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Hell on Earth

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Henry had known it was only a matter of time before Astaroth found a new way back to Earth using Vicki as an unwilling conduit. It was why he decided to leave Toronto, knowing it was too dangerous for him to stay.

He cursed under his breath because he was partly to blame for losing his friend, Father Cascioli, to the demon. He knew Vicki had expected him to stay to help her deal with the demon inside Cascioli, to stop Astaroth bringing Hell to earth but he had already signed over his territory to another vampire and had to be out of Toronto before the sun set on another day. He could not alter those plans now but as he thought about the people he had come to love in this city Henry could think of only one other way to help them: he asked Vicki to go with him, aware he could better protect her away from the life she had badly chosen in the city, and in doing so, he could protect the others too.

Henry should have known better after all these hundreds of years. He could only save those willing to be saved, and Vicki was as stubborn as they come. She was determined to stay in Toronto to meet Astaroth and all his demons plaguing the city head on, seeing it as her sworn duty to protect those around her. He had to admire her courage and spirit but not her foolhardiness, especially when it was not just her life and soul on the line.

Her actions had already threatened the life of one human he had come to care about - Coreen.

Vicki was surrounded by darkness, battling against her own inner demons now she had tasted the power of life over death in saving Coreen. Astaroth would use that to his advantage and the demon would not hesitate to strike at her again through the ones she loved most, to try to turn her away from the light.

His thoughts returned to that last moment with Vicki. She had told him she wanted to stay in Toronto for Mike Celluci even though they both knew her love for Mike was born out of a deep and abiding friendship, and respect for an ex-partner and former lover rather than a desire for more. Admittedly, his own feelings for Vicki went along the same lines. She was vibrant and strong like an Amazon warrior from mythology, so it was little wonder he loved to draw her as such in his graphic novels. He loved her strength of mind and purpose even when it went against all common sense and good reason. She was one of those rare humans who accepted him for what he was, and whom he could call his friend, and he had put his immortal life on the line at least once or twice to save her, but beyond that his feelings for her were Platonic. Friends to the bitter end. Whereas his feelings for Mike were far different - stronger, and deeper - which was another reason why he had wanted Vicki as far away from Toronto as possible.

He feared for Mike.

Keeping his true feelings hidden from Vicki, and especially from Mike, had come easy to the vampire. After almost five hundred years the line between the sexes had blurred until Henry saw individuals rather than their genders. He had experimented too many times to retain any particular preferences, falling in lust with men as well as women equally. He drank from both sexes, but even in this more liberated age he still played it safe and did not bring men back to his apartment. Only decades earlier - practically a blink in time to him - he could have faced disaster if anyone had reported his dalliances with other males.

He had wanted Mike from the moment he first saw him. Tall, blond, and broad shouldered with a chiseled jaw, and deep blue eyes. It was lust on first sight that slowly changed and deepened as he came to know Mike through his interactions with Vicki. He had noticed Mike sizing him up several times but had no reason to believe Mike saw anything other than a rival for Vicki's affection, especially as Mike and Vicki had history. Perhaps not as long and varied as his own but they had a bond that could not be broken easily, so Henry had kept Mike at arm's length with barbed comments and insults, deliberately pushing the man away.

That final day when Mike asked for his help, willing to lower his guard completely so Henry could pull on the threads left behind by Astaroth and find the missing child, Henry learned his feelings for Mike were reciprocated, though Mike had tried hard to deny those desires, burying them deep. It was a sobering moment to discover he was not only trusted but also loved, and it made Henry love Mike all the more, which ultimately led to the reason why Henry had asked Vicki to leave with him.

Vicki was not the only one who wanted Mike to have that 'one human lifetime', lived to the fullest, but in his heart he knew Mike's proximity to Vicki would eventually get him killed, or worse, and Henry truly didn't want to be around when that happened. Perhaps that made him a coward but he hadn't survived almost five hundred years by taking unnecessary chances with his otherwise immortal life... or with his heart. Staying close to Mike would put both his life and heart at risk because he would never be able to stand by or walk away if Mike was in danger.

