Sunday, September 18, 2011
Chapter 0.5: The Price of Freedom
Beatrix walks slowly out of the hospital, feeling confused and disoriented, and painfully alone. She pushes the baby stroller carefully, not wanting to disturb the resting newborn. He yawns contentedly as Beatrix stares at him, her eyes numbly searching his face. She wasn't ready to be a mother again, not under these circumstances.
She catches a taxi and settles into the backseat. As the driver pulls away, Beatrix closes her eyes and tries, for what feels like the millionth time, to remember what happened after she passed out. She remembers fading in and out of consciousness, her dreams weaving themselves into cloudy memories. She recalls seeing swarms of police officers and lines of yellow tape. She remembers the loud sirens of an ambulance and the soft sheets of a hospital bed. She vaguely recalls hearing about an emergency C-section and wondering if the doctors were talking to her. She woke up a few hours later to the faint cries of her newborn son. They were released from the hospital later that night.
As Beatrix lays the infant down in his crib, she hears quiet footsteps behind her. She turns around and sees Brian standing by the doorway, watching her silently.
"We had a son?" he asks gazing at her tenderly.
"Yes," Beatrix replies, forcing herself to speak. She's tired and sore and just wants to be alone.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there Bea. You must have been so scared."
"What are you doing here Brian?" she asks quietly. She doesn't feel like chatting tonight.
"I came to see how you are doing. How our baby is doing," he says. "I love you Beatrix. I care about you."
She laughs weakly. "Sometimes I wonder if there is such a thing as love," she replies, her tone bitter.
"Don't say that Bea," Brian pleads, his eyes full of hurt. "I love you more than anything."
Beatrix stares at him skeptically. "You lied to me," she states bluntly. "You used me to get access to Ethan and advance your career. I'm nothing more than a pawn to you."
"It's not like that!" Brian asserts forcefully. "I mean, at first it was, but then something changed. I changed. Beatrix, please..." He reaches out to grab her hand, but she pulls away.
"Just leave me alone," she whispers. "Please. I just need some time to think."
Frustrated and defeated, Brian goes, leaving Beatrix alone with her thoughts.
Over the next few weeks, Beatrix busies herself with her work, leaving Skylar to care for the baby. She let's her older son name the child, and Skylar ends up calling him Ryder.
Around this time, Beatrix decides to move the family to a bigger place. Raising two growing boys in a small apartment in the city is just too difficult, and now that she's saved up some money she can actually afford to buy a real house.
One morning, Beatrix sits down to read the newspaper, ready to bury her sorrows in other people's troubles. As she turns to the front page, she almost falls out of her chair in shock. Staring back at her from under the large bold headline is a photograph of Ethan. His chained hands rest awkwardly behind his back while his soft blue eyes gaze determinedly at the judge. She quickly skims the article, desperately searching for answers. As she reaches the last paragraph, Beatrix feels her heart stop. He was convicted of high treason against the government, and the prosecution sought the maximum penalty. Ethan is to be executed for his crimes.
Without hesitation, Beatrix heads over to Brian's house. She finds him upstairs, alone.
"What the hell Brian?!" she screams, her hands shaking with rage . "Ethan is going to be killed! KILLED! For something he didn't even do!"
"AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!" she yells furiously. "How can you live with yourself, knowing you've caused an innocent man's death!"
Beatrix pauses to catch her breath, and Brian jumps at his chance. "You saw the article?" he asks quietly.
"Who could miss it?! It's plastered all over the front page!" she shouts.
"I'm sorry Bea. I know he was your friend..."
"Brian, he's INNOCENT!" she yells, livid.
Brian watches as tears of frustration pour down her cheeks. "I know you believe him when he says he didn't do it, but there's mountains of evidence to the contrary. Bea, he betrayed our country and put countless lives at risk. His punishment is fair."
"You're wrong," she whispers, her eyes flashing with anger.
