Author's Note: If you haven't read the previous two stories in this series and don't have the inclination to (or the time) I'm going to do my best to summarize any info I feel like you need to know.
I have to give a shout-out to the person polishing up all these chapters and giving me a lot of guidance in the writing of this story. Medieval-Rogue has graciously been my beta-reader for… since the middle-ish-end of Bad Blood, and all through Blood Lust. She's a good bit of the reason why my writing has improved as much as it has. Check out her page here on FictionPress to read The Three Powers, a wonderful fantasy story! (Link in my profile.)
If there's one place I never imagined spending Thanksgiving, it was the children's ward at Ashburgh General.
It was the first time I'd been to Ashburgh, the town where I grew up, since April. The first time I had seen any of my family, besides my little brother, since April. I shut my eyes and took a deep breath, feeling like the muted tile floors were rocking under my feet. Eight months. My nephew Aidan was only a little over eight months old. He shouldn't… I hissed and ground my sneakers into the floor. He shouldn't have been here. He shouldn't have been living in a state-of-the-art, environmentally sound, research-tested intensive care chamber -- something that, to me, looked like a plastic box set on top of a lunch cart.
When he'd been born, it was obvious he took after his father. He had ice blue eyes and a shock of almost white-blond hair. Though now the blond looked almost gray, and on the uncommon occasions when he opened his eyes, the blue was dull. Whatever was wrong with him, it was serious.
The doctors didn't know what was wrong with him.
I leaned forward and pressed my forehead to the glass wall separating me from Aidan's room, ignoring the little yellow sign that warned me not to. There were a few other babies in there with him, all of them premature. He was the only one assigned to this place after… after… he'd been healthy for over eight months! What had happened?
Blinking, I turned to the voice. A nurse stood a couple feet from me, her pale green scrubs stained with things I'd rather not think about. She looked me up and down and flipped through some pages on a clipboard, scribbling something down with a well-chewed pen. I crossed my arms over my chest, taking half a step back. The corridors of the hospital, even the children's floor, were permeated with the stink of anesthetic and antiseptic. The place already felt like a lab, I didn't need someone taking notes on my behavior.
"Miss Reed, we've finished your child's midday regiment," she said, flashing me a smile. I blinked again, my forehead creasing with a frown. The nurse bobbed on unaware, more focused on her chart than me. "You can visit him now, but only for the next half hour."
My lips parted and, honestly, I did almost explain that she had the wrong person. I could see how she mistook me for Aidan's mother, but she was looking for Ariadne Reed -- she'd found Dana. My identical twin and I turned twenty this year, and we're young enough that our lives haven't pushed our features apart yet. We've both got wavy brown hair and darker brown eyes, and in two-inch heels we're five and a half feet tall. Ariadne, though, has a child. I don't.
But, hey, only the parents were getting to visit Aidan. I shut my mouth and put on a deliberately weak smile, playing up my weariness from a sleepless night. The nurse's smile just grew wider as she ushered me into the room. If she couldn't tell Ariadne and me apart, I wasn't going to correct her. Not if it gave me a chance to hold his hand.
The scent of medicine was even stronger beyond the glass window. I dug my fingers into my arms, keeping them crossed over my chest, and took a deep breath before stepping over the threshold. The lighting inside the room was softer, dimmer, and it made the air seem almost foggy. I bit my lip and kept my head down as the nurse led me over to Aidan's … bed. Any sound I made might break the whispering quiet the preemie's parents had established.
Two chairs sat next to his 'crib,' and from the state the upholstery was in it was obvious they were well-used. I gingerly lowered myself into one and set my purse in the other, my heart twisting in my chest. The nurse murmured something about fetching me in half an hour and scurried off, her shoes squeaking with her haste to get out of that place. I watched the door swing shut behind her and sighed.
Normally, the empty chair next to me would be occupied by the baby's father. Most of the preemies in the room were being watched over by both parents, though the few who had been here longer had only one parent on duty -- I assumed the other was off sleeping somewhere. That's what Aidan's parents were doing. I'd been assigned to this afternoon's watch. It's not like they didn't want to be here -- if they could've, my sister and her boyfriend would've never left Aidan's side. It's just that in Aidan's father's case, well, he was physically incapable of being here at twelve-thirty in the afternoon.
My sister's last name might've been Reed, but that's only because it hadn't occurred to her and her boyfriend to get married. Aidan's last name was Morgan, like his father and his grandfather. Both of whom were vampires.
Vampires announced themselves to humans about a century ago. Five or six years ago, someone developed a technique allowing vamps (male vamps, at least) to have kids with humans. Don't ask me for details; I've read all the pamphlets and I still don't understand how it works.
