Underneath those stoic bodyguard faces I saw worry. But I didn't need their faces to tell me; I could feel it. It wasn't Marmee Noir, or Belle Morte. It was the vampires we'd invited to town. I wasn't sure what they were doing, but whatever it was, it was powerful.
Jason and Nathaniel shivered on either side of me. "What the hell are they doing up there?" Jason whispered.
"I don't know," I said, "but we're going to find out." I started up the stairs on Nathaniel's arm, with Jason's hand in mine. Normally, I'd have tried not to hold on to too many men at once in public, but the hell with it. One, we all needed the comfort. Two, my reputation couldn't get any more trashed than it already was.
OUTSIDE THE CURTAINS to the seats, I had to let go of Jason's hand so he could go back to Asher's box. I didn't want to let go of him. I wanted to wrap both him and Nathaniel around me like a security blanket. I put my arm around Nathaniel's waist, tucking myself in under his arm. He hugged me, and whispered against my hair. "You all right?"
I nodded. Jason would have called me a liar, but Nathaniel just accepted it. He might not believe me, but he wouldn't call me on it. Nathaniel parted the curtains. The music swelled around us and the world was suddenly golden. The air sparkled with glitter. Out of that scintillating cloud a vampire floated. It was Adonis, the vamp who had almost rolled me with his gaze earlier. His costume had changed to a ballet version of 1700s dress, which meant: fairly accurate from the waist up, and tights from the waist down. I'd seen vampires fly before, but not like this. He hung in the air as if he could have hung there forever. Other vampires appeared out of the glitter, hanging in the air as if they'd been pinned there. Adonis hovered just outside our box, so close I could see his blond curls moving in the wind. What wind? The wind of his own magic.
Jean-Claude and Damian turned from that vision to look at me. Jean-Claude let me see a moment of relief in his eyes, before his face became the blank, perfect mask that he would wear for the public tonight. Damian reached out for me. I gave him my free hand, without thinking that I was touching Nathaniel, too. It was as if his touch completed a circuit. It wasn't just a leap of energy, it was a feeling of deep contentment. It was like suddenly being wrapped in a warm electric blanket. It felt so good. I couldn't think of anything I wanted more than to wrap them both around me and sleep. I just knew that it would be healing and exactly what I needed. Not all psychic flashes are ambiguous, or hard to interpret. Some of them are crystal clear. Problem is, they always seem to come when you can't possibly act on them. Looking at the vampires spinning and diving through the falling glitter, somehow a nap didn't seem likely.
I took my seat beside Jean-Claude, and Nathaniel went to the seat on the other side of Damian, where Micah had started the evening. But to get everyone sitting down, I had to let go of Nathaniel. It was almost wrenching to let go of him, like giving up a shield when you know you're about to go into battle. No, not that, Nathaniel wasn't my shield. He was my warmth on a cold night. He was what kept me safe and sane. Well, not always safe. Safety lay elsewhere. I squeezed Damian's hand, and let go of it. There, it didn't feel so bad not to be touching Nathaniel. For some reason giving up them both was easier than giving up just one of them.
I took Jean-Claude's hand, and that was safety. That was armor in the face of battle. There was love there, too, but Jean-Claude sought power more than safety. Just touching his hand energized me. I wasn't thinking nap now, I was thinking battle. It was the difference between a soldier and a general. One sleeps when he can, the other has to be preparing for the next conflict.
The glitter had fallen down, so that the vampires were revealed in all their grace. They danced in the air. They held their places, and danced. Damian leaned in and whispered, "Do you have any idea how much strength it takes to do what they're doing?"
I shook my head.
Jean-Claude leaned in and gave the barest whisper. "To fight gravity, and your own body's desire to touch earth; it is impressive." He squeezed my hand a little tighter, as if watching the dozen vampires dance in their perfect, solid circle was exciting, or nerve-racking. I was too insecure to drop shields and check for sure. So much had already gone wrong tonight that caution seemed smarter.
