The cursor glared at him, effortlessly living up to its name, each steady blink mocking not just him, but his entire lineage.
Even at four-hundred and fifty years old, Henry Fitzroy had no idea how to charm his publisher into stretching his deadline for the fifth time. He was, quite simply, out of viable excuses. It had been a busy month.
Correction: it had been a dangerous month. For Vicki.
Which translated easily enough in this strange existence of his. Vicki's problems, Vicki's clients… there seemed no use in denying they were his as well, even if only to himself.
Perhaps she needed him tonight. Perhaps he'd be forced to postpone writing this dreadful email. He checked his phone and blessed its blinking, his blood quickening even as a (small) part of him dreaded whatever new trouble she'd found herself in.
It wasn't Vicki. It was Detective Michael Celluci.
At least it wasn't his publisher.
Cold. Ice damn cold.
There should be no cold, not buried under this many layers of down. What the hell had Vicki been doing, sleeping with her hand dangling out the window?
The cold hand moved down his side, pressure too self-assured to tickle. Mike groaned and leaned into the warmth of her curves. God, he'd missed this. He'd missed her. He pressed in, rapidly coming to attention against her thigh and deciding he didn't care if she knew it. She melted into him. He sighed into her neck, relief and desire flooding him in equal measure.
The skin of Vicki's neck stretched under his mouth, sliding against his lips as she threw her head back. She brought a hand up into his hair, pressing him close. Mike eagerly accepted her invitation, opening his mouth and letting the taste of her flood him, letting the sense-memory of countless (not enough… could never be enough) sleepy mornings wash over him.
The arm Vicki had been lying on snaked under him, and she slid one toned leg between his, fitting them together from head to toe. Mike swallowed and turned the laughter that threatened to bubble out of him into another groan—he felt lighter than he had in a year and more grounded than… maybe ever. Vicki's hand in his hair tightened, her grip so tight it was almost painful, and he didn't care at all. He burrowed into the hair at her neck and she pressed him impossibly closer with her other hand, held warm against his back. He shifted, pressing his erection against the cloth barring its way, and she slipped her other hand under his boxers, cold fingers splaying possessively against his ass.
He groaned, "Vicki…" into her neck—almost a growl—but, right then, his brilliant, crime-solving mind decided to bring his ability to do simple arithmetic back online. Unless he was forgetting something very important about last night's misadventures, Vicki did not have three hands.
With an undignified yelp he would later violently deny, Mike tumbled off the far side of the bed.
Vicki, of course, managed to hold onto the covers.
She wasn't going to giggle.
She just wasn't. It was completely inappropriate.
Curling around the mass of down that still held Mike's warmth, Vicki dissolved into laughter that she tried very hard to keep silent.
She failed miserably at that, too.
Detective Celluci pointed at Henry with a finger that did not shake, not to mortal eyes, at least. Henry was impressed enough to keep the smile in his eyes off his lips.
The detective spat out, "What the hell is he doing here?" and adjusted his boxer shorts so they no longer hung so beautifully low on his hips. Vicki turned her head deeper into her pillow. Henry took a moment to mourn the view.
The detective did not tolerate the silence well. He scrambled up off the floor and glared, first at Henry then, settling in with more intent, at Vicki. Moonlight poured in through the window, catching each distracting heave of his chest and making it clear to anyone looking (as Henry most certainly was) that his glare wasn't the only part of him still fit to bore holes. Of course, the effect was lost on Victoria twofold—she couldn't have seen his glare in the dark of the room even if she'd raised her face from the pillow.
With a growl worthy of a wer, Celluci ripped the comforter off the bed. Henry—helpfulness the only motivation he was ever going to admit to—chose that moment to flick on the light.
Vicki covered her head with the pillow.
"Nelson! If you don't stop laughing, so help me…"
She faced Celluci so fast, Henry never even saw her move. "So help you what, Mike?"
She looked pale, and now, in the light, Henry could see deep bruises rising where her t-shirt rode up along her left side, the shadows of more along her cheek. Telltale fingertip marks marred the length of her neck. He kept his growl subverbal and let them argue.
Dirt smudged her face along with the day's makeup and bruises. Something viscous (ichor?) had dried to a crackle in her hair; her hand came up to pick at it as she yelled at Celluci. "What, exactly, are you going to do about it?"
The detective yelled back, "His hand was on my ass!"
Henry watched, "What the hell was he doing just climbing into your bed, anyway?" slide out of Celluci's mouth and winced in sympathy.
