The normally sunny atmosphere inside the Epstein house resembled nothing less than a war room. The Epsteins -- werewolves Alex and Emily and human Jacob -- met with the Monkees, MacLaren the vampyre and his thrall Niles, and the possessed mannequin Schneider to discuss their next move.
"Message delivered, then?" Micky asked.
Schneider nodded. "Nicole Marnier is heading to Andrew with her tail between her legs." He chuckled at Alex and Emily's expressions. "So to speak."
That seemed to ease the tension and everybody laughed. Then Micky looked over at MacLaren. "You're quiet."
He shrugged as he swallowed the mouthful of his "breakfast". "Thinking. Have we any clue how to go about finding Andrew?"
"Yes, actually," Peter smiled. "Niles."
MacLaren's eyes widened. "Niles – of course! He can lead us right to Andrew!" Then they narrowed again. "But what do we do once we find him?"
Davy chuckled fondly, shaking his head. But Micky frowned deeply. "Okay, you're normally not this slow."
"Slow?" MacLaren frowned.
"Mike," Micky ordered.
Mike frowned deeply, a hand rising to his head to try to offset the pain using his empathy caused. "It's like trying to read him through a blanket. He's all – fuzzy. Foggy."
MacLaren blinked slowly at him, seeming to visibly deteriorate before their eyes. "I... am?"
Peter stood in front of him. "Mac – look at me." Slowly, the smaller man's head turned. "He's still in there – bet it's like trying to think through mud."
A slow smile spread and MacLaren nodded. "Everything's... sluggish."
"When did it start?" Peter asked. "Do you remember?"
A long moment of consideration. "Woke up ... like this. Thought food would help.... didn't."
Micky took the jar and sniffed it, nearly gagging. "No, this won't help him – it'll make him worse. Old blood. He must have been dazed, to grab this."
Davy came over. "Hey, Mac – did you wake when Schneider came home this afternoon?"
When MacLaren nodded, Schneider scowled. "Sun poisoning," he diagnosed.
"How do we treat it?" Mike asked.
"Fresh blood, clean water," Schneider said. "He needs a thorough bath in pure, clean water and fresh blood."
"Niles, come with me," Micky ordered. "We have to get the blood now, before the sun's fully set!" They took off at a run and seconds later, the car peeled out with a squeal of tyres.
"What's the big deal about the fully setting sun?" Alex asked, and Peter shrugged helplessly.
When Micky and Niles returned, Micky headed straight for the bathroom with a jar of blood. Niles put four more in the refrigerator – and it was there that Peter cornered him.
"Wow," Peter said nonchalantly, "that's quite a supply!"
Niles smiled. "Yeah, Mister Griffin gave us enough for the weekend."
As he walked away, Peter felt his eyebrows climb into his bangs.
Mister Griffin? The blood came from Griffin's Meat and Deli?
The blood that kept MacLaren alive came from a Kosher butcher?
Peter's admiration for Micky's negotiation skills went up. How in the world had he talked Griffin into giving him blood – continually?
Peter came into the bathroom and moved to Micky's side. "How is he doing?" he whispered.
"Better," Micky whispered back, watching as MacLaren weakly lapped the blood from the jar Davy held as Schneider wrung a washcloth over his chest. "The sun poisoned him a little, and the bath scourged his skin – purifying his outside. The fresh blood is purifying him inside. Schneider says he'll be weak for a few hours."
"Great," Peter sighed. "So much for going after Andrew tonight."
Micky smirked. "Let him stew. A little worry and uncertainty'll do him --- and us --- a world of good."
"Speaking of doing a world of good...."
"Hm?" Micky looked at him.
Peter smirked. "A Kosher butcher?"
Micky chuckled. "Niles has a big mouth."
"How did you know that wouldn't hurt Mac?"
"Because the blood is just blood. The way the animal is killed and the completeness of the draining of blood is what makes the meat Kosher. But the blood removed from the animal --- once it's removed --- is just liquid refuse."
"Does he know what you need the blood for?"
"Since the first day. He sees it as helping a created creature to stay alive. He's a special person."
Peter smiled and looked over at the tub, where MacLaren was stirring awake at last. "I think we all are, Micky. Especially now."
The sudden outburst from Niles made everyone at the table jump. "What in the world ---?" Mike gasped.
"Niles, what are you talking about?" Micky asked.
Niles put down his silverware. "Master told me to try to think of weaknesses my for--- Andrew --- has that we can exploit!"
"And these... blood slaves... are a weakness?" Micky asked.
"Yes," Niles grinned. "Most definitely!"
"Okay," Davy said. "Back up a little. We don't know what a blood slave even is."
