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written for the second "Oldschoolfic" ficathon
Last modified November 2, 2008
by Amy R.
PG. Please see the endnote for disclaimers, credits, and all that good stuff. This fanfiction is a tribute to the television series Forever Knight.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
"I think I need a hug," Natalie said as she stepped out of the elevator into Nick's loft.
Nick stood up from his piano, surprised to hear such a request from her, and more surprised yet when she walked right into his pajama-clad arms. "You think?"
"Initial results look promising," Natalie said into his chest, holding on tightly. She was still wearing scrubs under her coat, which was no more like her than asking for comfort in so many words. The coroner always changed into a suit when she left her lab during her working hours. "But it's just a preliminary diagnosis. I could also need major therapy. Or chocolate. Or a gun."
Nick stroked her curly brown hair. She was warm and soft in his arms, but she smelled of fear, which was the least like her of all. The vampire in him found that alluring. Nick struggled to wall off that part of himself, focusing instead on his friend. "I take it you saw the news."
"Without camera intervention."
Nick nodded. He had suspected immediately that she had been caught in the riot; he wished he had been wrong.
"I don't understand. We learned that the asteroid would miss Earth two days ago! The apocalypse is canceled! Why aren't things better yet?"
After a moment, he offered, "People are scared."
"Deep, Nick." Natalie stepped back and crossed her arms.
"The asteroid ground our noses in our weakness." He spread his hands. "There's nothing like fear to bring out the mob -- and the tyrant."
Springfield, Illinois, USA
Associate Professor Nicholas Girard held the door open with one hand. With the other, he turned down the brim of his hat. The glow of the streetlamps seemed tinged with a mocking pink through the falling snow.
Nick's lawyer and friend nodded thanks for the courtesy as he walked out, tugging on his gloves with his briefcase under one arm. Together, the men carefully descended the icy steps of the state capitol. Neither held the door for the reporters and gawkers trailing behind them.
"May I bother you for a ride to the station, Warren?" Nick asked.
"Of course!" The attorney looked surprised. "But it's a long train ride back to Chicago. At least let me offer you some supper first." Warren Barnes glanced over his shoulder and shook his head. "Come join Ellen and me for meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and stay until those jackals' deadlines pass. You're welcome to the spare room if you'd rather make a fresh start in the morning."
"Thank you." Nick swallowed. "You can't know how good that sounds. But I doubt even Ellen wants a 'Fifth-amendment Red' at her table."
"I'd be sleeping on the davenport if I didn't make the offer."
"You're a lucky man." Nick glanced off into the dark, snowy distance. He envied his friend's domestic bliss with a woman who cheered his tilting at Bill of Rights windmills, despite all it cost their family. Nick had long since given up on that for himself, but he had hoped he was building something as meaningful with his studies and his students. He had worked so hard for this life, and just one word would now bring it all tumbling down. Communist. "But your neighbors then, Warren. I'm not going to repay all you've done for me by making this any worse for you. I just want to go home."
"I understand. But if we're not going to share a quiet drink by the fire tonight, you'll have to excuse me if I make this blunt." Warren opened the back door of his Chevrolet and set his briefcase on the floor behind the bucket seat, before getting behind the wheel and letting Nick in. They waited for the engine to warm up.
Nick steeled himself.
"Why, Nick?" Warren asked at last. His bafflement sliced deep. Gloved hands gripped the steering wheel. "I'm all for shutting out these inquisitors on constitutional grounds, you know that, but I thought we agreed that you'd take the so-called Diminished Fifth. Didn't we decide you'd tell them you're not a Communist, but refuse to name names? You'd have been cited for contempt, yes -- but you'd keep your job! Or am I crazy?"
"You're not crazy." Nick winced.
"You know that every academic who has taken the Fifth straight down the line is out on the job market, tenure or no tenure."
"All right. It's very brave! I'm just worried." Warren sighed and pulled his car into the light traffic. "You teachers always think you can explain your way through the sixty-four-dollar question. You can't seem to grasp that when they ask 'are you now or have you ever been?', they don't care about the answer. They're only building momentum for the next accusation."
"I've never liked politics." Nick stared out the window, seeing Carreg, Jerusalem, and Moscow overlaid on the dark midwestern city. "And I don't really believe in conspiracies." He snorted. "Evil, yes. Coordination, no."
Stopping at the next light, Warren asked, "So what was that about blood in your icebox?"
Nick let his head fall back against the seat, exposing his throat in case anyone cared to decapitate him and spare him from explaining. His carefully-constructed world had been unraveling for hours now, ever since the acting chairman of a subcommittee of the House Un-American Activities Committee had been handed a note in the middle of a hearing. "Mister Girard," the chairman had asked, widening his eyes, "will you kindly explain to this committee why you keep in your refrigerator bottles full of animal blood?"
Panicked, Nick had abandoned Warren's prudent legal advice. "I choose not to answer that question under the protection of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution."
"Commie monster!" one woman had hissed. And that had been among the milder epithets.
Where, for someone else, taking the full Fifth might have been the brave assertion of civil liberties Warren supposed, it was less nobly disinterested for Nick.
It was not technically illegal to be a vampire, any more than it was to be a Communist. Technically.
As much as Nick admired Warren's passion for justice, experience warned that it likely had a loophole for the walking dead. And then there was the issue of the Enforcers, who kept vampirism's secret by any means necessary. All the things Nick had let himself not think about too closely in recent years had leaped up with that one question that did no one any good.
Nick had built this life in every layer, pouring his heart into his classes and research. He had let himself believe he was making a difference. It had taken the chairman's harangue to remind him he was a fraud. And it had taken a broken trust, a cracked secret, to arm the chairman against him. Nick tried to think who could have betrayed him.
