The Killing Dance
They kept me tied to the bed, but Gabriel slipped the knives back in the wrist sheaths. He held the big knife that went down along my spine up to the light. I thought he wouldn't give it back, but in the end, he swept my hair to one side and slipped it into the sheath.
"Don't cut the ropes until I'm in the shot. I want the camera to know why you're scared. Promise not to spoil it."
"Give me a gun and I'll wait until you're on top of me to pull the trigger."
He smiled and waved a finger in my face like you'd scold a child. "Uh, uh, uh. No rough stuff."
I took a deep breath and let it out. "Can't blame a girl for trying."
Gabriel laughed, high and nervous. "No, can't blame you for trying."
We had lights, camera, all we needed was action. Gabriel had wiped the blood off his chest and put the silver ring back into his flesh. We were starting over for the camera. They'd even cleaned the blood off my mouth and freshened the makeup. It was the young woman, Heidi, the lycanthrope that did the makeup. Her eyes were too wide. Her hands shook when she touched me.
She whispered as she dabbed at my face. "Be careful when he kisses you. He ate a girl's tongue out once."
"Can you get me a gun?"
She shivered, eyes rolling white and panicked. She shook her head. "Raina'd kill me."
"Not if she's dead."
Heidi shook her head over and over and backed off the bed.
Most of the rest of the crew walked out. When the director realized they were going to lose too many people to run things, he offered bonuses. Big bonuses, and a few people stayed. The rest left. They didn't do snuff films. They wouldn't watch Gabriel kill me, but they wouldn't stop it, either. Maybe one of them would call the police. It was a nice thought, but I didn't pin any hopes on it.
Power rushed over me in a skin-prickling wave. It tugged at something low and deep in my body. The sensation was gone almost as soon as it came, but a smell lingered over my skin like I'd walked through somebody's ghost. I smelled Richard's aftershave. Richard was trying to tell me something, either on purpose or because he was being driven by fear. Either way, time was running out. I had to save them. I had to. There was no other choice. Saving them meant bringing Gabriel in close enough to kill him. Close to me. A mixed blessing at best.
"Get on with it," I said.
"You are terribly eager for someone who's about to die a truly horrible death," Raina said.
I smiled. I made the smile everything Gabriel wanted it to be, confident, dangerous, sexual. "I don't plan to die."
Gabriel's breath sighed outward. "Let's do it."
Raina shook her head and stepped back out of the shot. "Fuck her, Gabriel, make her cry out your name before you kill her."
"My pleasure," he whispered. He stalked onto the floor of the fake bedroom.
I unsheathed a wrist knife and cut the rope that held me to the headboard. My wrists were still bound. I watched him while I turned the blade to cut between my hands. He could have jumped me then, but he didn't. He glided around the bed while I cut my hands loose.
He ended on his knees beside the bed, staring at me. I backed away from him, knife in my right hand. I was going to get off the damn bed.
Gabriel crawled up on the bed as I crawled off it. He mimicked my movements but made them graceful and painfully slow. He shimmered with contained energy. He wasn't doing a damn thing but crawling across a bed, but the promise of violence and sex rode the air like lightning.
He was faster than me. His reach was almost twice mine. He was certainly stronger than I was. The only thing I really had going for me was the fact that I planned on killing him as quickly as possible, and he planned on raping me first. It meant I was willing to do things he wasn't. At least at first. If it wasn't over quickly, I was sunk.
I dropped to one knee and braced myself, with a blade in each hand. He wanted to come in close. He even wanted to be hurt, so no feinting, no trying each other's skill. I'd make him come to me, and I'd cut him up.
Power curled inside my stomach. It burst over me in a wave of sensations. The smell of the summer woods was so strong it was choking. For a second, I couldn't see the room. I had a glimpse of somewhere else, chaotic bits and pieces like a jigsaw puzzle thrown across the ground. I came away with three thoughts; fear, helplessness, and need.
My vision cleared to Gabriel frowning down at me. "What is wrong with you, Anita? Did Cassandra hit you a little too hard?"
I shook my head and took a shaky breath. "Are you all talk and no bite, Gabriel?"
He smiled, a slow, lazy grin that showed his fangs. He was suddenly there. I slashed out without thinking, pure reaction, no thought. He leaped away, and blood seeped down his stomach in a thin, crimson line.