Brian sighs and hangs his head. He had hoped it wouldn't come to this, that Beatrix would somehow realize Ethan's guilt and accept his punishment, but deep down he knew better. If he wants to keep Beatrix, to win her back, he knows that he has to save Ethan.
"I don't believe Ethan's story, and I probably never will," he begins. "But I believe you Beatrix. I love you, more than anything. And what is love without trust? If you say he didn't do it, then he didn't do it. And I won't let an innocent man die. I swear to you, Bea, I will do everything in my power to free him," he tells her, his face set with bleak determination.
Beatrix feels overcome with relief.
"Thank you Brian," she whispers quietly as she pulls him into a hug. "You have no idea how much this means to me."
That night after Beatrix leaves, Brian comes up with a plan. It's risky and dangerous, but Brian doesn't care. It's totally worth it to get her back.
He decides not to tell Beatrix any specifics about his plan. He worries that if they both get caught and arrested, Ryder will be left without a parent. This way, if Beatrix is questioned, she can honestly claim to know nothing about the scheme.
The following morning, Brian proceeds with Part A of his plan. He speaks with his old boss and convinces her to give him his job back. He knows that the hours are long and the work is grueling, but it's critical that he maintain his high level security pass. Plus, working as an undercover agent gives him inside access to information he may not otherwise be privilege to.
Despite an enormously heavy workload, Brian makes sure to show up for Ryder's first birthday party. He wouldn't miss it for the world.
Beatrix tries to sound happy as she cheers on her son, but inside she's panicking. What if Ethan really is Ryder's father? What if Brian finds out about their affair? Will he still help rescue him?
It turns out she doesn't have anything to worry about. Ryder inherits Brian's dirty blonde hair and Beatrix's gray eyes.
The following Saturday, Skylar finally works up the courage to ask Irma Parsons, his best friend since forever, out on a date. He decides to bring along his adorable little brother in hopes of breaking the ice, or at least that's what he tells Irma. Truth be told, he'd already agreed to babysit and couldn't find anyway out of the commitment.
Irma (understandably) feels a little awkward about their multi-purpose date.
Apparently, not that awkward. What? A crying child? Where?
Jody Wagner (who, by the way, has slept with half the men in Anne Arbor) disapproves.
Irma loves kids and doesn't ignore Ryder for long. Ryder likes the pretty lady.
Skylar watches Irma and Ryder out of the corner of his eye. He sincerely hopes Irma doesn't get any ideas...
Irma dreams of becoming a doctor one day. She works hard to earn good grades and wants Skylar to succeed in school as well. A little homework on a first date isn't too weird, is it?
Brian tries to stop by to see Ryder every week, but his demanding job makes visiting his son a challenge.
Brian attempts to get to know Skylar better.
"My little brother loves you very much," Skylar tells him. "If you even think about abandoning him, I will hunt you down and kill you while you sleep."
Brian rolls his eyes. "Yeah, right kid. Good luck with that."
Skylar frowns. "Fine, then I'll just have to explain to my mom that you were the one who let me get my ears pierced. Good luck getting any after she hears about that."
Skylar's got a knack for hitting where it hurts.
Meanwhile, Brian busies himself with Part B of his plan. He needs to gather some information about a top-secret project currently being worked on at the science center. Rumors has it that a team of chemists accidentally stumbled upon a cure for vampirism, and Brian intends to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Rummaging through garbage cans is not one of the more glamorous duties of a professional spy. Brian still tries to look very James Bond-ish about it though.
Soon, it's time for more birthdays. Skylar and Ryder age up on the same day.
Skylar decides to go first. He's eager to leave behind his rebellious teenage years and get on with his life. He loves his mother dearly, but he's ready to be an adult.
Skylar all grown up.
Ryder doesn't care that he has to wear glasses now. He just likes the sparkles.
Brian missed the party, but he makes it up to Ryder by coming over that night and reading him to sleep. Ryder always looks forward to seeing his dad and loves getting to spend time with him.
