Don't Tell Dad the Babysitter's Undead
All evidence of Vachon was safely tucked away in the bedroom with the vampire by the time Tom arrived to pick up Pete. They had agreed that Vachon should handle the task alone, and as soon as Pete woke up, that being one of the most vulnerable periods for hypnotism. Also, there would be fewer memories to erase. Vachon accomplished the task easily enough, though he felt a pang that the child would not remember him and the fun time they had spent together. Tracy took over after that and led Pete through a shower, then breakfast, dressing him in plenty of time for his father’s arrival. Tom asked his usual spate of questions, which worried Tracy a bit. The memories Vachon had planted appeared to be sticking, but she was still uneasy. Pete seemed fine, answering the questions with a normal child-like exuberance. It was with much relief, though, that Tracy gave her nephew a last hug, and ushered he and her brother out the door in little more than a quarter of an hour.
Vachon heard them leave and came to the door of the bedroom, pulling it ajar. Before he could step out and join her in the living room, Tracy quickly crossed the room and held up her hands to stop his egress. Feeling the heat of the sunlight bathing the room through the parted drapes, he kept his place just behind the sill.
"I guess I haven’t lost my touch after all. I thought the vampires’ union was going to revoke my membership," he quipped, though his eyes were haunted.
"It’s just this case," Tracy started to explain. She looked away, unable to continue. "Why don’t you go take a shower?"
"Care to wash my back?"
She smiled at the offer, but shook her head. "I’ve got some cleaning up in here to do." His pout of disappointment nearly undermined her resolve. Vachon knew something was bothering her, but as he opened his mouth to question her, she briefly placed her fingers over his lips before he could speak. "Please - I just need a little space right now."
He flicked his eyes to the window, the glare causing him to squint. "Not much I can say but ‘sure,’ Trace."
Tracy crossed back to the window and pulled the drapes closed, yet she remained in place until she heard the water running in the shower. An old Bob Dylan song drifted out of the bathroom, abruptly replaced after only a few bars by an aria from La Boheme. Tracy hummed along with the familiar tune while she washed the breakfast dishes. By the time she finished her chores, Vachon was dressed in his usual black tee and jeans and standing at the bedroom door once more.
She held out her hand in answer, and he traversed the living room to her side. Twining his fingers in hers, he wrapped his arms around her waist from behind and rested his chin on her shoulder. Her heartbeat was like distant thunder as it echoed though his chest. Her warmth infused his flesh with the heat and comfort of a fire in winter. Her silky hair clung to the stubble on his cheeks, leaving a whisper of her scent against his face and in his nostrils.
"I didn’t know you liked opera," he said in a voice grown husky with suppressed passion.
"It was my best friend’s wedding song," she answered absently. "I could say the same to you."
Tracy felt him shrug. "I like almost all kinds of music, Trace."
The scent of her blood was a sweet nectar that sharpened his hunger acutely. Permitting himself to drown in the rousing sensations for a long minute, he surfaced to find speech difficult, so he kissed her quickly on the soft flesh beneath her ear, then stepped back to lean against the kitchen island behind her. He paused, mute, until he felt certain his voice had returned to human norms, or so close that mortal ears could discern no difference. "Want to talk about what’s bothering you?"
Her hands came to a stop for a moment, then Tracy shut off the tap and twisted the excess water out of the dishrag. She hung it on its rack, but otherwise remained still. "It’s nothing," she said as she turned to face him.
Vachon eyed her dubiously. "Two lies in one night. You going for a personal best?"
Tracy returned his gaze levelly, thinking of what she could say that wouldn’t exactly be a lie, but wouldn’t exactly be the truth. How could she tell him that her problems stemmed not from him, but from her partner, whose latest antics made her skin crawl. "It was just so awful this morning. It’s there, you know, whenever I close my eyes." Vachon placed gentle hands on her shoulders, rubbing lightly, and Tracy sighed tiredly. "I keep thinking – hoping really – I’ll get used to this part of the job, but I never do. I’m afraid I never will."
"I don’t think you should, Trace," he told her. "You wouldn’t be you, then."
"You sure that’s all that’s bothering you?"
