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Third Time Pays For All

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"Heavens, whatever is the matter with everybody today?" Lucy Weston asked, looking at the expression on her best friend's face. "Mina, are you quite well?"

"I am well," Mina said. But her expression gave the lie to her words; she looked haunted, almost grief-stricken. "Lucy, what is the date today?"

"The seventeenth, of course." Lucy took Mina's hand. "Doctor Seward asked me the same question. What have the two of you been doing?"

"Doctor Seward is here?"

"In the dining room." She looked Mina in the eye, and for the first time seemed to feel a crack in the perfect friendship that existed between them. "Shall I be forced to seek an explanation from him?"

Mina gripped her hand. "No, Lucy. When the three of us are together, I shall tell you everything."

"Then we shall speak to him within the minute."

Waving away servants, she nearly dragged Mina into the dining room. Doctor Seward was standing at the head of the table, the same haunted look on his face.

"I have promised to tell her the truth," Mina said, without preliminary.

"Mrs Harker, we agreed..." Doctor Seward began.

"We agreed to keep her in ignorance. And to what end? We failed to save her for the second time, and once more find ourselves living this nightmare."

"Save her?" Lucy repeated. She'd been vaguely expecting a confession of some clandestine love affair between her fiancé and her best friend, but it seemed some greater danger hung over her in person.

Mina took a deep breath. "Lucy, Doctor Seward and I appear to be living and reliving the same ten days: from the seventeenth to the twenty-sixth of this month. We have experienced them twice already, and today is the beginning of the third cycle."

"We do not know the cause," Doctor Seward added. "But we fear.. that is... Lucy, on the tenth day..."

"On the tenth day you die," Mina said.

Lucy gripped the back of a nearby chair. "Die? How?" She tried to force a laugh. "Really, if this is a joke—"

"It is no joke." Mina was beside her, her eyes fixed on Lucy. "We are reliving the last days of your life, with no way to save you."

"Then tell me all," Lucy said. "I am sure you wished only to spare my feelings, but I would sooner know the truth."

Between them, Mina and Doctor Seward related the tale: of Lucy's unexplained illness, of van Helsing's attempts to protect her from vampires by means of garlic and crucifixes, and how every attempt had been frustrated. They had attended her funeral, gone sadly to bed... and awoken to find themselves ten days earlier.

"And the second time?" Lucy asked.

"We told van Helsing of our experience," Doctor Seward said. "He was... cautious, but suggested some further precautions that might be taken."

"The first time, your poor mother broke the circle of garlic," Mina said. "The second time, we warned her that the slightest disturbance could be fatal, and she took our advice— only for your parlourmaid to break it instead."

"If van Helsing's view of the situation is correct, the Count was using them as his instruments. If one instrument did not fit his purpose, he chose another. But it seems just as likely to me that the Professor is a charlatan, and his suggestions the merest flim-flam!"

"Did you try everything he suggested?" Lucy asked. "Surely you were limited by the need to keep me in ignorance."

"That is so— but his other ideas were preposterous! Insupportable!"

"If they are all that stand between me and death at the Count's hands, I am willing to try them."

Mina took a deep breath. "van Helsing has said that the Count cannot enter a building uninvited. He has been made free of this house, and of Doctor Seward's. But there are other houses in Whitby."

"Moreover," Doctor Seward put in, "if the fellow is to be believed, the Count's powers are at their greatest in the hours of darkness. If you were to sleep during the day, with one or other of us awake and on guard, van Helsing believes the risk would be considerably lessened."

Lucy looked from Mina to Doctor Seward, and a smile spread across her face. "Either you are right, and I am in peril from the Count. Or this is pure invention, and you wish to trick me into an elopement. Then by all means, let us have the elopement. We shall leave at once."

"At once?" Doctor Seward repeated.

"Before the Count hears of this plan, of course." She hurried around the table and caught hold of his arm. "There is not a minute to lose."

"But your reputation—"

"By your own account, we must choose between our reputations or my life. If society considers what we are about to do beyond forgiveness, then so be it." More or less dragging Doctor Seward, she headed back to Mina's side. "Are you with us, Mina?"

"I—" Mina seemed carried away by the speed of events. "I am, Lucy."

"You still look worried, Mina. I wish I were in your position. Imagine! The ability to do whatever one liked for ten days, knowing that after that time, all worldly consequences of one's actions would be gone forever." She kissed Mina on the cheek, then Doctor Seward. "Are you sure that you can resist such a temptation?"

Privately, she realised, she was already hoping that the answer — at least as regarded her own situation — would be 'no'.