Franklin studied the body floating in water with fear and horror. Blackened beyond recognition, it lay suspended between existence and non-existence. Even the hair had completely burned away from the small head. Merrill had instructed Franklin to change the water in the bathtub every hour until he rose for the evening. It was now four in the afternoon, sunset was three hours away and Franklin was frightened. There was no alteration in Lissa's condition—hadn't been throughout the day. Gavin wasn't aware of Lissa's attempt at suicide; he'd already gone into the rejuvenating sleep for the day when Merrill pulled Lissa from the roof. If Merrill hadn't gone looking for her, she would have died. Meant to die. Franklin's cell phone lay on a stack of towels nearby and he'd spoken to Greg several times already, for much-needed moral support. If Gavin wakes and finds Lissa like this, Franklin heaved a troubled sigh. His watch was set for half an hour before sunset, allowing sufficient time for Gavin's waking. Franklin considered getting away before Gavin discovered this disaster.
"Little girl, you need to come back to us," Franklin swirled a hand in the water. Merrill had placed Lissa in the tub inside her bathroom after collecting her burned body from the roof. Franklin had come running when he heard Merrill's shout, finding his father settling Lissa's blackened and unrecognizable body in the tub and turning on the taps. Black ash stirred and sifted off the body still, rising to float on the water's surface. Franklin had never seen anything like this. Never. The timer sitting on the side of the tub went off and Franklin dutifully released the water, watching while additional black ash drifted down the drain. More water ran into the tub and the wait began again.
"This doesn't look good," Merrill knelt down beside the tub later, reaching in to move the water a little. "We need to lift her head up so she can take a breath if she's going to."
"I don't think she's going to be happy with us if she wakes and finds we stopped her," Franklin murmured, passing thick, rolled up towels to Merrill. Merrill carefully lifted Lissa's head and placed towels beneath it so her nose and mouth were free of the water.
"You're likely correct," Merrill sighed. "She intended to do this. Absolutely. She waited until Gavin and I passed her room one last time before dawn and then escaped, probably as mist. She was just sitting there on the roof, waiting for the sun to take her."
"Perhaps the males can take beatings, but in this case, I think they should have devised an alternative punishment," Franklin muttered. He was still angry that they'd punished her to begin with, but Merrill and Gavin had both agreed to Wlodek's sentence, as had the Council. Franklin had expressed his opinion to Merrill, who'd listened dispassionately and then agreed with Wlodek anyway.
"I have three messages from Anthony Hancock on her phone, six from William Winkler and two from Weldon Harper," Merrill sighed. "How can we possibly explain this to them? What are we going to tell Gavin?"
Franklin stiffened when he heard Gavin's voice calling for Lissa. "I'll go," Merrill said. "He cannot get past me if he's bent on destruction." Franklin nodded, swirling the water a little.
"Where is Lissa?" Gavin demanded when Merrill stepped from Lissa's bathroom.
"In the tub," Merrill replied. "Gavin, I found her on the roof this morning. She was letting the sun take her when I pulled her away. There has been no improvement in her condition since then."
Gavin stood inside the doorway of Lissa's bedroom, stunned horror crossing his features. "No," he denied, shaking his head. "That is not possible. Where is she?"
Merrill placed the best compulsion he could muster on Gavin, instructing him not to be violent in his reaction when he saw Lissa and then motioned the Assassin inside the bathroom. Gavin dropped to his knees and wept instead as he gazed on Lissa's blackened flesh. Merrill's cell rang so he walked into Lissa's bedroom to answer.
"You left a message about an emergency?" Wlodek queried.
"Our little girl attempted to give herself to the sun this morning," Merrill informed the Head of the Vampire Council.
"Let me speak with her."
"She is beyond that, Wlodek. We have had the body in water since I removed her from sunlight this morning, but it doesn't appear to be working. I think the burns were too severe. We're losing her."
"I will be there shortly." Wlodek hung up.
"She hasn't taken a breath," Franklin said when Merrill returned. Gavin sat in the floor at the opposite end of the tub, watching Merrill mutely, silently begging for encouragement of some sort. Merrill checked his watch; it was ten minutes past sunset. Merrill seldom cursed but he did so now in his native Latin. Gavin understood every word.
"Breathe, cara," Gavin begged, turning back to Lissa's still form. "Do this for me. Please."
"Wlodek is on his way," Merrill said. Gavin nodded. He hoped Wlodek could help. They both stared at the small body floating in the tub, charred past recognition, the ends of fingers and toes already gone. If she recovered, those would grow back. If she recovered. If.
"I'll go downstairs to let Wlodek in," Franklin said, rising from his position beside the tub. Merrill nodded, placed a hand on his human child's shoulder for a moment and then let him go. Wlodek arrived half an hour later and Lissa still hadn't taken a breath.
"Any improvement?" Wlodek asked Franklin, handing gloves and an expensive trench over. Franklin shook his head and led Wlodek up the stairs. Wlodek cursed softly in his native Greek upon seeing the seared wreck that used to be Lissa. A cufflink was ripped from his shirt in Wlodek's haste to peel back a sleeve, the gold and diamond square ticking across the tiled floor of Lissa's bathroom. Mutely holding the exposed flesh of his wrist out to Merrill, Wlodek waited for Merrill to slice it open. Terrified that her body would disintegrate under his hands, leaving the tub filled with ash instead of her body, Gavin leaned forward and pried Lissa's mouth open as carefully as he could.
"Drink, little angel," Wlodek crooned, allowing the blood from his wrist to drip into Lissa's mouth. Merrill timed it—four minutes exactly. Wlodek pulled his wrist away when Merrill nodded. Gavin had watched carefully; there was very little blood in the water. Wlodek's was the oldest and most powerful blood. If that failed to bring Lissa back then she was truly lost. The timer went off again; it was time to replace the water.
"As long as her body remains intact, keep changing the water," Wlodek instructed. Merrill offered a unit of blood from Lissa's small refrigerator. Wlodek drank it as he watched Gavin fill the tub again, leaving Lissa's nose and mouth free to take a breath. "We hardly know what to do with them, they are so rare," Wlodek sighed. "And this is the rarest of all of them."