Friday, November 30, 2012

Original Fic Friday: Hunter's Tales Volume One

A/N: So here begins the first Original Fic Friday post. These are stories by me, featuring my characters. Some are already published, some are new and upcoming bits. I'll see how the muse hits.

That said, welcome to Hunter's Tales Volume One: Billy Price. (Yeah, that's it, in it's entirety over on the right.)

Chapter 1.

With a last flick of the foundation brush, my skin is done. I look as close to human as a vampire possibly can. Now it’s time for lipstick, and, to go with this outfit, that lipstick has to be red.

I glance at the suit sitting on my bed with adoration. I love that suit. I bought it in Berlin in 1931 and have kept it in pristine shape ever since. Granted, I haven’t worn it for anything but costume parties since 1944, so the upkeep isn’t too difficult. 

It always bothers me that, when people went retro, they skipped the ‘30s. The ‘30s had style, especially compared to what would follow. And in 1931 Germany, the Weimar-era party wasn’t quite dead. There were still cabarets where a beautiful woman in an exquisitely tailored men’s suit was welcomed with open arms. By ‘33, it was dead, and by ‘33, I was back in the States.

“Delilah” by the Dresden Dolls comes on. Perfect. Mood music to go with dressing.

I wrap my hair into a low bun. Yeah, it’s not quite right for the era, but I’m not about to cut it. Yes, vamps can cut their hair. I don’t know what Anne Rice was on with her image of a vamp sitting in a room filled with hair, but it’s not even close to true. We’re dead; we don’t grow. We certainly don’t grow hair. So, if we cut our hair, it stays cut. When I was turned, my hair was long enough to reach my hips. In the 1920s, when everyone else was bobbing their hair, I cut mine to mid-back length and left it there.

As much as I love the style of the thirties, the tools for achieving those styles are so much better now. I pick up a scarlet lip pencil, color the whole lip in, apply lip stain, then the setting liquid. Let it dry. Five minutes' work and I have a perfect fire-engine red mouth, and it will stay that way as long as I want it to.

Eyes take another five minutes. I wink at myself in the mirror. Okay, I’m not as pretty as Dietrich, but my makeup is better.

Time to dress. I go for vintage from the skin out. Two reasons for that: I do really like the old style, and the scent of old clothing will confuse my prey.

The iPod micro I clip to my bra will help confuse him further. It plays a soft heartbeat on eternal repeat. I don’t usually do this, but if tonight goes the way I think it will, he’ll be close enough for it to matter. If the mark is really alert, he might notice my heart rate never varies, but I haven’t seen a really alert one in a long time. Theoretically, if he is really sharp, he might notice the lack of pulse at my throat, or he might have, if I hadn’t buttoned the collar of my shirt all the way.

A few dabs of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Hermia will confuse him further. I might not smell perfectly human, but between the perfume and the clothing, I’m awfully close.

I set the gray fedora that goes with the suit at a jaunty angle on my head, take one last look in the mirror, and head to the party.

When I was an actual teenager, girls didn’t go to school, let alone high school. Rich girls were tutored at home. Everyone else was already working or married. My family was well-off and trying to do better. I, like the rest of my family, helped in my father’s butcher shop. I had a fine hand, so I ran the counter, did the paperwork, and kept inventories.

But that was a very long time ago. I’ve been eighteen for over 350 years now, and I’ve spent most of the last ten of them in high school.

I hate high school. But you go where the prey is, and the prey is in high school.

For that, I have Stephanie Meyer, Joss Whedon, and whoever wrote the Vampire Diaries to thank. They made the whole vampire thing so cool to the kids. Little girls are falling over themselves in the search for a never-ending, mystical love of epic proportions with a vamp.

My eyes physically cannot roll far enough to express my disdain.

But it does make my job easier. I know where the prey is. I set my trap. Usually in about three months I’ve gotten him to the point where he thinks I’m easy pickings. He thinks he’s seducing me. We head off to a secluded point, he gives me this lame-ass ‘It’s so lonely being immortal, eternity is such a long time, but I’m all but making his dead heart beat again’ speech, I pretend to fall for it, and then, when he thinks he’s in charge, I drain him dry and stake his ass.

Yeah, that’s right. I hunt vampires. I am a vampire. I add a whole different level to vampire hunter.

