The smell of Chinese food pervaded the office more strongly than usual, Henry noted as he entered, glancing around. Vicki's message had said to come as soon as he woke up, and after a stop to feed, he'd done so. Physically he was healed from the priest's torture and draining, but there was some little nagging voice in his brain that said not to go traipsing around on one of Vicki's missions before eating. She'd have to excuse his tardiness.
Not that she'd been waiting alone apparently. Detective Celluci was sitting in one of the chairs, large hands with their blunt fingertips curled around the box of Kung Pao he was rocking back and forth. Neither of them was eating. Celluci's eyes snapped up to his, and the box in his hands stopped it's rocking movement as his fingers tightened on it in a grip Henry was trying hard to forget. If he bruised, he'd have had marks left on his bicep from those fingers, his skin giving way like the carton was now. Reflexively, his gaze broke from Celluci's to the vein in his neck, and he had a fleeting thought of gratitude that he had fed already. His words to Vicki, not that long ago, came back to haunt him.
"You gave me your blood. You're part of me now."
He hadn't wanted Mike Celluci to be part of him. He'd wanted him dead. Dead for his betrayal. Dead for the way Vicki looked at him. Dead for the way he looked at Henry like he was equal to the monsters they hunted. That he'd come for him was only Vicki's doing. Henry had no illusions about that. That Celluci was sitting there staring at him, a little more pale once he noticed where Henry's gaze had fastened, was Vicki's doing as well. Henry swallowed and shifted his gaze to Vicki who was looking back and forth between the two of them with an irritated frown on her face.
"You two going to be able to do this?" she asked, setting down her box of food, barely touched. Was he the only one who had eaten tonight?
"You're going to have to be a bit more specific on what this is," Henry said, giving her a pleasant smile that completely ignored the detective. Moving across the room from the doorway where he'd lingered, he leaned against the desk, positioning himself between the two of them, one shoulder to Celluci.
"Coreen is missing," Mike answered for Vicki, irritation and something else in his voice. Vicki shot him a look Henry was at a loss to define, but he suspected she wasn't pleased at his interruption.
Whatever his problems with the detective were, though, Henry felt a flicker of worry for Coreen and frowned. Still ignoring the policeman, he focused on Vicki. "For how long? What was she doing the last time you saw her?"
"Last night when she went home," Vicki said, shooting a glance past Henry to Mike. "When she didn't come in this morning, I thought maybe she'd just stayed out too late..."
"But that's not like Coreen to neglect showing up," Henry interjected.
"She's young. Everyone has one of those nights eventually. But when she hadn't come in by noon and wasn't answering her phone, I started to get worried."
"Which is when she called me." Mike got up, moving to stand next to Vicki, forcing Henry to look at him. "But we can't file a missing person's report until someone's been missing at least 48 hours."
"So you're basically useless in this situation."
"I can't help out officially," Mike gritted out between clenched teeth. "I'm here off the clock."
"I'm sure we're all very relieved to have the city's finest on this. Unofficially." Henry looked him over, then transferred his gaze back to Vicki. "What else do you know? Do you have any open cases she was researching for you? Someone who might not have wanted her to get too close to the truth?"
"I've been over every file she had," Vicki said with a shake of her head, though her gaze kept flicking between the two of them, exasperation clear in it. "There's nothing suspicious that would lead me to think she was in danger. No murders, no disappearances, no violence. Just a couple of routine divorce cases and a stolen painting."
"Your last 'routine' divorce case ended up with two women dead," Henry pointed out.
"Yeah, but so far there's nothing turning up in these, and I was doing all the legwork anyway. She was just taking care of communication and billing. If there was something there someone didn't want me to find, they should have gone after me."
"Unless taking Coreen was to distract you," Mike pointed out. "Throw you off the scent long enough..."
"Long enough for what?" Vicki demanded. "They're divorce cases. People are cheating, or they aren't. Are going to separate, or they aren't. They'll keep. Even if something terrible happened to Coreen, the cases would still be there on my desk when it was over."
