I awoke with a heavy weight on my back. My head was fuzzy, trying to understand the visions that had just run through it. What did it all mean? I knew they weren't my memories because Michael was a vampire when we met. We never had the opportunity to walk through a sunny meadow.
"Bruce?" I asked thickly, remembering what had happened before I ended up here.
"Are you okay?" Bruce whispered from above me. It was his weight I felt and for some reason, that thought gave me some comfort.
"Yes. Are you okay?" I asked in an equally low voice.
"A little dizzy, but other than that, okay."
"Where are we?" I opened my eyes and saw the white fence in front of me.
"On the ground," he said dryly.
"Very funny," I mumbled as I elbowed him and he got up with a grunt. I rolled over and took the hand he offered and got to my feet. I could hear angry voices and turned to see who they were and where they came from.
The duplex was the same one that I'd seen in my vision and Antonio and Michael were both there as well. I absently brushed my shirt and pants free of any dirt and slowly moved to enter the yard, vaguely aware that Bruce was still with me. We had walked into an argument.
"...not here. Even if she were, you must know you wouldn't be welcome." I knew without a doubt that was Michael's voice. What on earth was going on around here?
"I demand to see her. She has much to answer for, Moorecock. Much to answer for." I'd only seen Antonio this agitated a few times before and then never with a friend.
"She had a warrant for you childe, Spaniard," Michael continued from the doorway. "The kill was legal. You have no right to come here." Come here? What was going on? What about Antonio's childe? Was it Christina that he was so upset about?
"I have every right. That bastard killed her husband. She was within our laws to take his life in return." I recognized the passion in his voice and knew whatever it was he was talking about meant a great deal to him. "The warrant against her would never have been issued if your wife hadn't pushed it. I demand satisfaction," he finished with a sneer.
Michael's voice got very deep as he said, "Demand your satisfaction from the courts, Spaniard. You'll get nothing here." I knew he meant business and hoped we hadn't walked into a fight we couldn't stop.
I saw that Antonio was a vampire but for some reason Michael looked human to me and I started to get scared. That had to mean that the alternate Rafe had been right when he said Michael was a werewolf. What did that mean in his relationship with the Brenda from this world? And what about Antonio? He couldn't in any way be like my sire. This couldn't be the same kind of man who took me under his wing and embraced me because he knew how much I loved Michael. I started to get the feeling that I wasn't anywhere near Kansas anymore.
I glanced at Bruce and saw that he was angry and going for his gun. "This is not the time," I said, putting my hand on his arm. "We do not know what's going on here. It's Antonio and Michael, but we don't know what they are. Hold back, alright?" He nodded reluctantly and released his hold on the gun, removing his hand from his jacket.
"That's Antonio?" Bruce asked in a normal voice that didn't draw the attention of either of the men on the porch. We were at the bottom of the stairs now and I stopped there taking in the two of them.
"I see you, Antonio Miguel Santiago Moreno," I finally said from where I stood.
He straightened tensely and turned around on the porch, startled to hear me behind him and I think a little shocked to hear me say his name. He didn't look like the Antonio I knew. His hair was extremely short by his standards, not even touching the collar of his shirt and his attire was very modern. Suddenly, I felt the powerful rush come over me. It seemed to emanate from Antonio but I had no knowledge of a discipline with that effect as this one he was using. It was as if he was trying to influence me in some way but it wasn't working.
"Somebody's pissy," Bruce said, bringing attention to himself.
"Bruce?" Antonio asked, astonished, as if he recognized him. "I thought you were dead." He now moved to the edge of the porch for a better look at my companion.
In response, Bruce put his first two fingers to the inside of his wrist as if he was feeling for a pulse and simply said, "I am."
"I heard the master of Salem cut your head off." He seemed truly impressed to see Bruce standing before him. "What are you doing here? Rachel will be so glad to see you." He then remembered who Bruce was with and asked, "What are you doing with her?" He was glaring at me again.
"When was this?" Bruce asked, ignoring Antonio's question. He was adjusting his neck and the collar of his shirt in discomfort as if thinking about losing his head. You didn't mention beheading in front of Kindred and not expect some sort of awkwardness. Leave it to Bruce to find humor in the situation.
I looked to the door and saw Michael there, looking as handsome as he did the day he left Salem two years ago. He was standing just inside the screen door so it was hard to get a good look at him. My heart lurched anyway.
"Two years ago," Antonio was saying, not understanding Bruce's apparent loss of memory. "Just after you came up from the ground. Why would you hide for two years? Rachel has been missing you horribly. I had to make her move here so that bitch wouldn't kill her. And what are you doing with her?" he asked again menacingly and pointing a finger at me this time.