Niles explained what a blood slave was --- humans reduced to existing merely to feed the vampyre they were bound to. "Before Master claimed me from Andrew, I know he had 24. I'd lay odds he's claimed at least one more."
"How are they his weakness?" Davy asked.
"He is dependent on them for sustenance. If they are released --- one or two at a time --- soon he will notice. He will hunger." Niles smiled a cold smile. "And a hungry vampyre---"
"Is a dangerous vampyre," MacLaren said from the doorway.
"Is also a careless vampyre," Niles returned mildly. "Andrew, especially, makes mistakes when he hungers."
"Aren't you supposed to be resting?" Peter asked.
"I'm hungry," MacLaren said, making the whole table chuckle as he walked to the refrigerator. "Yeah, I know, I know --- talking about hungry vampyres and one walks in." Withdrawing a jar, he came to the table and uncapped it as he sat beside Niles. After he drank deeply, he asked, "So mind telling me why you're talking about hungry vampyres?"
They filled him in and MacLaren nodded, his eyes thoughtful even as his tongue chased an errant drop of red from the corner of his mouth. "If we do this right --- nothing will baffle him more. Or infuriate him more."
"I'm curious," Mike said. "Why didn't Andrew realise how much of a threat Niles is to him now? He knows all Andrew's secrets, after all."
MacLaren grinned at Niles. "Do you want to tell them, Niles? Or shall I?"
Niles chuckled. He turned to the others and said, "I am so spacey that people think I don't pay attention and think I forget what I hear. I don't."
MacLaren smiled. "And because he was Enthralled for so long, it is assumed that re-Enthrallment brings a wiping of the memory."
"It doesn't," Niles grinned. "But it's commonly thought that that happens. And that's why Andrew doesn't see me as a threat --- he assumes I've forgotten everything I've learned when Master re-Enthralled me."
MacLaren tapped his leg. "Eat." Niles returned to his food.
Silence reigned for awhile, then Micky asked, "So how do we get these blood slaves free?"
MacLaren smirked at him. "Micky. Just because you have an eidetic memory doesn't mean you have to know every detail about every thing."
Davy and Mike chuckled and Peter grinned, shaking his head at Micky's expression --- one part startled, one part guilt at being caught and one part amused indignation. "Yes, I do!" he shot back merrily.
"No, you don't!" MacLaren shot back just as merrily, and the verbal battle was on.
While they sparred, Schneider approached Davy and whispered in his ear. Davy's eyes widened and he nodded, then returned to his meal like nothing had happened.
Mike and Peter's eyes narrowed. Plans were afoot, it appeared. Plans that didn't include them.
The last time that had happened, friends had been hurt.
Neither of them cared much for that.
Catching the looks, Schneider smiled. "Family plan after the meal."
After the meal --- and after checking on the sleeping Alex and his parents --- the seven congregated in the living room.
"Three or four of us will be easier to get in, attack and get out safer than all of us," Schneider said. "Niles, we need as a guide. I'm the least vulnerable. And Davy is the most dangerous."
MacLaren opened his mouth and Schneider held up a hand. "It's a daytime surgical strike. You're out."
MacLaren glared at him. "I don't like it."
"You don't have to," Schneider shot back. "You just have to trust me."
A scream rent the afternoon, jolting MacLaren to wakefulness. He knew it was too early and he didn't dare leave the blacked-out room, but he called, "What --- was that Peter?"
"Yeah!" came Micky's call back. "He had another of his psychic dreams --- Mike's with him! Go back to sleep, we'll take care of him!"
MacLaren glared into the blackened room. He was still glaring when sleep pulled him down again.
Mike rocked Peter as Micky came in and sat on the bed, handing him orange juice. Peter drank greedily, then asked, "They're still here?"
"No --- they left half an hour ago," Micky said. "Why?"
Peter sobbed. "I saw --- I saw them. Micky --- Michael --- one of them is going to be killed!"
"What?" Micky gasped. "Killed? Are you sure?"
Peter and Mike turned nearly matching incredulous glares on him.
Micky slapped his forehead. "Boy, that was a stupid question...."
"Did you see who it was?" Mike asked, and Peter shook his head. Mike sighed. "Lovely."
"Can we stop them?" Peter asked.
Micky shook his head. "We don't even know where they are."
"Then we can't do anything.... but wait till nightfall," Peter groaned, burying his head in Mike's shoulder.
Mike shook him slightly. "Let's get you taken care of, Shotgun. You hypo-in' out on us won't do nobody good."
The trio slid silently into a building and crept down deserted hallways. Niles led them into a wing and gestured. "This is Andrew's stable," he whispered.
Davy frowned. "Stable?"
Niles nodded. "Blood slaves are considered property --- brood animals, fit only for periodically draining. Hence --- stable."
Schneider growled softly. "I would never have thought he would stoop so low."
