"I can't believe Jean-Claude is still keeping that fucking prick around," Anita growled.
Richard looked at her, raising an amused eyebrow. Her jealousy was so blatantly obvious that he could taste it on the air. It was good that someone could make her feel like that too. He didn't want to be petty, but she deserved a bit of misery.
He didn’t like Xander, the guy made the hair stand up on his arms and a growl want to claw its way out of his throat. Xander could be a real ass; sure, he had his charming moments, but they were few and far between for Richard. Xander saved the sweeter aspects of his personality for Jean-Claude, who he had seduced and snatched away from Anita like she was nothing.
To Richard it seemed as though the only person Xander really saw was Jean-Claude, and maybe Asher to some extent. No one else mattered to him, and it was made obvious by the way he didn't care about what anyone else did or said.
There was a vicious cruelty in Xander that shone itself in his eyes, but it was an undeniable fact that he was physically attractive. It was easy to see why Jean-Claude was so drawn to him. He had a certain spark that a lot of people lacked, including Anita.
Richard didn't want to feel this jagged kind of glee whenever Anita mentioned Xander and the way the vampire had burrowed himself into Jean-Claude's good graces. He didn't want to feel so happy that she was hurting, that she was getting everything that she deserved for breaking his heart the way she had, but he couldn't help himself. Anita deserved to feel miserable.
Crossing his arms, he leaned back against the wall, still watching her.
Anita was pacing back and forth with a stiff-legged stride. She made him think of an angry cat, all bristling fur and spitting fury. "How can Jean-Claude trust Xander? The guy just shows up out of nowhere with no real explanation about where he came from, yet all of a sudden he's Jean-Claude's favorite fuck buddy. He could be getting ready to murder us all, and Jean-Claude doesn't care as long as he can get off. And the freakish way that guy's face changes when he's about to feed... I don't trust him."
Richard's upper lip curled a little. He could practically hear her searching for a reason to put a few bullets in Xander. All her bitching and moaning about trust and distrust was just her way of psyching herself up into thinking that killing Xander was the right thing to do. It was pathetic.
Standing on the outside watching one of Anita's soap opera-esque problems, Richard suddenly had to wonder what he'd seen in Anita.
Sure, she was attractive enough, as well as being moderately intelligent, and she knew that he was a werewolf, but what else did they have between them? A shared liking of musicals and having a nearly overwhelming amount of responsibility did not a passionate love affair make. He couldn't even say that he really loved her, or that he ever had.
For awhile he had thought that what he felt for Anita was love, but looking at her now, he had to wonder if it had just been an echo of her power bouncing off his Beast's lust to dominate all lesser creatures. She was strong and his Beast wanted that for the Pack; it was a good breeding feature.
Now though, he could see how small-minded she really was with her shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach to life. She might have been a great person once, but not anymore.
"That Xander is dangerous. Do you think we should do something to protect Jean-Claude?" she finished, turning to look at him for his reply.
Richard snorted. "First you dump me, then Jean-Claude and Asher, yet all of us are supposed to stand around waiting for you to come wandering over for a night of sex? I don't think so, Anita. You're a hypocrite with how you're always thrusting your morals and values on the things other people do, but when you do them it's all right. You want everything, but you're unwilling to give anything. Jean-Claude and Asher are about as happy as they're ever going to be, yet they're supposed to give that up just because you're a jealous bitch?"
"Why the bitterness, Richard? This has nothing to do with 'us,'" she said. "I'm concerned that Xander is going to hurt Jean-Claude and Asher. Even though I'm not with them anymore, I don't want them to be hurt. And if anything happens to Jean-Claude, then you and I are going to feel it."
"So I'm supposed to break up Jean-Claude and Xander because it might hurt us if they stay together? Jesus, Anita, there's a word for that," Richard growled, "it's called 'selfish.' And that's just what you are, selfish. You don't do anything for other people just because you can help. You do things for people to see what you're going to get out of it. And I don't want to play your games anymore."
Richard stepped away from the wall and made to walk away. Anita's hand falling on his shoulder stopped him. He turned his head to look at her, making no other move. He knew his eyes were flat and unpleasant, but didn't really care. He was tired of dealing with Anita's bullshit.
