Hide and Seek
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Buffy belongs to Joss Whedon, Anita Blake belongs to Laurell K. Hamilton. I make no money of this.
Thanks: Go to Amusewithaview
for beta duties and being my sounding board and SeekerSidhe
for some more beta (at record speeds). Thank you both.
A/N: Yep, I'm alive. And writing. This story is my new baby. It's the first of two, perhaps three. Please keep that in mind while reading because this is basically a 150 page long exposition. There's action and plot and all that, but it's all a prelude to something else entirely.
If you can't deal with my relationship between Buffy and Asher, then don't but please don't bitch about it. Concrit is always welcome, but pointless 'I don't like this's' will be ignored.
The story is set only weeks after the end of The Harlequin
, and disregards Blood Noir
Updates: The story is finished, the sequel is on chapter three. Updates will be weekly, on Sundays. And now, enjoy and please drop me a line.
+Purge and Pray
+ 1, Hide and Seek
I could taste it on my tongue, smell it, feel it pressing down on my flanks even as I basked in it. The sand was gritty under my belly and paws, clinging to my fur and masking my scent. I was hungry. I wanted to hunt and to eat. I wanted to feel flesh and muscle tear between my teeth, I wanted to kill. I wanted…
I wanted the taste of blood in my mouth, wanted to race through the steppe on the trail of some antelope, the anticipation of the kill pumping in my veins. I wanted to run
I wanted to run. I needed
to run. To be free. I was a lion. The desert belonged to me. It was my kingdom. My domain. I ruled here.
"Anita, can you hear me?"
No! Not him. Not the filthy dead one. Not him, me! He was…who was he?
"Ma petite, Anita, can you hear me?"
Why was he calling me? I knew that voice. I knew who he was. I knew…
I wanted to hunt, to feed, to run, to be free. I wanted…
Blood. I could taste it. On my lips. On my tongue. My blood. Outrage poured through me like liquid fire. He had hurt me! Hurt me! Hit me. He dared hurt me like I was prey
. Like I…
"By the Mother, Anita, you have to snap out of this!"
I wasn't prey. I was…
…Not a predator either. I was…
Yes. That sound, it seemed familiar and the taste of my blood brought flashes with it, flashes that were not of the desert, of sand and endless skies. Flashes of darkness, soothing cold…the cold of graves. Dead thing, dead man, yes, I could hear him. His voice, I knew it, I knew who he was -- he was…
My name was Anita Blake and I was not a lion. I was a necromancer. That was all it took for my power to unfurl, cold and smooth in my chest, like a bird rising from a palm, up and up and up to the surface, bringing with it the chill of the grave and chasing out the heat of the desert lion queen.
I gasped as my necromancy curled around the voice above me, wrapping it up, caressing it like a mother, a lover. Jean-Claude. His name was Jean-Claude and he was a vampire, not a dead thing. Well, he was but not in the disgusting sense the lioness thought of him. She saw only meat that could not be eaten, that did not pump with blood.
It reached further, finding someone else, there, in the corner, hiding in the dark, and he was mine, too. My beautiful Asher, always hiding, always scared and so sad. I wanted him to be happy.
And with that thought, I returned to some semblance of control.
The ceiling was the first thing I saw, the first thing that registered back in the land of the not-lion. The next was the feeling of Asher's and Jean-Claude's hearts beating at the back of my throat, close, so close and fragile.
"Stay with us, ma petite."
Yes, staying sounded good. Really good. So instead of pushing down my necromancy as I usually did, I wrapped it around me like a safety blanket, keeping death and the grave, my vampires and my powers close.
I clutched it close like it was the last safe thing on earth because it was. If I let go of the cold, the heat would return, bringing with it not only the lion but also the wolf and the leopard and the tiger and they would rip me apart from the inside, literally.