Vancouver was over two thousand miles away, and Henry felt the ache of every mile separating him from the others, especially when he learned Mike had gone missing.

"Perhaps I should have asked Mike to leave with me," he murmured, but Mike was as stubborn as Vicki even though he had nothing to lose by leaving, having been suspended from duty indefinitely despite finding the abducted child.

Going back to Toronto was a risk because its new vampire 'owner' would scent Henry and move to defend the territory to true death, and Henry wasn't ready to give up his immortal existence just yet, or to take that from another. Yet he could not sit in his ivory tower in Vancouver knowing the greatest love of his 470 years of life was being held captive by Astaroth and his demons, possibly... likely being tortured. He knew he would be able to find Mike even in a city of millions, seeking his unique scent on the air, forever a part of him from the blood he had drunk so deeply that one time.

He had made himself a promise to walk away and never look back but memories of Mike turned his head and thoughts. Rare moments of true camaraderie, the feel of Mike pressed against him after he had taken his blood that one time, the slide of Mike's thoughts within his own as he sought out the memories planted by Astaroth.

With an exasperated sigh Henry raced off, charting a private plane and arriving back in Toronto before half the night had passed. He let his senses stretch out across the city, honing in on the unique scent of Mike Celluci and letting it guide him onward. At the edges of his senses he could also scent the other vampire and he hoped he could persuade he or she to give him just this one night, with a promise to be miles from the city by the time the first rays of the sun hit the tallest towers. He knew he was gambling with his life, especially if he did not reach a safe place to hide away and sleep before the sun rose.

Henry moved across the city, cursing as the scent of the other vampire grew stronger, aware he or she had registered his presence quickly and was already heading his way. Now it was a race against time to find Mike before the other vampire found him. He recognized the area, recalling the disused church where he'd been held captive by Mendoza. Could it be that easy?

Memories assailed him as he entered the old church, moving swiftly towards the basement area where he'd been held captive, drained of his blood so a different kind of bloodsucker could seek and find immortality. He could feel the presence of evil mingled with the almost overpowering scent of Mike's blood. He girded himself for what he would find behind the final door, crashing it inwards with a single shove, and inhaling sharply at the sight that met his eyes.

Mike was seated in the center of the room, bound and naked. The floor had been swept clean and marked with various dark magic symbols but now it was splattered in blood seeping from the many wounds across Mike's body. His face was swollen, almost unrecognizable but there was no doubt in Henry's mind that this was Mike. Henry moved swiftly, attacking the lesser demons and human servants guarding Astaroth's prize, slaying them with a steel blade blessed by a Holy Man two centuries ago. He cut Mike's bonds and pulled him over his shoulders with ease, once more grateful to his supernatural strength, but as he stepped outside the church the scent of the other vampire had him dropping Mike and spinning to face his new rival.

Henry raised his hands in a placating gesture. "I have no intention of challenging you. I have what I came here for..."He glanced down. "This human. Let me take him and go. You have my word I will leave your city immediately."

"And why should I trust you, Henry Fitzroy."

"Because my word is my bond, and I have never broken it in all my 470 years of immortal life."

The other vampire pondered on this for a moment. "One hour. If you are not beyond the city limits by then I will hunt you down and kill you."

Henry nodded graciously, swooped to pick up Mike, and raced away before the other vampire could change his mind. Henry moved swiftly through the city, wishing he could stop and seek medical help for Mike at a human hospital but Astaroth's minions would find him too quickly. Instead Henry realized he would have to call upon an old friend instead, a medical doctor who knew Henry was a vampire, and who lived just outside the city. It was a risk as he had not seen this old friend in over two decades and much could have changed between them in that time, but Henry felt he had little choice.

"Henry? Is that you? Oh my! What happened?"

"David, old friend. I need your assistance."

"Come in! Quickly! The night's already half over." David ordered, glancing up at the sky.

