A/N: So, I've reached the end of this thing, finally. If it feels a little unfinished, don't worry, the sequel is already running around in my head, I just couldn't keep this one going any longer. Reviews are love! And they'll probably direct how soon I manage to get started on the continuation. Hint Hint. Thanks to everyone who stuck with this monstrosity from start to finish!
Mick sprinted into the house, wondering what could have gone so wrong that Rowan was calling him. She'd sounded—he didn't know how she'd sounded. Something was definitely wrong, but shouldn't she have called Josef? Unless Josef was the problem…
And he certainly wasn't expecting to see Rowan and Lance squaring off in front of the basement door. Henri was siding with Lance, of course. Luc was standing on the sideline, attempting to play mediator, from what Mick could tell.
"Alright, what'd I miss?"
That's when he smelled it: a human. And the scent was too strong to be Cole. There was a human adult in the basement. What the-?
"I said move out of the way," Lance ordered, ignoring Mick for the moment. Rowan glared back defiantly. Mick could tell that the order to move was getting to her, but she was standing her ground. He joined her. Whatever this was about, he was siding with his granddaughter.
"He doesn't have to die, Lance."
"Who's down in the basement?"
He looked to Luc when he didn't get an answer, but Josef's entry interrupted them. Wonderful.
"Is he still down there?"
"Who's down there?"
"Yes, he's still down there. Now do something about your woman."
That was the wrong thing to say. Nearly everyone knew it, when they saw the look on Rowan's face. If she'd been angry before, now she was determined. And pissed off. The only way they were going to get her away from that door was to remove her bodily, and Mick was almost certain that would involve injury to whoever tried it.
"Ro, let me—"
Josef immediately reversed his steps toward her when she actually bared her teeth and hissed at him in warning.
"He knows what we are, child. He's seen too much. We can't let him live." Mick guessed that Lance's tone was meant to be reasonable, persuasive even, but really, he just came off condescending. Apparently Rowan thought so too.
"Why not? I knew about vampires for years, and no one decided I had to die! I don't see you rushing off to kill Beth Turner because she knows! I'm sure a lot more humans know than you care to admit. He doesn't have to die!"
"Ro, Ben Talbot is a threat to all of us. You and Beth never were."
Talbot was down there? Just when Mick thought things couldn't get any worse. The assistant DA knew about them.
"Beth was a reporter for an online sleaze magazine. How was that not a threat?"
Okay, that was a bit harsh. Was she trying to get Beth killed? Mick took exception to the inference that Beth might have exposed them. And really, Buzz Wire wasn't entirely sleaze, not until after Maureen died.
"Why don't we all calm down, before someone says something that can't be taken back," Luc suggested, seemingly the only voice of reason in the room. "I think we should all have a seat and discuss this rationally."
He looked to Lance and Henri when he spoke, and it was an order, not a request. Lance glared at him, but moved to the living room. Mick was glad to see that Luc at least would be able to keep Lance in line. He wasn't naïve enough to think that if Lance attacked, anyone else (except maybe Josef) would be much of a deterrent.
"Come, my dear."
Rowan looked at Luc mistrustfully, but he smiled at her, and took her arm in his.
"No one will come near this door until we've settled this. I promise."
It was another order, and a warning, directed at Lance and Henri, and they both just looked stonily at the wall. Rowan didn't fight when Luc pulled her to the living room, although she didn't go along easily. It was only the much older vampire's superior strength that kept her in motion. Mick and Josef followed, Josef eyeing Rowan warily. Luc took a seat on a couch, pulling Rowan with him. Mick planted himself on her other side.
"Now, let's try our best not to make this a shouting match, hmm?"
"There's nothing to discuss. The human is a threat. He must be eliminated."
"And I say he doesn't. For the love of all that's—he's not the first human to know about vampires. Why should he have to die when others were allowed to live?"
"Because others who knew weren't in a position to begin a witch hunt. No one would have believed you if you'd said anything, Ro. And if Beth Turner went public with a story, it would just be dismissed as another tabloid fiction. Talbot works for the DA. Who knows what kind of resources he has at his disposal? It's too big a risk."
"And how useful would it be to have someone who knows in the DA's office? He could make this entire investigation into what happened at home go away. If you kill him, what happens to that investigation? What happens when someone new is put on it?"
