They joined hands, two facing two. Dread was palpable in the air. A sour taste on the tip of the tongue. A pain in the chest. They waited for what would come.
Sophie sat straight up with a gasp. Her eyes darted about, wide and staring. Benj gripped her hand crushing her thin fingers, determined to be there for his friend. His son followed his example, strength given to a friend. Stan and Jack completed the circled…
…chains from the ceiling held the big man up. His white shirt stuck to his ample stomach, drenched with sweat.
“Now it seems at last I am capturing important people and not children.”
Manson emphasizing each word with a vicious stab of a small knife as he walked around JC. Blood ran from a plethora of tiny wounds, and turned his wet shirt pink.
“It seems your friends have arrived. Sophie, you learn too slowly, you stupid girl.”
“Oh, don’t play the heroic male for me. She has her vampire to do that for her.”
Sophie ignored Manson’s taunting. She drew on everyone’s love for JC and plunged into him, covering him heart and soul. His body went limp as they drew him away.
“Damn you!” Manson yelled.
“I really hate it when she does that,” he muttered to himself.
He went to a dark corner, pulled on some heavy gloves, and picked up a small cup filled with silver liquid. He grunted under its weight. Smoke drifted off the surface of the cup.
“Now let me see if I can have your full attention back.”
He lifted it over JC’s chained hand and poured.
JC screamed. His eyes flew open. He rose up on the tips of his toes. Acid burned through him. It melted his skin and seared through his bones. The stump of his arm fell to his side. His hand broke away from the chain around it and hit the floor with a sickening thump. Sophie wailed. Benj howled in rage and pain. Their son sank deep into Sophie’s womb whimpering in fear. The lines of comfort broke. Manson returned with two more cups and threw one at JC’s gut and the other at his crotch. Pain seared through JC. It ate away at him. Jack and Stan faded from Sophie’s circle.
Sophie scrambled to gather the rips in JC’s soul. She tried to hold him together, but the team fell apart, shattered by what they felt and she saw. Alone, Sophie sat with empty hands in her lap. She whispered in JC’s heart. “We love you, we love you, we love you,” over and over.
One last time Manson returned with the cup. He poised it over JC’s head.
“Sophie. Get out now. I don’t want you to see this,” JC gibbered, each word as broken as his soul.
Sophie hesitated as the cup tipped still hoping to gather his soul.
“Now!” he screamed as the acid came down..
With an anguished cry, Sophie fled the vision…
Vomiting, retching and dry heaving brought Sophie back to the waking world.
Stan, doubled over, could not stop throwing up. Jack aged thirty years, his face a lined stone, his salt and pepper hair now completely white. And Benj – dear, wonderful, brave Benjamin – sat still, a pale statute. Tears coursed down his hollow cheeks. He rested his hands on his knees in two fists. His nails cut deep into his skin. Sophie ran from the living room. She ran to Benj’s room, their room, and threw herself on their bed. She cried until there were no more tears. Only inside did she keep crying. Only inside did the pain still writhe. Her son watched with his gray and violet eyes, watched and wondered if the still-born were more blessed than the living.
Taking pity on the house filled with so much loss, Sleep came. He came to the candle lit windows and did what he could for the broken hearts. Silvery gold dust fell on old man Jack, on young Stan, on the vampire who had lost a human friend, and last on a young mother with a horrible gift.
Sophie woke, confused and unsure of where she slept until she sat up. Benj waited on the other side of the door. She pulled back the blankets and set her feet on the carpet. The door knob was cold under her hand as she turned it and stepped out. Benj sat just to the left of the door. A puddle of sunlight lay right beside him.
“I have been waiting for you to wake up so you could close the curtains.”
Sophie sat down beside him. He put his cold arms around her. They shed no more tears for they had no more to shed. They only looked for comfort in proximity. After a time, Sophie got up and closed all the curtains. Candle wax had hardened into small puddles below each window sill during the night except for the candles put out for Guinness, West and JC. They still burned faintly in the afternoon sun. Sophie left them alone.