He rubbed his fingers in the blood slowly, sensuously, then licked them with long, slow tongue movements. Playing for the camera. He crawled onto the bed and wrapped the white sheets around his body, rolling in them until he was tangled. He leaned over backwards, exposing his neck. Almost within reach of me. "Come play, Anita."
It was tempting, and it was meant to be, but I knew better. I'd seen Richard rip sheets earlier like they were paper. "I'm staying here, Gabriel. You're going to have to come to me."
He rolled onto his stomach. "I thought I'd get to chase you. This isn't any fun."
I smiled. "Come closer, and it'll be a lot of fun."
He rose onto his knees. The sheets were smeared with blood as he crawled out of them. Gabriel was just suddenly there, too fast for me to see it. He was by me and past me before I could react.
I fell back on my butt, trying desperately to keep him in sight. But he stood there, just out of reach. A second later, a sharp pain ran through my right arm. I glanced, and found bleeding claw marks on my upper arm.
He raised one hand in front of his face, and claws sprang out from under his fingernails. "Meow," he said.
I tried to swallow my beating heart and couldn't. This meant that even if he didn't kill me, a month from now I might be sprouting fur.
It wasn't a scream that you could hear with your ears. It wasn't a sound. I had no words for it, but I felt Richard scream inside me. His power poured over me, and down that long line I felt Jean-Claude. Something tight and painful held him down. I tried to get to my feet and stumbled.
"What's wrong, Anita? I didn't hurt you that badly."
I shook my head, and got to my feet. He wasn't going to come to me. Richard was growing desperate. I reached outward with that flare of power and I could feel Dominic's spell. He'd been shielding it somehow, but he couldn't hide from me. The spell was growing. The time of sacrifice was coming. I didn't have time for Gabriel to play with me. "Stop playacting, Gabriel, or don't you want me?"
His eyes narrowed. "You're up to something."
"You bet. Now, fuck me, Gabriel, if you've got the balls for it."
I put my back to the wall and hoped it would be enough, and knew it wouldn't be. I threw a thread of power back to Richard, hoping he'd get the hint and not interrupt for the next few minutes. If he distracted me at the wrong time, it would be all over.
Gabriel stalked in front of me, daring me to come out from the wall and get him. I did what he thought I would do. I tried for him and he just wasn't there. It was like trying to cut air.
He slashed out with one hand and sliced the back of my left hand open. I slashed at him with my right hand, trying to hold onto the left-hand knife. He hit the hand again, not with claws but backhanded. My hand spasmed, and the knife went spinning.
His body hit mine full out, slamming me to the floor. I shoved the right-hand knife into his stomach before my back hit the ground. But shoving the knife in meant I took the full force of the fall. It stunned me for a heartbeat. A heartbeat was all he needed.
He ran his hands under my arms, not trying to pin them, but forcing them up away from the knife in his stomach. He pinned me to the floor with his body. I expected him to draw out the blade, but he didn't. He pressed the hilt against my body and pushed. He shoved the blade into him up to the hilt and kept pressing. The hilt bruised against my stomach and he ground it into both of us.
He shuddered over me. He raised his upper body off me, pinning me with his lower body, snuggling it between my legs so I could feel him, hard and firm. He pulled the blade out in a burst of crimson and plunged it downward so fast my arms were only halfway up to protect my face when the blade bit into the carpet. He drove the blade hilt deep into the plywood floor, so close to my head that it pinned my hair on one side.
He undid the button on my jeans. He wasn't even trying to control my hands, but I only had one knife left. If I lost it, I couldn't kill him. We were about to find out just how good my nerves were.
Richard's power flowed over me again, but it wasn't the same. It was less frantic, more as if he was trying to whisper something to me, offer me something. Then I realized what it was. The first mark. Jean-Claude and Richard, for it was they, couldn't do it now without my permission. I was too powerful to be forced, at least psychically.
Gabriel kept my legs pinned with his hips and grabbed the front of my jeans, fingers pointing outward, away from my body. His claws sprang out through the cloth, and he ripped upward, slicing the cloth nearly to my pubic bone.
I screamed and let Richard do me. Better the monster you know than the monster about to go down your pants. A line of warmth ran through my body. It had been even simpler when Jean-Claude did it on his own, once upon a time.