"What kind of rubes do they think we are?" Warren laughed and clapped Nick on the shoulder as the car continued down the block, wipers knocking off the snow. "You couldn't just leak atomic secrets or be homosexual or atheist like everyone else who gets their goat? Animal blood! Egad. They traipse up here from Washington, hold hearings in our state house, and presume we're credulous hicks. This is the Land of Lincoln, not Outer Mongolia. Do you have any idea what they were trying to trick you into saying?"
"What could I say?" Nick shrugged. "It makes no sense."
"Well, the committee benefits every time a witness takes the Fifth, because that seems to validate their scare tactics to the public, and spreads this hysteria. But who would have benefitted from supplying the committee with such an outlandish charge?"
"I don't know, Warren." Of course Lacroix immediately leaped to mind; the ancient vampire habitually undermined all Nick's efforts to approximate a normal, human life. But waving a red flag at the Enforcers was not Lacroix's style. Nick's butcher had probably deduced his vampirism, but after more than half a century of experience with that profession, Nick thought he could tell who would keep the unspoken agreement to turn a blind eye. This gentleman would, Nick was sure. Could Sam, his current Teaching Assistant, have assembled the pieces? Nick hoped not. "I have to assume someone wants me gone. Out of the university, or out of academia altogether -- or something more?"
Warren pulled into the train station's parking lot and circled for a spot. "Could it be someone on the faculty?"
"No," Nick looked from the mesmerizing snow back to Warren's face. "At least, not in my department. It feels wrong. I know the chairman said today that faculty members had given information, whatever that means, but my colleagues have been completely behind me ever since this started."
"You're just popular because you took on so many of the night classes necessitated by the influx of students on the G.I. Bill," Warren kidded, pulling the car into an empty spot.
Nick thought of his current excuse for leading a nocturnal life, that wartime exposure to a bombed cache of old mustard gas had left his skin too sensitive to bear the full light of day. Military and medical records backed it up, thanks to Aristotle, and no one had questioned it. Had that been the tip-off to the informant, whoever it was?
Warren turned off the car. "Nick, you heard that reporter say that Dean Wilson had told the press he was going to review your tenure. That's customary in these cases, but--"
"But the reporter got the quote while the hearing was still in session? Yeah, I noticed." Edwin Wilson had assured Nick of his support by telephone just the day before, but Wilson was not a strong man, and he worried constantly about the department's prestige. The news that Nick had taken the full Fifth would have hit him hard, as Nick had told him Warren's original plan. "I think Wilson was just trying to shape the publicity however he could."
"Ah." Warren looked even more solemn than usual. He seemed at a loss for words.
"Never mind." Nick smiled and got out of the car. Meeting Warren on the sidewalk, Nick put out his hand. "I want to thank you for everything you've done for me in this."
"It's not over." Warren shook his hand firmly. "You know that, right? I'll be up in Chicago next week to meet with the University's counsel. Depend on it, you're facing a long march of hearings, with faculty and regent committees both, and if you'll tell them what you wouldn't tell the Feds, you might still get out of this. They have to come up with an academic negligence or morals charge to get rid of you, and they know it. No university in this country will admit they're breaking tenure over this."
"They'll find an excuse, or they'll be given one." Nick released Warren's hand, thinking of the animal blood accusation. Talk about a 'morals charge'! That was clearly someone's trump card, played when the accusation of Communism failed to dislodge him. "My only hope is to make it as painless as possible."
"Well, that's grim." The lawyer flicked up his hat brim to get a good look into Nick's eyes, then crossed his arms. "Forgive me if this is too personal, Nick. You haven't mentioned any romantic engagements since your Parisian friend visited. Is there someone waiting for you in Chicago? After a day like this, you probably shouldn't be alone."
Warren's concern warmed Nick, overwhelming the winter night, the bitter day, and his own cold, dead heart. But that wasn't the kind of thing a man said in this day and age, so he shook his friend's hand again and promised to telephone. Nick headed for his train with his spirits lighter than they had been since the subpoena arrived.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
When Natalie stepped away from him, Nick realized that she had been holding on so tightly to keep herself from shaking. Tremors, fear, the riot. Uncharacteristic reactions. He picked her up.
"Hey!" Natalie whacked his shoulder. "Put me down right now!"
Three swift steps carried her to his sofa. He set her down and wrapped her, coat and all, in a blanket that had been sitting around since Schanke's brief stint as a swinging bachelor (who made three-course country breakfasts). "Better?"
"Maybe." She narrowed her eyes at him. "I am not suffering an acute stress reaction, Nick. And you don't treat emotional shock like physiological shock, anyway."
"Humor me." Nick fetched her a glass of water, wishing he had V8 or Gatorade or something else humanly nourishing. Schanke's orange juice had gone down the disposal weeks ago. And this wasn’t the time to offer Natalie one of her own protein shakes.
The whole world had been traumatized this week. An unscrupulous astronomer and her real estate financier husband had conned everyone into believing an asteroid would soon wipe out life on earth. It had been "the end of the savings account and safe sex," as Janette had said, though that was just the tip of the iceberg. And on top of all the shared traumas, Natalie had escaped personal assault only when Nick flew in and staked the young vampire trying to bite her.
Nick was glad she'd asked for that hug in so many words. After Spark -- and after what she had asked of Nick before she went to the Raven -- Nick wouldn't have dared guess what she wanted anymore. He had thought he had known Natalie well, but even after all they had been through, this week was the first time he had seen her swayed by fear.
Nick knelt in front of Natalie. After she'd drunk half the glass of water, he asked evenly, "How close to the riot did you get?"
"Close enough to chalk up another totaled car on my lofty insurance premiums. I mean, assuming we have insurance companies anymore." She huffed, a tiny laugh. "Is that the silver lining? No more services, no more bills."