Meanwhile, Skylar invites Irma over to ask a very important question.
She says yes (of course).
Skylar moves into his very own penthouse the next day, and by that evening he and Irma are married.
After Ryder falls asleep, Brian makes his way downstairs. He finds Beatrix alone in the kitchen, waiting for him.
"Thank you for coming over," she says with a smile. "It means a lot to Ryder. And to me."
"I love spending time with him. He's an incredible kid," Brian replies.
"You're a wonderful father," Beatrix tells him quietly. "And a great friend."
"Friend?" Brian repeats. "Bea, I hope we're more than just friends..."
She scans the floor, not really sure what to say. What are they? She doesn't even know anymore.
Sensing her hesitation, Brian wraps his arms around her waist. "Perhaps I can help clarify," he declares as he leans in and kisses her.
Beatrix doesn't fight it. She misses him and longs to feel him next to her. Their kisses become deeper, more passionate, and as she leads him upstairs and shows him her bedroom she vaguely wonders if she's making a mistake. Her doubts, however, are quickly forgotten as things heat up between them.
For the first time ever, they spend the entire night together. Beatrix never realized how nice it was to wake up next to a man.
Over the next few weeks, Brian sets out on his mission with renewed determination. Now, more than ever, he wants to prove to Beatrix his love and devotion.
He's confirmed the existence of an anti-vampirism potion, and now all he needs to know is where it's being kept. He contacts one of the head scientists at the Anne Arbor science facility, and they agree to meet outside the laboratory. Brian's been secretly following this man for years, hoping that he would have some valuable information about the potion's whereabouts. After countless raids on his trash can and hours of staking out his apartment, Brian finally managed to obtain some dirt worthy of blackmail.
His initial questions are innocent enough, but as Brian tries to delve into more sensitive subject matter the man becomes resistant.
However, Brian's a master at his job, and he easily breaks him in no time.
With all the pieces of his plan falling into place, Brian returns to the science center at dusk that night. After years of preparation for this mission, he finds the actual job to be anti-climactic. It's almost too easy for a professional such as himself.
After he steals the potion, Brian heads to the high security prison where Ethan's being held. Breaking him out proves to be slightly more difficult than he had originally thought, but they escape unscathed.
As they speed away, Ethan glaces over at Brian suspiciously. He doesn't understand Brian's sudden change of heart, but he knows better than to ask questions. Beatrix assured him that Brian was trustworthy, but Ethan still wonders about his motivation.
The drive is long and awkward. Neither man says much, but the tension is palpable. Brian knows it's only a matter of time before someone notices Ethan's absence, before the cops come looking for him. They need to get back to Beatrix's house, and fast.
They arrive just before midnight. The house is eerily quiet as Brian leads Ethan through the front door. Without saying a word, he pushes a bottle into Ethan's hands. The vampire stares at it for a second, intuitively feeling it's transformative powers.
Then, in one large swig, he drains the potion.
The metamorphosis is sudden and immediate. Ethan clenches his teeth, fighting the urge to yell from the agonizing pain. His heart begins beating, and for the first time in his life he feels blood coursing through his veins. His skin burns angrily as each cell comes alive with ferocious vengeance, every muscle in his body screaming from the torment.
And then, it ends, just as soon as it had begun.
"Ethan?" Beatrix's soft voice echoes from the stairs. "Is it really you?"
She approaches him slowly, apprehensively, not really believing her eyes.
"It's really me darling," he whispers as Beatrix reaches out to stroke his face.
Brian stares at her in shock and disbelief, his eyes reeling with anger. But Beatrix doesn't even notice. In this moment, all she sees is Ethan.
The rest of the world falls away as Ethan leans in and kisses her. Wrapped in each others arms and blissfully unaware, time seems to stand still, for a second at least.
I realize I left some some loose ends and unanswered questions, but I felt like this chapter was becoming outrageously long so I decided to cut it off here. I will address Brian's plan (and the reason for Ethan's transformation) more in the next chapter.