Don't Tell Dad the Babysitter's Undead
Tracy rushed around the apartment, straightening this and that, running a cloth here and there, moving what she had just set right. It wasnít nerves, it wasnít. She just liked her living space neat and tidy, and just because she was a little more compulsive about it tonight was no reason to call her nervous. After all, he had been to her place on numerous occasions, and he had never given her the impression that he cared if her knick-knacks were out of place, or if a thin film of dust coated every surface. Maybe a few intricate cobwebs hanging about would make him feel more at home and stop him from prowling like a caged panther from corner to corner, opening cupboards and bureau drawers and peering into her unmentionables.
Tracy sighed as she looked around; it would have to do. She had told Javier to come as soon as it was dark enough for him to venture out. So when the bell rang only a few minutes later, the sun still balanced red and gold on the horizon, she knew it couldnít be him - unless there was an access tunnel under the basement of her building she didnít know about. That would be just a little too convenient, so she dismissed it out of hand.
It wasnít until the bell rang again, this time longer and harder with obvious impatience, that she realized sheíd lapsed into a meditative state. Shaking her head and squaring her shoulders resolutely, Tracy made her way to the door. After a quick peek out the security window to assure herself her visitor really wasnít Javier, she opened the door to admit her brother.
"Hi, little sister," Tom greeted.
"What are you doing here?" she blurted out before she could form an appropriate greeting of her own.
He walked in, not waiting for an invitation. A small boy of about five trailed in his wake, a diminutive version of the big man. Tom had always been tall, even as a child, but in full manhood had grown in breadth as well. Her apartment never seemed quite large enough when he was there.
"Itís nice to see you, too, Tracy."
The little boy poked his head around his fatherís legs. "Hi, Aunt Tracy!" he piped up.
Tracy had to smile. He was so cute. At barely three feet, Pete came just to her thighs. He ran out from behind Tom and fastened himself to her legs, giving her a fierce hug. Tracy reached down and hugged him back, then tousled his shiny blond hair and tweaked his freckled nose.
"So?" she said expectantly to Tom.
He managed to look confident and deferent at the same time, a feat he probably picked up during his stint in the Forces, where he was expected to handle any number of chores autonomously, yet remain obedient to superior officers. It was an expression she had yet to master.
"Iím sorry to do this to you, Trace, but the babysitter came down ill. She called me while I was bringing Pete to her," he explained. "Caro and I have tickets to a charity benefit tonight. Do you think you can watch Pete for us?" Tracy hesitated, and Tom pressed her in the brief silence. He had learned that tactic from their father, and Tracy found she didnít like its use any better by her brother. "It is your night off?"
"Yes," she admitted, irrationally irritated by his smug look, "but I have plans."
"Aw, comon, Button, you can break them, right?" With his earnest good looks and sincere voice, he could sell a snakeís own shed skin right back to it and the snake would fork over the money with no qualms, happy to have found a skin that fit so well. Tom had definitely missed his true calling by going into police work.
Pete joined the fray, innocently influencing Tracyís decision, by tugging on her pantsí leg and saying "Please" in that little boy voice she couldnít quite resist. His upturned face stirred memories of Tom when they were children, but Pete had a hint of his motherís softness and quicksilver humor about the eyes and mouth.
"Sure - of course." Tracy sighed in capitulation. "But you owe me," she told him, poking a finger in the meaty part of his arm to emphasize her point.
"Hey! No problem. Dinnerís on Caro and I, whenever." He smiled and winked his thanks.
"Okay," she agreed, good humor restored. "Did you bring all his stuff?"
"Yeah, itís right there," he said, pointing to a large duffel near the door.
"Go ahead, youíll be late."
"Thanks, sis." He leaned forward and gave her a brotherly peck on the cheek. His lips were warm, and it was as much a shock as Javierís cold lips had once been. It was strange that after so short a time his cool flesh felt normal to her, while her brotherís warmth was so startling.
She must have blanked out again, for Tom put a hand on her shoulder, and his concerned eyes searched hers. "Trace?" Just for a second, he had doubts about leaving his son in her hands.
She blinked once. "Oh - sorry. This case Iím working on has me rattled." She squeezed his hand and patted it once to reassure him. "Love to Caro," she told him as she led him to the door.
