Cleanup continued at the disaster site that had once been 1334 Beechwood in Malibu Beach. It was slow, dirty work – and things were tense.
A week after the arson, a familiar figure strode up just after dark. Spotting him, Schneider – who had been helping out – dropped into a lone chair and froze into mannequin stillness.
Mike sighed and wiped is hands ineffectually on his jeans. As he approached, he could feel the fear rolling off their visitor. “Hello, Mister Babbitt.”
“Nesmith, “he growled. “What in the flaming hell did you do to my house!”
Frowning, Mike paused before he replied. The reactions were pure Babbitt rage – but all the man was feeling was a nameless, deep terror.
Before he could say anything, Babbitt continued, “This is the last straw, do you hear me? This is the absolute last bloody straw!”
Mike’s brows drew together as the frown deepened in puzzlement. ‘Bloody’? He’d heard Davy use that as a curse word before – but Babbitt didn’t live with anyone, let alone anyone British. And he sure never talked like that before!
Why had he used that word?
A huge helping of ‘something-ain’t-right-here’ settled into Mike’s stomach as Babbitt continued ranting. Mike was snapped back to listening when he snarled:
“---on the street! And I’ll find out where you’re staying and I’ll make sure they put you out on the street!”
Mike’s Gift’s Price began to make itself known, and he grunted softly as pain licked greedily around his eyes.
Babbitt’s eyes widened. “And another thing! Don’t you use that bloody mumbo-jumbo you’ve got on me!”
Mike’s head snapped up, his eyes going huge in surprise. Babbitt didn’t know about their Gifts –they kept them under tight scrutiny just so he wouldn’t.
A flash of anger and the ‘feel’ of another person approaching rapidly was all the warning Mike got before something slammed into the back of Babbitt’s head. He folded to the sand, revealing Nigel behind him.
Their blond neighbour was breathing hard from the exertion of running from his house as he lowered the small shovel. His eyes rose to Mike’s. “Did you tell him—“
“I told him nothing,” Mike said as Schneider rose to his feet and made his way over, blue eyes large with shock. “Why?”
Nigel’s voice dropped to a low growl as he flung the shovel to the ground. “Because he’s been Enthralled!”
MacLaren finished his breakfast and licked the droplets of red off his lips. He walked into the living room and his words of greeting died aborning in his throat as the front door blew open. “What the hell?” he gasped as he raced over to help.
Niles’s eyes were full of anger, worry and fear. “I’m sorry, sir, we couldn’t figure where else to bring him!”
He nodded. “I’ll take him to your house, Niles. Then when he wakes up, our secret living quarters will still be secret.” He lifted Babbitt’s unconscious form like a child and took off.
Mike lay a hand on Niles’s shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go help with him.”
“All of us,” Peter said as he came down the stairs. “Every one he burned out.”
“But he didn’t—“ Alex began.
“No, but if he’s Enthralled,” Mike replied, “then it’s Andrew who’s done it.”
“And it’s Andrew who burned us out,” Peter said. He squeezed Alex’s shoulder. “Keep your family safe.”
Alex nodded grimly.
Babbitt slowly opened his eyes and moaned. His head hut like the dickens and when he sat up, his stomach threatened to rebel.
A hand entered his field of vision – a hand that held a glass of clear, cold water. Babbitt sipped it gratefully, looking up and seeing Davy Jones’ face looking down at him.
But that didn’t mean it was Davy Jones. “Which are you?” he asked, frowning at how weak his voice sounded.
“The older one,” he said, Scottish accent betraying him to be the man Babbitt knew as Davy’s cousin.
But Babbitt’s frown deepened. “You’re… a lot….older. “ His hand went to his forehead. “And you’re… different. You… them… all… all d-different.”
MacLaren squeezed his shoulder. “Take it easy. Your brain’s been rattled more’n a little today.”
Babbitt looked up at him with lost eyes. “What’s happened to me?”
And MacLaren heaved a deep sigh. “You need to rest, Henry. Just close your eyes – and rest.”
Slowly, Babbitt’s eyes drooped – then closed all together. MacLaren laid him gently onto the bed, and drew a coverlet over him.
Then he went out to speak with the others. “It’s worse than we thought. He knows.”
All around, eyes closed in spasmodic anger and grief at what had been done to their landlord. “How much does he know?” Peter asked.
“Everything,” MacLaren growled. “It seems like a dream now, but—“
Niles made a growling sound low in his throat. It was followed by four intense curses, each louder than the last. He met their eyes and snarled. “This isn’t Thrall, is it?”
“No, Niles,” MacLaren sighed. “It isn’t.”
Davy frowned. “What do you mean?”
