The Killing Dance (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6) - Chapter 33~34

33

I woke, staring up at the white drapes above Jean-Claude's bed. There was a damp washcloth folded over my forehead and voices arguing. I lay there for a few seconds, just blinking. I couldn't remember how I'd gotten here. I remembered the sensation of being cast out of Damian. I'd been cast out like an intruder, something to be protected against. The force that touched me hadn't been evil. I'd felt evil before, and that wasn't it. But it certainly hadn't been a beneficent force, either. More neutral, maybe.

The voices were Jean-Claude and Richard. The argument was about me. Big surprise.

"How can you let her die when you could save her?" Richard asked.

"I do not believe she is dying, but even if she was, without her permission, I will never again invade her mind."

"Even if she was dying?"

"Yes," Jean-Claude said.

"I don't understand that."

"You don't have to understand it, Richard. Anita would agree with me."

I brushed the rag from my head. I wanted to sit up, but it seemed too much effort.

Richard sat down on the bed, taking my hand. I wasn't sure I wanted him to, but I was still too weak to stop him.

Jean-Claude stood behind him, watching me. His face was blank and perfect, a mask.

"How do you feel?" Richard asked.

I had to swallow before I could speak. "Not sure."

Dominic walked into view. He had, wisely, stayed out of the argument. Besides, he was already a vampire's human servant. What was he going to say? That the mark was evil, or that it was no big deal. Lies either way.

"I am very glad to see you awake."

"It thrust me out," I said.

He nodded. "Indeed."

"What thrust her out?" Richard asked.

Dominic looked at me.

I shrugged.

"When the power that animates the vampire returned and found Anita still inside the body, the power cast her out."

Richard frowned. "Why?"

"I shouldn't have been there."

"Did the soul return as you touched it?" Jean-Claude asked.

"I've felt the brush of a soul before, that wasn't it."

Jean-Claude looked at me.

I looked back.

He was the one who looked away first.

Richard touched my hair where it had gotten wet from the rag. "I don't care if it was a soul or the bogeyman. I thought I'd lost you."

"I always seem to survive, Richard, no matter who else dies."

He frowned at that.

I let him. "Is Damian all right?" I asked.

"He seems to be," Jean-Claude said.

"What were you two arguing about?"

"Dominic, could you leave us now?" Jean-Claude asked.

Dominic smiled. "Gladly. I am eager to speak with Sabin. Tomorrow, you and Richard can raise him, and you, Anita"--he touched my face lightly--"can heal him."

I didn't like him touching me, but there was almost a reverence in his face. It made it hard to yell at him.

"I'll do my best," I said.

"In all things, I think." With that, he bid us a good day and left.

When the door closed behind him, I repeated my question. "What were you two arguing about?"

Richard glanced behind at Jean-Claude, then back to me. "You stopped breathing for a few seconds. No heartbeat, either. I thought you were dying."

I looked at Jean-Claude. "Tell me."

"Richard wanted me to give you the first mark again. I refused."

"Smart vampire," I said.

He shrugged. "You have made yourself very clear, ma petite. I will not be accused of forcing myself upon you again. Not in any sense."

"Did someone do CPR?"

"You started breathing on your own," Richard said. He squeezed my hand. "You scared me."

I drew my hand out of his. "So you offered me to him as his human servant."

"I thought we'd agreed to be a triad of power. Maybe I don't understand what that means."

I wanted to sit up but still wasn't sure I could do it, so I had to be content with frowning up at him. "I'll share power with you both, but I won't let Jean-Claude mark me. If he ever forces himself on me again, I'll kill him."

Jean-Claude nodded. "You will try, ma petite. It is a dance I do not wish to begin."

"I'm going to let him mark me before I leave for the pack tonight," Richard said.

I stared up at him. "What are you talking about?"

"Jean-Claude can't come tonight. He isn't a member of the pack. If we're joined, I can still call the power."

I struggled to sit up, and if Richard hadn't caught me, I'd have fallen. I lay cradled in his arms, digging fingers into his arms, trying to make him listen to me. "You don't want to be his servant for all eternity, Richard."

