The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 26~28

26

Jean-Claude's fingertips slid along the edge of my pants. Richard grabbed his wrist. Anger flared from both of them, and that shared power flickered to life.

"You won't use this as an excuse to get into her pants, either," Richard said. His voice was thick and dark with more than anger. His hand tightened on Jean-Claude's wrist.

Jean-Claude balled his hand into a fist and bent his arm at the elbow. Concentration and anger touched both their faces. I could feel the trembling effort through their chests. Their anger prickled along my skin. It was too soon to do all this shit over again. "You can arm-wrestle later, boys, we've got to go see what I raised from the dead."

There was a fraction of hesitation, then they both looked down at me. Their arms were still straining against each other. Richard's face showed the effort. Jean-Claude's face had gone blank and curious, as if it was no effort to hold off a werewolf. But I could feel the fine trembling through his body. Illusion was all with Jean-Claude. With Richard it was all nerve endings and reality.

"What did you say, ma petite?"

"She said she raised the dead," Richard said.

"Yep, so get off me. You can fight later, but right now, we need to check on what I did."

"We did," Jean-Claude said. He eased away from Richard, and after a second, Richard released his hand.

"What we did," I said.

Richard stood, the muscles in his bare legs moving under the skin, and it was hard not to touch them, feel the movement of him. He offered me a hand up.

"Give me a minute," I said.

Jean-Claude stood as if drawn to his feet by strings. He offered me a hand, too.

They stood glaring at each other. Their anger played through the air like invisible sparks. I shook my head. I seemed to be more worse for wear than either of them, poor human that I was. I'd have actually taken a hand up, which was rare for me. I sighed, got my feet under me, and stood without help from either of them.

"Behave yourselves," I said. "Can't you feel what's in the air? Anger works just fine to call whatever it is, so stop it. We may have to do it again to lay to rest what we've already called from the grave."

Jean-Claude looked instantly relaxed, at ease. He gave a low bow. "As you like, ma petite."

Richard rotated his neck, trying to loosen his shoulders. His hands were still balled into fists, but he nodded. "I don't understand how what we did called zombies."

"I can act as a focus for other animators. It's a way to combine powers and raise an older zombie or more than one or two zombies. I don't know how to do anything else but raise the dead, so when you shoved that much power in my face..." I shrugged. "I did what I know how to do."

"Did you raise all of Nikoloas's old cemetery?" Jean-Claude asked.

"If we're lucky," I said.

He put his head to one side, puzzled.

Richard looked down at himself. "Can I get some pants on?"

I smiled. "Seems a shame," I said, "but yeah."

"I will fetch my robe from the bathroom," Jean-Claude said.

"Help yourself," I said.

"No comment about how it is a shame that I am getting dressed?"

I shook my head.

"Cruel, ma petite, very cruel."

I smiled and gave him a little bow.

He returned the smile, but there was a challenge to his eyes as he walked towards the bathroom.

Richard was sliding into his jeans. I watched him zip them up and button them into place. It was fun just to watch him dress. Love makes the smallest movements fascinating.

I walked past him, towards the door, leaving him to put a shirt on if he was going to. The only way to ignore him was to just not look. The same theory worked with Jean-Claude most of the time.

I walked to the door. My hand was reaching for the knob when Richard grabbed me from behind, lifting me off my feet, carrying me back from the door.

My feet were literally dangling off the ground. "What the hell are you doing? Put me down."

"My wolves are coming," he said, as if that explained everything.

"Put me down."

He lowered me enough for my feet to touch the floor, but his arms stayed wrapped around me, as if he was afraid I'd go for the door. His face was distant, listening. I heard nothing.

A howl echoed up the corridor and raised the hairs on my arms. "What's going on, Richard?"

"Danger," he almost whispered it.

"Is it Raina and Marcus?"

He was still listening to things I could not hear. He pushed me behind him and went to the door, still shirtless, wearing nothing but his jeans.