Even knowing what it was, it didn't feel like much.
But I felt better instantly; clearer-headed, more... something. Gabriel hesitated on top of me. "What the hell was that?" The skin of his bare arms was prickled with gooseflesh. He'd gotten a taste of the power.
"Didn't feel a thing," I said. I tugged on the knife in the floor, pulling at it. Gabriel ripped my jeans in both hands, and they split down the middle, leaving nothing between him and me but my panties and his leather pants. I was at a bad angle for the knife and it was only halfway out when he slid his hand down my panties.
I screamed. I screamed, "Richard!"
The power flowed over me. With Jean-Claude, I had watched his burning blue eyes enter me. With Richard as focus, there was nothing to see, but smells, the forest, his skin, Jean-Claude's perfume. I could taste them both in my mouth like drinking two strong wines one mouthful after another.
Gabriel's hand froze down the front of my body. He was staring down at me. "What did you just do?" His voice was a whisper.
"Did you think raping me would be easy?" I laughed, and it unnerved him. I saw something close to fear in his storm grey eyes. He'd moved his hand. Not having him down my underwear was too big an improvement for words. I never wanted him to touch me like that again. Never.
I had two choices. I could bluff and hope I could run, or I could reinitiate sex and kill him. The second mark didn't give me that much more power. In fact, it gave the boys more pull on my power than the other way around. So, sex it was.
"What's wrong?" Raina asked out of camera range.
"Gabriel's getting cold feet," I said. I raised up on my elbows. The knife he'd shoved in the floor held my hair pinned, and I kept raising up, tearing a hunk of my hair out. It was a small pain, but I knew it would appeal to Gabriel. It did.
I was sitting up with my legs on either side of his thighs. He picked me up, hands sliding over my undies, cupping my buttocks. He leaned back on his knees, supporting my weight. He watched me, and I saw something slide through his eyes, felt it tremble through his hands. For the first time, he thought I really might kill him, and it turned him on. Fear was the rush.
He kissed the side of my face gently. "Go for the last knife, Anita. Go for it." He leaned into me while he said it, biting gently down my face. I felt the pressure of his fangs down my jawline, onto my neck. He set his teeth into the side of my neck, bearing down, hard and harder, a slow, building pressure. His tongue licked across the skin.
I didn't go for the knife. I ran my hands through his thick hair, pulled it back from his face. His teeth continued to press into my skin. His hands slid inside my underwear, cupping my bare buttocks. I stiffened, then forced myself to relax. This would work. It had to work.
I traced my fingers along his face. His teeth bit in enough to draw the first faint blood. I gasped, and his claws dug into me. I ran my fingers along either side of his face, tracing his cheeks, his eyebrows. He came up for air, eyes wide and unfocused, lips half-parted. I caressed his face and pulled him in for a kiss. I traced his thick eyebrows. As he kissed me, he closed his eyes, and I put my thumbs over his eyelids. His eyelashes fluttered against my skin. I shoved my thumbs into both eyes, digging, trying to shove my thumbs into his brain and out the other side.
Gabriel reared back, shrieking. His claws ripped up my back. I gasped but didn't have time for screaming. I drew the big knife from the back sheath.
Raina screamed instead.
I shoved the blade under Gabriel's ribs. I shoved it into his heart. He tried to fall backwards, but my weight pinned his knees, so his back bowed backwards, but he didn't fall. I shoved the blade through him. I felt the tip of it burst out the other side.
Raina was suddenly there, grabbing me by the hair, flinging me off him. I flew through the air, smashed into the fake wall, and kept going. The wall splintered. I lay on my stomach, relearning how to breathe. My pulse was so loud in my head, I was deaf for a few seconds. My body stopped being numb in stages, and let me know it was scraped and bruised, but nothing was broken. It should have been. Two marks and I was suddenly Anita the human battering ram. When it happened the first time, I hadn't appreciated it. Now I did. I wasn't hurt badly, hurrah, but I still had to get past Raina. Everybody else would fold and run for cover if she were dead. Question was, how to get her there?
I looked up and realized I was right next to the prop table with my guns on it. Were they loaded? If I went for them and they weren't, Raina was going to kill me. Of course, if I just lay here and bled, she'd kill me anyway.
I heard her high heels coming my way. I pushed to my knees, my feet, and went for the table. She still couldn't see me through the partial wall, but she could hear me. She rushed up her side of the wall in those ridiculous high heels.
