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Title: The Mary Sue Virus: Beyond Death
Chapter Thirty Five: A Day in the Life
Fandom: Anita Blake universe
Rating: 18 and up
Warnings: graphic sex and violence, language, anything else i can toss in.
Disclaimer: the recognizable characters and places contained herein are the property of LKH. i'm merely borrowing for the sake of entertainment. no money is being made from this venture. the Sues are the sole property of their originators, Ginevra, Dazzledfirestar, Nanaea, SilverFoxChan and ladydeathfaerie. the concept and title of The Mary Sue Virus are used with permission from Dazzledfirestar.

Author's Notes: goddamn its been a long time. also. unbetaed.

The Mary Sue Virus: Beyond Death - Index Link

The forest around her was calm and peaceful, filled with all manner of life. Green growing things. Four legged furry animals. Small insects. Chittering birds. Even the earth beneath her was pulsing with life. The soil was moist and ripe, spongy enough to sink her fingers into so that she could feel the natural magic flowing through every thing. It was the one thing she had going for her that set her apart from witches who learned their craft from books. They could use the magic and power around them, but they needed their spells to harness it. Natural witches like herself simply had to open themselves to that power and magic. And here, out in the middle of tall trees and rich earth, she was at her most powerful.

A soft sigh left her throat as energy and magic flowed into her through her contact with the ground. The thin, soft blanket she sat on did nothing to interfere with her body as it recharged. Not even the warm, vibrant body sitting across from her was a hindrance. This was where she belonged, where she felt most at peace. Most complete.

It had been Nathaniel's idea to pack a picnic lunch. Rhiannon had mentioned that she needed to get away from the crowded, cluttered, clinging garbage that lingered in the city. She'd expected some kind of confusion to show on his face, or that he'd ask her questions. But he hadn't. Had simply suggested they take some lunch with them, then he'd packed it while she'd gotten a few essential items together to take with her. Then they'd piled into her Jeep and, with Nathaniel giving directions, had pulled out onto the road in search of a green patch of land hidden amongst the trees.

She could feel him watching her as he unloaded the basket packed with their lunch. There was a faint sense of curiosity to him, but he was otherwise silent. Of course, she'd asked him for a few minutes to collect herself before they ate or talked. He had agreed without hesitation, telling her that he wouldn't speak until she broke the silence. She liked that about him. When he said he'd do something, he did it. Without hesitation.

A soft breeze blew across her face, ruffling her bangs and the wisps of hair that framed her face. She'd worked it the length of it into a braid so that it wouldn't get blown all over the place. And it allowed the warmth of the wind and the sun to caress her skin. She was kneeling on the blanket, her legs tucked under her while her hands rested palms down on her thighs. She'd dressed for their afternoon, slipping into a deep, chocolate brown skirt of cotton and lace that reached her ankles and flowed. It was full enough to allow her to move with ease, billowing slightly with each step in that wispy, flowy way that people often associated with people involved with New Age pursuits. The tank she'd paired with it was a cream colored cotton, edged with a pale yellow-green to add just a touch of color. The ensemble was earthy and light, perfect for shaking off the build up of city life and reconnecting with Mother Earth.

Rhiannon sat with her eyes closed, allowing herself to listen to the faint buzz of magic that could be found in every living thing on the planet. She imagined herself a giant chalice, open and receptive to being filled up with whatever Goddess gave her. Light and energy poured into her slowly, pushing out all of the negativity that had curled around her in the past few weeks until she felt as if she'd been freed. Made whole again.

When she felt like there was no more room, she finally opened her eyes to find Nathaniel watching her. And the containers their meal was in was laid out on the blanket, waiting for them to be ready. Nathaniel smiled at her. "Better?"

"Much. Thank you for bringing me here. This is exactly what I needed." She sighed and shifted around so that she was no longer sitting on her lower legs. Her eyes drifted around their picnic area, making note of the different trees and the long grasses that edged the clearing. One thing she missed about Tennessee and Marianne's place was the proximity her house had to trees and nature. Living in the city was going to take getting used to.

