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Tuesday, August 18, 2015
CHAPTER 129: The Good Fight
Voiceover by Nancy Barrett: “Collinwood, where we are all cursed in our own particular way. And on this night, we will rise up, because none of us are content to simply sit back and accept what fate has handed us with its wicked hands. No. We will fight.”
We should leave Collinsport, Sebastian thought grimly; and so thinking, he reached out and took his lover’s hand. Chris looked over at him, and smiled gratefully. Sebastian nodded. This world isn’t so different from mine, he thought, not really. Gay rights are just getting off the ground. Segregation is dying. Women are fighting; Indians are fighting; everyone is fighting for something. For things to get better. That is the same in both our worlds.
So why do I want to run away so badly?
Sebastian was used to fighting. He’d always been a fighter; of course, having the power to shift his shape, combined with his height and his strength, had usually levelled the playing field. But the stakes were higher now. He was in love, really in love, with Christopher, who had somehow come back to him, and they had more in common than they’d ever had before; and I will not lose him again, Sebastian thought ferociously, not ever, ever again.
We could go. We could just go. Leave these people to fight for themselves.
Christopher knew he was a Collins, but the rest of the family didn’t. And he had never seen fit to tell them in the year since he’d made the discovery, nor had Barnabas or Julia or Quentin. They don’t need him, Sebastian thought sourly, the high and mighty Collinses of Collinsport. He needn’t be bound to them, he needn’t end like my Christopher did …
“This is going to work,” Chris whispered, and Sebastian snapped back to reality.
Alexandra March waved her hands above Quentin’s throat, her face set and grim with determination. Quentin lay supine before her, his shirt unbuttoned to the waist, the wounds on his throat standing out against his grayish flesh like something out of one of those Hammer Dracula flicks, mottled and purple and bruised, no neat and pretty pinpricks. Quentin’s eyes rolled beneath his closed lids. He moaned and his hands beat a light tattoo against the divan.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Sebastian asked.
“For the ten billionth time,” Chris said, “yes. It’s the only option.”
“But Julia said that when Alex’s sister tried healing like this, there were … consequences.”
Chris licked his lips. “We have to try something,” he said after a moment. “Quentin can’t stay like this. Her slave.”
“We’ll fix it, baby,” Sebastian said, and put his hands on Chris’ shoulders. Chris sank back against him wearily, allowing the ministrations to loosen up the tension that gathered like barbells in his muscles. “We’ll deal with whatever we have to deal with.”
“I’m just so tired,” Chris whispered. “When is this all gonna end?”
“I don’t know if it ever will,” Sebastian said. “We never stop fighting. Not when there’s something to fight for.” Just go, he thought, just take him and run away; don’t tell anyone; what’s holding you here? And the danger …
He turned his gaze to the corner of the room and felt dark hatred rise up inside him.
As he had been doing for the past hour or so, Nathan Forbes stared at them both from the chair he had occupied since Alex began her ceremony, his fingers tented, his eyes slitted.
“What?” Sebastian growled.
Nathan raised his eyebrows and then dropped them, but said nothing. He continued to glare.
“Oh, leave him alone,” Chris said. “He’s not hurting anything just sitting there.”
“And he’d better keep it that way,” Sebastian said.
Nathan snickered. “What are you gonna do about it if I don’t?”
Sebastian left Chris’ side immediately, his hands balled into fists, his teeth bared into a grin that grew sharper with each step he took. His eyes flashed green. “Care to find out?” he growled through his fangs.
“Stop it!” Chris cried, and tried to step between them.
Nathan rose from his chair, grinning. “Eat me,” he said. “Go on, do what you already threatened to do to me. Tear out my guts. Roll my head around like a bowling ball.” He shoved Sebastian. “Come on, freak! Rip me apart!”
“Guys, stop it!” Chris tried again, but he was pushed out of the way … until a blast of green energy erupted, sending all three men flying.