I grabbed for the Firestar and rolled over the table as I moved. I ended on my back, staring up as she leapt over the table. I hit the safety with my thumb and pulled the trigger. The gun exploded in my hand and took her in the upper stomach. The bullet seemed to slow her in midmotion, and I had time for another shot, higher up in the chest.
Raina collapsed to her knees, honey brown eyes wide with shock. She reached out one hand, and I scooted backwards, still on my butt and lower back. I watched her eyes go, that light sliding away. She slumped over on her side, her long hair spilling like auburn water across the floor.
The crew had hightailed it. Only Heidi was crouched by the wall, crying, covering her ears as if afraid to leave or stay.
I got to my feet, using the prop table for support. I could see Gabriel's body now. Blood and clear fluid flowed down his face from his eyes. His body still hadn't fallen. It knelt in a strange parody of life, as if he would open his eyes and it would all be pretend.
Edward came in through the covered door. He had a shotgun at his shoulder. Harley followed at his side with a machine gun. He surveyed the room and finally came back to me. "Is Anita in this room?"
"Yes," Edward said.
"I can't recognize her," Harley said.
"Hold your fire. I'll go find her for you." He walked towards me, eyes taking it all in.
"How much of this blood is yours?" he asked.
I shook my head. "How'd you find me?"
"I tried to return your message. Nobody knew where you'd gone. Then nobody knew where Richard had gone, or Jean-Claude, or Raina."
I felt Richard scream through me and I didn't fight it this time, I let the scream come out my mouth. If Edward hadn't caught me, I would have fallen. "We've got to get to Jean-Claude and Richard. Right now!"
"You can't even walk," he said.
I grabbed his shoulders. "Help me, and I'll run."
Edward didn't argue; he simply nodded and slid one arm around my waist.
Harley handed my knives and the Browning to Edward. I was inches away, but he didn't try to touch me. He looked past me as if I wasn't there. Maybe, for him, I wasn't. I cut the legs of my jeans off, which left me in nothing but underwear and Nikes from the waist down, but I could run now, and we needed to run. I could feel it. I could feel the power growing on the summer night. Dominic was preparing the blade. I could taste it. I prayed as we ran. Prayed that we'd be in time.
We ran. I ran until I thought my heart would burst, jumping trees and dodging things in the dark only half-felt and not seen at all. Branches and weeds raked my legs in thin scratches. A branch caught my cheek and sent me stumbling. Edward caught me. Harley said, "What is that?"
There was a bright, white glow through the trees. It wasn't fire. "Crosses," I said.
"What?" Harley asked.
"They've hung Jean-Claude with crosses." As the words left my mouth, I knew they were the truth. I ran towards the glow. Edward and Harley followed.
I spilled out to the edge of the clearing with them at my back. I raised the Browning without thinking about it. I had a second to take it all in. Richard and Jean-Claude were bound so thick with chains that they could barely move, let alone escape. A cross had been thrown around Jean-Claude's neck. It glowed like a captive star, resting on the folds of chain. Someone had blindfolded him as if afraid the glow would hurt his eyes. Which was odd, since they meant to kill him. Considerate murderers.
Richard was gagged. He'd managed to work one hand free, and he and Jean-Claude were touching fingertips, straining to retain that touch.
Dominic stood over them in a white ceremonial robe. The hood was thrown back, his arms wide, holding a short sword half the length of my body. He held something dark in his other hand. Something that pulsed and seemed to live. It was a heart. Robert the vampire's heart.
Sabin sat in Marcus's stone chair, dressed as I'd seen him last, hood up, hiding in the shadows. Cassandra was a shining whiteness on the other side of the circle of power, forming the last point of a triangle with her two men. My two men lay bound on the ground.
I pointed the Browning at Dominic and fired. The bullet left the gun. I heard it, I saw it, but it didn't go near Dominic. It didn't seem to go anywhere. I blew my breath out and tried again.
Dominic stared at me. His dark-bearded face was calm, totally unafraid. "You are of the dead, Anita Blake, neither you, nor anything of yours may pass this circle. You have come only to watch them die."
"You've lost, Dominic, why kill them at all, now?"
"We will never find what we need again," the necromancer said.