"What about the painting?" Henry asked.
"It was stolen about a week ago. The owners don't want the police involved, or the insurance. They just want the painting back."
"Why not work with the police?" Henry asked.
"Why not file a stolen property report?" Mike asked at the same time.
The two men stopped and stared at each other. Vicki sighed.
"I don't know. They said they didn't want to deal with the police, and I respected that. Some people are wary of that. I just got the case two days ago."
"And the day after you get it, Coreen goes missing. What was she doing on it?" Henry stepped away from the other two, moving to the window, frowning.
"Researching the painting, trying to find the previous owners, the provenance of the piece."
"What had she found?"
"Nothing so far."
"That's not normal."
"I don't think she'd had time to look very hard."
"All right. It's a possibility and something to check out more closely. Vicki and I went over to her place earlier. There were no signs of a struggle. Her door was locked, and everything looked to be in its place. Nothing we could find missing."
"What about her car?"
"It's gone," Vicki said.
"Can you put out an APB on it, detective?" Henry asked, turning around finally.
"Gee, why didn't I think of that?" Mike said, glaring at Henry. When Henry merely gazed back impassively, he sighed. "No. She hasn't been gone long enough, and the lack of any sign of foul play means I cannot use police resources until the 48 hours are up. That includes putting out an APB."
Henry held Mike's gaze for another moment, then looked back at Vicki. "What do you need me to do?"
* * *
The club was crowded for a Wednesday night, but Henry wouldn't have minded, except that it kept pushing Celluci closer to him in the crowd. "We could cover more ground if we separated, detective," he pointed out.
"What?" Mike asked, over the music.
"Why don't you show Coreen's picture around in another part of the bar?" Henry asked, lips closer to Mike's ear. It had to be his imagination, but he could have sworn the good detective shivered.
"Vicki's covering the upstairs bar. You and me have downstairs." He had that stubborn look about him, though Henry could tell he didn't like it any more than he did.
"Yes, I realize those were her instructions, but it's a big space. You could talk to people over there." Henry jerked his head in the direction of the black velvet draped bar in the back corner.
"Trying to get rid of me?"
"As a matter of fact..."
Funny. He was supposed to be the one with the ability to pin people's gazes, Henry thought, so why was he having trouble looking away? His eyes narrowed slightly. "I'm not particularly comfortable having you at my back."
For a moment, Celluci looked like he'd been slapped, then anger flashed in his eyes, before he pushed Henry out of the way and moved around him. "Fine. I'll go first."
* * *
"The bartender upstairs said Coreen left around midnight, alone. He was outside taking a break and saw her get into her car," Vicki reported when they regrouped. "What did you find out?"
"Nothing much," Celluci started. "Apparently..."
"She seemed excited," Henry interjected, cutting him off. "She was talking about avenging a great injustice and putting souls to rest."
"What?" Mike said, looking over at him. "Who said that?"
"The blond girl in the red corset," Henry said with a shrug of his shoulder.
"The one you were flirting with?" Mike asked acerbically.
"I wasn't flirting, I was interrogating."
"You looked like you were going to take a bite out of her cleavage."
"He often looks like that," Vicki interrupted, impatience in her tone. "The important thing is, the girl knew something. Maybe it does go back to the painting...I can't think Coreen would get that excited about either of the divorce cases."
"Why don't I take a look at the file?" Henry offered. "I may know something about the work, if it's famous enough..."
"Coreen had the main file with her, but I've got the basic documents back at the office," Vicki said with a nod, hopping off the back of the bench where she'd been perched.
"Hopefully there's enough in there to get me started following the trail she was," Henry said.
"And hopefully it leads to her."
"What would you like me to do?" Mike asked, frowning.
Vicki gave him a tired smile. "Would you mind making a coffee run? I've got a feeling it's going to be a late night."
Henry couldn't hide the bright smile at Mike's chagrin, but when Vicki turned her gaze his way, he wiped it away.
"Right. Sure. Two coffees, coming right up."