"He is my adopted childe," I said calmly, waiting for Antonio to realize exactly what I was.
"Brenda?" Michael called from inside the house. "Why don't you come in here, away from the nice vampires?" Confusion was evident in his voice and my heart went out to him; he didn't know what was going on.
I heard Bruce start to laugh and elbowed him into silence.
"Brenda, come on." Michael was gesturing for me to come inside now.
"Michael, everything is fine," I said evenly.
"Everything is not fine," he insisted. "Your gun's not out and you're not in here."
"Michael, you need to trust me."
"Well Bruce, you can help me out here," Antonio said with a sneer, effectively getting my attention again. "I have vengeance to seek." He was looking at me in a way that made me feel not liked.
"Antonio, look again," was all I said.
"How do you know that name?" he raged. "I have told only one person that name in 300 years. Did you torture her before you killed her?"
"I would not hurt her," Bruce said in a friendly manner. "Use your Auspex, Antonio." I heard a baby crying from inside the house as Antonio gave me a hard look. He was studying me.
Michael glanced over his shoulder then said to me, "I'll go get her. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'll be fine," I replied reassuringly. I watched him disappear into the house, realizing that part of the visions made sense now. I must have been seeing parts of her life, the Brenda from this world. The pain in the hospital must have been childbirth. They have at least one child, I thought to myself in despair. They are happy, in love and have a family. And he thinks I'm her. What am I going to do? I felt more than a little panicked.
Where was Rafe? I realized I hadn't really thought of him ever since our little flip into the Twilight Zone. Was he next door? I knew that's where the other Rafe lived and I wanted to go to the door and knock but my current situation was way too tense. I focused on Antonio again.
"Mio Dios," he was saying. "You're a vampire."
"In my world I am, and it is you I have to thank for it." My tone was even but he still looked taken aback. "Christina is missing," Bruce continued. "Do you know where she is?"
Antonio's face contorted in pain as he returned his attention to Bruce. "She's not missing," he spat. "She's dead and this bitch killed her." There went the finger in my direction again.
"Antonio," I began, "something is going on here. We are not from this world." How was I supposed to explain this to him? He was already extremely upset and probably thought I was playing games with him.
We all must have heard the door open at the same time because our three heads turned in unison. Christina and Rafe stood just outside the doorway of the other apartment.
"Christina!" Antonio exclaimed as he went to her side and wrapped his arms around her in a fierce hug.
"Antonio, wait," I said. "That's not your Christina."
"Not today I'm not," she said easily as she pushed away from him. "I know I haven't seen you in a while but..." she trailed off, seeming to remember that he wasn't the sire she knew and had been avoiding for a couple years.
Rafe had worked his way around the group of people to reach my side. I was so relieved to see him as he pulled me into his arms and hugged me tightly. "Are you all right?" I asked.
"I'm fine," he said, still holding me close. "Just very confused about what's going on." I pulled back to look at him, just to make sure he was real. "There are things going on here I don't think you realize."
"What? That this Brenda's a hunter?"
"Yeah," he said, amazed. "How'd you know?"
"You kind of told me," I said with a smile.
"Oh, let me guess...he's there?" After I nodded he asked, "Is he a creep?"
"No, he's a nice guy, but he's not you." I hugged him to me again and he kissed my temple lightly.
"Look," I heard Christina say from behind me and I turned. "I know you think I'm your childe but I'm not. And I know you look like my Antonio but you're the Spaniard and we gotta figure this out." It was a good thing she didn't need to breathe. She was rattling along like a village idiot. "This isn't the Brenda you know, it's the Brenda I know and she's your childe and you don't know Bruce in our world. There's a Michael here that's married to you," she finished in a flourish as she turned her attention to me. I could tell she was nervous and upset, that's why she was ranting.
"I know," Rafe and I said at the same time then looked at each other. Remembering how touchy of a subject Michael was, I put my hand to his face and he covered it with his own.
"He needs to know what's going on so he doesn't come into this situation and flip out," I said.
"I know," he replied in a low voice. "There's a matter about giving something to Antonio or he's going to kill you." He pulled an envelope from his pocket and handed it to me.
"Well then, let's do that." I looked at the envelope and recognized Christina's handwriting on it. It was addressed to the Spaniard. I went to where he was still talking to my Christina and held out the envelope. "The Christina you knew apparently left this for you."
He snatched it from my hand, "Where did you get this?"
"It was by the door. I have no idea how it got there," Rafe told him. "There's a journal in there as well that says if you don't get this you'll kill Brenda and I don't want you to kill her so there it is."
