by Wednesday McKenna, writing as "Grave Tidings, Candlekeeper."
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Author's Notes: If you haven't seen "Gifted," or read the Blood Ties books and know Vicki's background as a child, her upset won't make sense. If you don't want spoiled for emotional plot points of "Gifted," don't read this. In S1 of "Blood Ties", Vicki's office doubles as her apartment (not enough funding for a separate set according to the crew). In the books, she has her own apartment. For the purposes of this story, she has her own apartment. Also, I don't use a beta, so all errors are mine. Feedback is craved as Henry craves Vicki.
~ ~ ~
The shadows in Vicki's bedroom were long and deep – longer and deeper to someone with retinitis pigmentosa. Groping for the bed, she crawled up to sit against the headboard, tucked her knees under her chin, and sniffled. One more, she wondered why paternal wounds inflicted during childhood still had the power to hurt the adult so many years later.
A shadow loomed large at the doorway, crossed the threshold, and glided up to the bed. The bed dipped.
"Vicki," said the shadow.
"Henry." She glowered. "How'd you get in?"
"Your front door was unlocked."
"Careless of me. Good way for you to get shot, just walking in here. Except that I don't keep a gun close anymore. Can't see what I'm shooting at." She swiped at the tears that escaped despite her best efforts to make them stop. "I could hit you with my baton, though."
"A bullet wouldn't kill me, but the baton..." Falling silent, Henry went still as only a vampire could. Were it not for his weight on the bed and the silhouette of his shoulders, Vicki wouldn't have known he was still there.
"The baton would hurt," Vicki finished for him. "Bet it would hurt a lot." Reaching out, she groped for the box of tissues on her nightstand and blew her nose. "You could breathe louder, you know. Let a girl know you're still here."
She waved the soiled tissue at him. "Never mind, it's not important. You must have left the school right after I did to get here so fast. Why are you here, anyway?"
"I thought we might talk, wrap up the case."
"Oh God, more talking? " She groaned and closed her eyes. "No, I don't think so. In fact, make that a hell no."
His hand touching her face made Vicki jerk away and knock her head against the wall. Swearing softly, she blindly caught hold of Henry's wrist and shoved it away.
"What the hell are you doing?
His fingers came back to trace her tears gently. "You're upset."
"Noticed that, did you?" She pushed his hand away again. "Forget it, Henry. I'm fine."
"I see that."
Vicki was ready when he touched her other cheek. Refusing to so much as flinch, she gritted her teeth and tolerated his cool touch.
"You did what your client asked," he murmured. "Sarah and her father have been reunited, and Coreen will let the child's grandmother know the two are together."
"Who's going to let Mike know that Sarah's imaginary friend took form and killed her mother? Mike won't believe that. No one would."
"Nothing good would come of trying to convince Mike. In fact, I rather like the idea of him trying to explain all of this in his report. The witness statements alone should cause him no end of trouble," Henry added, his amusement clear. "Why not let the killer remain a mystery while Sarah's father helps teach her control? And you…why don't you take tomorrow off? Take some time for yourself?"
Henry's voice was soothing, yet Vicki could feel the power behind it. It wasn't thrall – surely Henry knew better than to try enthralling her again? He wouldn't dare. Would he?
The spark of resentment Vicki felt at the thought died even as it flared. Resting her chin on her knees, she reflected that, thrall or no thrall, Henry's voice held a sort of caring she couldn't remember hearing from anyone before.
"Don't be so nice to me," she whispered. "I'll start crying again. I hate crying."
Shifting on the bed, the vampire slipped in behind Vicki and gathered her gently in his arms. She couldn't raise the energy to protest his presumptuous touch, and so it was that he had her reclining against him before she had quite realized he'd moved.
"Lean back against me and try to relax." He held her so securely, she could feel his voice rumble in his chest.
Her head hurt and her eyes ached. Deeper was the ache in her heart, and Vicki decided it was easier to give the vampire what he wanted rather than argue about it or try to pull away. Besides, her tears seemed to have made their own decision. Sighing, she stretched out her legs and turned her body in toward his.
"Take the day off tomorrow," Henry urged again, caressing Vicki's shoulder in long, comforting strokes, almost as one would a cat.
Vicki snorted. "Stay home with my childhood ghosts and goblins? Oh yeah, that'd be relaxing. Thanks, but no thanks."
"Then perhaps you'll let me run a hot bath for you and keep you company until you fall asleep."
She tried to compose some strong and self-reliant refusal, but the words wouldn't come. "Why are you being so nice to me?"
