And I was back in his office, with my blood drying on my body, and my breast beginning to ache, and I was crying.
He stared at me, dry eyed, and he expected me to run. To turn away, and run. Like I had so many times in the past. Nothing was pretty enough for me, nice enough, clean enough. I didn't like messy people in my life, and once that had been true, until I woke up one day and realized that I was one of the messy people.
My voice was steady, and didn't sound like I could have tears drying on my face. "I used to think I knew what was right and what was wrong, and who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are. Then the world got very gray, and I didn't know anything for a long time."
He just looked at me, his face closing down, hiding from me, because he was certain where I was going, what I would say.
"There are days, hell weeks, when I still don't know anything. I've been pushed so far outside what I thought was right and wrong, that some days I don't know my way back. I've done things in the name of justice, in the name of my version of justice, that I wouldn't want anyone to know. I can look a man in the eyes and kill him, and I feel nothing. Nothing, Jean-Claude, nothing. You didn't mean to kill, and you felt bad about it."
"You take life to protect life, ma petite. I have taken lives for pleasure, for the pleasure of she whom I served." He shook his head and slowly drew his knees into his chest, hugging himself tight. "Did you ever wonder why I did not replace the vampires that you and Edward, and even I later, killed, when we destroyed Nikolaos?"
"I hadn't really thought about it," I said. "I know we're suddenly lousy with vamps when we seemed a little empty before."
"I called vampires home to me, because I had taken them long ago. But I have not made a new vampire since I became Master of the City. It had kept us dangerously low. If we had truly had another territory's master declare full war, we would have lost. We simply lacked the manpower."
"So why not make more?" I asked, because he seemed to want me to ask.
He looked at me, and there was something in his eyes that reminded me of someone else. It was a look of pain and confusion, and centuries of hurt. I'd never seen his eyes so raw, so human. "Because, to make them vampire, I must first take away their mortality, their humanity. Who am I to do that, ma petite? Who am I to decide who will live on, and who will die in their appointed time?"
"Who are you to play God?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, "yes, who am I to know what it will change. Belle used to use our power to change countries, wars, who ruled, who was assassinated. There was a time when she ruled more of Europe secretly than anyone knew, even among the vampire council itself. She killed millions through war, and famine. Not by her hand, but by her choices."
"What stopped her?"
"The French Revolution, and two world wars. Even death itself must bow before such wanton destruction. Now the council rides tighter rein on its members. The time when any in Europe could build such a secret power structure is finished."
"Glad to hear it," I said.
"What if I take someone and make them as I am, and that person would have cured cancer, or invented some great thing. Vampires invent nothing, ma petite, we are consumed by death and pleasure, and senseless power struggles. We seek money, comfort, safety."
"So do most people."
He shook his head. "But not all, and my kind are attracted to those who hold power, or wealth, or are unusual in some way. A beautiful voice, a gift of artistry, of mind, or charm. We do not take the weak, as most predators do, we take the best. The brightest, the loveliest, the strongest. How many lives have we destroyed over the centuries that could have made some wonderful, or terrible, difference to humanity, to the world at large."
I looked at him, and not that long ago I would have distrusted this sharing. But I could feel him in my head. I worried about whether I was a monster. Jean-Claude knew for certain. He did not regret what he was, for he could not imagine another life, but he worried about others. He worried about making the choice for others. He worried about playing some dark god. He worried that one day he would become that which he ran from. One day, he would become a version of Belle Morte.
What do you do when you are suddenly able to see that far into someone's darkest fears? What do you say to that much truth about someone else? I said the only thing I could think of, the only thing that would give him any comfort. "You'll never become like Belle Morte. You'll never become as evil as that."
"How can you be certain of that?" he asked.
"Because I'll kill you before I let that happen," and my voice was soft when I said it, because it wasn't a lie.
"Kill me to save me from myself," he said, and he tried to make light of it, and failed.
"No, kill you to save everybody else you'd destroy." My voice wasn't soft anymore.
"Even if it destroys you at the same time?"
"Even if it drags our tortured Richard down with us?"
"Yes," I said.
"Even if it cost Damian his life?"
I nodded. "Yes."
"Even if Nathaniel died with us?"
I stopped breathing for a second, and time seemed to do one of those stretches where you have all the time in the world, and none of it. My breath came out shaky, and I had to lick my lips, before I said, "Yes, on one condition."
"And that would be?" he asked.
"That I could guarantee that I wouldn't survive it either."
He looked at me, and it was a long, long look. A look that weighed me down to my soul, and I realized that in a way, that's exactly what he'd done years ago.
"You told me once that I'm your conscience, but that's not all I am, is it?"
"What do you mean, ma petite?"
"I'm your fail-safe. I'm your judge, your jury, and your executioner if things go wrong."
"Not things, ma petite, me. If I go wrong." There was a peacefulness in his eyes, as if some weight had gone from his shoulders. I knew exactly where that weight had gone.
"You bastard. I'd have been happy to kill you once, but not now. Not now."
"If it is too much to ask, then consider it unasked, unsaid."
"No, you bastard, don't you understand? If you do go mad and start slaughtering the innocent, I am exactly who they will send. I am the Executioner." I stared at him.
"But, ma petite, you were always the one they would send. You have always been the Executioner."
I got to my feet. My knees weren't weak anymore. "But I've never been in love with someone I had to kill before."
"But you have told me that your love for me would not stop you from doing your duty."
My eyes burned. "No, it won't. If you go bad, I'll do my duty." I closed my eyes, and shook my head. "You Machiavellian bastard, I would have killed your ass without being in love with you."
"I did not want you to love me because you would be my fail-safe, as you put it. I wanted you to love me, because I was in love with you." His voice was close, and when I opened my eyes he was standing in front of me. "It is only lately that I have worried that you were so besotted with me that you might forgive me crimes in this lifetime, now."
I shook my head. "No, no."
"I had to know, ma petite."
"Don't call me that, not right now."
He took a deep breath and let it out. "Anita, I am sorry. I would not cause you pain, not deliberately."
"Then couldn't this conversation have waited until the afterglow faded?"
"No," he said, "I had to know if you loved me more than your sense of justice."
I swallowed hard. I would not cry, I would not f**king cry. "I could not love thee, dear, so much, Loved I not honor more."
He took my hands, and I almost jerked away, but I made myself stand there and let him touch me. I was so angry, so pissed, so...
"Tell me not, sweet, I am unkind," he said, "That from the nunnery, Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind."
I looked up at him, and said the next line, "To war and arms I fly."
"True, a new mistress now I chase," he said.
"The first foe in the field," I said, and let him draw me closer.
"And with a stronger faith embrace," he said.
"A sword, a horse, a shield." And the last word was whispered against his chest, still looking up into those eyes, searching his face.