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Crimson Death(Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #25)(9) by Laurell Kaye Hamilton

9
 
DAMIAN HAD WANTED to know if he was a suddenly single vampire or if he still had a relationship. He felt like he needed to know, so we went to his room first. If Cardinale was in the bed we’d go back to Nathaniel’s and my room for showers. The five of us stood in Damian’s room. A bedside lamp shone beside a perfectly made-up bed. It had a flowered coverlet, and lace draped from the bed frame. There was a large rug on the floor that was covered in huge daisylike flowers. There were pictures on the walls of flowers in vases, flower-filled meadows, a small girl holding flowers. In all that flower-filled, overly feminine room, there was no sign of Cardinale. I knew her coffin was in one of the coffin rooms, so there was no hidden place for her here. She was either in the bed, under the bed, or sleeping in the bathtub. No vampire I knew willingly slept in a tub, so . . . “I’m sorry, Damian.” It seemed so inadequate, but it was all I could think to say.
 
Nathaniel hugged him and Damian hugged him back as if he wasn’t really seeing him.
 
Bobby Lee and Kaazim just stood there, taking up positions in the room so they could watch the door. They were as empty as they could make themselves, taking themselves away from the emotion of the moment. Normally, Bobby Lee was more helpful, but I think he was full up on his own emotional shit, no energy left for anyone else.
 
I expected Damian to break down, or scream, or go looking for her, but he didn’t do any of that. Instead he said, “I hate what she did to my room. I hate the bedspread.” He stalked into the room and dragged it off the bed and threw it on the floor. “I hate these paintings!” He grabbed the one that looked like a bad imitation of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and threw it across the room like a Frisbee. “I hate these rugs!” He picked the biggest one up and pulled it behind him like the train on some impossible formal gown. He opened the door, shoved it through, and brought the bedspread out to join it. The sheets underneath were pink, but I refrained from saying anything that might add to the emotion of the moment.
 
He slammed the door behind him and ranted, “I hated the colors she chose, the mess she made of my closet, and how her clothes were more important than mine.” He went for the closet in the far wall and slid the door open. I think he was going to throw her clothes out beside the rug and bedding, but when he got the door open, he froze in front of it.
 
“Oh God,” he said.
 
I came to his side, wondering if he’d found Cardinale “asleep” in the closet. Maybe she’d just hidden to see what he’d do; I’d known humans who did stuff like that, so why not vampires? But when I could look into the closet, there was no body in it, but there weren’t many clothes either. I realized her clothes were missing.
 
“She’s really gone,” he said, and the anger was replaced by sorrow, loss, remorse maybe, all those emotions that hit you after a breakup, especially right after a breakup. Though I guess this was in the middle of it.
 
“I’m sorry, Damian.”
 
Nathaniel echoed me. “We’re both sorry, Damian.”
 
“So am I, but I really do hate what she’s done to my room, my space. It’s like it’s all about her, and I didn’t matter.”
 
“You mattered to her, Damian.”
 
“Would either of you have let anyone turn your bedroom into some flowered nightmare?” He looked at me when he asked, and his expression let me know that lying wasn’t an option.
 
“No, I wouldn’t have.”
 
“When I was younger, I would have, but not now,” Nathaniel said.
 
“So why did I let Cardinale do it?”
 
“I don’t know.”
 
“I don’t either,” he said, still staring into the nearly empty closet.
 
“Where are the rest of your clothes?” I asked.
 
“In a room further into the underground. I had to get dressed for work in a storage area, because she needed room for her things.” He touched the empty hangers.
 
“We’ll go wash up in our room. Give you some privacy.”
 
“Don’t, Anita.”
 
“Don’t what?”
 
“Don’t go. Please don’t go. It’s daylight and I’m awake and I’m afraid to sleep again. I’m covered in my own blood, and . . . I’m afraid of what’s happening to me. Even if Cardinale were here, she couldn’t help me. That’s why I went to you and Jean-Claude, because something is wrong with me, and if we don’t figure out what it is soon, I’m afraid of what will happen.”
 