Sabin spoke, his voice thick, awkward, as if talking was hard. "It must be tonight." He pushed to his feet and shoved the hood back. His flesh was almost completely gone, only straggles of hair and raw, putrefying tissue were left. Dark liquid oozed from his mouth. Maybe he didn't have one more night of sanity. But that wasn't my problem.
"The vampire council has forbidden any of you to fight each other until Brewster's Law is either passed or voted down. They'll kill you for disobeying them." I was half guessing on this, but I'd been around enough masters of the city to know how very seriously they took disobedience. The council was, in fact, the biggest, baddest, master of the city around. They would be less forgiving, not more.
"I will take that chance," Sabin said, every word careful, showing the effort it took to speak.
"Did Cassandra tell you about my offer? If we can't cure you tomorrow, I'll let Jean-Claude mark me. Tonight you only have part of what you need for the spell. You need me, Sabin, one way or another, you need me." I didn't tell them I was already marked. They obviously hadn't felt it. If they knew I was already marked, all I could offer was to die tonight with the boys.
Dominic shook his head. "I have searched Sabin's body, Anita. Tomorrow will be too late. There will be nothing to save." He dropped to his knees beside Richard.
"You don't know that for sure," I said.
He laid the still-beating heart on top of Richard's bare chest.
It was too late for lies. "I'm marked, Dominic. We're the perfect sacrifice. Open the circle, and I'll come inside."
He looked at me. "If this is true, then you are all far too dangerous to trust. The three of you together without the circle would overwhelm us. You see, Anita, I have been part of a true triumvirate for centuries. You have no dreams of the power you can touch. You and Richard are more powerful than Cassandra and I. You would have been a force to be reckoned with. The council itself might have feared you." He laughed. "They may forgive us for that alone."
He spoke words that curled power over me.
I walked to the edge of the circle and touched it. It was like my skin tried to crawl off my bones. I fell forward and slid down something that couldn't be there. Jean-Claude shrieked. It hurt too much for me to scream. I lay curled by the circle, and even when I breathed, I could taste death, old, rotting death in my mouth.
Edward knelt by me. "What is it?"
"Without your other parts, you do not have the power to force this circle, Anita." Dominic got to his feet, raising the sword two-handed for a downward blow.
Dolph had passed the circle earlier in the room where they had taken Robert's heart. I grabbed Edward's shirt. "You pass the circle. Now. And kill that son of a bitch."
"If you can't, how can I?"
"You're not magic, that's how."
It was one of those rare moments when you understand how great trust can be. Edward knew nothing about the ceremony, yet he didn't argue. He accepted what I said, and simply did it. I wasn't a hundred percent sure it would work, myself, but it had to.
Dominic brought the sword down. I screamed. Edward crossed the circle like it wasn't there. The sword bit into Richard's chest, pinning the beating heart to his body. The pain of the blade drove me to my knees. I felt it enter Richard's body. Then I felt nothing, like a switch had been turned off. Edward's shotgun blast took Dominic in the chest.
Dominic didn't fall. He stared at the hole in his chest and then at Edward. He pulled the sword out of Richard's chest and slid the still-beating heart off it. He faced Edward with the sword in one hand and the heart in the other. Edward fired again, and Cassandra leapt on his back.
Harley crossed the circle then. He grabbed Cassandra around the waist and pulled her off of Edward. They fell, rolling to the ground. A gun sounded, and Cassandra's body jerked, but her dainty fist came up and smashed downward.
Edward fired the shotgun until Dominic's face vanished in a spray of blood and bones, and he fell slowly to his knees. His outstretched hand spilled the heart onto the ground beside Richard's terribly still body.
Sabin levitated upward. "I will have your soul for that, mortal."
I ran my fingers over the circle and it was still there. Edward started to turn the shotgun towards the vampire. The naked heart pulsed and shimmered in the cross's glare.
"The heart, shoot the heart!"
Edward didn't hesitate. He turned and shot the heart, exploding it into so much meat. Sabin hit him a second later and he went flying. He ended up very still on the ground with Sabin on top of him.
I pushed my hand forward. It met empty air. I fired two-handed at Sabin as I walked towards him. I put three shots into his chest, forcing him to his feet, back from Edward.