He nodded, then knelt down to say good-bye to Pete. Tom bestowed a hug, and extracted a promise of good behavior before saying a last good-night and taking his leave. Tracy closed the door behind him and shot the dead bolt before turning to her nephew.
"Pete, why donít you go into the bedroom and turn on the TV? Aunt Tracy has to make a call."
"Okay, Aunt Tracy."
He dragged his favorite stuffed toy along behind him as he trotted into the bedroom. Tracy waited until she heard him flipping through the stations before picking up the phone. Holding the receiver in her palm, she dialed Vachonís number with a practiced flexing of her thumb. The phone rang once, twice - when her count reached ten, she frowned and replaced the phone in its cradle; she had obviously missed him. Looking out the living room window, she noticed that dusk had fallen. Heíd probably arrive at her apartment within the next few minutes. He always seemed eager to see her, especially now that they were intimate. She felt her face heat up. Well, there would be none of that tonight, not with a curious and impressionable five year old staying with her.
She hoped Vachon liked children.
Her eyes widened in alarm at the frightening double meaning that had come unbidden into her mind. It was such an innocent thought, yet it took on a whole new inimical meaning in Tracyís mind when connected to a vampire. Her heart quickened its pace and a thin sheen of sweat broke out on her forehead.
She went to the bedroom door and looked in on her nephew. He was lying on her bed, using his stuffed bear as a pillow. A few superhero figurines dotted the spread, presumably pulled from his bulging pockets. He was ignoring them while the cartoon unfolded, and then continued some action of his own during the commercial breaks. Pete was a happy little boy, bright and loving and imaginative. He had his motherís kindness and his fatherís curiosity - a Vetter family trait. She wouldnít allow him to come to harm.
A floorboard creaked beneath her feet as she shifted her weight, and her nephew scooted around on the bed to face her. The bell sounded from the front door at that exact moment, causing Tracy to stiffen and pale.
"Are you sick, Aunt Tracy, like Mary Ellen?"
Tracy had to get her emotions under control. A five year old boy is a very sensitive recording device, and she definitely did not want him recording this bout of uncertainty and panic. The bell sounded again in a rendition of the old shave-and-a-haircut routine. That tune was enough to break Tracy out of the stasis in which sheíd been mired.
"No, of course not, Pete, Iím fine," she assured the little boy. "Iíve got to answer the door now. You stay here unless I call you, okay?"
"Yes, Aunt Tracy," he promised obediently, then promptly forgot her as the cartoon started up once more.
Tracy closed the bedroom door, not even remotely hoping its solidity would mask her nephew from the vampire, only hoping it would mask the vampire from her nephew. Tracy called out "Coming" before the bell rang again. She took a quick peek through the small one-way window in the door, and groaned inwardly. Her visitor was, indeed, Vachon. Trying to calm her heart, and plastering on what she hoped was a convincingly perky smile, she twisted open the lock and pulled the door ajar with a hand that didnít - quite - tremble.
"Hi! I was beginning to think you werenít home," he said brightly for the neighborsí sakes.
Mrs. Applebee closed her door, her sniff of disapproval audible from across the hall. Vachon made a face, but then smiled and tried to saunter past Tracy into the apartment. She quickly placed a hand on his chest and slipped out, firmly closing the door behind her. If he didnít want to move she knew from experience that she wouldnít be able to budge him, but he allowed her hand to push him back with no resistance.
Vachon tilted his head and gave her a quizzical look. "Trace? You okay?" he asked quietly, translating her serious mien into a sign of agitation.
"Fine," she answered absently as she studied him with too-wide eyes. They held a lot of concern and just a hint of alarm. She caught her bottom lip in her teeth and pulled her hand from his chest as he reached up to take it in his own. She avoided his grasp, and his eyes tightened at the rebuff.
"Whatís wrong, Trace?" He searched for some sign or clue to what was bothering her. Each time he thought he had a handle on her emotional state or the way her mind worked, something came along to throw him "all over the gaff." His subconscious supplied what he had come to term a Screedism, the thought of the carouche making him grimace. He presently had other worries, and so turned his attention to the tall blond who still gazed intently at him, as if trying to stare past his eyes and into his soul.
