The reunion scene would have put Currier, Ives, and Rockwell to shame. All of Sherm Potter's family was there. At least all of his official family. There was not a Russell in sight. His mother, Agnes, hugged her boy and held him close. At only 38, she was still striking. She had, after all, only been 17 when she had Sherman.
"Look at you! All grown up--and to think you almost didn't, when I found out you'd enlisted. Never again, Sherman! You at least tell your Mother where you're headed."
He was so glad to be home, Sherman ached with joy. But Golgotha was still with him--as was Nicholas Knight, who his mother finally took note of.
"Well, Sherman, don't go and be impolite. Introduce your cousins and me to your friend."
Sherm groaned inwardly for Nick. They were all his female cousins, all the unmarrieds.
"Mother, this is Nicholas Cavalier. He and I met in Paris when I accidentally did him and his Dad--a kind of rich fella--a favor. Errr, he followed me home."
Cousin Sadie eyed Nick.
"Girls, lets start up another War and see what Little Sherman brings back, in the way of traveling companions."
Nick smiled, but the predator in him did feel odd being eyed like a side of beef.
"Actually, Sherman is far too modest. Some thieves had assaulted my father and I--his name is Lucien--and Sherman rescued us. Saved our lives, really. My father then asked me to move to Missouri for a time to check on certain members of my family, and inform them of a contract we've entered into. Do you know anyplace I might stay, in this area?"
Sherman bristled, for he knew what his mother's response would be.
Agnes Potter smiled and spoke her mind, a family trait from time out of mind that would persist through to her descendant, Benjamin Sisko.
"Why, I would be insulted if any friend who cares enough to see my Sherman home refused to stay with us. Eh, Monsieur Cavalier?"
Agnes hadn't spoken a word of true French. But 'Monsieur' was spoken without a hint of Midwestern accent.
"Mrs. Potter---when did you spend time on the Continent?"
"Oh, well, Mrs. Potter insisted I go there, as a child. Said that her daughter needed breeding. But then, Mrs. Potter was always saying something. At times, it seemed that was all she was good for."
Nick was horribly confused.
"Er--wouldn't Mrs. Potter be your Mother-In-Law?"
Sherman cut in.
"Nope. You see, Nick, Mother here was named Potter, too. My Dad, he was a distant cousin who happened along. Heh. Lucky for me he did."
Agnes kissed her boy on the cheek.
"Lucky for all of us."
Sherman again noticed the absence of any member of the Russell family.
"Mother, where's Auntie? I can't believe she wouldn't be here to meet me."
Nick had already heard Sherm's tale of his 'other' family, the one that public mores would not allow the Potters to acknowledge. But he took special note of Agnes Potter's small frown.
"Things got rough around here, Sherman. The MacMartinsons all declared war on colored folk, and Mammy Russell would not bend down her neck to that trash. She left--took everyone with her."
Sherm had to sit down. His face was a mix of tears and rage.
"MacMartinsons! Hah! They aren't even a real family. Just a bunch of dispossessed former Plantation owners banded together after Emancipation. Once--Just Once--I'd like someone to burn something on their property. Hell, the whole damned lot should just burn."
Agnes slapped Sherman. His face stung.
"You watch that foul mouth, boy. Especially in front of your girl cousins."
One of them, a young woman named Theresa, had something to add.
"Aunt Agnes, we've all heard worse than what Sherm said. Sides--for killin and jumpin Auntie's brood like they did--they should all burn."
"The Lord above decides those things, Theresa. Not us. Now, its getting near to sunrise. I'm tired, and so are Sherman and Nicholas. Oh, Nicholas?"
"Yes, Mrs. Potter?"
"You'll be staying in our attic room. Its a nice one, but its all shuttered up. No view to speak of."
"That's fine by me, Mrs. Potter. I'm something of a night person. But--I'll see to my own meals, if you don't mind."
"Landsakes, would you please call me Agnes? And I may still be able to help with your meals. I have arrangements with a butcher in Hannibal--he can get me--absolutely anything."
Nick heard the tone in Agnes' voice. There was something up--something familiar. Literally familiar.
"Well, Mother, like you said about the sun. I surely had enough, summering in the trenches."
"Well, then, lets load into the horseless!"
As they did, facts kept flying into Nick's mind. He liked nothing of where those facts lead.
At the Potter home, actually a small estate, outside of Hannibal, Potter saw all stare with sadness at the abandoned home once used by Auntie Russell. Nick wondered if the artificial divisions humans created between them didn't prove Lacroix's point. Once home, Agnes fairly rushed inside, and into her bedroom, which only Nick saw was shuttered entirely. Sherman yawned.