"Oh, detective? Make it three." Henry said, with another sunny smile.
Mike's glare was answer enough.
* * *
Henry's cup of coffee sat where Celluci had thunked it down, gone cold and untouched since while he was more than happy to sip at a glass of wine now and again he despised the taste of coffee, while he sprawled out on the sofa reading over the sparse file Vicki had on the case a third time.
"You ever going to share anything?" Mike asked.
"This is odd," Henry said after a long time, with a thoughtful frown.
"You think?" Mike snapped.
Vicki sighed and crossed over to sit on the arm of the sofa, looking down at Henry. "What's odd?"
"The painting being stolen. It's not worth much. Nevermind that there doesn't seem to have been much physical evidence of a break-in...though that's difficult to determine since the owner never reported it stolen."
"Yeah, that struck me as odd, too, but if they were going for insurance fraud or some other scam, they'd need a police report. All the client wants is for me to get the painting back."
"Maybe it has sentimental value," Mike suggested.
Henry frowned, but not at him, still staring at the file. "Maybe."
"I knew the artist. Aaron Levitt," Henry said after a moment. "In Germany, before the war. We moved in some of the same circles at the time. He was good, very good, but his work never became known outside of a small circle, even after his death."
"How did he die?" Vicki asked after a long moment.
Henry glanced up at her, swallowing back a lump of emotion for things he never liked to dwell on. "Dachau."
Vicki and Mike both absorbed that in silence, and Henry went back to the file. After several minutes had passed, he frowned again, running his fingers over a note Vicki had jotted down in the margin. "Describe your client to me?"
Vicki straightened, then leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. "Early fifties, black hair, just a few streaks of gray in it. Green eyes. Tall, well built. European, I think, but I couldn't pin down the accent, and when I asked, he said he traveled a lot."
Henry pushed up into a sitting position. "How green?"
"His eyes. How green were they? Normal green like the sort you see in most people, with bits of blue and gray in them, or emerald green like you only find rarely and more and more these days only with contacts?"
Vicki frowned at him. "The latter. I assumed they were contacts, actually. Why?"
"You know this guy?" Mike asked.
Henry glanced between them, then nodded. "I think I might, but I'm not sure how it's possible. I thought he died over sixty years ago, shortly after Aaron."
"Also at Dachau?" Vicki asked quietly.
Henry shook his head. "No. There was a fire at his house. A body was found inside, identified as his, but the man you describe..."
"Could it be a descendant--a son or grandson?" Mike asked.
"Possibly," Henry allowed, "But I don't know why any of them would have one of Aaron's paintings. Like I said, they never garnered much attention and aren't worth anything."
"Sentimental value?" Vicki suggested. "If this man was a friend of his father's or grandfather's..."
Henry gave a slight, bitter laugh, shaking his head. "They weren't friends. Dominik hated Aaron with a passion. It was he who turned him in."
* * *
Sunrise had come with no further answers, though Henry had told them all he knew about the two men. Dominik Bergman had been an artist in the late thirties and early forties in Germany. He was a rising star in the art world, his paintings garnering international attention for their lifelike quality and haunting depth. Aaron Levitt's talent was less flashy, quieter, and never noticed much by the art world, but it was noticed by one Rachel Dreiser--Dominik's fiancee. Unfortunately for Dominik, Rachel fell in love with more than Aaron's work, and broke off their engagement, marrying Aaron just six months after first meeting.
Dominik never forgave either of them.
Rachel's family had hidden Aaron when Jews began disappearing, but Dominik had informed against them, and Aaron had been seized. Dominik's family had money, and he'd offered Rachel a way out, if she left Aaron and came with him, but she'd refused, and eventually she'd been taken as well as a conspirator. Henry didn't know what happened to her, for certain, but she was never heard from again. In 1944, Dominik's home had burned down, and a body had been found inside, identified as him.
Henry thought that was the end of the tragic tale.
Vicki studied the limited file more closely, wishing Coreen hadn't taken the more extensive one, and trying to put together what she could remember of it, sketching the notes from memory.