Over the past year she'd been jerking everyone around like yo-yos and had caused a lot of emotional damage with her shit. Jason had gone on a crying jag after dealing with Anita one day, which kind of said a lot.
Since what happened with Musette, Anita had been dating both Jean-Claude and Asher as well as Micah. The three of them had been happy enough, until she went to visit her family. When she came back, she broke up with them both and began "reprioritizing her life" as she called it, which basically meant that she hurt everyone in her life and began dumping people like they were dead weight.
Richard had asked her why she was going out of her way to hurt the people in her life. She had looked him right in the eye and said that she'd realized something when she visited her family. She said she wanted her father not to look at her like she was some strange changeling. She said she didn't care what her stepmother thought, but a little pride in her accomplishments would be nice. Finally, she said that she had been ashamed talking to her brother, Josh, because she didn't want to admit that she was dating three men, much less two vampires and a wereleopard.
She came back to St. Louis and set about rearranging her whole existence. She began going to church regularly. She began trying to get back some of her "human" friends. And to "stop being such a sociopath" she distanced herself from the Pack and even a lot of the wereleopards, like their beings monsters was going to make her into one.
Her return home had been like a bomb striking the monster side of St. Louis. Everyone she came into contact with was left reeling in pain as she exploded in their faces, ripping their legs out from under them, destroying any kind of stability they'd found.
A part of Richard had felt a dark thrill at her dumping Jean-Claude and Asher, but most of him felt their pain. They had had no warning about what was going to happen, she had just come to the Circus of the Damned and opened her mouth to let a world of ugliness come out, trying to destroy them completely. Their only real crime against her was loving her, so in revenge she ripped them apart and threw them away.
Yet even after all of that, she didn't want Jean-Claude and Asher to find happiness in someone else. They were supposed to wait around forever for her to decide to either come back or cut the ties between them for good. She was such a bitch.
"Why do you do this?" Richard asked quietly.
A quick flash of puzzlement crossed her expressionless face. "What do you mean?"
"Why do you enjoy hurting the people around you so much? I know you're a drama queen, but there are certain lines you're not supposed to cross, but you just don't seem to realize where the stopping point is."
"Cut it with the cryptic bullshit, Richard," she growled, her legs widening as her body took on a threatening stance. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Richard sighed. "I didn't know it at first, but I realize now that you enjoy causing misery in others because it gives you attention and makes you feel... I don't know, important or something. You turn your life into a soap opera and make everything as difficult as you possibly can. You hurt the people around you with your words and your actions... your actions the most... yet everyone's supposed to fall down and worship you like a goddess. But I'm tired of it, Anita. I'm tired of dealing with your bullshit and I don't want to do it anymore.
"Why don't you do the decent thing for once in your life, Anita, and leave Jean-Claude and Asher their happiness. Don't kill Xander. Don't drive him off. Let Jean-Claude and Asher move on now that you don't want them anymore." Richard pulled away from her, heading toward the door. "I know that once you put your mark on someone, you don't want them to ever be with anyone else, even after you throw them away. I know that you want everyone to be miserable without you, but what you want isn't important anymore, Anita. Jean-Claude and Asher have found someone that fills a void in them, and they deserve it. Just leave them be and stop being so self-righteous."
He left her alone to think about what he'd said.
That asshole, she thought angrily. Her hands were clenched into fists so tight that she could feel her fingernails cutting into her palm. I am not self-righteous. I'm... concerned.
Xander made her skin crawl and her magic pulsate almost uncontrollably. There was so much about him that was just wrong. It was like he didn't belong in the world.
The guy had appeared from nowhere and Jean-Claude refused to tell her where he'd come from. Asher just gave her an inscrutable look whenever she tried to get any information out of him.
It wasn't fair. She didn't know what was happening to her life, but she knew it wasn't supposed to be like this.
If she could have, she would have gone back in time and made it so she never broke up with Jean-Claude and Asher. The three of them had been happy together, something she'd only really realized after they split up. But before she could go back and apologize to them, Xander had appeared and snatched them up for himself.