"The man has no incentive to keep quiet, chère. That is the difference here. Why would we trust him?"
"You don't think staying alive is incentive to keep his mouth shut?"
"I don't think you've grasped just what you are. We are killers, Rowan. It is what we do. And you had better get used to the fact that protecting ourselves will often mean killing."
"No shit, Sherlock."
Mick heard Josef snort at Lance's disbelieving look. He doubted anyone else had ever dared say something like that to the ancient vampire. Even Luc was nearly smiling. Henri looked as though he didn't understand the reference.
"Look, I'm not an idiot. Nor am I a fifteen year old girl in love with the idea of a sparkling 'vegetarian' vampire who insists on abstinence until marriage. I know that vampires kill. And no, I'm not comfortable with it, but that's beside the point. I understand what exposure would mean, but you're not even willing to give him a chance to keep our secret."
"And when he doesn't keep this secret? He either dies now, or he dies later, after he's exposed us all. This way we're safe."
"IF he didn't keep this secret, of course, he would have to die. I understand that, Lance. I'm saying that I don't see why he can't be given the same chance I had, and the same chance a lot of other humans have, to keep their knowledge to themselves and live normal lives. And you still haven't given me a good reason why we shouldn't do so."
The elder vampire opened his mouth to retort, and closed it again. Mick was shocked to see that Lance was apparently speechless. He didn't think he'd ever see that day come.
Luc was watching his younger brother with a swell of sympathy. He wouldn't air Lance's personal concerns to St. John, but he knew well what his brother was thinking. Rowan did remind him of Genevieve, and if he could see the resemblance, Lance would see it doubly.
"She is not Genevieve, Lance, and this is not 1791," he spoke to his brother in French, "I think the risk is less than you believe."
"We cannot trust the human," Lance bit out.
"I don't like this," Josef supported him, speaking in English for Mick's benefit. And Rowan's, maybe. He couldn't remember if she spoke French or not. "Talbot's a liability. To all of us."
"You don't know that, Josef. You haven't given him a chance."
"I must agree with Rowan," Luc interrupted the debate. "There are many humans who know of us, and they still live. I have not yet heard a satisfactory reason why this human cannot be given the same opportunity."
"This is getting us nowhere." Henri complained. He was right about that. They could make this same argument for hours. Josef was tired of the debating. He wanted to keep Rowan safe, and her son, and the DA's office knowing about them was a risk he just wasn't willing to take. Why did she have to get stubborn over this? She didn't have to kill him herself. He was perfectly willing to do it for her.
Rowan remained stubbornly immovable on the topic. Mick, of course, was standing by her, but the fact that Luc was also siding with her—Lance wondered what game his brother was playing. He knew very well that Rowan was not Genevieve; the one had nothing to do with the other. This was about his fledgling's safety, and he would not tolerate any threat to that safety. This human was a threat. So what if others were willing to keep humans around? He wasn't, pure and simple. He'd never agree with keeping pets around. Blood donors, yes. They were well compensated for their blood, and their silence. And they understood the risks should they break that silence. But a human pet, someone who knew of their existence without being indebted, and therefore loyal, to them? No. He would not allow it.
"I will not risk our safety, our very existence, on this human who was already out for our blood."
"The decision isn't yours alone, Lance."
He glared at Mick, who made his first contribution to the argument.
"It's certainly not yours, St. John."
"If it's anyone's, I'd say it's Josef's. He is the city Elder, after all. You guys are just passing through."
Josef mentally cursed. Damn, why'd Mick have to bring that up? He wasn't incorrect: as city Elder, since he was directly involved, this was ultimately his decision. And that put him in an impossible position. He wanted to just kill Talbot and be done with it. It was what he was expected to do, and it was what he would demand of anyone else in such a situation. If Talbot was a blood donor, or even someone's pet, like Beth was, this would be a completely different game. But he wasn't. And common survival instinct dictated that anyone who couldn't be counted on to keep their secret be silenced.
But he also couldn't ignore the fact that Rowan was absolutely opposed to killing the human. Doing it despite her objections would make his life hell for the foreseeable future. It was a complication they didn't need. He knew Rowan was having trouble enough accepting the changes, even if she was handling it better than they expected. He wasn't eager to do anything that would damage the relationship they now had to carefully construct from this new situation.