Nathaniel hugged him first, but I came and added my arms to his. “I know you’re afraid you’ll lose control like you did before, but that time was my fault. I’ll never cut you off from me metaphysically again, I promise.”
 
“We’re both here,” Nathaniel said.
 
He grabbed our arms a little more forcibly than I’d touched him. “Last time I slaughtered innocent people. I don’t remember doing it, but I remember being covered in blood like this, and I remember trying to kill people who were my friends. And now I’m covered in blood again, and I don’t know why!”
 
“It will be all right, Damian,” I said.
 
“You can’t know that. Whatever this is, it’s getting worse, Anita. I sweated enough blood to soak the bed. I’ve never heard of a vampire doing that.” He shook me a little with his hands gripping us too tight.
 
I put my hands on his arms, partially just to touch him, and partially to try for some control. “We have a lot of old vampires with us now, Damian. One of them may know something.”
 
Bobby Lee said, “Kaazim’s not a vamp, but he’s been with the vampires for centuries.”
 
We both looked from Bobby Lee to Kaazim where he stood quietly near the door. Damian let go of us enough for me to turn toward the other man. “How about it, Kaazim? Have you ever heard of a vampire sweating this much blood?”
 
“From a nightmare, no.”
 
“But from something else, yes?” I asked.
 
I think he smiled again, but it was hard to tell with him in the shadows. He’d picked the perfect place to stand to be as invisible as possible; he’d had centuries of practice. “Yes.”
 
“Tell us,” Damian said.
 
“I do not answer to the servant of my queen.”
 
Damian frowned, and I felt his anger run through us both, and then he went cold, still, the emotion not so much shoved down but gone. I was never sure how he did that, but I knew why he did it. She-Who-Made-Him had used all emotions against people, so to survive he had learned to hide them under an icy calm that he’d shared with me. Sometimes I thought it was his calm that had helped me, as much as therapy.
 
“How about your queen’s pet? Will you answer it for me?” Nathaniel said.
 
Kaazim smiled, just a little. “If that were all you were, then no, I would not answer you.”
 
“Then answer to your queen,” I said, but my voice showed some of my displeasure that he’d slighted the others. I wasn’t as good at hiding my emotions.
 
He gave a small bow and said, “As my queen commands,” but that was all he said.
 
“You’re going to make me drag it out of you, aren’t you?”
 
“I will answer any direct question you ask, my queen.”
 
“I can’t say it’s Anita when we’re working out in the gym and you just answer as a friend?”
 
I couldn’t quite read his expression from the shadows. I just knew it was one I hadn’t seen before. “You would call me friend?”
 
“I know we don’t go drinking together, or see the same movies, but yes.”
 
“We are not friends, Anita, not in that way.”
 
I nodded. “Okay, then we’re work friends.”
 
He seemed to think about that for a minute, then said, “I know this term. It implies we are friends at work, but how can we be friends if I am your bodyguard?”
 
“I’m friends with a lot of my guards,” I said.
 
He smiled wide enough that I saw the flash of it even in the shadows. “I do not think we will ever be that friendly.”
 
I laughed with him. “I don’t mean that kind of friendly. I mean more like I am with Claudia, or Bobby Lee, or Fredo, or Lisandro, or Pepita, Pepe.”
 
He nodded again. “Work friends.” He said it softly.
 
“Yeah.”
 
“As a queen I would have made you hunt and ask the right questions. It is what my master told me to do if you asked certain things.”
 
“Why would Billie tell you to withhold things from me?” Billie was short for Bilquees, though she’d informed me that sometimes she went by Queenie. I liked Billie better.
 
“My master’s reasons are her own.”
 
Which probably meant he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell me her reasons. Fine. I moved on. “But if we are friends, then will you just help me help Damian?”
 
He nodded. “It is a long time since someone has asked me something in the name of friendship, Anita, a very long time.”
 
“I’m sorry for that.”
 
“Why are you sorry?”
 
“Because everyone should have friends.”
 
He smiled again, but I couldn’t see his eyes at all, so I didn’t know if it was a happy smile or a hiding smile. “The Harlequin do not have friends, Anita. The animals of the Harlequin have even less than that.”
 
