Once inside his car, Mike slumped over, forehead pressed against the cool steering wheel. His final words to Vicki reverberated around his head, filled with bitterness but without regret. They had been more than partners once. When Vicki began to lose her sight he hadn't expected her to push everyone away, including him, and he had spent a year trying to get over her after she broke off their affair.
Almost a year ago to the day, she had resigned from the police force and started up a detective agency rather than spend the rest of her career desk bound due to her failing eye sight. Not seeing her every single day had made it a little easier on him and he should have left it at that. He should have moved on, but working side-by-side with her again on her freaky cases had brought back memories of that former closeness - and finding her drawn to someone else had hurt. He had wanted to win her back so badly, especially as this other man was not even human. Instead, she had drawn Mike into a dark world where everything he had once known had been turned on its head, and demons lurked in every shadow. He couldn't even pretend those demons were just a figment of his imagination any more because he had seen too much since Vicki reeled him in on that first savage murder. Now he believed in demons and things that went bump in the night. He believed in the boogie man, in monsters under the bed... and in vampires.
Earlier, while he was alone watching over Coreen, the demon possessing her body had taunted him with the truth, that he had nothing to offer Vicki beyond the ability to get a suntan. He had no money, no royal connections, no sexy vampire charisma, no youthful immortality, and now he may not even have a job if he couldn't convince Crowley to reinstate him despite Vicki's insistence that Crowley couldn't fire him without a review. Vicki had seemed regretful over his job at least but regret was not going to pay the rent on his small apartment or put food on the table while he was on suspension. It was not like he could simply wander out into the night to grab a quick bite to eat for free like Henry Fitzroy.
He laughed bitterly at the image of himself as a vampire and pushed back from the steering wheel, sighing raggedly as the thought brought back memories that he had tried to suppress. Mike rubbed one hand over the side of his neck, remembering the day Henry fed off him. Damn, but it had hurt at first, but the pain had faded quickly, replaced with a deep desire that still embarrassed him to this day. If he'd not had several pints of blood sucked out of him in seconds then he would have been so achingly hard for Henry. Instead, he had felt all the need and lust without the physical manifestation, and by the time Vicki had convinced Henry to stop feeding, even the lust had faded, lost in the lethargy of blood loss.
Mike wondered if Vicki felt it too when Henry fed from her. If she did then it was inevitable that she would choose Henry over him, for in all his and Vicki's time together as partners and then as lovers, Mike had never once felt that all-consuming lust for her, and though it pained him to admit it, she had never felt that with him. They had been comfortable together like a long-married couple, used to watching each other's backs and working together. Sex and love had just been an even deeper, more personal extension of their working partnership.
With his eyes no longer blinded by want, Mike could now see the cracks in their relationship; the cracks that made it easy for her to leave him behind that first time. They had been good together once, but over this last year she had used that former closeness and partnership to her own advantage. Hindsight was a bitch, and he now saw himself through the eyes of his new partner, Kate, and through Crowley's eyes. He had let Vicki lead him around by the balls, putting him in so many awkward positions where he could not reveal his sources or even the truth without coming across as delusional or insane. He had fudged case files to hide the supernatural element, preferring to add a file to the cold case pile rather than admit that the killer was a demon sent back to hell. He'd even destroyed evidence to conceal the dark nature of a crime, kicking a mummified body of a girl to dust, thereby denying one family the peace of closure for their murdered loved one.
He sighed, suddenly feeling beyond simple tiredness to a bone-deep weariness.
At least one family had been reunited tonight. The demon, Astaroth, had not lied about where to find the kidnapped girl, though it had taken Henry's mental command for him to remember to draw that information back from the deeper recesses of Mike's mind. Coreen was alive with her heart back in her body where it belonged rather than suspended eerily, still beating, in locker 666 at the bus station. Astaroth had walked away, possessing the priest who should have been exorcising the demon back to hell where it belonged - and even Henry would be gone by now. Mike had heard enough of the conversation to learn of Henry's intention to leave Toronto.
Except, Mike had no idea where that left him.
Perhaps losing everything was the price he had to pay for all he had seen and done over this past year and perhaps like Henry, he needed to distance himself from this city, and from Vicki and the dark forces drawn to her. It didn't even matter that Mike had heard Vicki tell Henry that she couldn't leave Toronto with him. She had chosen him over Henry, and yet he knew from the despair in her voice that she had wanted more than anything to say yes to Henry. In that moment, he had realized that whatever it was that he and Vicki had once shared, it could never be regained no matter how much either of them might want it.
This past year had changed both of them too much.
His sister had moved to Vancouver earlier this year, and it seemed as good a place as any to start afresh with his life. Perhaps if he promised to put in a transfer to the Vancouver P.D., then Crowley would take pity on him and reinstate him just to get rid of him easily. It was worth a shot.
With a heavy heart, he turned the ignition key and pulled away, refusing to look back.
Henry watched from the shadows as Mike started the car and pulled away. Since the beginning of his turbulent relationship with the detective he had wondered what Vicki saw in Mike Celluci. Until recently, he had convinced himself that Mike was nothing special. Just an average man, average detective, average intelligence... average. He had tasted him once and apart from the lust that always consumed him when he fed on a human, even Celluci's blood had been average; not a rare blood type or spiced with good food and wine to make it more interesting. Yet he had still seen Celluci as his greatest rival for Vicki's affection right from the start, and had treated him as such.
He had been right.
Vicki's parting words to him had stung. Perhaps he did have forty life times ahead of him but just like Celluci, he had only the span of a single human life to be with her, and then she would be gone forever. Yet what had stung most was that he thought she understood how lonely his life had been as he watched those he had come to love grow old and die, over and over. He could not even make an immortal companion for himself as the vampire curse would set them against one another, tearing them apart. Admittedly, he might find another person to love even within her life span, but the same could be said of Celluci too.
Henry was surprised by the pang of dismay at the thought of Celluci finding someone else, and yet strangely it was not for Vicki's loss. Since the incident with Mendoza and the iluminación del sol device used to keep him under Mendoza's control, Celluci had lost some of his animosity and fear of Henry. He was still acerbic on occasion, but without the malice that had existed before. He had even put aside his anger at being vamped by Henry, asking Henry to manipulate him mentally for a noble cause - saving the life of a young, kidnapped girl.
Yet this was the Mike Celluci that Henry had slowly come to know. Celluci was still an average human male, but one who had a streak of nobility and a deep well of compassion for others; a man who had stood his ground against demons even when he could barely believe what was happening right before his eyes. In hindsight, it was easy to see how the rivalry between them over Vicki had kept Henry from looking closer at the man behind the detective shield - and behind Vicki's affection.
His thoughts went back to Vicki's words. Forty life times ahead of him. Yet, even with almost five hundred years of existence behind him, Henry had still not managed to understand the difference between loving and being in love - until it was too late. He loved her. He would never deny that, but now he realized he wasn't in love with her, just drawn to her strength and courage.
With his eyes no longer blinded by the notion of being in love with her, he also realized that Vicki was just as oblivious about love as him. He had no doubt in his mind that she loved him in return but, again, it was not in the way he thought he wanted. She wasn't in love with him, and though she didn't realize it yet, she wasn't in love with Mike either. She was in love with Coreen.
Demons lied or withheld the whole truth, and Astaroth had allowed them to find Coreen's heart and to put it back into her body, but he had never said that he would let her heart continue to beat inside her. Instead, he had given Vicki the power to either send him back to Hell or to bring Coreen back from the dead. He had chosen his victim well. Despite knowing what evil she would be unleashing upon the world, sending it into chaos and darkness and possibly causing the suffering of every living person on the planet, Vicki had chosen to save Coreen.