"Chris, Michael is over there," I said, taking her hand and she gently squeezed it in return. "I have to go talk to him. He's gotta know what's going on here." My voice was shaky and I dreaded the upcoming confrontation but I knew I had to do it. Christina nodded quietly and I could tell she was depressed and upset. I wished I had the time to talk to her now but dealing with Michael was more important.
I went to the door of the home Brenda and Michael shared and looked inside. It was a living room filled with warm comfortable furniture that was decorated in a style I myself would have chosen. The TV was on but no one was in the room. In one corner, there was a playpen with older children's toys neatly piled next to it. I opened the screen and was surprised to find that I couldn't enter when I tried. It was like an invisible shield of some kind was keeping me from entering.
"Michael?" I called into the house, my hand resting on the barrier.
"Yeah, Bren. Are you okay?" His voice was coming from the second floor.
"Kind of." How could I tell him I couldn't enter? This was stupid. "Um, can you come here?"
"Why don't you come here?" he replied.
"Brenda, you know you can come in the house. Come on." And with those words, my hand fell into the room as if by magic. I remembered hearing of vampires needing to be invited into a home but that was only in stories. I had never known of an actual Kindred impeded in such a way. With a final glance over my shoulder at Rafe, I walked inside.
"Where are you?" I asked, stepping into the room and letting the screen close behind me.
"I'm upstairs in Anna's room." Was that one of their children? I suddenly found myself wondering what they looked like. Did they have a boy that looked like Michael, with blond hair and clear blue eyes? Or did they have a girl with dark hair like mine? My emotions were such a whirl as I headed for the stairs that led to the second floor. What would he do when he found out that I wasn't his wife or worse yet, that I was one of the beings she hunted?
I worried that I would have to defend myself against him and I dreaded that I might have to hurt him. I wondered if my abilities were the same now that I found myself in a different place so I quickly lowered my fangs as I reached the bottom of the stairs just to make sure I still could and retracted them again. It would be stupid to meet Michael with that kind of calling card. I would be dead for sure.
There were picture frames on the wall that led up the stairs and I studied them as I slowly climbed up. They were the typical pictures of a growing family. Wedding day photos, professional poses of a couple and two children, and single pictures of two adorable little girls in various stages of development. The oldest was Anna and the baby was Brenna. I learned this from Brenda's neat script that was so familiar to me. She had made collages of the girls, their names in a colorful script.
The weird thing about the whole thing was that the mother was me, but not me. They all looked so happy I thought I was going to cry. It wasn't that I wanted to be the wife and mother in those pictures. It's just that the point was driven home once again that I could never be a wife and mother.
"Brenda?" Michael called, bringing me out of my thoughts. "Are you coming up? Come on, Anna wants to see you." I was stunned. I couldn't do this.
"Mommy." I heard a small child call out.
"Michael?" I was barely maintaining my composure.
"Yeah. Did you get rid of the Spaniard?"
"Um. We need to talk." There was no way in hell I was going up there.
"Did you kill the vamp on the stairs?" His tone said he was getting fed up with my hesitation.
"Could you come here please?" I heard movement and a few seconds later he appeared at the top of the stairs with a little girl that looked no more than three years old in his arms.
"Mommy," she cried and held out her little arms in my direction. I felt as if someone was ripping my heart out.
Michael must have seen my discomfort because he asked, "Brenda, what's wrong?" When I didn't respond he put Anna down and lowered himself down beside her. "Honey, why don't you go lay down. Mommy will be up later." She nodded with a finger in her mouth, something my father told me I always did, and walked out of sight. Not however, before blowing me a kiss and waving her little hand in my direction.
Michael rose and started down the stairs and I turned and did the same. When we were in the living room I quickly crossed to the other side to put as much space as possible between us.
"What's wrong, Brenda?" Michael asked following me. "Come on and give me a kiss. What did the Spaniard do to shake you that bad?"
"N-nothing," I stammered, taking another step away from him.
Something caught his attention from the porch and he glanced out the front door. "He's still out there," he stated.
"Michael, please sit down. I know you're confused." He reached for my hand but I pulled away and he looked at me questioningly. "Michael, I have to talk to you," I said as I indicated the couch. "Please sit down, there are some things I need to explain."
"Okay. I don't understand, but-" I followed him to the couch and he sat on the edge of it. There was a coffee table in front of the couch and I took a seat in front of Michael.
He moved to take my hand again and I dodged him. "Wait before you do that," I stammered and he laid his hands on my thighs instead. "There is something going on."