Things had been like this for the last two weeks, ever since the Harlequin had been defeated. Marmee Noir had shoved the tiger into me like a party favor, like a dove into a hat and it had completely thrown me off balance. My beasts were moody tenants at the best of times but the arrival of the tiger had taken their aggression, their anger and hunger and desire to hunt to new levels. These days, touching a shifter, any shifter at all, was a sure-fire way to wake the beasties.
The wolf I could calm down through Jason – not Richard, never again him - and the leopard was happy with Nathaniel and Micah around. The lion could be placated with Haven, the new Rex of the St. Louis lion's pride. But the tiger... She raged and raged and knew no bounds. All my beasts were queens. Nimir-ra. Regina. Lupa. Leaders. And they desired males to fit their status. There had been some amazing bitch fights in the past few weeks as the lion tried to get me to have sex with Haven and the others pushed against her, unsettled by the tiger. It was why the lion had raged just now, trying to pull me under enough so she could find her mate. Naturally, the tiger had protested, making everything worse than it already was.
She – the tiger - was the most powerful of them and she wanted no mate. What she wanted was to hunt. I had this theory that she wasn't just any old tiger. She had come from the Mother of all Darkness. Maybe, just maybe, she was something older. Something more primal than the tigers I had met before. Something more deadly.
In my head, the tiger towered over all the other animals and I knew for a fact that my wolf was the size of a pony. Christine, the only tiger in St. Louis, was barely larger than a regular tiger at the zoo. It made a girl wonder just what was sleeping –or not as the case may be – inside of her – or in this case, me.
I was licking blood from my lips as I tried to focus on the ceiling above me. Someone had hit me, hard. But hey, it had worked, hadn't it? I was back in the land of the sane, at least for now.
It bordered on a small miracle that the tiger had not risen to chase off the lion like she had the wolf and leopard earlier. All my beasts rose but the tigress was the one who beat them all down in the end. Maybe she was tired, too? It was a nice thought.
When the ceiling refused to cooperate, I rolled onto my side instead and tried to smile at the boys. I must have been a pretty sight with blood smeared down my chin. Jean-Claude returned the smile and ran a hand over my hair. I tried to glare at him but just from his expression I knew that it fell flat. Somehow I find that lying in bed, bloody, beaten and bone tired totally ruins a good glare.
"How do you feel?"
"Like shit run over twice." He pulled a face at my crudity but said nothing. He was tired too. After all, we had been doing this for most of the night, ever since the full moon had risen over the city. Tonight, all true
shifters were outside, hunting. Tonight, my safety nets were all gone. Tonight, four wild beasts were trying to rip out of my human body and there was no-one and nothing there to calm them down except me and my necromancy, for as long as I could hold on to it.
In the beginning of this whole thing, I had used the ardeur to push the beasties back but it was hot, it was flame and passion and desire and the beasts wanted mates, wanted sex and heat. They canceled out the ardeur, overwhelming it with more primitive desires. I had not fed in almost two weeks. That should have worried me, should have made me brood over what was going to happen when it finally came back and I had
to feed, but it didn't. There was too much on my plate already to worry about tomorrow.
All I wanted was to make it to sunrise. For the four bitch queens to crawl back into the depths of my mind and leave me alone, just for a few hours. Just so I could sleep and maybe eat something that would stay down. I had already lost all the weight Nathaniel's cooking and Jean-Claude's need to taste real food again after six hundred years had put on me and was quickly rushing towards skeletal. My complexion and the dark bags under my eyes already fit the description. The constant fighting took its toll and with no way to feed supernaturally, real food was my only sustenance. And it tended not to stay down. I had tried feeding through Nathaniel but it immediately brought the leopard and a shit load of trouble. I did, on occasion, manage to feed through Damien but he was as exhausted as I was by now. His touch calmed me, it always did, but it took its toll. Jean-Claude, or was it Asher, had sent him away around midnight because he had been close to collapsing and I wouldn't let him suffer for my weaknesses.