“I’ve done my best to eradicate the double standard that the old vamps feel toward their animals to call.”
 
“You and Jean-Claude have done much to help us.”
 
Damian kept my hand in his, but he took a step toward the other man. “Help me, Kaazim. Help me because Anita is your friend, or your queen.”
 
“You are a servant. I do not answer to servants.”
 
“Kaazim, what is it with you and so many of the Harlequin? All of you seem to dislike Damian. Why?”
 
“I can answer that one,” Bobby Lee said.
 
“Then answer it,” I said.
 
“All the Harlequin are old vampires. That means they think that human servants are lesser beings, but Damian is a reminder that to you, they are the servants. They don’t like that much.”
 
“Okay, I get that, but why do Kaazim and the other shapeshifters have an issue?”
 
“They all treat any Harlequin human servant as a lesser being, because very few of them were ever good enough to fight at the skill level that the vampires and shapeshifters of the Harlequin did.”
 
“I’ve noticed that almost none of the Harlequin vamps have human servants.”
 
“Humans are too fragile for our world,” Kaazim said.
 
“The world of the Harlequin, you mean?” I asked.
 
“Yes.”
 
“Damian is a vampire servant, so the animals to call of the Harlequin have one vampire they can feel superior to,” Bobby Lee said.
 
“That makes sense, I guess.”
 
“Feel superior to me, then,” Damian said, “but if you know anything that can explain what is happening to me, please share it.”
 
Kaazim stepped out of the shadows enough so I could see the puzzlement on his face. “Doesn’t it bother you that I think of you as less, because Anita has forced you to be her servant?”
 
“No.”
 
“Because you do not care about my opinion.” Kaazim sounded angry now. The first thread of his beast breathed through the room as if someone had opened a hot oven for a second.
 
“You are Harlequin. That means that you are a better warrior than I will ever be. That alone gives you reason to feel superior to me, but the vampire who made me tortured any pride out of me centuries ago. She made of me an empty vessel to fill as she saw fit. Empty vessels do not have pride, so I have no pride to be injured.”
 
“We know of your creator.”
 
“I always hoped that She-Who-Made-Me would finally do something so awful that the vampire council would send the Harlequin to slay her.”
 
“If we had been sent to kill your master, we would not have left any vampires so old as you alive.”
 
“Either way, I would have been free of her.”
 
“You would have embraced death to be free of your master?”
 
“Oh, yes.”
 
“Suicide would have freed you, too.”
 
“But it might have denied me entrance to Valhalla. Death at the hands of the Harlequin would have been a glorious death.”
 
“Do you still believe in your Valhalla after all these centuries?” Kaazim asked.
 
“Yes, I do.”
 
“Most of us lose our faith under the power of the vampires.”
 
“It was one thing she could not take from me.”
 
Kaazim studied him, emotions playing over his dark face like cloud shadows on a windy day, too fast for me to understand, but it was more emotion than I’d ever seen him display. “If she left you your faith, then it was only because she could not understand it enough to tear it away from you.”
 
“Yes, most likely.”
 
“You are lucky that your master did not understand faith.”
 
“I am.”
 
“I was sent to spy on her once, your mistress. She was a terrible thing.”
 
“Did you see me?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“I did her bidding.”
 
“I saw.”
 
“I will not ask what you saw me do on her orders, because I do not want Anita to know the worst of me.”
 
“You are her servant. She knows all your secrets.”
 
“No, she leaves me space and privacy.”
 
Kaazim looked surprised. “Why would she do that?”
 
“I don’t want Damian to know all my secrets either. I don’t want anyone that far inside my head.”
 
“That is very you,” Kaazim said.
 
“Yeah, it is. What do you know about what’s happening to Damian?”
 
“Nothing,” he said.
 
Bobby Lee said, “What do you know about a vampire with symptoms like Damian has?”
 
Kaazim smiled and nodded respect at the other guard. “Well worded, my friend.”
 
“I’ve been in your part of the world a lot.”
 