Henry needed no warning that sunrise was little more than an hour away as he could feel it deep in his bones and blood after racing against so many sunrises in his long life.

David rushed around the room ensuring the thick drapes were in place to protect Henry from sunlight before moving aside an ornate centerpiece on the dining table and covering it in a white sheet before Henry carefully laid Mike down. Henry stood back as David looked over Mike carefully, assessing the wounds.

"I'm afraid my doctoring skills are a little rusty," he murmured. "I retired from my practice almost ten years ago." He hummed a few times then looked up. The brightness of his brown eyes had not dimmed with age but his once jet black hair had turned white, his strong limbs and back bowed with age and his agile hands showed liver spots of age. "This man needs a hospital."

"If I take him there they will find him."

"They?" David stared hard at Henry for a moment before nodding when he realized Henry would not reveal any more details. "I'll fetch my bag and see what I can do." He studied Henry for a moment. "You haven't changed at all... obviously." He cleared his throat while Henry smiled back at him weakly.

This was the reason why he rarely went back to visit old friends even though he cared for them deeply. He had watched too many grow old and die, and in those last days as their lives drew to a close some became bitter, or resentful, or simply desperate to live on, begging for the change. Henry had sired only one other in his long life, unintentionally, and he had seen her die at the hands of Mendoza just weeks earlier. As much as he relished his long existence there had been many times when he had lived in fear and poverty, hunted and tortured when captured. He had learned how to hide valuables that could be sold - precious metals, art - and took time to study all the changes in the modern age. All of this he had to do alone, unable to call upon his own kind for assistance without the territorial instincts bringing out the worst of their vampiric nature. He could not subject another to that life no matter how much he wanted them to live.

David worked quietly and methodically while Henry watched, assisting when required. Henry didn't need to be a doctor to make his own assessment of Mike's condition but David updated him nonetheless.

"Mostly superficial but he's lost a lot of blood. I can suture a few of the deeper cuts, but he needs a transfusion. He's fortunate not to have internal injuries. Whoever worked him over was careful in that respect."

"They didn't want him dead." Henry grimaced, recalling Mendoza, a master torturer, who knew how to inflict the maximum amount of pain with the minimum amount of damage. "If I obtain the blood, can you set it up?"

"You'll compel someone?"

Henry smiled. "No need. There is a blood bank only a few miles from here. I'll steal it."

David nodded. "There's less than an hour till dawn."

"I'll be back soon."

'Cold and Dead' blood was no good for Henry but he had made a note of blood banks close to the city just in case of a 'feeding accident' where he took too much from someone. He had almost made use of one before after he drank deep from Mike following the Mendoza incident. Henry returned just within the hour after leaving a message for Vicki, letting her know Mike was safe with him. The heaviness of a new day pulled at his senses as he handed over six bags of 'O' Negative.

"There's a couch in the den. The drapes are thick and you can lock the door from the inside. Go now. Sleep. I'll look after your... friend."

Henry reached out and touched David's shoulder. "Thank you."

He barely managed to lock the door behind him and reach the couch before the lethargy of the day stole over him, and he fell headlong into a dreamless sleep.

****

Henry's eyes snapped open once the sun set, and memories of the previous night came flooding back to him. Swiftly he moved back to the dining room but Mike was no longer there. He could scent him still in his house and followed this invisible trail up the stairs to a bedroom leading off the upstairs hallway, wary because he could not imagine his friend, frail with age, carrying the 'dead' weight of Mike Celluci up a flight of stairs alone. He listened hard but could hear only two hearts beating - Mike's and David's.

Mike was lying on the bed with marks from numerous cuts and bruises standing livid against his too pale skin, while David was slumped in a chair beside the bed, head drooped in slumber. Henry knelt before his old friend and reached up gently, waking him.

"Henry! Is it night already?"

Henry smiled and ignored the rhetoric question. "How is he?" he asked, indicating towards the bed.

"Holding his own." He indicated towards Mike. "What happened to him?"