And, no, it’s not some sort of angsty, self-hating, saving-humanity crap. I am not now, nor have I ever been, Angel, nor do I have any interest in being him.

Meyer got something right: we’re the ultimate predators, the top of the food chain. And now food will literally fall into our laps and beg us to eat it.

How painfully boring.

Sure, some of my fellows adore this. They sit back and take advantage of this age of easy food. They’re always flushed with fresh blood and have gotten lazy. Good for them. Me? I live for the hunt.

Until 1980 or so, humans feared us. They stayed away. We had to work to get them into a situation where we could eat them. Hunting them took skill, and it was marvelous.

They don’t know what precisely is wrong with us, but they know on a gut level to stay away. Before 1980, it was harder to hide the fact that we don’t quite look right. As Arlene said on True Blood, “Honey, we’re white. He’s dead!”

The whole sunlight thing has nothing to do with us bursting into flame. It’s entirely about how hard it is, even with good makeup, to look right in full sun. (And no, we don’t sparkle. God, Meyer, what the hell were you thinking with that? You don’t want to know how many twits I’ve seen spraying themselves with glitter in an effort to look the part. I consider it an honor and duty to put them down.) We’re really pale, and our eyes never look quite right. Mine were brown, but every year I’ve been dead they’ve gotten a little lighter; they’re sort of cream-colored now. These days, I wear contacts.

In the pre-electricity age, when everything was lit, dimly, by flame, we could blend in pretty easily at night.

Then, suddenly, even in the darkest parts of the night, everyone had full on light anytime they wanted it. Do you think it’s a coincidence that belief in vampires lingered on much, much longer in the less educated, less technologically advanced parts of the world? Ha!

Blending in from the ‘30s to the ‘70s anywhere in the first world was a pain in the ass. Not impossible, mind you, but not easy either. There’s a reason why most of us are good with makeup and costuming.

But in the 1970s and ‘80s there was Punk and Goth, and suddenly we could skip the makeup (well some of it) and wander about in plain sight. (I understand we did this when Elizabeth I was Queen of England, and for a long time, one in three Geishas was a vamp, but I don’t know if that’s actually true.) People just assumed we were part of a counter culture, and if they weren’t part of it, they left us alone.

By 1980, something shifted, and we were starting to be seen as romantic.

By 1985, you couldn’t go to a punk club and not have someone offering to let you eat them.

I gave up on humans then.

I spent more than a decade looking for new prey. Five years hunting Werewolves convinced me they’re just too animal. You can manipulate them too easily. And they always know exactly what we are. You can’t fool their noses. So, it’s not so much a hunt as an all-out fight. I like a good fight, but that’s not the fun bit. The fun bit is the hunting.

I spent three years trying to even find a fairy. I keep hearing they’re out there somewhere, but if they are, I’ve never seen one.

Can’t eat ghosts or demons or anything of the spirit world, so I never bothered.

I spent a year in the west going after Wendigos, Coyotes (not the little doggie things, the Tricksters), and other creatures of Native American lore. Some of them are fantastic hunting, but they don’t taste very good. And while I do want a good hunt, I also want to eat well when it’s over.

Hunting Wendigos pissed off a Shaman who had been turned a long time ago. I ended up hunting him and realized not only was it a blast, but, since he eats the same stuff I do, he was awfully tasty.

I’ve been hunting vamps ever since.

I stare at the Riverland High School parking lot. He’ll be here soon, ready to finish up his hunt. He wanted to pick me up at my place, but I won’t let that happen. I’m willing to play a teenager. I’m not willing to live like one.

I’m a few minutes early and take the time to adjust my posture. Vamps like girls who look like they’ve got low self-esteem. They like the loners. People with lots of friends who think well of themselves are not so easy to manipulate. So, when I ‘transfer’ to a new school, I start out as funky, low self-esteem, art chick. This lets me be pale, dress in eclectic clothing and makeup, be ‘deep’ and interested in ‘death.’ I write lame poetry. (Okay, I steal lame poetry. There are so many angsty teens spilling their sad little guts in blank verse on the web. I just crib from them.)

I am catnip for vamps. I start off slouchy and avoiding eye contact. Really defensive body posture. I blow everyone off for two solid weeks. Two reasons for that: First of all, it’s in character. Secondly, it lets me figure out which one the vamp is.