"Yoo-hoo, Trace, you in there?"
She seemed to come awake. "Sorry," she murmured automatically.
"Tell me whatís wrong," he requested. Vachon mentally reviewed his behavior for the past few weeks. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to him, but then who understood women, even after 500 years of practice.
"I have - um - a scheduling conflict," she explained in a tight voice.
His eyes widened ever so slightly in disbelief. Tracy was nothing, if not organized. "Whatíve you got - another guy in there?" he joked.
She let out a nervous titter of laughter, a demon remnant of the "blonde" personality she had spent years trying to exorcise. "Uh-huh - so you have to go."
Vachon recognized the revenant habit as yet another sign of her agitation. He let his senses expand until he could explore past Tracy and into the apartment beyond. The heartbeat he encountered was fast and young, the bloodscent sweet and untainted by too much life. He widened his senses even further, or rather narrowed them, until he could pick out the distant blare of the television. As the commercial gave way to the program, Vachon smiled; a cartoon was playing. Tracy was babysitting, he concluded, but that deduction only led to further confusion.
"Do all your gentlemen callers watch Rugrats, Trace?" he inquired with heavy irony.
Tracy shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans and shrugged. "Itís my nephew," she admitted shortly. "Heís five."
Vachon gave her a "yeah, so?" shrug in return, still not understanding her reluctance to admit him.
"Do you like children?" Tracy asked suddenly. She had phrased the question as she would have to anyone else, but the forced casualness hinted at her unease.
Vachonís lips twisted in a quirky smile - which she didnít find at all reassuring - and answered readily, "I love kids, Trace."
"How exactly do you mean that?" she asked warily, watching him all the while from the corner of her eye.
After a full minute of her silent, guilty scrutiny, his eyes grew round with shock and realization; he finally understood her reticence. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" The hurt was evident in his tone, the pitch of his voice rising against his own rules.
"Shh!" she warned sharply. "Keep your voice down." Tracy checked the other doors with darting glances, but they all remained firmly closed.
"Well, then, maybe we should go inside," he suggested sarcastically, taking a step towards her. The look of panic on her face as she quickly shook her head told him otherwise. Vachon held up his hands, palms out. "Okay, maybe not." He moved away abruptly to lean heavily against the wall beside her door.
In all his long years, Vachon had never once harmed a child. Oh, he had come close on a few occasions, not by choice but when he was forced by the Inkaís pursuit to "diet" for an extended period of time. He couldnít deny that he had a taste for young women - Urs among them - but a child, especially a small boy, more especially Tracyís nephew, would never be on the menu.
Vachon reviewed his recent conversations with Tracy - surprisingly few and filled with many digressions from the truth - searching for the mentioned word or deed that may have caused her to doubt his intentions now. He could remember none. In fact, his concern for children had led him to that fateful encounter with Divia. Now there was a child who had benefited from a rod, a sharp rod, despite what the old proverb preached. He choked that thought off at the source. Bringing up that memory didnít help his current problem at all.
"So much for your trust," he expressed bitterly. Until her confidence in him was in doubt he wasnít fully aware of how much he valued it, needed it.
Tracy flinched as if stung, and averted her face, eyes brimming with tears. Recovering the small measure of composure necessary to speak was difficult, but she managed to correct him in a low, steady voice. "I trust you with my life. My life." She twisted around to face him, putting a hand on her chest for emphasis. "I donít know if I can take responsibility for someone else," she added with painful honesty.
Their relationship had reached that critical point where they knew exactly what to say to hurt each other.
Vachon shoved splayed fingers through his hair, forcing out the tangles that had gathered from his recent flight. He took a calming breath, then another, pulling in air until he felt he could speak rationally, reasonably.
"I know the difference between food and friend," he assured her. Usually, anyway, he hedged to himself. When running from the Inka had enforced a hunger fast, not even those who befriended and sheltered him were safe, but those times were the exception rather than the rule. As he had told Tracy, he had had many mortal friends through the centuries, and although each relationship was painful in its own way, he would have traded none of them for a solitary life.