"What painting of Levitt's was it that was stolen?" Mike asked, looking up from the computer where he'd been researching the name Vicki's client had given--Eric Weizmann.
"A self-portrait of the artist, is what Weizmann said." Vicki glanced over at him. "You find something?"
Mike shook his head. "No. Nothing. It's like Weizmann didn't even exist until five years ago, and I can't find anything on Levitt at all."
"Henry said he wasn't well known."
"Wasn't at all known, from the looks of this."
"So why would 'Eric Weizmann' have such a sentimental attachment to his self-portrait?" Vicki mused.
"I don't know, but I did find some stuff on Bergman," Mike said. "Things that make me wonder just how you keep drawing these sorts of cases to you."
"What are you talking about?" Vicki asked, moving over to the computer. Mike gave her a look, and she made a face at him before leaning down to read what he'd found. She was aware of how close they were, aware of the heat of his skin. He was here, helping, when he didn't have to be, as if trying to make atonement, but she wasn't sure if she was ready to forgive. Did that make her petty, or defensive of a friend? Would she be this defensive if it had been anyone other than Henry?
Swallowing, she focused on the computer screen, scanning over it quickly, then looked at Mike in shock. "Sorcery?"
"Seems Henry neglected to mention a thing or two."
* * *
The doorbell rang repeatedly through the house, echoing back and forth, before petering out. Vicki shifted back and forth impatiently, until Mike reached over and rested a hand on her shoulder. Taking a deep breath, she settled into an alert stillness from whence she managed to pull a smile when the door opened.
"Ms. Nelson, this is a surprise. Have you found my painting?" Eric Weizmann regarded her with a slightly raised eyebrow, casting a curious look at Mike before glancing back at her.
"Not yet, Mr. Weizmann. I have a few more questions. This is Mike Celluci, who helps me out from time to time." She deliberately left off that Mike was with the police, given he'd asked for no police involvement.
"Come in..." Weizmann smiled, but Vicki thought he looked a little nervous. "What did you want to ask about?"
"The painting, actually," Vicki said getting right to the point. "Where did you get it?"
Weizmann stared at her for a long moment, then smiled, though it didn't reach those startling green eyes of his. "I inherited it."
"What does this have to do with the investigation?"
"I need to establish the provenance of the painting in order to determine who else might have had an interest in the painting," Vicki said, looking back at him squarely.
"It's a family piece," Weizmann said. "My grandfather painted it. I don't have any sales receipts to give you, Ms. Nelson, because the piece was never sold. In fact, it's the only remaining image I have of him."
"Because he died in the war?" Vicki asked.
Weizmann looked startled she knew that, and then annoyance crossed his face for a moment. "Yes."
"Has my assistant contacted you in the last day or so about this?" Vicki asked.
For a moment Weizmann hesitated, then shook his head. "The young girl at your office? No. Why?"
"She was really interested in the case," Vicki explained. "Wanted to do some research. Now she's missing..." She watched him closely for any reaction.
The man looked concerned, but little else. "That's terrible. You don't think the thief has her?"
"Over a painting of your grandfather that's worth nothing to anyone else? I don't think so, Mr. Weizmann, no."
A muscle twitched in the man's jaw, and he glanced between her and Mike. "What is your interest in this Mr. Celluci."
"Oh, I'm just here to help Vicki out," Mike said blandly. "And to find Coreen."
"Surely you don't think I had anything to do with it? You're helping me, after all. What reason would I have for hampering that?"
"I don't know," Vicki said quietly. "Can I see where the painting hung again?"
Weizmann watched her, a battle in his eyes that she couldn't decipher and after a moment he nodded shortly. "Of course."
* * *
A second painting hung next to the empty space on the wall, clearly meant to have provided a balance for it. The girl in it stared out with a fiercely joyful expression that was nonetheless haunting.
"You know how people say sometimes that the eyes in paintings seem to follow you?" Mike murmured in Vicki's ear. He felt her shiver a little bit.