Look, we don’t have any magical ability to tell who’s a vamp and who isn’t. We’ve got good hearing, vision, and sense of smell, but if we could hear well enough to focus in on the heartbeat of everyone within fifty feet, we’d end up screaming from the louder sounds. If we could smell each person around us… Well, we probably can, but most of us learn how to shut that off. You don’t want to smell everyone around you. Our vision is good enough to see if the person has a pulse at his throat. I can see it across a room. A human who’s looking can see it from three or four feet. I have a large and interesting scarf collection, plus several thick chokers in unique patterns and colors. And, if the vamp is really into the long, slow seduction thing, I’ll eventually break out my cheongsams, which have the advantage of looking fabulous on me and hiding my throat.

This one isn’t really into seduction. I started school on October 1st. Today is the 29th. I’ve just gotten to the point in the routine where I’ll make direct eye contact during conversation and slouch a little less when he’s around.

I spot him walking toward me from the far end of the parking lot. It’s a Halloween party, and he’s dressed in his usual fare. See if you can guess which vamp type he’s going for: long black trench coat; tight black pants; dark blue T-shirt; black, chipped fingernail polish; and spiky, bleached white hair.

At least he doesn’t have an English accent. And the name he’s using, Alex, is normal enough.

So, how do I know he’s the vamp at Riverland? Besides the fact that he keeps trying to cozy up to me?

First off, his skin is too good. One month and not a single pimple, blemish, or blackhead. His skin, like mine, is always perfect. Pale, but perfect. The kind of skin you get when you spend fifteen or twenty minutes very carefully applying layer after layer of makeup to make yourself look alive. (I make sure to add a pimple or two at any given time.)

He’s too still when he gets bored. We’ve got a few classes together, and I watch to see what he does when he’s not paying attention. He slouches back in the chair and zones out. When people do that, they move. They fidget, they sigh, and they blink. (For God’s sake, if you want to appear human, you need to blink! People might not notice if you don’t breathe; they will notice if you don’t blink for ten minutes.)

He’s too graceful. If you’re supposed to be seventeen or eighteen, you should, at least on occasion, stumble, drop things, and bump into people. In the twenty-eight days I’ve been watching him, I’ve never seen him put a foot wrong.

He forgets to shower. Look, we don’t need to bathe unless we get dirty. We don’t smell. We don’t shed skin cells. We don’t sweat. He’s had the same small ink stain on his wrist for three weeks now. It’s tiny really, just the spot where the tip of my pen touched his wrist. (Think that was an accident? Yeah right!) On a normal person, even a normal person who somehow avoided bathing for three weeks, that mark would be gone by now.

And, of course, I can’t see his pulse. Granted, that’s not fool proof. Some people have skin that’s thick enough that I can’t see it. But add that to everything else, and you’ve got a vamp.

“Hi, Kate,” he says from a few feet away.

“Hey, Alex. Nice costume.”

“You know me; I’m all about the Halloween spirit. I like yours, though. You’re what, Marlene Dietrich?”

Rookie mistake. He’s let me know he’s way older than he looks. The role he’s playing wouldn’t know who she was. Hell, the role he’s playing wouldn’t be able to identify what decade my outfit comes from.

“Yes. I’m surprised you know.”

He realizes he’s made a mistake. He thinks of a fast lie. “My grandfather and I used to watch old movies when I was a kid. I liked her.”

“Ah. Not a fan of old movies. But I do like historical fashion and clothing, and she’s one of the iconic looks of the thirties.”

“Will I be seeing you in ballet flats, black leggings, and a tight black shirt?”

“No. You need to be built like Hepburn to pull that look off.” One of the signs of wealth when I was alive was being ‘plump.’ We were plump. By current standards, I’m a size 12. Nice and curvy. I look great in this suit. I looked even better back in the corset years. I don’t need to breathe, so I can make myself into a perfect hourglass if fashion so dictates.

He’s looking deeply into my eyes, trying his glamour. This is the hard part. I’m a vamp, so I don’t fall for the glamour. But the girl I’m playing should. What I don’t know is if he’s actually any good at it. So, I have a hard time deciding how glamoured I should be.

I settle for letting my eyes go soft, sighing, and looking back at him with deep longing. I blink a few times, sigh again, and say, “So, you wanna dance?”

“Sure.” He holds his arm out to me. I wrap mine around his.