Chicago, Illinois, USA
"The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale? Really, Nicholas!" Lacroix's voice reached out from inside as Nick opened the front door of his own townhouse. "Even you cannot be that gullible."
"It's very popular," Nick said, strictly to aggravate Lacroix. The book had been a Christmas gift from the harried Dean of Anthropology and Archaeology to every professor and instructor under him. Edwin Wilson seemed to believe they would all be happier -- and less demanding -- if they employed the 'confidence-concepts' and 'grievance-drainage' the simplistic bestseller prescribed. Generous, but corny. He would never live it down. 'Wish-it-Away Wilson,' Nick had overheard a tipsy professor from the divinity school call him on New Year's Eve; it had become 'Wishing Will' by Epiphany.
Ignoring his uninvited, unwanted guest, Nick dropped his mail into the basket on the top of his upright piano, and hung his coat and hat on the rack near his door. He shrugged off his charcoal-gray suit jacket, loosened his tie, went to his kitchen and pulled a full bottle of wine-cut steer blood from the icebox.
Nick yanked out the cork with his teeth, spat it into the sink, and took a quick swig. The glasses and goblets in the open-fronted cupboard caught his eye. After the day he'd had? Nick shifted his gaze and took a long look at himself in the window over the sink, a mirror-surface in the dark. His reflection stared back, the same as it had been for almost eight centuries. Was he still just that disillusioned Crusader, under the shorter hair and cleaner clothes?
He reached for a goblet.
"Are you ready to depart?" Lacroix asked when Nick returned to the front room. "I presume you can engage someone to sell your possessions and forward the funds. I was thinking India this time."
"You're welcome to depart at any time, in case you missed the clue of not being given a key." Nick turned off the television set Lacroix had turned on, which of course received nothing but a test pattern at this hour. "And the clue of not being spoken to in a decade, for that matter."
"The subcontinent is not to your taste?" Lacroix spread his hands. "So the Near East, then. I have properties here and there, and Janette has established herself in Beirut. She claims it is more than ever the 'Paris of the East' since the war."
"I know where Janette is." Nick picked up the mail he had set on top of his piano, sat down on his davenport and began opening envelopes. "I had plenty of time, on the train, to think about how to face this, and it doesn't involve running to Janette -- or you."
"The train, yes." Lacroix recrossed his legs. "I expected you back hours ago. Have you developed some scruple against flying?"
"From Springfield?" Nonplussed, Nick stared at his estranged vampiric master. Lacroix wore a black wool suit with a white shirt and striped tie. His hat rested on the endtable next to the dubious book that promised easy spirituality could guarantee easy material success. He had seated himself in Nick's favorite armchair, feet up on Nick's hassock, lit by Nick's reading lamp.
Nick no longer remembered how many people a vampire would have to murder to steal the strength for a flight all the way from Springfield to Chicago, but there had been a time when he had known, when he had killed as often as Lacroix. Suddenly, Nick's sixty years of principled reliance on otherwise revolting animal blood, and his sporadic attempts long before that, seemed worth every bit of struggle and alienation. He was still a vampire, but he wasn't a monster. Not any more.
"I'm not going anywhere, Lacroix." Nick returned to reading his mail.
"Absurd. The newspapers this morning will tell the world that you are a Communist. A night-shift museum curator, a professor who teaches only night classes -- rumor will make you a full-time Soviet agent by day."
"Politics is your perversion, not mine."
"Even so. But you refused to testify, and the hoi polloi will jump to the conclusion the committee desires: that you are a card-carrying Communist bent on the destruction of all they hold dear, and you therefore deserve none of the protections they would grant 'real Americans.' Your colleagues will think the same, deep down, for all they will pretend instead that they have suddenly discovered you lack the intellectual independence to teach in their great institution."
"I have tenure now." Nick shook his head. He had been so proud to be awarded tenure last year, to be recognized as a worthy and wanted permanent member of the faculty. It stung to watch that accomplishment shrink to a mere bump in the road of his eventual dismissal. He leaned back against the arm of the davenport. "Because of that, I'd thought you were behind all this. Until today."
"I have no idea what you mean, Nicholas."
"No? How many times have you pulled the rug out from under me just when I'd begun to succeed at something? Every step of this stank of you." Nick walked across the room and handed Lacroix a typed sheet from one of the envelopes. "Until today."
Lacroix read the form letter and raised an eyebrow. "So your passport renewal has been declined. What of it? Travel under a new name."
"With both the FBI and the Enforcers on my trail? I don't think so."
"Enforcers?" Lacroix repeated sharply. He moved his feet from the hassock to the floor.
Nick sat on his piano bench, facing Lacroix. "During the hearing today, the chairman asked why I keep animal blood in my icebox."
"All this time, I thought you were behind the HUAC harassment. It fit your pattern. But even you wouldn't call in the Enforcers to dislodge me."
Lacroix narrowed his eyes. "So if not me, who?"
"How much of it was you?"
Lacroix matched Nick's gaze for a moment, then inclined his head. "Naturally, I . . . persuaded . . . that bright young G-man to look into the archaeological program at the University of Chicago. I even repeated some comments you made about the Spanish Civil War. But I certainly did not discuss your dietary choices with him."
Nick nodded. He knew Lacroix would hide that Nick lived 'like some base carouche,' as Lacroix had characterized his ethical stance more than once. Never mind the Enforcers, who would eliminate Nick as readily as any humans who learned his secret. Lacroix wanted him dependent, not dead.
"Well?" Lacroix leaned forward. "Who knows the contents of your icebox?"
"You mean, who scuttled your plan?"
All at once, Lacroix was across the room, in front of Nick. Golden-eyed and fanged, Lacroix grabbed the front of Nick's shirt and hauled him to his feet. "We are leaving now, tonight."