"Low?" Davy asked, feeling a bit like a parrot.
"Low," Schneider repeated. "Those that feed on humans, Thralls will gladly offer their blood. Blood slaves, it's done involountarily. It's considered beneath a vampyre's dignity to keep a blood slave instead of a Thrall."
"My, how the mighty have fallen," Davy snorted.
Niles shook his head, chuckling. Then he paused outside a doorway. Slowly, he opened it.
They saw her lying on the bed. Naked and seemingly lifeless --- unmoving and very pale.
Davy started to unbutton his shirt, but Schneider pulled his off and helped the limp woman into it. Davy had to smile --- his would have barley covered her, but Schneider's longer shirt made a minidress.
"We have to hurry," Niles whispered, and he and Davy lifted the unprotesting woman, carrying her between them as they ran down the hall, Schneider right behind them.
They had just emerged into the compound yard when a voice roared, "Where are you going?"
Whirling, Schneider swore. "Guards!"
"I thought they would be elsewhere!" Niles growled.
"Move," Schneider growled. "Let's go!"
As they began to run again, the woman gasped. Her eyes opened and she looked at them. Something stirred deep in her eyes.
Then she put her feet on the ground --- and ran with them. "Good girl," Niles breathed, and she started to smile.
"You're going nowhere!" There was a cold laugh. "Master will reward me for your deaths!"
Schneider froze as a grenade landed at his feet. He lifted his head and locked eyes with Davy.
Davy let out a cry, his head snapping backward. He stumbled. Then he gained his feet again. "Move!" he roared.
"But, Schneider---" Niles began.
"Move!!" Davy repeated. They bolted forward again, with the woman running between them.
Schneider's body toppled forward as if there was suddenly no life inhabiting it. When the grenade went off, the living mannequin's body absorbed the blast.
But he was ripped to pieces by the force of it.
The halfway house was Mike's old apartment --- kept up because he needed privacy more than the others. It was here that Davy and Niles brought the young woman.
They sat her on the couch, then Niles lurched to the bathroom and threw up. When he was done, he flushed it away and came into the kitchen. "How could you just leave him?" he snarled. "We owed him more than to just leave him behind to be destroyed!"
"We left nobody," Davy said, turning to face Niles.
Niles gasped, recoiling slightly.
Davy's left eye was a deep, rich blue. The same colour as....
"....Schneider?" Niles breathed.
"Like he said." A familiar voice that was not Davy's came out of the smaller man's throat as his lips rose into a smile. "We left nobody. We're both here."
"But ---" Niles began. The mouth opened, and Niles held up a hand. "No. I am not one of the others, who you can say 'It is part of the Gift' and they will accept. I have been in this world for nearly a decade, and I know how things work!"
"Do tell." Schneider's smirk twisted Davy's lips. "Then enlighten us."
"A Weapons-Master's power has no provision for a ghostly 'walk-in'. No matter how temporary. For there to not be any negative physical or psychic effects, Davy would have to have a family bond with you!"
"And you don't mean emotional," Schneider finished. "You're right. Davy is blood of my blood. My father's sister gave birth to his lineage."
Niles nodded slowly. "Davy, are you okay?"
Schneider's smirk turned into Davy's smile. "I'm fine. I'm going to call the others --- take care of her?"
Another nod, and Niles went to sit beside the former blood-slave. She turned a warm --- if vacant --- smile on him.
Davy moved to the phone and dialed. When it was picked up, he said, "We're safe at the old place --- and we've got one."
"Peter had a Dream," Mike informed him. "Are you all okay?"
Davy frowned. Mike sometimes drawled 'y'all', but he'd asked both words clearly. That meant this wasn't his lazy drawl, but asking about all four of them. "Sort of."
"Sort of? What do you mean sort of? Peter Dreamed one of you got killed!"
There was a pause, then Davy came clean. "Well --- Jacob needs to rebuild Schneider. He had an encounter with a grenade."
Mike sucked in a deep breath. "Shit. Okay. Will do. Where...."
"What?" Mike roared.
"We're both here, Mike," Schneider said. "Come to the old place." And he hung up.
Mike hung up and leaned on the table.
Peter stepped forward. "Tell me."
He met Peter's eyes. "Schneider's body was destroyed. Your Dream was right."
Peter sank into a chair. "But it was just his body, right?"
"Right. He's sharin' with Davy till Jacob can rebuild him again."
"What?" Peter yelped. "But --- but ---"
Anticipating, Mike sighed. "I don't know how. But we're gonna find out. The good news is, they managed to rescue a blood-slave."
Peter nodded. "Opening salvo."
"No --- Andrew fired that long ago. This was a surgical strike." Mike ran his hand over his face. "And we have a lot more to deal with now."
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