I ran for the bed and the weapons. I got the Firestar out from under the pillow. "Don't go out there empty-handed, dammit." I dragged the Uzi out from under the bed.

A chorus of howls went up. Richard flung the door open and raced down the hallway. I called his name, but he was gone.

Jean-Claude came out of the bathroom in his black, fur-lined robe. "What is it, ma petite?"

"Company." I slipped the Uzi's strap across my chest.

The sounds of snarling wolves came distant. Jean-Claude ran past me, the long robe flying out behind him. He ran like a dark wind. When I got out to the corridor, he was nowhere in sight.

I was going to be the last one there. Dammit.

27

Running full tilt towards a fight was not the best way to stay alive. Caution was better. I knew that, and it didn't matter. Nothing mattered but getting there in time. In time to save them. Them.I didn't dwell on that; I ran, the Firestar gripped tightly in my right hand, the Uzi in my left. I was running like an idiot, but at least I was armed.

A roaring shout thundered off the walls ahead. Don't ask me how, but I knew it was Richard. I didn't think I could run any faster. I was wrong. I spilled into the open, breath coming in throat-closing gasps, not looking left or right. If someone had had a gun, they could have blown me away.

Richard stood in the middle of the room, a zombie held at arm's length above his head. A wolf the size of a pony had pinned another zombie to the floor, savaging it. Stephen stood at Richard's back in human form, but crouched and ready to fight. Cassandra stood back from them. She turned to me as I skidded into the room. There was a look on her face that I couldn't quite read, and didn't have time to puzzle over.

Jean-Claude was at the far left, away from the werewolves. He was staring at me, too. I couldn't read his face, but he was in no danger. He hadn't waded into the zombies. He knew better. Richard didn't.

The room had been a narrow rectangle, but the far wall had blasted outward, scattering rubble across the floor. It looked like the zombies had crawled out from behind the wall. A graveyard that I, at least, hadn't known was there.

The dead stood in front of the ruins. Their eyes shifted to me as I saw them, and I felt the weight of their gaze like a blow to my heart.

The fear for everyone's safety was gone, washed away in a rush of anger. "Richard, put it down, please, it won't hurt you. Call Jason off the other one." It had to be Jason unless there was another werewolf down here. And if it was someone else, where was Jason?

Richard turned his head to look at me, the zombie, once a human male, still held effortlessly above his head. "They attacked Jason."

"They wouldn't have done anything without orders. Jason jumped the gun."

"They didn't attack us," Cassandra said. "They started pouring out of the wall. Jason changed and attacked them."

The giant wolf had opened the zombie's stomach and was tearing at intestines. I'd had enough. "Grab the wolf," I said. The zombie under him locked its arms around the wolf's forequarters. The wolf sank teeth into the corpse's throat and tore it out in a spurt of dark fluid and flesh.

The rest of the zombies, somewhere between sixty and eighty, surged toward the wolf. "Let him up, Jason, or I'll show you what it's like to be attacked by zombies."

Richard bent his elbow and tossed the zombie away from him. The body tumbled through the air and landed in the mass of waiting zombies. They fell like bowling pins, except that these bowling pins got to their feet, though one lost an arm in the process.

Richard crouched by his wolves. "You're attacking us?" He sounded outraged.

"Pull your wolf off my zombie and it stops here."

"You think you can take us?" Cassandra said.

"With this many dead, I know I can," I said.

Stephen's face crumpled, almost like he'd cry. "You'd hurt us."

Shit, I'd forgotten. I was their lupa now. I'd threatened to kill Raina if she hurt Stephen again, and here I was about to feed him to zombies. There was a logic gap somewhere.

"If I'm supposed to protect you all, then you have to obey me, right? So Jason gets the fuck off my zombie or I beat the hell out of him. Isn't that pack protocol?"

Richard turned to me. There was a look on his face I'd never seen before: anger and arrogance, or something close to it. "I don't think Jason really expected you to demand his obedience. I don't think any of us did."