"Obviously," he chuckled slightly, then his expression turned serious. "Were you outside for a long time? You're cold." He was looking down to where his hands lay and he started moving them up and down my thighs. Stop this, I warned myself. This is NOT a good idea.
"I-I'm going to be cold," I croaked out.
"I could warm you up," he replied slyly, looking into my eyes with a come hither glance. My gaze went to the door and I was relieved that Rafe wasn't standing there. He probably would have rushed in with guns blazing.
"H-how can I say this," I said half out loud and half to myself. "Michael, I am not the Brenda you think I am."
"What," he laughed, "did you go and do something weird?"
"No. This is going to seem hard to believe..."
"This whole thing is weird, honey. You're not leaving me are you?" His tone turned serious all of a sudden.
"No. Oh, my God. I am not from this world. Something has happened and I have switched places with your wife."
"I know it's almost Halloween, Bren, but come on. Is this some kind of trick?" His grip tightened slightly on my legs but he caught himself and relaxed his fingers again.
"This is no joke. I am dead serious." Our eyes were locked and I saw that something was going on in the depths of his clear blue ones. They were changing, becoming more animalistic in appearance. I also began to feel some kind of power wash over me again. Something like I felt earlier coming from Antonio but this time it came from Michael. Then I remembered what the other Rafe had told me.
"Michael, are you Lupine?" I asked in partial disbelief.
He quickly removed his hands from my thighs then and gripped the couch cushion instead. He looked as if someone had slapped him across the face. "Brenda, you know I am. Don't play games with me," he almost growled.
"Michael, believe me, I wouldn't do that to you." I was really starting to get nervous. I didn't know much about werewolves to begin with and now I found myself in a place where I had to wonder about my abilities. It was too much to have to question what little knowledge of other things I had.
"What did you do with my wife?" he asked. He was beginning to believe what I was trying to tell him.
"She's probably in my world with my friends." At least I hoped Micky and Sarah had arrived at the park to find our counterparts. I found myself wondering what happened to the others who were in the park with us.
"Your vamp friends?" Michael asked gruffly.
"Nothing will happen to her," I assured him.
"How do we get her back?" He still looked dangerous but he was managing to keep a tight rein on his emotions.
"That's what we need to figure out."
"How did you get here?"
"In my world, we are fighting this group of not-so-nice vampires."
"That would be all of them," he retorted pointedly.
"No. Look, do you have the ability to tell if I'm lying to you or not?" I wasn't going to get anywhere if he couldn't trust me enough to believe what I was telling him.
"Try and find out. You've never been able to lie to me." He actually sounded smug, the jerk.
"Then you'll believe me when I tell you. There is a group called the Sabbat. Are you familiar with them?"
"It's a witches c-" he started.
"No," I quickly dismissed his assumption. "In our society they are a group, maybe like the vampires here. I don't know for sure, I've only met Antonio."
"Antonio. You know, the man who wishes to kill your wife."
"The Spaniard? His name is Antonio?" I didn't understand the big secrecy over Antonio's name. It's not like it was Eugene or anything.
"Yes," I replied. "How did you get here and why isn't Christina dead?" I heard the cushion under his clenched fingers begin to tear. I had to admit his control was really admirable.
"I'll tell you everything if you'll just give me some time. I believe they have done some kind of black ritual that has switched us. For what reason, I don't know. Maybe they thought we were a threat to their plan to take over the city and they'll be able to achieve their end easier without us there." Then I thought about the bugs and cameras that were found in my house and how angry the Michael from my world must have been to see me with another man. He could be pretty possessive when he wanted to. "On the other hand, maybe they're just having some fun and experimenting for the future."
"How do we fix it?" he asked.
"I don't know." And it really pissed me off. I felt so helpless and I didn't like the feeling.
"Well, maybe we better find someone who does." He sounded angry because I didn't have all the answers and I couldn't blame him.
"That's my hope."
"Who's that?" he asked, finally noticing my adopted childe who sat next to Antonio on the porch.
"That's my friend, Bruce Blackwell."
"And I bet he's a vamp too." After I nodded, he continued under his breath, "I'm surrounded by vamps. Let me guess, you could come in because I told you to."
"I guess," I replied hesitantly. I still didn't understand what was up with me not being able to come in. "On my life, Michael, nothing will happen."
"I will not allow anything to happen to my children."
"Neither will I. They are an extension of you and her."
"Well, let's go outside and discuss this, if you can keep the Spaniard under control."