He didn't want to admit it, but she also had a point. Talbot was a threat, yes, but not more than Beth was. And having someone in the DA's office who knew the truth could be invaluable when it came to cases that involved vampires. The Monaghan's might not have needed to die if Talbot had known the truth. They had just as much reason to let him live as they did to kill him. The plain fact was that Josef just didn't like the man, and he knew the feeling was mutual.
"Josef, you know we can't let the man live."
"Killing him will just draw a lot more attention to us. Attention we don't need." Mick objected.
Josef told himself not to snap at them for going back to the same argument they'd just had. Was there really any solution to this that wouldn't have someone pissed off at him? Granted, he didn't care terribly what Lance thought; he'd get over it in a few decades. But it could strain his relationships with the Duval coven, and that could make a lot of things tricky, not the least of which was dealing with Lance as Rowan's sire.
"We could just turn him," Henri suggested.
There was a suggestion. If he was turned, that would solve the issue of keeping him quiet. But, and this was a big "But", Josef really couldn't stand him now. He certainly didn't want to have to deal with an immortal Ben Talbot. Honestly, more than a single lifetime of that man? Who would—he certainly wasn't going to turn Talbot. And while it might solve the problem, he didn't want any of the French to do it either. They didn't need any more excuses to come over and interfere than they already had.
"You can't seriously be considering that. How is that an option? If you're going to do that, you might as well just kill him."
"You would think that, St. John. Not everyone sees this as some sort of curse. He might prefer it to death."
Josef could feel Rowan's growing agitation under his fingers as he held on to her shoulders. This wasn't resolving anything. He could also feel the slight tremor in her frame that indicated she was thirsty. It was something he'd picked up on since having her with him: the tremor that began as soon as they woke, and didn't subside until after she'd fed. She seemed to be one of the ones for whom the thirst would have physical indicators.
She looked up at him when he squeezed her shoulder, and he jerked his head in the direction of the kitchen. She nodded and followed him, still keeping a careful eye on the men in the living room who were still arguing. She wouldn't put it past Lance to go after Talbot while she was otherwise occupied.
"He doesn't have to die, Josef," she commented as he pulled the carafe from the refrigerator and poured her a tall glass. She accepted it gratefully, and took a long gulp of blood, then winced slightly at how cold it was. Maybe they should try microwaving it, warming it up a bit.
"And if we let him go? He'll just come after us."
"You don't know that. You might be surprised at what people will keep to themselves when they know their life is on the line. All I'm saying is that he should have the same chance that the rest of us did."
"And if he comes after us? You want to get Cole in the middle of something like this again?"
"Of course I don't."
He could hear the unspoken "idiot" on the end of that statement.
"If he does something to hurt Cole, I'll kill him myself."
"Could you really kill him, Ro?"
"Josef, I would kill you if you intentionally did something to hurt my son."
He would never admit how much it stung, that she would so casually discuss ending his life. That she place her son's life above his. It was stupid, after all. Of course she would place her son's life above everyone else's. She was a parent. It wasn't that different from a vampire protective of their newborn (for the most part); it was probably actually stronger. He couldn't be angry over that.
"I'll keep that in mind."
Now, what to do about Talbot? They could offer him the choice of turning or death, he supposed. It would be a sort of compromise, instead of outright killing him. He doubted that would satisfy Rowan, who seemed adamant that he be allowed to remain human. But maybe there was a way—if someone was willing to take responsibility for the man, and guarantee his behavior, they could leave him human. Who would do that, though? Mick would probably jump at the chance, but Josef doubted that was the best move. Mick had issues enough with Beth. No, it would need to be someone who had no other responsibilities at present. A number of vampires sprang to mind, several who owed him favors, and might just be willing to take it on if it meant they were even. It would be preferable if it was someone who could blend into the DA's offices.
Sinead would be perfect. Josef didn't know why he didn't think of it before. Sinead was currently between partners, or newborns. And she was a lawyer this decade, if he remembered correctly. She didn't owe Josef any favors, but he thought she just might like the obnoxious attorney. She had strange tastes. She would probably think Talbot was a fixer upper, or something. She'd certainly thought the same of him, ninety-seven years ago.