Dances are great from the point of view of letting the vamp think he’s got me. They suck from the point of view of keeping up the charade of being a human. It took a long time before I had all the details worked out.
Another reason why I love this suit: it’s got pockets. And in those pockets, I’ve got a mister filled with slightly pink salt water. A few quick spritzes of that and I look slightly flushed and… what’s the polite term these days? Glowing?

One of the great things about today’s dances, you don’t always have to be facing your partner. Every now and again when I’m turned away from him, I give myself a fast spritz. When we move too fast to see, it’s not just human eyes that can’t track us.

We dance for an hour. Finally, a slow song comes on, and this is always the acid test. If I’m lucky, he’ll be so interested in the seduction he’ll miss the fact that I’m not as warm as I should be.

He pulls me close to him, whispering trite nothings in my ear, as we rock slowly together with the music.

I can feel which bit of him is making the decisions now.

I press against him deliberately, lifting my face to him. He kisses me. His role is to be the aggressor. He’s supposed to be in charge and know what he’s doing.

I play the never-been-kissed, fumbly girl. I let him ‘coax’ me into liking it. He breaks away from me just as I begin to tremble slightly and press more tightly against him.

“Let’s go somewhere more private.”

“Sounds good to me. Where?”

“My place.” Interesting. Usually if they just want a snack and sex, they suggest somewhere nearby and quiet. If they want to take you home, it’s because they want you dead, too. We’re usually quite private about our homes.

“What about your parents?”

“They’re out.”

“Wonderful.” I smile up at him.

The car ride is very quiet. He puts his hand on my thigh as he drives. I giggle and move it to my knee.

“Alex…” I let his name trail off.

He turns toward me. “What, Kate?”

“It’s just… Well… We’re going back to your place. And, like, I think I know what you want to do when we get back there. But, like… ButI’veneverdoneitbefore,” I say in a huge rush. Then I look away and discreetly blot off a bit of the ‘sweat’ I applied earlier.

He pulls my face toward his and grins at me. “I’ve never done it, either. But I want to. With you. You look so good and smell so good, and I’ve just never felt this way about anyone before. I want to take you home and make love to you.”

I give him a shaky smile. “Good. How long until we get there?”

“Now.” He pulls into the driveway of a nondescript suburban house. We get out of the car, and I immediately cross to his side of the driveway, pressing tight against him, letting my head rest on his chest. No heartbeat. Perfect. I got fooled once; dude had some sort of thyroid condition, so now I always make sure to check, several times, in a few different ways, that he’s got no pulse.

He opens the door. As soon as we’re through, he’s pressing against me and kissing hard. I pick up a very faint scent of decay about the place. There’s at least one dead body hidden here.

Usually, this is the point where he starts his tragic vampire speech. But he doesn’t. He keeps kissing, heading toward my ear. When he gets to my throat, that’s the end of this game.

I’ve got less than a minute to take care of this. Plenty of time. I push against him, shoving his coat off and pulling away from his lips so I can kiss his throat.

He hisses a little at that. Apparently, he likes me taking charge.

“You need to take off your shirt.”

He’s fine with that. When his shirt is over his head, tangling his arms, I strike.

Most vamps go for the femoral artery or the aorta. In this situation, I go for the brachial artery. I use one arm to pin his arms and face in the shirt. The other holds the stake at his heart. I bite a chunk out of his arm and go to drinking.

Ahhhh… Tasty. Baby vamps are kind of flat and flavorless. But as we get older, we get more interesting. He has about a hundred years on him. Not fine ambrosia by any stretch, more like a good, solid pilsner.

He’s struggling hard, trying to break my hold, but one of the things the Whitewolf guys got right is the more of our own kind we eat, the stronger we get. Right now, a truck could run into us at full speed and it wouldn’t break my hold on him.

He flails less and less as I suck each mouthful out of him. Because we’ve got no pulse, eating a vamp takes more work than eating a human. And since he’s quite unlikely, even when very weak, to let me just prop him against the wall and have at his ankle, it means I don’t get much more than a pint.

Oh well, I’m old. I don’t need all that much. A pint or two a month and I’m good.

When it takes too much suction to fill my mouth with his blood, I give the hand holding the stake a good hard push and feel him crumble into dust.

“Good-bye, Alex.”

I pick my hat off the floor, put it on, and follow the scent of decay to the basement. There is a chest freezer down here. I open it and find two dead bodies. Girls.