"I was raised to be chivalrous." His voice was low and soothing, as non-threatening as Vicki had ever heard it.
"Oh, so this is just your 'knight in shining armor' shining through? Nothing personal, huh?"
"It is personal. I do care about you." He sighed, then added, "I just want to help, Vicki."
She considered this for a long moment. His voice held the edge of hurt, and there'd been more than enough of that to go around tonight. Does he really care, then? Do I dare accept a vampire's sort of caring - whatever it is?
No matter. He needed to give it - or so it seemed - and there was a childhood ghost gibbering in Vicki's emotional closet, just waiting for Henry to leave. Maybe he could stay, just for a little while?
"No expectations, right?" she pursued.
"You want me to sleep tonight, right? As in sleeping sleep, not as in sleeping with you. No try to seduce me or hidden agendas or ulterior motives."
"You are tender and tired this night, and I would never take advantage of that. Whatever you need, it's yours if it's mine to give. You know that."
She did. Henry may have made his desire clear, but not once had he insisted Vicki give more than she wanted. Always, it had been her choice. Pondering that truth, she blinked hard to keep fresh tears at bay.
"I'm not the only one who's tender," she muttered. "One of us makes a habit of it. Or is that part of the knight in shining armor thing?"
The sound he made was non-committal. Moving his hand to the back of Vicki's head, Henry began stroking through her hair. So seldom had she been touched – so seldom did she allow anyone to touch her – the vampire's caring was making the turbulent emotions she felt run that much closer to the surface.
Scrubbing at her face, Vicki swore under her breath. "Henry, stop it."
"Stroking my hair and…and caring. You can't know how much I hate this."
His hand paused, he let his fingers rest across the nape of her neck. "You hate being cared for?"
She shivered. "Next thing I know, you'll be humming me a lullaby."
"If that is what you would like—"
"Geez, I'm kidding, you goof. Don't start with the Brahms." Pushing away from him, she leaned forward in the bed and reached for another tissue. "As much as I hate to admit it, I think what I actually need is a good cry."
"Then cry. There is no shame in tears, Vicki."
"Oh yeah, like you'd know all about that. Crying is weak."
"I've shed my share," he replied softly.
That caused Vicki to glance back at her guest in surprise, her runny nose momentarily forgotten. Taking advantage of her distraction, Henry immediately wrapped his arms around her and urged her back against his chest. Giving a sob, Vicki curled up against him. Her bare feet rubbed against his, and part of her noted Henry had shed his shoes before climbing into her bed.
His socks are soft, much nicer than my usual athletic tube socks, came the random thought in a confused and hurting brain that couldn't think straight - especially not with a medieval vampire hugging her so supportively.
"Oh, God, I hate this!" she whispered.
"I know. But the hurt needs to be acknowledged and let go. Let it go, Vicki. I'm here with you, you're not alone."
The walls built so tightly around her heart trembled and cracked beneath his quiet understanding. Between his voice and his touch, she knew she didn't stand a chance. The little girl she had been reached from inside those walls to cling to the vampire who was, at least in that moment, better capable of handling the desertions and betrayals of her life.
"My father left us, Henry," she sobbed. "He left my mother and me - and he never came back."
"I won't leave you," she thought she heard him say.
She clung to him and Henry rocked her close, let her soak his shirt with tears and tangle the material so badly it would never be the same.
"I'm ruining your shirt," she sobbed.
"Sod the shirt." He kissed the top of her head and held her fiercely to him. "And sod your father."
"What did I do to make him leave?" She could hear the bewildered child in her voice, but it was too late to call back the words.
"You didn't do anything, love." His fingers were back in her hair. She felt his lips against her forehead, kissing through the pain. "You were only a baby, and he should have been there to look after you. Protect and help you through the years."
"Sarah's father came back. I'm so angry at my father for not coming back. Why didn't he come back?"
Her voice cracked, and she tightened her grip as the maelstrom of emotion took her. Wrapping her arms around Henry, she buried her nose in his neck and sobbed so hard she shook. Between gasping breaths, she heard the vampire murmur comforts and reassurances, all offered in an accent she'd never heard coming from him before - one both foreign and familiar.
What the hell is that? the student of history in her wondered. It definitely wasn't Canadian, nor British as she knew it.
Curiosity won over misery and she began to listen, really listen. Part of her jolted to the awareness that Henry had slipped into what she thought she recognized as Middle-English. I guess listening in the uni library to those recordings of Chaucer really did pay off.
Her startlement at hearing the strange yet beautiful words stopped the flow of her tears. Lifting her head, she stared at him.