I looked down at my nephew, who was tossing and turning a little in his… oh, God, I couldn't look at that thing and call it a crib. It was a cage, made of plastic and wires and monitoring equipment. My head spun and I leaned back, gripping the arms of my chair tight enough that my hands ached.
Aidan looked so much like Gavin it… I took a long, slow breath and opened my eyes. My nephew had settled down on his side and was contentedly sucking on his entire fist, his big blue eyes boring a hole in me. My head fluttered and I had to hold still for a moment before my balance came back and the walls stopped rocking.
"Hey, Aidan," I whispered, smiling at him. He popped his fist out of his mouth with a wet plop and returned a big, toothless grin at me. I laughed softly and reached up, sliding my hand through the hole in the side of his cage so I could take his fingers in mine. He batted at my hand with saliva-coated digits and latched onto my watch for a second, giving it a tug that seemed stronger than he should've been capable of.
Then he yawned and his eyes flickered shut. His entire hand rested in the curve of my palm, and I inched the chair forward so I could be closer. I wished I could hold him. I told myself it was the bad lighting in the room making his skin look so pale and sickly. His hand was clammy, though that might've been because it had just been in his mouth. He'd been admitted to Ashburgh General three days ago, one day before I got to town. He'd had a fever that hadn't broken for forty-eight hours, and they couldn't get him to keep anything down. They were piping liquids and nutrients into him through some slim tubes in his arm.
I touched the plastic wall of the cage and bit my lip. What was this like for Ariadne? Not being able to hold him, not being able to stay with him for more than half an hour at a time? And it had to be just as bad for Gavin, he…
Gavin Morgan was old. For a vampire, this is a good thing; the older they get, the more powerful they get. Gavin was the most powerful vampire I knew, and he couldn't do anything to help his son. It had to be tearing him up. He was tall, blond, and blue-eyed; he'd also been turned into a vamp when he was seventeen. Sometimes he acted like he really hadn't aged a day since then.
Gavin's father, Avery Morgan, was still around too. I only had vague details on the whole thing, but apparently Gavin had gone through a little filial fit of affection and turned his father into a vampire only a couple years after becoming one himself. I knew Avery better than Gavin; he was dating my best friend, Sirel Grange. Avery acted like there was nothing between him and his son/sire, but he carried a picture of Aidan in his pocket. Aidan's middle name was 'Avery.'
I sat there, in the chilly room, for the full half-hour. I didn't move from my chair, and I didn't let go of Aidan. He opened his eyes a few more times, smiles lighting up his face for a moment before he got tired again.
"Aidan," I said, at one point. I had been talking to him on and off, not really knowing what to say. "You remember Michael? Your uncle Michael?" I asked. Michael was my little brother. "He's down here too. He really wants to see you. Maybe we can get him in here, huh? And your Grandma and Grandpa too."
Oh, damn. It was so weird to call Mom and Dad that. Ariadne and I were both still so young, I don't think my parents had expected to have a grandkid yet. They weren't protesting, though. Everyone loved Aidan.
Maybe the fever had just been a freak thing. Maybe he would eat this afternoon and he could come home and tomorrow we could have his first Thanksgiving dinner like we'd all planned on… at my parents' house, the house my sister and brother and I had grown up in. Gavin happily sipping on commercially produced, bottled blood while the rest of us dined on turkey. Michael excitedly rambling on about his first semester at Rosen University, Mom reluctantly informing us about how her bookstore was doing, me reporting on the progress of my third year at Rosen University…
The nurse touched my shoulder and I jerked a little. It was the same one from before, and she had her clipboard carefully tucked under her arm. A pen was dangling off a chain hung around her neck. "Miss Reed," she said gently, "it's time to go. Must let the baby rest," she said, her voice almost sing-songish.
I glanced around the room as she tugged on my sleeve, gently forcing me out into the hallway. It seemed like all the other parents got to stay with their children however long they liked. Only Aidan had restricted visits. Only Aidan didn't really look like he was sick. He just looked tired, but the doctors were being stricter with him than the other babies.
What was wrong with him?
I woke up when my brother's head hit my shoulder. Confused, I rubbed at my eyes, and he made a pathetic noise and curled up against my side, his blue eyes tilted down at the floor. Sighing, I slipped an arm around his shoulders and gave him a tired hug.
He looked up, worry sprinting over his face. "Did he get worse?" he asked, almost breathlessly. It took me a second to figure out why. When I did I shook my head and ruffled my brother's short brown hair, which was getting a little shaggy. Normally I only shortened his name to 'Mikey' when I was stressed.
