the glass up to Lalie.
Holding the glass to her lips he smiled. "Old family remedy. Red wine heals everything."
She sipped only a little. Sedrien coaxed her to drink the rest and placed the glass on the bedside table. Her eyelids drooped, but whether it was from the wine, the illness, his blood, or just him he had no idea. He kissed her again and pressed her back into the pillows. His fingers worked the fastenings of her dress and she dragged at his determined hands.
"Sedrien, we can’t-- I can’t-- you know that."
"Just once, Lalie, only once. I’ll be careful, I swear. We both need this."
She fought him, but the wine and the secret he’d placed in it broke her resolve. She’d drunk his blood and she was his, powerless to stop him.
When they lay quiet again Sedrien left the bed, pulling on his trousers. He drew his knife from the pocket and unfolded the blade. Slicing the vein lengthwise, he fed Lalie the life that flowed copiously from his wrist. She was still under the influence of her first infusion and she had no idea what he was doing. She fell slackly against the pillows and it was over. She would sleep a while and then when she woke she would be a vampire, the next in his line.
Sedrien weakly pulled on his black silk robe over his trousers. He hesitated, opening the door, looking back and seeing Lalie in his bed. He closed the door and locked her in. Gavriel and Michael would know what to do once he was gone.
Sed headed for the stairs. He had not heard the front door open and close; he didn’t hear Winni enter the apartment. Halfway down the stairs Sedrien’s footing faltered. He lost his balance, sliding down the remaining few steps. Winn was by his side immediately.
"Michael, Michael! Help us, please!" she screamed. Michael emerged from his room and dashed down the steps, frantic to know why Sedrien had fallen. The open wound that seeped blood and water told him all he needed to know.
"Winn, pull the chaise to the window." he said grimly. "Just do it." Michael managed to lift Sed and half dragged him to the chaise, laying him out the way he remembered Martine.
"What’s wrong with him?" Winn knew about Psionic passage, but had never seen it before.
"He’s dying. He gave up his life. The question is to whom?" Michael scanned the room, looking for someone who should have been there. "Did you see anyone when you came in?"
"No one. He fell down the stairs just as I came in."
Down the stairs. She was in Sedrien’s room and probably just as oblivious as Michael had been at his own rebirth.
Michael went up and unlocked Sedrien’s door. A blonde haired woman had just awakened in Sedrien’s bed. He thought he remembered her name was Lalie. She shrank back as Michael approached her.
"Lalie, you have to come down. Sedrien is dying and there are things you need to know." Horror carved itself into her face as his words registered. She flung herself from the bed and searched for her dress. Michael led her downstairs, afraid that in her agitated state she might do herself harm. Lalie pushed Winn aside, checking Sedrien’s pulse and breathing.
"Gavriel should know." Michael asked. It was damned inconvenient that Gavriel lived across town, and he didn’t know Mina’s phone number.
"I’ll call him." Winn picked up the phone and dialed. Her brief phone call indicated that he was on his way. When she hung up the phone Lalie made a grab for it.
"Call 911. We have to get him to a hospital. He’s slit his wrist and needs attention now!"
Michael drew Lalie up from where she sat on the floor. "Lalie, Sedrien can’t be helped." Lalie squirmed and fought him, fought to get free of his hold.
Winn tried to help calm her. "Lalie, there’s nothing we can do. "
"NO!" Lalie fought wildly. "He can’t die. He doesn’t have to."
"Lalie, did Sedrien give you anything to drink tonight?" Michael didn’t know how to come out and ask if she’d drunk Sed’s blood, although it was obvious she had.
"Think, Lalie." Winn held Lalie’s face still so she could look her in the eyes. "What did you and Sedrien drink tonight?"
"He gave me wine, red wine. I must have fallen asleep after that."
He’d given her enough of his blood to knock her out, then fed her the rest of his life while she was unconscious. Why had he done it?
"Lalie?" Sedrien’s head rolled on the cushion. His eyes opened, silver slivers under the full moon. "Lalie, forgive me."
She pushed Michael and Winn aside and fell to her knees at Sedrien’s side. "Why, Sedrien? You have so much to live for?"
"You have more to live for than I. I have had so much, you deserve it more than I ever did."
"I am going to die, Sed. Nothing can change that."
"He already has." Michael stood beside Winn, who was silently crying. "You were dying, and he gave you his life."
Lalie had not heard him. She saw and heard nothing but Sedrien. He nodded toward his friends, his family.
"Lalie, listen to Michael. What he is telling you is very important."
Lalie sat and listened to Michael’s explanation. She laughed it off, calling him crazy, calling him deluded, until he drew Winn’s pocket knife and sliced his palm. As she watched the gaping cut heal her mouth dropped open.
