She was beginning to get a headache from the flash photography. Nicole turned her back, cupped a hand over her eyes briefly, and turned back, her photogenic smile renewed, for now. The pregnant woman put a hand on her husband’s shoulder, and could immediately feel how tense it was, despite the huge victory they had just experienced two hours earlier. It was the post-election party now, and the captive audience of campaign affiliates, press and close friends were calling for Adam to speak.
Taking a quick sip of seltzer water, her green eyes scanned the packed banquet room. She was standing behind a long white-clothed table with the newly-elected mayor of Chicago. A moment they had both been dreaming of for a very long time. What Nicole wanted the most, though, was to go back home, get into bed and watch something mindless and fluffy on their wall-mounted television. However, none of that was allowed to show on her face.
Sensing that his wife was feeling less than her usual chipper self, Adam Thurston gave Nicole’s temple a soft peck of the lips, smiling and waving at the cameras and the horde of supporters behind them. The flashbulbs no longer affected the mayor-elect’s eyes, which wore purple bags from lack of sleep. A few days’ worth of stubble littered his face, long campaign hours winning the battle over the need to shave.
Red tie hung loose around his neck, Adam removed his gray blazer. Folding it over his arm, Adam handed the garment to his wife, placing a hand on her stomach and giving her a warm kiss.
“We did it.”
At these three simple words, another round of applause broke out across the large room. Nicole's smile widened, more white teeth showing. She took the tie gently, as if it were the baby currently residing inside her, and draped it across the back of his chair. "That's the first time he's taken this thing off in weeks," the redhead joked, winking flirtatiously at her husband. Adam's constituents ate this stuff up, the happy, wholesome married couple. What was unique about them was that it wasn't an act.
Nicole would do anything for him, and she believed that her husband would do anything for her. But being four months pregnant was finally taking its toll on the woman. Being somewhat vain, she had refused to wear the usual maternity clothes, opting instead to have a designer dress made for her. And she wasn't about to give up her heels, even if her feet swelled up and ached. There were appearances to keep up, after all.
Someone off to the side caught Nicole's eye, and she turned to glance curiously at him. A middle-aged man, slightly balding, downing his glass of champagne as fast as the cocktail waitresses could fill it. His whole body seemed to twitch with every little noise, and his beady eyes darted about the room nervously. He caught Nicole staring at him and gave her a cold gaze in return. She turned her head. She'd find out what his problem was later, and her husband would see to his rudeness.
Taking the podium, his hands grabbing the edges, Adam stared into the vastness of the auditorium. Glancing past the camera lights, ignoring the teleprompters set up to his left and right, the mayor-elect found himself momentarily lost in a sea of faces, many of which he didn’t recognize. That was a good thing, though, because all those faces equated to votes.
Votes for him.
“Thank you!” he called out, causing the frenzied murmur to fall silent. A stray cough here, a cell phone going off there, and Adam’s eyes danced over the crowd once more. A mountain of microphones pointed at him, and Adam gave them a moment of silent contemplation.
“To thank my voters and everyone who supported me from the beginning,” he began, shifting weight to his left leg, “would be justified and I would be remiss if I didn’t begin tonight’s remarks by expressing that gratitude. Too often in this country, elections boil down to who has the best slogan, who can fling the most mud or who can win on an ultimately inconsequential issue like taxes or the like.
“Taxes go up, taxes go down -- and for the majority of us in this room, our lives are not affected by that. But by electing me as the next mayor of the great city of Chicago, you have made it clear what matters to you. You have made it crystal clear that you care about your safety, your family’s safety, more than anything else.
“By voting for me, you have shown me that you trust me to keep your streets and your homes safe from the nightly menace. And I will not let you down.”
She clapped along with the rest, ignoring the stinging of her palms. This night was his night, and she was elated that all of their hard work had finally paid off. Now they could get down to business, wringing out every last ounce of potential that the city held, and beginning the war against vampires. Her mind flashed on the glass vial she had found in Adam's laundry, but Nicole mentally chased that image away. It wasn't important right now, and it wasn't her business. There was probably a completely rational explanation for its existence inside their home. The redhead trusted him.
The fidgety man stood up suddenly, excusing himself quietly and clumsily, making his way toward the restrooms. Nicole raised a perfectly groomed eyebrow. Perhaps he was just ill. She hoped the caterer hadn't screwed up and fed them all inferior quality food.
“I’ve heard countless stories throughout this campaign,” Adam continued, “of sisters who went out one night and never came back. Of brothers who went off to war, and when they came back, weren’t quite right. I’ve heard stories of co-eds being attacked in bars, lecherous creatures feeding on them as if they were but animals!”