"I will do whatever I have to." We both stood at the same time, ending up nose-to-nose and close enough to touch our lips together. For an instant, I think the both of us almost forgot who the other was and just kissed because it was so easy. Even though I hadn't been with my Michael for over two years, I still felt the familiarity of being with him just by the close contact with the man in front of me.
The moment lasted that long, however. Just a moment. I'm not sure but I thought the both of us moved closer and almost kissed, then remembered ourselves and pulled awkwardly away. We went out to the porch where Bruce and Antonio were still seated on the steps, Antonio was still reading the contents of the envelope Rafe had brought out of the adjoining house. Rafe and Christina stood leaning against the house, staying out of the way.
"Do you know any mages or anyone with magical abilities?" I asked Michael as the screen door once again shut.
"No one Brenda hasn't killed," he replied. "She doesn't make friends in the supernatural community. E-except Lupines," he added guiltily.
"Great," I muttered.
Antonio finished reading then and carefully folded the papers and replaced them in the envelope. When Bruce asked him if he was all right, Antonio looked to the sky and nodded his head quietly; blood tears were apparent in his eyes but he wasn't letting them fall. The two men continued to talk in low voices as Michael and I joined Christina and Rafe.
I noticed a hole about the size of a fist in the side of the house, just below Christina's shoulder, and I thought that something more had happened to upset her. She tended to hit things when she got angry. When I looked at her pointedly she ignored me and I didn't press her about it. There would be time later.
Rafe looked relieved that Michael and I hadn't come out of the house arm in arm and I had to admit there was a small part of me that wanted just that. He moved to stand beside me but I discreetly held out a hand for him to wait. I didn't want Michael to see that the two of us were involved.
I wasn't discreet enough however because Michael looked from Rafe to me and asked, "Let me guess, Rafe went too?" I nodded slowly and he replied, "So this Rafe is from your world?"
"And you guys are lovers, aren't you?" he asked with disgust, and it pissed me off.
"Only because you left me," I defended myself in a low voice. This guy was not going to put me on the spot for any of my decisions.
"Wasn't me," he said simply. "I never would have left my Brenda."
"But he did."
I didn't stop Rafe this time when he moved to come to my side. Michael eyed him up and down in an almost jealous way.
"In this world, she ended up with yours. Her sire sent it to her," I heard Antonio say from behind me and I turned to see that Buffy Summers and Rachel Black were striding up the front walk.
"Her what?" Bruce asked. Rachel's attention was brought to him and shock filled her features. Buffy looked from the sword Bruce was holding to the one sticking out from behind her right shoulder.
"Are you Bruce?" she asked in disbelief.
"Last time I checked," he replied. Rachel finally came to her senses and began to slowly approach the porch, clutching her chest.
Buffy looked at me and asked, "Brenda, what's going on?"
"This is Lord Bruce Blackwell," was all I said. I didn't know whether these newcomers would be friend or foe and I wasn't about to give away anything more.
"I thought you were dead," Rachel said when she reached the bottom of the stairs. "I saw her kill you." She had eyes only for Bruce and I wondered what kind of relationship the two of them had had in this place.
"She did." Bruce stood and pulled her up the stairs and into his arms.
"Bruce, is she alright?" I asked.
"Yeah, she's fine. Not exactly what I'm used to." He was looking down at her awkwardly, like she was a toad or something.
"What are you talking about?"
"Let me guess," Michael said incredulously from next to me, "in your world she's not a vampire?"
"No," I replied as I really looked at her for the first time and realized he was right. "She is here, though."
Rachel pulled back in Bruce's embrace and stared at him. "What are you talking about? You're the one who made me."
Bruce was visibly shaken and it took him a moment to reply. "No, I-I don't think so."
"What about the Slayer?" I asked, indicating Buffy with my head. I had also noticed that she too was of the Kindred variety.
"Me? I'm not the Slayer, you are. I gave up that job. Well, I had no choice. What was I supposed to do, slay myself?"
"That would have been interesting," Bruce chuckled.
Buffy turned her attention to Antonio, "Is this your revenge?"
"Wasn't me," he replied with his hands in the air.
"Yeah, it was." Bruce was still chuckling as he tucked Rachel under one arm.
"Bruce," I warned. "I think that's irrelevant right now. Chris, are you okay?"
"What happened to your hand?"
"The wall hit it," she mused with a slight smile.
"Don't you hate it when that happens?" Bruce interjected with irony.
"Yeah. Kind of stings."
I smiled at her and turned to Antonio. "We need your help, Antonio."
"Antonio?" Buffy asked, her nose wrinkled. "Is that your name?"
The look he gave me said, can't you keep you mouth shut? Bruce leaned toward me and said lowly, "I think we should call him the Spaniard."