"I got to see him," I said, after a moment. "Actually go in the room."
Michael's jaw dropped slightly. "How?"
I grinned and crossed my arms over my chest. He was only seventeen, he needed to see me acting at least a little bit optimistic and happy. He didn't need to know that I kept getting dizzy whenever I thought too hard about Aidan. "They thought I was Ariadne," I said, brightly as I could.
"Aw," he muttered. He set his elbows on his knees and rested his chin in his hands, glowering at the window. I'd fallen asleep, not planning on it, sitting on a bench across from Aidan's room. "I don't look anything like Gavin."
"Even if you did, I don't think you could pass for a vampire, Michael."
For a few minutes, he just stared forlornly at the window separating us from our nephew. I could barely imagine what was going through his head, and I got lost looking at him. He'd always been more attached to Ariadne than I had ever been; my twin and I were not the closest sisters ever born, though we were working on that now. He'd been in Ashburgh when she'd moved in with Gavin, when she'd gotten pregnant.
I hadn't been. I'd left home after high school and hadn't come back until my second year in college, last December. In the time between then, I hadn't had one shred of contact with my family -- until Michael took a class trip to visit Rosen, where my college was. I sighed a little and put my arm around him again, which made him smile. It was still really hard not to feel guilty about what I'd done to my brother, leaving like that. I'd been selfish, and I hadn't wanted to be at home anymore, where my mother favored Ariadne over me. Hindsight is painful. I was trying to make up for it, however I could, so I gave in on a lot more things than I probably should have, at least when it came to my baby brother.
"You think I could hypnotize all the nurses to think I was Gavin?" he asked, tilting his head to one side.
And then sometimes I just had to put my foot down.
I flicked my finger against the side of his head and he winced, reaching between us to rub at the sore spot. "What did I tell you about using your powers for evil?" I asked.
"S'not evil!" he protested, ducking his head when I reached out again. He quickly pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up and cinched it tight, making a face at me when I glared at him. "I just want to visit Aidan. How's using my powers bad if I'm just making a visit?" he demanded, voice hot.
"You're not even that good at mental manipulation." I was being kind. Using his powers, he'd never been able to make someone so much as pass him the salt. He didn't seem to realize that he didn't need his powers, that he had the kind of face and voice that could coax nearly anyone into passing him the salt, and a whole lot more.
He huffed and glowered at me a little, blue eyes sparking. "Because you never let me practice."
"Who exactly do you propose practicing on?"
"Well!" he said, fidgeting. I raised an eyebrow at him, waiting, and he opened and shut his mouth a couple of times before jumping to his feet. He wet his lips and looked away from me, taking a couple of steps closer to Aidan's room. He glanced back at me and then looked through the window, his shoulders sagging.
Reluctantly, I stretched some of the soreness out of my muscles and joined him, resting my head on his arm when we were standing side-by-side. He looked down at me. Michael is just an inch shy of six feet, so I can't exactly hug his shoulders when we're both standing up. Sniffling, he wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand, disguising the gesture by sweeping off his sweatshirt hood in the same motion.
"I just want to visit Aidan." The words were damp.
I laced my fingers through his and squeezed his hand. "I know, Mikey."
"And I don't see why I can't use my powers to do that."
My eyes fluttered shut. I had to give him credit for being determined. Unfortunately, that meant I had to pull out the big guns. "Michael Gregory Reed…"
Middle names are magic. I turned away from him so he wouldn't see my smirk, ran my hand through my hair and turned back. The 'powers' he was talking about, well…
"You had better be," I chided him, though I wasn't very firm about it. "You can't walk around thinking like that. If you do, one day, it'll be too tempting. I don't want you turning into some mad psychic, Michael."
As I've come to understand it, people are either faucets or sponges -- psychically speaking. The sponges soak up lots of psychic energy but can't do a damn thing with it, other than spread it around and have it wrung out of them. The faucets are your psychics. They're tapped into a source of psychic energy, and when it runs through them they can aim it and manipulate it. The majority of people, sponges and faucets alike, only receive one type of psychic energy.
My brother and I are exceptions.
"I know," he said, squeezing his eyes shut. "I know, I know. I just… I just… I feel so damned helpless!"
Michael is a faucet. He's the faucet. He has an 'active' absorbent aura, meaning he can actively manipulate the psychic energy around him. And he's not limited to just one type, either. He's tapped into every source. Though the ones he's best at are fire starting and shape shifting. If he's agitated enough, he can pull off a very good healing -- though he can only do it by flooding a person with healing energy. He hasn't built up his skills yet.