Adam’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the lectern even harder, his lips twitching into a sneer. It was reflex now. “These...things do not have rights. These...things are not human! They do not live like us! They do not live among us! They prey on us! They feed on us! They kill us for our blood, turn us into their own kind to fulfill their devilish perversions and it stops NOW!
“So long as I am mayor, no vampire will feed on the innocent. No human will wake up in a dirty grave craving flesh blood. No supermarket or convenience store in this city will carry that disgusting concoction passing for blood. My first act as Mayor will be to issue a city-wide ban on Tru Blood, and recommend that the Illinois legislature adopt a similar measure statewide.”
Adam took a deep breath, glancing at his wife. “The scourge will end. And I have you, the fine citizens of Chicago, to thank for that.”
Nicole watched her husband, still riveted despite all his speeches -- and the practicing of those speeches -- that she had witnessed. He had power, and he knew it, it reached out and pulled everyone in. He would not have so many enemies if he weren't a powerful political presence, just as he would not have so many supporters. Adam was the mayor today, but in their whispered conversations at night, it didn't stop there. Her whole insides tingled with excitement.
A member of the press stood up despite their edict of no questions until the end. "But Mayor, if there is no Tru Blood sold, won't that encourage vampires to feed on humans?"
With a dismissive wave of his hand, Adam scoffed. “That drink is nothing more than the vampires trying to integrate into human society, an excuse for them to throw at us to show how good they are. ‘Oh, we’re harmless, we drink this fake stuff!’ It’s bull, and everyone knows it! That drink is a smokescreen; no vampire worth his fangs would be caught fully dead drinking Tru Blood when they could just as easily stalk a college bar and find their meal.
“Any civil rights that the city currently granted vampires will be rescinded, by executive order if need be. I will pressure state and federal lawmakers to do the same, but rest assured that if this city passed a vampire-friendly law, I will get rid of it. Those disgusting vermin are not creatures of God, and they were not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted our Constitution and built this great nation.”
The same journalist remained standing. He was young, and his suit was slightly shabby. Nicole had a hard time believing he was a member of one of the outlets they had personally greenlit for this event.
"And what do you say to the people comparing you to Hitler? The outcry from the public that what you are talking about is...is a Holocaust against the vampire community?"
Several people seated in the vicinity of the young man cringed away, as if the impudence of his question would infect them with pro-vampire beliefs. Others objected vocally, with one person even shouting, "Kick him out!" Nicole glanced around for their security, and she nodded at them. Adam would answer, if he chose to, and then the reporter would be ejected.
Adam laughed, shaking his head and rolling up the sleeves of his white dress shirt. “Well, I believe the election results speak for themselves,” he countered with a shrug. “You can practice all the left-wing talking points you want, but the voters know how dangerous the undead are, and they spoke resoundingly in my favor.
“Congratulations, though. You’re the first person to compare me to the leader of Nazi Germany. Kudos.”
The journalist saw the security walking toward him, and he threw all decorum out the window. "No," he retorted, "I'm just the first person with the balls to say it to your face." He tossed his press pass to the floor and held up his hands toward the bulky men advancing on him. "I can see myself out, thanks." The man turned and stalked toward the door. Nicole breathed a sigh of relief and instinctively rested her palm on her protruding stomach. The redhead looked to Adam for further instruction.
“Someone check him for a pulse,” the mayor-elect joked, giving Nicole a reassuring nod before straightening his posture. “Once again, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your support and your vote. I promise you won’t regret it, but the undead scourge in this city will. God bless this fine city, and God bless each and every one of you.
“Good night, Chicago!”
Letting go of the lectern, Adam gave the cheering crowd one more wave before turning to his wife, taking Nicole by the hand and slipping his free arm around her waist. He planted a warm kiss on her lips, flashing the biggest smile he’d given her in weeks. Exhaustion would likely set in the following day, but the adrenaline and the satisfaction of all this hard work coming to fruition made up for it all.
“Someday, they’ll all see what I’m doing,” he whispered confidently.
"That was amazing," she said, as an attendant handed them their coats. They stepped into the chilly November air, ushered by the guards to their waiting town car.
"You know what we should do?" she enthused, hooking her arm through Adam's. "Hit the drive-through for late-night junk food, like we used to after one of your father's interminable dinner parties?" As she spoke, Nicole's grip tightened on her husband's arm. The older man, the one she thought had been ill, was waiting by their car.
Adam chuckled at the mention of junk food, realizing his wife’s request was part nostalgia, part side effect of pregnancy. She would develop the strangest eating habits, which grossed out the mayor-elect at first, but he got over it. Besides, anything Nicole wanted, Nicole got.
Adam’s smile disappeared when he felt his wife’s grip tighten, glancing down at her hand before looking up and seeing the figure standing by the car. A cold chill ran down his back, and Adam’s heart skipped a beat in his chest. He gasped as quietly as he could, disguising it as a deep breath in the cold night.