Sabin raised a hand in front of his skeletal face, almost a pleading gesture. I stared down the barrel of the gun into his one good eye and pulled the trigger. The bullet took him just above the crumbling remains of his nose. It made a nice big exit wound like it was supposed to, spattering blood and brains on the grass. Sabin collapsed backwards onto the grass. I fired two more shots into his skull until it looked like I'd decapitated him.
"Edward?" It was Harley. He was standing over Cassandra's very still, very dead body. His eyes searched wildly for the one person he recognized.
"Harley, it's me, it's Anita."
He shook his head, as if I was a buzzing fly. "Edward, I still see monsters. Edward!" He raised the machine gun at me, and I knew I couldn't let him fire. No, it was more than that, or less. I raised the Browning and fired before I'd had time to think. The first shot sent him to his knees. "Edward!" He squeezed off a round of fire that went inches above the men's heads. I fired another into his chest, and put one through his head before he fell.
I approached him, gun at the ready. If he'd twitched, I'd have shot him again. He didn't twitch. I knew nothing about Harley except he was genuinely crazy and very good with weapons. Now I'd never know because Edward didn't volunteer information. I kicked the machine gun out of Harley's dead hand and went for the others.
Edward was sitting up, rubbing the back of his head. He watched me walk away from Harley's body. "Did you do it?"
I faced him. "Yes."
"I've killed people for less."
"So have I," I said, "but if we're going to fight, can we unchain the boys first? I don't feel Richard anymore.
" I couldn't say the word deadout loud, not yet.
Edward got to his feet, a little shaky, but standing. "We'll fight later."
"Later," I said.
Edward went to sit by his friend. I went to sit by my lover and my other boyfriend.
I holstered the Browning, slipped the cross off Jean-Claude's neck, and threw it spinning into the woods. The darkness was suddenly velvet and intense. I bent to undo his chains and one of the links went spinning by my head.
"Shit," I said.
Jean-Claude sat up, sweeping the chains down his body like a sheet. He slipped off the blindfold last. I was already crawling to Richard. I'd seen the sword pierce his heart. He had to be dead, but I searched for the big pulse in his neck, and I found it. It beat against my hand like a weak thought, and I slumped forward with relief. He was alive. Thank you, God.
Jean-Claude knelt on the other side of Richard's body. "I thought you could not bear his touch, that is what he told me before they gagged him. They were afraid he would call his pack to aid him. I have already called Jason and my vampires. They will be here soon."
"Why can't I feel him in my head?"
"I am blocking it. It is a fearful wound, and I am better practiced at dealing with such things."
I pulled the gag from Richard's mouth. I touched his lips gently. The thought of how I'd refused to kiss him earlier that day bit at me. "He's dying, isn't he?"
Jean-Claude broke Richard's chains, more carefully than his own. I helped him clear them from Richard's limp body. Richard lay on the ground in the bloodstained white T-shirt I'd last seen him in. He was just suddenly Richard again. I couldn't imagine the beast I'd seen. I suddenly didn't care. "I can't lose him, not like this."
"Richard is dying, ma petite. I feel his life slipping away."
I stared up at him. "You're still keeping me from feeling it, aren't you?"
"I am protecting you." There was a look on his face that I didn't like.
I touched his arm. His skin was cool to the touch. "Why?"
He turned away.
I jerked him hard, forced him to look at me. "Why?"
"Even with only two marks, Richard can try and drain us both to stay alive. I am preventing that."
"You're protecting us both?" I asked.
"When he dies, I can protect one of us, ma petite, but not both."
I stared at him. "You're saying that when he dies, you're both going to die?"
"I fear so."
I shook my head. "No. Not both of you. Not all at once. Dammit, you're not supposed to be able to die."
"I am sorry, ma petite."
"No, we can share power just like we did to raise the zombies, the vampires, like we did tonight."
Jean-Claude slumped suddenly downward, one hand on Richard's body. "I will not drag you to the grave with me, ma petite. I would rather think of you alive and well."
I dug my fingers into Jean-Claude's arm. I touched Richard's chest. A shuddering breath ran up my arm from him. "I'll be alive, but I won't be well. I'd rather die than lose you both."
He stared at me for a long second. "You do not know what you are asking."
"We are a triumvirate now. We can do this, Jean-Claude. We can do this, but you have to show me how."
"We are powerful beyond my wildest dreams, ma petite, but even we cannot cheat death."