“It has been centuries since we have seen such symptoms.”
 
“Symptoms of what?” I asked.
 
“Of having angered the Mother of All Darkness.”
 
“I don’t understand.”
 
“Did the Mother ever visit your dreams, Anita?” he asked.
 
I nodded. “Yeah.”
 
“Did you ever wake up in a cold sweat from it?”
 
I tried to think back to when Marmee Noir was trying to take me over. “I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. I wasn’t paying attention to how much I was sweating after she’d just been in my dreams.”
 
“I understand,” Kaazim said.
 
“Wait. Are you implying that the Mother of All Darkness is behind Damian’s issues?”
 
“The last time I saw such symptoms, it was her.”
 
I shook my head. “She’s dead.”
 
“She’s a vampire, Anita. She started out dead.”
 
I shook my head harder. “No, she is dead, completely, utterly, really, truly dead this time.”
 
“How do you kill something that is only spirit, Anita?”
 
“I know that the Harlequin that witnessed her death were in contact with others. The Harlequin say they were witness to her death.”
 
Kaazim nodded. “Indeed some of us were.”
 
“Then answer your own question,” I said.
 
“You absorbed her through the very skin of your body.”
 
“Yeah, creepy as fuck, but yeah.”
 
“How did it feel to devour the night, Anita? For she was that, the night made alive and real. How could one small human, even a necromancer, consume the night itself?”
 
“I learned how to take someone’s energy from another vampire.”
 
“Yes, Obsidian Butterfly, the Master of Albuquerque, New Mexico.”
 
“If you know all the answers, why are you asking the questions?”
 
“I know what happened, but that is bare facts, and this was so much more than just facts.”
 
“I don’t even know what that means, Kaazim.”
 
“You ate the living darkness, Anita. It has given your own necromancy a power jump of near-legendary proportions. You raised every cemetery and lone body in and around the city of Boulder, Colorado last year, while you chased down the spirit of the Lover of Death, one of the last members of the now-disbanded vampire council who did not bend knee to Jean-Claude’s rebellion.”
 
“You say rebellion. I say killing crazy motherfuckers to save the world from their plans to spread vampirism and contagious zombie plague across the planet.”
 
“It would have been an apocalypse for the human race.”
 
“But not the apocalypse.”
 
“You mean the biblical one?” he asked.
 
“Yeah, as in the apocalypse.”
 
“You say that as if there is only one.”
 
“There is only one.”
 
“You have prevented two on your own. We have prevented more events that would have destroyed the planet, or at least the human population. Some of us lived through the last great extinction and the coming of the great winter.”
 
“You mean the Ice Age, as in the real Ice Age.”
 
He nodded.
 
I took in a deep breath, let it out slow, and said, “Okay, some of you guys are old as fuck. Make your point.”
 
“My point, Anita, is that apocalypse as in the great devastation or second coming of some religious significance has happened before and will likely happen again.”
 
“I’m not sure we’re defining it the same way,” I said.
 
“Perhaps not, but there really does need to be a plural for apocalypse.”
 
“Fine. You’ve made your point. Now tie all that back to what’s happening with Damian.”
 
“You are so impatient for someone who will likely live to see centuries.”
 
“It’s not certain that I’m immortal, Kaazim, and besides, I’ve killed more supposedly immortal beings than anyone else I know, so who will live forever is really up for debate.”
 
“Fair enough,” he said, “but you absorbed the Mother of All Darkness without having any idea how to control that much power.”
 
“It’s like eating steak; my body uses the energy of the food I eat automatically. I don’t need to tell it to make bone, or more red blood vessels; it just does it.”
 
“And whoever said that metaphysical food was the same as physical food, Anita?”
 
I stared at him, trying to reason my way through what he’d said. “I’m not sure I understand.”
 
“He’s saying that eating magic isn’t the same as eating steak,” Damian said.
 
I looked up at him, squeezing his hand. “Okay, maybe I’m being really slow, but I still don’t get it.”
 
“Did you really think you could consume the Mother of All Darkness, the one who created vampirekind, who gave us our civilization, our rules, our laws, and it would have no effect on you?”
 