Asher was with me on the bed suddenly, his hand on the small of my back, helping to ground me, to keep me afloat on the cold ocean of necromancy and death. I turned my head and gave him a small unreserved smile. He smiled back.
I nodded, then shrugged. "The lion is gone for the moment."
We'd already arm wrestled the leopard as Nathaniel changed and later the wolf, when Richard finally lost his monthly fight and shifted, too. The lioness had been the third visitor of the night, raised by my struggle against the other two. My life had become a constant battle, a dance with too many damn dancers, all stepping on each others' toes and more often than not, starting to brawl on the dance floor.
I didn't even have to think about it. I just nodded. And Asher rose from the bed, taking his hand with him, taking away half of my anchorage. The tiger came out of nowhere, bounding out of the dark with a fierce growl and a swipe of giant claws. For the umpteenth time that night, I screamed.
I bucked Jean-Claude's hands off me, stretching and twisting, turning on the bed, clawing at everything and anything within reach as the cat roared inside my chest. She took a few running steps before leaping not at me, but through me, trying to push into the real world, to make my body hers.
In my head, I ducked, rolled and came up behind her, panting. She slid on the nonexistent ground for a moment before regaining her balance and spinning to face me. She pounced again and I rolled again, trying to feel the cold, to imagine the silence of the dead, to push her down into a world of death. She refused to go. There was only heat around us.
It was a wet heat, the heat of a jungle, of the rainforests of her homeland, a place that probably didn't exist anywhere on earth anymore. It smelled like rain and jasmine, like the wild, like the Mother of Darkness. The tigress had come from her, was her creature, her beast. It belonged to her and it obeyed only her. Never me.
And it kept attacking, kept trying to push through and become real, become a true animal, not just a shadow in an already shadowed mind. It was a desire so strong I could taste it on my lips, sliding over my tongue and down my throat, trying to choke me. I scrambled backward, reaching for anything and finding….wolf.
I saw a flash of wolf running through the woods, of the smell of blood and sweat and pack and no
! Not Richard. Not him. I ripped my hand out of the wolf's fur it had dug into. Richard had chosen loneliness, had chosen doubt and the cold of being on his own over us. He had rejected us. We didn't need him.
Oh, but we wanted him. Jean-Claude and I yearned for him still, despite all the pain and Jason missed Richard too, because when it came down to it, Jason chose us over the pack but that didn't mean he didn't miss them like crazy. It hurt. Richard hurt us, all of us. He was the reason Asher and Jean-Claude were not lovers. I had kept them apart for a long time but I had learned that love is love and you can't fight it forever. It was Richard's disgust that kept them apart now. Only his.
I jerked back my hand, screaming a refusal that echoed through Richard's head as well as mine. Not the wolf.
The tiger kept advancing, belly dragging, ready to strike, slow and patient, a predator that has its prey where it wants it. I was the prey. I kept grasping around me and found…
Blessed, chilly, dead cold.
I held onto it, clutched it with both hands, and pulled it as close as possible, around me, inside me, through me. I used it as shield and sword, striking out with it, driving the tigress back with a roar of pure animal fury. The sound hurt me, echoed in my head, too loud, too angry but I refused to give up, to give in. So I kept lashing out, kept holding on tight and after a few moments of gut wrenching tension, it was over.
The big cat took one last swipe at me, thwarted by the cold wall around me and then slunk back into the darkness from whence she came.
Jean-Claude was sitting on my stomach, holding my face in his hands, kissing me. How did I know it was him? I could feel it, taste it, smell it. He had pulled the dead part of me back to the fore. He had made it possible for me to win against the tiger one more time by pouring all his power into me. He had made himself my shield.
I brought up both hands, noting that my fingertips ached something fierce and pushed gently against his chest even before I opened my eyes. He drew back from the kiss but didn't let go. Behind him, someone shifted on my legs. Asher. It had taken both of them to hold me down. Not good. Not good at all.
I nodded. With a sigh of relief he released my face and sat up. It spoke volumes that he did not get off me.