Her eyes were shadowed by deep emotion, and they spoke different words than those from her lips. Vachon wanted to push, to find out what was the cause of her unrest, but as he watched, the shadows deepened and threatened to engulf her eyes utterly, turning the delft blue to steel gray. The best thing he could do for her would be to support her, comfort her, be there when she needed a shoulder, not push her into a confession or admission that she wasn’t ready to make. He buried the tiny doubt that he - or rather, what he was - was the cause of her agitation.
"You look dead on your feet." That observation roused a snort of laughter from her, but she made no comment in return. "Come sit down."
The offer was so tempting she nearly took him up on it, but in the tiny kitchen space, with his hands on her and his presence filling her entire vision, demanding her attention, she felt trapped and edgy. She had seen enough of the predator today to know it made her jittery on a level far below conscious thought, in a place where she exercised little control. Reflecting on Nick and Natalie’s obvious difficulties afforded Tracy a glimpse of the futility of her relationship with a vampire, no matter how tame he might appear to be. Even though that rational voice warned her away, she had to be with him, she had to - and yet...
Refusing him was difficult, but she managed to shake her head in a normal enough fashion. The movement set her fine hair aswing, and Vachon ran his fingers through the silky strands as Tracy knew he would. She pulled away from him, not enough to give offense, but unmistakably requesting a bit of distance. The Spaniard lounged back against the countertop, folding his arms and crossing his feet at the ankles, watching her as she checked a few cupboards and the refrigerator.
"Drat, I’m out of milk. I gave the last of it to Pete. I’d better make a run to the store."
As excuses went, it was feeble and transparent, but Vachon accepted the words at face value, recognizing Tracy’s need to escape. He had unfinished business of his own, so he made no protests as Tracy shrugged into a light jacket, pulled a few dollars from her purse and stuffed them into her pocket along with her keys.
"I’ll be back in a little while, okay?"
Vachon walked her to the door and opened it for her. "See you soon."
"Can I bring you something?" Her smile faltered, but he didn’t tease her for the automatic, polite offer.
"Just you, Trace."
That sentiment returned a shadow of a smile to her lips, and he grinned in return. Tracy walked out, feeling his eyes on her until she made the turn to the elevator. The doors closed, sealing her away from his dogged gaze. It wasn’t until she was standing in the middle of the sidewalk, with the bright sun washing over her, that she was able to relax.
Vachon waited until he could no longer hear the fluttery patter of her heartbeat before moving out into the hall himself. Taking several long strides, he positioned himself in front of the apartment door directly opposite Tracy’s. He rapped his knuckles against the hard wood panel with just enough force to be heard inside. A querulous voice bade him to wait just a moment, then the door swung open to reveal Mrs. Applebee. Before she could find the words to question his unwanted intrusion, Vachon locked eyes with her and easily captured her will. She retreated as he entered her apartment and closed the door behind him. The vampire avoided the pool of weak sunshine spilling through the one window in her living room, though the northern exposure cast a much more feeble light than Tracy’s south-facing windows. Planting a story to match what Tracy had told her brother was achieved as easily as the rest. After the task was accomplished, Vachon moved away quickly, his hunger quite near the surface. He didn’t need the blood – not really – and Tracy would definitely frown on his making a light snack out of one of her neighbors, nosy or not. He wasn’t even sure she’d be pleased by his use of the whammy, even though he felt its use was more than justified and necessary in this case. Vachon left Mrs. Applebee to her sewing, to which she returned as though she had never been interrupted. He was back in Tracy’s apartment and lounging on the sofa in less than ten minutes; the detective would never know he’d been gone, unless he decided to tell her. A mischievous grin lit his eyes from within as he made the decision to keep this little task to himself for the time being.
Tracy arrived home within the half hour. Her outlook had brightened somewhat, and she appeared a bit more relaxed, but she had not regained the full measure of her usual optimism. With a spare glance in his direction, she moved into the kitchen to unpack her purchases. Vachon wandered over to the island, staying out of her way, but watching curiously as she put everything in its appointed place. After all the items were methodically arranged, she turned her attention to her lover. He had hitched a hip on one of the stools, and placed an elbow on the counter to support his chin on his hand.