"The joining of master and animal is not the same as between master and servant, ma petite. It is not quite as intimate."

I couldn't see the vampire over Richard's broad shoulders. I tried to push myself up, and Richard had to help me. "Explain," I said.

"I will not be able to taste food through Richard, as I could through you. It is a minor side effect, but in truth one I miss. I enjoyed tasting solid food again."

"What else?"

"Richard is an alpha werewolf. He is an equivalent power to mine in some ways. He will have more control over my entering his dreams, his thoughts. He would be able to keep me out, as it were."

"And I couldn't," I said.

He looked down at me. "Even then, before you had explored your powers of necromancy, you were harder to control than you should have been. Now," he shrugged, "now I am not sure who would be master and who would be servant."

I sat up on my own. I was feeling just a tad better. "That's why you didn't mark me while you had the chance and Richard to take the blame. After what I did today, you're afraid that I'd be the master and you'd be my servant. That's it, isn't it?"

He smiled softly. "Perhaps." He sat on the bed on the other side of Richard. "I have not worked for over two hundred years to be Master of my own lands to give up my freedom to anyone, even you, ma petite. You would not be a cruel master, but you would be an exacting one."

"It's not pure master and servant. I know that from Alejandro. He couldn't control me, but I couldn't control him, either."

"Did you try?" Jean-Claude asked.

That stopped me. I had to think about it. "No."

"You simply killed him,"

Jean-Claude said.

He had a point. "Would I really be able to order you around?"

"I have never heard of another vampire choosing a necromancer of your power as human servant."

"What about Dominic and Sabin?" I asked.

"Dominic is no match for you, ma petite."

"If I agreed to the first mark, would you do it or not?" I asked.

Richard tried to hug me to his chest, but I moved away. I had to put both arms down to prop myself up, but I was sitting on my own.

Jean-Claude sighed, looking down at the floor. "If we truly joined, no one could stand against us. That much power is very tempting." He looked up suddenly, letting me see his eyes. Emotions rolled across his face. Excitement, fear, lust, and finally, just weariness. "We could be bound together for all eternity. Bound together in a three-way struggle for power. It is not a pleasant thought."

"Jean-Claude told me that he would not be my master," Richard said. "We would be partners."

"And you believed him?" I said.

Richard nodded, looking terribly earnest.

I sighed. "Jesus, Richard, I can't leave you alone for a minute."

"It is not a lie, ma petite."

"Yeah, right."

"If it's a lie," Richard said, "I'll kill him."

I stared at him. "You don't mean that."

"Yes, I do." Something moved through his brown eyes, something low and dark and inhuman.

"Once you decide to kill someone, it becomes easier to kill others, doesn't it?" I said.

Richard didn't flinch or look away. "Yes, it does, but that's not it. I won't be anyone's servant. Not Jean-Claude's, not yours, not Marcus's, not Raina's."

"Do you understand that once you're bound to him, that hurting him can hurt you? Killing him can kill you?"

"I' d rather be dead than trapped."

I watched the absolute certainty in his eyes. He meant it. "You'll kill Marcus tonight," I said.

Richard looked at me, and an expression passed over his face that I'd never seen before, a fierceness that filled his eyes and sent his power shivering through the room. "If he doesn't back down, I'll kill him."

For the first time, I believed him.

34

There was a knock on the door. Richard and Jean-Claude spoke at the same time. "Enter." "Come in." They stared at each other as the door opened.

Edward walked in. His cool blue eyes took in the three of us at a glance. "What happened to you?"

"Long story," I said. "It wasn't the assassin if that's what you're worried about."

"I wasn't. Your wolves are guarding my backup. They wouldn't let me bring him in without somebody's approval." He looked at Jean-Claude and Richard. "They weren't absolutely clear on whose permission I was supposed to get." He didn't smile while he said it, but I knew him well enough to see the shadow of humor on his face.

"This is my home," Jean-Claude said. "It is my permission that is needed."