For fuck’s sake...any night but tonight...
“Is there... something I can do for you?” he asked, casting a sideways glance at his wife.
Nicole's lips tightened like they did whenever she was uncertain. The driver of their car looked between Adam and the mysterious man before holding the backseat door open. The redhead let go of her husband long enough to climb into the heated interior. Obviously he knew this person, and she was just overreacting. Still, she wanted Adam in the car with her, safely on their way to Steak N Shake, away from the lights and the noise, at least for tonight. "Honey?"
"Mayor," the man replied, holding out a sweaty palm. "I just wanted to personally congratulate you. Considering how closely we worked together to reach this point...I hope that's not a problem?"
Forcing a smile, Adam shook the man’s hand briefly before stuffing it in the pocket of his black dress pants. He could feel the sweat on his palm, and the sensation turned his stomach. The mayor-elect fought the urge to cringe. “Course not,” he lied. “Where ya headed? I’ll have James drop you off on our way.”
Adam slid into the back seat of the car with a sigh, glancing at Nicole as the other man sat in one of the seats across from the mayor-elect and his wife. He gave Nicole an awkward smile, straightening his coat.
“Honey, this is Edward Reichs, he’s with the Fellowship of the Sun.”
Nicole smiled wanly, but did not offer her hand. It would have been awkward to stretch across Adam, for one, and for another, something about Mr. Reichs, Fellowship or not, creeped her out. "Nice to meet you. I'm sure Adam has mentioned you, I've just been very...absentminded lately. For various reasons." She leaned back against the leather headrest, the heat from the floor warming her exposed feet.
Edward gave the mayor's wife an oily smile. "Yes, I work with the Soldiers of the Sun. Brave, young people. It's interesting, you see, because so many people ask me why the Chicago unit has such a high kill-rate of vampires." His smile focused on Adam now. "Do you have a theory on that, Mayor?"
Grabbing Nicole’s hand and interlocking their fingers, the mayor-elect reached over with his free hand to rub over her belly. The baby bump was still small, and the baby hadn’t yet kicked, but Adam knew it was only a matter of time. They didn’t know the sex of the baby yet, and they were still in the process of coming up with names.
If it was a boy, Adam liked Aaron. If it was a girl...something along the lines of Isabelle.
The mayor-elect shrugged, giving Edwards as clam a glare as he could. “A highly dedicated group of people,” he theorized, “not to mention a police force that’s not all that interested in policing the ‘don’t-kill-vampires’ law.”
It was true; the chief of Chicago police hated that particular law, and didn’t see the value in upholding it. He had his officers make just enough arrests to keep state and federal law enforcement officials at bay, but aside from that implied quota, Chicago had a hands-off approach when it came to people killing vampires.
“Who knows? Maybe the soldiers just idolize Sarah Michelle Gellar.”
Nicole smiled nervously, leaning against her husband. His touch, his presence, meant comfort to her. "I know that they train a lot. We did a tour of the compound, Adam and I. It's impressive, their dedication. But then again, they're driven by God, the highest power." She leaned in and brushed her lips against Adam's stubbled cheek.
"Those are two theories," Edward agreed. "Here's another: vampire blood." He grinned in a way that looked unnatural and unpracticed. "It gives amazing strength to those that take it, strength almost rivaling that of a vampire's itself. Amazing, really." He held up a cell phone, thumbing the keypad until a video screen popped up. "Would you like to see?"
Adam squinted, feeling the blood in his veins grow cold again. He’d never done V in his life, but the mayor-elect knew what it did to someone. He knew the tales, mostly because he’d actually dealt V with the assistance of Edward in the past. The Soldiers of the Sun liked to give V to some of their warriors, but they weren’t exactly forthcoming with that.
Mostly because V was illegal--and unlike the “don’t-kill-vampires” law, Chicago police definitely liked to crack down on people dealing and using V. If they found out members of the Fellowship were using, the anti-vampire movement would be crippled, if not dead.
That wasn’t even taking into account the effect these revelations would have on Adam’s career.
“You have proof that soldiers are using?” Adam responded.
Nicole frowned, looking at Adam, watching his reactions. She thought she could detect a hint of fear attempting to break through his camera-ready features, but that was impossible...wasn't it? He wasn't afraid, he was confident, cool, collected. The Three C's. This man was obviously unhinged. The Soldiers of the Sun broke up V Dens, they assisted the police in that often, in case vampires themselves were present. "That's a ridiculous theory."
Edward gave her a wry glance before pressing play on the grainy video. Adam's voice issued from the phone. "Test subject one. Michael Prescott, age 22. Soldier of the Sun, recruited at age 20 after a vampire killed his girlfriend. Responded to the V with performance levels raised by 20 percent across the board."