"I…," I started to say, just to trail off when I noticed blood on his left cheek. I reached up and he tried to pull away but didn't quite manage. He didn't want to get off me. I wiped at the blood for a moment to uncover the wound underneath.
Claw marks. He had claw marks on his cheek. I almost didn't want to look but in the end, I had to. My fingers on his face were coated in blood. Blood that was almost dried. His blood.
"Shit," I repeated. "I actually..."
Jean-Claude went to wash out the claw marks to help them heal. Patching them up was not necessary but he liked things neat and clean. And the sight of blood had a tendency to do bad things to me recently.
After he left, Asher crawled off my legs and settled next to me on the bed. He stroked my thigh in quiet support, trying to convey the simple message that it was going to be okay when we both knew it wouldn't.
He never said it out loud, knowing that I'd yell if he did, but he lied to me with his hands and I didn't know whether to love him or hate him for it. A few weeks ago I would have known. I would have yelled and raged and kicked him out. I would have told him that I was not a child. Now…now I knew nothing anymore. I had barely left the house in the past two weeks, except to let someone bundle me into the car and drive me to the Circus. I was too dangerous to run free. What if I shifted in the middle of a crowd? At the police station? At a zombie raising?
I couldn't work, I couldn't take care of my people. Malcolm had blood-oathed himself and over two hundred of his congregation to me to protect them from the Harlequin. That had been over two weeks ago and I had not even spoken to him since then. We had lost people and we had killed people. I still had to talk to Edward about Olaf. I needed to work something out with Haven. I had to look after my leopards and Damien and find a way to release us all from Richard's self loathing. I had to do so many things but I couldn't even shower on my own because someone had to watch me for any signs of rising beasts and when they came, I turned into a zoo, spectators all inclusive. I wasn't used to sitting around doing nothing, to not fighting and bitching and damn it, the Mother of all Darkness was fucking waking and I couldn't even protect my people from myself. I needed to….
….get out of here. Out of this bed, this room, away from Asher's touch and sad eyes. Away from myself. I had to… I fled. Or tried to. I pushed back the sheets and swung my legs around to rest on the floor. Immediately the world tilted dangerously. Behind me Asher seemed torn between interfering and leaving me to my stubborn, futile rebellion. I just don't know when to quit. I never have.
For a very long moment I eyed the door that led out of the room and into the labyrinth of tunnels under the Circus of the Damned. If I was lucky, I would make it to the first intersection before collapsing and that was not an option. I was weak as a kitten but I still had some dignity and pride left. So I set my sights on the bathroom door instead and slowly pushed off the bed.
The room jerked at a forty five degree angle for a moment and then righted itself just like I knew it would. With one hand on the wall for balance I started my slow trek toward the door, determinedly ignoring Asher's hovering presence just out of reach. The bathroom was bright, too bright for my eyes and I had to spend a few seconds standing very still and blinking against the lights before I saw anything. Then I made my way to the sink. I reached it with both hands first and immediately clutched the edge. It wasn't graceful but it kept me on my feet. Then I looked up at my reflection in the mirror and wished I hadn't.
The dark circles under my eyes had become real honest-to-god bruises and the usual pallor of my skin had turned to chalk white. My hair was limp around my face – almost tamed for once, and my lips were a bloody mess, literally. I had tried to wipe away the blood blindly but there were still stains on my chin. I looked like a raccoon. A particularly ugly and very dead raccoon.
I reached for the tap, intending to clean of the rest of the blood but there were hands there suddenly, wetting a cloth and handing it to me carefully. I scowled at Asher in the mirror, disappointed in how pathetic the expression looked even to my own eyes. Then I took the wash cloth and went about cleaning off the blood. It took only a minute or so but by the time I dropped the cloth in the sink, I was panting. Two weeks of constant fighting and almost no real sustenance will do that to you, I guess.