This just might work. Her loyalty to the Community was unwavering: if she agreed to do this, she would watch Talbot most carefully. And she wouldn't let any personal feelings get in the way; if he became a threat, she would handle it without shedding a tear. He didn't think even Lance would be able to disapprove of her assuming responsibility for Talbot's behavior.
"I need to make a quick call, Ro. I just might have a solution."
Sinead pulled her car into the driveway, double checking the address she was given. This didn't look like a vampire's home, but it was the house Josef had given her. Too many windows. The isolation was a bonus, though.
She was intrigued, with this human who was causing such a problem. Josef had given her only the basics; and she was surprised that Josef hadn't already just killed him. That was normally his solution. Then again, if the gossip was correct, Josef was dealing with a lover newly turned by another. It wouldn't surprise Sinead if the woman opposed disposing of the human, and Josef was attempting to pacify her. Regardless of why Josef was now faced with keeping a human in line, since it just might end up with her having a new distraction, she didn't really care. It had been awhile since she'd had any sort of personal relationship with a human.
Climbing out of her car, she bounded up the walk to the front door, and hissed when she inhaled and counted six vampires already there. Josef hadn't said anything about this being a group debate. One of them had to be Mick; wherever Josef was, Mick usually wasn't far behind. And she recognized his scent. But the others—the scents were very similar, which meant they shared the same sire. There was something very familiar about the scent, but she couldn't put her finger on it. She must have run into one of their coven members before.
The door was answered by Mick, of course, and she followed him into the room where they were all somewhat awfully assembled. She saw who the other vampires were, and decided that next time she had Josef Kostan alone, she was going to strangle him.
"Josef, you didn't tell me the Duval's were here."
And it wasn't just the Duval's: it was Henri. Of all the houses in LA, she had to walk into the one that held Henri. Judging from the expression on his face, he wasn't any more thrilled about the development than she was.
"This is who you think should take responsibility for the human? You're delusional," Henri scoffed. Sinead smiled sweetly at him, which she was sure would just piss him off more.
"You haven't changed a bit, Henri. You still think your opinion actually matters. Luc, it's good to see you. Lance."
She liked Luc, she really did. She'd hated having to forego his company after she left his brother. Lance, on the other hand, well, she couldn't pretend to miss having to leave him behind in France.
"Sinead, my dear, you look just as lovely as always."
As always, Lance was as charming as a snake. She looked to Josef, silently demanding an explanation for his failure to tell her that her ex would be present.
"I didn't realize you knew them, or that it would be a problem. They're just passing through."
The look on his face dared the others to contradict that, and after a warning look from Luc, the other two wisely kept silent. Sinead took a moment to size up the woman Josef held so close to him. She'd never seen him so possessive over anyone before. It was almost cute. It reminded her of her first years with Henri. As long as Josef didn't become the same overly jealous bastard as her ex, they would be fine. Sinead had the feeling, though, that if he tried it, this one would put him in his place. Good. He needed someone who wasn't over awed at the fact that he was Josef Kostan.
"I think this one just might be a keeper, Josef love. Now, where is this human you want me to babysit?"
"He's down in the basement."
"The basement? Really? How clichéd."
Mick was dispatched to the basement, and he returned a minute later, a child's hand in his and a human in tow. He was visibly nervous, though he tried not to show it. The boy immediately let go of Mick's hand and ran for Josef's woman. Sinead could see the resemblance between the two as he was picked up and held close. Mother and son, most likely. Surprising, that Josef would get involved with someone who had a child.
"Oh God, there are more of you," she heard the human mutter under his breath, likely thinking they couldn't hear him.
He was handsome, she would admit. He had the dark hair that she liked so much, and he had an interesting face. The fact that he wasn't handsome enough to be considered pretty (unlike Mick; Sinead swore he could pass for a woman if they got him the right dress) was a bonus. She couldn't stand pretty boys. And he had to be smart, if he worked for the DA's office. She might actually be able to get along with this one for more than five minutes.
She noticed that Josef and the Duval's were all watching her, waiting for her decision. After a moment's consideration, her mind was made up.
"I can take him."
Unlike Lance, she believed that he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. She would bet money he had a strong sense of self-preservation.
"You do realize that if he talks, it's your job to kill him."
"Really? I never would have guessed," she doubted that even the French could miss the sarcasm in her tone, "Seriously boys, this isn't my first rodeo. I think—what's your name honey?"