Gracing her with a breathtaking smile that seemed to ease a measure of her burdens and lighten her mood somewhat, he reached a long arm over the counter to cluck her under her chin and tap her nose whimsically. He jerked his head with a playful wink, inviting her to join him in the living room. By the time she had stirred herself, removing her jacket and draping it neatly over the back of a chair, he was already in front of the stereo and loading a CD he had left mingled among her stack of music on an earlier visit. Tracy dropped bonelessly to the couch and, tipping her head against the high back, observed Vachon through slitted eyes. As the soothing guitar music issued softly through the speakers, he turned off the overhead lights, leaving the room illuminated by only the small amount of natural light which managed to penetrate the heavy draperies.
He eased down into a corner of the couch, pulling one leg up and leaning his forearm on his knee. The fingers of his hand ran lightly up her arm, causing her to shiver and raising gooseflesh. She twisted around on the sofa to face him, and tentatively moved closer. Vachon met Tracy halfway, their lips coming together in a fleeting kiss that held the promise of love. He buried his nose in her hair, breathing in her fresh scent, and stroked the muscles of her neck with gentle pressure.
"You smell like the sun," he remarked lazily, his lips mere inches from her ear. His breath stirred her hair and tickled her cheek. Vachon sat back and, noticing the worried look on her face, assured her, "I like it, Tracy. It reminds me of my childhood." The fretful frown was replaced by a smile that reminded him of the sun every bit as much as her scent.
"What I said earlier – about us telling each other things that maybe we shouldn’t..." He nodded encouragingly. "I just want you to know that I meant every word I said in the church that day: I love you and I trust you."
"Me, too," he replied, with an expression that hovered somewhere between sadness and joy.
As his hand found a particularly tight knot, Tracy gave a moan of relief and stretched her neck to the side to give him better access. He turned her around so that her back was to him and moved her between his spread legs. Her shoulders raised in unconscious defense, but he softly kneaded away her resistance with strong fingers, murmuring her name softly in time to the last seconds of one track of the CD. Tracy began to relax as the opening notes of the next track filled the room. The rumbling of a distant thunderstorm and the song of birds were overlaid by the bright plucking of a guitar solo, evocative of a summer’s day, the weather at last clement.
The music was slow and sleepy, the gentle massage matching its rhythm. Tracy found herself sliding into a sweet repose. She tried to stay alert, but the lack of rest, the worries over the case and her nephew, and the beautiful creature behind her who was even now whispering in Spanish, conspired against her. Despite her best resolve to remain erect, she allowed Vachon to guide her into a recumbent position atop the cushions of the sofa. He was reciting a stream of words, but she did not understand them all. They were lovely; she wished she could remember each one and hold it in her heart forever.
"Con el viento murmuran, madre, las hojas; y al sonido me duermo bajo su sombra," he murmured sonorously. His hands moved to the small of her back, his fingers seeking the knots of tension in a sort of circular glide. In the background, at the edge of her awareness, the guitar strummed softly, seemingly to itself.
The poem continued to roll from his tongue, as the thunder rolled from the speakers, in the accent of his youth. "Sopla un manso viento alegre y suave, que mueve la nave de mi pensamiento; dame tal contento que me parece que el cielo me ofrece bien a deshora; y al sonido me duermo bajo su sombra." The heels of his hands slid easily up the hollow of her spine as he again moved to her shoulders and upper arms.
Tracy had slipped into that state between wakefulness and sleep, on the edge of a deep and profound slumber. His rich voice lulled her, engulfed her, entwined with the instrument she most associated with the dark-haired vampire. Drowsily she wondered how he could play and massage her so skillfully at one and the same time. She lost the track of the thought as his words flowed over her and his cool fingers eased the burdens of the day; her hold on consciousness slipped another notch.
Softly, yet with a resonance unmatched by any mortal man, he spoke the final stanza of the poem: "Si acaso recuerdo me hallo entre las flores, y de mis dolores apenas me acuerdo; de vista las pierdo del sueno vencida, y dame la vida el son de las hojas; y al sonido me duermo bajo su sombra." The closing notes of the song faded away, followed by a muted peal of thunder and the contented song of birds.