"I thought you'd speak Early Modern English," she whispered. "Shakespeare's English with all the thee and thou's and…you know, all that Guilgud stuff."
"Stage English? I've never spoken that. I was born when printing was new and our language was in flux," Henry explained. "My parents spoke Middle-English, my father and his court added Chauncery. I learned what your scholars call Early Modern only after I was turned."
"So you can do all three?" she added as an afterthought.
"I tend to…backslide a bit…in times of deep emotion." He sounded unapologetic. "I always end up back where I started."
They were quiet for a time. Henry's arms were still wrapped about her, while Vicki's cheek rested against the dampness of his shirt.
"I’m sorry for crying all over you," she said into the stillness.
"I'm not. Besides, if you remember, I asked you to." He smoothed the hair from her face. "Will you allow me to run your bath and find something for you to eat?"
"You're feeding me now?"
"It's only fair. You've fed me in the past."
"Not the same thing."
"You took care of me when I was vulnerable. Why is this night and your need any different?"
"Because it's me all vulnerable and not you."
"Vicki." Henry's tone somehow managed to hold both amusement and disappointment. Vicki decided, on this night of all nights, when he'd been so kind to her, she had no real desire to disappoint him.
So let him take care of me, she thought. If he makes me regret it later, I can always threaten to stake him.
"All right," she acquiesced, pouting. "I'll let you run my bath. But I can feed myself, thanks."
"Of course you can."
He leaped from the bed with something approaching alacrity and was down the hall and inside the bathroom before Vicki could reach for the light beside her bed. Bathroom cupboards were opened and closed, taps were turned on. Blowing her nose once more, Vicki padded down the short hallway to lean on the doorframe and watch as Henry poured into the tub at least three times the amount of bubble-bath that was needed.
"Hey, this turns the water blue!" he exclaimed, peering at the bottle.
Glancing around the bathroom, Vicki saw that the vampire had already ferreted out her supply of candles which had been purchased during the optimistic and hopelessly romantic early days of her and Mike's affair. She moved her finger through the nearest flame.
"Where'd you find a lighter?"
"In your make-up drawer." Sniffing the bubble-bath bottle, Henry choked and held it at arm's length. "Why do you keep so many different choices in there? You don't need them."
"Oh, great. Did you have fun exploring everything in the room and finding out all my secrets?"
"No, only just starting," he commented, further exploring the bubble-bath liquid. "This doesn't make my fingers blue, so it shouldn't...discolor...you."
"Well, thanks for making sure I won't turn into a Smurf." She winced, aware of her caustic, habitual tone.
Henry seemed not to have heard it as he favored her with one of his patented Henry Fitzroy grins – all teeth and courage and Tudor-princely glee - a grin that nearly but not quite tipped into eager puppy. "Care to test the temperature of your bath water, milady?"
Uncertain how to deal with the cosseting the vampire was offering, for all his teasing tones, Vicki narrowed her eyes. "I'm sure it's fine."
"Great." Henry slipped past her and out the door, flicking the lights off as he exited. "I'll leave you to it and come back in a few minutes to see how you're doing."
Another grin with blue eyes twinkling, and the bathroom door clicked shut with happy finality, so that Vicki was left to the steaming, still-running water and a candle-lit bounty of bubbles that were now threatening to overflow the tub. Shaking her head at the absurdity of her bath being drawn by a real, live – or unlive - vampire, she turned off the water and started to undress. It was only as she slipped into the inviting tub and blew on the mountain of bubbles to create room for her face that Vicki realized she was smiling.
"You didn't find my bath pillow," Vicki murmured, so relaxed that she didn't bother opening her eyes when the bathroom door opened. "I had to go get it myself."
"My apologies. I'll do better next time, promise." The door clicked shut.
He didn't sound the least bit contrite, she noted. And what was that visit for, anyway? To see if I'm quietly drowning in blue bath water?
A moment later, and Vicki sat up in the cooling water. Her pillow slipped unnoticed into the water as she focused on her latest distraction and the realization that Henry hadn't left after all. "Do I smell Chinese food?"
"You do." Kneeling before the bathtub, the vampire scooped aside some bubbles rising high enough to interfere with his efforts, then arranged two little white boxes with their ornate red dragons on the edge of the tub. "This one's rice, and this one's shrimp with lobster sauce. Did I get it right?"
"Gods, yes." She reached out with soggy fingers. "Give, give, give."
He barely held out the chopsticks before she snatched and broke them in two.
Henry grinned. "Let me get you a plate."