Odd he’d keep them in his home. Most of us aren’t into the whole trophy thing. Hell, most of us aren’t even into the killing our prey thing, it’s just… well… not cost effective.

I leave the lid open and go looking for a powder room. All of the new houses have them. And, while we usually don’t like having too many mirrors around, we rarely rip them out.

Yes, we show up in mirrors. Anything you can see with your own eyes is something you can see in a mirror. In the old days, we didn’t like them because they were used to increase the light in a room, and I already covered the problem with that.

I check myself in the mirror. No blood on the suit. Thank God for small favors. I’ve got a wizard of a dry cleaner at home, but he does look at me oddly when I give him fine, vintage clothing with bloodstains. I readjust my jacket, set my hat straight, and tuck the stake into my sleeve.

One last thing to do. I find his phone and call 9-1-1. “I’m at 1284 West Grove Street. There are two dead bodies in a chest freezer in the basement.” 

Then I drop the phone and head off into the night.

A/N: Like that? Want more? The whole story is .99 on Amazon, or you can wait for next Original Fiction Friday for chapter two. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

38 Weeks: The Seventh Week

A/N: Burn Notice romantic fluff with a side of angst. Want to start at the beginning? Click here

The seventh week Fi wasn't feeling well. At all.

Sunday, when she laid around in bed all day and threw up six times, Michael thought it was just a tummy bug. He made sure she got plenty of rest and good supply of chicken broth and tea.  He was somewhat surprised to hear his mom sound smugly amused when he called to say they wouldn't be over for dinner, that Fi had a stomach flu, but, well, his buddies had been acting a little off for a week or so now. Like there was some big joke they were all waiting for him to notice.

Monday, when she still wasn't keeping anything down, he started to get worried.

Tuesday, her skin was light gray, puckered looking, and he was very worried.

"Fi, stick out your tongue."

She did. He touched his finger lightly to it, and it was sticky and dry.  He picked her up, protesting weakly, and took her to the emergency room.

The doctor who saw them was polite, competent, listened to his concerns about dehydration and possible tropical parasites, and began with a basic medical history.

"And when was the first day of your last period, Ms. Glenanne?"

"I don't know. Sometime in 2009. I'm on Depo-Provera and don't menstruate as a result."

"Okay." The doc nodded as she made a note of that. "And when was your last shot?"

When she asked that, Fi's expression changed, she looked even paler, and Michael felt the floor tremble, like it was just about to be yanked out from under him.

"Beginning of October."

"Okay." The doctor didn't look up as she wrote that down. But Mike did a quick bit of math and came up with twenty-six weeks. Depo lasts for twelve. "You've been unable to keep anything down for three days, but you've had no fever?"


"Uh huh..."

"Any chance of food poisoning?"

Michael shook his head. "I'd be sick with it, too."

"About your recent stint abroad, you've been back for how long now?"

"Three months, almost four."

"Okay." Mike's thinking parasitic infections usually make themselves known quite a bit before that. And once again, he should be sick, too.

The doctor palpated Fi's neck, armpits, groin, and then stomach. "None of your glands are swollen. Diarrhea to go along with the vomiting?"


"You've been tired a lot lately?"


"I have been, too," Michael said. He can see where this is going and is starting to desperately hope this is some sort of bizarre environmental poisoning that was hitting Fi harder because she was a lot smaller. "We've moved into a new place recently. Could it be some sort of reaction to the new house?"

The doctor stared at him for a second, and then grinned. "You're not throwing up, are you?"


"Wheezing, coughing, rash, or hives? Those are common reactions when you're dealing with an allergic reaction to something in a new place."


"And let me guess, you're also not using any sort of non-Depo-Provera birth control." The grin got even wider.

"No," Fi said in a tiny voice.

"Okay, Ms. Glenanne, the most immediate issue is you are dehydrated. I'm going to set you up with intravenous fluids. I'm also going to give you a prescription for some anti-nausea medication. That way when you get home you'll be able to keep additional fluids in your body. Do you think you can pee?"


"Not a problem. Once we get some fluids into you, that'll take care of that. But before you leave, we'll do a pregnancy test.  Now, when you go home, I want you to rest. The anti-nausea meds work pretty well, but just because you'll start feeling like you want to eat does not mean you should wolf down everything in sight on the first day. Today and tomorrow stick to light, easy foods. Broth, rice, Gatorade, Jello, toast, tea. Build yourself back up over a day or so before you start back on real solids."