As much as he wanted to, Henry couldn't save Vicki from herself. Only she could turn away from the path she had chosen by using Astaroth's dark power to save Coreen. In some ways, his presence merely muddied the water for Vicki, and eventually she would come to hate him for it. With him gone, perhaps she would stop relying on him to rectify all her mistakes and protect her from all the demons drawn to her. Perhaps she would regain the strength that had drawn him to her in the first place.
As he walked away into the darkness of the night, his mind turned to the work ahead of him. By now Augustus would have started to negotiate with the vampire residing in the Vancouver area to offer him or her inducements to move on. If they were still too attached to the life they had made there then Augustus would move on to Henry's second choice of Seattle, but Augustus anticipated a successful negotiation. Whatever the outcome, Henry knew it was time to move on, even though it was hard to leave Vicki without his protection. However, she had made her choice by saving Coreen, and they all had to live with the consequences of her most recent words and actions.
Back in his penthouse, he stared around the place he had called home for a number of years. Reverently, he touched the drawing board displaying the panels for his latest graphic novel. At least he did not need to leave this passion behind so soon for only a few from the world of graphic novels had seen his face. He would simply retire from the public eye and focus on his art. Carefully, he gathered up his work and prepared to leave Toronto, aware that he would not return to this city for decades, perhaps centuries.
Three Months Later:
The squad room was filled with the usual crowd of Saturday night drunks, whores and Johns. Some of them were even starting to get familiar over these past two months since starting with the Vancouver police department. He knew he would have to work his way back up to Homicide - if he even wanted it - but at least he still had a job. Crowley had given him back his badge and gun after he convinced her that his transfer request would be on her desk by the morning. The only good outcome from the whole sordid incident was her determination to expedite his transfer, which was how he ended up working Vice in Vancouver.
This time he was determined not to mix his working relationships and love life.
In the past he might have convinced himself that gender played a strong role in his choice of lover, that he was only attracted to females, but even after three months he had still not managed to shake his feelings for Henry. That revelation had shattered his previous convictions, making him far more aware of the people around him - both male and female. Fortunately, it helped that his new partner, Larkham, was almost as sleazy as some of the pimps they brought in from time to time, leaving little chance of him falling in love with or even enjoying free time with him. They had nothing in common beyond the job so Mike would not be seeing a repeat performance of his affair with Vicki Nelson anytime soon, and that was definitely for the best.
Henry was different. The vampire still haunted his dreams, and though it pained him to admit it, the lure had been there from their first meeting. At the time it had been overshadowed by macho posturing and his possessiveness over Vicki, but saying goodbye to Vicki had set him free in that respect. Now he could no longer deny the attraction.
"Hey, Celluci! Next time I want to see you in a dress! Blue I think, to match the color of your pretty eyes."
"Don't have the legs for it...unlike you, Mancosi," Mike retorted, gaining a series of wolf whistles for the other officer as Mancosi showed a little more hairy thigh beneath man-size, sheer stockings. Mike laughed as Mancosi adjusted his package and then his fake breasts before blowing a kiss in Mike's direction.
Tonight's chaos was the result of a take-down operation in a seedier part of the city, and Mike had to admit that some of his male colleagues in Vice looked spectacular dressed as transvestite hookers or rent boys. It always amazed Mike that they picked up just as many customers as the real prostitutes and female undercover cops, but then most Johns were looking for something they couldn't have in their normal lives for various reasons; old guys paying for kids who were barely into their teens, bored husbands or housewives looking for something more exciting between the sheets, and even those who hid behind the heterosexuality of their marriage, looking for what they really needed to make them feel alive. Apart from the pedophiles, Mike actually felt sorry for the majority of Johns and Janes swept up in these operations. Most had the wild, cornered-animal stare, seeing their lives falling to pieces right in front of them as an officer took down all their details.
He sighed. Most of the first time offenders would get off with a slapped wrist and a fine. Some would be model citizens from this point onwards, but others would be back eventually, once the lure of excitement or the need for bought companionship of a different kind overpowered the fear of being caught a second time.
Those caught a second time would not wriggle away so easily. The worst offenders, though, were the pedophiles that sought out vulnerable youngsters, mostly runaways lured into the underbelly of street life after being promised some place warm to stay when they stepped off the bus.
A number of prostitutes had also been picked up in tonight's operation. The pimps would post bail for the adults pulled in tonight, but no pimp was going to admit to having children in his or her stable. The kids would end up in a care facility until they could be sent back to their parents. Some would run away again, ending back on the streets selling their young bodies for drugs and another person's profit. Sadly, it was a vicious cycle of destruction that needed no demons beyond human greed and depravity, but it made a change from dealing with the supernatural element.
Larkham leaned over Mike's shoulder as he tapped in the final details of the sobbing woman sitting beside his desk.
"You ready to go back out?"
Looking up, Mike sighed, grateful that he hadn't drawn the short straw this time around. Not that he wouldn't have made a stunning hooker judging by some of the others dressed up or brought in tonight. "Just let me finish with this one." He waved towards the duty sergeant and watched as the woman was led away to a holding area until her husband or sister or whoever bailed her out. He was losing track now. "Okay. Let's go."
Mike pushed up from his seat and led the way back out onto the streets. As they drove through the back streets, he noticed a distinct decline in the number of cars curb crawling. The number of hookers and rent boys had also been reduced to a few who were either too brave, too stupid or too desperate to call it quits for the night.
"Hey stop!" Larkham called, slapping Mike on the forearm. "I thought I saw something in that alley."
Mike pulled over and together they made their way into the darkness between the buildings, half expecting to find some hooker meeting a client's needs in the shadows. It wouldn't be the first time he'd seen a rent boy on his knees sucking cock or braced against the wall while a John fucked him. Something caught Mike's eye and he stopped to investigate, grimacing in disgust as he pulled aside a piece of cardboard covered in a strange slimy residue. Beneath the covering was something that looked suspiciously like a body. He stepped back, feeling a sense of dread dance along his spine, raising the hair at the nape of his neck; he looked along the length of the alley.
"Larkham! I've found something... hinky. I'm calling it in."
Larkham waved a hand, intent on something in the deeper shadows of the alley. That feeling of dread doubled, and Mike found himself reaching for both the radio and his gun at the same time.
"Dispatch, this is Detective Celluci. I need back up in the alley between the Tattoo store and the sandwich bar on-."
The body slamming into him from behind sent him sprawling face first into the ground, his head striking the ground painfully. The radio clattered onto the litter-strewn concrete but, somehow, he managed to keep a hold on his gun. Dazed, Mike rolled onto his back, throwing his assailant off him at the same time, and brought his gun to bear only to come face-to-face with something that was more inhuman looking than a vamped-out Henry. Red eyes glowed and sharp teeth snapped at him. He cried out as claws raked down his arm, the gun skittering along the concrete as it was smacked from his hand. In the distance he could hear a yell and knew it was his partner. The creature leaped up and hurled itself at Larkham, snarling and growling. With his vision dancing in and out, it was difficult for Mike to make out what form the demon had taken - animal or human, or both - but he knew it could feel pain, seeing it flinch as Larkham emptied two rounds into it before it disappeared into the shadows.