Her silence was a tangible wall between them, which he felt compelled to break down. "Am I some kind of animal to you, Trace?" She made no answer, but the gaze she turned on him made things a bit better. "Well, then, I guess Iím a pervert," he tossed out, trying to lighten the mood again with a little humor.
Her eyes widened. "Pervert?"
"Blood is food, life... and sex to us, Trace," he explained patiently. He waited for her to make the connection and then continued on. "Iím not saying there arenít vampires who get off on children, but Iím not one of them."
"I never thought of that, Vachon - I only thought that maybe..."
"Maybe?" he prompted wryly.
"That children were some kind of - um - delicacy."
He snorted dismissively. "Youíve been reading too many of those penny dreadfuls, Trace," he informed her, deliberately using the old name for horror novels to distract her. She was so close to the truth.
"Theyíre all I have," she protested, refusing to rise to the bait. "You donít tell me anything."
"Too dangerous," came the immediate stock reply, though it was voiced flatly and lacked conviction. He wondered if he really believed that excuse anymore, but his stern look and folded arms concealed his uncertainty from the mortal beside him.
"Why?" she asked with more than a little irritation. "Will these Enforcers of yours kill me twice for too much knowledge? Isnít that just like a little bit pregnant?" Tracy looked him squarely in the eye. "Iím tired of this excuse, Vachon. Find another."
Vachon shifted uncomfortably, the leather of his jacket creaking loudly in the relative silence of the hallway. He unfolded his arms and jammed his hands into his pockets, but he had lost that stillness so typical of his kind. Tugging his hands free after a few seconds with an air of impatience, the vampire shoved them behind his back, only coming to a rest when he felt his nails bite deeply into the plasterboard.
Tracy had made this same demand and he had ignored it so many times before that she fully expected him to blow her off as usual - after all, the hallway outside her apartment was hardly the place to be discussing so sensitive a subject - but his answer was serious and in a whisper so soft she had to lean towards him to catch the words.
Bowing his head briefly, as if in prayer, he allowed nearly a minute to pass before answering. "Iím afraid."
"Afraid," she echoed, uncertain she had heard correctly.
"Of what youíll think," he clarified, unable to meet her eyes.
"You killed someone in front of me," she reminded him with her characteristic blunt honesty, matching his low pitch, "how much worse could the truth be?"
"He killed cops, Trace," Vachon replied, pointing out the obvious. He finally turned to face her. "Deep down you thought he deserved what he got, right?"
She shook her head, not sure if it was in denial of his claim or her own feelings. His sharp frown made her examine her lie. "All right, yes," Tracy admitted, voice ragged with emotion. "He took the world away from innocents."
So did I, Trace, so do I. "Iíve killed many times what he did, many times over. So many had no greater faults against them than bad timing or placement - they were there and I was hungry." He watched that statement hit home, then went on just as brutally. "Afterwards, I let the body drop to the ground - empty, forgotten."
Tracy swallowed down the fear that threatened to choke her, to steal the air from her lungs, and forced herself to remain outwardly calm. "Is that who you are now?" She appeared in control of her emotions, but the frenetic tattoo of her heartbeat and the nervous twitching of her muscles gave away the game.
"You know the answer to that." The haunted doubt that leapt, unbidden, from her eyes denied his assumption. "No, I guess you donít," he mused, as if to himself. "There goes that love theory, too."
"We said a few things to each other in the last couple of weeks that maybe we werenít ready to hear."
"Premature declaration, huh?" he jibed, trying to regain some semblance of his normal detached irony, to gain some distance by retreating behind the dark humor.
Tracy - almost - smiled, but the conversation had gone way beyond where a joke - or even six - could make it all better. "We were talking about kids," she said, resolutely steering the conversation back to the original subject. The stubborn tilt of her jaw demanded his cooperation. "I donít know how we got here from there."
"I think it was that Ďchildren are a delicacyí thing that did it, Trace," he pointed out in a laconic drawl, tongue tip barely wetting his lips.
She pulled back with a wary jerk, subconsciously opening up some buffering space between them. He leaned forward slightly, allowing just a hint of the predator to show in his posture and eyes. The threat was thinly veiled. His lithe body had regained the hunterís alertness, stiffening into that utter lack of movement she found so unnerving. This could be it: the way to break off with her. Vachon had never been able to scare her, but this seemed to be doing the trick. Oh, it wasnít a conscious decision on his part - not completely - but his vampire nature knew how to protect itself.