"Then you don't know me very well," I said.


"Mes amies, if we kill each other, won't Marcus be pleased."

We all turned to Jean-Claude. I said, "Stop." All the zombies stopped at once like a freeze frame. One tumbled to the floor, caught in midshuffle, rather than take that last partial step. Zombies were terribly literal.

The giant wolf tore another piece out of the zombie. The dead man made a small involuntary cry. "Drag Jason off of it now, or we are going to do this dance. Fuck Marcus. I'll worry about it later."

"Off of him, Jason, now," Richard said.

The wolf reared back, tearing at the zombie's arm. Bone cracked. The wolf worried the arm like a terrier with a bone. Blood and thicker fluids flew in a spray.

Richard grabbed the wolf by the scruff of the neck, jerking it off its feet. He grabbed the front of its furry throat and turned it to face him. The muscles in his arms corded with the effort. The wolf's claws scrambled in the air while it strangled. The massive claws raked Richard's bare skin. Blood flowed in thin crimson lines.

He threw the wolf across the room into the waiting dead. "Never disobey me again, Jason, never!" His voice was lost in a growling that turned into a howl. He threw back his head and bayed. The sound rose from his human throat. Cassandra and Stephen echoed him. Their howls filled the room with a strange, ringing song.

I realized then that Richard might avoid killing Marcus, but he'd never control the lukoi without brutality. He was already casual about it. Almost as casual as Jean-Claude. Bad sign or good sign? I wasn't sure.

Jason scrambled out of the dead. He turned pale green wolf eyes to me, as if waiting for something. "Don't look at me," I said, "I'm pissed with you, too."

Jason stalked towards me on paws bigger across than my hands. The fur at his neck rose in a prickling brush. His lips curled back from his teeth in a silent growl.

I pointed the Firestar at him. "Don't do it, Jason."

He kept coming, each step so stiff and full of tension that it looked robotic. He gathered his body, legs squirming into position for a leap. I wasn't going to let him finish the movement. If he'd been in human form, I'd have aimed to wound, but in wolf form, I wasn't taking any chances. One scratch and I'd be alpha female for real.

I sighted down the barrel and felt that quietness fill me. I felt nothing while I stared down the gun at him. Nothing but a cool, white emptiness.

"Stop it, both of you!" Richard growled. He walked towards us. I kept my eyes on the wolf but had a peripheral sense of Richard moving closer.

He kept coming, easing himself between Jason and me. I had to aim the gun skyward to keep from pointing it at his chest. He stared at me, his face thoughtful. "You won't need the gun." He knocked the great wolf to the floor with his fist. The wolf lay stunned. Only the rise and fall of its chest showed it was still alive.

When he turned back to me, his eyes were amber, and no longer human. "You are my lupa, Anita, but I am still Ulfric. I won't let you do to me what Raina has done to Marcus. I lead this pack." There was a hardness to his voice that was new. I'd discovered his male ego at last.

Jean-Claude laughed, a high, delighted sound that made me shiver. Richard hugged his bare arms as if he felt it, too.

"Don't you realize by now, Richard, that ma petiteis either your equal or your master? She knows no other way to be." He came to stand by us. He looked amused as hell.

"I want her to be my equal," Richard said.

"But not within the pack," Jean-Claude said.

Richard shook his head. "No, I mean... No, Anita is my equal."

"Then what are you bitching about?" I said.

He glared at me with his alien eyes. "I am Ulfric, not you."

"Lead, and I'll follow, Richard." I stepped close to him, almost touching. "But lead, Richard, really lead, or get out of the way."

28

"As amusing asthis is," Jean-Claude said, "and believe me, ma petite,Richard, it is amusing. We do not have time for this particular argument, not if Richard stands any hope of not being forced to kill tonight."