"Don't need a plate." Tearing into the box containing the shrimp, she used her fingers to dump a bit of rice on top. "I didn't realize how hungry I was before the smell caught me."
"Don't tell me, you didn't eat all day?"
"You know how much this case upset me. I can't eat when I'm upset."
He watched her wolf down the food. "I take it you're no longer quite so upset."
"Bubble-bath and hot water. Wonderful invention," Vicki said with her mouth full. "You should have patented it."
"Hot water there has always been. I should have patented the plumbing." Leaning back, the vampire snagged a bottle off the vanity. "I brought wine."
"You went out for wine along with Chinese? I didn't know you left."
Henry shook his head. "No further than the curb. I bought it for someone's anniversary and had it in my car. I said I'd stay with you," he added with just a touch of firmness in the casual delivery.
Vicki halted the chopsticks to pour more rice inside her little box. "Did you get the wine for a girl someone?"
"Dr. Sagara is hardly a girl."
Vicki watched him pry the cork out with his fingers. "I thought you might use your teeth to do that."
"And risk breaking a fang?" He retrieved a plastic tumbler from the vanity. "Hardly."
She took the tumbler. "What's with the plastic?"
"Glass and bathtubs don't mix." He poured out the wine.
"One glass? You're not drinking? Or are you planning to chug it straight from the bottle?"
He gave her a look. "Very lower table, Vicki. Besides, I don't drink wine."
"Really?" She waggled a chopstick at him and took a sip. "You weren't just waiting to quote Dracula at me with that line?"
" I suppose I did." Setting the bottle aside, Henry settled on the floor with his back against the bathtub. "All right, I'll admit to drinking wine on occasion, but I prefer Guinness or Glenmorangie. I'll sample yours if you wish, though."
Taking the tumbler from her, the vampire did just that. Licking his upper lip, he returned the wine. "Seems a good year."
"Want a shrimp too?" she grinned, dangling a sauce-coated crustacean pinned between her chopsticks over the bubbles.
He gave her a look that, even in the candlelight, Vicki had no trouble reading as, 'Don't push your luck.'
Slouching back in the water, Vicki scowled and stuffed the rejected shrimp into her mouth before diving in for another mouthful of rice. "I can't tell if you enjoyed the wine or only did it to humor me."
"Then I am still inscrutable to you. Good."
Vicki stuffed her chopsticks in the leftover Chinese and leaned over the side of the tub to set it carefully beside the wine. Henry helped by rescuing the rice.
"Mmm," she responded, retrieving her bath pillow and leaning back in the blue water before hastily gathering handfuls of fading bubbles around her as modesty became a concern. "The best. Thank you."
He inclined his head, every bit the prince he had been.
"When I was a teenager," Vicki said conversationally, "I used to read poetry written by a woman who took sleeping pills and laid down in a bath to commit suicide."
"There are no few of those," Henry remarked dryly. "It was once quite the fashion. But as we are talking about a younger version of you, I would guess the writer was perhaps...Sara Teasdale?"
Vicki slouched even further down in the water. Sticking the end of her big toe in the water spigot she played with the cool water droplets clinging to it and scowled again. "The stuff you instinctively know about me scares me sometimes. First the shrimp with lobster sauce, and now Sara? You're not going to try to tell me that you read Sara, are you?"
Henry shook his head, curls shifting under the candlelight. "I heard Mike order for you one night. As for Sara, she is in your living room bookcase."
"So much for vampire mysterioso. Speaking of Mike, what happened to him?"
"Happened?" He glanced across at her. "I set him down as you requested."
"No, after that. After you brought him back to earth in front of the other Sarah's school. Was there serious bloodshed after I left?"
"Not even the faintest nick. Your beloved detective stammered and stomped about and delivered some most unoriginal threats to my well-being. I ignored him, of course. I then got into my car and drove here."
Reaching out, Vicki dared to twirl a soft, brown vampire curl around her fingers. Henry shivered at the touch, but didn't seem to object.
"Do you mind if I ask another question?" Vicki pursued.
"Of course not."
"What happened to your accent?"
Henry looked confused at the sudden change in subjects. "My... what?"
"Your accent - Middle English or Early Modern or whatever. You must have had one - an English one of some sort - at some point."
Turning, he braced his arms over the edge of the bathtub. Vicki decided not to let go the curl.
"My objective has been to fit in wherever I've gone. I modified and then discarded the accent as necessity demanded over the decades until it now requires some effort on my part to bring it back."
"Too bad." Vicki decided not to mention that she could sometimes hear his Tudor origins in his sentence construction. He might change it too if I did. Glancing down at the water, Vicki noted, "My bubbles are fading."
