by Maureen Wynn, Kelly Gritten, and Mei Kwong, with a little help from their NatPack friends
"I just want to meet him; don't worry so much," Kelly the Natpacker said breezily, getting out of the car and walking jauntily toward the door of the radio station. In her hand she held a wad of computer printouts, slightly crumpled.
Maureen stopped eyeing the wrinkled papers — which, with a warm iron, would smooth out just fine, she was sure — and contemplated her fellow Natpacker suspiciously. "Just...meet him? Why do you want to meet him? Don't you feel this is perhaps...a little unwise during a War?" she asked, after pausing to pick up an empty fast-food container and dropping it in a sidewalk trash can.
"Yeah, don't you think this is a little dangerous?" Betsy interjected, thinking about previous Wars and goldfish. She had been dragged along unwillingly, but the three Natpackers had picked her up from outside Cohen's ex-husband's apartment after a phone call asking for a ride, and she had been even more unwilling to sit in the car by herself--she was afraid of meeting scary ghosts.
"Well, I want to talk to him," Mei insisted, "War or no War." At Maureen's worried glance, she continued reassuringly, "Just for a little while...you know, just to talk." Somehow, this sentence caused in Maureen the dread feeling of "Famous Last Words"--not a pleasant sensation. She shuddered and slowed down, but Mei grabbed her by the arm, and Kelly did likewise to Betsy, and the determined NatPackers dragged their comrades forward into the building.
The Packlet paused inside the front doors, unsure of how to proceed. "Where do you think LaCroix's office is?" Kelly asked.
"Somewhere where there's no windows!" wisecracked Mei.
"I guess we could try this way..." Kelly started to say, when she was interrupted by Betsy's yelp.
"Dr. Johnny!" Betsy cried, staring across the lobby at... nothing?
Kelly, Mei and Maureen stared at Betsy, wondering perhaps if Belial was stalking them. "Betsy, what are you looking at?" Maureen said, gently (no sense upsetting the poor girl any further!).
"Can't you see...? Oh, yeah, I guess you can't. It's the Doctor!"
"Doctor? What Doctor? You mean from Doctor Who?" Maureen said, remembering Betsy's affection for the old series.
"Don't be silly!" Betsy said scornfully. "That Doctor's not dead. No, it's... I think it's... Dr. Johnny Fever...? Where are you going? No, don't go away! Hey!" and, in an exhaustion-induced frenzy, she ran down the hallway, leaving the other three Natpackers standing in the lobby, staring after her with their mouths hanging open in shock.
Maureen recovered first. "Man, she's really lost it!" she said. "We'd better go after her — come on!"
"It can't be him," Kelly murmured as they set off after her. "Johnny is alive and well and living on 'E!'"
They had long since lost Betsy, and were now simply wandering around the halls trying to find the way out of the building, when Mei stopped suddenly at a door. "This is it!" she breathed.
"What?" Kelly asked, "the way out?" She came back to stand next to Mei, and looked at the sign that had Mei so mesmerized. "Oh!" The sign simply read 'Managing Director', but this was no simple brass nameplate — it looked like 24-carat gold, and the deeply-etched letters were filled in with dark red cloisonne. "That would be it, all right!"
"LaCroix, don't you feel that you're perhaps a little too controlling when it comes to Nick? Don't you think your relationship would improve if you loosened the reins a little?" Mei smiled, sure that the master vampire would agree with her oh-so-reasonable argument.
LaCroix regarded the mortal calmly. He was determined not to let these Warring creatures get the better of him. "Perhaps you're too enamoured of the concept of... freedom. It is vastly over-rated, in my estimation." He clasped his hands before him on the desk, and leaned forward slightly. "Surely you can see the appeal of belonging to someone, a master who would... ake care of you, see to your needs, cherish you for who... and what you are...?" he riposted, raising one eyebrow slightly, waiting for her reply.
"Freedom is never over-rated by the falcon — only by the falconer!" Maureen, who had been checking the corners of the room for dustbunnies, startled everyone by joining the discussion.
"Is she the cleaning woman?" LaCroix asked, puzzled. "She doesn't look like the usual person..." Not too surprisingly, considering that the usual cleaning service was staffed by down-on-their-luck vampires. Maureen, for all her pale skin, was definitely not one of the un-dead.
"No, she's with me," Kelly said. "Maureen, stop that!" she hissed, pulling Ms. Clean away from the mop and bucket she had somehow found. "You're embarrassing me!"
"Stop trying to change the subject," Mei snapped at LaCroix. Kelly frowned at her, but Maureen raised her mop in a kind of cheer. "'Belonging' to someone is hardly what I want. Nor does Nick."
"Indeed. And you would be privy to dear Nicholas' innermost thoughts, hmmm? You sound very sure of yourself, yet how can any of us... truly know what another thinks or feels?"
"Oh, I'm pretty sure of how Nick feels! After all, hasn't he spent the last 500 years trying to get away from you? That seems pretty clear!"
LaCroix looked banefully at this woman who had dared to contest his ownership of Nicholas. "But he does come back to me in the end, does he not?" he said, pulling his pocket watch out and glancing down at it. He then closed it, but did not put it back in his pocket, instead holding it in his hand, absently caressing it with his thumb.
"No, you force him back. That's a different story, buster!" Mei retorted.
"Do not call me 'buster'!" LaCroix could feel his control slipping, despite his resolve. "This... travesty has gone on long enough! You will leave now." he said, rising from his chair.
"We're not leaving until you agree to discuss this!" Mei exclaimed.
"Leave. Now. Before you can no longer do so." He punctuated the statement with a flash of golden eyes.