I slid to the edge of the bed and found I could sit up. The movement put me between the two men. Richard hovered close to help me if I fell onto my face. Jean-Claude just sat there, not touching me, not offering to. In many ways, he understood me better than Richard did, but then he'd known me longer. I was sort of an acquired taste.

Jean-Claude stood up. "I will go escort your guest in."

"I better go with you," Edward said. "Harley doesn't know you, but he'll know what you are."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.

"If a strange vampire walked up to you in this place and said follow me, would you do it?"

I thought about that. "Probably not."

Edward smiled. "Neither would Harley."

Edward and Jean-Claude left to fetch Edward's friend. I tried standing while they were gone, just to see if I could do it. I always like to meet new people, especially new hired muscle, on my feet.

Richard tried to help me, and I pulled away. I had to grab for the wall to keep from falling.

"I was trying to help," he said.

"Don't try so hard."

"What is the matter with you?"

"I don't like being helpless, Richard."

"You aren't superwoman."

I glared at him. "I fainted, for God's sake. I never faint."

"You didn't faint," he said. "Whatever it was threw you out of Damian. I was still tied to you when it happened, Anita. I felt it brush me." He shook his head, hugging his arms to his chest. "You didn't faint."

I leaned my back against the wall. "It scared me, too."

"Did it?" He came to stand in front of me. "You don't seem scared."

"Are you scared about joining with Jean-Claude?"

"That bothers you more than me killing for the first time tonight, doesn't it?"

"Yeah."

The door opened before we could continue the conversation. It was just as well. We'd found something else we disagreed on. Letting someone tie themselves to my mind, my soul, frightened me a lot more than killing someone.

The man that followed Edward didn't look that impressive. He was slender, only a couple of inches taller than Edward. He had curly brownish red hair receding in a soft circle to nearly the middle of his head. He slouched even when he walked, and I couldn't tell if it was habit or some sort of spinal problem. Brown T-shirt over black corduroy pants, and sneakers. Everything looked like it had come from the Salvation Army. He wore a patched leather aviator's jacket that might have been original World War II issue. Under the jacket, I got a glimpse of guns.

He was wearing a double shoulder holster so that he had a 9 millimeter under both arms. I'd seen holsters like it, but never knew anyone who actually wore one. I thought they were mostly for show. Very few people are equally good with both hands. There was a crisscross of straps beneath the T-shirt that I didn't understand, but I knew it was for carrying something lethal. He had a duffel bag in one hand, crammed full and big enough to carry a body in. He wasn't even straining. Stronger than he looked.

I met his eyes last. They were pale and greyish green with lashes so gingery red they were almost invisible. The look in the eyes was the emptiest I'd ever seen in another human being. It was as if when he looked at me, he wasn't seeing me at all. It wasn't like he was blind. He saw something, but I wasn't sure what he saw. Not me. Not a woman. Something else. That one look was enough. I knew that this man walked in a circle of his own

creation. Saw a version of reality that would send the rest of us screaming. But he functioned, and he didn't scream.

"This is Harley," Edward said. He introduced us all, as if it was an ordinary meeting.

I stared at Harley's pale eyes and realized that he scared me. It had been a long time since another human being frightened me just by entering a room.

Richard offered his hand, and Harley simply looked at it. I wanted to explain to Richard why he shouldn't have made the gesture, but I wasn't sure I could.

I did not offer to shake hands.

"I found out the name of the money man behind the attempts on your life," Edward said. He said it without preamble.

Three of us stared at him. Harley, disquietly, kept staring at me. "What did you say?" I asked.

"I know who we have to kill."

"Who?" I asked.

"Marcus Fletcher. The head of our local werewolf pack." He smiled, pleased with himself, on the effect the news was having on Richard.

"You're sure?" Richard said. "Absolutely sure?"

Edward nodded, studying Richard's face. "Does he hate you enough to kill Anita?"

"I didn't think so." Richard turned to me, the look on his face stricken, horrified. "My God, I never dreamt he'd do something like this. Why?"