“She was trying to do worse than kill me, Kaazim. She was trying to take over my body and use it for her house, car, whatever. She’d even tried to get me pregnant so she could transfer her spirit to my unborn baby, in case she couldn’t take me. I had no choice but to kill her the only way I could. You said it: She was just spirit, untouchable, uncontainable, so I destroyed her the only way I could.”
 
“By eating her,” he said.
 
“Yeah, sort of.”
 
“You gained a great deal of power, and Jean-Claude has used it well.”
 
“Yeah, he has.”
 
“But you were the power that consumed her, Anita, not Jean-Claude. You were the one who put your flesh against the body she was using and drank down the darkness between the stars.”
 
I remembered the moment of it and how I’d thought the same thing: a darkness that had existed before the light found it, and would exist after the last star had burned out and the darkness took everything again. But I’d won. I’d defeated her. I’d saved myself and stopped all the evil she had planned for the rest of humanity, the rest of the vampires, and the shapeshifters—she’d been an equal-opportunity villain. She’d planned to take over all of us and make us her slaves, or puppets, or just die at her whim.
 
Nathaniel hugged me from behind, drawing me in against his body. He’d been tied to me metaphysically when I’d consumed the Mother of All Darkness. Part of what had helped me defeat her was my love and craving for him, and Jean-Claude, and all the men I loved. The Mother of All Darkness hadn’t understood love.
 
“Say what you are thinking, Anita,” Kaazim said.
 
“There was a moment when I thought I couldn’t swallow the darkness, because it existed before the light, and would exist after the last star burned out. The darkness is always there. It always wins in the end.”
 
“Yes, Anita, that is the truth.”
 
“But I won.”
 
“Did you?”
 
I frowned at him. “No more riddles, Kaazim. Just say it, whatever it is.”
 
“The Mother would torment vampires she wanted to bend to her will. She haunted their dreams, and some bled out through their skin as Damian has today.”
 
“Marmee Noir didn’t do this, Kaazim, because she’s dead.”
 
“She’s gone, but you are here.”
 
“Yeah, that’s what I said. I won, she lost. I’m alive, she’s dead.”
 
He sighed and shook his head. “You talk about her as if she were a body you could stab and watch die, Anita, but she was pure spirit. She housed herself in the bodies of her followers, but she did not have to use a body.”
 
“Yeah, the Lover of Death was able to pull that trick off, too, but he had to keep his original body unharmed, just like the Traveller, one of your other council members.”
 
“The Mother of All Darkness is not a council member, Anita.”
 
“She was their queen, I know.”
 
“No, you don’t know. You absorbed her, drank her down, and perhaps she is dead, but her power is not, because you took it into yourself.”
 
“We all know that Anita took the power into herself,” Damian said.
 
“We don’t all know any such thing,” Bobby Lee said.
 
We looked at him. “Oh come on, Bobby Lee, don’t tell me you didn’t know.”
 
“I did, but I don’t want you all discussing this out of this room in front of everybody.”
 
“Kaazim already knows.”
 
“Still, one of the debates against Jean-Claude being king is that it was you who killed the big bad, not him.”
 
“Whatever belongs to the servant belongs to the master,” Kaazim said.
 
“Yes, but the vampires that are against Jean-Claude argue that it’s the necromancer that’s the master, not the vampire.”
 
Kaazim nodded. “They use Damian as proof that Anita makes vampire servants.”
 
“You mean some of the vamps think Jean-Claude is my servant, too?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“A vampire can only have one servant at a time.”
 
“As a vampire, you can only have one animal to call at a time, but you have nearly a dozen animals to call, so it is not a large stretch of logic to think you could have more than one vampire servant.”
 
I wanted to argue with him, but I wasn’t sure how. “Jean-Claude is not my servant.”
 
“How can you be certain of that?”
 
“It’s totally not how my power works with Damian, and he is my servant.”
 
“As your connection is different with Nathaniel, your leopard to call, and Jason, your wolf to call, and all your tigers to call.”
 
