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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:00:51

"You are his master, ma petite; you could have ordered him to live in the dorms."

I glared at him. "I don't want to order people how to live their lives, I just want them to live their lives and leave me the fuck alone!"

"You mean you want Cynric to live his life somewhere else and leave you alone," Micah said.

I thought about it, and then nodded. My voice was calm when I said, "Yes, yes."

"Because he's only nineteen and I'm thirty-one. Because he and I raped each other when he was only sixteen. Because he was a virgin and no one should lose their virginity in a metaphysical orgy orchestrated by one of the most evil powers I've ever felt. Because every time I see Cynric I think about Her, about that evil bastard who raped us both!"

I stood there in the strangely loud silence with my own words echoing inside my head.

Micah and Jean-Claude looked at me. Jean-Claude's expression was as empty and perfect as any I'd ever seen on his face; hiding his emotions in an instant, a trick that had helped him survive in the seat of vampire power for centuries. Micah's face showed pain, compassion, and finally as many emotions as Jean-Claude showed none.

"Well, fuck," I said, softly.

Micah stood up and started to hug me, but I put my hand out and backed up.

I wanted him to hold me, but I knew if he did I might break down and I didn't want that. I wanted to think, or try to think. But of course, I couldn't think; all I could do was resonate with the clue-by-four that had fallen out of my mouth. I was like a bell that had been struck and the sound was still vibrating through me. I felt the shock of it down to my fingertips, as if I'd been physically struck and I couldn't catch my breath.

Micah reached out to me, then let his hands fall back to his sides. "Anita, what can we do?"

I opened my mouth, closed it, and then shook my head. There was nothing they could do, nothing that anyone could do; it was done. We couldn't fix it, because we couldn't change it; all we could do was move forward from here. I just wasn't as sure where "here" was anymore.

"Fuck," I said softly.

Micah approached me again, slower this time, no sudden movements, the way you act around a spooked horse. They are very large, powerful animals and you don't want them scared enough to lash out and hurt you, or themselves. I half expected Micah to start saying, Easy, easy.

When I didn't tell him to stop he kept approaching me, until he could lay a hand on my shoulder. I didn't push him away this time. I just sort of stood there and let him come closer. I was staring somewhere in the middle distance as if I were seeing another room, one in Las Vegas, three years ago.

Did I feel like a victim? No, but . . . but . . . something.

Micah hugged me gently, carefully, and I let him hold me. I didn't hug him back, but I didn't stay stiff; my body relaxed against him, but my arms just hung there while I thought my way through it all.

My voice sounded hoarse and not quite like me when I said, "I haven't let any of the men from Vegas get too close to me. I've kept Crispin and Domino out of the main part of my life. I've pushed them as far as they could go without sending them back to Vegas."

"Yes," Micah said, softly.

I put my arms around him slowly, almost reluctantly, and then I held him tight. "Except Cynric," I said.

"Yes," he said, and started rubbing my back in those slow, useless circles that you do.

"I blame them all for what happened, don't I?"

"I don't think you blame them, but I think it's exactly what you said, they remind you of it. Looking at them every day means you can never forget what happened."

"I don't even remember most of the sex. Why would it bother me if I don't remember?"

Jean-Claude was at our side. He laid his hand very carefully on my hair, as if afraid I'd tell him to stop touching me, and when I didn't he started stroking my hair. "Somewhere in this wonderful mind of yours you remember what happened, and if your mind does not, your body does. It's as if the very cells of the skin itself absorb some memories too painful to carry in the brain."

I turned my head, and he had to move his hand so I could look at his face. "That sounds like experience talking."

"You have shared some of my memories, ma petite; you know that I have my own share of horrors to overcome."

"Is this a horror?" I asked.

He cupped the side of my face and studied me for a moment. Micah just kept holding me. "Ma petite, one person's pleasure is another's horror, and one person's 'no big deal'"--he shrugged and made one-handed air quotes--"can be another's trauma."

"I've been through worse . . . horrors," I said.

"Perhaps, or perhaps this bothered you more than the things that you see as more horrifying?"

"Why? Why this? I've waded through blood and body parts, and just kept moving. This was nothing in the grand scheme of things. No one died but the bad guys."

Micah spoke with his face against my hair, so I could feel the warmth of his breath against my ear. "Anita, you were drugged and possessed by what amounted to a demon; that's pretty traumatic."

I pulled back enough to look at his face. "They were big bad vampires, the Mother of All Darkness, and Vittorio, the Father of the Day, but they weren't demons. If you'd ever been around real demons you wouldn't use the word for anything else."