She woke Jack and Stan. Everyone went through the motions of showering, shaving, and pretending to eat. Benj broke the silence. “I am going to call the police. They need to know about the family Manson killed. I will have them bring the Beares here so I can make a link for Sophie with Cora.”
Sophie squeezed his hand, silently thanking him.
“I thought we had a link?” Stan said.
“We don’t. Manson does,” Sophie explained. “He’s playing with us, showing me what he wants me to see, leading us where he wants us to go.” She stared down into her cup of hot chocolate. The thought of Manson linked to her sickened her. “We need a link he doesn’t control.”
She hiccupped a laugh as the image of a small child shaking his fist at a cloud of darkness flashed through her.
Jack came to his feet, slow and careful like a man far older. His hands trembled. He approached Benj who leaned against the warm stove and slugged him in the face. Sophie jumped in her seat. Benj did not move.
“Be careful, old man,” he said softly.
“Be careful! Be careful! It’s because of you they’re all dead.” Jack grabbed the front of Benj’s shirt and shook him. “You and your selfishness, your self-righteousness! They wouldn’t have died if you’d done what Emma told you the first night. You bastard! You betrayed us all!”
Stan muscled in and tried to pull Jack away. The old man jerked from Stan’s grasp and punched Benj in the face. Again and again his fist flew at the vampire. Benjamin’s skin cracked. His lips split. He did not raise even a finger to defend himself. Sophie could not stand it. Her son screamed to defend Benj. She understood Jack’s anger. She had felt that anger herself, but she knew Benj, loved him. His pure love for her had caused his hesitation. A love he cherished, a love which would be tainted by the link never to be pure again.
“Stop, Jack!” She slipped off her stool and stepped between them, ducking under Jack’s arm. As if time slowed, Jack’s fist continued swinging. He struck her on the temple. Sophie crumpled to the floor. The world disappeared behind bright lights.
Benj woke up.
He grabbed Jack by the shoulders and flung him across the room onto the sofa with a snarl. It flipped over with a loud bang. Benj bent over Sophie. He cradled her in his arm. With cold, gentle fingers he brushed her hair aside to examine the welt on her face.
“Are you well?”
Sophie blinked. Her head swam. Benj’s face healed as she watched. Lifting her head, she kissed him softly on his new lips. Deep inside her forest his soul warmed. Benj helped her to her feet. Her tummy, bigger by the moment, made it hard for her to climb off the floor.
“Call Morry,” she said to Stan. “We are running out of time.”
Jack picked himself up and righted the sofa. Sophie curled up on it with a blanket pulled and tucked close about her and the baby. Jack apologized for hitting her but not Benj. They avoided one another. Stan caught Morry up on the latest horrors. The detective hurried to get the Beares.
“They must wait. I cannot do this until midnight tonight. Have him come then,” Benj said to Stan.
Stan relayed the information back. The detective promised to take care of it.
Nursing a cup of hot chocolate, Sophie watched Benj pull Stan aside. She could not hear what Benj told him, but she sensed finality and provision, sadness and goodbyes. Tears pricked her eyes as the two men shook hands, one having done his duty and one with a look of youthful determination. As the hands separated, Sophie saw the flash of a key. Benj shifted over and kissed her on the forehead. He caressed her round womb communing with his son before he went to his room to sleep while the sun shone. Though weary, Sophie wanted sunlight. She opened the curtains and with Stan’s help moved the sofa into a square of light. The warmth soaked into her skin for a few hours before it moved out of the room. Early fall darkness crept out of the edges of the trees and buildings. Sophie joined Benj. She fell quickly to sleep at his side despite the nightmare her life had become.
As another night fell, as Jack’s anger at Benj continued to burn, as Stan hovered near Sophie keeping her comfortable, as Benj shifted in a fast pace up and down the room, the doorbell rang. Everyone jumped, startled from where they were lost in their own worlds, thoughts, and dreams. Sophie bit back a scream. Benj light up like a live wire. His fangs extended and his nails turned to claws. Who it could be at the door? Midnight had not sounded, yet. A witch could not mistake it for any other time. Who was it?