I opened my mouth, wanted to argue again, but wasn’t sure I could work my way to a logical argument. I wrapped Nathaniel’s arms tighter around me and squeezed Damian’s hand. I knew it wasn’t true about Jean-Claude, but I couldn’t prove it by talking, only by how it felt, and feelings make piss-poor testimony.
 
“And what does any of that have to do with what’s happening with Damian?” Bobby Lee asked, while I was trying to think my way through the logic maze that Kaazim had put me in.
 
“Anita absorbed the power of the Mother of Us All, but she is young and inexperienced. It is as if you gave a baby an AR rifle. It is a perfectly safe tool in the right hands, but in the wrong hands, it can do much harm.”
 
“What?” I asked.
 
“What if you are causing Damian’s problem, Anita? The power that is flowing through you, that you don’t know how to control. He is your vampire servant and you have avoided him in nearly every way, but a vampire’s power is drawn to its servants. You ignore him, but your power doesn’t.”
 
“I am not doing this to him.”
 
“This doesn’t feel like Anita’s power,” Damian said.
 
“Have you not listened to me? It is not Anita’s power. It merely resides inside her, but it is not her.”
 
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
 
“Wait,” Damian said. “You’re saying that the power is the Mother of All Darkness’s power.”
 
“Almost,” Kaazim said.
 
“What do you mean, almost?” I asked.
 
“I’m not saying it’s the Mother of All Darkness’s power. I’m saying it is the Mother of All Darkness.”
 
“No, she tried to take over my body, but I stopped her.”
 
“Did you, or did you help her do the very thing she wanted to do?”
 
I shook my head. “She’s dead.”
 
“You ate her power, her magic, her spirit, and that was all she was, just spirit. Perhaps it didn’t work the way she wanted it to, but she is inside you.”
 
“She is not in control of me, and that’s what she wanted.”
 
“True, but if she’s in there, Anita, she is trying to figure out how you work, like a new car. Maybe what is happening to Damian is her learning to use the gas pedal, or figuring out how to drift around a turn.”
 
“No,” I said, and sounded very sure of it.
 
“Then if it is not the Mother, it is her power, and by your not forging a tighter bond with Damian, that power is treating him like a runaway vampire.”
 
“Runaway vampire, what the fuck does that mean?”
 
“When she was more physical and less spirit, sometimes vampires she wanted close to her would run away from her. They would run as far away as they could go. She used to send us to fetch them, but then her power grew. She was able to hunt them in their dreams, to torment them until they did what she wished.”
 
I thought about everything he’d said and finally asked, “What do I do to make him closer to me? I mean, he’s right here, holding my hand.”
 
“You are of Jean-Claude’s bloodline, or your power is, which means lust is your coin to exchange for goods, Anita.”
 
I looked at him.
 
“Why that look, Anita? You have had sex with Damian before, and he seems handsome enough for a man. Why do you run from him so?”
 
“I promised Cardinale and Damian that I would honor their monogamy.”
 
“She took her clothes, Anita. I think they’re done,” Bobby Lee said.
 
I shook my head. “Cardinale is like the ultimate drama queen, an extreme girl.”
 
“What does that mean?” Damian asked.
 
“That I wouldn’t put it past her to move her stuff out as a sort of test to see how much you love her.”
 
“You mean she wants me to see how much I’ll miss her.”
 
“Something like that.”
 
He shook his head. “I spent centuries crawling for She-Who-Made-Me. I won’t do it again.” He motioned around the room, which looked like it belonged to anyone but him. “I’ve crawled enough for Cardinale already.”
 
“If the relationship is at an end, then your promise to honor their monogamy is at an end,” Kaazim said.
 
“I’ve felt how much you love her,” I said.
 
“You’re holding my hand. I’ll lower my shields. You can feel exactly what I’m feeling.”
 
“If you lower shields now, I’ll feel it, too,” Nathaniel said.
 
“I know,” Damian said.
 
“Why do you want me to know how you feel about Cardinale?” I asked.
 
“Why are you nervous, Anita?” Kaazim asked.
 
“I’m not sure.”
 