"Its a quiet place, lacking in all of the noise and pollution and buildings that one finds in big cities. That was one of the things we really liked about Anita's house. It was in an area where we could let loose and run free when we needed to. The city isn't really friendly to lycanthropes. There's too much noise and not enough nature. And everything's too close together." His tone was a little wistful, letting her know that he missed the house. And he missed Anita.

"I'm sorry you got taken away from your peace, Nathaniel," Rhiannon offered quietly. She felt she understood that one all too well.

He shrugged one shoulder before bending to the task of removing lids and putting food on plates. She allowed him the opportunity to speak or not, let him deal with his feelings on his own. Instinct told her that he needed to deal with his emotions and thoughts by himself, if only for the length of time it took to serve and possibly eat their meal. So she contented herself with watching him, with feeling the sun rest warm and familiar against her face like the hands of a long standing, well known lover.

A gentle breeze brought not only the succulent aroma of their meal to her nose, but more subtle scents that she could never find anywhere but in wide open spaces. There was the fresh cleanliness of grass. The loamy soil from which it grew. The trees with their woody greenness. The faint musk of animals. All that and more rode the air, reminded her that she was in her own personal heaven. Reminded her that she was in tune with Goddess. Rhiannon cherished every single gift that Goddess gave her.

"You lost your peace, too." His voice was quiet against the backdrop of nature, but she heard it all the same. Heard the loss and sadness and the sympathy in each of his words. It brought her gaze to where he sat across from her on the blanket to find that he was watching her with a deep, fathomless gaze that said he knew exactly what it was she'd lost. She'd told him about Jeremy, but only what she could absolutely get away with. Not nearly as much as she'd told Richard the night of Andy's attack. She'd been too emotional at the time and everything had come pouring out. Now, because of that confession, she was raw on the inside again. She'd tell Nathaniel about Jeremy. In time. When it wouldn't rend her soul into pieces to do so. And something told her he'd understand.

"I did. A while ago. But I've found new peace here," she admitted. "With Richard and the pack. With Aedan and Minette and Isis and Janika. With Jean Claude and his kiss. With Micah and the pard. And mostly with you, Nathaniel." She offered him a smile to go along with his name, to let him know that she didn't regret coming to St. Louis at all. To let him know that she couldn't be happier about having him in her life.

Her response made him smile. She watched in silence as he continued to serve their lunch, putting twice as much of each item on his plate as he put on hers. They had roasted chicken, a fresh green salad and a light olive oil dressing, fresh fruit that had been cut up into bite size pieces, veggies with dip. To drink, he'd packed bottles of water and some juice. Dessert was where he'd been decadent, a rich and indulgent chocolate cheese cake that made her consider skipping her meal altogether.

It wasn't until Nathaniel had passed her food and beverage to her, and they'd settled in to actually eat, that he broke the silence between them and spoke again. "Did you always know you were a witch?" The question was soft, almost tentative, as if he wasn't sure it was something he should ask about. Rhiannon gave him a gentle smile and finished her bite of chicken before answering him.

"No. I didn't. I knew that there were some things I could do when I was younger that I knew other people couldn't do. I thought I was psychic or something along those lines. It wasn't until I met Marianne that I knew I was a witch. And that's because she took one look at me and told me I was a witch. And then she offered to take me on as an apprentice and teach me the things she felt I needed to know." The memories that came with her explanation were bittersweet and Rhiannon worked at keeping the sadness from her face and voice. "You don't know many witches?"

"If I did, I wasn't aware. What's it like?" His curiosity was genuine. She saw no reason not to indulge him.

"Well, I can't speak for other witches. Each witch practices their craft in their own way. For me, its... kind of like an extension of myself. Its always there, even when I'm not consciously thinking about it. Kind of like breathing. It happens, whether you think about it or not. My magic is like that for me." She paused to nibble on an apple slice while she considered her next words. With some people, she wouldn't have gone any further than that explanation. But Nathaniel was smart. And she was sure he'd pick it all up fairly quickly. And, if they were going to be a couple, it was probably best he knew and understood who and what she was. "I'm what's known as a natural witch. I was born with my magic in my blood. Its always been there and it always will be."