Niles turned to him. “When a vampyre Enthralls someone, it’s like they make us fall desperately in love with them.” Niles gestured toward MacLaren. “He is my Master. My world. My life. I would do anything for him.”
MacLaren nodded sadly. “Niles was Enthralled for so long that he can no longer exist outside of Thrall. He has to have a Master just to function.”
“It’s the ultimate high!” Niles exclaimed, spreading his hands. “And it never ends!” A blissed-out smile kissed his face, then faded, “The second I saw his eyes, I knew something had been done. I-I thought it was Thrall, which mean you were in danger.”
“Because you knew I hadn’t done it,” MacLaren interrupted.
“Yes, sir,” Niles nodded. “And that meant my old master had. But… but seeing that….that look on his face…..”
“So that ain’t Thrall,” Mike frowned. “What is it, then?”
Micky looked at him. “What do you pick up from him?”
Mike sighed. “Fear. Terrible, awful confusion and fear.”
Niles shook his head. “Thrall is bliss. It’s love. There’s no fear at all.”
“Well, that’s what I’m getting’ from him,” Mike replied. “Intense fear and confusion. He barely knows who he is among everything else.” He sighed and turned toward the bedroom doorway. When he spoke again, his voice was thick with compassion.
“He’s lost himself.”
MacLaren squeezed his arm. “He’s not lost himself, Mike. It’s been forcibly torn away from him.”
And Micky paled. “Oh, no. You’re not sayin’—“
“I wish I wasn’t, Micky, but I am.” The vampyre’s eyes reddened and narrowed as he hissed, his fangs dropping with his emotions.
“No,” Micky whispered. Feeling confused eyes on him, he stammered, “I-I read about this when I was studying the legends of vampyres.”
“This is one of the most reprehensible things my kind can do to yours,” MacLaren growled, heading back into the bedroom.
All eyes turned to Micky and he shifted from foot to foot. “Mike’s absolutely right, he said, visibly uncomfortable. “Everything he said – Babbitt doesn’t know anything anymore, really. He can’t think straight. He’s been forcibly emptied and then refilled.”
Peter frowned deeply “That’s twice that word’s been used – ‘forcibly’. You’re talking like he’s been raped or something.”
Micky met his eyes. “We’re talking about his mind, not his body.” He took a deep, shuddering breath and then finished.
“But yeah, Peter. He has been.”
“Wait, hold on a second,” Peter said, holding up a hand. “I’m confused. Mac said that Babbitt knew everything – and you’re saying he doesn’t know much of anything!” He spread his hands helplessly. “Which is it?”
Despite the situation, Mike and Davy shared a proud smile. Peter was no longer willing to take refuge in spaciness. If he didn’t understand something, he’d come right out and say so.
“Both, actually,” Micky said. “He knows about Mac’s being a vampyre. He knows we have Gifts. He doesn’t, however, seem to be able to articulate anything clearly. He’s too shaken – too scared – right now.”
“And this was done to him,” Davy growled, “by force. Okay – how do we fix this?”
The question hung in the air as eyes met eyes and each of the men realised they didn’t have a clue how to begin to answer it.
Babbitt moaned, a hand going to his head as he opened his eyes. “What…”
“Take it easy, Henry. You’ve been through the wringer.”
Babbitt raised his eyes and saw MacLaren sitting there. “I… I can’t stay here.”
“He’s… in my head… t-telling me th-things to do…”
MacLaren smiled. “You’re fighting him?”
“Have to… don’t wanna k-kill...”
“Look at me, Henry.”
Slowly, Babbitt’s eyes swiveled to meet MacLaren’s. Slow movement turned to a sudden gasp and jerk of the older-appearing man’s body as connections were made.
“Now, Henry – remember.”
“I c-can’t…. I can’t….”
“Only once. Then – if you choose – I can make it so you will have no memory at all of what you suffered.”
Babbitt’s eyes went wide. “Y-You can do that?” The raw hope in his voice tore at MacLaren’s heart.
He nodded, not breaking eye contact. “I can. But it must be your choice. Too much has been forced on you.”
Tears welled up and Babbitt nodded. “Okay… h-here.”
And he remembered.
MacLaren lurched out of the bedroom and made it as far as the kitchen sink before the evening’s breakfast forcefully returned in a fountain of red.
Niles was instantly at his Master’s side, rubbing his back. Peter ran to get him some water to rinse out his mouth. Davy moved to the doorway to watch over Babbitt.
Micky watched, his agile prankster mind already trying to figure out how to manufacture “Vampire Vomit” for a Halloween decoration.
Mike leaned in and whispered, “You might as well shelve that idea right now. It’s not gonna happen.”
