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Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(6) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton

6
 
I WAS STANDING on a narrow cobblestone street. I’d have called it an alley, except cars were parked on it. It was after dark, but the streetlights kept it from being truly dark, so the light was electric-kissed and softened in a fine, misting rain that made halos around the lights as if angels had been beheaded and put up on poles as a warning.
 
Even in the dream I thought, That’s a weird thought, and thinking it made me realize it was a dream. There was something lying in the shadows against the far wall, lost in a pool of blackness that all the light seemed to miss, as if the light were afraid of it or didn’t want anyone to see it. I went forward, because I had to somehow, and as I reached out toward that darker shadow my hand was too big, too pale, a man’s hand. Then it was mine, and then it wasn’t, like a television channel that isn’t steady so that it wavers between one show and another, until the dual images pile on top of each other and you can’t tell what you’re watching anymore. I/he got close enough to the shadowed heap, because it was a pile of something against the wall. There was a pool of dark water near it, was the first thought, but as the liquid crept around our shoes—my jogging shoes and his dress boots—we knew it wasn’t water. We stood in a growing pool of blood, and the shadow lifted like a magician taking away a cloth, and . . .
 
The body lay crumpled on its side, one hand drawn up tight against its side as if it had tried to hold in some of what was spilling out of its stomach. Something had ripped it open—her, ripped her open, because the staring face was female. She looked young, maybe even pretty, but it was hard to tell now. The rain beaded on her skin like someone was sprinkling her. The head began to slide as if she were going to shake her head, but it was just her dead muscles giving up on holding her head in place. Her throat had been torn open like her stomach, so that the soft light glistened on her spine among all that red meat. I thought I saw teeth marks in her flesh, but I couldn’t be sure because there were sirens in the night, but they didn’t sound right. The man in my head turned to run and the corpse grabbed his/my ankle.
 
I woke sitting upright in the dark, my breathing ragged and panicked. Except it was as if I woke up twice—no, three times—and was sitting beside myself as we all fought not to scream. I managed to whisper, “Damian, Nathaniel, it’s Anita.”
 
Damian said, “Oh God, you saw, right? You saw the body.”
 
“Yes.” The bed felt soaked with sweat as if we’d been trapped in nightmares for too long.
 
“That didn’t feel like any dream I’ve ever had,” Nathaniel said, and he had reached through the dark so that we were holding hands across Damian.
 
Jean-Claude turned on the bedside light from where he was standing beside the bed, and the moment he did, I gasped, because it wasn’t sweat that had soaked the bed; it was blood. Damian and Nathaniel were covered in it. Damian cried out, holding his hands in front of him. Guards came through the door without knocking, guns naked in their hands. They were both tall, in good shape, like most of the guards. They aimed at Damian, because you can’t shoot your king, or his queen, or one of their main lovers.
 
“No, don’t hurt him!” I called out.
 
Jean-Claude said, “It is Damian who is hurt, I think.”
 
My blue nightie was purple with blood; half of Nathaniel’s face and upper body were stained red, and his shorts were black with it, but Damian’s pale skin was dotted and splotched with blood like castoff from some terrible crime. His red pajama bottoms were black from waist to ankle, the cloth wrapped tight to his legs with so much blood.
 
“What have I done?” he asked, hands held out toward us.
 
“Nothing, mon ami, it is you who have bled, not ma petite, or Nathaniel.”
 
“Who hurt him?” I asked.
 
“No one. I believe it is sweat.”
 
The guards, one brunette and the other with paler brown hair, aimed their guns at the floor but weren’t leaving. I couldn’t even blame them. The bed looked like a serial killer crime scene except everyone was alive. Damian began to check himself for wounds. Nathaniel and I helped, touching his back and places he couldn’t reach, but once we wiped the blood away his skin seemed whole.
 
“I woke to ma petite struggling in the dark with a dream, but when I went to wake her, I realized all of you were dreaming. Damian began to sweat, and though we have some light color to our sweat, this was . . .” He gestured at the ruined bed. “I have never seen this before.”
 
“What’s happening to me?” Damian asked, and it was almost a yell, but the look on his blood-spattered face was a plea.
 
“I do not know,” Jean-Claude said, and I got a quick flash of how worried he was, before he shut it down and pushed me further from his emotions, but that was okay because I was feeling enough from Damian. Nathaniel and I were both fighting to separate his terror from our unease. I wasn’t afraid, not yet. I’d save being afraid for when there was something real in front of me to fight. Or that was what I told myself as I calmed the pulse that was trying to gallop out of my neck, as if I were choking on my own heart. God, Damian was so afraid.
 
Nathaniel looked at me from the other side of our vampire third, and he was as calm as I was; we were both working through our fears. No, we were both working through Damian’s fears.
 
“First, the three of you need to clean up. I will have the bed stripped and see what can be done with it.”
 
“How come you’re not bloody?” the brunette guard asked.
 
“Because I noticed it starting and got out of the way.”
 
“Why didn’t you wake us?” I asked.
 
“I felt it was important to see it play out.”
 
“Thanks a lot,” I said, as I started crawling across the bloody sheets toward the edge of the bed. Nathaniel was crawling to join me.
 
“Ma petite, you are forgetting someone.”
 
