You got glimpses of that full mouth, the glimmer of his other blue, blue eye. What he was careful not to show to the light was that a few inches past his eye, trailing in a line nearly to his mouth were scars. Rivulets of scars, where holy water had been poured on that most beautiful of faces. More scars ran down the right side of his body, hidden under the clothes.
The court reporter stared at him so still, as if she'd stopped breathing. Asher saw it and stiffened beside me. Perhaps because he knew that with a flick of his head he could show her the scars and watch that adoration turn to horror, or pity.
I touched his arm. "Let's go."
He walked towards my Jeep. Normally he sort of glided, as if vampire feet never rolled on gravel but floated just above it. Tonight he moved almost as heavily as a human.
Neither of us spoke until we were inside my Jeep. We had the privacy of the darkened car, no one would overhear us.
I buckled myself in while I talked, "What's happened?"
"Musette arrived an hour ago."
I put the Jeep in gear and began to drive carefully over the gravel around the still-parked police cars. I waved at Nicols as we went past, and he waved back, a cigarette flaring in his other hand.
"I thought we hadn't finished negotiating on how many people she could bring over with her."
"We had not." His voice held sorrow so thick you could have squeezed it out, tears in your cup. Jean-Claude's voice was better at sharing joy, seduction, but Asher was the master at sharing the darker emotions.
I glanced at him. He was staring straight ahead, his face very still, hiding whatever he was feeling. "Then didn't she break some treaty or law or something by invading our territory like this?"
He nodded, his hair sliding around his face, hiding himself from me. I hated to watch him hide his scars from me. I found him beautiful, scars and all, but he never quite believed me. I think he thought the attraction was part Jean-Claude's memories in my head, and part pity. There was no pity, but I couldn't deny Jean-Claude's memories. I was Jean-Claude's human servant, and that gave me all kinds of interesting side benefits. One of those benefits was getting glimpses of Jean-Claude's memories.
I remembered Asher's skin like cool silk on my fingertips, every inch of him flawless. But it was Jean-Claude's fingers that had done the touching, not mine. The fact that I remembered the touch of Asher's skin so strongly that even now, I had the urge to reach for his hand, just to see if the memory was real, was just one of those odd things I had to live with. Even if Jean-Claude had been in the car, he wouldn't have touched Asher either. It had been centuries since they'd been part of a menage a trois with Julianna, Asher's human servant. Julianna had been burned as a witch by the same people that had used holy water to cleanse Asher's evil. Jean-Claude had been able to save Asher, but he'd been too late for Julianna. Neither of the men had forgiven Jean-Claude for his tardiness.
"If Musette broke the law, can't we punish her, or kick her out of our territory?" I was at the edge of the cemetery now, watching for nonexistent traffic.
"If it were another master vampire come so rudely, then we would be within our rights to slay her, but it is Musette. As you are Bolverk for the werewolves, so Musette is Belle's . . ." He seemed to be searching for the word. "I do not know the word in English, but in French, Musette is the bourreau.She is our bogeyman, Anita, and she has been such for over six hundred years."
"Fine," I said, "she's scary, I accept that, but that doesn't change the fact that she's invaded our lands. If we let her get away with it, she'll try for more."
"Anita, it is more than that. She is the . . ." he seemed to grope for a word again. That he was forgetting this many English words spoke to how frightened he was. "The vaisseau-why can I not think of the English for it?"
"I am frightened," he said, "but Belle Morte has made Musette her vessel. To harm Musette is to harm Belle."
"Literally?" I asked, as I turned onto Mackenzie.
"Non,it is more like a courtesy than magic. She has given Musette her seal, her ring of office, which means Musette in effect speaks for Belle, we are forced to treat her as we would treat Belle Morte herself. This was most unexpected."
"What difference does this vaisseaumake?" I asked. We were stuck at the light on Watson, staring at the McDonald's and the Union Planters Bank.
"If Musette were not Belle's vessel, then we could punish her for coming early and breaking off negotiations. But if we punish her now, then it would mean that we would do the same to Belle if she came here."
"So? Why wouldn't we punish Belle for entering our territory so rudely, as you put it?"
Asher looked at me then, but I couldn't hold eye contact because the light had finally changed. "You do not understand what you are saying, Anita."
"Explain it to me then."
"Belle is our sourdre de sang,our fountainhead. She is our bloodline. We cannot harm her."
He looked at me full face, letting his hair fall back so that his whole face showed at last. I think he was too shocked at my question to worry about hiding himself.
"It is not done, that is all."
"What is not done? Defending your territory against all encroachers?"
"Attacking the head of your line, your sourdre de sang,your fountain of blood, it is just not done."
"And I say again, why not? Belle has insulted us. Not the other way around. Jean-Claude has negotiated in good faith. It's Musette that's been the bad little vampire. And if she comes with Belle's blessing, then Belle is abusing her status. She thinks we'll just take whatever she dishes out."
"Dishes out?" he made it a question.
"Whatever she does to us, she thinks we'll just take it, just suck it up and take it without complaining."
"She is right," Asher said.
I frowned at him, then turned, still frowning, back to the road. "Why? Why shouldn't we treat any threat or insult the same?"
He ran his hands through his thick hair, pulling it back from his face. The streetlights crisscrossed his face in light and shadow. We were stopped at another light with an SUV beside us so that their window was even with ours. The woman behind the wheel glanced at us, then did a double take. Her eyes went round, and Asher didn't notice. I looked at her and she looked away, embarrassed at being caught staring. Americans are taught not to stare at anything that isn't perfect. It's like to look at it is to make it more real. Ignore it, it'll go away.
Asher never noticed as the light changed and we drove off. He was exposing his face to strangers, and not noticing the effect it was having. No matter how angry, no matter how sad, no matter how anything, he never forgot the scars. They dominated his thoughts, his actions, his life. For him to forget like this said more than anything how serious the situation was, and I still didn't understand why.
"I don't understand, Asher. We defended ourselves when council members invaded our territory awhile back. We hurt them, did our best to kill them. Why is this different?"
He let go of his hair and swung it back into place like a curtain. I don't think he was any less upset, it was just habit. "Last time it was not Belle Morte."
"What difference does that make?"
"Mon Dieu,do you not understand what it means that Belle is the mother of our line?"
"Apparently I don't, explain it to me. We're going to the Circus of the Damned, right? It will take awhile to get there. You'll have time."
"Oui." He stared out the window of the Jeep, as if looking for inspiration in the electric lights, the strip malls, and fast food restaurants.
He finally turned to face me. "How do I explain to you what you have never understood? You have never had a king or queen, you are American and young, and you do not understand the duty owed a liege lord."
I shrugged. "I guess I don't."
"Then how can you understand what it is we owe Belle Morte, and how it would be . . . treason to raise a hand against her."
I shook my head. "That's a great theory, Asher, but I've dealt with enough vampire politics to know one thing. If we let her push us around, she'll see it as a sign of weakness, and she'll push and push until she sees how weak, or how strong we are."
"We are not at war with Belle Morte," he said.
"No, but if she thinks we are weak enough, that might be next. I've seen how you guys operate. The big vampire fish eat the little vampire fish. We can't afford for Musette or Belle to think we're little fish."