Larkham dropped down beside Mike, tearing off his jacket and using it as a compression bandage against the deep gashes along Mike's arm. The sound of approaching sirens was sweet music to Mike's ears, and he fell unconscious as red and blue lights lit up the alleyway like a night club.
Although he was the illegitimate offspring of one of his father's not-so-secret affairs, Henry had learned the art of war from the cradle, raised like a prince in his father's castle in Yorkshire and bestowed the title of 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset among others. Had he not met Christina and fallen in love with her, then he might have one day become King. Certainly, for all his faults, his father had loved him once and had favored him over his half-sisters, planning changes to the laws of succession that would have given him the legitimacy needed to be proclaimed next in line for the throne should his sickly half-brother succumb to his poor health.
Out of love, his father had ordered Henry to his inner court at St. James's Palace, wanting to protect Henry from another minor outbreak of the English sweating sickness that had already ravaged the country four times in less than half a century. It was there that he met Christina in his seventeenth year, and had walked away from court life willingly. The rumors of his death from consumption or from the sweating sickness had been grossly exaggerated. Instead the paleness of his skin was the result of Christina feeding on him and her eventual agreement to turn him. Once his father had learned the truth, he had ordered his men to bury Henry in a pine box in an unmarked grave, leaving him to suffer for weeks, buried alive and living off the meager blood of insects and burrowing creatures until the pine rotted and he managed to claw his way out.
Eventually he had been reunited with his beloved Christina - until the territorial instinct of vampires overpowered even love.
It had taken him centuries to forgive his father.
He had aged almost two years for every century of his unnatural life, belying the romantic notion that vampires were ageless, locked into eternal youth. As he had once told Vicki, so much of vampire lore was hearsay and Hollywood dramatics. Crosses held no fear for him, nor did treading on so-called Holy Ground, or garlic or water blessed by a priest. Deprived of blood he would not die, merely shrivel slowly to a husk until revitalized with fresh human blood, like the mummified remains of that Incan priest that they had fought only months before. Only beheading, ultraviolet light, or the physical destruction of his heart by stake or removal from his body - as he had done to the unwilling newborn vampire, Alexander - could turn him to dust.
And so here he was, almost five centuries after his mortal death, watching the world change around him as he aged slowly.
Henry snarled from his perch on the fire escape overhanging the alleyway. He had caught the scent of a supernatural predator several nights earlier and had been hunting it ever since. He knew it was an ifrit, a shapeshifter, created by Astaroth and sent out to hunt him down, but Henry had never been one to sit around and wait for an attack. What he hadn't expected was to find Mike Celluci lying unconscious in the alleyway below. For a moment he debated on whether to follow the scent of the ifrit but snarled softly again under his breath instead.
Celluci stumbling into the path of an ifrit could be no coincidence - not in a city of this size. It was extremely likely that the creature was hunting both of them, and if not for Celluci's partner distracting it, followed closely by Henry's timely arrival, then it might have accomplished part of its goal. But what Henry really wanted to know was what Celluci was doing here in Vancouver. He thought he had left that part of his life behind him in Toronto, expecting Vicki to win back Celluci's heart and give him the love that she had denied Henry - even if it was just another form of denial on her part. Yet it was obvious from the words filtering up from below that Celluci was not just on loan to the Vancouver police department but was an actual part of the task force currently cracking down on prostitution in this area.
So why was Celluci here? Had he followed Henry to Vancouver, or was it the Fates playing tricks on both of them?
Whatever the cause, they were both living in the same city once more, and despite the blunt words exchanged with Celluci so many months ago, he had told Vicki the truth when he said he did actually like the detective - perhaps far more than he had cared to admit even to himself. Memory of those exact words came back to him.
"You know, I like him. I'm going to regret having to draw him being eaten by Hellhounds."
He'd taken so much glee in putting the likeness of Mike Celluci into his latest graphic novel, not truly regretting the character's violent demise at all until this moment. That novel had hit the comic book stores only a week ago, around the same time that he had first sensed the ifrit in the city.
He recalled the image of the creature that had attacked Celluci; the dark, wolf-like shape, the glowing red eyes and the large, sharp teeth. It was the hellhound from his graphic novel, illustrated by his own hand in all its menacing glory. It had even attacked in the same way, hurtling into Celluci from behind and slashing at his arm. The next panel had seen the hellhound tear the likeness of Celluci to pieces with teeth and claw, and the very thought of it happening in reality sickened Henry. For all the animosity and rivalry between them, he had never truly meant any harm to Celluci, not even after Celluci helped Mendoza capture him using the iluminación del sol device.
He waited and watched as a paramedic prepared Celluci for the journey to the closest hospital even though the scent of his blood was almost intoxicating, overpowering Henry's sensitive sense of smell. His body reacted to the memory of drinking Celluci's blood, not seeming to care that it had tasted decidedly average at the time, little different to most of Henry's victims - both the willing and the unwilling. Yet it was not the taste or scent of blood that surged the distant memory of lust. It was all the rest that he had suppressed since that day: the scent and taste of Celluci's skin, of his fear, and the sharp curse falling from his lips. It was the way the light had caught at the strands of wheat-gold hair, seen through Vampire eyes, and the larger, stronger than human female hands that had reached up to stop him, ineffectively.
If Henry had not already been so enamored with Vicki then he might have fallen more than halfway in love with Mike at that moment. Instead, it had taken until this moment to realize that it was Celluci that he had missed most from that other life, and not Vicki.
The driver slammed the ambulance door closed and moved to the front, quickly backing out of the alley before heading off into the night. Henry resisted the temptation to follow, already feeling the approaching dawn deep in his bones. The ifrit was also a creature of the night so Celluci would be safe during the day anyway. With vampire stealth and speed, Henry moved through the city, entering his new home with barely ten minutes to spare. He had enough time to raise the thick, metal blinds and ensure all was safe before half undressing and lying back on his comfortable bed.
He gasped as the sun rose, robbing him of his undead life.
When he awoke just after the sun set, he lay on his bed for several long minutes simply thinking about the previous night, and the insane revelation that it was Mike Celluci he truly lusted after - perhaps even loved - rather than Vicki Nelson.
Somehow, Henry believed his life was about to get complicated once more.
Mike spent five hours in the hospital before convincing the doctor to let him go, making a promise to head straight home and rest. Reluctantly, the doctor agreed, signing the necessary forms before handing Mike a prescription for pain medication. Larkham was waiting just outside and he didn't take much convincing to head towards the station rather than to Mike's small rented apartment.
"What did you find out?" Mike asked.
"The body in the alley had been liquefied inside. Second strange case this week."
Larkham nodded grimly. "Jackson on Homicide said they'd found a body a few days back that was nothing but skin. All the innards, including the bones, were gone... and they found some of that same slime on it."
A year ago, Mike would have automatically considered corrosive chemicals forced down the victim's throat. Now, his first thought was of some supernatural monster or demon. Certainly, the thing that attacked him could have been a vicious dog made to look supernatural by a trick of the light, but Mike knew better. He had seen through the veil separating the darkness from the rest of the world but he had a feeling that this same veil was shredding due to Astaroth's partial existence on Earth.
Mike felt a stab of guilt, aware that he had turned his back on that particular fight when he walked away from Vicki and his life in Toronto. He had left her alone to defend herself against the demon and its minions, believing that it would not harm her while she was the key to it finding an open door into this world. His own presence would have simply given it more ammunition against Vicki, using him as bait just as it had done with Coreen. Vicki had already revealed that her greatest weakness was her friends.