Mr. Reich came into the picture, holding a vial. "It's projected that the strength increases the more they use. It's highly addictive, however. How should we proceed?"
Tiny-screen Adam paused, then spoke. "Start introducing it to about half the soldiers. Monitor them closely. If it's successful...we'll begin a full regimen."
Casting another sideways glance toward his wife, Adam searched his mind for a response. Denial would be awful tricky faced with such video evidence--though the relative lack of quality in cell phone video worked in the mayor-elect’s favor. Anger and threatening would likely do little more than drive Edward to make that video public, which would be disastrous so soon after the election.
Not to mention, Adam hated lying to Nicole. He’d actually thought of telling her on more than one occasion, but he never actually got up the nerve to do so. Her pregnancy had distracted Adam from visiting the issue again, but now he sensed that really had no way out.
Adam sighed, turning to Nicole and squeezing her hand. His heart thumped in his chest, and Adam felt the last thing he could do right now was eat.
“I know it looks bad,” he began, shooting an annoyed glare Edward’s way. “But it’s all part of the plan, this doesn’t change anything. V is just a tool--a very potent, and one might argue, poetic one.”
"Adam," Nicole whispered. "I found one of the vials. Well, our housekeeper did. In your laundry. She brought it to me, and...I didn't know what it was at first. Just tell me...and be honest, please. Have you taken it yourself?" Her green eyes stared into his blue ones, her hand entwined in his.
Adam shook his head, scooting closer to his wife and covering her hand with his, ignoring the sweaty man sitting across from them. If Adam could, he’d open the door to the car, push the dirty man out and be done with it--but something told him committing murder wouldn’t mesh with being mayor.
“I promise,” he said, staring into Nicole’s eyes. “I have never taken V.”
Nicole nodded, and her soft gaze turned hard and cold as she turned to Edward Reichs. "What will it take for this video to disappear?" she asked him calmly, but her tone was ice cold. She glanced sidelong at Adam. "Every single copy of it."
Edward held out the cell phone. "Five million dollars."
Tearing his gaze away from Nicole, Adam’s eyes grew dark. He got up from his seat--as much as he could in the back of a stretch limo--and wrapped a hand around Edward’s thick neck. The mayor-elect pushed the other man back into the leather seat, pressing down with his weight and getting in Edward’s face.
“You got a lot of nerve,” Adam growled, “blackmailing me like that. In front of my family, too...I don’t take kindly to that sort of thing, and don’t think for a minute I can’t have you dealt with. Fuck with me, and you’ll be staring down a pack of werewolves on the outskirts of Joliet!”
Grabbing the cell phone, Adam stuffed the device in the pocket of his pants before backhandng Edward across the nose. He put enough pressure on the man’s neck to restrict oxygen flow without fully choking him, nostrils flaring.
“The vial my wife says she found,” he added, “who’s was it?”
Nicole gasped. She had never seen Adam like this. She stayed in her seat, though, pressed against the door. The driver didn't even waver. He must have been used to things like this. The redhead tried not to be disturbed by this, she had promised her husband her loyalty, no matter what happened. 'Whatever it takes' was his motto, and therefore it became hers, too.
Reichs gasped, his head bumping against the shatter-proof glass window. "S-Spencer. I had him...plant it. He was easy to convince. He wants power. Been using you." He squirmed, trying to escape from Adam's angry grasp.
"Are you sure you don't take V?" he managed to choke out.
Gritting his teeth, Adam snarled. “Pure adrenaline,” he snarled before tapping on the glass separating the three of them from the driver. “Pull over,” he called out. “Got some trash to dump out of here.”
As the car slowed, Adam opened the door on the driver’s side, tossing Edward onto the street. He squinted at the rush of cold air hitting his face, grabbing the door handle. “You come for me or my wife again, you’ll be begging for the werewolves.”
Slamming the door shut, Adam closed his eyes and heaved a massive sigh. Anger toward Spencer, his most trusted assistant, mixed with guilt for not being forthright with Nicole from the beginning. She deserved to know the truth and she had proven before that she could handle the less savory aspects of Adam’s work, so why did he hide it from her?
Adam couldn’t bring himself to look at her.
Closing her eyes, Nicole attempted to gather her thoughts. After a moment, she opened them again, her hand moving to run through his hair. "I forgive you," she told him earnestly. "Just...never lie to me again, okay? I understand why you did it, I do. You don't have all those Machiavelli books in the library for nothing." She leaned in and pressed her lips against his. Pulling back, she smiled at him, red lips curving mischievously.
"Now...how should we take care of Mr. Edward Reichs and Spencer Matthews?"
[NPCs Nicole Thurston and Edward Reichs written by Jessica.]