"Yeah," he repeated.
"Who is she?" Vicki asked Weizmann.
The man was staring at the painting with something like rapture on his face, though it was twisted into something ugly rather than the beauty one usually expected with such emotion. "Her name was Rachel," he said.
Mike swallowed back the taste of bile, remembering Henry's story, and glanced at the face of the girl again. She was pretty in a quiet sort of way, but it was the life in her face that drew you, and part of him understood how she could have locked two men in a rivalry. The set of her jaw, the ferocity in her eyes...they reminded him of the woman standing close to him. There was a defiance of circumstances, of tragedy, an unwillingness to bow, let alone be broken. Oh, yeah, he understood.
"Did Levitt do this painting as well?" Vicki was asking.
"No," Weizmann said after a moment. "Another artist. She...she was Levitt's wife, though."
"So, your grandmother."
"What?" Weizmann blinked at her, and Mike fought the instinct to roll his eyes at how easily Vicki had caught him in that lie.
"If Levitt was your grandfather, then this Rachel...she was your grandmother?"
Weizmann seemed to struggle with something again, and his mouth twisted in a bit of a grimace, as if the words themselves burned. "Yes."
A flash of fury crossed the man's face, and Mike found himself instinctively stepping between the two of them, hearing Vicki's hiss of annoyance at the gesture and knowing he was going to catch hell for it.
"I think that's all we need for now. If you see Coreen..."
"I'll let you know," Weizmann all but spit out.
* * *
"What the hell was that for?" Vicki asked.
"Sorcerer, remember?" Mike asked. "Or at least, if that's Bergman--"
"--He's Bergman," Vicki said positively.
"Then, Sorcerer. Accused of capturing souls, Vicki. And you were just standing there, antagonizing him."
"He's got Coreen. And if he's so dangerous, God knows what he's doing to her," Vicki protested.
"I know. But if he's powerful enough that he survived that fire and has managed to make himself not age for sixty years, we're going to need backup."
Vicki looked at him a little bit warily, and with surprise. "Backup. Like..."
Mike sighed and closed his eyes. "As much as it pains me to admit it, we should wait for sundown and Fitzroy."
With his eye closed, he couldn't see, but he felt Vicki's smile.
* * *
"It's Bergman," Vicki told Henry positively when he showed up minutes after sunset. "And we're pretty sure he has Coreen, but we don't know where."
"How is that possible?" Henry asked.
"Black magic," Mike supplied, wondering how in the hell he ever got comfortable saying things like that aloud.
Henry hissed slightly between his teeth and Mike could almost feel the disgust rolling off of him at the idea.
"Listen, we found out that he was accused in some circles of practising sorcery," Vicki filled him in. "And there is a group now who are dedicated to trying to reinvent his techniques. They sound a bit like kooks, but after seeing him again, and the paintings in his house..."
"You went to see him?" Henry interjected.
"Yes," Vicki said impatiently, and went on. "They think he captures souls, Henry. Captures them in his paintings. Like the old aboriginal beliefs that when you look in a mirror or have your picture taken, part of your soul is taken, but deeper than that. That's what gave his paintings such depth--he was literally putting pieces of people's souls in them. But if he was capable of putting pieces...."
"He could maybe take the whole thing," Mike interrupted to add. "Like that...thing Magnus' mother did to him, keeping him from moving on." Which he wouldn't have believed if he hadn't seen it himself.
"And maybe that's what he did to Levitt. We saw Rachel's painting, Henry. It's...eerie. More than haunting. She's smiling for the portrait, but her eyes. They're alive, and they're sad, and..." Vicki paused, searching for the word.
"Horrified," Mike said quietly. "We're talking soul-deep horror so at odds with the smile...he did something..."
"But the portrait that's missing--Levitt did that himself," Henry said, looking paler than usual and sounding a little sick.
"Maybe whatever he does isn't part of the painting process," Vicki suggested, "But something that can be done afterward. Somehow he got ahold of the painting, did his magic..."
"And trapped his enemy in a canvas for all eternity," Henry finished.