"Iíll go if you want me to go." The part of him that still felt as a human man might, countered mentally, I shouldnít go; this will always be unresolved. Yet, his lips parted slightly to reveal his fangs.
A few tears, like the clear juice of an apricot, rolled down her cheeks. She wiped them away with the heels of her hands, ignoring the new flow that replaced them almost immediately, and just stared mutely across at him. The cop, the responsible adult, wanted to speak the command for him to leave, but the woman in love opposed silently, I shouldnít let him go; this will never be resolved. Yet, her lips remained pressed together to conceal her thoughts.
Perceiving an answer in her silence more eloquent than any mere words, Vachon pushed away from the wall, taking the first few steps blindly as he closed his eyes against the raw pain. He heard the barest rustling of cloth against cloth as Tracy shifted, and the slight protest of hinges as the door swung inward behind him. Her scent wafted across the hall on a delicate breeze and he drank it in one last time. She cleared her throat and his heart gave a beat in response. Her voice was barely above a whisper, but the word thundered in his ears.
Vachon stopped in his tracks, struggling with the decision. Until he turned and saw her ravaged face, he hadnít made up his mind. At the sight of her tears, his heart melted suddenly, like a drop of liquid fire. He crossed the distance to her in a blur of motion, but stopped an armís length away as though approaching a skittish doe. The gold bled from his eyes as he saw the implicit invitation of the open door behind her slender frame. He raised a hand, intending to cup her cheek, but was afraid of her reaction and aborted the gesture half-way to her face. Tracy caught his wrist before he withdrew completely, her warmth racing straight to his heart, his groin, and guided his hand to her face. He sighed in relief and caressed her cheek tenderly, smoothing away the tears and pushing aside her hair. He tucked the silken strands behind her ear, running his fingers along its delicate folds.
"You were deliberately trying to frighten me so Iíd send you away," she accused between sniffles. "Well, itís not gonna work, mister."
A faint smile flickered across the vampireís face; he bowed to the inevitable, or maybe just to her indomitable will. "Iím not going anywhere, Trace," he promised softly. "Now, can I come in?"
Vachon just shook his head, his expression once again serious. He thought sheíd stare a hole straight through each of his eyes, but she finally relented and stepped aside. He caught her hand as he went by and pulled her in for a quick kiss to her temple, closing the door with his hip. When they broke apart, he stripped off the heavy jacket and dumped it in a heap on the kitchen island, making it clear that he was staying. Tracy shook it out and draped it over one of the high counter stools, accepting his unspoken statement.
Flicking her eyes to the bedroom door, she said anxiously, "Itís awfully quiet in there; I should check on him."
"Donít worry, heís asleep."
Tugging her along by the hand he caught up and held loosely in his own, Vachon strode to the couch and sat, pulling her down beside him. Tears still leaked slowly from her eyes, obscuring the blue, thickening the lashes. They smelled delicious, and Vachon could barely resist tasting them once more. Sniffing loudly, Tracy wiped away the last of her tears and wet his lips. His tongue darted out to capture the sweet nectar she offered.
"Quien bien te quiere, te hara llorar," he quoted the old proverb.
She loved hearing him speak in his mother tongue, even if she didnít always understand the words. Her eyebrows drew down into a "V" and one shoulder lifted.
"Not important," he answered her unspoken inquiry. She frowned, and opened her mouth to protest. He put a finger beneath her chin and clicked her teeth to a close. "I didnít mean to make you cry," he apologized instead of translating.
Tracy merely shrugged again, wanting to put the emotional scene behind her. Still, Vachon felt the need to justify his actions, an utterly foreign desire, and so he tried a different tack.
"Trace, what I said earlier..."