"Good. It's a bit premature, without doing the test yet, but ninety-nine times out of a hundred, in a case like this, the issue is pregnancy. So, I'll round up some information for you two about that. It says here you're forty-three?"

Fi nodded numbly.

"You're going to want to see an OB as soon as you can. Even though you appear generally healthy, forty-three puts you in the high-risk pregnancy camp."

"And, if I am pregnant, would this" Fi gestures to indicate being sick, "hurt the baby?"

"Probably not. This early on the baby is getting more than enough nutrition from you.  But, that doesn't mean getting this dehydrated is a good idea for you. Any more questions?"

Neither of them said anything.

"Okay. A nurse will be in in a few minutes with the IV, the meds, and some pamphlets about pregnancy and all of your options. Congratulations!"

Michael managed to whisper "Thank you" as she left.  Then they sat there, Fi in the ridiculous little paper gown, and him, one hip on the hospital bed, one leg supporting him, both of them too shocked to speak.


Sam, Madeline, Jesse, and Elsa had a pool going for what day Mike and Fi would figure out they were expecting.

Four more minutes and Sam would have won.

Michael knocked on the door to Sam's place, holding a bag from the nearest drug store. Sam can see Gatorade, some sort of prescription bottle, and pre-natal vitamins through the nearly translucent plastic.

"Mike?" Sam isn't sure if congratulations are in order or not. Michael is definitely in Blue Screen of Death mode. He has a thousand yard stare going, and barely seems to have noticed the door has opened.

He blinks, shudders, and says to Sam, "Can I borrow your bathroom?"

This was so far outside of what Sam was expecting, he's starting to get worried. "Ummm... sure. Mikey, you okay?"

"Just need to be alone for a little bit."

"All right."

Sam points toward the bathroom; Mike put down the bag, and heads to it.

The first thing Sam hears is the faint squeak the towel rack makes when you whip a towel off of it too fast. Next comes the sound of the ventilation fan. After that, the water turns on full blast.

For a moment, that was all he heard, and he figures that if Mike needs to have a good cry somewhere private, or whatever the less girly sounding version of that is, that's fine.  The not nearly muffled enough scream a few seconds later gets Sam moving.

He doesn't bother to knock.

Michael's sitting, back against the wall, towel shoved into his mouth, full-out screaming. For a second, Sam really wished Madeline was here, because Mike needs a hug more than anything else.

No, what Mike really needs is a father. A best friend will have to do.

Mike picked his place because he can't stand to let his ladies see him like this. He's got to be strong for them. But no matter how strong you are, a full on freak out can happen, and it makes a lot more sense to let it happen, get it over with, and then regroup and go on, than to try and pretend it isn't happening.

Sam shuts the door, turns off the shower, sits next to Mike, his knees popping as he eases down. He takes the towel away, and puts an arm around Mike.  He doesn't say anything, just lets Mike cry and hopes that this is a freak out, and not news that there's something seriously wrong with Fi.

He's known Michael for over twenty years now, and never before has he seen Mike this broken looking. From what Jesse said, this is what Mike was like on the flight back to Miami after Nate died. Once again the fear that something might be really wrong with Fi hits, and Sam wishes he had spent a few seconds snooping in that bag to see what the prescription was.

A few more moments pass, and Michael seems to calm down some. Finally he says to Sam, "We can't be parents. Who in their right mind would leave either of us alone with an infant for more than ten minutes at a time?"

Sam sighs and relaxes. All things considered, this is good news. "You'll be fine, Mike. Both of you. You're fast learners. Babies really aren't all that complicated."

"It'll be a target. Between the two of us we've got a medium-sized city's phone book worth of enemies."

That unfortunately is both true and a much more real concern than being bad parents. 

"And we're both over forty which means not only are the risks of some sort of serious birth defect high, but it's also really not good for Fi to be pregnant at her age.  When they gave her the anti-nausea meds, she fell asleep, and I read all the 'helpful' information they gave me about high-risk pregnancies. Which is apparently designed to torture new dads because it tells you about all sorts of terrible things that can happen, but doesn't tell you about how likely any of them are.

"We don't know how far along she is. More than four weeks, less than twelve, but she's been drinking, at least a glass of wine a night, every night. And God alone knows how many hours of smoke Fi inhaled from my mom."