"That's not true for everyone?" he asked, eyes watching her intently. She shook her head and sipped from her juice.

"No. Some people train themselves to use magic. But its like anything else they learn. They have to keep working at it to stay good. Not that I don't have to work at mine. I just don't have to work as hard. And we all have to find the path that suits us best."

"It isn't all the same?"

"Yes. And no." Explaining magic wasn't exactly the easiest thing, even if the person you were talking to believed in it. So it was best to always deal with it in terms that the other person understood. "You and Jason both have lycanthropy, right?"

Nathaniel nodded. She could tell that he was already starting to understand what she was trying to explain. "Yeah. Its the same type of thing, but not exactly. Jason's version gave him wolf lycanthropy. Mine gave me leopard lycanthropy."

"Right. When the full moon hits and you have to change, you become a leopard while he becomes a wolf. Two different versions of what is essentially the same thing. Magic and witchcraft are like that. And because they are, people follow the path that draws them."

He took a look around the clearing where they were having their picnic lunch. "You chose nature."

She smiled at him, inclining her head to acknowledge his words. "I chose nature. Though it was pretty easy to do so, because nature more or less chose me. But there are other types of witchcraft. Some witches are kitchen witches. Some are hedge witches. There's Feri and Wicca. Each of these types of witches use different tools to reach their outcomes. I don't need tools much, because all of my magic comes from within."

Nathaniel absorbed that as he chewed on a piece of chicken. She suspected he was going to end up making a trip to the library to find a book that would explain it all to him. "So do all witches cast spells, then? And what about white and black magic?"

Rhiannon took a bite of her salad before answering. There was no need to rush the lesson or their lunch. As far as she knew, she had nothing else to do today. Aedan had called to say that their shooting lessons were on hold for a few days because Edward had been called out on a job and he planned on stopping in New Mexico for a while after. She couldn't think of anything better to do with her free day than spend it basking in golden sunlight with Nathaniel at her side, eating a delicious picnic lunch and talking about whatever topic crossed their minds.

"Some witches cast spells. Not all. Not all do spell crafting. Some witches don't have the talent for it. And as for white and black magic..." She glanced around the clearing a moment or two, letting the peace of her surroundings wash through her yet again. "There really isn't any such thing. Those are terms created by people who don't understand how magic works. Magic is about intent. A witch uses their intent to fuel a spell and make it work. Because spells are neutral until someone crafts them up."

"And then they put their intent into the spell. If they want to do good with it, the spell should do good. If they want to do harm, the spell will do harm," Nathaniel added.

She smiled at him. "That's exactly how it works. Our actions are what make us good or bad. That's why a blood witch can craft good spells even though they're using blood in their rituals. Just remember that whatever you take from Goddess to craft your spells, she'll want back in full. Its a delicate balance," she cautioned. "Take too much and you can throw everything out of alignment."

He said nothing for a good long while, turning her words over in his head until he finally frowned. She waited, sure he was going to tell her what he was thinking. When he finally gave his full attention back to her, she could see that he was confused about something. "Does that mean that what Aedan does, what Anita did, is a kind of magic?"

Rhiannon didn't have to consider it. "It does. Its a specialized form of magic that only people like them, necromancers, are capable of wielding." She saw the frown deepen. It took a moment, but she understood why he was suddenly so pensive. "Anita didn't take without giving back, Nathaniel. She gave back all the time. The reason she's gone is because there are some people in this world who are just plain evil. That balance I mentioned? It'll find a way to work itself back into place. And when it does, the people responsible for her death will no doubt meet their own."

"You're sure?" For just a moment, she heard the disbelief. The sadness and the confusion. He needed her reassurance, needed someone to tell him that the bad guys would not get away with killing the one person who had shown him his own value.