"Hell on Earth," Henry replied with a sigh, finally relenting. "A demon set loose in the city is trying to persuade a person of joint acquaintance to open the doors of Hell for all the rest of its kind."

David looked alarmed. "Can you stop it? The demon?"

"I don't know." A third heart beat registered downstairs. "Someone else is here."

"Markus is here. Do you remember my son? He helped me carry your friend upstairs."

Henry recalled a boy of seven or eight but it still left him feeling uneasy. The less people who knew of his presence, the safer for all of them.

"When can he be moved?" Henry indicated towards Mike.

"Not tonight. Tomorrow night."

David seemed nervous and this increased as the night progressed until Henry decided to act. He hated using compulsion on an old friend but something was wrong and Henry didn't want to wait until the trap was sprung before acting. He made David stare into his eyes.

"David, tell me why you are nervous."

David's eyes glazed a little. "Markus means well but I fear he has made a grave mistake. Someone came to him, promising him such things if we keep you here one more full night."

Henry stepped back, leaving David shaking off the effects of the hypnotism. He allowed the touch when David reached out gently. "I'm sorry... but please don't hurt my son."

"Then help me prepare him for travel," he indicated towards the bed. "Now."

David nodded.

"I'm afraid I can't let you go." So caught up in finding the truth, Henry had not heard the approaching human. "Astaroth has promised me a fortune if I hand you over to him, along with that one."

Henry sighed. "I cannot allow that." With supernatural speed Henry ripped the gun from Markus's hand and knocked the man unconscious. He heard David cry out and rush towards his fallen son. "He's alive, I promise you, but if you want him to stay that way then you must help me leave here now."

David nodded and carried the blood transfusion bag high as Henry gently lifted Mike and carried him like a small child from the house to a car Henry had acquired last evening in readiness, knowing he could not risk chartering another plane, and he would not be able to carry Mike all the way back to Vancouver. Heading west meant he had more time before the sun rose on a new day and Henry planned to be in a safe house hundreds of miles away from Toronto by then. After settling Mike into the back seat, hanging the blood bag from the jacket hook above the rear door, he turned back to David. Time was of the essence but he knew he would never meet this old friend again.

Henry leaned in and kissed David softly on the cheek. "Goodbye, my old friend. Remember... if there is a hell then there is also a heaven."

Henry allowed the hug and then pulled away, quickly getting behind the steering wheel and gunning the engine. He didn't look back as he left that part of his life behind forever.

****

Many miles later, movement in the rear-view mirror merely confirmed what Henry already knew. Mike was awake.

"Michael. It's Henry. You're safe."

He glanced back as Mike straightened, pulling himself up to a seated position gingerly. He heard the in-drawn pain-filled hiss.

"Henry? Who are you? And where am I? Where are you taking me?"

Henry registered the fear in Mike's voice and pulled over, moving swiftly to the back of the car. He and David had speculated on the possibility of the beating and torture causing head trauma but Henry had to wait until Mike awoke before he could assess any damage. Now he had his answer. He was tempted to leave Mike in blissful ignorance but he could feel Mike's increasing fear and agitation, fearing not knowing would be even more damaging. Henry grabbed hold of Mike's broad shoulders and forced him to look at him. He lowered his voice to an hypnotic timbre, calm and steady.

"Michael Celluci. I am Henry Fitzroy. Remember me."

The fear faded into confusion as Mike tilted his head a little, looking deeper into Henry's eyes. Henry could feel the memories bubbling up from the depths of Mike's mind, flashes of moments, of anger and guilt, redemption, annoyance, pleasure, and pain. He felt Mike's guilt for handing him over to Mendoza, and his relief on getting him back alive. He felt pain on overhearing Henry ask Vicki to come away with him, and sadness, grief at losing him. He saw the moment Mike realized he was in love with a vampire - with Henry - rather than with Vicki.