"But,... I have HIV. Nothing can cure it."
"Sedrien has. He’s given you a gift, Lalie. He’s given you a new life." Winn didn’t bother to dry the tears that streaked her face.
"That life comes with a price, Lalie. We can teach you. You won’t be alone until you’re ready. You have a new family, and a new life."
They heard the front door close softly. Gavriel and Mina had arrived. Mina knelt by Sedrien. They greeted without words, and Mina kissed him. She opened her bag and removed a lacquered box that was becoming familiar to Winn.
"My brother, we have been together a long time." Gavriel took Sedrien’s hand.
Sedrien smiled faintly. "Too long, brother. My time is long overdue."
"I don’t think so. I don’t know how we would have survived without you, Sed." Michael held Winn loosely in his arms, rubbing her shoulders gently. "Gav might have killed me in the beginning if it hadn’t been for you."
"I might not have loved Michael at all if you hadn’t forced us together." Winn admitted.
"He’s right." Gav gestured to Michael. "I would have killed him. Good thing I didn’t. Now he can tutor Lalie."
Lalie’s head was still spinning. "Tutor me in what?"
"You’ll have to learn how to be a vampire, Lalie. You can’t just jump in; it’s not as simple as that." Gavriel stroked Lalie’s hair.
"You’re different from most vampires. You’re a Psionic. You have the ability to drink suffering instead of blood. It takes some practice, but we’ll help you. Like I said, you won’t be alone."
Mina stood from the corner where she’d set her altar; a gold taper candle shed it’s weak light under the bright moonlight.
"You won’t be alone either." she said to Sedrien. The expression on his face was angelic and blissful. He saw all the faces of those he’d loved that had gone before him-- Gunther, Martine,... Liesel too-- and those he loved that would be left behind. He was ready to go, and wanted nothing more than to see his last sunrise.
There was one more thing though. He could not remember in the haze he drifted in. What was it? Something to do with Michael.
"Michael, have I left anything undone?"
"Not that I know of. Rest now."
"I’ve forgotten something."
Gavriel reassured his old friend. "I will take care of everything."
"No, it’s for Michael,..."
"Shhh." Lalie pressed her lips to Sed’s and silenced him. "No more." He quieted.
The group held it’s silent vigil. The moon rose to it’s zenith and dropped behind the building, gilding the skyline as the black sky lightened fractionally. Sedrien’s breathing fell shallower.
"I was happy. I’d forgotten that, Lalie. I wanted to know you made me happy."
"I know you were. You didn’t have to tell me." Lalie laid her head on Sedrien’s chest, savoring the last beating of his heart.
"You made us happy too, Sed." Winn said from the shelter of Michael’s embrace.
Michael watched the sky get closer and closer to dawn. Something made him ask the question he’d been pondering for hours.
"Sed, who was your savior? You’ve never mentioned her."
Sed closed his eyes and remembered. "Annaliese. I haven’t thought of her in years. She was quite extraordinary, a learned, wise woman in a time when women were little more than property."
Michael’s head rose. "How long ago?"
"Seventeen hundred and,... I forget. Too long ago. I fought a duel for her, romantic fool that I was. Her servants kept me alive long enough for her to wake and give me her life. She knew what she was doing all along, as if she’d planned it."
"It’s too bad you didn’t write it down."
"Hmmm." Sed’s eyes closed. He was tired, so tired, and Lalie felt so good in his arms. Or was it Martine? No, Martine was gone. He’d soon be joining her.
When the sky became noticeably lighter they began to take their leave. Gavriel and Winn rose, more sensitive to first light than Michael. Gavriel leaned over his friend and said his goodbyes. Winn kissed him and held him a few moments, whispering in his ear. She went upstairs to Michael’s room. Mina said a brief prayer for Sed, then kissed him good night, promising that they’d see each other again in the Summerlands. Gavriel led her to his own room for the night.
"Let’s move him into the window." Michael lifted one end of the chaise while Lalie pushed her end toward the window. "You can stay a few more minutes, but that’s all. You have to be upstairs in your room before first light." He climbed the stairs and waited for her at the top, much as Sed had done for him when Martine died.
Lalie kissed Sedrien’s eyes, cheeks, lips, forehead. "I don’t know why you did it, but it won’t go to waste, I promise."
"That’s all I could ask for." He touched her hair, her mouth, her throat.
"I love you."
"I’ll always love you. Remember that."
Lalie nodded. Out of the corner of her eye she saw that dawn was nearly upon them. She rose and walked to the steps.
One more thing! He remembered it, and just in time.