Nick broke Lacroix's grip, and fought back the urge to respond in kind. Blue eyes challenged gold. "I told you, I'm not going anywhere. It's not just the passport, or the FBI, or even the Enforcers. Don't you get it? Your original plan would have failed, anyway. I have tenure."
"You think that means something in this anxious age? Academic freedom is a bigger illusion than their precious Communist conspiracy!"
Nick opened his mouth to argue back, but shut it as the wall clock chimed. Dawn was minutes away. Blast. Pushing past Lacroix, Nick quickly fastened the thick drapes in the front room, and then slid the kitchen shutters into place. He found the upstairs still sealed, the way he had left it.
And now he was stuck with Lacroix for the day. That hadn't happened since the old dragon turned poor Daniel during the Blitz, stealing the boy's humanity on a whim and exploding the odd, idyllic interlude of their wartime truce.
Lacroix met Nick at the top of the stairs, eyes and teeth returned to normal. They sized each other up.
Eventually, Lacroix said, "When you and Janette lived here, you had a guest room."
"It's a study now." Nick closed his eyes briefly in relief. "Doctor Girard isn't as social as his parents were. You can sleep on the davenport downstairs."
Lacroix accepted the bedclothes Nick retrieved from the linen closet, then paused at the top of the stairs. "This will break soon enough, you know, this illusion of a life. Even if the hearing did not deliver the death blow, you have nothing left here but a slow strangulation of your pride and the omnipresent threat of the Enforcers." Lacroix made his voice supple, compassionate. Another favorite strategy: one could almost forget that he had caused the pain he purported to soothe. "It would be much easier for you to come with me tonight than to wait out your humiliation here to its bitter end."
"I know." Tired and dispirited, Nick felt the lure of putting everything in Lacroix's hands, letting the older vampire arrange everything his way, never being alone or confused. It would be effortless. And it would betray everything he believed in. "But when was the last time I took the easy way?"
Nick turned his back on Lacroix and walked down the hall. Shutting his bedroom door behind him, Nick leaned against the cool wood and wondered again who would have told the committee about the animal blood in his home.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
"I was heading home, the usual route." Natalie pulled her legs up onto the sofa and tucked the blanket in around them. "It was another marathon shift, you know; bodies are still stacked like firewood. Our facility was never meant for this." She took another sip of the water, then handed the glass to Nick.
He put it on his coffee table.
"I got out to help one man. Someone else tossed some sort of -- pipe bomb, I suppose." Tears crept down her cheeks. "This is Ontario, Nick! We don't do things like this."
Nick scrambled up onto the sofa and put an arm around her shoulders. He had been awake well into the day, idling at the piano as the television reporters repeated themselves over and over that apparently Ontario was as capable of frightened senselessness as anywhere else -- everywhere else, in the jungle the world seemed just now.
The television still murmured to itself across the room. The remote control was on the piano bench. Nick stayed where he was, next to Natalie.
As long as the sun was up, that was the most he could do.
University of Chicago, Illinois, USA
"But what can we do, Doctor Girard?" Marie asked again, adjusting her glasses as if better focus would make Nick give her the answer she wanted.
"As I said, Miss Carroll, we go on with our lives as usual." Nick smiled at the young lady sitting on the only spare chair in his tiny, windowless office. Her fashionable skirt pinched in her waist and swung around her calves as she tapped one foot. The two boys with her -- well, one boy and one man on the G.I. Bill -- leaned gingerly against a filing cabinet and a bookshelf, respectively. Both wore cardigans over white shirts and thin ties. "I teach classes; you attend them. You take tests; I grade them. When people ask about me, tell the truth, as you would about anything. Just pick a different advisor for next year. Professor Hawkins is very good."
"We don't want him, Doctor Girard," said Sam Kean, Nick's Teaching Assistant. Sam had fallen for archaeology when he helped liberate Italy at the end of World War II, and liked to say that they had to study it all now, quick, before the next war blew it up. "We want you."
"Thank you, Sam." Nick leaned back in his desk chair. "But don't underestimate how this could hurt you. Going on the job market, you'll need recommendations from more . . . politically palatable . . . people. Dean Wilson was very generous to offer to let you list him instead of me."
"Why didn't you just tell them you're not a commie, Doc?" Howard burst out, slamming his fist against the metal filing cabinet, and then stroking it as if he could smooth the dent from the outside. "We all know you're too smart to fall for that bull. Why didn't you just say so? Then you wouldn't be in this mess!"
"I think I'd be in this mess no matter what I said, from the moment they called me as a witness." Nick thought about the desperate days of the thirties, when it seemed to some as if capitalism had broken and could not be fixed, and then the Spanish Civil War, when many said only the Communists were fighting the evils of fascism. Things looked utterly different now, of course. But it wouldn't do to explain the history; he'd be accused of indoctrinating his students, handing his opponents the excuse they needed to revoke his tenure.
Nick took a breath to order his thoughts. "Mr. Morris, you're a history major. Have you heard of the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the Palmer Raids?"
"1789 and 1919," Marie said solemnly. "Tyranny-ville."
Sam winked at Nick over her head.
"Yeah, I've heard of them," Howard admitted. "But that's not a fair comparison, Doc!"
"Well, those weren't real threats then, were they? Not like the commies now! Who lost us China, huh?"
"Real or imagined, my point is that certain things happen when people are frightened. We have to think clearly, and avoid acting out of fear. We need to let our traditions of justice and fairness guide us through times of anxiety."
"Come on! They've got the bomb now, and are trying to take over the world! I don't understand why you wouldn't just tell the committee everything you know, Doc. You wouldn't protect commie symps, would you?"
"I still think we should do something," Marie insisted. "A petition, or letters to the editor, or a rally--"
"No, Doctor Girard is right." Sam patted her shoulder. "The faculty committee reviewing him wouldn't appreciate our opinions."