Where the fuck did he come from? Anita thought. It was one of the things that drove her to frustration about the strange vampire. He'd just appeared one day, introduced to her by Jean-Claude as his lover. And that smug smile Xander had worn, as though announcing the fact that he was the winner and she was the loser... it still burned her up.
Xander was a freak, and Jean-Claude and Asher loved him, really loved him. Sometimes Anita caught flashes of Jean-Claude's emotions, and she knew what he felt because he had once felt it for her, and didn’t anymore.
Late at night or early in the morning when she had worked herself into exhaustion and was trying to sleep, she would curl up into a fetal ball on her bed. It was then that she had time to regret all the bad decisions she'd ever made. But there was no going back to do anything differently.
She'd made a lot of mistakes in her life, but giving up Jean-Claude and Asher had to be the worst one.
Her cell phone rang and she pulled it out. "Hello?"
"Anita, we've got a situation down here that needs you," Zebrowski said.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Four ripped up bodies and a missing kid."
"I'll be there. Give me the address."
It was kind of weird how vampires in this world slept during the day. They were like dead bodies lying on the bed, all the life sucked out of them by the sun in the sky.
Jean-Claude and Asher were wrapped around each other, a red silk sheet the only thing almost covering their nakedness. They were beautiful and perfect and Xander just wished they were awake so he could fuck them or be fucked by them.
His first few days in this new world had been a little rocky, but he'd quickly found his way. Just like back at home, he was once again a Master's favorite, and at least Jean-Claude wasn't a complete loon like his old one, which was good. Plus, things were awful nice for him here, with a lot less work involved, though he missed the odd bit of torture this new nicey-nice world didn't allow.
Xander reached out and stroked the side of Asher's face. He'd heard tell that even a couple of years ago Asher's face had been horribly scarred from holy water. Now his skin was as smooth and even as a child's; he was beautiful.
Glancing at the clock on the wall, Xander sighed heavily. It would be another two hours until sundown and he was bored, bored, bored.
Usually Jean-Claude and Asher could wake up earlier, but there'd been this whole big thing two days ago and a couple of people had died and it was quite the drama. They were pretty close to exhausted, which meant they weren't going to be so good with the waking up before sundown for the next few days. Which meant Xander got to lay around being bored until they finally woke their undead asses up.
"This blows," he said, flopping backward on the bed. He laid his hand one on the other on his stomach and glared at the ceiling.
His boredom was interrupted by the bedside phone ringing.
"Yippee, finally something to do," he cried, reaching over to grab the phone. "Hello, Jean-Claude's bedroom, this is fuck-bunny number two speaking. How may I direct your call?"
"Xander, is Jean-Claude up yet?" Nathaniel's tentative voice asked.
A wolfish smile crossed Xander's face. He knew that Anita had warned Nathaniel away from him on numerous occasions, and even though Nathaniel wouldn't think to go against her direct orders, a part of him was just as hungry for what Xander could give him as Xander was to give it. "Hello, Nate, how you been? You about ready to come and play with the big boys, or is 'Nita still keeping you tight on the leash?"
"Please, Xander, is Jean-Claude awake?" Nathaniel begged. "It's really important."
"Nope, he and Asher are still snoozing away peaceful," Xander said. "Why don't you talk to me for awhile and maybe they'll wake up while we have our little chitchat. How 'bout it?"
"There's no time," Nathaniel said in despair. "Can you tell Jean-Claude to call me, that it's really important?"
"What's up?" Xander asked.
There was a long pause as Nathaniel thought about whether it was a good idea to tell Xander what had happened. He wasn't a hundred percent sure that any news he left with Xander would be passed on--he'd realized early on that Xander had a twisted sense of humor. "Tell him that Anita's in jail. She went to help the police and something happened. She accidentally shot a girl."
"Well damn, looks like she's not going to be able to give me trouble for awhile." Xander was heartily amused. He really didn't like Anita, and he knew for a fact that she hated him with a fiery passion.
"Will you tell Jean-Claude to call me?" Nathaniel asked.
"Sure, fine, whatever. He will call you when he finally wakes his lazy ass up, all right? Sheesh, you keep stressing like that and you're gonna have a heart attack before your thirty. Relax a little. Eat a Twinkie."