She went cold, as Michael must have known she would the instant the question left his lips. Victoria demanded icily, "What the hell business is that of yours?"
Celluci closed his eyes and scrubbed at his face with both hands.
Henry toed the suit pants from the pile of ichor-drenched clothing at the foot of the bed and threw them at the detective. They hit his chest squarely and Celluci grabbed them before they could fall to the floor—Henry entertained a brief vision of them hanging up halfway down. The physical requirement for them to do so was still clearly in place, outlined deliciously beneath a single layer of thin cotton.
Celluci stared at the pants for a moment, clearly torn between putting the filthy things back on and continuing this conversation naked. Vicki, tone softened slightly, rescued him. "Bottom drawer, left-hand side."
She caught Henry watching the show that ensued, and he grinned widely at her, reluctantly schooling his expression only when the detective had finished slipping on the worn gray sweatpants and turned back to them.
Henry shook his head to clear it and fished Vicki's sweater from the pile. He sniffed at the ichor tentatively, his growled, "Wraithworm," not entirely voluntarily.
Not that anyone noticed him speaking.
Henry suppressed a shudder. Wraithworms were vile, nasty creatures, but not nearly as nasty as the humans who must have summoned it. Vicki and Mike were lucky to be alive. The summoners were very lucky Vicki and Mike were still alive. He shoved his features back down toward human, glad, in that moment, that they were wrapped so tightly in their arguing; his anger was not meant for them.
Celluci let out a long suffering sigh. His glare narrowed on Henry for a moment before reverting back to Vicki. Obviously reaching for patience (and finding precious little), Celluci ground out, "There's no way it was an accident." All understood the implied subject; Henry valiantly resisted his urge to clarify, You're referring to my hand on your ass, Detective? and allowed Celluci to continue.
"He had to know I was there—freakish vampire senses!" Celluci's tone was almost pleading.
Vicki's nose twitched. Deadpan, she said, "You're not exactly helping your case here, Celluci."
Clearly, it was time to interrupt them—before the conversation could devolve further. "Actually, Detective, I came to see you." Celluci glared at him again, so he added, "At your request."
Mike sighed (again) and scolded himself about letting it become a habit. Strangely, his self-scolding voice sounded like a cross between his Nana's, Vicki's and Fitzroy's—something he'd make time to analyze later. Much later.
The phone message. Right.
Mike's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "How'd you find me here?"
"When I didn't find you at your apartment or the station, it seemed only logical to look here." Calm and cool. Fitzroy was always so damn… Mike felt a flush race up his face, the memory of that cool hand sliding along his hip and cupping his ass flooding sudden heat along his skin and making his heart race. He turned away, rooting messily through Vicki's drawer to find the cover he so desperately needed.
Why the hell did Vicki own a Rock out with your Cop out t-shirt? He pulled the thing on; it was the only tee in the drawer that stood a chance of fitting him, and he was in no position to be choosy. Vicki and Fitzroy both wore identically neutral expressions when Mike pulled his head through the tee, so he scowled at them both equally, brutally pushing away the stab of jealousy their easy non-verbal communication set loose in him.
He knew better than to ask. He said, "What?" anyway, his tone aggressive even to his own ears. He threw a pair of her jeans at Vicki's head, just to make sure she hadn't missed that he was righteously pissed off. He didn't say, Cover yourself up, for God's sake! and, to her credit, she silently slipped them on.
Never one to be silent when he could be more-reasonable-than-thou, Fitzroy asked, "Was your call about the wraithworm?"
"Is that what that thing was?" Vicki asked as she buttoned up her fly.
"Was?" Fitzroy asked.
"Was," she affirmed. "Definitely was, though I think there might be a few more…"
"You think?" Mike interrupted angrily. "What gave it away? Was it the big one we saw slither off as the little one charged us, or all the egg casings that are making you think?"
Vicki had the grace to wince a little at his tone. "Okay, one more at least." She held her hand out to silence him and added, "We don't know for sure what was in those eggs."
She turned her head toward Fitzroy, her neck stretching, exposed—and it slammed into Mike like a gut-punch. That languid stretch, the way she'd gone pliant and soft against him, moaning as he'd nuzzled at her neck… it hadn't been for him.
Mike sat abruptly, grateful he hadn't missed the side of the bed. On the other side, Vicki pulled on boots and socks, oblivious. She and Fitzroy were talking about the eggs, making a plan.