"And that is my cue to further tend my lady's needs." Rising to his feet, Henry shook out a large bath towel and held it open for her. Glancing from the towel to his eyes, she saw his expression was at its most inscrutable.
"You don't seriously expect me to..."
"To what?" His eyes caught and held hers, challenging.
"Oh, what the hell."
Yanking the plug out with her toe, Vicki then lurched up out of the water, slung her leg over the side, and dove for the open towel. She was immediately bundled up tight in its folds, and another was added for her comfort. Henry then began rubbing vigorously from shoulders to toes with scarcely an inch of skin showing.
"You'll rub all my skin off," she protested.
"But you'll be dry." That grin again, this time with more than a hint of the devil behind the blue eyes that glittered black in the candlelight.
Ignoring the water she'd slopped on the tile and abandoning the leftover food, Vicki padded out of the bathroom and could feel Henry trailing in her wake. Pulling at the cloth around her hips, she was suddenly aware of how little even a decently-sized bath towel covered.
"I was tired before, and now you've made me soak away all my bones," she complained. "All I want is to climb back into bed, but…."
"But?" he prompted.
"I'm afraid I won't sleep. Or if I do there will be dreams…."
Halting at the foot of her bed, she clutched her towels closer. She stared up at Henry as he came to stand beside her and regarded the bed with the same sort of seriousness Vicki was displaying, as though her nightmares were hiding somewhere in the sheets.
"Do you want me to send you to sleep?" he asked.
"I thought you said you couldn't thrall me."
"I can do nothing to you against your will, oh, hard-headed one. But no one can be endlessly strong. We are all of us vulnerable from time to time."
She nudged him gently. "Who takes care of you when you're feeling vulnerable?"
He hesitated at that, and then raised those blue eyes to squarely meet her own. "You did."
Vicki felt herself blushing beneath the gratitude in his eyes. "It was no big deal, Henry."
"It was to me. You stayed after the demon attacked me. You fed me, saw me safely home, and stayed with me throughout the day."
"And kept Fred from assaulting you with his croquet mallet." The thought was so ridiculous it still made her smile in spite of her mood.
"And kept me from death by croquet mallet and table leg," Henry admitted. "How could I forget?" His fingers slid gently across her bare shoulder to explore the soft skin of her neck. "You watched over my sleep that day. Please let me help you sleep now, Victoria."
Henry was gone in the morning as Vicki knew he would be, as she knew he had to be when she awoke to sunlight streaming between her curtains. Her ghosts were laid, and her heart was more at peace than she could remember it being in years. Rolling over, she stretched in the sunlight and heard paper crinkling beneath her ear.
Taking up the folded note Henry had torn from the To Do list on her refrigerator, Vicki peered at the elegant scribble he'd left.
Women grow up to be little girls, and bears always listen. Thank you for letting me listen.
"Awww, that's so sweet." Her fingers traced his spider scrawl.
Getting up, she had time to drink her coffee and have a couple pieces of toast before picking up the phone and calling her office.
"Nelson Investigations. How may I help you?"
"Hey, Coreen. Henry and I found Steve Jeffries, and Sarah's with him. I've called Emily and let her know. So...the case is all wrapped up. Except for the billing, of course."
"Of course," Coreen sighed. "I'll get right on it."
"No, that's not what I meant. It wasn't a hint or anything." Leaning against the kitchen counter, Vicki worried the phone cord. "Do you happen to know what people do for fun around Toronto?"
"Fun?" Coreen said in a tone suggesting, 'Who are you, and what did you do with the dragon-detective employing me?'
"Fun," Vicki reiterated. "Whatever it is, let's take the day off and do it, okay?"
"Fun." There was a pause while Coreen recovered from her evident shock. "Like a 'close the office?' kind of a day off?"
"Exactly that." The astonishment in Coreen's tone made it hard for Vicki to keep from laughing.
"You're serious, aren't you? Wow. Well, you don't need to tell me again. I'm outta here before you change your mind. Have a nice day, whoever you are."
The phone disconnected in her ear. Coreen was wasting no time heading for the door. Vicki smiled, and it felt good.
Coreen didn't tell me what's fun in this town, Vicki pondered. What am I going to do with the whole day?
Mike was working and Henry was sleeping. In his big bed with all the pillows, safely tucked in away from the daylight and croquet mallets, she reflected, padding back into her bedroom to get dressed. He looks so sweet when he's asleep.
Vicki halted as she thought about stroking Henry's curls while he slept. That would be fun.
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