Something white appeared in the doorway. It took me a second to figure out what it was. A white handkerchief tied to a stick.
"What the f**k is that?" I asked.
"A flag of truce, ma petite."
I didn't look away from the stairs to that thick, honey-dipped voice. Jean-Claude sounded better, or worse, than ever, each word like fur rubbing along my tired body. His voice was thick enough to wrap around all the aches and pains. He could make them go away. I just knew it.
I swallowed and lowered the gun towards the floor. "Stay the f**k out of my head."
"My apologies, ma petite. I can taste you in my mouth, feel your frantic heartbeat like a treasured memory. I will curb my enthusiasm, but with effort, Anita, with great effort." He sounded like I had let him have just a little sex, and he wanted more.
I glanced at him. He was sitting beside Jason's half-naked body. Jason was staring at the ceiling, eyes heavy-lidded like he was half-asleep. Blood trickled from two new puncture wounds in his neck. He didn't look like he'd felt much pain. In fact, it looked like it had felt good. I'd taken the edge off Jean-Claude's need, and Jason had gotten a smoother ride. Bully for him.
"May we talk?" A voice from the hallway, a man's. I couldn't place it. Hell, I was having trouble focusing on anything, let alone who the disembodied voices belonged to.
"Anita, what do you want me to do?" Larry asked.
"It's a flag of truce," I said. My words felt slurred, though they sounded clear enough. I felt almost drunk, or drugged. It was a bad drunk, a dangerous downer.
Magnus stepped into the doorway. For a second I thought I was seeing things. It was so damned unexpected. He was dressed all in white from his tux to his shoes. The cloth seemed to shine against his dark skin. His long hair was tied back with a loose white ribbon. He had the handkerchief-coated stick gripped in one hand. He walked down the steps in a graceful, almost dancelike movement. It wasn't a vampire's glide, but it was close.
Larry kept his gun trained on him. "Stay where you are," Larry said. He sounded a little scared, but like he meant it. The gun was pointed nice and steady.
"We've discussed the fact that silver bullets don't work on the fey."
"Who says this gun has silver bullets?" Larry said.
It was a good lie. I was proud of him. I was certainly too gone to have thought of it.
"Anita?" Magnus looked past Larry like he wasn't there, but he didn't come down those last few steps.
"I'd do what he says, Magnus. Now what do you want?"
Magnus smiled and spread his arms away from his body. To show he was unarmed, I guess. But I knew, and Larry knew, that weapons weren't what made him dangerous. "I mean you no harm. We know that Ivy broke the truce first. Serephina offers her most sincere apologies. She asks that you come directly to her audience chamber. No more tests. We have all been unforgivably rude to a visiting master."
"Do we believe him?" I asked of no one in particular.
"He speaks the truth," Jean-Claude said.
Great. "Let him pass, Larry."
"You sure that's a good idea?"
"No, but do it anyway."
Larry pointed his gun at the floor, but he didn't look happy. Magnus walked down the stairs, smiling, mostly at Larry. He walked past him and made a show of giving him his back. It was almost enough to make me wish Larry would shoot him.
He stopped a few feet in front of the rest of us. We were all still on the floor, sitting, or in Jason's case, lying. Magnus looked down at us, amused, or bemused.
"What the hell are you doing here?" I asked.
Jean-Claude glanced at me. "You seem to know each other."
"This is Magnus Bouvier," I said. "What are you doing here, with them?"
He loosened the tie at his collar and spread the stiff cloth. I was pretty sure what he was trying to show me, but I couldn't see from the floor. I wasn't at all sure I could stand without falling over. "If you want me to take a peek, you're going to have to come down here."
"With pleasure." He knelt in front of me less than two feet away. He had two healing bite marks on his neck.
"Shit, Magnus. Why?"
He looked at me, eyes flicking to my bloody wrist. "I might ask you the same thing."
"I donated blood to save his life. What's your excuse?"
He smiled. "Nothing half as nice as that." Magnus undid the ribbon and let his hair fall like a curtain around his shoulders. He looked at me with his turquoise blue eyes, and crawled on all fours towards Jean-Claude. He moved like he had muscles in places that people didn't. It was like watching a great cat move. People just didn't move like that.
He knelt in front of Jean-Claude, so close they were almost touching. He swept his hair to one side and offered his neck.
"No," Jean-Claude said.
"What's going on?" Larry asked.
It was a good question. I didn't have a good answer. I didn't even have a bad one.
Magnus slipped off his white jacket and let it slide to the floor. He undid the cuff to his right wrist and pushed the cloth back. He offered his bare wrist to Jean-Claude. The skin was smooth and unbroken. Jean-Claude took his hand and raised the skin to his lips.
I almost looked away, but in the end I didn't. Looking away is like lying to yourself. You pretend it isn't happening, but it is.
Jean-Claude brushed his lips across the skin, then released Magnus's hand. "The offer is generous, but I would be drunk indeed if I added your blood to theirs."
"Drunk?" I asked. "What the f**k are you talking about?"
"Ah, ma petite, you do have a way with words."
"Losing a quantity of blood makes you grumpy," he said.
He laughed, and the sound was sweet. It had a taste just outside description, like some forbidden candy that was not just fattening but poisonous. But what a way to go.
Magnus stayed kneeling, staring at the laughing vampire. "You won't taste me?"
Jean-Claude shook his head, as if he didn't trust himself to speak. His eyes glittered with suppressed laughter.
"The blood has been offered." Magnus crawled back towards me. His hair had spilled forward on one side so one eye was lost, glittering like a jewel through his hair. Eyes just weren't supposed to be that color. He crawled up to me until our faces were inches apart. "A pint of blood, a pound of flesh." He whispered it, leaning in towards me as if for a kiss.
I leaned back, away from him, and overbalanced. I ended up on my back on the floor. It was not an improvement. Magnus crawled over me, still on all fours, hovering. I pressed the Browning into his chest.
"Back off, or bite it."
Magnus crawled backwards, but not very far. I sat up, keeping the gun on him one-handed. The barrel wavered a lot more than normal. "What was that all about?"
Jean-Claude said, "Janos spoke of taking blood and flesh from us this night. As an apology, Serephina offers us blood, and flesh."
I stared at Magnus, still on all fours, still looking feral and dangerous. I lowered the gun. "No, thanks."
Magnus sat back on the floor, smoothing his hands through his hair, brushing it back from his face. "You have refused Serephina's peace offerings. Do you refuse her apology as well?"
"Take us to Serephina, and you will have done what was asked of you," Jean-Claude said.
Magnus looked at me. "What of you, Anita? Are you content that I take you to Serephina? Do you accept her apology?"
I shook my head. "Why should I?"
"Anita is not a master," Jean-Claude said. "It is my vengeance, my pardon, you should be asking."
"I am doing what I was told," he said. "She challenged Ivy to a test of wills. Ivy lost."
"I didn't throw her across the room," I said.
Jean-Claude frowned. "She resorted to brute force, ma petite. She could not win by force of will or vampire wiles against a human being." He looked suddenly very serious. "She lost... to you."
"So, ma petite, you declared yourself a master, and proved that claim."
I shook my head. "That's ridiculous; I'm not a vampire."
"I did not declare you a master vampire, ma petite. I said you were a master."
"A master what? Human being?"
It was his turn to shake his head. "I do not know, ma petite." He turned to Magnus. "What does Serephina say?"