Sam considers it a good sign that Michael appears to be concerned about the baby as well as Fi. "Your mom quit smoking around Fi three weeks ago, Mike. And a glass of wine a night is unlikely to cause any problems. Everyone drank and smoked pretty much all the time my mom was pregnant with me, and yours with you, and most everyone got through just fine."

"Fi isn't most everyone."

"I know, brother, I know."

"There's nothing I can do about this. I can't fight it. I can't outsmart it. I can't fix it."

Sam tries to pick his words carefully here, not sure if this is a welcome idea or not. "You might be able to... fix it."

Michael shakes his head. "I can't bring that up unless she does. And she's Catholic enough I don't think she's going to bring it up." He stares at the bathroom cabinets for a long minute. "My mom stopped smoking three weeks ago?"

"Yeah, Mike."

"So, you all knew?"

"Kind of hard to miss, especially if you live with a woman who's been pregnant. Elsa noticed when Fi started talking about how her clothing was fitting differently. Your mom caught the same thing. Apparently there's only one reason why a woman suddenly adds a cup or two to her bra size without surgery, and that's baby on board."

Michael makes some sort of sound that could be assent, or could just be him letting Sam know he's listening.

"Mike, do you want her to terminate the baby?"

Mike's head falls back against the bathroom wall, and he half-gulps half-sniffles, and Sam swears to himself he'll never tell a soul about this. "I can't allow myself to want anything else, or it will break my heart.

"We'd have to leave. At least as long as she was pregnant. She'd be too tempting a target, soft and slow and clumsy. If we gave up the baby, we could come back after, but..." Mike doesn't have to say how hard it would be, for both of them, to go through nine... six?... however many months are left of their baby growing inside Fi just to give it away. Even if that is the safest option for everyone involved. "And if we didn't, we'd be on the run forever to keep it safe. Half of the guys on the NOC list got 15 years or less. And there's no reason someone on the other half won't escape and come after us. We'd never be in one city for more than a year or two. New names, new jobs, that's one thing for adults, but for a kid."

"Mike, I think you're taking this a little too far. Most of the real psychos that hate you or Fi are dead. A lot of the others are unlikely to want to see what you'd do if they kidnapped your kid. What happened to Anson and Card was an awfully good 'Don't mess with my family' warning to everyone else who might come up against you."

"Would you want to take that risk with your child?"

Sam shakes his head, sadly.

"We keep the baby, and we spend the rest of our lives looking over our shoulders. We say good-bye to everyone we love. We give it up, and we go into hiding for the next... however long, and we have to say good-bye to it. It never gets to know us. My mom loses her second grandchild in a year." He sees the question on Sam's face. "Ruth's changed her phone number. She's made it pretty clear she doesn't want anyone with the name of Westen involved with her or Charlie."

"Sorry Mike."

"Not being an uncle to a child I've barely even seen isn't too hard. Mostly, I feel sorry for my mom. Not being a father to my own child is..." He stops talking, tries not to cry, and fails miserably.

"You want this child, don't you?"
"Yes." Michael pauses, staring at nothing. "I'm not father material, and I've never felt a desire for kids. But I was half-sitting on her hospital bed, watching her sleep, reading those evil pamphlets, feeling how... It's the worst feeling in the world. All of this danger, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it. And at first it was all about the risk to Fi. This could kill her or cripple her. But I kept reading, and they've got pages and pages of things that could be wrong with the baby as well, and I realized it wasn't just Fi I was scared for. And when that hit, the entire rest of our life and the massive fucking disaster it's become hit with it as well.

"Look, I'm not oblivious, and neither is Fi. Willfully ignorant, probably. You think I didn't notice she'd gained two cup sizes, was sleeping all the time, or missed her appointment for her shot? Or that this managed to happen at exactly the right time, when the danger was gone and life could finally go on?  The only way this was ever going to happen was as an accident. And so, oops.

"I knew; I just didn't want to.

"But I don't think it matters that I want it. Or that she probably does, too.  Any child of ours would be better off raised by other people. People who don't have to hope that most of the psychopaths they've pissed off have been scared away."

"Mike, you've been able to do anything you've been willing to work for. This is just another challenge. If you want it, life with your child, here, near the people you love, you can get it."