The clock-tower rang the hour. Marie grabbed her bag and coat. "Oh, gosh! We'll be late for Professor Hawkins's class! Come on, Howard, hurry. Sorry, Doctor Girard!"
After the undergraduates left, Sam closed the office door. He straightened some small artifacts that had tipped when Howard punched the filing cabinet under them. Sam sank into the chair Marie had occupied, rested his elbows on his knees and leaned forward. "Forgive me if I'm out of line here, but it sounds as if you've given up."
"Does it?" Nick toyed with the nameplate on his desk, rubbing out a smudge on the engraved brass bolted to the wooden wedge. His title was abbreviated 'Assoc. Prof.' to fit the 'Archaeology' unabridged. "I'm being forced out on false pretenses. I resent it." Nick set down the nameplate and opened a drawer by his foot, pulling out files as he named them and tossing them on his desk. "I'm doing everything I can think of -- lawyers, testimony, appeals to the American Association of University Professors -- except involving my students."
"What if we want to be involved?"
"No. Absolutely not." Nick kicked the desk drawer shut. He stood up and plunged his hands into his suit pockets. "You've got a bright future ahead of you, Sam. You want to do something for me, you go on to research where human cultures come from, and teach people to care about what it means to be human! That's what all the digging and dating is for. That's what matters." Nick paced a few short steps in the cramped space. "Of course I care that my career is being cut short, that my articles and applications for field work are rejected with thin excuses, when they're acknowledged at all. Some nights, I'm furious."
Sam met Nick's eyes with a frank expression of support.
Nick dropped his gaze, wishing he hadn't let his frustration show. He sat down again and stacked up the folders of correspondence on his desk. They were his weapons in this slow-motion battle, but joining that battle would ruin Sam's prospects. "Think of it this way: as long as I'm here, I'm winning. Whoever started this wanted me to resign."
Sam swallowed. "Who was that?"
"I don't know." There was no point explaining about Lacroix. The half truths the old vampire had fed to the FBI were buoyed by the kicker of blood in his icebox, and Nick still didn't know who had revealed a secret he thought he had kept so well. He couldn't believe it was his butcher. He almost prayed it wasn't Sam.
"Doctor Girard -- Nick--" Sam licked his lips. "You never actually answered Howard's questions, did you? And what about the-- the animal blood thing?"
"Does it matter?" Nick closed his eyes. "Not out there. Between us. Does it matter to you, Sam?" He could feel the young man's eyes on him.
After a moment, Sam said, "No." And then, firmer the second time, "No, I guess it doesn't." The man stood. "I'm not removing your name from my references. It's too much trouble to re-type them."
Nick shook his head. Sam's loyalty humbled him. He'd have to ask Dean Wilson to persuade Sam to reconsider. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"One night at a time." Vampiric custom was to move on when challenged, as Lacroix had expected him to. Staying was a marathon of aggravation and anxiety. But he wasn't staying only to keep this life he loved, or to discover who had betrayed him to the committee. Staying, Nick told himself, was the human thing to do.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
For a moment of frustration and fear, Natalie cried softly, and Nick stroked her shoulder. Then she sniffed, pushed Nick to arm's length, and scooted into the corner of the couch. She rubbed the blanket across her eyes. "Sorry."
"Never mind." Natalie waved a hand in dismissal, and then began removing her coat. "Do you want to turn up your TV?"
"Sure." Nick got the remote and increased the volume, then angled the television toward the couch for good measure. He settled into the armchair next to the spot Natalie had claimed, and looked from her to the news and back.
Again and again, all over the world, authorities called for calm. Those who could manage calm kept the news on the air, or watched it. Those who couldn't, starred in it.
Civilization looked much more fragile than it had a week ago. Nick couldn't think what to say.
After the first wave of relief had floated around the globe with the good news that the asteroid would miss Earth, a second wave of terror had erupted. Frightened people realized that companies, banks, and even whole industries could not start up again as easily as they had shut down in the panic. Days of no oil deliveries had left food rotting in one place while people went hungry in others. Financial liquidity had evaporated. Not to mention the murders and suicides, a year's worth in scant days, and subtler crimes yet uncounted.
The diplomatic community was shrieking for the heads of the two Canadians who had engineered the scare, and others whose leaks had triggered it. The World Court claimed jurisdiction. At least one US congressman had suggested invasion. Someone in the Middle East had proclaimed Jihad.
When the broadcast finally broke for a commercial -- bizarrely ordinary -- Nick found Natalie looking at him as if he were a new puzzle all of a sudden, not one whose pieces she had well-mapped.
"You're awfully serene about this."
"Yes. In fact, you've kept your composure through this better than -- any of us. Not that you're the most flappable guy normally, but Nick, aren't you scared?"
"Yeah." Nick nodded. "Of course I am."
"Then what's with the Joe Cool calm?"
"I don't know." Nick thought of what Janette had said the night after this began, that he was either courageous or a fool. Then he thought of what Joan had said long ago, that those who choose to live forever, live in constant fear of death. And he thought of how the vampire in him had reacted to Natalie's fear when she walked through his door that morning. "Maybe I've learned to fear fear most of all."
University of Chicago, Illinois, USA
Nick stepped into the empty outer office, where the department secretary and a filing clerk sat during the day. He took off his hat and coat and put them on the empty rack.
Edwin Wilson, Dean of Anthropology and Archaeology, had stayed after his workday for this meeting, and Nick had come before his. Usually, they crossed paths only at Nick's beloved museum, where he knew just how to avoid the windows, or at faculty functions, which happened at night, anyway. Even with all the night classes started by the enrollment surges following the G.I. Bill, the department head's office still usually closed promptly at five each evening.
Nick knocked on the open office door.
"Come in, Nicholas." The white-bearded man set aside some papers and gestured to one of the chairs in front of his desk.