"I don't understand what's going on," Antonio said, shaking his head. "Where were you before you came to this world?"
"A-aren't we in Salem?" I asked. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind before. It was crazy enough dealing with the fact that we were no longer in our time but to think that we weren't in Salem either was particularly disturbing.
"Salem, Washington?" Antonio asked in disbelief.
"No, Salem, Massachusetts," I replied.
He shook his head, a piteous look on his face. "Try Nashville, Tennessee," was all he said. Nashville? How could this be? The more information I got about this place, the more confused I became.
"We need to find a Tremere," I said under my breath as I thought about what our next move should be.
"A what?" Buffy asked. I couldn't remember just how much Kindred knowledge she had but since she was now a vampire herself I expected that she would.
"A Tremere," I repeated. "You." I pointed to Antonio.
He just stared blankly at me, however. "I don't know what that is," was all he said.
"Spooky boo," Bruce interjected.
"You know Thaumaturgy? Blood Magic?"
"That I can do," he said with a slight grin.
"We need to find somebody with the ability to switch us back," I said. "Do you know anyone?"
"I believe it was a Lasombra that had something to do with it," Bruce offered.
"Yes, I think it was some dark ritual they performed."
"You guys are obviously not from around here," Antonio said. "You said you were from Salem. Who do you know there?"
"Elvira Van Dorn is the Prince and her childe, Micky George."
Antonio shook his head sadly. "He's her ghoul, here. Well, he used to be, before she lost him in a card game."
"Is Elvira still alive in the world?" I asked Antonio.
"Yeah. But I don't think you want to call her. What about Faith?"
I nodded. "She's a Tremere from Nashville."
"Now she's in Salem but she probably won't talk to me. She's a little upset with me."
"Why? What did you do?" Bruce asked.
"There can be only one Master vampire in town at a time," he explained. It was decided that Rachel would try to contact Faith. After finding out that Bruce's cell phone didn't work here, Rafe went into his counterpart's apartment to get a cordless.
Bruce seemed to notice Michael, who was standing on the fringe of the group, and cautiously approached him. "This has got to be hard on you," he said friendly.
"What, being surrounded by vamps? Or how about finding out that my wife isn't my wife? Or that in another world she's my friend's lover? And that she's a vamp?"
"If it's any comfort to you at all, in the other world you're a vampire, too." I didn't mean to hurt him in any way but he was acting like he was the only one displaced in this whole situation.
"Oh, really? Was that before or after the werewolf bit me on campus?"
"You weren't born Lupine?" I asked.
"No. How do you get to be Lupine in your world?"
"You're born," Bruce and I replied together.
"Not here. You have to be bit."
"I'm sorry," I muttered.
"Lotta changes," Bruce said as he turned and went to speak to Buffy. I smile a little smile. Bruce had said that when he first came up from Rachel's yard. Obviously there were many things - everything to be exact - that were different from the time in which he had lived. He took things in stride and began to use that phrase when he tried to understand a new situation. I hadn't heard him say that in a while.
"I saw the photographs on the stairway."
"Yes. They're beautiful."
"They look a lot like you."
"You're a lucky individual. I hope you understand and realize what you have with her."
"I thank God every day."
"I'm glad one of you does." Distracted.
"I'm not in the other world?"
"Which would explain why you're sleeping with Rafael. He's not a vamp?"
"No, he's not." Rafe came out with the phone then and handed it to Rachel, then started across the porch to me. "I understand you have reservations about me and that's fine but-" I knew I had no right to ask what I was about to but I couldn't stop myself. "Is there any way I could just look at the girls?"
"You know I can kill you," he said in a low voice.
"I'll give you the gun."
"I don't need a gun. If you swear you won't harm them."
"I swear it with my life."
"I'll be right back," I said to Rafe and kissed his cheek. He looked apprehensive again but didn't say anything as Michael and I crossed the porch. Once inside the house, I carefully took out each of my guns and placed them on the coffee table.
Michael led the way upstairs. The bedrooms were all on the left and he went into the first of them. The nursery was done in pink with an adorable bunny border along the top of the walls. The room was spacious but filled with a crib, toddler bed and two tall dressers. More toys spilled from an ancient but sturdy toy box that I recognized as my own from childhood. Anna was sitting up in her bed with a stuffed Ernie on her lap.
"Mommy! Daddy!" she cried when she saw us. Michael crossed the room and put his first finger to his lips in a gesture designed to keep the little girl quiet. He sat on the bed and laid his large hand on her head. "How ya doing, honey?" he asked.