She placed her fingers over his lips. "Donít. You donít need to explain. Iíve told you - I know what you are. Sometimes in the darkest part of the night, I think about what youíve done, what you could do - if you go too far, if I push too hard - and I get scared." Tracy lowered her eyes shyly. "Then I remember - almost feel - your hands on me, your lips on mine, your eyes sweet like melted chocolate, the music that matches my heartbeat...and the fear bleeds away." Tracy raised her eyes to his, and they held no small amount of wonder; again, she was amazed at how much he had changed her, her life, that she was able to express her emotions so poetically. She almost wished she had pen and paper so she could capture the words for posterity, or maybe just to prove to herself the memory was real. "Oh, God, Iím crying again. This is so embarrassing."
He nipped at her fingertip, careful not to break the skin, then pulled it from his lips. "I like it - lagrimas dulces."
"Vampire candy, huh?"
His laughter was genuine and infectious and unrestrained, and Tracy had to join in. She never liked moments of tension, and tended to use humor to end heavy emotional scenes. It worked like a charm, better, in fact, than she had planned. His lips found hers, and though Vachon was still chuckling deep in his throat, he managed to execute a kiss that took her breath away. The chill of his lips and tongue as they moved over hers was an exotic thrill, and she answered his barely controlled passion with some heat of her own. He tried holding down the predator, and succeeded for some time before he needed to pull his lips from hers. He wasnít ready to move away, though, so he slipped his cool hands beneath her loose fitting tee-shirt and trailed his knuckles lightly up the long, shallow depression of her spine, placing his chin on her shoulder and burying his nose in her hair at the same time. He dropped his hands abruptly to the curve of her waist, and tickled the sensitive bands of flesh just above her jeans. Tracy shrieked - louder than she intended - and tried to pull away, but she was trapped by his weight. Laughing uncontrollably, she curled up into a ball beneath him, so he released her with a final kiss to the tempting hollow of her throat and a feathery caress across her breasts.
Vachon moved away reluctantly, having heard a sound from the bedroom. "Your nephewís awake," he explained.
"Iíll go get him." She uncurled from the sofa and headed towards the bedroom, stifling an errant chuckle. Tracy remembered the favor she had asked him, and so turned back. "By the way, did you bring the movie?"
His expression told her that there were other things on his mind. "Forgot."
She sighed, rolling her eyes. "Well, maybe Pete brought something with him. Would you mind taking a look?" she asked, pointing to the large duffel lying next to the front door.
Without waiting for his answer, Tracy turned on her heel and strode to the entrance to her bedroom. She pushed open the door and poked her head around the jamb. Pete was just sitting up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Hey, kiddo, have a good nap?"
"Want to meet someone?" He nodded, still not fully awake. "Well, come on, then." She offered a hand to her nephew; he bounced off the bed and grabbed a couple of her long fingers. As they came into the living room, Vachon slipped to his feet and met them half-way.
"Pete, this is Javier. Heís my - a really good friend."
Vachon knelt down, putting himself at eye-level with the little boy, and offered his hand. Tom had taught his son all about hand-shaking, so Pete reached out and, with a childís seriousness in attempting an adult ritual, shook the older manís hand. Vachon was careful to exert only the most minimal pressure, and more importantly, to honor the ritual as sincerely as Pete.
"Hey, little man! Whas up?"
Tracy looked down at the vampire with a fair amount of admiration. A child at heart himself, Vachon was sensitive to Peteís needs and he related to the boy on his own level. No matter how dark his past (or at least how dark she thought the years had been), he still maintained a youthful wonder even after five centuries without light.
"Hi, Javier. Pleased ta meet ya," Pete mimicked his fatherís favorite greeting.
Tracy met Vachonís eyes over the head of her nephew as he rose to his full height, and they both smiled. This was so weird for Tracy. She never thought her two worlds would come together - or if they did, it would be more of a collision - but here were Vachon and her nephew in the same room, and so far no volcanoes erupted, no earthquakes split the ground asunder and no lightning set the room afire. As far as she was concerned, it was a miracle that no natural disasters had occurred.
"So, Pete, honey, what did you bring? Any movies?"
"Mommy packed ĎHunchback.í Can we watch it, Aunt Tracy?"
"Sure, Pete. Iíll make us some popcorn and Javier will put the tape in for you."
"I can do it myself," he protested with a childís indignance.
"Of course he can, Trace," Vachon put in. He looked at Pete, made a face, and jerked his head at Tracy as if to say : "Grown-ups."