Alexandra March glared at them with eyes gone black. “SHUT … UP,” she rumbled, the voice of a deity. “ALL OF YOU.”
“Yes ma’am,” Nathan whimpered, pulling himself to his feet.
Alex turned back to Quentin, resuming her whispered chanting and waving of hands.
“She’s intense,” Sebastian said, and offered Chris a hand.
Chris, glaring at him, took it.
“What?” Sebastian said, bewildered at the fury in Chris’ eyes.
“Nothing,” Chris said sullenly. He walked away from Sebastian and stood closer to Alex, watching her intently, watching Quentin’s face as it twitched, as his mouth gaped open like a fish’s.
Sebastian narrowed his eyes, opened his mouth, then closed it. He crossed his arms miserably over his chest. Take him and go, he thought, just take him and go.
And when he glanced over at Nathan, the other man was grinning at him, grinning and nodding.
Sebastian thought of all the ways he could kill a man.
Barnabas carried Elizabeth’s body up to the front door of Collinwood. Carolyn, behind him, was unable to staunch the flow of her tears. Julia had hooked an arm around her the moment after she had burst into the doors of the Old House, and had left it there ever since. Behind them came Angelique, holding her head high with a confidence that had been lacking since the night Edith Collins split her apart with the Dagger of Ereshkigal.
“I have to open the doors,” Julia whispered to Carolyn, who only nodded.
“No need,” Angelique said; with a flick of her wrist, the doors of Collinwood opened on their own.
Julia frowned. So Angelique had regained her powers. Fantastic. But what did that mean for her own humanity, and for the safety of everyone else?
Barnabas said nothing. He stepped over the threshold. Elizabeth’s head lolled; her thin white hands, the nails beautifully manicured, trailed limply; one crimson stream that had flowed from the bullet wound in the center of her forehead managed to run down to her arm, and Julia watched, helplessly, as a perfect crimson pearl built at the tip of one finger, then broke, spilling tiny red droplets into the foyer. It isn’t the first time blood has been spilled in this house, she thought despairingly; oh Lizzie, Lizzie, my friend, my oldest and dearest friend. She remembered the evil words of the Phoenix, spoken through the mouth of her child, ridiculing Julia for abandoning Liz the past two years, and felt shame burst in a sickening bloom inside her.
But I didn’t, Julia thought, gritting her teeth and keeping her arm wrapped even more tightly around Carolyn’s shoulders. Everything I’ve done the past two years has been to preserve this godforsaken family, to keep the Collinses alive!
That isn’t entirely true.
Julia wanted to moan.
What have you been fighting for, Doctor? Really?
“She’s gone,” Carolyn whispered.
“I know,” Julia whispered back, grateful for the distraction. She petted Carolyn’s hair. “I know, and I’m sorry, darling.”
“No,” Carolyn said. Her brow wrinkled. “Not … not just Mother. I mean Leticia. Leticia is … is gone too.”
Julia’s eyes widened. Oh my god, she thought, we forgot all about her. “What do you mean?” she said. “What do you mean by ‘gone’?”
“She saved me,” Carolyn said, and separated herself from Julia, wiping away the tears and traces of mascara with them. “After Gerard … after he sh-shot Mother. She did what she did before, just the way you described it, Julia. She sent energy at him, and then … just … vanished.”
Despite the tragedy of the moment, Julia felt pure, clean excitement rise within her. “Both of them?”
Angelique opened the drawing room doors – using her hands this time, Julia thought with some sense of relief – and Barnabas walked through them.
“No,” Carolyn said, frowning and shaking her tangled fall of white-blonde hair. “That’s the awful thing. Just Leticia.”
“But what happened to Gerard?”
“He fell backward and didn’t get up. And I just ran, Julia. I r-ran like a coward. Just like a coward.” Fresh tears fell from Carolyn’s eyes.
“You did the right thing,” Julia said firmly. “He would have killed you too, Carolyn, if you gave him the chance.”
“But Leticia … where could she be, Julia? What happened to her?”