"I'm waiting for my kiss so I can go to sleep," she informed him matter-of-factly. I could tell that this child had a memory as long as an elephant's. She got to her knees and threw her chubby arms around Michael's neck I in a fierce hug of joy. He hugged her in return and I knew he was upset and trying to hide it from the little girl.
I glanced in the crib from where I had stopped in the doorway and saw that the baby, Brenna, who was about a year old, was fast asleep. She looked purely angelic and I knew she would be as beautiful as Anna was.
Michael and Anna exchanged more hugs and kisses before she broke away and turned to me with her arms outstretched again. I looked to Michael for help. I knew there was no way in hell he was going to let me touch them and he would have to defuse the situation.
"Mommy isn't feeling good tonight, honey," he explained as he laid her down on the bed and pulled the covers over her. "She doesn't want to make you sick, too, so you're going to have to blow her kisses."
"Okay," she laughed in that child-like innocence as she sat up and blew me a kiss. My heart ached again as I watched her. "Aren't you going to catch it, Mommy," she asked sadly.
"Oh, right," I replied as I caught the imaginary kiss and blew one to her in return.
"I hope you feel better, Mommy," Anna said with a yawn then added, "Make Daddy kiss it and make it all better."
"Thank you, sweetie," I croaked. I knew I was near to tears and didn't want to scare the little girl so I quickly ducked out into the hallway while Michael finished the tucking in ritual.
"Thank you," I said lowly after he joined me in the hall.
"Did you love me in that world?" he asked quietly.
"I still do."
"Then what happened?"
"You left me. I met you when I lived in Las Vegas. You are a very smart and charming man. I helped you with your business ventures and we developed a relationship. About six months later, I found out that you were a vampire. You made me your ghoul and we were happy."
"Ghoul? I put my mark on you?"
"You fed me blood periodically and I stopped aging. I was still human so I could be out during the day."
"So I made you my human servant."
"Kind of, yes. I helped you. We had a relationship. We loved each other."
"So what happened?" he asked.
"I wanted to become like you. To be your equal and you didn't want to give it to me. I understood that, but..."
"Don't blame me."
"Sorry. So when someone else offered, I thought it would be perfect. I thought we could have whatever kind of normal life we could have in terms of Kindred."
"Vampires. So I went and got embraced and when I came back you had changed. I don't think you liked not having a hold over me anymore. You told me I needed time to adjust to my new life." I was trembling slightly. I had never really talked about everything that happened with him to anyone. Micky had the basic facts but I didn't think he really wanted the whole story, especially now that I had found out about Michael and Sarah. "You left me," I finished in a small voice.
Michael was surprisingly silent. I was sure he would have taken the opportunity to give a few jibes about the stupidity of allowing yourself to get embraced. We reached the top of the stairs and started down.
"I'm sorry," I said, trying to sound normal. "I didn't mean to unload on you."
"Sounds like I'm a real asshole. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault."
"You're right. I would have never acted like that. Well, I guess I did. Let's go downstairs and see if we can't get back what's supposed to be."
"Yeah, so I can get out of your hair," I replied to Michael. We were back in the living room and I was collecting my weapons. Just as I turned to glance out the screen door, I saw Christina reach back with her fist and for no apparent reason at all, hit the wall of the house. If memory served me right, there had been a hole in the wall already and it just happened to be right where her hand would have landed. Is she trying to disfigure herself or what? I thought as I went to the door and called out, "Chris? What are you doing?"
"I had an itch," she mumbled like a petulant child as she flexed her fingers.
"That wall didn't do anything to you," I retorted before turning back to Michael. He was only a few feet from me, the closest he'd willingly put himself since finding out what I was. "Can you uninvite me in?" I asked.
"Uninvite?" He thought for a moment and when he couldn't find an answer called out, "Hey, Spaniard. Anyway to uninvite?"
The Spaniard smiled wickedly. "No. Once we're in, we're in."
Rachel had finished her conversation by then and had returned the phone to Rafe. She informed us that the only person the Elvira of this world knew of who could perform that kind of ritual was Angelus. I'd never heard of anyone by that name so I asked, "So how do we go about getting there?"
"It's a couple hours by plane," Antonio intoned.
Rachel was afraid for Bruce to go to Salem and voiced her opinion. She didn't want to give Elvira the opportunity to kill him again and asked him to stay.
"Do not worry, love," Bruce soothed her and it was decided that she would accompany us to act as a guide of sorts. Rachel was happy to give us what information she had about the Salem of this world and I was a little surprised and concerned when she mentioned Akari's name. Rachel also informed us that Beth was still alive in this place and that she and Akari had Elvira wrapped around their little fingers.