Nathaniel was leaning forward in his seat. His face was rapturous. I glanced at our other box. Micah gave me a smile and I gave one back. But it was Jason who caught my eye. He was sitting on the edge of his chair like Nathaniel. They wore almost identical entranced looks. Not entranced by vampire powers, but by the beauty and strength of the dancers. I realized that I'd taken away from the performance the two people in our group who would have appreciated the dancing most. They both had dance training. They both danced for a living. Yeah, they took their clothes off while they did it, but Jean-Claude had insisted that all his dancers have some training. You couldn't just shake your booty on stage at Guilty Pleasures. Jason and Nathaniel were the two that had taken to the dancing most. They were the ones who helped the other dancers work up new acts. And I'd taken them away from the dancing. The looks on their faces made me regret that. Among all the regrets tonight, that was another.
Asher was very still, watching the show. It was a stillness that a stranger wouldn't recognize, but he wasn't a stranger to me. He was as enraptured by the show as the boys. He just had several hundred years of cool, and wouldn't let it show that much.
The music changed, and the vampires hesitated. They pretended not to know what was coming next. They were close enough to us that I could see their expressions of surprise, as they turned one by one, or two by two, to look at the stage below them.
A woman stepped on stage, dressed in one of those long white gossamer dresses. I would have said the dress floated around her as she tiptoed on stage, but compared to the vampires, it didn't quite float. But it was delicate, and she was lovely. Her hair was long and shining brown, tied back in a high ponytail. The hair moved with her like an extension of her body as she danced, slowly, tentatively across the stage. It reminded me of what Nathaniel did with his hair on stage some nights. Not the same kind of dance, but the same awareness of the hair as an extension of the dance.
She was young, as in not long dead. I whispered against Jean-Claude's hair, "Is she supposed to be human?"
She was fresh enough that once upon a time, I might have believed the illusion, but that was long ago, and I knew vampire when I saw it.
The vampires above us began to circle downward, the way vultures will when they decide that the thing on the ground is finally dead.
One of the female vamps landed, lightly, on the stage. She had hair almost as dark as mine, but how much of all those curls were real and how much a wig, I couldn't tell. She went up on her toe shoes, as the girl did. They mirrored each other from across the stage. The girl held her hands out, beseeching, asking a question, or wanting something. The dark-haired vampire mimicked her, made fun of her. It was amazingly well done. Sometimes the ballet leaves me confused, but there was no confusion here. The human was asking for help, and the vampire wasn't going to give it.
Another female vamp touched down, brown hair this time, then a blonde. The three vamps linked arms and danced across the stage. The girl went to her knees, begging with graceful arms. She was wearing more base than the rest; it gave her a rosier skin tone, made her look alive.
Three male vampires alit upon the stage. They joined the dancing women, linked hands, boy, girl, boy, girl. The girl in white continued to beseech them. They laughed at her, and broke into couples. They danced around her. The men were able to do amazing leaps, and carry the weight of the women as if it truly were nothing. The leaps were amazing, but after seeing them fly, it just didn't impress. Once you've seen someone fly, what's a little grand jeté?
They began to circle around her, close and closer. She finally realized her danger, and began to try to run, but the circle had closed. They would grab her and throw her back into the middle. She fell like white and brown water, spilling all that hair like a shining cloak across the white dress. The vampires began to dance close and closer, the circle tightening in graceful, flowing movements, but tightening all the same.
There was movement above us. I had forgotten that there were vampires still hovering in the air. They had risen to the ceiling, using it like a rear stage area, but now they dropped delicately to the stage, and suddenly you realized that the vampires in the circle were nothing. The dancers who hit the stage now rolled power outward like a trembling line of cold. So cold, it almost burned. They stalked across the stage, in a rolling predatory dance that made me afraid for her. Silly. I knew they'd done this act across the country. I even knew that she was already dead, but still my body reacted to the menace in their movements.