Startled, Micky turned shocked eyes to him. “Wait a … how’d you… your Gift is empathy, not telepathy!”
“No Gift needed,” Mike smirked. “I just know you.”
Micky glared at him, making the smirk turn into a full-blown smile. Then the pair went to help with MacLaren.
“What happened?” Peter asked as he helped support the trembling vampyre to the table.
“Niles,” MacLaren panted. “I… I Hunger.”
Micky jerked his head. “Come with me, Niles. I’ll show you where we keep his food.”
Niles shook his head. “The Master may drink from me—“
“NO!” MacLaren roared. “Niles,” he continued in a softer voice. “I do not consume human blood. Go with Micky.”
“Yes, sir.” And Niles ran out to the car, following Micky.
Peter was rubbing MacLaren’s back in large, comforting circles. “You’ll be okay, Mac.”
“No, Peter. I won’t be okay until Andrew is destroyed.”
Once Niles and Micky returned and MacLaren ate, he and Niles took a hypnotised-into-sleep Babbitt back to his own house and tucked him into his own bed.
As they headed back to Alex’s house, Peter asked, “So what’s happened to him?”
MacLaren smiled slightly. “He will sleep the rest of tonight and will wake at noon the next day. All this will seem like the barest whispers of nightmare.”
“And…” Davy asked, eyes narrowing a little, “what about his knowing you’re a vampyre and about our Gifts?’
“Again, as I said,” MacLaren said, “nightmare.”
“Good enough,” Davy said, aiming a quarter out the car window and throwing it.
Micky watched in the rear-view mirror as the quarter ricocheted off a building and hit a would-be mugger between the shoulder blades, sending him down just as he’d raised his club. His would-be victim walked on, unaware of what had just happened.
Micky smiled as he kept driving. Davy’s Gift was one he found very cool.
When full disclosure of what had happened to Babbitt was given to Schneider and Alex’s family, Alex howled in fury.
Schneider got up and stormed onto the deck that faced the desert. He just stood there, clenching and unclenching his fists.
“Hey,” Peter said from behind him. “It’s all right. Babbitt’s fine now. He’ll have no memory of this.”
“It’s not all right,” Schneider snarled. “No memory or not, he’s been assaulted! It’s not right!” He glared out over the desert. “Babbitt’s an innocent. To drag innocents into his grudge-war – Andrew’s gone mad.”
Peter tilted his head. “My dream was right.”
“They always are,” Schneider chuckled. “What did this one say?’
“That you can be implicitly trusted. That you’re very old. That you were born human, but didn’t die as one.”
Schneider looked at him. “Anything else?”
“Just that your name isn’t really ‘Schneider’ – but when the time is right, you’ll tell us. You’ll tell us everything.”
A slow nod. “But the time isn’t right. Not yet.”
At that moment, Micky joined them. “Come inside – we need to talk.”
The entire clan gathered round the kitchen table. Niles, Alex and his family, and Schneider were included in this discussion.
“We’ve been going about this all wrong,” MacLaren said. “We’ve been on the run while Andrew and his ilk attack and attack and attack!”
“It’s time to take the attack to him,” Micky said. “Niles knows where he’s holed up—“
“—and he’s just arrogant enough to dismiss him as a threat,” Alex’s father said.
“So,” Davy said, “we take the battle to him. Good plan.”
“But we need somethin’ to rattle him,” Mike said. “Somethin’ to shake him up so bad he won’t know what to think!”
“Leave that to me,” Schneider rumbled.
“Look, what’s –“ Micky began, but Peter’s hand closed over his.
“Peter, are you—“ But his voice died as he looked into Peter’s eyes.
“Trust him,” Peter repeated, absolute conviction in his voice and eyes.
Micky’s eyes met everyone else’s – one by one. He sighed deeply and at last met Schneider’s. “Be careful.”
A nod of the head was the mannequin’s reply.
Two PM. The sun shone brightly in a crystal-clear October sky as Nicole Marnier headed to her car. She was running late, and had managed to forestall her Master’s wrath by informing him of the delay that was out of her hands before he’d had to wait.
But now, she was done – and it was time to go be with her Master.
At the voice, she turned – and screamed.
There was the mannequin the Master’s enemies had owned – heading toward her under its own power! “No! You—you were destroyed by fire!”
“I got better.” His cold hand shot out and grasped her chin, pulling it upward. “Relax, child. I’ll not harm you. You are a messenger – that’s all.”
“A… a m-messenger? Wh-what message?”
“Return to your Master, girl. And tell him –“ And she screamed again as the wide blue eyes turned a blazing vampyre red.
“Tell your Master that William MacLaren sends his regards.”
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