I stopped and looked where he was nodding. Damian was still staring at himself as if he were trapped in another nightmare, but this one he couldn’t wake up from. I wanted to help him, but if I was choking on his fear from here, touching him would make it worse.
 
I said out loud, “If I touch him I’m not sure I can stop his fear from overwhelming me.”
 
“Try. Just try, ma petite.”
 
I swallowed hard, and so didn’t want to, but Jean-Claude was right: I had to try. I crawled back to Damian and reached out to him. He jerked back from me. “No, don’t. I’m unclean. Can’t you see that there’s something wrong with me?”
 
Nathaniel had crawled back with me. “You aren’t unclean, Damian.”
 
“We aren’t vampires. We won’t catch anything,” I said, as I reached out slowly, the way you approach a skittish animal.
 
“Anita . . .”
 
“Let me try, Damian.”
 
“Let us both try,” Nathaniel said.
 
His eyes looked so green in their mask of blood, like a macabre Christmas image, but he sat still and let me touch his arm. The moment I did, my pulse slowed, and so did his. It was like touching him calmed us both. Nathaniel touched his other arm and it was like a circuit completed; we’d plugged in the last thing and with that sense of completion there was a peacefulness that I hadn’t thought possible while we were sitting in the blood-soaked sheets.
 
I looked back over my shoulder at Jean-Claude. “How did you know that would happen?”
 
“I did not know for certain, but in the past Damian has been your calm center in the midst of emotion. I thought it might work both ways.”
 
Damian took my hand in his and the last of the fear receded like the sea pulling back from the shore. He blinked at me. “Thank you. Thank you both.”
 
“What now?” I asked Jean-Claude.
 
“Now, you need a shower. For such as this, the bathtub attached to this room will not do.”
 
“I mean after the shower.”
 
“Come back here and if the bed is fit to sleep on we will try. If not, we will use one of the guest rooms for the rest of the day.”
 
“I don’t want to sleep again,” Damian said. “Did you see the nightmare I shared with Anita and Nathaniel?”
 
“No,” he said.
 
“Then you don’t understand.”
 
“I can see the aftermath of the dream, Damian. I understand that it was terrible enough to make you sweat blood.”
 
I started pulling Damian by the hand toward the edge of the bed. Nathaniel helped me tug him toward the edge of the bed. “Let’s clean up and then we’ll talk about what comes next,” I said.
 
Jean-Claude took pictures of us with his cell phone before we left to shower. “If we find a doctor to consult, we can show them pictures of this,” he’d said, and it made sense, though it felt like being part of a crime scene evidence collection.
 
Jean-Claude sent with us the two guards who had come through the door. “They are not to be left alone,” were his orders.
 
“What does that mean?” I asked, as I stood there holding Damian’s hand.
 
“It means we do not know what is happening, ma petite, and it would be beyond careless of me to send you and Nathaniel off alone with Damian without other eyes to watch over you.”
 
“You think I’m a danger to Anita?”
 
“Are you not ravenous?”
 
“Hungry, no.”
 
“After losing so much blood, mon ami, you should be.”
 
Damian nodded. “I learned to control all my needs centuries ago, Jean-Claude. She-Who-Made-Me used every need and want against us. It was better to feel nothing, want nothing, than to give her that opening.”
 
“I have known very few vampires that could control their bloodlust to that degree.”
 
“She would deny us blood until we felt crazed with the need for it. She liked letting the starved vampires free on prisoners. It was . . .” Damian shook his head. “I both witnessed such feedings and partook in them. I thought I had control of that part of me until a few years back when I lost myself and attacked those people.”
 
I squeezed his hand. “That was my fault. I didn’t know I was your master and if I did, I didn’t understand what it meant.”
 
“Your power being withdrawn from me drove me mad, yes, but it wasn’t your teeth, your strength, that slaughtered that poor couple.”
 
“I thought you did not remember what you had done, mon ami,” Jean-Claude said.
 
“I still don’t, but I believe you when you say I did it.” He raised my hand back up, waving our clasped hands. “With Anita’s hand in mine, I can control myself, and not be the beast that She-Who-Made-Me could reduce me to.” He raised his other hand, where Nathaniel was still holding on. “With both their hands in mine, I can be more than I was.”
 
“If I truly believed you dangerous, I would not allow them to leave this room with you, but I would like help to be there if something else unusual happens, that is all.”
 
I wasn’t sure I believed it either, but I took it at face value. Though I did ask, “Wait. Does not taking their eyes off us mean they have to watch us in the shower, or can they just stand outside the door?”
 
The guard with pale brown hair said, “We don’t donate blood, or anything else. We just do our jobs.”
 
“I was not volunteering you as food,” Jean-Claude said.
 
“If they can wait outside the door, then it’s not a problem,” I said.
 
“I’d prefer a closer eye,” Jean-Claude said.
 
“They can wait outside the showers. We’ll be fine,” I said, and we led Damian to the door, where one guard opened it and the other followed behind. I was calm enough now that I wasn’t happy that Jean-Claude was casually encouraging strange men to watch me shower. Yes, they were shapeshifters, which meant nudity didn’t mean much to them, but I wasn’t a shapeshifter and I didn’t want two new guards that I didn’t know at all watching us in the showers. I wouldn’t argue with Jean-Claude anymore, but once we were out of his sight, then I’d argue with the two guards he was sending with us. I had a much better chance of winning the argument with them than with Jean-Claude.