Mike sank back against the seat and gasped softly as all his memories slid back into place. Henry saw his final memories, of Astaroth's minions attacking him in Henry's now empty penthouse apartment, beating him down, and then nothing until he awoke to excruciating pain as they tortured him at the old church.

"Henry. What happened? Last thing I remember is Astaroth's goons carving into me."

"Those particular goons won't be carving into anyone else."

"Vicki?!"

Henry smiled wryly. "Is safer with you far away from her. They were using you to get to her."

Mike nodded, speaking carefully. "I know. They never asked me a single question." His face was heavily bruised, one eye swollen shut, and his lower lip split. "Where are we, and where are we going?"

"Lake Superior... and Vancouver."

He tensed upright. "What! We have to go back. Vicki-."

"Can handle herself if she's not worrying over you." Henry sighed. "And I cannot go back. Another vampire lives in Toronto, and he won't be so forgiving of my trespassing next time."

Henry watched Mike sink back against the seat, too exhausted and injured to argue.

"I never wanted you to leave," Mike whispered, his voice easily carrying to vampire ears. "I overheard you asking Vicki to leave with you. I know you wanted her."

"No. Not Vicki." Henry knew it was time for honesty between them. "I wanted you... to be safe. I wanted you to live your life to the fullest, to be happy. To find a mate and have a family, and all the normal things humans can have that are denied to my kind."

"Do I look like the family type? I should have said to hell with it and kissed you," he stated with a bitter laugh.

Henry smiled. "That would have been interesting."

"Only interesting?"

Henry smiled broadly but didn't answer. Instead he asked if Mike wanted to move to the passenger seat or stay in the back, not surprised by the answer. He helped Mike settle in the front seat and took to the driver's seat once more, turning his attention back to the road ahead. Unlike humans he had no need to stop for rest, driving through the remainder of the night tirelessly and in a strangely companionable silence with the radio playing softly in the background.

The safe house was a single-story Hunter's lodge built over a hundred years earlier, several miles from the nearest small town, hidden along the edge of Lake Superior. They reached it an hour before dawn and Henry spent the time settling in Mike for the long day ahead, checking on his stitches, and changing his bandages. Mike no longer needed the blood transfusion, just something wholesome to eat so Henry went out and brought back groceries and Mike's favorite takeaway, figuring pizza was better than nothing.

A concealed hatchway led to a hidden root cellar that Henry had set up as a comfortable den decades earlier and periodically checked. He had spent a few days here after leaving Toronto, cleaning it up, and was now glad he had put in the effort. It smelled a little musty but not too bad considering some of the places he'd been forced to hide in over the centuries. Henry sealed the hatch from beneath and laid down on the comfortable bed, falling asleep as the sun rose outside.

***

When he went back upstairs after the sun had set he found Mike sitting on the porch with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, reading a book by the light of a lamp. The aroma of coffee assailed Henry's senses, and he quietly leaned against the door frame, watching Mike in soft appreciation while waiting to be noticed.

"Are you going to just stand there and stare?"

Henry smiled as Mike turned his head to face him, forgetting how astute Mike could be from his years as a Homicide detective.

"If I had pen and paper to hand I would be sketching you right now."

"Hardly looking my best."

"It adds character," he replied with a smile, knowing he would not be able to resist using this mental image in one of his comic panels even though he hated that it was real rather than imaginary.

Mike put down the book and looked at him through one eye, though Henry noticed the swelling had started to reduce, leaving his skin a mottled green and black. "Part of me wishes you hadn't made me remember. I could have walked away from that life in true ignorance."

"But the rest of you knows it was the right choice. You would never have been happy not knowing. It's not in your nature."

Mike sighed, laughing in self-deprecation. "Yeah. We can't all run away from what's happened."

Henry knew it was a jab at him for leaving Toronto and he refused to take the bait. "Can't we?"

"Astaroth's power will spread. Hell on earth, rivers of blood, fire and brimstone. You said it." He straightened. "We have to stop him."

Henry looked away across the lake, feeling the beauty of this peaceful place, far from prying human eyes and mortal conflicts.