"Thank you," Nathaniel said.
"Whatever. Bye." Xander switched off the phone and tossed it back at the cradle. He settled back down on the bed next to his lovers.
Now that the phone call was over, he was back to being bored again, bored, bored, bored.
"I wish I could kill something," he murmured unhappily.
He woke up with Xander curled around him, a pleasantly solid weight. He shifted and yawned, pulling the younger vampire tighter against him. "Good evening, m'amour."
Xander grinned and kissed him hard. "Finally, you wake up. I've been waiting here for hours, desperately missing you. I was half tempted to abuse your sleeping body."
A smile quirked Jean-Claude's lips. "Were you, hm? That would have been something to wake up to, n'est-pas?"
"Yeah. You'd open your eyes to find me riding you like a pony. It'd be great." Xander was always so excited about everything. He was like a breath of fresh air.
Jean-Claude had never fallen in love so fast before. He couldn't explain it, but there was just something about Xander that drew him to the younger man. And it wasn't just that he was beautiful and vicious, with this irrepressible kind of charm about him. There was something inside Xander that made Jean-Claude burn with desire, and he wasn't going to give that up.
"Did anything happen while I slept?" he asked, sensing that something had.
Xander propped himself up on his elbow and looked down at Jean-Claude for a long time, finally shrugging. "I guess. Nathaniel called and said he wanted you to call him. There's something up with Anita that he thinks you're going to care about. I told him I'd ask you to call."
"Hm, I can sense that Anita is angry, but..." Jean-Claude concentrated, trying to read something more from his human servant. "I think that... yes, she is afraid for some reason, afraid and... guilty."
"What the hell could Anita feel guilty about?" Xander asked. He didn't think that self-righteous bitch ever believed that she'd made a mistake, even when it was a glaringly obvious one.
"I do not know. I think that I should call Nathaniel immediately and discover what is happening." Jean-Claude sat up and reached around Xander to grab the bedside phone. "There is something very wrong."
On one hand, Xander hated Anita for being the bitch she was, but on the other hand, he knew that her living was tied into Jean-Claude's survival. If something happened to Anita, then it happened to Jean-Claude, and Xander... loved Jean-Claude, or at least needed him to stick around and provide him with all the cool stuff he wanted. So he basically had to care about Anita's well-being, even though he hated her with a fiery vengeance.
"We'll handle whatever comes up," Xander said, patting Jean-Claude's leg.
Jean-Claude gave him such a warm smile that Xander shivered a little. He was the only one that got to see such an expression on Jean-Claude's face. He could tell it from the sharp smell that surrounded Anita whenever she saw Jean-Claude around Xander that she was burning with jealousy.
"Hello, Nathaniel?" Jean-Claude said when he'd finally dialed the phone and had it answered on the other end. "What has happened with Anita?"
Whatever Nathaniel said, it didn't make Jean-Claude happy. His face went blank and expressionless, while his eyes began burning with blue fire, the whites swallowed up by the rich color until they disappeared. Xander could see the pulse of rage at Jean-Claude's temple as the older vampire tried to hold himself in check.
"What do you mean ma petite is in jail? What has happened?" Jean-Claude hissed. He listened to Nathaniel's reply and seemed to get even more angry. "The police called her to help them, then had the audacity to arrest her? What is her crime?"
Xander felt Asher wake up, and reached out to grasp the other's hand, warning him with his touch. Asher sat up and went into that strange stillness vampires of this world had.
"What is happening?" Asher asked, low-voiced.
"Don't know, but I think Anita pulled a naughty-naughty booboo again," Xander whispered. "She's in the pokey, and it looks like a bad business all around."
Asher slipped his arms around Xander, pressing his chest against Xander's back and resting his chin on the top of his head. "Well, we shall have to be very quiet and find out what we can from what Jean-Claude says on his end of the conversation with the policemen, yes?"
Xander shrugged a little, not even near enough to dislodge Asher, but enough to highlight his point. "Sure, whatever."