We both glared at him, and he gave that graceful shrug that meant everything and nothing. "We must call the magic again, but this time, Richard needs to try and pull some of it into himself. He needs to do something that would impress his pack. This," he motioned to the zombies, "though impressive, looks too much like Anita's work."

"You've got a suggestion, I take it."

"Perhaps," he said. His eyes turned very serious then, the humor dying away until his face was lovely and blank. "But first, I think I have a question or two for you, myself, ma petite. I think it is not only Richard that you are emasculating today."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

He cocked his head to one side. "Perhaps you honestly do not know?" He sounded surprised. "There is a small hallway to the right. Look inside it."

I could see the archway at the top of the hall, but the zombies filled the space, hiding the rest from view. "Move forward," I said. The zombies moved like a single organism, their dead eyes watching my face as if I were all that mattered. To them, I was.

The zombies moved like a shambling curtain. I could see the smaller hallway now, and the figures waiting inside. "Stop," I said. The zombies stopped as if I'd hit a switch.

Liv, the blond bouncer from Danse Macabre, stood just inside the smaller hallway. She was still dressed in her violet body suit. Her extraordinary violet eyes stared at me, empty, waiting. My pulse thudded in my throat. There were other figures behind her.

Richard said softly, "This isn't possible."

I didn't argue with him. It would have been too hard.

"Bring them out, ma petite, let us see who you have called from their coffins." His voice was warm with the beginnings of anger.

"What's eating you?"

He laughed, but it was bitter. "I threatened my people with this, but you said nothing. You did not tell me you could truly raise vampires like any other zombie."

"I've only done it once before."

"Indeed," he said.

"Don't get all pissy on me."

"I shall get pissy if I want to," he said. "These are my people, my companions, and you have them walking around like puppets. I find that most disquieting."

"So do I," I said. I looked back at the vampires. Liv, who had been so animated last night, stood there like a well-preserved zombie. No. No, I'd never have mistaken her for a zombie. I could feel a difference. But there she stood, that muscular body waiting for my next order. There were others behind her. I couldn't see how many. Too many.

"Can you put my vampires back, ma petite?"

I continued to look at Liv, avoiding Jean-Claude's eyes. "I don't know."

He touched my chin, turning me to face him. He studied my face, eyes searching, as if some hint of truth might show through. I let anger fill my face, anger was always a great thing to hide behind.

"What did you do with the last vampire you raised, ma petite?"

I pulled away from him. He grabbed my arm unbelievably fast. Too fast to see. What happened next was simply automatic. He held my right upper arm, but I could still bend at the elbow and point the Firestar at him. The Uzi in my left hand pointed at him, too. He could have crushed my arm before I fired one gun, but not both. But for the first time, staring down the barrel of a gun at him was problematic. The sash of his robe had come loose and I could see a triangle of pale flesh. I could see where his heart would be. I could blow his heart out his back and sever his spine. And I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to splatter that beautiful body all over the wall. Damn.

Richard came closer. He didn't touch either of us. He just stared from one to the other. "Is he hurting you, Anita?"

"No," I said.

"Then should you be pointing a gun at him?"

"He shouldn't be touching me," I said.

Richard's voice was very mild. "He just finished touching you a lot more than this, Anita."

"Why are you helping him?"

"He helped me. Besides, if you kill him over something small and stupid, you'll never forgive yourself."

I took a deep breath and let it out. Some of the tension eased with the breath. I lowered the Uzi.

Jean-Claude released my arm.

I pointed the Firestar at the floor and looked at Richard. There was something in his eyes, even the wolf's amber eyes, that was all too human. Pain. He knew how much Jean-Claude meant to me. It was there in his eyes. That one comment said that he understood my relationship with the vampire, maybe better than I did.

I wanted to apologize to him, but I wasn't sure he'd understand what it was for. I wasn't even sure I could explain it. If you love someone, truly love them, you should never cause them pain. Never fill their eyes with something so close to grief.

"I'm sorry I got mad at you earlier. You want what's best for the pack, I know that."