"It would be a hell of a vengeance. Keeping them both from ever reaching the afterlife or any peace, especially after what they had to suffer..."
"But then where's Levitt's painting? And where is Coreen?"
"Some of the theories with the aboriginal beliefs and then directly connected to his supporter's beliefs about his work suggest that if the paintings or photographs or mirrors are destroyed, the souls will be released again. Maybe whomever took the painting was trying to free Levitt. And Coreen...she always hits the computer first. She could have found this. Some of Bergman's followers are right here in town. If she went to one of them to get the information..."
"You think he's got her?"
"Or he knows where she is."
"And what? He'll kill her to keep his secret?" Henry asked. He didn't sound skeptical so much as concerned.
"Or negotiate with her to get the painting back, maybe," Mike said.
"We can't let him do that," Henry said. "We have to find Coreen, find the painting, get Rachel's and destroy them both."
The three of them looked at each other and Mike drew in a deep breath. "Henry's right."
Vicki nodded, as well.
"I say we start with Rachel's painting," Vicki said. "It gives us something to bargain with..."
* * *
With Henry along getting into the house proved to not be that difficult. Whatever the level of Bergman's sorcery, it didn't seem to go to wards, and all three of them knew how to bypass normal security systems. Vicki found herself watching the two men, but the tension of the previous night seemed to have dissipated under the common mission. She didn't dare hope that it was gone for good, but the prospect of other souls on the line seemed to have at least called a truce.
When they reached the second floor, Henry reached for the painting, and she saw his eyes go dark, the way they did when fury and a feeding frenzy hit him. Mike stepped forward, but one look at Henry's face had him retreating. The vampire held the painting to his chest and they started to retreat when the lights all flipped on.
"I thought you might be back," Weizmann's voice said from behind them. "But I didn't think you'd be so bold as to...." He trailed off as Henry spun around and he got a look at his face. "Fitzroy?"
"Bergman," Henry nearly spat.
"Where's Coreen?" Vicki demanded.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Bergman said, though he hadn't taken his eyes off Henry.
"Lighter," Henry demanded, holding out one hand.
Mike handed the one they'd brought over, though this wasn't exactly how the plan was supposed to go.
"Henry...." Vicki said warningly.
Henry flicked the lighter on, holding it close to the painting. "Where is the girl?"
Weizmann's face contorted with fear and fury and he muttered something, flinging out his arm. Henry flew one way, the painting the other, and gale force winds seemed to rip around the room, making the house shake. From somewhere upstairs, Vicki heard a familiar scream, her head snapping toward the sound.
"Mike!" She wasn't sure if he heard her over the wind, but he nodded when she gestured at the stairs. Bergman seemed focused on Henry, and Mike fought his way against the wind and upstairs.
The wind whipped at her hair, and she had to hold on to her glasses with one hand to see Bergman advance on Henry. The vampire was up on his feet again, fangs bared, snarling, but the sorcerer hit him with a slash of something sharp and invisible and Vicki saw blood spatter the wall. Henry moved in a blur even so, nearly knocking the other man off of his feet before he was tossed across the room again, as if the sorcerer had some sort of forcefield that kept the vampire from touching him. With another snarl, Henry went for the painting instead, but it flew through the air and over the banister downstairs. When Henry went for it, the wooden rails ripped up out of the floor and spun. Vicki tried to scream a warning, reaching for her gun.
Through her hair and the wind making her eyes water and her limited eyesight anyway, she could barely see Bergman. He was a darker shadow in a whirl of shadows, but she fired at the top of it, aiming for what should be his head, just as she heard a strangled cry of pain.
The wind died abruptly, crashing sounds from all over as things fell. Bergman crumpled slowly to the ground. Turning back toward Henry she pressed fingers to her lips to try to stop her own cry.
He was lying, broken looking, on the stairs, one of the wooden banisters sticking through his chest.