I stared at him, my stomach hollowing out. He had his face turned straight down, so only someone standing next to him could see his expression. His tanned face was flushed pink, and his shoulders were trembling. His fists were clenched so tightly at his sides his knuckles had gone stark white.
"Mikey…" I murmured, touching his arm.
Me, on the other hand, I'm a sponge. The person who's taught me all about this insists I am the sponge, a great sponge, and if I'm given enough vampire blood (which is soaked with magic) I turn into a faucet. But I don't think of myself as a psychic. I have a 'dormant' absorbent aura. I absorb all psychic energy, but I can't do anything with it.
Well, I can see it. Dana Reed, rare practitioner of aura sight. I can turn different filters on, see just dormant auras (sponges) or just active auras (faucets). This is, most of the time, a useless skill. When it's not useless it's normally getting me into trouble.
"Why can't I just heal him?" he whispered, choking a little. "I healed you when you got hurt!"
I pressed my lips together and took this moment to look around the hallway. No one was around, or at least I couldn't see anyone. The doors near us were all shut. That wouldn't last for long. Aidan's nurse was due for his mid-afternoon 'regiment.' I hadn't figured out what the regiments consisted of, yet.
"Mikey, you panicked when I got hurt," I said, gently turning him away from the window. No need to risk one of the preemies' parents paying any more attention to us, now. And no need to expose my brother's grief to strangers. "You saved my life, Mikey, you did. But you won't always be able to save everyone."
Earlier that summer I'd been attacked. I'd like to say that it was a mugger, with a knife or a gun, something sweet and normal like that. Not me, though. My attacker had been a vampire. He'd been able to nearly rip me open from miles away. He was in jail now, for… well, a lot of stuff. I'd helped out the woman he'd been hunting, and he'd tried to get rid of me. But he went too far, and the police showed up, and now he was in jail -- condemned to feed off nothing but commercially produced blood for the remainder of his century-long sentence.
Every vampire I knew said that he was going to go crazy a long time before the parole committee looked at him. Commercial blood could sustain vamps, but it wasn't the same as the genuine article.
"I don't want to save everyone," Michael hissed. "I just want to save Aidan."
Oh… I grit my teeth and gave his hand another squeeze. It took me a minute of desperate mental flailing to come up with something to say to him, and in the intervening silence he had to wipe at his eyes a few times. Finally, a light bulb went off over my head.
"C'mon, Michael," I said, pinching his cheek. He batted at my hand and glared at me, but I just put my hands on my hips and smiled at him. "His fever's gone. I've been in there three times today and each time, he's kept his eyes open longer and more often. It might've just been some bug. Some weird thing. Or maybe an allergic reaction."
Michael hesitated, eyes focused on some point in the distance. "Gavin said someone sent him some weird flowers at the house the day Aidan got sick," he said, slowly.
I didn't really think fever was a sign of an allergic reaction, but I wasn't going to take away my brother's hope. "I'm going over there tonight, I'll ask him about that," I said.
"Can I go with you?"
"I'm just house-sitting while he and Ariadne spend the night here."
"Dad and Mom haven't had time with you since the beginning of October. And they need someone there with them, right now. You're the baby, they can dote on you and distract themselves. I'll be fine for one night."
Frowning, he scratched the back of his head. I could see the nurse walking down the hall, and I wondered if she was going to let me see Aidan again, or if the bag she was carrying was for his mid-afternoon 'regiment.'
"You'll be fine for a night?" Michael asked. He was younger than my twin and me, but he was still protective of us. I patted his arm. "Alone?" he added, in case I'd forgotten.
"I'll be fine. It's just one night." The nurse slipped into Aidan's room without casting a glance at me. Damn. Maybe she'd let me inside once she was done with whatever she was doing.
"One night alone."
"I live alone now anyway. I'll be fine."
"You know, I feel a little guilty about this."
My boyfriend looked down at me, blue eyes questioning. I sighed and curled a little closer against him, resting my head on his shoulder. We were sitting in the basement of my sister's house; Jamnis Menai was reading a newspaper and I was failing to pay attention to the television.
"Michael's worried about me being alone," I explained.
Jamnis raised an eyebrow. "Do you think he would be pleased to hear that I surprised you?" he asked, a trace of amusement in his cool voice.
"He doesn't hate you," I said, which made him raise his other eyebrow. I groaned and ran a hand over my face, my fingers raking through my hair. I'd taken it down after Jamnis had shown up at the front door. "Well, he doesn't hate you as much as he used to," I conceded.