“I … am … here.”
Both women spun around, their gasps in tandem.
A figure stood in the still open doorway: a woman, bent like a willow twig, her long hair snow-white, her lined face still round, her cheeks withered apples, her turquoise eyes glaring at them ferociously.
“I am Leticia Faye,” the crone said.
“You don’t want t’kill me, do ya?” Willie Loomis whimpered.
Audrey offered him a look of dark disdain bordering on disgust, then turned away from him to hold up the sacred knife, the Dagger of Whatchamacallit (Willie couldn’t remember the name; it was a bunch of jumbled together syllables, and though they’d all been talking about it pretty much non-stop since last winter, he still couldn’t even begin to come close to pronouncing it, so he just didn’t try). It glittered in the light of the moon; they stood together on the beach where she had come to take a little of his blood, and he let her; he always let her; he loved her, and he figured it was his duty. Besides, it was sexy, he wasn’t gonna lie. It hadn’t been that way with Barnabas or that Jennings freak, but Audrey …
Audrey loves me.
He wished she were human.
“I will be,” she whispered, and slashed the air with the Dagger.
“How do you figure?” Willie scratched his head. She could read his mind sometimes, just a little. That freaked him out some.
“The time has come,” Audrey said, and the Dagger vanished back into the swaths of her clothing. She had taken to wearing flowy, diaphanous material in all shades of blue and purple, and it floated on the air when she walked and made her, and Willie wasn’t sure how this was possible, even more beautiful than he already thought she was.
“To end this,” Audrey said firmly. “I want to be human too, Willie, as much as you want me to be.” She laughed humorlessly. “Probably more. And the Dagger is the only way.”
“Julia … her injections –”
Audrey’s sigh was heavy. “They aren’t working. I’ve been waiting, you know, even while she was gone and you were giving them to me. I waited for some sign that they’ve been working.” She paused. “And nothing.”
Willie felt himself flushing. “Maybe I shouldn’ta let you … let you …”
“Maybe.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “But the thing is, I think they’ve kept me rooted in the human world. I think they’ve made me want to keep fighting. So they haven’t been entirely worthless. But the point is – I still need to feed; I feel the vampire fighting too, I feel the vampire every night; I feel the vampire wanting to burst out and ravage the countryside. I want to tear out throats, Willie; I want to hurt people; I want to make them scream, to make them shriek; I want to drink their fear.” She turned to face him now and he saw that her cheeks were wet with tears. “And that’s wrong, Willie, that’s so wrong. I know it.” She heaved a sigh. “But soon … soon I won’t.”
“Baby,” he whispered, and enfolded her into his arms. They stood that way for a long time, there under the moon, expanding its way toward full; he patted her back and rubbed her shoulders in small concentric circles and let her cry until she was all cried out.
She pulled back after a time and wiped the tears from her face. There was determination in it now; it was set, a look he recognized and that scared him a little. Audrey Jones was Willie’s first real girlfriend; he wasn’t accustomed to reading the expressions and moods in his former lady friends, if you wanted to call them that; before Barnabas and Collinwood, Willie Loomis’ motto was pretty much “get some, get gone.” “The only problem,” she said, and frowned, “is that the Dagger requires a sacrifice.”
“I know,” Willie said, and licked his dried lips. “You told me.”
“I have to keep reminding myself,” Audrey said. “And part of me really, really wants to just go into town and cut down someone – anyone. Some innocent person strolling along the docks –”
“You c-can’t!” Willie was horrified. It was too much like the early days, when Barnabas was fresh out of the coffin and would go down to the docks. And actually, Willie realized with a shock of embarrassment, that was the reason why Audrey was standing before him now. She had been Barnabas’ victim as much as she had Gerard’s.
Her eyes gleamed suddenly in the moonlight. She must have, as she seemed to do sometimes, caught the tail of Willie’s last thought. “Of course,” she said, “of course it doesn’t have to be an innocent. Of course it doesn’t.”