* * *
Mike had found Coreen tied up and locked in a room on the third floor. A half finished painting was sitting on an easel in front of her. She was shaken and pale, but otherwise appeared unharmed. Getting her untied as quick as he could, Mike told her to stay put, not wanting a civilian in on the maelstrom downstairs. The sound of a gunshot made him run from the room, and for all that he would have liked to have expected different, he wasn't surprised by the sound of Coreen behind him as he raced for the stairs.
Mike swept the scene with a glance. Bergman was dead, lying in a pool of his own blood. Vicki was by the stairs, kneeling awkwardly on them, bending over Fitzroy. Even with her in the way, he could see the banister protruding where it shouldn't be.
"Oh God," Coreen whispered behind him. "Henry..."
Considering Mike would have happily seen the guy dead--more dead? Permanently dead?--just two weeks before, he was surprised by the pang that ran through him as he moved down the stairs.
"Mike!" Vicki heard him. "Mike, you have to help me..." She was crying, and he recognized the note in her voice with a shiver of something like jealousy. It was the same way she'd pleaded for his life with Henry just days ago.
His feet took him to them. Henry was pale, but his eyes were open and he was clinging to Vicki's hand.
"He missed..." He managed to gasp out. "But not by much...."
"Shh...don't talk..." Vicki looked up at Mike. "We have to get the banister out of him, but carefully...I don't want to risk...if it splinters..."
Mike didn't need her to finish the sentence. If it splintered while they pulled it out, it was close enough to Fitzroy's heart to drive through, effectively finishing what Bergman had tried to do.
"Okay. Let's get him up to the landing so he's steady," Mike said after a minute.
Henry groaned when they moved him, but Mike tried to block that out, settling him as gently as he could. Vicki was covered in blood already, and soon he was, too. Coreen looked on, horrified.
"Coreen, you get his feet," Mike instructed. "Vicki, hold his head and shoulders. Keep him still, 'cause this is gonna hurt like a bitch."
Both women nodded, and Mike tried not to notice the way Vicki's fingers ran through Henry's hair or the way she murmured to him soothingly. Wrapping his fingers around the still smooth end of the banister he breathed out. His fingers slipped, wet with blood and he paused to wipe them off, drying them on the fabric of his shirt, before he tried again. This time he pressed hard against the wood grain.
"Ready?" he asked Henry, meeting his eyes.
The vampire gazed back, and there was the knowledge in those ageless eyes that Mike held his life in his hands. Mike remembered his words from the day before, felt the guilt from his own deed, and looked at him steadily, trying to convey that he wouldn't mess this up. He wasn't going to be that guy. After a long moment, Henry nodded.
Mike took a deep breath, closed his eyes to say a prayer to a God he wasn't sure he believed was listening after all he'd seen, then pulled.
The banister jerked free, and Henry cried out, arching with it, but when Mike tossed the wood aside, Henry was still there, gasping in pain, but not a pile of dust or whatever happened to vampires when they got staked through the heart.
"Coreen, go get the painting Bergman was making of you. We need to destroy it with Rachel's," Mike told her, and the girl looked at him with worried eyes, glancing back at Henry, but she went.
"He needs blood," Vicki said, and Mike detected a hint of tears in her eyes.
Henry tried to push to sitting, but barely made it. "I can..."
"There's a hole in your chest that's not healing," Mike said quietly. "She's right."
He tried to control the pang when Henry's fangs slid into Vicki's skin, wanted to close his eyes so he wouldn't have to watch the look on her face that was anything but pain, and one he remembered in the dark of the night when he was missing her and knew that somewhere along the way he'd let the best thing that ever happened to him get away. He didn't want to hear that soft gasp, or see how her body melted a little into Fitzroy's. It was a relief when the vampire lifted his mouth, though he could see his wounds hadn't fixed themselves yet.
"I can't take anymore." There was a tremor in his voice, a gruffness that spoke of the effort pulling back cost him. "It will hurt her."
"You're still wounded," Vicki protested.
The words surprised even Mike when he said them. "Take mine."