"Thank you for waiting, Edwin." Nick shook the Dean's hand before sitting down. "I'm sorry to make you late for supper."
"No trouble at all," Wilson smiled. He looked from Nick to their reflections in one of the night-darkened windows and laughed. He got up and began closing all the shades. "The faculty committee evaluating your situation meets again tomorrow, of course."
"Yes." Nick shrugged. "But actually I'm here to talk to you about Sam Kean, my TA. You generously agreed to stand in for me as a reference for him, so he wouldn't be found guilty by association. I'm grateful. But he's being more brave than prudent, and his loyalty to me is going to stop a brilliant career before it starts. I'm hoping you might speak with him."
"You've given up hopes of vindication, then?" Wilson finished with the shades and returned to his desk.
"I've done nothing wrong. Of course I expect the committee to conclude that."
"Really, Nicholas." Wilson shook his head. "Yes, I'll speak with Mr. Kean. I read that article he co-wrote last fall; he will clearly be a credit to this institution as long as he sheds the negativity associated with you." The dean steepled his fingers. "But you, Nicholas! You talk about Mr. Kean's stubbornness, but you seem bound and determined to stay mired in grievances instead of taking the confidence corridor standing open for you."
"This excruciating exercise is hurting you and this university. The animal blood is a clear-cut morals charge, even if communistic ideology falls under academic freedom. Cut your losses, and ours. There are some schools overseas that will allow you to teach, despite your situation--"
"It was you." Nick realized, and suddenly found himself on his feet, his hands balled against the temptation to grab the man by the throat. He stepped behind the chair. "You fed the committee that line about blood in my icebox. But how? Why?"
Wilson pressed his palms against his desk. "I had no choice."
"Of course you had a choice, Edwin!" Nick snapped. "You just made a dishonorable one."
"How dare you judge me? I have been more than fair to you!" Wilson met Nick's eyes. "You're a Red, for all I know, not to mention -- whatever you call your perversion. It was my duty, to my country as well as this university, to tell the HUAC investigator everything I knew or suspected."
Nick took a deep breath. It was calming, even if he didn't really need air for anything besides speaking.
Wilson opened a folder on his desk and spread around photostats, carbons, and newspaper clippings, as well as written and typed originals, all on Nick's situation. Nick was surprised how thick the file had become. And the newspaper articles -- more than he'd realized had been published -- reminded him that this was a two-front struggle. The faculty investigation could cost him his career; drawing Enforcer attention could cost lives.
"Have I ever given you any reason to think I'm a Communist, Edwin?"
"No," Wilson admitted. "Not until you took the Fifth. And that is your right!" The dean spread his hands. "Of course no one could object to a professor exercising his constitutional rights . . . as long as it does not reflect negatively on the university. And even if you're Communist, again, naturally that's a matter of academic freedom, as well as the First Amendment, as long as you don't try to indoctrinate students. We wouldn't hold sincere convictions against anyone."
Nick laughed shortly.
Wilson frowned. "It's the fact that you lied, Nicholas. I'm sorry, but that you won't admit your sympathies shows you are unfit to teach in this university. Communists simply don't have the freedom of thought necessary to participate fully in academic life, in any case. But it's that you don't own up to it publicly, with the honesty and integrity required of the faculty of this great institution."
"That's inane, Edwin, and you know it." Nick got up and walked to the globe on a credenza at the side of the room. He spun it. "I wouldn't answer the congressional committee's questions, and therefore I'm a liar?"
"Let's get down to brass tacks, shall we?" Wilson looked grave. "While there have been no complaints against your teaching, you have brought negative publicity to our department and this institution, imperiling grants and donations. Fundraising is down dramatically. And whether or not you're a Red, you and I both know you are something perhaps even more dangerous."
Nick gave the globe another spin. One of the copies of The Power of Positive Thinking sat next to it, with a bowl of hard candy on the other side. What Wilson wasn't saying was that a drop in donations threatened his own job, and decreasing departmental prestige threatened his own career. Guilt by association, indeed. Nick leaned back against the credenza and put his hands in his pants pockets, under his suit jacket. "You don't know as much as you think you do."
"Really?" Wilson stroked his beard. "A bombed mustard-gas cache as the origin of your skin problem always sounded like something out of a comic book."
"So?" Nick waited.
"So, when the young lady who accompanied you to the reception last spring continually diluted her glass of the excellent red wine with a flask in her handbag whenever your back was turned, I became curious. I happened to smell it."
"While she was still holding it?" Nick sighed. "Edwin, is this all because Janette turned you down? She was with me, you're married, and trust me: you don't want a one-night-stand with her. It wouldn't be your bedpost that got notched."
"You patronize a rather peculiar butcher, don't you, Nicholas?"
Nick closed his eyes.
"I want your resignation on my desk tomorrow, effective immediately." Wilson leaned forward. "Put an end to this ongoing investigation nonsense, and give me something to show alumni and other donors who question our fitness as long as you're on staff. Or I will expose you as the sanguinary freak you are."
Nick dropped his eyes and took his hands out of his pockets. "I think I've served this university well."
"You're not worthy to serve this university."
When Nick looked up, he could feel his eyes burn and his fangs slide down. Wilson stood with a wordless shout, but then Nick was right in front of him. Nick tracked the dean's heartbeat, and poured vampiric suggestion into that human rhythm. "Your suspicions about me have no basis. You will forget them. You will forget Janette. You will let the faculty committee's investigation run its course."
"Or what?" Wilson choked. "You'll kill me?"
Nick looked into Wilson's eyes. He tried again, raw mesmerism without the shaping of words, but felt it slide away. The man was a resister -- unhypnotizable. Nick let him go. "No, I won't kill you."
Wilson reached for the telephone on his desk.