"Hey, Nick? You want I should help you open up that attic?"
"Non, Sherman. I can do it myself. Get some rest--for real, this time. By the way, does my hanging around for a time cause you any trouble?"
Sherm shook his head.
"Nick, The Boys called themselves Brothers. But they destroyed families, and I helped em do it. So a vampire as a kind of red-headed stepbrother--doesn't bother me at all."
"Good Sleep, 'StepBrother'."
Sherm went inside and slept. But the sounds of a burning school full of German children still echoed in his brain. For all that, being home was a comfort, of sorts.
Less comfortable was Nick, who pursued a smell he picked up down to the basement. That an old house like the Potters had a relatively modern basement made him curiouser still. He saw an icebox, a rather large one, in the corner. The salt smell was almost overwhelming.
"Wine bottles. But this is not wine."
Agnes' voice came from behind him.
"I'd tell you I was something of a tea-totaler, Nicholas--but that would be a lie. Myself, I've lived enough of them."
Not shocked but still surprised, Nick saw Sherman's mother floating--a full inch off the ground. She gestured to the bottles.
"Feel free to have some. Its only cow's blood. And yes, I have a good explanation for my---condition."
Nick grabbed a nearby glass, and poured.
"Agnes, tell me all about it."
And so Agnes began.
"As you've probably guessed, Nicholas--may I call you Nick?"
"Actually, I'm coming to prefer it."
"Thank You, Nick. As you've probably guessed---I am like you. A vampire."
"Of what Clan, Agnes? There are at least twenty, at my last count."
"I'll get to that. You see, when I was fourteen, Mammy Russell pulled me aside and told me some interesting news. Mrs. Potter was barren. Always had been. But I was born light, and Mammy knew certain methods, dating from slavery, by which no one would ever be the wiser."
"Then Mrs. Russell was your Mother."
"Yes. But I always avoided too much sunlight as a child--a tan on a mullato always comes in a bit darker, even on those that can pass. Heh. Nowadays, that's not a concern, as you might well imagine."
"Wait. When did Mrs. Russell pass on?"
"When Sherman was about 13."
"Then--why did he ask where she was?"
"Mammy knew a bit of the craft, and saw that her death would break poor Sherman in two. Him being her first grandson, she put a calming hex on him. Until he came back, Sherman believed that she was just busy in the other house. Things go so wrong when the law gets between a family and its love."
"When any authority does so."
By this he meant Lacroix, but said nothing further.
"But Mammy told me something else that day, Nick. Being Colored was easy, compared to this."
"Easy? Then you weren't appalled, or even surprised?"
"Heavens, No. Mrs. Potter was not merely barren in her body, but in her soul. Sherman loved her, but to her he was just a proper symbol to show before society. No, Mammy had always had my love--birthing or no. What shocked me was that she was a Watcher--My Watcher."
"You Were A Slayer."
"When those as serve The Old Ones came around, you Licinians cleared out pretty quickly. We never had a full-blown Hellmouth around these parts--but we did have a portal. Place of hideous evil. One time, they even captured and were prepared to sacrifice one of your line. Oh, those Nightkind were crazy ones, Nick ---after their leader had been re-souled, they were going every which way, following every beyonder they could find. That was how I met the one they captured. When I freed him, we were reluctant allies. Before we knew it, though, we were in love."
"A doomed love, Agnes."
Nick hated sounding like Lacroix, but the response was disturbingly instinctive.
"So we, and Mammy, thought. Especially when they brought him over a second time, as one of them. He--cut off a piece of his own finger, and threw it to me, at the last battle. It sealed the portal. More, the Vampires had bound themselves up with the demons so much, they were drawn back through it as it closed."
"Including him, I take it?"
"Not hardly, Nick. Part of him was drawn through the portal, alright--the bad part, if you'll pardon the offense. Somehow, the two vampire types were drawn out of him. Both the demon-vampire--and The Licinian Vampire. Leaving my Andrew---"
Nick smiled, and completed the sentence.
"Leaving Him Human. He was cured. Oh, My---"
Direct proof of a working cure had Nicholas so high, he wasn't ready for what Agnes Potter said next.
"Nick--he told me he had been first brought across in 1255--that his name was originally Andre--and that his Uncle Nicola was the one who brought him across. His mother's name was Fleur."
Again, Nick's sins came back to bite him. He had never even told Lacroix that Andre had been brought over. Andre----
"My sister's son."