Listening to Jean-Claude talk with Nathaniel didn't really tell them much, except that Jean-Claude could curse quite fluently in French when pressed. It was actually quite impressive, the amount of vitriol that could come out of such a pretty mouth. It made Xander think of other filthy things that he wanted that mouth to do to him.
Right now, though, he had to focus on what was happening with Anita, much as he would like to see her fry. What happened to her would have an affect on Jean-Claude, so he had to actually care about the bitch and push his libido to the side. It was actually kind of frustrating, and he didn't deal too well with frustration.
Finally Jean-Claude finished with Nathaniel and hung up.
"What's up with Anita?" Xander asked.
Jean-Claude sighed, sounding more tired than Xander had ever heard him. "The police asked her to help them find a girl that went missing at a crime scene. The girl's entire family was killed, but they thought that she might still be alive, so they called Anita to help them track the creature and find the girl."
"And things went horribly awry, and everything ended with Anita pulling out her gun and shooting the girl," Xander finished. He shook his head. "Her shoot first, ask questions later attitude was pretty much destined to get her into trouble; it was pretty much a given. So what are you going to do about it and is there anyone you want me to make... disappear?"
"Non," Jean-Claude said, giving Xander a stern look. "You will not being doing any killing. I do not want you to end up with an order of execution on your head."
Xander shrugged. "Please. People have been trying to stick the stake in me for forever, but it's not like it's ever gonna happen. Anyone they send after me they'll be getting back in pieces too small to count."
"Do not test me, Alexander," Jean-Claude warned. "You will do no killing and you will most definitely not end up with a police record."
Xander sulkily crossed his arms over his chest. "Geez, you're no fun."
"This is not the time for humor," Asher said. "We must get Anita released from jail."
"How are we gonna do that?" Xander asked.
"Very simply, ma cher, I will place a call to the lawyers and allow them to handle the situation," Jean-Claude said.
"I guess that'll work too," Xander said unhappily. "I wanted to do some killing, though. It's been awhile since I've unleashed the old-fashioned violence and I seriously want to get my hurt on."
Jean-Claude gave him a long suffering look. "This is a new world, m'amour. We are living in a civilized society and we must ensure that we fit in, which means we must ignore our natural impulses. You are going to have to learn how to behave yourself in society."
"Well that's a world of not fun," Xander pouted. "It's so much easier just to kill and eat whoever I want. Darwinism has always been my favorite way of life, you know."
"Yet you are no longer in your usual world, and there are different rules that have to be followed," Asher said.
Xander sighed. "It's so not fair. No one's let me have any real fun since I've come to this world. It's all with the 'stay in control, Xanders,' and the 'must not make waves, Xanders.' I just want to let everything go and be me. Is that so much to ask?"
"Yes, in the here and now," Asher said. "We have to maintain our control so that we are not hunted down like dogs. We want to keep our wealth and have public identities where we do not have to hide every moment of our lives in the shadows and the night. We want to be able to call the police on annoying mortals that don't take 'Leave us alone' as an answer to their demands. And in payment for our many freedoms, we have to play the part of happy little vampires and not kill humans even when we want to more than anything else."
"Your lives suck, man," Xander whined. "Back in ol' Sunnyhell it's all about the violence and the death factor. We can kill anyone we want and there's no one to stand against us. Humans are cattle, and we've got free reign to thin the herd whenever we want. The only bad is the having to listen to the Master, but hey, he comes up with a couple of good ideas every once and awhile. You should have seen the schematics for his whole 'Factory' idea, now that was a bit of wicked. Who would have thought that anyone so old could have come up with such a modern idea? It's a good thing we killed my brother Angelus, or we'd have been facing some trouble, though Wills really pouted when we turned down her idea to keep him as a pet. He was better off dead, especially since the whole having a soul thing turned him into a complete waste of skin. But anyways, I missed the whole Factory opening and everything else." He sighed regretfully. "I never get to have any fun."
"You do not think that I am fun?" Jean-Claude asked, raising an eyebrow.
Xander gave him a super-sweet smile. "You're fun, but it's a different kind of fun than what I want right now. Sex is great, but sometimes I just want to crush and destroy and make with the atrocities, you know? And you're all with the big nos. It's so not cool."
