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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:06

"Everyone thinks that about the people they love," I said. "Trust me, supernatural hungers don't care about emotions."

She hugged him tighter. "I don't believe that."

"Why is a vampire able to control his craving for blood enough to be a legal citizen, but zombies cannot?" Warrington asked.

"Zombies eat the flesh of living, screaming bodies. Vampires sip a little blood from two fang marks. They can't even drink enough blood at one sitting to kill a person. Zombies seem to consume more than a human stomach can hold at just one sitting, and before you ask, no one knows how that works. Zombies seem to have lost that part of us that lets us know we're full."

"Like that one genetic disorder?" Bob the camera guy asked.

I nodded. "Yeah, Prader-Willi syndrome. Zombies are eating the living, but same principle."

"How did you know about Prader-Willi syndrome?" MacDougal asked.

"I know things," Bob said.

MacDougal and even Justine looked at him.

He looked a little embarrassed and said, "CSI had an episode about it."

MacDougal nodded as if that he believed. "Is there no cure for this hunger?"

"For zombies, eating the flesh of the living cures it until the hunger hits again, but I don't think Warrington wants to start eating people."

"No, I do not. It is not a choice that any man should have to make."

Maybe it was just a longer way of saying no, but something in the phrasing made me look at him. He met my eyes, and when I said, "Can I have a few minutes in private, Mr. Warrington?" he nodded.

Justine had a death grip on his arm. "Whatever you have to say to Tom, you can say to me." She was pretty much repeating his own words from inside the restaurant back to me, but this time he patted her arm and said, "Miss Justine, there are some topics that aren't meant for a lady. Ms. Blake here has seen things that most grown men couldn't have handled from what I saw on the . . . Inter . . . web. I'd rather we just talk soldier to soldier for a few minutes."

She protested, but in the end she let him put her in the girl box, and we stepped away from the others. Nicky started to follow, and I shook my head. Manny gave me a look that offered to come with, but I shook my head at him, too. I was hoping that Warrington would be more honest with just me, and I needed honest right now.

I put him so his back was to the group so they couldn't see his face. I was sure I could control my expression, but if he looked stricken then Justine would hound him for why he was emotional, and that wouldn't go well for either of them.

"It's just us, Mr. Warrington, so I'll ask the question and you'll be honest with me."

"I will do my best," he said, his slight southern drawl coming out under stress. The fact that this stressed him more than waking up as a zombie said something about the topic.

"Did you consume human flesh when you were alive?"

"We were trapped in the mountains by an early blizzard that blocked the pass, and then true winter fell upon us. I was young and inexperienced, and it was only after we were well and truly trapped that the senior officer admitted that we had started too late. He thought we could make it out before snow, but that once we were delayed we were there until they found us in the spring. We were able to trap and hunt meat for a time, and we had melted snow to drink, but in the end the animals fled the heights and it was just our small group up on the mountain."

I watched his face, though he'd looked away into the distance so he wouldn't have to see the look on mine. I gave him blank cop face, because I'd learned that people will tell you their horrors, but you can't be horrified by it. You have to be their blank witness, because what they fear most is that you will see them as monsters, or broken, if you know the deepest, darkest stuff in them. I tried to make sure that this man I'd called from the grave wouldn't feel more of a monster than I'd already made him.

He was quiet so long I had to prompt him. "What happened then, Mr. Warrington?"

"We ran out of food, and the snow was ceaseless. It was like being buried alive." He laughed then, but it had more bitterness in it than sweetness. "And then Charlie died. We put him out in the snow to preserve him, but some predator that we'd missed in our hunting found him, dug him up, and ate part of him." He looked at me then. "Have you ever been hungry, Ms. Blake?"

"If you mean starving, then no."

"That is a blessing for you, then."

"I'd known hunger as a child, but not like this. My stomach didn't hurt anymore, there was no ache of emptiness. It was almost peaceful. We were starting to sleep whenever we stopped moving; even talking became too much. We'd be talking to each other and suddenly drift off in midsentence. It was as if we were already partially dead and the sleep was merely a preview, but then we saw Charlie all torn up and . . ."

"You saw meat," I said.

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He wiped a hand across his face, the broad shoulders rounding, and I realized he was crying softly, silently, so that he could only nod. He finally mumbled, "God forgive us. God forgive me."

I almost said what I was thinking, which was, You've already died once; whatever God thought of your actions has already been decided, but I didn't. I so did not want to have a discussion about theology with someone I was going to put back in his grave tonight, because if his soul was here in him, then had I just dragged him out of heaven, or rescued him from hell? Or, if you believe in reincarnation, how could I possibly have ripped him out of whatever body he was currently incarnated in? It was all beyond my pay grade as a Christian. I needed to sit down with my priest and see if he was open-minded enough to talk about it. Or someone's priest. There had to be some clergy somewhere that I could talk with about all this. I prayed that I'd find the right person to discuss things with, and added an extra prayer that I'd be able to do the right thing by the man, or zombie, standing in front of me.

He was looking at me now with tears still wet on his face. "Your silence speaks volumes, Ms. Blake. I understand your disgust with me."

"It's not that, Mr. Warrington; I'm just thinking about other things a little too hard."

"You do not have to save my feelings, Ms. Blake. I deserve whatever you think of me."

"It's not my job to judge your ethics, Mr. Warrington. I have too many skeletons in my own past to be high and mighty about anyone. I've never been that hungry in my life; who am I to judge you?"

"You are very understanding, Ms. Blake. I am most grateful."

I shrugged. "I do my best."

"I believe that you do."

I smiled. "You described yourself as ravenous right now, Mr. Warrington. How does that compare to the hunger you experienced in the mountains that awful winter?"

He thought seriously before answering, which I appreciated. "I feel empty. My stomach is beginning to hurt, with that ache you get when you've gone too long without eating. It's early stages, but I shouldn't be feeling this way with everything I ate tonight."

"You threw all of it up," I said.

He shook his head. "It's not the same thing as going hungry, Ms. Blake. My body should know it ate tonight, and it doesn't seem to have counted any of that good grub I just had."

"I'm afraid that there may only be one kind of food that fills the needs of your body now, Mr. Warrington."

"You mean human flesh," he said, voice serious and low.

I nodded. "I'm afraid so."

He frowned just enough to wrinkle the skin between his eyes. "Do you think it's because I ate it in life that I've risen like this?"

"Honestly, I'm not sure, but I think so."

He smiled at me, the tears still drying on his face. "Thank you for admitting that you don't know for certain. I do appreciate that level of honesty."

I shrugged again. "I think you deserve it."

"You feel guilty about me for some reason."

I nodded, not even arguing that he was right. "I think I shouldn't have slaughtered the cow to raise you. I think it helped boost my power too much and here you are so

very . . . alive-ish."

"If I had been able to keep my food down and eat like a man, would you still have to put me back in the ground?"

"I don't know; technically yes, but honestly, I don't know. It doesn't matter now."

"Because I can't eat food like a man and I'm still hungry, so very hungry."

"You have to put me back before I try to hurt anyone, Ms. Blake."

He nodded, then straightened his spine all the way up, so his posture was military straight. He tugged the T-shirt down as if it were a suit coat. "Do I need my old clothes before we do this?"

"Again, honestly I don't know."

"Better safe than sorry," he said.

"Yeah, let's get your clothes."

"They put them through a dry . . . cleaner."

"I'll have MacDougal call and see if we can pick them up."

"If they aren't ready to go?"

"One problem at a time."