“What are you talkin about?”
She seemed not to have heard him. “I wanted it to be Roxanne,” she murmured, “though I’m not even sure the Dagger would accept one vampire for another as a reasonable substitute. The rules of magic are stupid, I keep finding out, and there are some things that work and some things that don’t for no good reason.” She grinned suddenly, and Willie, seeing the glint of her fangs, felt that old familiar combination of horror and lust at the sight of them. “But I think this time the magic will work for a very good reason. And it won’t be Roxanne either who falls beneath my blade.”
“Wh-who will it be?” he forced himself to ask.
She closed her eyes reverently as she spoke the name, nearly obscured by the endless crashing of the waves along the shore: “Gerard Stiles.”
Quentin stood and smoked on the balcony of the West Wing room where they had brought him after saving him from Valerie Collins. Chris approached him hesitantly; behind him, Sebastian offered an exhausted Alexandra March a cup of coffee. Nathan was nowhere to be found; he had vanished midway through the ceremony while no one was looking, and Chris was not willing to analyze the curious and troubling mixture of relief and distress he felt at that disappearance.
“You okay, gramps?” He wanted to sound gentle and amused, but he failed miserably on both counts, he knew.
Quentin stiffened, then relaxed, but didn’t turn around. “I’m all right,” he said at last.
Chris nodded as if this was what he expected. “Something is happening downstairs,” he said for something to say. “We heard a scream or something a few minutes ago.”
“You should go check it out.”
“We will. In a minute. No one wants to leave you alone.”
“Of course not,” and now, with a sinking feeling, Chris heard the fury in his great-grandfather’s voice, the bitterness, and when Quentin deigned to glance over his shoulder, those blue eyes were aflame. “Of course you won’t. None of you will. Ever.”
Chris opened his mouth, then closed it. His own particular brand of bitterness rose inside him suddenly, and anger with it, and it was a relief, so he allowed it to blossom into full-fledged fury. His teeth ground together; if it hadn’t been for all the work he and Sebastian had been doing, all the practicing, his eyes would have brightened into a lupine emerald and his teeth would have flashed out, sharp and deadly. But they didn’t; he was in control. Still, the anger remained. “Is that what you really want?” he asked.
“Yes,” Quentin said immediately.
“Too damn bad,” Chris snapped back, and put his hand on Quentin’s shoulder and spun him around. Behind them, unseen, Alex and Sebastian exchanged twin glances of alarm. “Quentin. You sonofabitch; did you really think we’d just let her kill you? Turn you into a vampire? Is that what you really thought?”
“I thought,” Quentin growled, “that you’d all know by now that I am beyond saving. That I can save myself, and if I can’t do it, then no one else should either.”
“When did you start smoking?”
“It’s part of this pity party you’ve been throwing for yourself ever since Victoria Winters died, isn’t it.”
“I don’t want to hear her name.”
“Is that why you want to die?”
“No one said I wanted to –”
“Jesus Christ,” Chris exploded, “what else did you think was going to happen to you? And you wouldn’t just be dead, you idiot; you’d be just another vampire for us all to deal with. Or maybe you’d kill a few more people; isn’t that why you’re feeling so goddamn guilty? Because you think you killed people?”
“There are things,” Quentin growled, staring at the stone floor of the balcony, “things about me of which you know nothing.”
“Probably,” Chris agreed, nodding. “Oh, probably. And you’ve done some shitty things in your life. We wouldn’t be here right now if you hadn’t.” Quentin opened his mouth, but Chris cut him off. “You think I still blame you? You think I haven’t recovered from my own temper tantrum last year? God, Gramps, if you think I still blame you, hell, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t blame you anymore. You aren’t that same person; look at me, you aren’t. You are not the same Quentin Collins who murdered his wife in 1897.”
“I am,” Quentin said. His voice was small, almost indistinct.
“Okay, maybe you are. Maybe we’re all who we are, and we always will be. Should we go die? Should we drown ourselves in the sea; wait for the sun to destroy us; eat a silver bullet? Destroy the paintings that keep us whole and sane?”