"I'm sure. There's magic in everything, Nathaniel. Me, you, the rest of the lycanthropes, the vampires. Every human on the planet. And magic requires balance. Every time you take, you have to give something back. The people responsible for her death took her from this world. They will have to give something back. That something will be their own lives." She made sure that he could hear the certainty in her voice.

He was silent a moment or two, took time to absorb her words. To taste them and weigh the truth of them against his tongue. Then he looked at her and nodded, his face set in a mask of predatory anticipation. "I want to be there to see it happen."

Rhiannon shivered at Nathaniel's words. It was the first time she'd ever heard him say something so blood thirsty. Then she was distracted by his hands as they set his plate aside. It was empty anyway, every last bit of the food he'd put on it for himself eaten up. His gaze dropped to her plate to note that she was still had about a third of her lunch left to eat. When he brought his eyes back to her face, that predatory look was back. This time, it was tempered with lust and need of an entirely different kind. "Is it true that witches keep black cats as their familiars?"

"History says they do," she replied. Nathaniel nodded at that, then moved. She barely had time to move it to the side before he pounced on her. Laughter bubbled up her throat, filled the clearing. Under it, she heard a soft rumble. Then Nathaniel was nuzzling her the soft skin just under her ear, his body pressing her more firmly against the ground. Every last thought fled when his hands began tracing the length of her body. Then his lips found hers and she forgot her own name.

~*~*~*~*~

"So the frog gets up and starts moving around, its internal organs kind of falling out of its body cavity as it does so. Some of the girls in class start screaming like they're in a horror movie being chased by the crazed axe killer. Then the frog turns to look at the jock asshole and it hops toward him. This guy shoots up out of his chair and jumps back from the table. His screams are, I shit you not, louder and higher than the girls. In two seconds flat, he's got his books in hand and he's heading for the door." Aedan paused to swirl a couple fries through the ketchup, then pop them into her mouth. She shot Christophe a broad smile. "I think he might have shit himself on the way out. Pretty much everyone broke into laughter. Minette tried to read me the riot act later when we were back in our dorm room, but she couldn't keep a straight face. The asswipe never did show back up to class after that."

Christophe chuckled softly, giving her a flash of white teeth when he smiled at her. "All this because he was mean to Minette?"

"Not just Minette. This dick picked on anyone who wouldn't stick up for themselves. I figured it was time to end it. Maybe I shouldn't have done it that way, but he never picked on anyone after that. It was mostly harmless." She shrugged.

"I don't blame you for protecting Minette," he replied, deep voice rumbling up from his chest like thunder. It was a good sound, suitable to a man who conversed with the loa and dealt with death on a daily basis. "I do hope you made amends to the frog for using it so."

"I did. I felt kind of bad about animating it just so it could scare the shit out of some dumbass jock who thought he was better than everyone else because he was there on a free ride. I buried the frog later. Gave him a nice send off. Probably a better end than if the asshole had finished the dissection."

He nodded his head at her, his smile telling her that he approved of her actions. Then the smile slid away into a more contemplative look and Aedan found she wanted to squirm under his weighted gaze. "Death touched you at an early age, child. And Death has been your companion since. Even here, in this place that is filled with life, Death clings to you."

She'd always known that there was something different about herself, but this was the first time anyone had ever come out and told her so. It was kind of weird to hear him say that Death had been her constant companion for most of her life. She'd never actually looked at it that way before.

"I felt Death hovering over your shoulder before you even stepped foot in my office the other night That makes me think you and he are old friends," she replied, careful to keep any emotion from her voice. He'd strayed into dangerous territory, territory that was laden with a thousand different landmines. One wrong word and any one of those mines could explode in her face. Minette was her oldest friend and she still didn't know anything about Aedan's past.

"Death and I are brothers. We walk arm in arm through the world and I am glad for his company. But you, child. Death is like a cloak with you. You wear him as an armor. It makes me wonder what happened in your short life to bring his attention your way."

