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A Milder Fate Than Tyranny

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It began the night Edgar Frog called to tell Michael that Sam was dead. Not just dead, but turned, then killed by Edgar in some stupid fight that probably had its roots in that Summer. Why wouldn't it? Everything else did.

Everything. Her marriage, the way she and Michael used to make love hungrily, almost greedily, so joyful to be alive that nothing could hurt them. The way they didn't speak after, neither one willing to admit that none of it matched up to the sheer ecstasy of what they had been.

They'd raised Laddie, she and Michael. They'd tried to make a stable home for him, bought him toys and watched carefully as he made friends, first tentatively, then later almost mechanically in a way that worried her until she figured out it was his way of interviewing people, seeing if they'd fit into his life. He dated that way, too, until he met the woman he married. She fit: wild, fey creature she was. She had secrets, Star could tell even though no one ever said. That was good. She and Laddie could keep each others' secrets the way Star and Michael had.

She hoped they had an easier time of it. Maybe it was better when your secrets were different. Maybe it was better when you didn't know you were both lying there, longing for the same thing.

There were no babies after Laddie. How would they raise a "normal" child, one who had never known what it felt like to fly or to be held in the arms of a shimmering, golden devil. They knew how to teach hiding, and lying. They knew how to tell a young boy to stay quiet and keep his head down, to lie low until he knew he was safe. They knew how to pretend that memories were nightmares and fancies brought on by a poorly chosen movie or something heard from a friend with less restrictive parents. She used to wonder what kind of boy they were raising, and what they all would have been if not for the vampires. She still wondered where the line was between the kind of parents she and Michael had to be and the kind of parents who harmed.

When Edgar called she'd been out, coming home late from a hair appointment that turned into coffee that turned into drinks that turned into she just didn't want to go home and watch Michael dream about someone long dead while pretending she wasn't doing the same thing. He was yelling when she walked in the door, a tirade of obscenities, like nothing she'd ever heard from him. For a moment she thrilled when she thought he might be yelling at her. It would have been different, at least. She might have felt like she was alive. Like she was young.

But he wasn't. He was yelling and sobbing into the phone, eyes so red she imagined he was the Michael she'd known so long ago. Not the one she'd seduced, not the boy she'd been told to drink from, but the boy so high on the night that she could have left Laddie and David right then just to die forever in his arms.

She crouched on the floor next to him, took the phone and held it to her ear. Edgar Frog, his voice a scratchy whisper, saying the same thing over and over.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, you know I'm sorry."

"Why?" she whispered, already half knowing the answer.

"Sam."

She hung up the phone, not letting him finish. The rest was his grief. His duty was done in telling Michael; she'd freed him to mourn in his way while she picked up the pieces here.

"He didn't come for me," Michael said, voice rough and ragged.

"Edgar?" No, he wouldn't, she thought. He would never ask Michael to help kill Sam. He would do his job--put down the vampire--and take the punishment, most of which he'd heap upon himself.

"No." He thrust his arms out as if clearing a space around himself, then wrapped them about his chest. "Sam."

She understood that pain. She and Michael were left behind again. Sam--Sam! who had learned so much that Summer and fought so bravely--didn't come for them. Not to kill or to change. No, he went instead to Edgar Frog, and he died because of it. He should have known, should have remembered all he'd learned, and realized that Edgar would never allow himself to become a vampire. He wouldn't be Sam's companion, the first in his new family. But she and Michael, they would have. She couldn't tell Edgar that, not ever, so she told him they hated him, that he was a murdering bastard, and said they couldn't stand to see him, not ever again. Really, they couldn't stand for him to see them because he might know.

Edgar stayed away for a long time. He was a good friend like that.

He called once more, to tell them he, his brother, and some girl who caused his voice to shake even though he didn't realize it, had killed the Alpha vampire, the vampire of vampires, the great-grand of them all, thus ending the bloodsucking scourge for all time. His words, not hers. He was happy, talking about lycanthropes and she could tell he was trying to fit into a world without vampires. There were other things to kill, he'd do fine.

That night, Michael walked away from her after she told him the news. Left the house without a word. She heard his bike start and stayed where she was until the noise of its engine faded away.

She called Laddie then and told him. He was quiet just as he always had been, and she heard the gentle burbling of his baby while she waited for him to speak. "Good," he said, once, firmly. "But I'll never stop looking."

She wouldn't either.