"You still think I'm a fool to want a bloodless coup," he said.

I stood on tiptoe and kissed him gently. "Not a fool, just naive, terribly naive."

"Very touching, ma petite. And I do appreciate your interference on my behalf, Richard, but these are my people. I promised them certain freedoms when they joined me. I ask again. Can you put them back as they were?"

I turned to Jean-Claude, one hand still balancing against Richard's chest. "I don't know."

"Then you had better find out, ma petite."

It sounded too much like a threat for my taste, but... there was a figure behind Liv the bouncer that I couldn't take my eyes off of. I walked towards the waiting vampires. I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. My stomach clenched into a hard lump, my chest was tight. I finally said it: "Willie McCoy, come to me."

Willie walked out from behind the tall blond vampire. He was wearing the same chartreuse suit he'd had on at Danse Macabre. His brown eyes seemed to see me, but they were empty of that spark that was Willie. He wasn't home. It was like watching a puppet moving, and I was the puppet master. I tasted something bitter at the back of my throat. My eyes were hot and tight. I wasn't sure if I was going to throw up or cry first.

I stopped him about two feet from me. Close enough that I couldn't pretend or wish it away. I swallowed hard, and tears hot enough to scald ran down my face. "I didn't want to know this," I whispered.

Jean-Claude came to stand beside me. "Willie," he said, his voice vibrated through the room. Willie's body thrummed to the sound like a tuning fork struck. "Willie, look at me."

The blank, familiar face turned slowly towards his master. Something flickered through the eyes for a moment; something moved that I had no name for.

"This has possibilities," Jean-Claude said.

"Willie," I said, "look at me." My voice wasn't nearly as impressive as the vampire's, but Willie turned to me.

"No," Jean-Claude said, "look at me, Willie."

Willie hesitated.

"Willie," I said, "come to me." I held out a hand and he took a step towards me.

Jean-Claude said, "Stop, Willie, do not go to her."

Willie hesitated, almost turning to Jean-Claude.

I concentrated on that curl of power inside of me, that thing that allowed me to raise the dead and let it wash over me, flow out of me. I called Willie's body to me and nothing Jean-Claude could do would get him to turn away from me.

Richard said, "Stop it, both of you. He isn't a doll."

"He isn't alive, either," I said.

"He deserves better than this," Richard said.

I agreed. I turned to Jean-Claude. "He's mine, Jean-Claude. They're all mine. When night falls, they will be yours again, but their empty shells are mine." I stepped close to him, and that swirl of power lashed out.

He took a hissing breath and backed up. Holding his hand as if I'd struck him.

"Never forget what I am and what I can do. No more threats between us, ever, or it will be the last threat."

He stared at me, and for just a second, there was a flash of something I hadn't seen before: fear. Fear of me for the first time. Good.

Willie stared at me with empty, waiting eyes. He was dead, well and truly dead. Tears flowed down my face, tight and hard. Poor Willie, poor me. He wasn't human. All these months of being his friend and he was dead. Just dead. Damn.

"What happened to the first vampire you raised, ma petite? Why didn't you put it back into its coffin?" A thought slid behind his eyes. I watched the idea form, and fall from his lips. "How did Monsieur Bouvier get the lower half of his body melted away?"

Magnus Bouvier had been Serephina's mortal servant. It had been his job to keep me near Serephina's coffin until she rose to finish me off. I scrubbed at my face, trying to get rid of the tears. Always ruins the effect when you cry. "You know the answer," I said. My voice sounded strained and small.

"Say it aloud, ma petite, let me hear it from your own lips."

"I feel like I'm missing part of this conversation," Richard said, "What are you two talking about?"

"Tell him, ma petite."

"The vampire grabbed Magnus around the waist and held on. I'd planned on it slowing him down, nothing else. I got to the door and ran outside. The sunlight hit the vampire and it burst into flames. I expected Magnus to go back inside, but he didn't. He kept coming, dragging her into the light." Saying it fast didn't make it any better.