"One step at a time, brother. First step, go home, tell Fi you love her, and find out what she wants to do. And remember, you aren't alone. There's at least three, and really a whole lot more, sets of eyes watching your, and any child you may have's, back. And I want you to remember something else when you're thinking about going into hiding, here, we've all got your back. Somewhere else, you're own your own."

Michael stood up slowly and gave Sam a hand up as well. "You're a good friend, Sam."

"Damn skippy. Now, off with you."     


Michael crept into their bedroom, quietly easing the door shut, hoping not to wake Fi.

She rolled over and watched him come in. So much for that plan. He's not sure if he woke her, or if she was already awake when he came in. She was sleeping when he left. Once the anti-nausea meds kicked in and she wasn't throwing up, the pregnancy tiredness took over and knocked her out.

He put down the bag and sat on the side of the bed.

"Did I wake you?"

"No. I was half-dozing, half-awake."

"Okay. How are you feeling?"

"Tired, thirsty, and terribly stupid."

Michael shrugs, grabs one of the Gatorades, opens it, and hands it to her as she sits up, and then says, "Not like you got pregnant on your own."

"It's also not like you're in charge of the birth control. You should be able to rely on me to do the job and do it right."

"Fi, I know what sort of birth control we use. I know you've got to go to the doctor at least once a season for it. We talked about this when you got out of prison. I knew how it worked well enough to ask about it then. You told me when your next appointment was. And we both forgot. It's not like we weren't busy at the time."

"We've been awfully not busy recently."

"True. Still, I don't want you thinking this is all your fault. There's plenty of stupid to go around here, and half of it is mine."

She sips the Gatorade and winces a little. "Don't like this flavor."

"I've got blue, red, purple, green, and orange, too."

"You know there's something very wrong about a drink when you can identify the color easier than the flavor."

"How about the orange stuff? It's probably orange flavored."

She nods. He fishes it out of the bag, opens the new one, and hands it to her. "I got the anti-nausea meds and the vitamins. Do you want them?"

"I've got a few more hours before the stuff I'm on wears off."


She drinks more of the Gatorade. "This one is better."


He lies on the bed next to her, looking at the ceiling. He's spent hours, full nights, doing this, but in the past what he's been pondering has been a lot more dangerous, and a whole lot easier for him to control.



"What if I didn't forget?"

He rolls onto her side to face her. He couldn't put a name to the emotion running through him right now even with a week's worth of time and a thesaurus.


He doesn't like the way his voice sounds as he says that, and he's guessing his face looks pretty off as well.

She shakes her head. "No, I don't mean skipped the shot on purpose. I wouldn't do that, not to you, not to anyone. Just... I don't know... It's not the sort of thing I'd forget. I've been having sex since I was fifteen. I've never even had a close call before. Not when I was a girl with stars in my eyes and hormones running like crazy. Not in Ireland where birth control wasn't easy to get ahold of, and I was in the middle of a war zone. Not when I've never known where I was going to be or when or who I was going to be with, never. No matter how illegal it was to have it, I always had something and used it to make sure this didn't happen."
Michael smiles a little at her and says, "Willful ignorance. I said that to Sam less than half an hour ago."

"You went to see Sam?"

"You were asleep when I left. I needed some alone time, and didn't want to risk waking you up."

"What were you doing that you were afraid might wake me up?"

"I'd really rather not say."

She looks at him carefully, noticing the redness in his eyes and the slight puffiness to his eyelids, and realizes they aren't from lack of sleep.

"So, Sam knows?"

"Yeah. And apparently my mom, Jesse, and Elsa, and possibly all of Miami. Somehow we ended up being the last to know about this, which is where willful ignorance came in."

She nods and drinks more.  "Are you angry?"

"No. You?"

"A little. At myself."

A long quiet moment passes before Fi asks, "So, if you aren't angry, what are you feeling about this?"

"Scared and sad." He kisses her forehead.  "I love you."

"I know. What do you want to do?"

"Be someone else. Someone who could celebrate having a child with a woman he loves. Someone who's not worried about evil sociopaths using you or the child for revenge or leverage. How about you?"

 "I want to keep the baby and build a home and life with you. But I know we can't. It would be safer with someone else."

Another long quiet moment passes.

"I'm sorry, Michael."

"For what?"

"For putting you, us, through this. If it was just up to you, you'd handle this differently, I'd think."

He shrugs again. "It's not just up to me."