Quentin said nothing.
Chris’ tone softened. He put a hand on Quentin’s shoulder and squeezed it lightly. “I love you,” he said in a voice too low for the others to hear. “I don’t tell you that; we don’t tell each other that. Not enough. But there is death in this place, more than anywhere else in the world I think, and we should love each other while we can, before it comes. Even if you’re immortal, Gramps, you’re gonna bite it someday.” Quentin’s lips quirked into a small smile, but he still didn’t meet Chris’ gaze. “Look, all I’m saying is that I’m here, and you’re here, and we love each other and we should keep loving each other until the last possible minute, until the end is here and we are taken away from each other, from all that we love. We shouldn’t waste it, not a single goddamn second.” His anger had folded and collapsed upon itself, and Chris found he was trembling on the verge of tears. “I’m not letting you go,” Chris said, “because I’m not ready for you to be gone.”
Quentin drew in a hissing breath. His fingers grazed his throat, newly unabraded; of the terrifying purple-bruised marks of Valerie’s undead affection there was no sign. Alexandra March had done her job well.
“All right,” he said at last, and finally lifted his eyes to meet the man who might as well have been his son, with whom he shared everything. “What do you say we find out what’s going on downstairs?”
“Help her, Julia!” Carolyn screamed, but there seemed to be no help for the old woman; she stumbled forward, suddenly unable to support herself, and Carolyn caught her. Her terrified eyes searched those of Leticia Faye, and though her face and body had aged a hundred years in the hours since last they saw her, Carolyn saw that the eyes were still the same; why, they’re my eyes, she thought, wondering; they are, they are exactly the same.
“There is no help for me.” Leticia’s voice was the whisper of leaves against concrete, a slight rustle, fading, fading so fast.
But her eyes: they caught Carolyn and held her.
Julia, distant, was taking Leticia’s pulse. Carolyn didn’t see her.
He isn’t dead.
We succeeded, but only for the moment. I was foolish. I won’t be foolish again.
“Oh no,” Carolyn whispered, an affirmation. Julia stood, said something about her pulse, how it was just a bare flutter, but it didn’t matter, none of it did.
I shouldn’t even be here. Not like this. Everything will be right in a moment. Do you trust me?
“I trust you.”
Good. It will be easier if you trust me. The fight isn’t over, Carolyn Stoddard.
“No. The fight isn’t over.”
They were looking at her: Angelique, Julia, Barnabas, and the drawing room doors were opening and there was Quentin, Chris, Sebastian, and that woman who looked so like Vicki it hurt, but there was no time for them.
It was going to happen.
The old woman’s eyes widened. Carolyn’s did as well.
Take my hand.
I love you.
“Love you too,” Carolyn whispered. A tear she hadn’t been aware gathered at the corner of her eyes broke and fell and struck their hands, entwined.
They were coming to separate them, and they mustn’t, because –
Then it happened.
Leticia smiled. She sighed.
The light went out of her eyes.
And she turned to dust.
Carolyn cried out and stood up, scattering the dust, and there was the wind, the barest hint of the wind
do you trust me
and that feeling, that feeling of being entered, and she backed away, shaking her head, because she had sworn, she swore she would never let it happen again.
“Carolyn, calm down!” Julia was offering her a sedative. She was laughing and crying and shaking her head, denying denying denying; she didn’t need a sedative, and she was being stupid, being foolish, because she did trust Leticia. Leticia trusted her, had sought her out ever since the Grand Séance, and here was the reason.
They were the same.
I’m not possessed, Carolyn thought, wondering, and stopped her struggles completely; I’m not possessed at all; that’s what she meant, why she said she never really belonged here, should never have come here at all: because she’s been here all along.
Because she’s me.
She knew it was true.
And Leticia Faye peered forever out of the turquoise blue eyes of Carolyn Stoddard.
TO BE CONTINUED ...