And to tell the truth, that thought pissed me off. "I guess I'm gonna have to go to work," I growled lowly to Rafe. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I left this world without restoring Elvira to the leader I knew she could be. She has done so much for me that I thought I could give back a little even if it wasn't the woman I knew. "Are there any tools of Brenda's trade around?" I asked Michael, getting ideas.
"Yeah. I have her executioner's bag." He gestured with his thumb back into the house.
"Can I borrow a few things?" I figured a few finely sharpened stakes couldn't hurt the effort.
"Are you planning on bringing them back?" he asked indignantly as he eyed me warily. "Why don't you take the whole thing?"
I understood how he felt. We'd said our peace and I was sure that he didn't want to or plan to see me again after I walked off his front porch. "I don't want to take her entire supply."
"Don't worry. She has another in her car." He was grinning in that cocky way that had captured my heart to start off with. I mentally chastised myself for thinking of such things as I realized that I wasn't really experienced with stakes.
"Well, I guess I have phosphorus rounds. That should be enough."
"What?" Michael asked, astonished. My comment had drawn the attention of the rest of the group who had all turned to face me.
"Does phosphorus do anything to you?" Bruce asked Buffy.
"What?" she asked, echoing Michael.
"You know, Dragon's Breath," he pressed.
"There aren't any dragons in America," she said matter-of-factly, her mouth twisting wryly. "They're in China."
Obviously, they didn't have the phosphorus rounds in this world or they called them something else. Bruce went about finding out in another way. "What would happen if I held a lighter to you?"
"I would burn," she replied simply as she crossed her arms over her chest. "Phosphorus is fire?"
Bruce pulled one of his guns from a shoulder holster and unloaded a round. He took it between his thumb and first fingers much like I had done with Rafe and held it up. "Phosphorus," was all he said.
"Dragon's Breath," I confirmed. "Fire. It's extremely flammable."
"Really?" She was absolutely amazed. "Where do you get these?" Buffy took a step closer to Bruce and moved her hand as if to take the round from him. She changed her mind at the last moment, however, and crossed her arms once again as if she were slightly afraid to touch it.
"Elvira," he replied simply in answer to her question.
"Can we go, please?" I asked. Time was wasting and we had to get to Salem if we ever had a chance of getting home.
"By all means," Antonio headed for the sidewalk then stopped and turned to Michael. "Tell your wife she is safe from me for now. She has my childe to thank for that."
"That's fine, but if you come back here again, she'll kill you," Michael promised. He wasn't affected by Antonio's threat any more than the Michael I knew would have been.
"I won't be back unless she gives me cause to." The group started down the walk together.
I grabbed Rafe's hand as he turned toward the stairs. "Go ahead," I said to him in a low voice. "Make sure Christina is okay." I knew he wasn't happy about it but he did it reluctantly, offering Christina his arm as they arrived at the steps at the same time. Bruce had in turn offered his arm to Rachel and they all made a small parade of vampires down to the white picket fence. There was one more thing I wanted to do before we left.
I turned to Michael for one last time and said, "I want you to know I will do whatever it takes to set this right." It was my turn now to cross my arms over my chest.
"I hope so. I don't normally trust vampires." His eyes locked with mine and in those blue depths I saw the concern for the woman he loved and my heart went out to the both of them. God, I hope we can make things right, I thought to myself.
"I hope you can find it in your conscience to trust me." It was important to me that he could. What if we couldn't perform the ritual that would switch us back and we were stuck here?
"I just want my wife back." His tone was so matter of fact that I pushed my own concerns over our failure to the back of my mind.
"I will do whatever I need to," I promised.
I held out my hand and to my surprise he took it. "Thank you for showing me what could have been."
"I'm not sure I can say the same. I don't think I want to know what could have been there." His statement crushed my insides but I didn't let him see it. I went half way down the walk and turned for one last look at Michael. He was as harsh as ever. Rafe was waiting when I headed back and I went to him and put my arm around his waist and rested my head on his shoulder as he hugged me to him.
It had been decided that the Spaniard was going to lend us his jet for the trip to Salem and had offered to see us to the airport. I thought it was because he wanted to spend as much time with Christina as possible even though he knew it wasn't his dead childe. He and Buffy wouldn't be accompanying us to Salem but wished us well. I saw that Antonio and Christina were having a conversation of some kind off to the side just before we got into the cars to go to the airport, and he handed her the envelope Rafe had given him at the house. Within minutes, we were on our way.
(c) Helen Griffus
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