"But others will," Nick continued. Wilson dropped his hand, and Nick smiled grimly. "If you tell anyone -- anyone -- of your suspicions about me, you'll be inviting quick elimination of yourself, them and anyone in the vicinity. I think you can guess why. And how."
Wilson sank into his chair, his face ashen. "I've already told the faculty investigating committee what I told the HUAC man."
Nick forced back his fangs, and blinked his eyes blue. "Then for all your sakes, you'd better hope I do resign." He spun on his heel and stalked out into the chill, early spring night, grabbing his hat and coat on the way.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
When Natalie fell asleep, Nick got her a better pillow and another blanket, and gently tucked her in on the couch.
Muting his television for Natalie, Nick turned on the closed captioning for himself. But as he flipped through channels, the captions couldn't keep up, and he lost track of which footage was from when people believed everyone would die, and which from when they realized they'd have to keep on living.
Finally, he settled on the CBC. Toronto's civil disturbance had cleared shortly after Natalie's ordeal. Peace had been restored by Nick's fellow police officers, not by the army -- but not by the good sense of the populace, either.
Nick took his phone upstairs.
"You are awake, too, mon cher?" Janette answered on the second ring. Even in a crisis, it wouldn't do to seem too available.
"A little lost sleep isn't much to complain of this week," Nick said. "How are you?"
"Oh, some ruffians tried to break into the club. They didn't get far." Janette's easy superiority made Nick smile. "But then I let in some mortals fleeing the mêlée, and one of those who sleep downstairs had to be forcibly reminded that the license of the past few days is over. The asteroid may not get him, but the Enforcers will."
"So are things back to normal for you?"
"Normal? My stock portfolio is in disarray, half my customers are afraid to come out at night, and my hairstylist's boutique burned down. I will not do without a competent stylist!" Janette laughed, and Nick could almost feel the tension the laugh drained. She had been as frightened as anyone, for all she hid it better. A 'slow death by starvation,' she had predicted. Her tone softened. "But yes, I am fine, Nicolas. Thank you for asking."
Janette hung up. She hadn't asked how he was, and Nick wondered whether that was because she knew, or because she did not wish to admit she didn't know. Bottled though it was these days, Janette drank human blood, and kept all her vampiric powers about her. Nick had begun to lose his sense of her as he struggled closer to humanity. She had not answered when he had asked whether that ran both ways.
Nick checked on Natalie. Then he called Schanke's house. Jenny said her parents were asleep, and asked whether Nick knew when school might start again.
University of Chicago, Illinois, USA
"Ten minutes," Nick announced, from the desk at the front of the classroom, to the five students still laboring over their answers to the questions he had written on the chalkboard.
The others had already left, taking him up on his offer to turn in their final exam as soon as they finished, as long as they did so silently. A few had glared suspiciously at him, trying to find a problem with this, as they had with almost everything throughout the class. But more had shaken his hand on their way out, and he hoped that wasn't just an attempt to influence their grades. Nick liked to think he had won over some of those who had tried unsuccessfully to transfer out of the supposedly Red professor's class, as well as some who had transferred in to keep a patriotic eye on him.
Nick had expected this course on the rise and fall of early urban societies to look like a hotbed of communistic influence to those on the prowl for it, but he had been disappointed to find that suspicion haunting even his basic "Introduction to Anthropology" lectures, too.
"Five minutes," Nick said.
It was well known that he would be leaving as soon as he turned in final grades. With the faculty committee 's investigation rendered moot by his supposedly voluntary resignation, all those who had suspected him of Communism for taking the Fifth now felt vindicated. At least the nightmare would finally fade for those with the bad luck to be associated with him. The press would look elsewhere, and so would the FBI, and even the Enforcers -- as long as Dean Wilson held his tongue.
Nick had pushed his luck on that as far as he dared, finishing out this academic year.
"Pencils down, everyone." Nick stood. "You too, Miss Carroll."
Marie blushed, and surreptitiously made one more mark on the page before letting it go. "May we talk now, Doctor Girard?"
"As soon as all the exams are in." He pointed to the stack in front of him.
She waved her arm at her fellow students, and hurried her exam up to the front. The others followed. Once every exam was out of their hands, Marie said, "We -- well, except maybe --" she frowned at Jack Rush, a boy who had skulked at the side throughout the term, first to come and last to leave "-- want to thank you, Doctor Girard. And say that we'll miss you. We think you got a raw deal."
"What was that?" Marie planted her hands on her hips and glared at him.
"Who crowned you queen? Speak for yourself, Marie." Jack nodded at Nick. "I don't mean to be disrespectful, Doctor Girard, especially with my grade in your hands, but I think this university went easy on you. I didn't see any indoctrination in this class, and I'll say so. But if you won't speak straight to Congress, why should we believe you will to us?"
Nick's lips twitched up, just a little. "I'm glad you've thought it through, Mr. Rush. Keep thinking carefully, and asking questions; it will serve you well." Nick picked up the stack of exam papers in one hand, and his briefcase with the other. "It's been a . . . memorable term. I've very much enjoyed spending it with you all -- yes, including Mr. Rush. Have a wonderful summer."
Nick stepped out of the room and headed down the hall. Behind him, Marie lectured Jack earnestly on how the Fifth Amendment was supposed to work, and why he should know by now that Doctor Girard was a loyal American, and didn't Jack watch See It Now?
Around the quad, Nick found Sam waiting on the steps of the building with Nick's office in it, close to one of the rare lamps.
"Do you want any help with that last batch, Doctor Girard?" Sam asked.
"No, thank you, Sam." Nick set the exams down on a higher step, and then placed his briefcase on the one where Sam sat. He drew out a file folder, bursting with paper. "But I'd be grateful if you could finish this for me."