"He owes me one."
Jean-Claude flinched as if in pain. "Who owes you?"
"Ma petite. . ."
"Do it, Jean-Claude, do it. Whatever it is, whatever it takes. Do it, please!"
He slumped on top of Richard, head barely raised. "The third mark. It will either bind us forever, or kill us all."
I offered him my wrist. "No, ma petite, if it is to be our only time, come to me." He lay half on Richard's body, arms open for me. I lay in the circle of his arms, and realized when I touched his chest there was no heartbeat. I turned and stared into his face from inches away. "Don't leave me."
His midnight blue eyes filled with fire. He swept my hair to one side and said, "Open for me, ma petite, open for us both."
I did, sweeping my mind open, dropping every guard I'd ever had. I fell forward, impossibly forward, down a long, black tunnel towards a burning blue fire. Pain cut the darkness like a white knife, and I heard myself gasp. I felt Jean-Claude's fangs sink into me, his mouth sealing over my flesh, sucking me, drinking me.
A wind swept through the falling darkness, catching me like a net before I touched that blue fire. The wind smelled of growing earth and the musty scent of fur. I felt something else: sorrow. Richard's sorrow. His mourning. Not of his death, but of my loss. Dead or alive, he'd lost me, and among his many faults was a loyalty that went beyond reason. Once in love, he was a man to stay there, regardless of what the woman did. A knight errant in every sense of the word. He was a fool, and I loved him for it. Jean-Claude I loved in spite of himself. Richard I loved because of who he was.
I wouldn't lose him. I wrapped his essence like winding myself in a sheet, except that I had no body. I held him in my mind, my body, and let him feel the love, my sorrow, regret. Jean-Claude was there, too. I half-expected him to protest, to sabotage it, but he didn't. That blue fire spilled upward through the tunnel to meet us, and the world exploded into shapes and images that were too confusing. Bits and pieces of memory, sensations, thoughts, like three separate jigsaw puzzles shaken and tossed into the air, and every piece that touched formed a picture.
I padded through the forest on four feet. The smells alone were intoxicating. I sank fangs into a dainty wrist, and it wasn't mine. I watched the pulse underneath a woman's neck and thought of blood, warm flesh, and far-off and distant sex. The memories came fast, then faster, flowing like some sort of carnival ride. Blackness gained on the images, like ink filling water. When the darkness ate everything, I floated for an impossible second, then went out like a candle flame. Nothing.
I didn't even have time to be scared.
I woke in a pastel pink hospital room. A nurse in a matching pink smock smiled down at me. Fear pumped like fine champagne. Where was Richard? Where was Jean-Claude? What I finally managed to ask, was, "How did I get here?"
"Your friend brought you." She motioned with her head.
Edward sat in a chair by the far wall, leafing through a magazine. He looked up and our eyes met. His face gave away nothing.
"My friends call me Ted, Anita, you know that." He had that good of boy smile that could only mean he was pretending to be Ted Forrester. It was his only legal identity that I'd ever met. Even the cops thought he was this Ted person. "Nurse, can we have a few minutes alone?"
The nurse smiled, looked curiously from one to the other of us, and left, still smiling.
I tried to grab Edward's hand and found my left hand was taped to a board and stuck with an IV. I grabbed at him with my right hand, and he held it. "Are they alive?"
He smiled, a mere twitch of lips. "Yes."
A relief like I'd never known flowed through my body. I collapsed back against the bed, weak. "What happened?"
"You came in suffering from lycanthrope scratches and a very nasty vampire bite. He almost drained you dry, Anita."
"Maybe that's what it took to save us."
"Maybe," Edward said. He sat on the edge of the bed. His jacket gaped enough to flash his shoulder holster and gun. He caught me looking. "The police agree that the monsters might hold a grudge. There's even a cop outside your door."
We weren't holding hands now. He stared down at me and something very cold passed over his face. "Did you have to kill Harley?"
I started to say yes, but I stopped myself. I replayed it in my mind. Finally. I looked up at him. "I don't know, Edward. When you were knocked out, he couldn't see you anymore. I tried to talk to him, but he couldn't hear me. He started to raise the machine gun." I met Edward's empty blue eyes. "I shot him. You saw the body. I even put one through his head. A coupe de grace."