Stupidly, he had believed that he had seen and done enough, that leaving would give him a chance to forge a new life away from the taint of the darkness drawn to Vicki, but it had followed him here. Or maybe it had always been here but now he saw the world through different eyes. Whatever the case, he suspected that the creature would continue to kill until it was stopped, and it was possible that Mike was the only demon hunter in town, no matter how reluctant he was to go into that underworld again. The major difference this time was that he had no Coreen or Henry to help him.
"Anyway," Larkham continued, "it's not our case. Homicide dived in the moment we reported the body."
"What about the... thing that attacked me?"
"Figured it was just some big dog that got attracted to the body." Mike noticed that Larkham looked away; a sure sign that he was just as unconvinced as Mike. "They've got Animal Control trying to track it down."
Mike had a strong feeling that Animal Control wasn't going to be enough.
Being a cop for so many years meant he was ready to deal with the occasional wardrobe problem. Over the years he had been grazed by a gunshot once, slashed with a knife, had more than one person bleed or throw up over him, and several times he had dirtied or torn some combination of his jacket, coat, shirt and pants chasing down a perp. He kept a spare set of clothes in his locker for emergencies, and he made use of the clean t-shirt and the washroom facilities, wincing as he carefully shrugged out of the slashed and bloodied shirt and suit jacket. Neither was worth repairing. He was glad the night had been so warm that he had left his coat behind or he would have had to replace that too. Instead, he pulled out a spare suit jacket and hoped Larkham didn't make any Miami Vice cracks about his suit and powder-blue t-shirt combination.
"Damn," he murmured as he bundled up his damaged shirt and jacket, and threw both into the trash. "That was a good suit."
Mike returned to the bullpen and settled down behind his desk gingerly, trying not to jar his arm or move his head too much. He still had a massive headache from where his head had slammed into the ground during the attack but at least he'd got off lightly with only a gash and bruising on his forehead as well as some scrapes along his chin. He could easily had broken his nose or cheekbone, and ended up with black eyes too, looking like he'd taken a severe beating.
After fending off the remarks and sympathy from his new police colleagues, Mike switched on his computer and winced at the brightness of the screen, quickly figuring out the light settings to a more manageable level before clicking onto the internet browser. No one disturbed him as he hunted through supernatural and folklore on anything that could be remotely like the creature that had attacked him. The problem turned out to be too much information but he read through Wiki entries and a dozen other websites, making note of names like werewolves, ifrit, djinn. After the third hour, he almost passed one link on ifrit out of fatigue but a name leaped out at the last second and he scrolled back.
"What the hell have you got to do with ifrit?" he murmured as he clicked on the link. "Then again..."
It had led him to the cover of Henry's latest graphic novel and there, in glorious color, was the likeness of Vicki as some warrior princess... and the shadow behind her was of a hellhound. It looked exactly like the creature that had attacked him last night. Mike didn't believe in coincidence. He turned off the computer and pushed up from his chair.
"You okay, Mike?" Larkham set down the case notes from last night's vice operation.
"Head's killing me, and my arm is throbbing. I think I'll take the doc's advice and head home."
"Want me to drop you off?"
"Nah. I'll take a cab... but you can square it with the captain."
"The captain didn't want you back in today in the first place!"
Mike walked away before Larkham could argue further and possibly insist on taking him home, and found a cab almost straight away. The driver looked back at him with interest, eying the bandaged arm and sling.
"Animal attack," Mike replied.
The driver shook his head. "Wouldn't have your job for the world. So where are you headed?"
Mike gave him the address and waited until the cab was moving before making a decision. "Is there a comic book store on the way?"
"Sure. There's one a few blocks from the address you gave."
"Take me there."
The sun had set by the time the cab dropped him off right outside the door, and Mike entered cautiously. He hadn't stepped inside one of these places since he was a kid and a moment of nostalgia struck him the moment he glanced along shelves displaying the bright cartoon-ish images of his youth. Yet it was a completely different image that sent a sensation hitting low in his belly - a poster sized image of Vicki wielding a sword, with the title 'Blood Hunter' emblazoned across the cover. Yet it was Henry's name that made his heart skip a beat, and he reached out to stroke a finger across it like some love struck twelve-year-old before pulling his hand back in annoyance.
He picked up one of the comics from the stand below and flipped through the pages, his breath stopping and heart freezing as he found the panel depicting an image with an uncanny resemblance to himself, being torn apart by a hellhound.
Mike whirled round as Henry's voice drifted over his shoulder. "It cannot be a coincidence."
"You! What are you doing here? I thought you left - "
"I could ask you the same question, Detective Celluci."
The last time Henry had seen Celluci looking so weak and fragile had been the night he had fed off him. Vicki had pushed Mike into his arms and he recalled how Celluci had leaned so heavily on him, making no attempt to pull away even though Henry was responsible for his weakened condition. With his vampire strength, Celluci's weight had been easy to bear. What had made it slightly more difficult was the difference in their heights, for Celluci stood half a head taller than Henry.
Henry smiled wryly in remembrance; he had been considered tall back in his father's court, and in those days, Celluci would have been called a giant.
"You look terrible."
"Thanks," Celluci replied sarcastically, and Henry couldn't help but smile, feeling a tense knot inside him loosen for the first time since leaving Toronto. "Perhaps you can explain why I just got mauled by a Hellhound."
Henry looked around. "Not here. Why don't I take you home, Detective."
"Yours or mine?"
The question stumped Henry for a moment as he had almost forgotten that he was in a new city, living in a new penthouse suite, at an address that no one knew except for him. The last time he had revealed his address to someone who knew what he was, he had ended up with uninvited guests knocking on his door at inconvenient times on too many nights to remember - and eventually with a demon-possessed woman being exorcised on his bed.
He had walked away from Vicki on that last night, grateful that she and Coreen were gone by the time he returned an hour before dawn, otherwise he would have been forced to go to his back-up sanctuary for protection through the coming day. Augustus had worked quickly, and Henry had left Toronto after the following sunset, carrying with him only his most prized possessions. The rest had arrived by expensive courier a few days later.
"Mine," he stated, almost surprising himself at his willingness to go down that same path again.
Celluci looked uncertain but Henry could see he was too tired to argue, gaining a heavy sigh and a slight nod of agreement.
"Probably for the best," Celluci stated cryptically.
Celluci barely looked up when the cab pulled up outside Henry's apartment building, and he didn't seem to be paying any attention when Henry pressed the button for the top floor in the elevator, but Henry knew better. Celluci was far more observant that most gave him credit for, so he smiled when Celluci sank onto the comfortable couch and spoke for the first time since the comic store.
"You seem to like high places." Celluci glanced around with lips curling almost in disdain. "I bet you could fit my entire apartment into this room alone."
Henry smarted a little at Celluci's slightly bitter tone. "I haven't always been so... fortunate."
There had been plenty of times during his long life when he was forced on the run by suspicious townsfolk, and he could still recall the first time his path had crossed with Mendoza during the Spanish Inquisition - leaving him imprisoned and tortured. He had spent one year while the Black Death swept across Europe, being hunted from town to town across Germany by superstitious villagers blaming him as a harbinger of death, seeking shelter in overcrowded crypts each night. He had reeked of the dead, and he could still taste the tainted blood of the dying that he had fed upon in his desperation.
Over the years he had learned to buy art and trinkets cheaply from aspiring, unknown artists, hiding caches of goods around Europe and then America, and waiting for them to increase in value. Selling them at the right time had ensured he would avoid having to face those terrible times too often, but he could never take it for granted.