Tracy just ignored him. "Roll down the spread first, guys," she directed firmly.
Pete rolled his eyes and complained, "Sheís just like Mommy."
The little boy captured Vachonís hand and tugged him into the bedroom, just as the vampire was reaching into the duffel for the videotape. He barely had the tape in his hand, and had to do a little high-speed juggling act to get a grip on it. Vachon looked back and shrugged helplessly, but a large grin lit up his face.
Tracy stared after them and shook her head, disbelief displacing most of the anxiety she had felt when Vachon first entered the apartment. She went through the mechanical motions of making popcorn, the familiar task allowing her mind to dwell on what a momentous event was taking place. This whole scene would take a bit of getting used to. It was taking on a surreal feel, not unlike a Picasso. And just what would she tell her brother - or God forbid, her father - about the man in biker leather and three-day stubble who was her "best friend." She released a heavy sigh. Life had become so complicated. To think she had almost let the experience slip from her grasp. Watching a Disney video seemed, somehow, anti-climactic.
Tracy entered the bedroom to find the two boys in her life contentedly playing with the figurines. Vachon was making flying noises as he held the Superman action figure aloft, even imitating the characterís voice, much to Peteís delight (if his happy laughter were any indication). Meanwhile, Pete held Batman in his small fist, racing him along the spread beneath Superman, as if on a mission of dire consequences.
"Hey! I thought you were going to put the movie in."
"Yeah, but we had to save the world first, Trace," Vachon said, as if that explained everything.
"Gee, I lost my head."
Tracy plucked up the tape and pushed it into the VCR, fast forwarding through the coming attractions, before plunking down on the edge of the bed, the bowl of popcorn cradled in her lap.
Pete dug in right away, even before the opening number had completely played through. "Donít you want any, Javier?" Pete asked through a mouth full of popcorn.
"Yeah, Javier, donít you want any?" Tracy echoed with sweet innocence, popping a kernel into her own mouth.
Vachon glared at her with mock menace, and she narrowed her eyes in return, barely keeping a smile from her lips. Handling it as if it were a blessed crucifix of great age and power, he picked up one kernel and put it in his mouth, chewing deliberately, seemingly just to spite her. Her mouth pursed into a little "o" of surprise, and he stuck his tongue at her with victorious delight.
After that challenge had been made and met, they all settled back to watch the movie, another classic rewritten to suit Disneyís tastes, with only the occasional comment, snatch of hummed song, or the sound of munching heard. Nearing the movieís end, a scene enfolded wherein Febus (the brave Captain of the Guard) lies gravely wounded at the side of Esmeralda (the beautiful gypsy girl). In a movie moment strangely paralleling her own life and relationship to Javier, Febus uttered, "Why is it that whenever we meet, I always end up bleeding?" Tracy felt Vachonís eyes on her face, and she flushed deeply, which did not help the situation at all to her way of thinking. Fortune smiled on Tracy, though, as the ringing phone interrupted any thoughts either of them may have put into words.
Tracy groaned theatrically, but a large measure of relief exploded in her stomach. "Darn," she exclaimed, "now Iíll never get to see the end."
"Aunt Tracy has to go to work," Pete said in the sing-song voice of experience.
Shoving the bowl of popcorn into Vachonís hands, Tracy unfolded from the bed and climbed to her feet. Although she had an extension in the bedroom, she took the call in the living room, with equal thoughts of politeness and eagerness to put a little distance between herself and Vachonís all-too-knowing eyes.
"Vetter," she answered, phone to her ear.
"Detective Vetter, this is Sgt. Mandrake. Thereís been another homicide."
Tracy closed her eyes briefly in silent prayer, the relief she had felt drowned out by a growing sense of horror. "Where?" She jotted down the location on a handy pad she always kept near the phone. "Has my partner been notified?" she asked the sergeant.
"Yeah. Unit-1ís on the scene and the MEís on her way."
"Right. Iím rolling."
She replaced the receiver in its cradle, lost in a moment of thought. Hearing a giggle from the bedroom, she froze in indecision. She needed to go to a crime scene. She should not leave a five year old boy in the care of a vampire. She certainly could not take him with her to witness such atrocities. While Tracy was still dithering, neither moving nor making a choice, Vachon sauntered into the living room.