"Don't you even think about it, buster!" Mei shouted, as Maureen cried, "You stay away from her!" Both NatPackers backed slowly away from the vampire, edging towards the corner of the room. Maureen waved her mop around dangerously (to herself and Mei, that is), trying to ward him off. Meanwhile, Mei grabbed the phone from the desk and tried to swing it at the vampire. She not only didn't get anywhere near LaCroix, but she quickly found herself hoplessly entangled in the cord.
"You aren't going to get your hands on her!" Maureen continued, placing herself between the advancing vampire and her immobilized friend. Holding her mop in one hand, she tried to free Mei from the telephone cord with the other. She soon discovered that her efforts were only getting herself wound up in the cord as well. Soon, the only part of her that was still free was the hand holding the mop, still proudly held upright like a battle staff.
"Back up, buster!" Maureen said as LaCroix continued to pace toward them. "You're not going to get us that easily!"
LaCroix arched an eyebrow. "Indeed," he sighed. "You are hardly worth the effort." And with that he lunged at them.
They backed up hastily. Into a conveniently open closet, in fact. With a satisfied smile, LaCroix slammed the door shut and locked it. "And I told you not to call me 'buster'!" he muttered, before turning to the third NatPacker, still on the other side of the room, and asked — quite calmly under the circumstances — "And what about you? Would you like to join your friends in the closet?"
Kelly shook her head, smiling shyly. "No, I want to share something with you...."
"And in this bit you and Nat fly to Rio, leaving Nicholas to spend eternity locked in the toy factory with Tracy—"
"Enough!" he cried, fiercely enough even to slow—but not stop—Kelly's endless exposition about stories where Nat and LaCroix lived happily or unhappily ever after. How dare she trivialize it! Not only was her prattle wearing on his dangerously thin nerves, but she seemed oblivious to the annoying racket which her companions were making as they pounded on the closet door. To vampire ears, it was most distressing.
LaCroix finally lost his temper with the impertinent little snip, and let loose The Whammy. "You will go away, and forget you know anything at all about vampires!" he said, his voice echoing strangely, "You will go very far away."
Kelly stopped talking, looking puzzled, and shook her head slightly as if she were dizzy. LaCroix looked very pleased with himself — a look that abruptly disappeared as Kelly continued, "Don't be silly, I'm not going anywhere." She shoved the paper at him again. "And in this part, you run into Nick years later..."
Can she be a resister? he asked himself incredulously, as the mortal babbled on. I should be able to get through to anyone... His eyes narrowed as he regarded the slight figure across the table from him. "You will listen to me," he growled in full whammy-mode. "You will do as I say..." he continued, leaning forward, his eyes fixed on the blue eyes behind the glasses, his full will brought to bear on the poor unfortunate creature.
It took some probing, but LaCroix finally seemed to have stumbled on the reason for the odd... er, odder-than-normal behaviour of the NatPackers.
"Natalie told me to talk to you," Kelly said, her gaze fixed glassily on the eyes above her, shining like pale blue stars. "Natalie said..."
"I was telling her about somebody writing 'Natalie loves LaCroix' on your car—"
LaCroix made a choking sound, but Kelly continued unabated, "and then I showed her some of my Valentine fiction—"
Another strangled roar from the Old Guy punctuated her tale, but she was lost deep in the throes of a flashback...
"I'm glad that you've stopped trying to foist odd drinks on everyone," Nat smiled at Kelly, who shrugged in reply.
"Well, after you said that you didn't want any more, I..." she paused, puzzled for a moment, then shrugged again, "I just didn't feel like making them anymore."
"So she's just foisting her fiction on everybody instead," Mei snickered.
Indeed, Nat could not help chuckling gently at the latest story which her friend was working on. About her and LaCroix, no less! There was something very... odd about the notion. "You should try showing that stuff to LaCroix," she laughed. Her eyes sparkled, and, with Kelly seemingly lost in thought—or a daze—she turned to Mei and said conversationally, "You know, as much as he sometimes intimidates me, there's still something very... exciting about playing cat-and-mouse with him. You're never quite so alive as when death is imminent." Kelly and Mei both shivered, feeling the thrill of Nat's fear and passion at that memory.
Lost in her thoughts, Nat did not notice Kelly muttering, "I should try showing that stuff to LaCroix," while Mei chanted tonelessly, "Cat-and-mouse..."
LaCroix could feel the pressure these words had imprinted on the impressionable young mind. He hissed, startled. Natalie! She has the power? He frowned ominously as he considered this fact.
His initial reaction was fury that a mere mortal (and Natalie Lambert at that!) should have the Power. He was going to unzap them immediately, especially that impetuous one who constantly argued with him and this one writing all those stories involving him and the good Doctor. (He must remember to make copies of some of those stories before he sent the ladies on their way.) The other could keep her cleaning fetish. Especially if she finished up here first. Good cleaning help is so hard to find.
As he was about to start, LaCroix hesitated. Really, if Natalie Lambert had this gift, the situation could be quite interesting. One merely needed to look at the three examples before him. He smiled slightly, contemplating the scene if Natalie ever got near dear Nicholas.
The results would be most entertaining.
"Hey, guys!" Betsy called from down the hall as the three NatPackers, more than a little dazed by their encounter, wandered out of LaCroix's office. "Did you see LaCroix?"
"Um... did we see LaCroix?" Mei asked fuzzily.
"Yeah, we saw LaCroix," Kelly said, looking about her distractedly. She was sure that she had brought something in with her. Now what was it?
Maureen, busy scrubbing the hall outside LaCroix's door, said "We ought to get going. I'm sure that everybody is making a huge mess back at the hostel."
Betsy, exhausted from her long night and lack of sleep, just shrugged. "Okay, let's get out of here."
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