His greatest fear since Astaroth made his way partially into this world was that, one day, all the riches in the world would be meaningless. He would either be forced to endure the hard years again - or end his long existence by stepping into the sunlight before the shadows completely swallowed the world, plunging it into darkness and decay.
Perhaps he had revealed something in his own tone and words, but Celluci actually looked a little contrite even though he offered no apology.
Henry decided to change the subject. "You must be hungry."
Partially as a cover to keep up the pretense of being human to any prying eyes, Henry regularly ordered and kept fresh food in the kitchen. Most of it ended up in the garbage disposal chute after a few days but, for once, he was glad of that ruse. He quickly prepared something, handing Celluci the plate and watching him as he ate it slowly. Of itself, food and drink held no great pleasure but he had learned to savor the traces of flavorings in the blood he drank. He looked away when he realized he must have been staring, judging by the way Celluci was eyeing him strangely. Leaving Celluci to his sandwich, Henry pulled out the original comic strip panels depicting the Hellhound attack on the character he had based on Celluci.
"It's called an ifrit. A shapechanger demon of Egyptian origin. In its true form it is humanoid, but with wings, and with large horns on its head."
"Also known as a Djinn," Celluci added, and Henry was impressed. "I found it on Wikipedia."
"Not the most trustworthy source of information but I commend your detective skills... Detective."
"I think we're beyond titles... Your Highness."
Henry smiled. "Yes. Yes we are... Mike." He pulled his gaze away from the intense blue of Mike's eyes momentarily. "If Astaroth has set this creature upon us then it will not stop until we are both dead."
"And then what happens?"
"It will be free to rampage through the city without restriction or remorse, killing anything and anyone who crosses its path, and paving the way for Astaroth to send the world into darkness. It is his equivalent of the Angel of Death."
The thought sickened Mike. "So how do we stop it?"
Henry grimaced. "Wikipedia is correct on one matter. An ifrit cannot be killed by conventional means alone. For that we need magic."
"I don't suppose you happen to have a Vancouver version of Coreen on call?"
Henry's smile broadened at Mike's aggrieved tone. "Not exactly... but I do know where to find one."
Once Mike had eaten, he lost some of the gray pallor from his face, and he seemed a little more alert. Henry wondered if Mike was still adjusting to the move to Vancouver, or perhaps still mourning the loss of his life in Toronto. Certainly, Henry felt the pain of loss but it hadn't been the first time where he'd had to leave a life behind and move on, and unless Astaroth gained too strong a foothold on this world, it wouldn't be the last time either. Unfortunately, it didn't make the loss any easier to bear, but he knew that was the price he paid for mingling with humans and clinging to his humanity.
"Shall we go?"
Mike nodded and pushed up from the couch carefully, offering an almost grateful smile when Henry appeared at his side with vampiric speed to assist him. It took Henry a moment to realize he was still clasping Mike's arm, holding on far longer than was necessary, but there was something in Mike's eyes that caught at him. The flush of embarrassment caught Henry off guard, and they both stepped away at the same time, putting a few feet between them. For a moment Henry was tempted to say something, wanting to explore this strange reaction between them, but he could see Mike's jaw firming and lifting as if in challenge.
Later, he promised silently. Once they had removed the threat of the ifrit.
As a cop in Toronto, Mike had always prided himself on how much he knew about the city - until Vicki and her supernatural cases led him into hidden streets and dark alleyways lying shadowed in its underbelly. So he was not surprised when Henry took him to those same narrow alleyways between the tall buildings in an older part of Vancouver. It was creepy here but he knew this might be the only way they could rid the city of its dangerous supernatural killer.
"Be warned. I am told she is a powerful witch," Henry murmured as they moved into the dark shadows falling between the close-pressed buildings where the street lamps could not reach.
Mike might have scoffed at those words a year earlier but he had seen the power of magic since then and, frankly, it scared him a little. Henry rapped on a door hidden in the darkness that Mike would have walked straight past without a second glance. It was an unremarkable looking, plain dark wood that blended into the shadows, old and slightly battered, and without even a light above it or any furnishings to add any significance.
"What do you want in this place?"
"A mutual friend sent me to you for help."
"And who is this mutual friend."
A moment of silence was broken by the muffled sound of a door bar and bolt sliding back, and then the door creaked open to reveal an old woman. She eyed Henry carefully, nodding as if she knew exactly who and what he was before her gaze traveled to Mike. He was surprised by the intensity of that look, as if she was seeing beneath the flesh and bone, right into his soul. Again she nodded and opened the door wider.
"Will you walk into my parlour?"
Said the spider to the fly, echoed in Mike's mind unbidden, but he squared his shoulders and followed Henry inside, quietly hoping that this wasn't a trap waiting to be sprung on them. He had to trust Henry though. Hell, he did trust Henry, which no longer surprised him despite their shaky start but, previously, he had only trusted out of necessity, putting his faith more in Vicki than in Henry. This time, he trusted in Henry alone.
The parlor turned out to be a quaint sitting room with several comfortable chairs and a warm, real wood fire crackling in a hearth. He watched the old woman pour tea, which Henry graciously declined.
"So how can I help you, Vampire."
"I know your name, Vampire. And much more."
"Then you also know I mean no harm to humans, taking only a little of what I need to survive."
Her sharp eyes softened only a little. "So it is said."
Mike decided to speak up before the old woman decided she didn't want to do business with a vampire. "Detective Celluci of the Vancouver Police Department... and we both need your help." His words had the desired effect, drawing her attention to him and away from Henry.
"My help comes at a price. How are you to pay me?"
Mike looked to Henry, aware that he was the only one of them with any money. The old woman laughed, and Mike refused to admit that it sounded more like a cackle.
"I have no need for vampire money and trinkets. I ask only what you can offer, Detective Celluci."
Mike was at a loss because the only thing of value in his possession was his grandmother's wedding ring, bequeathed to him upon her death. It was a family heirloom, passed down through the generations. At one time, he thought he would place that ring on Vicki's finger but these days he wondered if his grandmother should have left it to his sister instead. She had insisted though, convinced that it would be of use to him one day.
An avaricious glint filled the old woman's eyes as if she was reading his thoughts. "Yes. I will take your grandmother's ring in payment, and all that it symbolizes between a man and woman."
"No," Henry stood up. "That is too high a price."
"On the contrary, Vampire, it has no worth at all to this man."
Mike felt a chill run through him as he fumbled his wallet from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and drew out a small velvet pouch containing the ring. He had almost forgotten it was there, having intended to propose to Vicki that last night before all hell - in the form of Astaroth - had broken loose. Afterwards, as he overheard Vicki speaking with Henry, he knew he didn't hold her heart beyond a deep, abiding friendship. He wasn't even certain if she loved Henry either, certainly not enough to leave with him, and the fact that Henry was alone in Vancouver was proof of that.
As the old woman reached out and took the velvet pouch from Mike's hand, he wondered what she meant by him not needing the ring. She opened the drawstring and tipped the ring into the palm of her hand, humming over it with her eyes closed and lips stretched into a smile before slipping it back into its pouch.
"Yes. This will do."
She stood up and moved slowly across the room, placing the velvet pouch into a large trinket box on the mantelpiece above the fire. She reached for a small Hessian pouch and came back to them, pressing it into Mike's hand.
"Sprinkle this onto the creature and it will send it back to Hell. Now leave."
"Mike," Henry warned in a low voice, drawing him up from his chair. Otherwise, he remained silent until they were in his car and heading back to his expensive apartment.