He smiled, sort of sad. "I keep forgetting how much you've seen. I'm sorry, you're very right, I shouldn't use the word if I don't understand what it means."

I pulled away from him, from both of them, and then reached out to them and took their hands in mine. I held on to their hands, but I didn't want to be held so close. I wanted to think and I couldn't always do that in their arms; they tended to distract me in so many ways.

"They were battling each other; I was just a tool to be used, or discarded. We were all just tools like you'd pick up a gun to shoot your enemy, but you don't worry about the gun having feelings, or being able to love. It's just a piece of metal. You pull the trigger and it does its job, sort of like being a vampire executioner. I get a warrant of execution and they aim me at the rogue preternatural citizen; I hunt them down and execute my warrant. I'm just a weapon. You aim me at something, and I kill it; it's what I do, it's who I am."

Micah squeezed my hand and pulled me enough to get me to look at him. "That is not all you are, Anita. When I met you, you were already more than that."

Jean-Claude raised my hand and laid a gentle kiss across the knuckles.

"I don't remember the last time you kissed my hand."

He rose and said, "Perhaps when I was not allowed to kiss your lips. There was a time when you were a weapon to be aimed and used, but that was years ago, ma petite. You have forged yourself a family, friends, a life, and it is a good one, one that makes us all so very happy."

I nodded, and knew they were both right. "They tried to make me just a thing, something to be used and thrown away, or possessed so completely that I would have disappeared. Marmee Noir wanted to take over my body, and I would have ceased to be me."

"But you slew her, ma petite."

I kept nodding. "Yes."

"And from the stories that everyone told when you got back, if you hadn't had Domino at the end, the Mother of All Darkness might have won instead," Micah said.

I blinked and looked at him. I remembered reaching out in the fight, when I was drowning in the darkness that was her, and finding Domino's hand to hold, his power of white and black tiger completely the power I needed.

"She meant to use you both like pawns, but you turned yourself into a queen, and made Domino your knight, and destroyed her."

The Mother of All Darkness had been the night given form, and she had done her best to take me over and make me into a meat puppet for her spirit to inhabit. When that hadn't worked, she'd tried to get me pregnant by one of the cat lycanthropes that she could control. She'd been willing to wait until the baby grew old enough and then she'd have moved in, but none of it had worked out.

Hired assassins had blown up her last body with modern bombs and fire, and that cleanses everything, even her, but her spirit escaped and left her shell behind. How do you kill something that is untouchable, just floating from body to body? By making it stay in one place long enough, inside one person long enough, to kill it. I hadn't done it on purpose, but she had wanted me so badly that I'd been bait enough to make her linger.

She had tried to pour thousands of years of darkness into me, and in the end I had used the vampire powers I'd gained, partly through her meddling, to drink her down. It was like drowning in a night-black sea, but instead of fighting to breathe the air I'd let myself sink and bet that I could drink the ocean faster than it could drown me. I was losing when Domino's hand had reached into that darkness and grabbed me, given me his energy to help tip the balance. Domino and Ethan, who had been the newest weretiger of all, had carried every genetic line that had belonged to the tiger clans, and it had been enough to save me and help destroy the Mother of All Darkness.

"Domino without Ethan wouldn't have been enough; it took both of them with their mixed heritage to save me," I said.

"Oui, if Ethan had not held the bloodlines of red, gold, and blue tiger clans, then the white and black of Domino would not have been enough, but the point stands, ma petite. You had the power of the tiger clans at that moment, that singular moment that the tigers had been prophesying about for over two thousand years."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm supposed to save everybody from the great bad thing, because I'm the Queen of Tigers."

"But it worked exactly as the prophecy predicted, ma petite; without the weretigers you could not have prevailed, and without you to harness their power they could not have killed their dark nemesis."

I'd have argued with the term dark nemesis, but it was too damned accurate. If the Mother of All Darkness and Vittorio hadn't forced us together, I'd be worse than dead now. I'd be trapped inside my own body, watching her use it to do terrible things. She had been a necromancer like me, but a thousand times more powerful. She could have raised an army of the walking dead to do her bidding. I wondered if she could have done what I had seen on the FBI tapes. Could Marmee Noir have put someone's soul back in their zombie corpse? I didn't think so; I was almost certain that required voodoo, which she hadn't known, but I wouldn't have put anything past her. Thinking about the case steadied me, helped me remember who I was, what I was, and that I was no one's victim. I had survived, and they were dead; if anyone was anyone's victim, they were mine.