"Michael!" Sedrien’s voice rasped in his chest, not strong enough to reach Michael upstairs, but Lalie heard him.
"What is it?"
"Tell Michael the book is his. It’s his job now. He has to continue the journal."
"I’ll tell him. Don’t worry, I’ll tell him." Lalie brushed her hand over his blond hair, then climbed the stairs. There were two clicks: Lalie’s and Michael’s closing doors. Sedrien was alone in the gray predawn.
It had been so long since he’d seen a sunrise he waited anxiously for it. He marveled at the change in colors, how the clouds turned gray, then lavender, then pink, and finally white around the edges as the sun edged closer to the horizon. When sunlight finally streaked through the clouds he felt as though they went straight through his body, and he floated on them as the sun rose in all it’s glory.
* * * * *
When Michael awoke the following night he curled into Winn’s body next to him. He generally woke before she or Gavriel did, presumably because he was Psionic and less sensitive to the fading twilight. He figured that Lalie might be up already. Dressing quietly so as not to disturb Winn, Michael let himself out into the hall.
He heard a noise from downstairs. Looking over the railing, he saw Mina cleaning up her ritual tools from the night before. Sedrien’s ashes were stark white against the black of his robe that lay nearly empty on the chaise. He continued down the hall to Lalie’s room.
He turned the latch at the same time Lalie did. She stood in the doorway, her face streaked with tears and blotchy. Michael hugged her tightly, wishing he could take her pain away, but he couldn’t do that for her, not anymore.
"Sedrien wanted you to have something of his. He said there was a journal. It was very important to him."
"I don’t remember him having a journal, but I’ll look for it."
"If you find it, I’d like to read it."
When Gavriel and Winn finally came down Lalie cast Sedrien’s ashes to a stormy night, his remains mingling with falling snow. Michael took Gavriel aside and asked about Sedrien’s journal. Gavriel led him into the study.
"I wouldn’t call it a journal, but I think this was the book he wanted you to have. It’s a history of his bloodline and yours. I have no idea how far back it goes."
Michael touched the leather and gilt cover before he opened it reverently. The date in the front of the book read 40 AD! Here was the history of the world as it was seen by vampires through the ages. Some lived for centuries, like Sedrien, chronicling the world that changed around them. Others like Martine lived a few decades and let go. It would take months, maybe years to read the entire thing.
Michael opened the back of the book and looked for the last entry. He read about Gunther, about Martine, and how Sed brought his new prodigy to the U.S. Sedrien had made a notation of Martine’s death and Michael’s rebirth, and a notation that Michael had predictably taken Martine’s last name, as she’d taken Gunther’s. It seemed for centuries back Michael’s vampire ancestors had taken their predecessor’s name in honor of the dead.
Sedrien’s had not. His lineage showed the diversity of the gift. There were aristocrats and merchants, farmers and gypsies, royalty and servants. Every walk of life was represented here in Sedrien’s chronicle, the chronicle passed down to Sedrien from his lover, Annaliese, Countess Pembroke.
He turned to the last entries and read about Gavriel’s gift to Winn. Sedrien made mention of Lalie in his last paragraphs.
"Lalie has so much to give, and so much to live for. More than that, she has made me feel like living again. I haven’t felt anything in so long. Now I know why Martine gave her life to Michael; why Michael has become as strong as he has. The power to feel, to love, is the greatest gift anyone can possess. Martine knew that, and knew that Michael would use her life better than she had.
"Michael is so much stronger than any Psionic I’ve met or read about. He can feel everything and he knows how precious that is. His emotions are not the fatal flaw mine always were to me. He will last far longer than I, I suspect. He will outlast many of my line, unless he can find another of his own caliber.
"However, I despair that Michael may never love the way he loved Martine. Winn is dear to his heart, but how long may that last? She is Predatory, and he could never give her his gift. Eventually the differences between them will tear them apart. I fear that it will take Michael a long time to recover from their break up when it comes, then woe to the Psionic under his care. I don’t want him to become like me, closed off to any feeling at all."
Michael sat down with the book before him. Sedrien’s crystal pen and ink set waited, as if he had just put it down and would be coming back soon. Michael lifted the pen and dipped the nib in ink. He scratched out a few words on a scrap of paper to become familiar with the implement. Then Michael began to write.
"The preceding was the last entry of my friend, Sedrien West, formerly Duke of Westmoreland. He gave his life to his close friend, Eulalia Wyatt, who had been diagnosed as a carrier of the AIDS virus. He was more than my friend; he was my teacher, my mentor, my brother, and my father. Today I will pick up his pen and continue with his work. I hope I can live up to all his expectations. -- Michael Darnay."
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