"My mother died when I was an infant," she told him, the words tumbling from her mouth before she could stop herself. Christophe sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest as he studied her. After a moment or two, he nodded as if he'd found what he was looking for. She didn't ask him what that something was, fairly certain she didn't want to know. She was starting to get the impression that Christophe saw so much more than he let on and that he had an understanding of Death that she never would.

"Death touched you that day, laid his hand upon your brow and marked you as one of his own. He has been following you since. And then you were witness to Anita's death," he commented. She shivered at the otherworldly quality to his voice and the words he spoke. Intuition said he was channeling the loa. She was frightened by just how easy it was for him.

"I was. She was attacked and I could do nothing to help her. I felt helpless. Useless." Aedan didn't understand why she was telling these things to him. Maybe because she needed to get it off her chest and he seemed to be the only person she'd met since that night who wasn't judging her for what she did and didn't do. "And then I knelt on the road, knees in her blood, and held her hand while she fucking died. It was a night filled with a great many emotions."

Christophe watched her for a while, eyes deep and fathomless with understanding. With sadness. There was sympathy in his gaze that went a long way toward soothing the conflicting emotions that their talk had stirred up. "Her death left its mark on you." He pointed toward her twice, once at her heart and once at her head. "There and there."

"She gave me her powers. Something that people aren't supposed to be capable of doing. Magic doesn't work that way." Aedan twirled her glass of Coke once or twice, then lifted it to take a drink. She wished briefly that it was something stronger, but she really didn't need it and she didn't want it to become a crutch. Her life wasn't always going to be as hectic as it was now. At least, she hoped it wasn't. She needed to cope without getting drunk.

"And yet, here you are. Death marked you, child. He thinks you're special."

Aedan shook her head at him. "Not to argue with Death, but I think he made a mistake."

Christophe gave her an indulgent look, one of those soft chuckles from deep inside rumbling up his throat to paint the air. "Give it time, child. You'll see that Death knows precisely what he was doing. You must have faith in these things."

Aedan shot him a look that suggested she still didn't believe it, but she said nothing more. The conviction in Christophe's face told her very plainly that he would argue the point with her until Death came to claim them both. Instead, she took a bite of her burger and chewed it thoughtfully. She hadn't meant for the conversation to turn toward her personal life. They were supposed to be talking shop. One representative of Death to another. Determined to get back to that, she pointed a fry at him. "How did you know that the business of life and death would be your calling?"

"It runs in my veins," he told her, flashing a wide grin. One finger touched the inside of his forearm, ran up the center toward the bend in his elbow. "My mother and my father were priestess and priest for many years. They passed their beliefs and traditions on to me."

"So you always knew?"

"I always heard the call, yes."

She had to admit, she was just a touch jealous that he'd had a family that cared about him. One that had passed their considerable gifts on to him. She'd never had that growing up, had always been a freak and an outsider. Which was probably why she'd attached herself to Minette the way she had. Minette had been her first real friend. And that had quickly morphed into family.

"Your family passed gifts to you, too." The rumble of his voice brought her out of her thoughts just as his hand, warm gentle, settled over her. She lifted her eyes to his face to find that it was soft with compassion and understanding. Embarrassment washed through her upon the realization that she'd spoken her thoughts aloud.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--"

He interrupted her with a laugh and his hand squeezed hers. "You have nothing to apologize for, Aedan. While I know nothing of your childhood, I know that it was not a happy one. That childhood shaped you into the woman you are now."

"I don't know if that's such a ringing endorsement of my character, Christophe." She punctuated her sentence by taking a rather large bite off her burger. He chuckled again, a warm sound that reminded her of sun-drenched meadows and honey, and had a bite of his salad.

"You sell yourself short, child. As I said before. Give it time. You'll see," he assured her. Then he cocked his head and stared at her, giving her the impression he was listening to voices she couldn't hear. "Tell me, when did Death first make himself known to you?"