The realization cut at him, clear and sobering as a gale off the sea. Vicki trusted Henry. Really trusted him. Vicki didn't do that. More importantly, Mike had way too much trust in her instincts; she wouldn't be wrong about it. Not even if he really wanted her to be.
Mike looked warily at his shoes. Most of the disgusting gel seemed to be on the outside. He took a steadying breath and leaned over for them, shoving his bare feet inside and standing up.
"Fire," he interrupted, having managed to follow that much (if only that much) of their conversation. "I can work with fire." The both looked at him, Fitzro… Henry's head tilted in active curiosity. "We confiscated a bunch of industrial-grade flamethrowers last week and they're just sitting in impound, too big to fit in the evidence locker."
Vicki's eyes lit up.
A measure of his usual self-assurance settling back around him, Mike asked, "Think they might be useful?"
Catching and holding Mike's eyes, Henry said, "Yes, Detective, I do," and grinned ferally.
Mike decided not to think about how grateful he suddenly was for the loose fit of the sweat pants and grinned back.
One epiphany was enough for tonight.
All told, there were five more of the damn things.
All told, Vicki was almost completely fucking useless in the fight. Between the dark of the sewer and the merciless bright of the flamethrowers, she could barely tell man from giant worm. She planted herself at Mike and Henry's backs as they fought the four "babies," sweeping fire from the biggest of the throwers in a carefully counted-out arc—pitifully grateful she could at least keep the things from getting behind them.
When Daddy Wraithworm slithered into the room flanked by a half dozen humans carrying torches and dressed in honest-to-god robes and pointy hats, she was able to see a little better. She could almost make Henry out beneath the last of the smaller worms. She was pretty sure Mike was riding the thing's neck, hacking at it with Henry's sword. She was also pretty sure that neither of them had noticed the entire cast of Harry Potter entering the room and that they'd never hear her warning over the weird keening noise the wraithworms were making.
Vicki tipped her spare fuel canister over, reasonably sure the bad guys were actually downhill and completely sure Mike and Henry were uphill. She spared a breath to wonder what saint watched over blind idiots then let it go as she turned her flame on them, trusting the targeting process entirely to memory. She did well for a while, if the shrieks were any indication, before dancing, scarlet-gold blindness gave way to sudden, crushing black.
She woke slowly, warm and muzzy-headed, buried beneath a mountain of blankets, the topmost identifiable as Henry's opulent duvet. Low, familiar voices murmured off to her left. Her ribs were bound, her left temple and right wrist bandaged up almost as tightly. She shifted and felt stitches pull in her right shoulder, but the pain was distant; concussion plus pain meds meant she'd been bad enough that either Henry or Mike had brought in a pro.
Panic flared through her, but in that same moment Henry's voice grew loud enough to hear. "We shouldn't forget that we were all very lucky. For the three of us to have defeated five wraithworms and the sorcerers controlling them was highly unlikely. That the two of us escaped battle with only minor injuries…"
Mike interrupted Henry there, but Vicki couldn't make out what he said, and Henry continued on, increased volume his only concession to the interruption. "…, and that Victoria emerged from her suicidal attack with nothing worse than a concussion, a few stitches, minor burns and two broken ribs is a miracle of high order, Detective."
Henry's tone felt rather pointed, bordering on pompous. Clearly Mike felt that way too because he said, "Thank you for the brilliant recap, Your Majesty." There was a pause (Henry raised an eyebrow and smirked at Mike, maybe?), then Mike continued, "And call me Mike, Damn it. Don't make me ask you again."
A low chuckle wrapped around her, Henry's for sure. He said, "As you wish, Michael," and Vicki could feel the warmth of Mike's scowl from across the room, too. It took a moment for the meaning of Henry's next words to sink in, his, "Go back to sleep, Victoria. It is done and we are all safe," delivered in the same conversational tone as his gentle ribbing of Mike from a moment before. She drifted off a bare moment later, cradled in Henry's reassurance and Mike's warm laughter.
When she surfaced again, the scent of cold Kung Pao chicken (it smelled different cold, trust her, she knew) and stale Crab Rangoon oil hung in the air. The drugs were thinner in her system but were still holding the worst of the pain at bay; she'd slept for a few hours at least. She was still warm and comfortable, burrowed deep into Henry's bed and (suspiciously) clean. Off to her left, cards slid together again and again in an expert shuffle.
Henry was a fucking show-off.
"Full house. Again." Mike said disbelievingly. "I don't care if you've been feeding me wins for the last hour, you still owe me what you lost."