We'd been dating for almost a year, and Jamnis still wasn't in my brother's good graces. That really wasn't like Michael. My only theory was that after me being estranged from my family for so long, Michael didn't like the idea of anyone taking me away again. Things were a tiny bit better between them, now, because I'd lived with Jamnis over the summer and he'd graciously invited my brother up to live with us. Michael had spent the summer getting some work experience, touring the area around the university we both attended, and -- unfortunately -- dealing with the psychopathic vampire that had attacked me.
I felt a little guilty about that, too.
"So you don't think calling him would make him feel better?" I asked, biting my lip.
Jamnis slid an arm around me and kissed the crown of my head, taking a moment to inhale the scent of my shampoo. Vampires don't breathe, unless they're trying to smell something, or are stressed… or excited. "I think, Lover," he murmured, "that it would most likely spur him to come over here. At the very least, he would tell your parents, and I doubt you wish to subject him to your mother's reaction."
"I'm still not sure she actually doesn't like you," I said, blushing a little. My mother, Victoria Reed, was not on the best of terms with me. She barely spoke with me, and when she did, it was clipped and hostile. But it'd been that way nearly my entire life. "I think she'd disapprove of anyone I chose."
I blinked at him. I knew that noise, that thoughtful little murmur that meant he was asking me to ask him what he was thinking. It had taken me a while to figure out he wasn't being tight-lipped; he just wanted permission to share his opinion. Plus, the blue in his eyes was prompting.
Vampire's eyes are a little like mood rings, not that I would tell any of them that to their face. The color is fixed -- blue, brown, green, whatever -- but the hue shifts. Darker shades are rougher emotions, or an attempt to hide what they're thinking. Lighter shades are more pleasant emotions. Or, at least that's how it's seemed in all my experiences with vampires.
"You don't think so?" I asked, shifting so I could look up at him. Jamnis is an ancient Roman carving in marble (and I'm not joking about the Roman part; my boyfriend has been around for a while). He's six feet tall, with pitch black hair, strong features, and eyes that are a deeper blue than Gavin's and Aidan's.
"I think," he said, closing his newspaper with his free hand, "that your mother was disappointed you chose a vampire."
"Ariadne chose a vampire."
"Yes. Victoria was hoping her other daughter would bring home a human. A traditional marriage with him, something she knew how to relate to."
"She has Michael."
The corner of his mouth twitched. "Michael is gay, Lover. He won't bring her a daughter-in-law."
"She doesn't know that," I said. Michael had told very few people about this. The vampires knew, because for a brief stint of time he'd dated one of them (a vamp named Nathan, who'd died in an attempt to kill me. Michael didn't know about the attempt or the fact that Nathan was permanently dead). I wasn't even sure Ariadne knew about Michael.
Jamnis chuckled softly. "I think she suspects it."
I frowned. My mother, suspect something and keep it secret? Not outright demand to know whether or not it was true? Or, well… she wouldn't have reservations about asking me, but maybe she was respecting Michael's decision not to tell her yet. Hmm. Or maybe Jamnis was just wrong.
Sighing, I decided to change the subject. "Thank you for coming down here," I said, kissing his cheek.
He reached up and with long, slim fingers latched onto my chin to hold me still while he returned the kiss. I let my eyes flutter shut. That was my Jamnis. He didn't have to say anything to let me know how he felt about me. When the kiss was finished, I smiled and wrapped my arms around his shoulders, burying my face in his shirt. After spending the day in the hospital, it was nice to have the scent of someone familiar to wash away all the medicinal, sterile smells my nose had collected.
I leaned back and gave him a chaste peck, which made him smile. "Thank you for the flowers, too."
When I'd gotten here, Ariadne and Gavin had been rushing out the door. My sister had hugged me and Gavin had given a mostly-platonic kiss to my cheek. The blond vampire had also mentioned that, for some reason, I'd received a delivery of flowers at the house. He'd put them on the kitchen counter. They were peach-colored roses, and they made me melt. There hadn't been a card, which was just the sort of understated thing Jamnis would do.
My boyfriend stared at me, eyes slightly wide. When he spoke, his voice was cautious and low. "What flowers?"
Author's Note: What the heck was that? Who's sending Dana mysterious gifts? You'll have to wait to find out.
Special Note! In my profile page I have a 'fic status' section where I will post the progress on the next chapter. If anything is taking a while, go there. It'll explain what's holding it up, like 'tests' or 'computer problems' or 'rabies.'
Oh yeah! I'm in college. Yay! I have to become a productive member of society now. Damn.
(In the future, reviewer recognition will go down here.)