“If you don’t want me, that is your right.” Damian pulled away from my hand and lost the physical connection to both of us. He was still covered in his own dried blood like an extra from a horror show. I guess all three of us looked like horror show escapees.
 
“It’s not that I don’t want you, Damian. You’re beautiful.”
 
“Then why do you hesitate?” Kaazim asked.
 
“This is really none of your business.”
 
“When you asked for my help, you made it my business.”
 
“Well, thank you, and now back off.”
 
“You destroyed our queen, Anita. You ended our way of life and our reason for existence. Now, you are our dark queen, and Jean-Claude is our king. We are your bodyguards. How can your well-being not be our business?”
 
When he put it that way, it was hard to bitch at him, but I so wanted to. “And how is who I have sex with your business?”
 
“If you were descended from a bloodline that thrived on violence, I would tell you to hurt him. If a bloodline of terror, I would say make him fear you. If anger, then rage at him. But it is lust that holds your power.”
 
“I can feed on anger,” I said.
 
“Then make him angry, and bind him to you with screams of rage. Perhaps hit him. It will give you more food to siphon out of him.”
 
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather just have sex,” Damian said.
 
“I vote sex,” Nathaniel said. I waited for Damian to protest that sex would include all three of us, but he just kept looking at me.
 
“Anita,” Bobby Lee said, “why are you being weird about this?”
 
“I don’t think avoiding adding another name to my list of regular lovers is weird. I think I’m over my limit for giving enough attention to the ones I have.”
 
“If that’s all that’s worrying you, Anita, I’m a big, grown-up vampire. I’m not expecting hearts and flowers.” Damian looked around the room at the decor and added, “I think I’ve actually had enough flowers for a while.”
 
“I don’t believe you.”
 
He held out his hand. “Touch me, lower your shields and I’ll prove it.”
 
“Anita, just touch him and then we’ll know how he really feels. No commitments, no promises, just touch him,” Nathaniel said, hugging me close and saying the last almost against my cheek.
 
I sighed, then reached for Damian. His hand was strangely warm for his having lost so much blood and not having fed yet. We wrapped our hands together, looked into each other’s eyes, and lowered our shields. Nathaniel held on to me but made no move to touch the vampire.
 
I was very carefully feeling nothing much, but Damian was feeling a lot of things. Sad, tired, angry, confused, but mostly tired. Cardinale had done what a lot of intensely jealous people do; she’d worn him down, worn him out emotionally. I tried to feel that love that I’d gotten a glimpse of just a few hours earlier in his office, but I couldn’t find it. What did that even mean? That it hadn’t been real, or that Cardinale had used up the last of it, as if love could be a cup that you both filled up with love, kindness, joy, sex, all the things that made you a couple, but if you could fill the cup up, you could also drain it dry with cruelty, sorrow, pain, jealousy, and anger.
 
“I’m so sorry, Damian,” I said, finally.
 
“We’re so sorry,” Nathaniel said.
 
“I just feel used up. I can’t do this anymore,” he said.
 
“Do what?” I asked.
 
“Cardinale and me.”
 
“You feel done.”
 
He nodded. “I think I am.”
 
“Okay then, let’s get cleaned up.”
 
We were still hooked up emotionally so I felt the flash of hope, and then the desire right behind it. His need for sex with me was so intense that it made me catch my breath for a second. I slammed my shields back in place, and we were suddenly just holding hands. It was nice, but it wasn’t the intimacy of a second before.
 
Nathaniel’s body jerked against me as if my slamming the shields had actually hurt him. “Are you all right?” I asked.
 
“Warn me next time we’re all hooked up before you do that, Anita; that fucking hurt.”
 
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
 
“I’m sorry that you felt my need, and it’s made you uncomfortable,” Damian said, and tried to take his hand from mine.
 
I held on and said, “The emotion was a little intense, but that’s okay—you’re entitled to feel what you feel.”
 
“It didn’t scare you away?”
 
“Everyone likes being wanted, and our metaphysics means that we are sort of bound to want each other; like Kaazim said, lust is the coin of my bloodline.”
 