“Everyone stay where you are,” Benj said. He shifted to the front door.
Sophie sensed suspicion mixed with curiosity. The front door open. A chill flowed into the room. Benj shifted out in the cold night shutting the door behind him.
“Could you see who it was?” Sophie asked Stan who had the clearest view from where he stood.
“A man with a hard face and blond hair,” Stan said.
“Benj knows him, but he is not sure why he’s here.”
“I could have told you that, and I’m not married to him,” Stan said gently with a crooked smile.
Just like an older sister, Sophie stuck her tongue out at him. A sudden wild laugh bubbled up from her child. The silliness flowed to Ben from Sophie and the baby. He lost concentration for a moment. The laughter surprised them. It surprised them that even in the middle of all the darkness, death and terror, a brilliant shot of laughter, true and good, sprang from inside Sophie’s heart. Benj grasped it, the pure light of his son’s laugher, and encased it in ice as a treasure for what little time he had left.
The front door opened. Benj shifted back into the living room with a vampire at his side. The creature mirrored Benj’s pale, emaciated look but only stood as tall as his shoulder. He pursed hard lips in a round face with a strong jaw. Ice blue eyes and tidy blond hair studied Sophie’s swollen stomach with obvious distaste. He dressed impeccably, like all vampires, in a gray suit with a vest, a crisp white button-up shirt, gleaming cufflinks and polished wingtips. The skin on his hands bore no tattoos of service, but Sophie felt, more than saw, a strange sense of magic. Did something hide his service tattoo?
“An unlooked for offer of aid has come from Fortunatus,” Benj said.
The vampire bowed.
“What do you mean?” Sophie said, wary. One vampire in her life was enough. Saved vampires rarely came along, but another joining them seemed impossible. A sense of vulnerability haunted Sophie . She put her hands over her round stomach to protect her son who had not so nice thoughts about the new vampire.
“I have heard of this witch, this Manson,” Fortunatus said with a bow to Sophie. “He has begun, with the help of the Gray Coven, to carve a place for himself in the world of the damned. I wish to be of some help in keeping him from this. Long ago, Benjamin saved my life and I feel this may be a way to repay him.”
“Are you part of the Requiem?” Sophie asked.
“No, not per se, but I respect what the Requiem does. I come with more of a desire to see this witch not gain influence among my kind than anything. With someone like him, with the backing of the Gray, the balances of power will be tipped. Some powerful vampires in LeVidal would like me to stop this from happening. I may as you say ‘kill two birds with one stone’ with this job. I will be paid and fill my debt with Benjamin.”
Sophie started up. She did not like this vampire. She did not like him being here. She wanted to see his tattoos. Benj sensed her worry. He stopped her with his own feelings of guarded distrust. Sophie kept her mouth shut, but glanced pointedly at Benj.
“I must go out for a time. Fortunatus wishes to show me some things he is seeing. We must be able to move as vampires alone can. We must see what vampires alone can see.”
“It’s not safe!” Sophie said unwilling to let Benj out of her sight when everything around her pointed to him being gone from her forever, soon.
“This is not my appointed hour, of that you may be sure, Sophie. You hold what of my heart is left. You will hold it still even if I am not in this room.” Benj shifted to her side in an instant. He pulled her close, kissing her.
At the front door he looked back. “Do not open this for any reason. Do not leave the house for any reason. When I return I will come in myself. Keep your gun handy, Stan.”
The young man nodded, his lips pressed firmly together.
Benjamin shifted out into the night with Fortunatus.
Midnight. The witching hour. The power of the spirit world, of the elements, of the good, of the seasons flowed through Sophie. All the lines of power trembled with life at midnight. She could sense them all around her. Benj appeared in a sudden instance in their midst just before the detective arrived making everyone but Sophie jump. She had held onto the lines which connected them the entire time he moved across the city with Fortunatus. She had felt him returning. Stan muttered under his breath that she could have warned them so he did not almost shoot himself.
“Peace, Stan. You must learn to relax or you will be unable to defend yourself when it is necessary,” Benj put his hand on the barrel of the gun Stan had pointed at him.