From the toilet seat, Jean-Claude watched us and I took a moment to take stock of the two boys, too. Asher looked tired and pale. It was his bed time. Jean-Claude on the other hand…he looked worse. He had spent all night wrestling with my beast and before that he had been the one to hold up all the walls of our triumvirate because I couldn't. He was exhausted as hell and he was the strongest of us all. I didn't want to know how Nathaniel and Damien felt and I really didn't care about Richard. It wasn't my job anymore.
"You can't keep doing this, Anita." It was Asher who spoke, quietly, soothingly and I detested myself for letting him calm me down. He was right. If it had been only me, I would have kept on fighting until I found a way to tame the beasties.
But this wasn't just about me. There were four other people, people I happened to love - or had at one point loved, at least - that I was dragging down with me. People who would definitely die if I did. Jean-Claude, Nathaniel, Damien and Richard. There was no telling how many indirect deaths me giving up the ghost might cause because if Jean-Claude and Richard fell, the city would become a war zone. People would die. And I could stop them from dying if I just admitted that I couldn't do this alone. I had tried and I had failed. Spectacularly. Whatever Mommy Dearest had done when she had shoved the tiger into me, I couldn't undo it. I couldn't tame the tiger, nor could I control the other beasts. They were running rampant and I had become a loose cannon, set to go off at least five times a day.
So I bit my lip, wincing as I caught my teeth on a barely scabbed over wound and nodded. "I know."
The relief in the room was palpable. They had been waiting for this. They had been waiting for me to give up so they could take control and do what?
"What do we do?" Damn, I sounded like a child. Someone give me a teddy bear.
Jean-Claude leaned against the wall with a small sigh and offered, "We call a healer."
I blinked dumbly. "We don't know any healers we can trust, Jean-Claude. And there's no way I'm letting some random psychic dig around my insides. Besides, no-one knows what's going on with me anyway." My situation wasn't exactly text book. But then, nothing ever was with me.
He shook his head and gave Asher a very long, hard look. "Yes, we do know someone, ma petite."
The blonde vampire glared right back at his one time lover, scowling fiercely. He opened his mouth, looking as if he were about to protest when Jean-Claude raised a hand to silence him.
"I am Sourdre de Sang. I can protect her here."
I blinked, confused and tired. Who the hell were they talking about? Asher stood very still for a long time, thinking hard, maybe contemplating, the risk he was putting 'her' in, for whatever reason.
Jean-Claude finally put a hand on his shoulder and asked, "Do you know of any alternative? If you do, name it and I will happily try it. But we are out of options, mon ami."
He could have ordered Asher to call whoever they were talking about but he didn't. That in itself was telling. After a few seconds the blonde vampire shrugged off the hand and nodded.
"You are right." He looked at me with a funny spark in his eyes and repeated, "You are right."
Then he turned on his heel and left the room. We followed, me at a crawl, hovering vampire beside me. He was becoming really good at it, too. By the time I was back on the bed and the world had stopped doing flip flops Asher was already on the phone, waiting for someone to pick up. I knew the exact moment someone answered the call because his face changed to a strange mixture of joy and sorrow.
"Ma reine," he said, "I need your help."
That was all. No hello, how are you, no nothing. He snorted into the phone, smiling briefly before saying goodbye and hanging up. He turned to us.
"She is coming."
"Just like that," I demanded. Who the hell was that woman?
The smile became a full blown grin, "She says she has been feeling my worry all week. She has been waiting for my call."
"And who exactly is she
?" I frowned. With my current looks, it must have been quite a sight. The two vampires only exchanged glances before suddenly moving toward the bed with no nonsense expressions.
"It is too late tonight, my petite and we are exhausted. Asher will explain tomorrow, I promise."
I contemplated arguing with them but we were all too damn tired. So I just crawled back under the covers and let them tuck me in. They slipped in on the other side of the bed. I curled into a tiny ball, pillow clutched to my chest, and tried not to cry.
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