"You don't understand what you have given up," Henry said tightly.
"It was just a ring, Henry."
"No. It was not just a ring. You gave up all that it symbolized between a man and woman. Marriage. Children."
Mike was tempted to retort that maybe he didn't care about such things anyway but he remained silent, recalling that she had said almost the same words, that marriage and children were not important to him. Still, if what she was implying was true then maybe he was never meant to place that ring on a woman's finger. Any woman. Certainly, the only woman who had ever meant enough to him was Vicki, and though he hadn't realized it at the time, their relationship had been doomed from the start.
Strangely, Henry seemed more upset than Mike and for a moment he wondered why, until he realized that Henry had sacrificed his own possibility of marriage and children when he accepted the gift of immortality from Christina. The thought of Henry regretting that particular loss twisted inside him for reasons he didn't want to explore too deeply, for fear of what it might reveal about his own growing desires for Henry. Instead, he decided it was better to say nothing and wait until he had time alone to think it through. He changed the subject instead.
"Let's just find this thing and destroy it before it kills someone else... or me."
Henry glanced across at him, tight-lipped with anger before sighing heavily. "We will seek it out tomorrow evening, once you have fully rested."
Henry didn't even bother to answer back, just sending an almost disdainful look in his direction instead. The Mike Celluci from before Mendoza might have taken that at face value and reacted accordingly, with equal disdain, but he was no longer that same man, hell bent on seeing Henry kept as far away from Vicki as possible. Now he could see the concern for his wellbeing in Henry's expression too, and possibly something more than simple caring. Once again, though, Mike felt too tired to examine these thoughts and feelings any closer.
He laughed softly.
"What's so funny?"
"I was going to argue with you, but I feel too tired... which makes any denial on my part pretty stupid."
He saw Henry's lips twitch into an aborted smile and felt a lessening of the tension in the car. "Pretty much so."
"Maybe you should drop me back at my apartment."
"No. It would be better if we stayed together. The ifrit is out there and we are both too vulnerable apart."
When they reached Henry's apartment, Mike shrugged out of his jacket and laid it across the back of the couch, but before he could sit down, Henry maneuvered him into the large bedroom with its wide, four-poster bed dominating the room like something out of the trashy romance novels that his sister loved to read. With a quirk of his eyebrow, Henry pushed him onto the bed and stripped off Mike's shoes, socks before he could even open his mouth to protest.
"Get some sleep. I'll watch over you through the night, and you can watch over me during the day."
Mike considered arguing that this ifrit was nocturnal - according to Henry during an earlier conversation - but he really was too tired to argue. He yawned hard and nodded, stripping down to his boxers and t-shirt before slipping between the silk sheets. He was asleep by the time his head hit the pillow.
There were a hundred things he could be doing right now but Henry found nothing more interesting than watching the rise and fall of Mike's chest as he slept away the exhaustion of the past day. The dimmed lights of his new apartment made no difference to his vampire sight. He was a nocturnal predator and he could see through the semi-darkness almost as well as mortals saw through daylight. Perhaps better, because he could see beyond the normal spectrum into the infra-red, seeing the heat of life beneath the fragile flesh.
In his father's court, he had always been fascinated by people: by their expressions and body language, by their taste in clothing, wine, food, and sexual appetites. He knew which of the courtiers to avoid - the ones with calculating eyes as they fawned over him, appraising his youth and high position with avaricious intent. He knew which to keep close so he could more easily watch them for signs of betrayal, and those he could safely turn his back upon without fearing a dagger thrust between his shoulder blades.
Perhaps it was these same traits that had brought Christina to his attention, and him to hers. Mike had those instincts too, unconsciously weighing up the people he met and sensing their intent - except Henry knew from centuries of experience that strong emotions always clouded judgment. He could hardly blame Mike for the Mendoza incident when his own judgment had been just as impaired, clouded by Vicki and the supernatural elements drawn to her.
He saw clearly now, and was shocked to discover how much of his passion for Vicki had been tied up in her relationship with Mike. Perhaps he had even unconsciously used her as a means of avoiding the truth, that he was drawn to Mike. When he looked back over his centuries of life, he realized his attraction to other males had always been there, subjugated by the blood lust, and by the conventions of his day that considered the sexual taking of another of the same gender as a mortal sin.
Times had changed. Those old conventions no longer existed in the more enlightened countries in this modern world, and Canada was one of those enlightened countries.
Sensing how deeply Mike slept, he leaned over and gently caressed Mike's face, brushing his thumb over the slightly parted lips. He drew closer and bestowed the softest kiss upon those lips before drawing back, sliding the tip of his tongue over his own to capture the lingering taste of Mike. His keen vampire senses could scent the blood rushing through Mike's veins and he wondered how he could ever have thought Mike was average in any way.
With a sigh, Henry pulled back and turned away, returning to his work studio in the other room before he gave into the temptation to crawl into the bed beside Mike. He pulled out the comic panels one by one until all were on display, and slowly worked through the story. It took a moment to realize that the ifrit was copying more than just that one set of panels with the Mike Celluci look-a-like. He recalled hearing of another strange death that matched an earlier part of his story. If Henry was correct then the ifrit would strike again tomorrow night in the west side of the city, in an alleyway behind a night club. He realized that this could be their chance to corner the demon and send it back to Hell.
Although he didn't need to feed each night, the hunger for blood began to claw at him and he glanced towards the bedroom before making a swift decision. He already knew exactly where in the city he could go to find a willing donor, a place not too many blocks east of the apartment. If he left now he could be back within half an hour. Henry could sense how deeply Mike slept and knew it was highly unlikely that Mike would wake up in the next few hours. He further reasoned that Mike would be safe here in his apartment in any case, with its magic spells weaved into the walls to keep out all the lesser demons like the ifrit... unless invited in.
Henry took off quickly, but every moment spent outside the apartment, away from Mike, felt like a lifetime. He compelled a young woman to let him drink from her, sinking his teeth into the side of her neck and drawing the little drink quickly, but her blood felt weak and washed out as the memory of Mike assailed him. Out of a sense of guilt, he pushed a hundred dollar bill into her hand and moved away as fast as he could without drawing suspicion, moving at vampire speed as soon as he was certain he would not be seen.
When he re-entered the lobby, the concierge looked up in interest.
"Oh, Mr. Fitzroy! I sent the lovely lady upstairs to wait for you."
"Yes. The one from your comic." The concierge showed Henry the front cover depicting Vicki Nelson as his warrior heroine.
The temptation to question the man further was strong but Henry had a feeling that every second counted so he waved his thanks and moved swiftly to the elevator. It took forever to reach the penthouse floor, and the doors slid open in time for Henry to see the door of his apartment open, revealing a sleep-tousled Mike wearing Henry's dressing robe and blinking in surprise at Vicki Nelson before ushering her inside.
Except it wasn't Vicki.
With a snarl, Henry launched himself towards the ifrit, barely hearing Mike's shocked exclamation as he was knocked onto his ass. Holding down the creature disguised as Vicki, Henry yelled at Mike.
"Get the witch's powder!"