The human looked startled that she was speaking to him, or maybe he just had trouble believing what they were saying. Human expressions were kind of hard to read.
"Ben. Ben Talbot."
Talbot. Right. That was what Josef had called him, when not just calling him "the human irritation".
"Ben. I think that Ben and I will get along just fine. Now I think it's time to bring this lovely reunion to an end while we're all still on good terms, don't you? Come with me, Ben. We need to have a long conversation."
She took him by the hand and started walking him out of the room. She wouldn't put it past Henri to try something stupid, and she really didn't want to be around when he did.
"Wait a minute," Ben protested as she pulled him along, "What are you people? Where are you taking me?"
"It's a long explanation, doll. Just come along, and we'll get you settled properly."
Rowan watched, impressed, as the woman Josef called Sinead managed the Duval's and pulled Talbot out of the house, all without bloodshed. She had to respect anyone who could make Lance or his brother speechless.
"I think that went well," Luc interjected into the almost stunned silence following their departure, "Henri, I think you must be getting better at this 'divorce' thing. Not a single threat or violent reaction this time. Now that's settled, Henri and I really must arrange our return to France. Lance, you won't be expected for a few weeks, once I've explained the situation to our Sire."
"Yes, Henri, we're leaving. Our business here is finished. And I think it wise to get you out of the country before you do something foolish such as go after your ex-wife. I will order the plane readied, and we will leave with the dawn."
Henri looked as if he would protest, but a warning glance from Lance silenced him. He looked at the door Sinead had just exited through almost longingly, an expression Rowan never expected to see on the Frenchman. She wondered what the history was between Josef's friend and the Duval clan. As Luc moved off to make a phone call, she caught sight of the clock. It was almost eight thirty. Past the time Cole should have been in bed.
"C'mon, Cole. It's time to get you in bed."
Henri stopped her when he rose from his seat and approached them. Rowan wasn't sure what to make of it, but Josef was standing relaxed beside her. She was shocked speechless when the Frenchman pulled her into a loose embrace and kissed both her cheeks.
"Welcome to the family, Rowan. It has been a pleasure. Josef, it was good to see you, as always."
Huh. Who'd have thought the Frenchman had manners? A quick glance at Mick showed he him to look as flabbergasted as she felt. Still, she shrugged the confusion off, and after a quick farewell to Mick, carried Cole downstairs.
"Come back up once you get him down, okay?"
"Is there a particular reason…?"
"I just feel like a swim. Join me."
Rowan looked at him for a moment, then shrugged and took her son down to bed. Once she was certain he was asleep, the grabbed the baby monitor so that she could hear if he woke up, and joined Josef and the Duval's outside on the patio. They were deep in conversation by the time she joined them, and at first didn't notice her appearance. That didn't last long, once Josef caught sight of her in her swimsuit. They'd covered everything they needed to, and he wanted to spend their last night with company doing absolutely nothing important.
Several hours later, just before dawn, Luc and Henri took their leave. Lance retired to his freezer once his brothers were gone, and Josef finally decided that it might be a good idea to get some rest as well, and didn't protest when Rowan headed for the basement. She had nannies to interview in just a few hours, and a son to take care of.
"You know, we'll need to make some decisions about the house." Josef mentioned as he changed into a pair of pajama pants. He looked forward to Cole having his own room again, so that he could go back to sleeping in the buff. Pants just meant a delay in getting to what he really wanted.
"What type of decisions might those be?" Rowan asked as she came out of the bathroom, changed and ready to climb into bed. Josef joined her almost immediately, turning out the lights and pulling her close.
"Where to live is the most important one, I think. Mick has offered to let us stay here, and technically, it's his house. Then there's your house. Or we could buy one."
"Josef, let's worry about that another time, okay? I'll have enough to deal with tomorrow, without being completely sleep deprived."
That was true enough. There was any number of options available to them. He wanted a new house, one that could be theirs, together.
Once all of his arrangements went through, they would take an actual vacation, and get out of LA for awhile. The castle would be perfect. It was time to check on it anyway, they could make it a holiday. It was the perfect plan. And he had all the time in the world to convince her. He felt her drop off to sleep, and for the first time in days allowed himself to drift to sleep alongside her without worrying about what the next day would bring.