The night was clear and bright, and as I left the city proper behind, stars studded the sky like someone had spilled a bag of diamonds across the velvet of it. I felt surprisingly good. I wasn't sure why and didn't look at it too closely, just in case it was fragile, and too much poking would have broken the mood. I felt good, and I was going home, and I'd saved everyone I could, and killed everyone I could. I was out of it for the night.
There'd been enough dead females to account for Nadine and Nellie, the pair that had seduced Avery Seabrook. There'd even been an extra that could have been Gwenyth, Vittorio's sweetheart, but I thought it long odds that all three of them would just let us shoot them without much of a fight. By the standards I was used to, it hadn't been much of a fight. Not for what this group had been capable of. At least one of them, or more, should have tried to fly out a window, to escape. The sniper had had nothing to do tonight.
It wasn't until I was turning off onto 55 South that I realized the Circus of the Damned would have been much closer, and gotten me to bed sooner. Now it was too late, as long or longer to backtrack as go forward. But I wanted my own bed tonight. I wanted a certain stuffed toy penguin. I wanted Micah and Nathaniel, and right at that moment I didn't really want to see another vampire. It wasn't the vampire vics that made me not want to face another vampire tonight, it was my victims. It was the flash pictures in my head of the girl who'd begged for her life, and Jonah Cooper, and the silent crowd watching me at the church. I tried to hide behind the shield of the horrible things they'd done to the woman in the kitchen. It had been horrible. Once I'd justified it for myself, by thinking that I was the good guy, that there were things I wouldn't do, lines I wouldn't cross. Lately, the lines seemed blurry, or gone. I agreed with Mendez. You didn't shoot someone begging for their life, not if you were a good guy. But a lot of them begged. A lot of them were sorry, once they were looking down the wrong end of a gun. But they weren't sorry while they were killing people, torturing people, no, they were having a good time, until they got caught.
What got me tonight, was her saying, "He made us do it." Had he? Had Vittorio so controlled them that they could not disobey him? I knew from the fallout with the London vamps that we'd adopted that you were legally bound to follow your master, almost morally bound, because he was like your liege lord. But was it more than that? Could vampires make other vampires do things they did not want to do? I'd ask Jean-Claude, but not tonight. Tonight I was tired.
The highway stretched black and empty. My only company was a semi truck pulling some all-night load across the country off in the distance. The truck and I had the road to ourselves.
I was betting that wherever Vittorio was, that's where we'd find the women. The crime lab would check the dead vamps' DNA against the bite marks in the first few victims, and we'd know how many we'd missed. As far the St. Louis police were concerned, it was over. We'd executed most of them and chased the survivors out of town. Trouble was, serial killers don't stop killing, they just move on and start again somewhere else. Sergeant Hudson and his men were done with it, and they'd paid a high price to be done. But my badge said federal, which meant that I might not be done with Vittorio and his people. I pushed the thought away. For now we'd driven him and his surviving members out of town. That had to be enough, at least for tonight.
I was off the highway now, on the smooth, more narrow road that led farther into Jefferson County and my house. Trees blocked the view, so the stars seemed farther away. I pulled into my driveway and saw the faint shine of lights against the living room drapes. Micah or Nathaniel had waited up. It was after three A.M., and someone had waited up. I felt guilty, happy, and apprehensive. Nothing good had ever come of my father and Judith waiting up for me. I still wasn't completely used to living with anyone, so sometimes old reactions crept up, like I was seventeen again, and there was a light on. I told myself I was being silly, but this would be the first call-out like this one since Nathaniel had the right to make more demands on me. I wasn't sure, yet, what all of those demands might be. So I was a little nervous as I put my key in the door. Was I being silly? Only one way to find out.
They were sitting on the couch. I thought Nathaniel was asleep with his head in Micah's lap, but he turned as I came through the door, and I caught the flash of his eyes in the light from the television. A look of such na**d relief crossed Micah's face before he managed to hide it behind a smile. He was back to his usual smiling neutrality, back to making as few demands on me as possible, but I'd seen that first look. That look that said more than any words, that he'd wondered if he'd ever see me again. I hadn't kissed him good-bye. I had forgotten to call from the car, tell them the officer down-calls weren't me. The thought cut deep like some guilty knife.
Nathaniel got to me first, then slowed, before he actually touched me. The look on my face, maybe, or the fact that I just stood there halfway between the couch and the door. The look on his face was so disappointed. I got a flash of emotion from him. So sad. He thought I was drawing back, away, too scared to really be with him, with them. That wasn't what I was scared of.
You can't shoot someone from less than three feet away with a sawed-off and not get blowback. I had blood in my hair, on my arms. I'd gotten some of it with the wet wipes I kept in the car, but not all of it. I wasn't clean. If I'd been just a cop, and the dead woman just a human, then I'd have worried about blood-borne disease. She could have AIDS, or hepatitis, but she was a vampire, so she couldn't carry anything, unless you counted vampirism. Yeah, I guess that counted, but Nathaniel and Micah couldn't get that either. But maybe I could. If I killed humans, then I was in more danger from disease, but vamps were cleaner. It was too weird for me tonight, too much thinking.
"Anita, are you alright?" Micah asked, and got off the couch to move up beside Nathaniel.
I jerked out of reach. "I've got blood on me, other people's blood." I was shaking my head over and over. "God knows what I brought home with me."
"We can't catch anything," Nathaniel said, "not even a cold." He didn't look lost anymore, he looked worried.
"Blood can't hurt us," Micah said.
They were right. I was being silly about contagion, but... "Do you really want to touch me while I've still got the blood of my victims on me?"
"Yes," Nathaniel said, and moved to hug me.
I moved back, just enough that he stopped. I was afraid if I let them hug me that I would lose it. I would just sink into their arms and sob.
"Victims?" Micah said. "Anita, this doesn't sound like you." But he came with Nathaniel; he tried to hug me.
I moved back until the door hit me, and I was shaking my head. "If I let you hold me, I'm going to cry. Damn it, I hate to cry."
Micah gave me a look. "That's not it."
I closed my eyes and let the equipment bag fall to the floor. He was right, that wasn't it, not completely. I tried to be honest. I tried to say what I felt. "If I get any sympathy, I'm going to fall apart."
"Maybe that's what you need to do," Micah said, and he moved just a little closer, "maybe just for a little while, let us take care of you."
I kept shaking my head. "I'm afraid."
"Of what?" he asked, voice soft.
"Of letting go."
Micah touched my shoulder, gently. I didn't pull away. He moved slowly, gently, easing me away from the door, and into his arms. I stayed stiff and unyielding for a moment, then my breath came out in a long wavering line, and I let myself fold around him. My hands grabbed at his shirt, handfuls of cloth, as if I couldn't get close enough, or hold on hard enough. I wanted him naked, not for sex, though that would probably come, but because I just wanted as much of him pressed against as much of me as possible.
"I'll go run the bath," Nathaniel said.
I reached out for him, caught his shirt, and drew him into us. "I'm sorry," I said.
"What about?" he asked, and he and Micah exchanged a look.
The first tear squeezed out, traitorous bastard. My voice was almost steady when I said, "I didn't kiss you good-bye, either of you. I just drove off. I'm sorry."
They both kissed me, soft, chaste, a mere touch of lips. Micah brushed the tear off my cheek. "We understood." He looked at Nathaniel. "Run the bath."
"I'd rather have a shower and get to bed."