Page 55

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

"You have two stories that are perfect for this moment?" Domino said, and let the suspicion be thick in his voice.

"Hey, I'm in my fifties looking at sixty; you learn a thing or two just by surviving this long."

Domino smiled. "Okay, I get that."

"Some people are stupid and mean if they live to be seventy," Nicky said.

"Or a hundred and seventy," I said.

We all just nodded and agreed.

"But I'm not one of them, or I try not to be," Manny said, "and what happens tonight could mark this woman forever."

"You think I'm being stupid to not just say no."

"I think you're letting your guilt and fear override your common sense," Manny said.

"What he said," Domino said.

"And I think you need to let the woman decide for herself," Nicky said.

"You're a sociopath," Domino said. "You don't give a damn for her feelings, or how her life will turn out."

Nicky shrugged. "True, and not true."

"What's the not-true part?" Domino asked.

"I don't care for this particular girl's feelings, but she's older than any of us, except Manny."

"She's over thirty?" I asked.

"So what's your point?" Domino asked.

"She's thirty-four, that makes her old enough to decide for herself. Fucking a zombie no matter how alive"--and he made little quote marks with his fingers--"wouldn't be my idea of fun, but what if she spends her life pining for the dead guy, so what? She'll have had one night of absolutely Shakespearian-level tragic love, which is more than most people ever have."

"That is both one of the most cynical things I've ever heard, and the most romantic," Domino said.

"It can't be both cynical and romantic," I said.

"So, I'm a cynical romantic?" Nicky asked.

Domino seemed to think about it, and finally nodded. "Yeah."

Nicky grinned. "I like it."

I rolled eyes at both of them.

Manny looked thoughtful.

"What if you tell Justine everything you just told us, and Warrington, too?" I asked.

Manny raised his eyebrows. "Good idea, but she won't believe me. No one ever thinks they'll make the same mistakes everyone else does."

"All we can do is try."

"Besides, if she's a die-hard romantic she could build not having sex into this great love affair that never happened, and compare all the other guys she dates to that, and then the men really would be screwed, because the only thing harder to compete with than a tragic lost love is a tragic lost love that never actually happened. Fantasy is almost always better, to a certain kind of person, than the real thing."

We all looked at Nicky; even I was surprised. "Wow," Domino said, "that was like really smart."

"I thought sociopaths couldn't understand emotions," Manny said.

"Sociopaths spend their lives studying people, because we have to imitate things we don't understand, or feel, to blend in. It makes us some of the most observant people on the planet. We have to be or people figure out what we are, and I'm pretty sure centuries ago they killed us, or put us in charge of killing people."

Manny made a hmm face and said, "Okay, let's talk to Justine and Warrington."

"You know, you both call him by his name now," Nicky said.

Manny and I looked at each other. "Creepy, isn't it?" I said.

"Oh yes," he said, "very."

Manny and I went to give all the warnings to Justine and the zombie, knowing full well what she would decide. Sometimes you can't save people, and sometimes they don't want to be saved.

WE HADN'T COUNTED on Warrington's sense of honor. He didn't want to leave the only woman he had ever loved haunted like that. "Show her that I am a zombie," he said at last.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"If I am truly what you say I am, then shouldn't you be able to order me to do things and I will have no choice but to obey?"

"You get that from the Internet, too?"

"Yes," he said, with no hint that he'd heard the sarcasm. I guess he hadn't been exposed to modern culture long enough to know that people could lie, and frequently did, on the Internet. Of course, in this case it wasn't a lie; fancy that.

There was a tiny part of me that wondered if Warrington really had to obey me like other zombies. I think part of me was beginning to think of him as a person, and not undead, or at least not a zombie. Sometimes doubt can undo your abilities. It's like if you don't believe you can, you can't, or something like that.

I pushed the unhelpful thought away, and just believed. I wasn't just an animator; I was a necromancer, which was a whole new level of power. I'd raised the zombie, which meant I could control it, period.

I closed my eyes and breathed in and out, slowly, letting the tension, the doubts, everything slide down into the ground, away from me. Grounding, Marianne, witch and my metaphysical teacher, called it. You could air, instead of ground, but that usually needed wind for me to do it. Ground and center, she had said over and over, until it was almost automatic for me.

It was impressive as hell, but in the end I could feel what he was, and it wasn't alive. I had no idea how I'd brought this much of his personality back, but it didn't matter in the end. He wanted me to prove to Justine that he wasn't alive; I could do that.

I used what Nicky had started calling my command voice and said, "Thomas Warrington, come to me!" I held out my hand.

Justine shivered and held on to his arm. "Don't do it, Tom, don't go."

He frowned at her and then at me. "I seem to have a choice, Miss Blake."

I shook my head. "If I'm nice about it, you have some choice, but I don't have to be nice."

"I don't understand what you mean by that, Miss Blake."

Justine wrapped herself around him, hugging him tight, making him look down at her. "She may have raised you from the grave, but something else happened when we kissed for the first time. You get warmer every time I touch you."

"Romantic wishful thinking, Justine," I said.

She turned and looked at me, eyes a little wild. "No, no, it's not. His skin gets warmer every time we kiss, or hold hands. I'm not making it up." She went up on tiptoe and offered her lips to him.

He hesitated, looking at me. I nodded, and only then did he bend down to her. I didn't think he was a zombie looking for permission, but just Warrington wondering if it was still all right, with my magic creeping over their skin, because I knew he felt it, and her reaction let me know that Justine was feeling some touch of it.

They kissed and I looked with power, not my eyes. Energy flared between them so that his glow went from a

pale, almost invisible shine to a flare of scarlet. When they parted from the kiss his energy stayed brighter, and so did hers. It was as if she gained power from it, too, but then maybe we always do from love, or even lust. If we didn't gain shared energy it wouldn't be so addictive.

She turned to me. "See, see, he's more alive every time."

I couldn't even argue with her, because I'd seen it. "It doesn't matter," I said.

"We love each other! How can that not matter?" She walked toward me, and the moment she let go of his hand his energy faded again. Whatever was happening between them was temporary.

"Take his hand again," I said.

"Take her hand in yours, Tom."

He reached out and did what I asked, but again I didn't think it was because he was obeying me; he wanted to touch her. His energy sparked again, not as much as it had when they kissed, but it was there. He was gaining something from her.

"Let go of her hand and shake hands with Mr. MacDougal."

He hesitated, but let Justine go and reached out to the other man. MacDougal hesitated, too, but shook hands with him. Warrington's energy brightened, not as much as it had with Justine, but it was there, a little boost. That was very interesting and totally shouldn't have been happening. Zombies didn't care if you touched them, but then normal zombies didn't care about anything; they just obeyed orders, or answered questions when asked. Whatever kind Warrington was, it was something different, maybe something new. I wondered if anyone else had raised a zombie that gained energy from human contact. I knew a few animators in the business that I trusted enough to ask, but that was for another night. Tonight had enough weird without borrowing.

"You can stop shaking hands; thank you both."

"See, see, you thanked them both, even you think Tom is a person."

I looked at the woman and understood some of the demand on her face, in the tension of her body, her hands caught somewhere between fists and claws ready to scratch. I wondered if she even knew that she was getting ready for a fight; probably not. Fight-or-flight can affect people oddly, if they're not used to the reaction.