"I know." His face, his voice gave nothing away. It was like watching a mannequin talk, except that this mannequin was armed and I wasn't.
"It never occurred to me not to shoot, Edward. I didn't even hesitate."
Edward took a deep breath through his nose and let it out through his mouth. "I knew that's what had happened. If you'd lied to me, I'd have killed you." He walked away to stand at the foot of the bed.
"While I'm unarmed?" I tried to make light of it, but it didn't work.
"Check your pillow."
I slid my hand under and came up with the Firestar. I held it in my lap, laying it on my sheet-covered legs. "What now?"
"You owe me a life."
I looked up at that. "I saved your life last night."
"Our lives don't count, we'd back each other up, no matter what."
"I don't know what you're talking about then."
"Occasionally I'll need help, like Harley. Next time I need help, I'll call you."
I wanted to argue because I wasn't entirely sure what mess Edward would drag me into, but I didn't. Looking into his empty eyes, holding the gun he'd put under my pillow, I knew he'd do it. If I refused his bargain, his trade as it were, he'd pull down on me, and we'd find out once and for all who was better.
I stared down at the gun in my hands. "I've already got the gun out; all I have to do is point."
"You're injured. You need the edge." His hand hovered near the butt of his gun.
I laid the gun on the sheets beside me, and looked at him. I lay back on the pillows. "I don't want to do this, Edward."
"Then, when I call, you'll come?"
I thought about it for another brief second, then said, "Yeah, I'll come."
He smiled, his Ted (good ol' boy) Forrester smile. "I'll never find out how good you really are until you draw down on me."
"We can live with that," I said. "By the way, why the invitation to come monster hunting now? And don't tell me it's about Harley."
"You killed him, Anita. You killed him without thinking about it. Even now, there's no regret in you, no doubt."
He was right. I didn't feel bad about it. Scary, but true. "So you invited me to come play because I'm now as much of a sociopath as you are."
"Oh, I'm a much better sociopath," he said. "I'd never let a vampire sink his fangs into my neck. And I wouldn't date the terminally furry."
"Do you date anyone, ever?"
He just smiled that irritating smile that meant he wasn't going to answer. But he did. "Even Death has needs."
Edward dating? That was something I had to see.
I got out of the hospital with no permanent scars. That was a switch. Richard had touched the wounds Gabriel gave me, his face very serious. No one had to say it out loud. In a month, we'd know. The doctors offered to put me in one of the shapeshifter halfway houses (read prisons) for the first-time furry. It has to be voluntary, but once you sign yourself in, it's almost impossible to sign yourself out. I told them I'd take care of it myself. They scolded me, and I told them to go to hell.
I spent the night of my first full moon with Richard and the pack, waiting to see if I was going to join the killing dance. I didn't. Either I'd gotten incredibly lucky or just as a vampire can't catch lycanthropy, neither could I. Richard wouldn't have much to do with me after that. I can't blame him.
I still love him. I think he still loves me. I love Jean-Claude, too. But it's not the same kind of love. I can't explain it, but I miss Richard. For brief moments in Jean-Claude's arms, I forget. But I miss Richard.
The fact that we are both bound to Jean-Claude doesn't help. Richard has accidentally invaded my dreams twice. Having him that close to me is too painful for words. Richard fought it, but he finally agreed to let Jean-Claude teach him enough control so that he doesn't leak all over both of us. He talks to Jean-Claude more than he talks to me.
The triumvirate is useless. Richard is too angry at me. Too full of self-loathing. I don't know how he's doing with the pack. He's forbidden anyone to speak of pack business with me, but he hasn't chosen a new alpha female.
Willie McCoy and the rest of the vampires I accidentally raised seem fine. Big relief there. Monica's baby is due in August. Her amnio came back clean. No Vlad syndrome. She seems to think I'm her friend now. I'm not, but I help out sometimes. Jean-Claude is playing the good master and taking care of her and the baby. Monica keeps talking about me babysitting. I hope she's kidding. Auntie Anita, she calls me. Gag me with a spoon. Funnier still, is Uncle Jean-Claude.
My dad saw me on television in Jean-Claude's arms. He called and left a very worried message on my answering machine. My family are devout Catholics. There is no such thing as a good vampire to them.
Maybe they're right. I don't know. Can I still be the scourge of vampire kind when I'm sleeping with the head bloodsucker?