* * *
When Henry had attacked Mike in a fury of starvation, Vicki had feared for his life, her thoughts of nothing but Henry not hurting him, but not wanting to hurt the vampire who'd suffered so much because of Mike's ill-advised action, either. Two men, both of whom she cared for, one of whom she'd almost lost, and the one she saw herself losing before her eyes. This time was different.
This time Henry needed blood to heal, but he wasn't starving, wasn't ravening beyond sanity's reach. He'd pulled back from her of his own accord and the fear for Mike's safety was only a niggling one of worry that Henry might exact some revenge. But even that got buried beneath the tide of what she told herself was relief that they'd managed to all make it out of this alive. Surely that was the reason for the warmth spreading through her at the sight of Henry's mouth on Mike's skin, the shiver at her core at the sound of the soft grunt Mike made as Henry's teeth broke skin--far more gently this time than the last. She watched Mike's eyes fall closed, knew the difference there had to be between an attack and a donation. Still warm and with pleasure pulsing in her from the connection to Henry, she had to wonder just what Mike was feeling.
From the rise and fall of his chest as his breath quickened, and the whitening of his knuckles as he gripped Henry's coat, and the faint arch of his body into the vampire's, she could only conclude it was very good.
She heard a step on the stairs and saw Coreen coming back down, and the girl's eyes widened at the sight before her as well. She swallowed, and Vicki smiled slightly. When Henry pulled back from Mike, they were both breathing a little hard, and she saw their gazes hold for a long moment before Henry pushed himself to his feet.
"I'll be all right now. We still need to find Levitt's painting."
"Oh," Coreen said, breaking the tension that seemed to hang in the air. "I know where it is."
* * *
"You think Levitt himself managed to escape the painting?" Vicki asked, once they had retrieved the portrait from the mulch heap behind Bergman's house where it had been buried. The four of them were gathered in Henry's apartment, the three paintings laid out before them.
"At least a bit, yeah," Coreen said with a nod. "He's had sixty years stuck in there, trying to escape. I think he went all poltergeist and tried to get himself out, to somewhere the painting would be destroyed, but the magic was bound to Bergman and he could only get so far. Maybe he was trying to get Rachel, too, but could only move one at a time, or only his own work, but why else would anyone steal it only to leave it in Bergman's trash?"
"But that's the one place Bergman wouldn't think to look," Mike said.
"How did you figure it out?" Henry asked, from where he was standing by the fireplace.
"I didn't figure out who stole the painting until after he grabbed me," Coreen confessed. "And it's still a hunch. But when I was researching the painting, I came across a photo of Bergman and realized he was Weizmann. When I found out what he was capable of, I started to suspect what might be in the painting, and why he'd want such a monetarily worthless painting back. I didn't know the whole story, but there's enough of it if you poke around. I went to ask him some questions, to see if I could see the inside of his house. He figured out I knew something and grabbed me. I think he was going to try and trap me in that," she pointed to the half done painting of her with a shudder, "So I couldn't reveal who he was, then bargain for the other painting with my soulless body once you found it."
"And meanwhile the mulch would have been burned, and the painting along with it, and Levitt set free," Mike said.
"Which would've been not so good for me."
Vicki sighed, looking over the paintings. "Let's just hope the theory is true and we can actually give the two of them some rest. And if any part of Coreen is caught in hers..."
Mike reached over and squeezed her shoulder, then glanced at Henry. "Do you want to do the honors?"
Henry studied him for a moment, trying not to fixate on the feel of their blood mingling inside of him, of the growing connection he felt to each of them each time he drank. Something of it must have flickered in his eyes, because he saw Celluci flush a bit and look away, and he couldn't help but smile to himself.
"It would be my pleasure, detective."
Henry flashed him an insouciant smile, and noticed that Mike's hand reached for Vicki's, fingers curling around hers tight, even as she met his smile with an intent gaze of her own. Placing the paintings in the fireplace, Henry started the fire, then moved back to Vicki's side, taking her other hand and glancing again at Mike as the flames rose higher to set the souls of the lovers free.