"How well would you have fought tonight with ma petitedead?" Jean-Claude asked.

Richard stared at him so obviously overwhelmed by the dastardliness of what Marcus had done that I wanted to pat his head and tell him it was all right. I nearly get killed twice and I wanted to comfort him. Love is just plain stupid sometimes.

"It's all so convenient," Edward said, with a happy lilt to his voice.

"What do you mean?" Richard asked.

"He means you are supposed to kill him tonight, Richard, so we don't have to," I said.

"I just can't believe that Marcus would do something so..."

"Evil," I suggested.

He nodded.

"It would seem more Raina's sort of idea than Marcus's," Jean-Claude said.

"It's twisted enough for her," I said.

"Marcus could have said no," Richard said. He ran his hands through his hair, combing it back from his face. His handsome face was set in very stubborn lines. "This has got to stop. He'll do anything she asks, anything, and she's crazy."

My eyes flicked to Harley. I couldn't help it. He caught my look and smiled. I didn't know exactly what he was thinking, but it wasn't pleasant and it wasn't pretty. Having Harley as backup made me wonder if I was on the right side.

"Edward, can I talk to you a minute in private?" I didn't want to be this obvious, but Harley was bothering me that much.

I walked away from the others and Edward trailed behind. It was kind of nice to walk across the room, lower my voice, and know the person I was whispering about wouldn't hear me. Both Jean-Claude and Richard would.

Edward looked at me, and there was that same touch of amusement to him, as if he knew what I was going to say and thought it was a hoot.

"Why does he keep looking at me?"

"You mean Harley?"

"You know damn well who I mean," I said.

"He's only looking, Anita. No harm."

"But why me?"

"You're a girl maybe?"

"Stop it, Edward. Whatever he's thinking, it isn't sex, and if it is, I don't want to know the details."

Edward stared at me. "Ask him."

"What?"

"Ask him why he's staring at you."

"Just like that?"

He nodded. "Harley will probably get a kick out of it."

"Do I want to know?" I asked.

"I don't know. Do you?"

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You're stringing me along here, Edward. What's the deal?"

"If something happens to me during the fighting, Harley needs at least one other person that he'll mind."

"Mind?"

"He's absolutely reliable, Anita. He'll stay at my back, never flinch, and kill anyone I tell him to, but he's not good without specific orders. And he doesn't take orders from just everybody."

"So you designated me?"

Edward shook his head. "I told him to pick someone in the room."

"Why me?"

"Ask him."

"Fine." I walked back towards the others, and Edward followed me. Harley watched us like he was seeing other things. It was too damned unnerving.

"Why are you staring at me?" I asked.

His voice was quiet, as if he never yelled. "You're the scariest motherfucker in the room."

"Now I know you can't see."

"I see what's there," he said.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Nothing."

I tried to think of a better question and finally asked, "What do you see when you look at everybody in the room?"

"The same thing you see: monsters."

"Why do I think the monsters I see in the room aren't the same ones you see?"

He smiled, a bare upturning of lips. "They may look different, but they're still monsters. They're all monsters."

He was a card-carrying, rubber-room-renting psychotic. By the time most people got to the point where they weren't seeing reality, they were so far gone that there was no going back. Sometimes drug therapy helped, but without it, the world was a frightening, overwhelming place. Harley didn't look frightened or overwhelmed. He looked calm.

"When you look at Edward, he always looks the same to you. I mean you recognize him?"

Harley nodded.

"You'd recognize me," I said.

"If I make an effort to memorize you, yes."

"That's why you were staring."

"Yes," he said.

"What happens if Edward and I both go down?"

Harley smiled, but his eyes shifted to one side as if something low to the ground and rather small had run across the room. The movement was so natural that I looked. Nothing.

"Harley," I said.

He looked back at me, but his eyes were just a little higher up than my face should have been. "Yes," he said, his voice so quiet.

"What happens if Edward and I are both killed?"

Harley stared at me. His eyes shifted to my face for just a second, as if the fog had cleared. "That would be bad."