Mike looked torn for a moment, and then he pulled back sharply as the ifrit lost control of its shape for a split second, revealing its true form. He scrabbled backwards awkwardly before gaining his feet with difficulty, hampered by his injured arm. He raced away and came back immediately, fingers tugging frantically at the pouch string. Henry leaped back as Mike sprinkled the spellbound earth and herb powder over the ifrit, hearing its unearthly scream as the floor beneath it turned red and black, spiraling wider and wider as it opened up with flames licking towards the ceiling. The ifrit grabbed for Mike, its claws snagging his leg and causing him to cry out in pain, tumbling Mike to the floor and trying to climb up him, all the while snarling and screeching... but Henry was just as fast, breaking the creature's grip and watching in satisfaction as the ifrit was swallowed whole.
The gateway snapped shut leaving nothing behind except the scent of blood, fire and sulfur, and the sound of Mike's harsh breathing.
Henry dropped down beside him, carefully taking the claw-raked leg in his hand and only then noticing the bite mark.
"It bit me!" Mike cried out indignantly, his face ashen from pain and shock.
Henry sat back, mind swirling with fear and panic. Wikipedia had far less information on the ifrit than the old books and Grimwalds in Henry's possession. Like the myth of werewolves, being bitten by an ifrit had dark consequences.
"Let's clean up your leg," he smiled reassuringly but Mike frowned as if reading the doubt and fear filling Henry. He nodded though, eyes following Henry as he gathered up fresh water and tore strips of clean linen to use as a makeshift bandage. Mike gritted his teeth as Henry cleaned the wounds and wrapped the leg.
"We have to go back to the old witch," Henry murmured softly, trying to moderate his tone so Mike would not pick up on his fear and panic.
Henry sighed raggedly, deciding he owed Mike the truth. "You were bitten by the ifrit. I need... We need to speak with the witch."
Mike looked as if he was about to argue but he shuddered instead, gasping softly as he double over. He started panting. "Oh God, I feel... Henry?"
Henry was in a quandary. The sun would be rising in an hour and for his own preservation he knew he should remain in the apartment... but this was Mike. This was Mike's life on the line and it shocked Henry to realize that he cared more about that life than his own safety.
"We have to go now," he stated more strongly and Mike nodded.
He felt sick to his stomach, with the pain rolling over him in waves, doubling him over. It was all he could do to walk a straight line with Henry's assistance and he was so grateful that Henry still had his car parked in the garage beneath the apartment building. Slumping into the passenger seat, Mike rested his head against the cool side window, but it did little to ease the burning sensation beneath his skin.
"We'll be there soon," Henry stated, though Mike wondered if he was trying to reassure himself as well as Mike.
Mike simply nodded, keeping his eyes closed to ease the nausea. He opened them only when he felt and heard the driver's door opening and closing behind Henry. He would have fallen out of the car when Henry opened the passenger door had the other man not been there to catch him, but then Henry always seemed to be there when he needed him. He was there both times with the ifrit and even before that, in Toronto, whenever danger struck. Always there... even after Mike had betrayed him to Mendoza. He leaned heavily on Henry as Henry banged on the nondescript door from earlier that night, barely conscious of the exchange of words before he collapsed. Strong arms lifted him, and he pressed his face against Henry's neck as he was carried into the witch's parlor and set down on the old-fashioned couch.
He caught odd snatches of the conversation between Henry and the witch
"Let me see..." Mike moaned as she peeled back the makeshift bandage, hearing her hiss. "I cannot stop this... but you can, Vampire."
"If you want to save him then you must."
Henry looked away from the old woman's hard stare, not needing to hear her say the words. The only way to save Mike from becoming an ifrit like the creature that bit him, was to transform him into something else... a vampire. Many said that vampires were cold, soulless creatures of the night, and for one moment Henry wished that was true because he was going to lose Mike one way or another tonight, and darkness lay within both choices. Do nothing and Mike would become an ifrit, a demon shapeshifter forced to do the bidding of whoever summoned him, for good or evil. If he turned Mike then the territorial instinct would drive them apart... but at least Mike would be free to make his own choices in his undead life.
With a heavy heart, Henry caressed the almost comatose man and leaned in to place a soft, passion and sorrow-laden kiss upon Mike's fevered brow and lips.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, and kissed the soft skin of Mike's throat before sinking his teeth into the heated flesh. He drank deeply, taking Mike to the edge of death before pulling back.
The last time Henry had felt the trickle of tears down his cheeks he had been but a child, and his father had beat him soundly to give him something real to cry about. It was a lesson he had learned quickly and though he had felt the sting of tears in his eyes on many occasions, this time he wept openly for something he never realized he wanted so deeply until this moment.
Pulling back, he reached up to slice open the vein in his own throat rather than a vein in his wrist, wanting to have this last intimacy at least, but the witch stopped him. He watched as she opened Mike's mouth, seeing him gag weakly as she poured some foul concoction into him and forced him to swallow.
"Now you may turn him."
With a mixture of bitterness and sorrow, Henry opened the vein and pressed Mike against the flow of blood, feeling the ecstasy of the moment when Mike began to feed off him, lured by his vampire blood. He felt himself grow weaker as Mike drank deeply, drawing back all the blood that Henry had taken from him only minutes before, except now it was tainted by Henry's vampire blood. He felt Mike's body convulse and held him tightly, unable to still the words of reassurance and affection spilling from his lips as Mike cried out in agony.
He felt Mike die in his arms, and cried again for the loss of Mike's mortal life.
"It is almost daylight and you both must rest. Come."
Though weakened by the siring, Henry pulled Mike up into his arms and followed her into a darker room, deeper inside the warren of her home.
"Sleep," she ordered, but it was the rising sun that he obeyed, gasping as he felt it even within this dark place.
He awoke to the warmth of Mike's body draped over him, with one long leg angled over his thigh and tangled between his own legs and an arm thrown casually over his stomach. It took a moment to realize that both of them were naked beneath a light cover. The knowledge pulled at all his fears, aware of how vulnerable he was during the hours of daylight. It was why he so rarely allowed anyone to know what he was or to stay with him after the sun had risen. It required an immense amount of trust... or desperation.
The witch could have done anything to him - or to Mike - while they slept as if dead.
Mike stirred, eyes blinking slowly in confusion until he suddenly registered their closeness and state of undress.
"Before you say anything, I was fully clothed when the sun rose... and so were you. Well. You were half-dressed, at least," Henry added, recalling the desperate rush from the apartment with Mike dressed only in his boxers, t-shirt, and Henry's bloodied and torn dressing gown.
Instead of jumping back as Henry expected, Mike stared hard at him as if mesmerized. At the same moment, Henry felt a growing hardness between their bodies, pressing insistently against his hip. He turned his face to Mike and gasped as soft lips pressed against his, the kiss deepening as Mike's arm wrapped tighter around him. Henry wrapped his own arms around Mike, letting the pleasure ripple through him, hoping that this one moment of intimacy would help to stave off the centuries of bitterness and loss that would follow. He reared up, flipping Mike onto his back and settling between those long legs, thrusting gently against Mike's thigh as he took Mike in another bruising kiss.
It was beautiful. Wonderful. Knowing he had no need to hold back for fear of damaging fragile mortal flesh. He had almost forgotten the pleasure of letting go so completely, having turned so few during his five hundred years of existence as a vampire. Yet it was so different to those few times from before, because this was another man, with firm muscle and large hands, and with a hard cock to match his own. In a moment of disorientation, Henry found himself on his back with Mike above him. The last time that had happened was when he was still mortal, and prey to Christina's vampire strength.
It felt so good. So right, and he groaned in pleasure as sharp teeth nipped at his throat, biting and licking, spilling droplets of blood that filled the air with a heady sweetness that mingled with the sharper musk of sex. Mike thrust hard against him and Henry moved them both until they were lying on their sides, face to face, with his hand wrapped around both their cocks, jacking them together until the pleasure took them, thrumming between their bodies and singing through the sire bond in a way he had never once experienced before, not even with his own sire, Christina.