“Fort-whatever did not come back with you?”
“No. But he did show me that our people are beginning to take note of Manson, and many of the young Turned speak of joining with him.”
Before Stan could begin a slew of questions, Morry knocked on the door. Benj sent Stan to answer it. While the kid hurried off, Benj shifted to Sophie’s side and took her into their room. He pulled her close and held her. He rested his head on the top of hers.
“I will not hold you again with a pure love. It will forever be tainted. I needed to do it one last time.”
Sophie wrapped her arms around him and filled his cold body with her warmth. Between them rested their son. He feared for his father, feared this great dread building between his parents. Around their family Benj and Sophie pulled a blanket of love, acceptance, and the joy of being together. They wrapped it tightly around one another blocking out the chill to come.
“I love you for always.” Benj whispered into her hair. Sophie cried silent tears like silver rain. “And miss you forever.”
Knowing the others waited on them and the hour which belongs to all things magical – undead, witch, fey, wiznit and all others – ticked and faded away, Sophie pulled herself together. Benj waited as she ran a brush through her hair. They went hand in hand into the living room. A sick feeling rested in Sophie’s stomach like a lump of cold cereal.
“Now let me get this straight,” a standing Mr. Beare said to Stan. “This man is a vampire, which I can’t believe, but you want me to let him suck my wife’s blood so you can find the monster who killed my Cora?”
Stan, his back to Sophie and Benj, held his hands up trying to explain the situation to Mr. Beare.
“It will not turn her.” Benj shifted up beside Stan so the Beares would see and believe. Mr. Beare dropped to his seat, startled.
“As soon as I have enough of her blood you can both leave. She will be fine in a few days.”
“How can you be sure?”
“She must be bitten three times in order to be turn into an undead.”
“He will be drinking my blood as well,” Sophie said. She stepped up to Benj’s side and took his hand. “That way he becomes a holder of our blood and Cora and I can make a link strong enough to get a lock Manson.”
“I don’t understand,” Mrs. Beare said from her seat on the sofa.
Sophie sat down beside her. “You would not even if I explained it all to you. This is not your world. You must trust us. Trust Cora. Even now she is waiting for us to do this so she can help me. She wants to do this.”
Stars twinkled in the night sky, and the moon, filled with the powerful reflection of sunlight, shown on the house on Baker Street where a horrible decision hung in the balance. All the rain, all the heavy clouds drifted further south to pour down on happier homes, quieter towns, less haunted families. The Beares nodded.
“I will take you first, Mrs. Beare. When I am done I want you both to get out of town until the detective calls you and tells you it is safe to come home.”
“Why?” Mr. Beare snapped.
“I will be filled with a powerful desire for your wife’s blood. If we fail I would like Manson, or myself, to have to hunt for you instead of knowing right where you are,” Benj growled.
Already tense from being forced to drink Sophie’s blood, Mr. Beare’s questions fed the flames of anger. Benj’s frustration grew with each required explanation to a human who should just be glad his name remained off the menu. Sophie sent a wave of peace and love to Benj. She sat down in a folding chair and clenched her hands in what little lap she had left. She had pushed Benj towards this without thinking of the toll it would take on her. All women know their husbands look at other women. They cannot help it. Sensing her husband’s lust was another betrayal altogether. Sophie felt Benj letting himself want Mrs. Beare. She sensed the part of him, the ‘saved’ part, the ‘Sophie’ part hating himself and everything involved with the connection. Lust and hate. Sophie felt sick. The love she sent Benj withered under the desire and bitterness he battled.
Benj stepped over to her, bending down to her. She did not look up. He took a deep breath in through his nose and sighed. Sophie grabbed his hand.
“I’m scared,” she whispered, still not looking at him.
He knelt down in front of her so he could look her in the eye and unbuttoned his shirt. He took her hand and pressed it to his chest over his redemption tattoo.
“No matter what you feel, remember all of this,” he spread his fingers over his chest, “all of me belongs to you.” He stood up and kissed her. “I will be back for you soon.”