Henry laughed. "Rematch?"
"No fucking way," Mike said, and Vicki heard chips being swept off the table determinedly. Henry laughed louder.
Later—an hour or a minute, she didn't know—she woke when Henry let out a surprised bark of laughter.
"No, I just don't get it," Mike was saying through his own laughter. "You could have had that medic for dinner—and whatever else—right here in front of me. What the hell is so special about it?" Mike's voice was lower when he continued, "I sure don't remember it as a lot of fun."
"You can't compare what I did to you with what she wanted..." Henry's stuttered "d" was barely audible, "…Michael. I attacked you, pure and simple."
"I let you," Mike said, his voice quiet but steady.
"You did," Henry agreed. "You also could not have stopped me."
That hung in the air for a few moments. Vicki couldn't hear the pounding of their hearts, but she could hear the pounding of her own, and she knew Henry could hear it too.
"That doesn't change the fact that I offered." She couldn't read his tone. She needed to see Mike's face, but even if she were willing to risk interrupting them, she wouldn't have been able to see a damn thing without her glasses.
"We both know that you did so to protect Victoria." Henry was reasonable. Calm.
"I did," Mike agreed. "I'd do it again."
"Protect Victoria? Of course you…" A chair tipped over—Henry's she thought. She heard Mike swallow back a gasp and was certain that Henry had just gotten very close, very suddenly.
"What, exactly, are you offering, Michael?" Henry purred, his voice a silken slide of sex and skin and honey. Vicki held her breath.
"No matter what you told your medic, that thing gave you more than just a love tap tonight." In her mind, she watched Mike draw himself up, pushing, ever so slightly, into Henry's space. "You need to feed to heal."
Henry, uncharacteristically, tried to break the tension. "I see why they call you 'Detective.' The day will heal the worst of it." His voice held only a faint trace of his usual mockery, but Vicki expected it would be enough, and she let out the breath she'd been holding.
Mike's no nonsense, "Stop it," surprised her and Henry both. It might well have surprised Mike too, but Vicki sure couldn't hear it in his voice. "You sent her away because of me." Fabric rustled. "That's the third shirt you've bleed through tonight."
There was shifting, who to where, Vicki couldn't be sure, even though she'd long since shifted to peek out from under the duvet. She thought they were both kneeling now, face-to-face in front of the table. Mike's voice was low and intimate when he continued, letting just the hint of a challenge melt into his words. "Let me help, Henry. Let me in on the big secret."
Henry growled, almost a whine, still somehow resisting. Surely they'd notice her when she burst into flames?
If Henry's voice before had been pure animal sex, Mike's now was home, a thousand nights curled, spent and sated, in front of the fire, "Let go. Show me what it's supposed to be like…"
It had never even occurred to Vicki that vampires might howl.
Heat rushed through Mike, zinging from the pinpoint bright-fire sear at his throat straight down to his cock. He barely had time to think, Holy shit! before it crashed through him again. How had he ever thought of Henry as cold? He felt Henry's pull in every fiber and cell of his being, as inexorable as gravity and as essential as air. Mike wrapped his arms around Henry and held on for dear life.
Hours… days… maybe years later, Mike opened his eyes to find Vicki staring down at him from the bed. Her eyes were lust-blown, her breathing quick and he… he was flat on the floor, his pants (really? All that and he hadn't even managed to get his pants off?) cold and sticky, but his own breathing was quickening again, his cock swelling again improbably against the wet fabric. She giggled at him. Vicki giggling was even more improbable than him getting hard again so soon, and it was at least five times as disturbing. Something shifted to her left and she startled, looking after the sound. In a flash, Henry was on her, body stretched long over Mike's while devouring her mouth.
Mike was mesmerized, content to watch them, holding his breath in fascination. Mike's lungs were just beginning to burn when Henry released her, easing her back down to the mattress, clearly more concerned with her breathing and her broken ribs than she was herself. She made a soft noise of complaint, and—much to Mike's own horror—he heard himself echo it, the sound rising unbidden from somewhere deep in his chest.
He seriously thought about crawling under the bed but Henry caught his eyes before he could close them. The grin that bust out across Henry's face was completely beyond Mike's ability to resist—so warm and intense that he thought he could maybe live without the sun, if he just got enough of that grin. He reached up for Vicki's outstretched hand and pulled Henry down with his other, catching Henry's mouth and taking his own turn at this devouring thing.
It figured he'd break his one-epiphany-at-a-time rule the very same day he made it.