Afterwards, they lay spent and sated, draped over each other, and though he tried to push it away, Henry felt the sadness flow back through him, knowing they would have only a short time together before the territorial side of their nature would tear them apart. He held onto Mike tighter, smiling sadly as Mike nuzzled his throat and cheek before their lips met in a deep yet gentle kiss. Their lips slid apart and he heard Mike whisper against his skin.
"I wanted this," he stated insistently. "All of this. I just never realized how much until now."
The tapping on the door caught him before Henry could reply, and he drew the cover back over them before giving the witch permission to enter, surprised that she had not simply entered unannounced.
The old woman stood on the threshold and smiled at them, nodding her head as if everything was going according to some hidden plan. She placed a bundle of clothes on the end of the bed and smiled again but Henry could feel no malice behind the smile.
"Come into my parlor."
Henry nodded even though he'd hoped to have more time to speak with Mike alone. He wondered if Mike even knew what had happened to him, or if he thought this was just some strange, supernatural nightmare that he would awaken from sooner or later. He reached out and ran his fingers over the smattering of hairs on the otherwise unblemished chest and taking in his fill of the rest of the strong body. All the damage from the ifrit was gone, healed by vampire blood.
"I'm sorry," Henry said simply, and Mike looked confused.
"For saving my soul?" Mike asked. "I know you couldn't save my life, and I certainly didn't want to end up like Norman Bridewell." This time Henry felt confused, and Mike gave one of his wry smiles. "You shared everything with me when you turned me. See?"
Henry took a startled breath as he felt Mike's presence inside his head. This was... different. New, and the warmth of the connection filled an empty void in his soul. Before he could answer, Mike climbed out of the bed to check through the pile of clothing, separating out two sets. Mike held out Henry's freshly laundered clothing, cleaned of Mike's blood, before grinning when he noticed the old woman had added a pair of pants in his size. The bloodied dressing robe was missing but Henry could easily replace it. They both dressed quickly and Henry led the way through the maze of corridors, back to the parlor where the witch was waiting for them.
They sat down beside each other on the couch and waited as the old woman puttered about. Eventually, she sank carefully into her single chair opposite and poured tea for all of them. Henry nodded his thanks and sipped at the tea even though vampires had no need for mortal sustenance. It was a necessary illusion though to fool the mortals. It tasted bland compared to the richness of warm blood and Henry could see Mike's frown and sense his confusion at the taste, but he would explain it all later.
"How will you repay me, Vampire?"
"Name your price," Henry stated, aware that she would already have something in mind.
She smiled. "The iluminación del sol."
The highest ideal of a Daoist was to find immortality, and one of its monks had come close when he created a device to steal immortality from vampires without becoming one in the process. If Mendoza had used it as it was intended, then he could have kept Henry as his prisoner for centuries, perhaps even millennia, but Mendoza was twisted enough to believe he was still the Grand Inquisitor. He had wanted confession by torture, enjoying the power he had over another. He found sadistic and possibly sexual pleasure in gaining that confession and in sentencing the victim to death. Henry wondered how many vampires Mendoza had killed for his centuries of stolen immortality, and how many more would suffer if the device ever fell into the wrong hands again.
"I read your fear, Vampire, but it is the price I demand."
"It is a high price when it is I who did everything."
"Did you now, my precious Princeling?" She mocked him and Henry raised his chin in defiance. "Then perhaps you should ask what I have done for you and your fledgling."
Henry nodded. He would play along with this game. "What have you done to deserve such a great reward?"
"Not even vampire blood could stop him from becoming an ifrit, but it muted the transformation. In one year and one month you will understand the purpose of the spell and potion given to him, and you will bring the iluminación del sol to me, or I will undo the spell."
"He's right here so maybe you could explain it to me now," Mike interrupted, and the old woman cackled.
"He is a feisty one. You chose well, little Princeling. Now leave."
One Year and a Month Later:
Two vampires sharing not just the same territory but the same bed for over a year was unheard of; the territorial instincts should have torn them apart months earlier. Even the strongest and oldest of the vampires, ones deeply in love with their sire or child, had never yet managed to stop the growing rage that repelled another of their kind. As the love between mortal and vampire lasted only the span of a human life, and rarely a year after turning a lover, Henry had long accepted that it was the vampire's curse to watch love fade and die, over and over. Yet he felt none of that rage and repulsion with Mike, falling ever deeper in love with each passing day.
Perhaps it was because Mike was neither vampire nor ifrit, falling somewhere in between with unique abilities that put him closer to the old Hollywood ideal of a shape-shifting vampire - though Henry had yet to see him transform into a bat. Being a hybrid had given both of them everything they had ever wanted - the possibility of eternal love and companionship.
Over this last year, their lives had changed, with Mike resigning from the Police Force rather than risk being called to duty during the daylight hours. He was still subject to a vampire's intolerance of ultraviolet rays from the sun, and neither of them wanted to risk Mike's life by experimenting. With Henry's encouragement, he had started night classes, surprising Henry as he had never thought of Mike as the quiet, literature-loving type. But then, initially, he had formed his impression of Mike as an uncouth detective without ever trying to see any deeper beneath the surface, clouded by his feelings for Vicki.
Astaroth had stayed under the radar since the ifrit incident, but signs of the coming apocalypse were visible to all who could read them. They both knew it was only a matter of time before the demon brought Hell to Earth, threatening their existence just as much as his dominion would crush humanity. Vicki was still in Toronto, and Coreen had been her strength in keeping Astaroth at bay, but they could not endure alone forever. It was time to rejoin the battle, bringing strength in both numbers, ability, and in the depth of their love for each other and for their friends. That meant returning to Toronto, and Henry was pleased to hear from Augustus that no other vampire had moved into the city after he vacated it, or it could have been a difficult situation for all concerned.
At Mike's insistence, they would not return to Henry's former apartment, and Henry saw the sense in that. There was no telling how deeply Vicki had fallen into the darkness, so it was better if she did not know where they slept during the day. Of course, they would both have some explaining to do once they reached Toronto, and not just concerning Mike's transformation. Henry could only hope Vicki accepted his relationship with her former lover and partner.
But first they had a debt to pay.
Carefully, Henry opened the velvet lined box made specially to hold the iluminación del sol device. He pulled it out and looked at it, recalling how it had felt against his chest, robbing him of his strength, and how Mendoza had drained the blood from him to feed his own immortality. It was a powerful weapon in the hands of someone like Mendoza, and Henry had no guarantee that the old woman would not use it against one of his kind at some point in the future, either to extend her own life or to sell it to another like Mendoza. He considered keeping the device but she was a powerful witch, and it was not worth the risk of losing even one second of this precious gift of having Mike beside him in his life and bed on the off chance that she might use the device against them one day.
Mike placed his hand over Henry's, knowing he had been forgiven for Mendoza a long time ago and yet Henry could still sense his remorse. Placing the device back into its box, Henry set it aside and reached for Mike, kissing him sweetly yet possessively.
He sighed contently as Mike met him passion for passion, strength for strength, worshiping each other with the caress of hand and press of lips until they were lost in the pleasure that reverberated between them in both mind and body.
Later they would take the device to the witch but, for now, they had the night, they had time on their side, and they had each other, and it was more than Henry had ever expected to have in forty lifetimes.