"Bad news," she announced grimly. "I have to go in."
Vachon nodded; he had obviously heard both sides of the conversation. "So, go. Iíll stay with him," he offered casually, as if that solved everything.
"Maybe I can get one of the neighbors to stay," she mumbled, not really hearing him. I just canít leave him here with Vachon, she thought frantically. Not only is he a vampire, he's a bachelor. Oh, God, I'll be gone for hours and they'll destroy the place...
Vachon gripped her upper arms, the firm pressure breaking off her thoughts and forcing her outward attention. "Iíll stay, Trace," he repeated with more emphasis. She wanted to ask, to reassure herself, but she knew she had hurt him once already that night. It seemed he knew what she was thinking. "I wonít hurt him, Tracy," he promised earnestly.
She thought about the look on his face when he killed Vudu, weighing his obvious pleasure against the show of concern the times he saved her life. She needed to reconcile the two and find trust. Then something she had read in history class came to mind. It was one of those useless pieces of information that popped out at the oddest moments as a footnote to the events unfolding in her life. Like now. Her professorís voice replayed in her mind: "The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him..." Tracy figured the same sentiment applied to a vampire.
"Of course you wonít," she said with conviction, though she still harbored niggling doubts. In the back of her mind, she wondered whether Vachon would truly never harm a child, or if killing a member of a prominent police family would be too flagrant a breach of their almighty Code. That thought led to madness, so she tossed it aside. Trust.
Slouching against the wall shared by the kitchen and living room, Vachon regarded her unblinkingly from beneath thick brows. He could tell that the balance had shifted in his favor; he didnít know why, but he was not about to knock her change of heart.
"After the movie, itís bedtime. Tom always brings him to the babysitter already bathed and in his pjís. Just make sure he brushes his teeth. Okay?" Again, Tracy was aware of the bizarre situation in which she found herself. She gathered up her jacket, gun and purse, checking to be sure she had her badge and phone. "Call me if you have any trouble."
"Weíll be fine," Vachon assured her with the very appearance of responsibility.
She eyed the vampire dubiously, but had neither the time nor the inclination to argue. Returning to the bedroom, Tracy leaned over the bed to get her nephewís attention. "Aunt Tracy has to go to work, Pete, but Javier is going to stay with you, okay? You be a good boy."
"Okay, Aunt Tracy," he replied, taking her leaving in stride. "Be careful." Those were words he had learned from his mother; he was a policemanís son already.
"I will. Thank you."
She bent over and gave Pete a kiss on his forehead, then made her way back out to where Vachon waited by the kitchen island. He walked her to the door, and pulled it ajar, trapping her between his arms.
"You be a good boy, too," she told him, tapping him lightly on the nose with her finger. His pout made her chuckle softly, and she allowed herself to melt against him briefly. He wrapped his arms around her waist, and sent her off with a rather chaste kiss to her cheek, not wanting to strain her trust so soon after regaining it. He closed the door behind her, and shot the deadbolt because she expected it. Only then did he hear her footsteps start for the elevator.
The movie had ended in the interim, and Pete was nearly asleep when Vachon entered the bedroom. The Spaniard turned off the VCR and television, moving silently as only a vampire could. He shifted the popcorn to the beside table, then tucked the little boy under the covers. Pete stirred, waking enough to ask for a story, directing Vachon to his favorite book that Carolyn had packed into his duffel. Vachon retrieved it, turning the book over to look at the cover. It depicted a boy older than Pete, a rather homely mutt and a grand genie, and it was titled The Genie of Sutton Place. Vachon lay on the bed beside Pete, and the boy snuggled against him, the cotton duvet a buffer against the cold of the vampireís flesh.
Cracking open the book, Vachon began to read in the low light cast by a single lamp, his voice soft and soothing: "ĎEven great deeds that are done by magic can be forgotten utterly.í" Pete was asleep almost instantly, but Vachon continued on to finish the chapter. He closed the book, clicked off the lamp, and settled back, careful not to disturb the boyís slumber. Reclining against the headboard, he let himself drift into sleep, the light nestling weight curiously comforting and oddly enjoyable.
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