She blinked at the question, not quite certain what he meant by it at first. But then she realized he was asking when her powers manifested. Aedan shrugged and swirled a fry in the ketchup on her plate. "I don't really remember? I was still pretty young. I don't think I'd hit ten yet before the first zombie showed up. It took a few years before I really understood what was happening and why it was happening to me. Circumstances being what they were, I didn't really learn how to control my necromancy until I was almost out of high school."

He regarded her for several moments with a stare so intense that she had to force herself not to squirm. "You've come far since then. You're quite powerful."

"That's Anita's doing. I would have been a very middle of the road necromancer if not for her gifts," Aedan admitted with chagrin. She should have gotten used to it by now, the idea that her abilities weren't really hers. It was still a bitter pill to swallow some day, though.

"The loa say the power was in you the whole time, child." There was certainty in his voice that startled her. And it was on the tip of her tongue to argue with him about it. But she didn't, instead chose to remain silent so as not to provoke some kind of fight. His smile broadened again, as if he knew she was biting her tongue about it all. "As I said..."

Aedan leaned back in her seat and held her hands up in surrender. "I know. I know. Give it time."

Christophe watched her for a bit, his gaze direct and searching. She had the distinct feeling that he was seeing more than he let on. That there was more to him than he let on. But that wasn't any of her business unless he made it her business. So she kept any questions to herself and signaled their server for another glass of Coke. The silence held between them until their server and had come and gone, depositing a full glass before sweeping away the empty one. "So tell me .Are there anymore stories from your time at college in which you frightened the ignorant?"

Aedan chuckled softly and shook her head. "Not really. I pretty much kept to myself nearly the whole time I was in college. That was a special case. I just got super tired of the way this asshole treated people. When he started in on Minette, that was the last straw. The rest of my time at college was devoted to my studies."

"You didn't go to parties like your fellow students?"

Aedan shook her head. "I wasn't much of a partier. I've always been an outsider. I never felt like I fit in anywhere until I met Minette. She and I would spend our weekends studying, then watching movies. I'm still not much of a people person. Large groups leave me unsettled. Going to crime scenes is doubly trying. Too many bodies. Too much gore."

Christophe nodded, his expression solemn. That told her that he understood what she hadn't said. Too many gruesome memories to haunt her. "The violence that one man can do to another is horrible and it would be worrisome if such acts didn't affect you."

"So its normal for me to see that shit in my head all day long? Good to know. Here I thought there was something wrong with me because I can't separate myself from it." He made no reply to that, so Aedan decided to shift the conversation. "Put me in a cemetery, though... Its like coming home. I enjoy the quiet. I enjoy the peace. I enjoy the solitude."

"The dead talk to you, don't they?"

She thought about that a moment, because it wasn't something she'd ever really considered before. Letting memory slip back to each time she'd been in a cemetery, either for work or some other reason, she found that there was some kind of communication going on there. "Yeah. I think they do. I've never really given it much thought before, but yeah."

Christophe said nothing. But he gave a single nod of his head, 'mm-hmming' as he did so, before letting his smile blossom wide and knowing across his face. When she shot him a sour look, he threw his head back and laughed, his amusement deep and rich and loud enough to fill the restaurant. It prompted everyone to turn and stare.

Great. Just what Aedan needed. More people staring at her. He deserved to get choked by his own chicken. Maybe she could pull that off? A glance at the wooden staff resting beside him reminded her that it was not a smart idea to piss off the loa.

Fine. She just imagine getting back at him.

~*~*~*~*~

Janika stared at the piles of files that rested on the desk before her, each one sorted into a different stack as soon as she finished reading it. She barely took note of the classical music playing in the background, more to keep her brain from noticing the silence than any desire to actually listen to music. Background noise helped her focus and concentrate. It also served as an anchor, to keep her more unique instincts from running away with her in the middle of a file. That had happened to her once. It had taken her too long to sleep after that slip so she was going to make sure it would never happen again.