“I know it makes you uncomfortable, but I’m glad it’s not terror, or rage, or so many other horrible things, Anita.”
 
“I don’t blame you, and honestly, sex isn’t a fate worse than death, and I know that the Lover of Death could feed on each death he caused, which would be a pretty terrible bloodline to descend from. Jean-Claude’s line is not the worst thing out there.”
 
“No, it isn’t.”
 
“You have no idea how true that is,” Kaazim said. The slightest of tremors ran down his body, and I realized that he had shivered. The Harlequin were mostly impervious to that much overt display of fear, so whatever he was remembering must have been truly awful. I didn’t ask him what he’d remembered. I had enough of my own bad memories; I didn’t need more.
 
“We’ll shower, get this mess off us,” I said, and started leading Damian toward the bathroom.
 
“Harris said his orders were not to leave the three of you unsupervised,” Bobby Lee said.
 
“Yeah, I guess so.”
 
“Then leave the door open.”
 
“I’d like a little more privacy than that,” I said.
 
“I know you would, darlin’, and I’d love to give it to you, but if you close the door and something bad happens, I don’t want to explain to Jean-Claude, or Micah, or any of your beaus how we let you get hurt because we were too delicate to make you keep the door open.”
 
I sighed, but I guess I couldn’t blame him. If positions were reversed I wouldn’t have wanted to explain it either. “Fine, but stay back from the door; give me some illusion of privacy.”
 
“Anything you say, darlin’.”
 
“Bullshit on that, Bobby Lee.”
 
He grinned. “Sorry about that.”
 
“We were planning to have sex in the shower, once we’re clean, and you being able to see is going to make Anita very uncomfortable,” Nathaniel said.
 
“I don’t remember agreeing to having sex in the shower,” I said.
 
Nathaniel gave me his patient look. “Anita, we tried just sleeping with Damian and the nightmares and bloody sweats didn’t get any better.”
 
“They got worse,” I said.
 
“The blood, yes, but not much more than last time. The nightmare was not as bad,” Damian said.
 
“See?” Nathaniel said.
 
“I don’t see why every problem is solved with sex.”
 
“Not every problem. Sometimes we have to kill people. Would you prefer that as a solution?” Nathaniel asked.
 
“No,” I said, sounding grumpy, even to myself.
 
“We’ll avert our eyes if you start having sex in the shower,” Bobby Lee said.
 
“I will not, for fear that I will look away at the wrong moment and Damian will harm them,” Kaazim said.
 
“It was a polite fiction, Kaazim, to make Anita feel better.”
 
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I spoil it?”
 
“Never mind,” I said.
 
Nathaniel started leading us both toward the bathroom again.
 
“Are you really planning on us having sex in the shower?” Damian asked, his voice low, though he knew that both shapeshifters would hear him; sometimes the illusion is all we have.
 
“Yes,” Nathaniel said.
 
“No,” I said.
 
“Good to know we’ve made a decision,” he said, managing to sound sarcastic and a little bit like he was laughing at himself.
 
“And if not the shower, I was thinking we clean up and then use the bed, but now we have way more audience and Anita won’t do it in front of Bobby Lee and Kaazim.”
 
Damian glanced back at the two guards. “I’m not that fond of being watched either.”
 
“I am, but I don’t think either of them are voyeurs, and the two of you won’t do it with them watching, so shower it is,” he said.
 
Damian touched the drying blood on his face. “Whatever we do, I want this off me first.”
 
“Don’t worry,” Nathaniel said. “Sex isn’t happening until we get cleaned up.”
 
“I haven’t agreed to sex happening at all,” I said.
 
“Clean first. Then we’ll see,” Nathaniel said, but he seemed way more cheerful about it than I was, or than Damian was for that matter. The vampire had gone strangely quiet once Nathaniel took his side of things. I wondered if Damian was worried that Nathaniel was after his virtue. He didn’t have to worry about that; I knew that Nathaniel would have popped his cherry ages ago if he’d thought Damian wanted it. I didn’t say that part out loud, but I might if Nathaniel kept pushing the whole sex thing.