"I know, but not here. Not now. Last time I beat him only because he was not fully into this world. I severed the connection by destroying the portal, and sent him back to hell where he belonged, and he promised his revenge on me." Henry shrugged. "He's here now but he still needs Vicki to open the portal for the rest of them. We need to find another way to stop him."

"And you're telling me in all your 470 years you've never come across anything? No Hocus Pocus, or religious ritual?"

"I've already made one mistake with Father Cascioli, and against my own better judgement I offered to use all my resources to keep Vicki out of his hands. She's already felt the immense power he's offering. She used it once to save Coreen's life and she would have used it again to save you when they killed you in front of her. I have thwarted his plan for now. It's all I can do to help her in this fight."

"It's not enough."

"For now it has to be enough."

They both fell silent, letting to sounds of the night air fill the void.

"You can't keep me safe any more than you could keep Vicki safe," Mike murmured eventually. "I have to go back. She needs me. She needs both of us."

"I cannot go back to Toronto. I signed over the city to another, and I am not prepared to kill one of my own kind just to regain the city."

Mike nodded. "Then let me persuade Vicki to leave Toronto."

"Astaroth will follow her."

"That's the plan. Well... part of it," Mike added. "We just need to figure out how to send him back to hell."

Henry sighed loudly. "There could be a way."

"I knew it," Mike stated triumphantly.

"It's a long shot," Henry added, slightly sick at heart because it would require a great sacrifice.

It was a prophecy thousands of years old, of undead warriors, loved and beloved of each other, uniting to vanquish demons. Michael and him. Vampires. The sacrifice would be knowing they had only a year at most before their vampire natures tore them apart forever, and Henry's heart was already breaking from the knowledge.

Mike smiled crookedly as Henry explained, understanding the sacrifice but Henry could see determination and acceptance. "And how long would we have together if we did nothing? A month? A week? Just a few days before Astaroth finds and kills us both or uses one or both of us to take Vicki over completely? I trust you, Henry. I love you... but you already know that."

Henry leaned in and gently stroked his hand down Mike's still swollen face, following through with the lightest press of his lips on Mike's. It was a kiss full of promise, full of love, hot yet bittersweet for the trials ahead of them. Henry felt the pressure as Mike responded, taking Mike's outstretched hand, and allowing Mike to lead them back inside to the bedroom hidden beneath the lodge. When the sun rose tomorrow Mike would sleep beside him and tomorrow night when they awoke after the sun had set they would draw up their battle plan to bring Astaroth's reign of terror to an end before it truly began; to delay hell on earth until true Judgment Day.

***

Epilogue:

Together they destroyed Astaroth's plans for bringing hell to earth, releasing Vicki from the demon's curse, and slamming shut the doors to hell - at least for now.

Henry knew it would take a miracle to still have Michael by his side in all ways a year from the day he turned him. Yet as the months passed he waited to feel the growing urge to push Mike away but it never came. Eight months. Nine. Ten. A full year passed and Mike was still lying in his arms as they slept away the daylight hours, and each night they ran together, played, fed, and loved. When more months passed with no sign of the vampire curse tearing them apart, Henry began to hope. After a decade he stopped worrying. More decades later, they consoled each other as they buried Vicki - who had grown old having lived a full and mostly happy existence with Coreen by her side. Henry no longer dwelled on the vampire curse except when they occasionally crossed the path of other vampires, only to discover those vampires were still ruled by their aggressive nature towards others of their kind.

Their continuing love defied explanation.

Both had been prepared to sacrifice their love to save the world from Astaroth, but if there was a hell then Henry knew there must also be a heaven. Perhaps some higher authority had acknowledged their willing sacrifice, gifting them with what they had expected to lose. Or perhaps the Holy fight against Astaroth had changed them in some way. Whatever the case, some natural or supernatural force was holding the aggression at bay, and each night as Henry caressed and kissed his lover and beloved of so many years, he gave silent thanks.

END