Vachon curled around Tracy as she succumbed to sleep at last, and pulled her against himself with care and devotion. He smoothed the hair from her face and throat, then placed a finger over the artery. It pulsed with her life, a life he wanted, yet not quite in the way he had desired other mortals in his long existence. Her heart beat with the slow, steady rhythm of untroubled repose, and her warmth radiated from her porcelain skin to heat his chest and thighs where their bodies pressed together. Kissing her cheek and breathing in her fruit-flower scent, he closed his eyes and let the sandman guide him down to sleep as well.
Awakened by some inner clock accurately tuned to sunset, Vachon opened his eyes well past seven o’clock. They flared into gold, but he got a handle on the hunger after a brief struggle and forced them back to warm brown. He nuzzled Tracy’s throat, nipping playfully at her ear lobe. Drowsily, she raised a hand to his cheek, cracking open her eyes one at a time, which widened in the near-darkness. Deep, rich curls fell over her face as Vachon moved, and she giggled, brushing the thick black hair from her eyes and lashes.
"Good evening, cara," he murmured close to her ear. "Did you sleep well?"
"Mm-hmm," she answered as she stretched languidly.
His eyes followed her movements with avid interest, and the vampire automatically sucked in a breath to capture her scent. His hunger was rising to a dangerous, unmanageable pitch, so he uncurled from his position behind her and rose to his feet. Putting a bit of distance between himself and the siren song of the blood in her veins, he strode to the window and jerked aside the drapes. The last red-gold embers of sunset flooded the room, and he blinked from the glare.
It was her turn to gaze intently at him as he strode gracefully, yet in that oddly boneless way that bespoke a vampire’s movements. She loved to watch him, and she didn’t think she would ever tire of his smoky good looks or his lithe, compact form. She smiled as he turned from the window, and offered her hands in invitation.
Vachon put out his hand as a counter-offer as he passed by the sofa. Frowning in confusion that resolved itself into recognition as he allowed just the tip of a fang to show from between his pale lips, she nodded and slipped to her feet to join him. They walked hand-in-hand as far as the kitchen island, still maintaining that silence that was more a measure of their comfort with each other than anything else. He raised her slender hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles, then flipped it over to press his cool lips to the vein in her wrist. Their eyes met, and a jolt of electricity passed through them, quickly becoming an intense and burning desire. Reluctantly, Tracy tugged at her hand and Vachon released it just as unwillingly. He stepped back with a ragged sigh of frustration. Tracy did not want their day together to end in such a negative way, so she closed the distance between them and, grabbing a handful of his shirt, pulled him to her and kissed him full on his lips. It took him a moment of profound concentration to maintain control, but he returned the kiss with barely suppressed passion and a deep-seeded longing that she shared to her very core. Feeling his fangs drop fully into place, and hearing the purr of warning, Tracy moved away and untwisted her hand from the soft fabric of his tee-shirt. She smoothed the wrinkles, then took another step back.
Vachon raised his hands and covered his face, until he could force the vampire back into hiding. He felt her warm hands clasp his wrists and tug insistently. Allowing her to reveal his features, he gazed at her apologetically. She just smiled and shook her head slightly.
"You don’t need to hide the vampire from me, Javier," she assured him, breaking the silence between them. "I love and trust him, too."
"Thank you, Tracy," he told her again, and he meant it for so many more reasons than just this one act of faith.
He retrieved his jacket from the stool and shrugged into it, sealing it closed with the long zipper. The metallic ripping sound was loud in his ears, but he pulled the tab up slowly, prolonging his departure as long as possible. She smelled so good. He had to leave, so he forced his feet to move towards the door.
"Javier," she spoke his name softly.
As he reached for the doorknob, he paused. Vachon turned his head to regard her over his shoulder, raising a brow curiously, but Tracy remained silent. Her eyes showed him what was in her soul, and that would have been enough for him. As he pulled open the door and stepped into the hallway, the softly voiced words floated out to him on a breath of apricot just before the latch clicked shut. He heard all the levels of significance, recognized the shadings that went beyond this single act of control. They were simple words, but they meant everything to him.
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