"Poor baby," Asher said sarcastically.
"Exactly," Xander agreed. "And now we have to go and save Anita and you won't even let me unleash with the mindless violence then. Talk about your crimes against humanity."
Jean-Claude drew him into a sudden, tight hug. "Never change, m'amour. I love you just the way your are now."
"A mindless thug?" Asher suggested, but he crawled forward to hug Xander from behind.
"Aw, you guys really do like me," Xander teased.
The two other vampires just held him tighter, pressing their faces against him to breathe in his scent, marking him with their own.
Not even Willow had ever made him feel like this. He never wanted to lose these moments of almost-perfection that he found in Jean-Claude and Asher's arms. It made some unacknowledged bit of withered humanity deep at his core all warm and happy to think that someone somewhere might actually love him.
* * *
She was miserable and in jail, well, an interrogation room, but it definitely wasn't a happy combination.
Anita knew that she'd screwed up, but she didn't know how she was supposed to fix it. She'd used her one call to tell Catherine that she was in jail... again, and Catherine knew to tell Nathaniel what had happened to her, but after that call she had pretty much shut down.
Her one real thought was that she'd killed a kid. That girl had just stepped out of the shadow and without even pausing to think about it, Anita had put a bullet right between those wide-spaced blue eyes. She hadn't even paused to consider that it might be a mistake. She hadn't even had a second thought about pulling the trigger.
She knew that she wasn't going to be going to jail, since it had been an understandable mistake, but that really didn't matter when she was facing down the guilt of what she'd done. This one was going to weigh on her conscience forever.
Richard was right, she thought. I am a self-righteous bitch that's never wrong. Only this time, the mistake was all mine. I fucked up.
Hugging her knees tight against her chest, she rocked a little on the hard plastic bench. She would never have admitted it to anyone, but she really wasn't as tough as the image she presented to other people. She still had a little bit of the human left in her, and right now that shrinking voice was screaming loud and clear, letting her know that bad things were going to happen and that she deserved what was to come.
She was locked up and she didn't know if she wanted to be let out. The events of the last year were finally catching up to her and her soul had been worn too thin. She felt as fragile as rice paper, and all the ink on her had soaked through.
She had been happy, but of course she'd screwed that all to hell and back. She had been successful in her job, but things had fallen through with Dolph and now they weren't even talking civilly to each other. She had been the Master of St. Louis' favored human servant, and now they were barely speaking. Things had just gone to shit in her life, and now she'd killed an innocent twelve year old girl.
Anita Blake, vampire executioner, pressed her face against her knees and cried.
"Do we really have to get her out of the pokey?" Xander whined.
Jean-Claude shot him a sideways smile. "Oui, of course we must."
Xander snapped his fingers and made a disappointed face. "Darn it. I just thought that if we left her in there then I'd finally be able to go out without having to take a whole retinue everywhere with me. It makes me feel like such a wimp to have to take bodyguards wherever I go."
"Even if Anita was not hunting for your blood, you would still have to have bodyguards," Jean-Claude said, reaching out to stroke one hand through Xander's hair. "I do not trust the world to be kind to you, and you are my precious one. No one will be allowed to touch you, ever."
Xander sighed and leaned into Jean-Claude's touch.
It kind of sucked that he wasn't allowed to go out by himself, but it was just proof that Jean-Claude cared about him, so he would deal with the whole suckiness factor of it all like the semi-adult he was.
Besides, it wasn't like he couldn’t still have a lot of fun even with the bodyguards around. They just made things more interesting for him, that was all. And he'd always loved having an audience for his fun-making.
"Let's go get Anita," Xander said resignedly.
"Yes, m'amour." Jean-Claude leaned forward, a bit away from Xander, to hit the intercom button. "To the police station, Samuel."
"Yes sir," the driver replied.
The long black limo slid through the nighttime traffic like a lazy whale, surprisingly elegant in motion, slipping in-between cars and trucks at a respectable speed, eating up the distance. The Master of the City was off to rescue his human servant, and in the car with him rode Asher and his favored new toy, Xander Harris.
It really was a new world after all, one where vampires thought nothing of rescuing the Executioner.