I stood in the middle of the dead I had called, hugging myself. I still had dreams about Serephina. Still saw Magnus reaching out to me, begging me to save him. I could have shot him and never lost a moment's sleep, but burning him alive was torture. I didn't do torture. Not to mention that Ellie Quinlan had already risen as a vampire, which made her legally alive. I'd killed them both, and it hadn't been pretty.

Richard was looking at me, a look of something close to horror on his face. "You burned the man and the vampire alive?" I watched the brown in his eyes swim back to the surface. The entire shape of the eye changed while I watched. It looked almost like it should hurt. If it did hurt, he never showed it.

"I didn't plan it, Richard. I didn't want it to happen, but I would have done anything to escape Serephina. Anything."

"I don't understand that."

"I know," I said.

"There is no shame in surviving, ma petite." I turned to Jean-Claude. There was no shock on his face. It was lovely and unreadable as a doll's.

"Then why can't I read your face right now?"

Life flowed back into his face, filled his eyes, moved behind his skin until he was there, staring at me. The look in his eyes wasn't what I expected. Fear was still there and surprise, but underneath was worry.

"Better?" he asked.

"Yes." I frowned. "What's worrying you?"

He sighed. "All honesty is eventually punished, but not usually this quickly."

"Answer me, Jean-Claude."

His eyes went past me to the werewolves waiting at Richard's back. "No one must speak of what has happened here, not to anyone."

"Why not?" Richard asked.

"It would embarrass ma petite."

"That's true," I said, "but that's not what you mean. You don't mind embarrassing me. Hell, this story would make a great threat for all your vampires. It'd scare the hell out of them."

"That, ma petite, is the point."

I sighed. "Stop being obtuse and just tell us."

"I do not want this," he waved at the vampires, "coming to the attention of the vampire council."

"Why not?" Richard and I asked together.

"Put simply, ma petite, they will kill you."

"I'm your registered human servant," I said, "you said you did that to keep me safe."

"For this they will come and see for themselves, ma petite. Whoever they send will know instantly that you do not bear my marks. You are my servant in name only. That will not be enough for them. Without any binding between us, they will not trust you."

"So they'll kill her, just like that?" Richard asked. He moved closer to me as if he'd touch me, but his hands hesitated above my shoulders.

Without looking at him, I said, "One story about burning people alive and you don't want to touch me. You prejudiced little werewolf, you." I tried to keep my voice light but a harsh edge crept in.

His hands gripped my shoulders tightly. "It really bothers you, what you did, doesn't it?"

I turned to see his face, his hands still on my shoulders. "Of course it bothers me. I didn't just kill Magnus, I tortured him to death. Ellie Quinlan didn't deserve to be burned alive." I shook my head and tried to step away from him. He slid his arms across my back, holding me gently against him.

"I'm sorry you had to do it." He touched my hair with one hand, the other still against my back. "Your eyes are haunted by it, by what you did. Don't take this wrong, but it makes me feel better to see that pain in your eyes."

I pushed away from him. "Did you think I could kill someone by torture and feel nothing?"

He met my eyes but it seemed like it was an effort. "I wasn't sure."

I shook my head.

Jean-Claude took my left hand; the other was still holding the Firestar. He turned me to face him. He raised my hand towards his lips as he bowed slowly towards me. He spoke as he moved, "There is nothing that you could ever do that would make me not desire the touch of your body." He kissed my hand. His lips lingered a little longer than was polite. His tongue licked across my skin, and I pulled away.

"It scares you that I can raise vampires like this."

"Perhaps, ma petite, but I have frightened you for years and yet you are still here."

He had a point. I stared at Willie. "Let's see if we can put everyone back where they belong." I hoped I could do it. I wanted Willie back, even if it was only a lie. He walked, he talked, it was still Willie. Or maybe, I just wanted it to be Willie. Maybe I needed it to be Willie.