Sam took the thick folder. "Um, Doctor Girard -- Nick? These aren't exams. They're your field notes from that Mayan dig last year."
"With outlines of how we discussed writing them up."
Sam's eyes widened and he tried to hand it back. "No. I can't possibly. It's your work."
"You were there, too." Nick crossed his arms, then grabbed his briefcase to prevent Sam from putting the file back inside. "Credit the whole expedition team for the research -- credit me with a pseudonym if you must -- but write it up yourself. Tell people what we learned, and why it matters. I'm blacklisted. Even if I could get it published, no one would dare to cite it. You can get it out there."
Sam blinked rapidly. "This isn't right."
"A lot of things have been wrong since that subpoena arrived. The work has never been one of them, Sam. Please take it."
Flying saddle shoes echoed out of the darkness. "Doctor Girard!" Marie emerged into the lamplight, her ponytail and skirt streaming behind her. She skidded to a stop, panting. "I think I accidentally wrote 'Sumer' instead of 'Egypt' in question three."
"I won't think less of you if you did," Nick promised, while Sam stifled a laugh.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The smell of oatmeal woke Nick. That's right, he remembered; he had a carton of instant packages of hot cereal from when he had Lisa Cooper in protective custody. He quickly showered, dressed, went downstairs, and saw that Natalie had already done about the same. She had borrowed one of his t-shirts and a pair of sweat pants -- with cuffs rolled up -- to replace her scrubs. Her hair was frizzier than Nick had ever seen it, and he debated whether to tell her it was cute that way.
"Join me?" Natalie asked with a wry smile. "There's plenty of just-add-water where this came from." Nick made a face, and she laughed. "Or you can choose the fresh protein shake behind door number two."
Nick found her blood-substitute concoction in his refrigerator and joined her at the table. "How are you feeling this evening?"
"Better." She shrugged. "I'm sorry about being such a wreck this morning."
"I think you were more than justified."
"Thanks." She waved away his reassurance. "Anyway, the world is still a mess, but it seems to be on its very slow way toward being less of a mess, as things begin moving again." She met his eyes. "As people remember where they set down their courage, maybe. Do you want the TV on?"
"No. Thanks." Nick watched Natalie eat her oatmeal. She was tough. Little scared her. He had known that from the first night he woke up on her autopsy table. But she had, like most people, been frightened out of her wits by the asteroid. And the asteroid was, in a way, the easy part.
When Natalie had believed the world was ending, and had asked to be converted to vampirism, Nick, despite his best intentions and all his principles, had found it hard to say no. That scared him more than the asteroid and all its mayhem. He liked to think he knew better by now than to act out of fear. But sometimes it was hard to see where the fear ended and hope began. He had the long arc of history; she had her human heart.
Finally, Nick thought to ask, "Did he make it?"
"Who?" Natalie set down her spoon.
"The man you got out of your car to help."
"Oh, yeah. Yes, he's going to be all right. I got him to a taxi driver who promised to take him to the hospital. If he got there, he should be fine."
"Let's find out." Nick walked to his phone on the credenza behind his couch, hoping for a happy ending to reward her bravery. "Which hospital was closest?"
Mr. Parriot and Mr. Cohen created Forever Knight. The Sony Corporation owns it. I intend no infringement. Please support all authorized Forever Knight endeavors! (Amazon now sells downloadable episodes, as well as the DVDs, soundtracks, and three pro novels.)
Characters and situations in this fantasy fan story are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. (Vampires don't exist. An academic blacklist did, though.)
Episodes. The dominant episode references are to first-season's "Spin Doctor" (with the flashbacks of Nick's McCarthy-era hearing) and second-season's "A More Permanent Hell" (in which the asteroid scare knocks society for a loop).
Works Consulted. I didn't know enough about McCarthyism or the '50s going in to this story, so I read No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (1986) by Ellen W. Schrecker, The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism (2005) by Haynes Johnson, Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective (1990) by Richard M. Fried, and Piety Along the Potomac: Notes on Politics and Morals in the '50s (1964) by William Lee Miller. I also watched Point of Order (1963), a unique documentation of the Army-McCarthy hearings produced by Emilie de Antonio and Daniel Talbot (it's CSPAN-esque footage of the real hearings, with no narration).
Real History. Canon is as canon does, but in real history, the University of Chicago largely avoided the McCarthyism of the '50s. Instead, it suffered its Red Scare paroxysm in 1935, when businessman Charles Walgreen announced that his niece, a student there, was being subverted by her teachers. The Illinois state legislature looked into the situation, but found no proof of attempted indoctrination by any instructor.
Inspiration. Roxana said she was intrigued by Nick's academic pursuits. So in the "Oldschoolfic" ficathon's second round, I claimed the prompt: "In the episode 'Spin Doctor,' Nick says, 'I had some remarkable students!' How did he say goodbye to them?"
Beta-Readers. I didn't finish drafting the story until three days before the ficathon deadline (because I spent too much time researching) but my kind beta-readers stuck with me anyway, and I am very grateful. I wish only that I had left myself more time to implement their insights before the deadline! Abby made an excellent point about Lacroix; Shelley identified a jagged Natalie edge; and Jo generously supplied a line-edit full of improvements. I rewrote some scenes between the ficathon and posting to fkfic-l (and archiving here). Still, the remaining errors and inadequacies are doubtless where I ran out of time to conform to the good sense of these readers.
Timestamps & No Archiving. I wrote "Fearful Symmetry" in September 2008. I posted it to the "Oldschoolfic" ficathon on the deadline: September 30, 2008. I began sending it to fkfic-l on October 31, 2008, and then archived it here on my own website, where you're welcome to link to it. Please do not archive or re-post it.
Thank you! Thank you for reading! Your comment would be valued, truly. Please email me or comment on my LiveJournal or Dreamwidth. Again, thanks for reading!
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