There were five piles. One held the files she was still working through. The other four represented a killer or killers. Four of them. Three working alone and two working together. Her impressions of the three individuals were of killers who were uncoordinated, who had managed to murder someone more out of luck than any real effort. The last pile, the pile that belonged to a pair of people working together, spoke of organization and structure. Those two had some agenda and they would not be stopped unless someone slapped them in cuffs. Or shot them. The only thing that tied all of the files together was the presence of that damned symbol.

She'd found some mention or photo of it in every single one of them.

There was something about that symbol that she thought she should recognize, but she couldn't place it. Worse than that, neither the police nor the FBI could find anything about it in their databases. And yet, it felt like a familiar and oft used symbol.

Sighing, Janika kept hold of the file for a little while longer before finally laying it on one of the individual killer piles. She'd been getting odd sensations off all of them, little flashes of insight that helped her pinpoint which killer had perpetrated the crime contained in the file. Between that and the profiler training she'd done, she'd gotten through nearly all of the files. She was slightly puzzled by the feelings she got off the files belonging to the pair working together. Because beyond the clues that she found by reading and looking for patterns, there were the things she got with her unique intuition.

The single killers gave her feelings of devotion, or of determination, or of desire. As if the people responsible wanted to prove something to someone. As if they wanted to prove that they were worthy. Each one of them read as acts committed by people who were trying hard to make someone notice them. The pair that worked together, however... That was a different story entirely.

Handling files that contained information about their killings always brought such feelings of rage. And, as she'd told Detectives Storr and Zerbrowski, there were underlying sensations of impotence. There was a hesitation, as well, as if one of the pair didn't want to be involved in the things that they were doing. Maybe the angry partner was forcing the reluctant one to do their bidding. Maybe it was something else entirely. Janika couldn't be sure.

She also couldn't be sure about the faint feelings of warmth and fuzziness, of fierce loyalty, of bitterness, of unwavering faith, and of unshakeable love. She didn't know how those fit into the pair's profile. Or even why. Nor could she explain why the duo seemed to only target members of the lycanthropic community.

The victims spanned the various groups, though it was beginning to look like most of them didn't have ties to their individual communities. She could at least see a pattern in the fact that nearly all the victims were apparently loners, without a shape shifting family to turn to. It was a strange M.O. for a serial killer, to go after people from so many varied groups. As yet, no one had found a common denominator that tied the victims together. And the profile was muddied further by the latest victims.

Silver down the throat was a very specific thing. Given her years as a profiler, and in her expert opinion, the silver down the throat was some kind of statement. It was meant for people who were vocal or outspoken. It was meant to silence those people. She wouldn't be surprised if the last two women were activists of some sort. If their being lycanthropes played into that, and Janika had no reason to believe that it didn't, then they were dealing with hate crimes. Frowning, Janika took a moment to fire off an email to her partner at the field office that mentioned the hate crime angle and asked them to look into whether or not the last two victims had been advocates of some kind.

Sighing, Janika rose from her chair and made for the door to her office. She'd been sitting far too long, the words in the case files starting to blur together. She need to stretch and she needed to fetch herself a cup of coffee. Maybe she'd grab something to nibble on. She knew there was fruit on the counter. But there was also a sweet, decadent, crumbly pastry there, too. She considered them both, weighing the pros and cons, and finally settled on a piece of the pastry. Everyone knew that pastry went better with coffee than fruit did.

The cases followed her to her kitchen, lingering at the edges of the consciousness, as if to tease her and taunt her. Right now, she couldn't put it all together to see how everything fit into the bigger picture. The symbol obviously tied every thing together. But how? What did it mean? And what did it have to do with Asher? His attack had been lumped into the whole thing even though there was nothing beyond a photo of the weapon used on him in the files. It didn't fit the profile at all.

Her thoughts chased one another around in her head as she poured herself a cup of coffee and as she cut herself a piece of pastry. And as she carried both back to her office. She wasn't sure what she was going to have to Detective Storr once she was through all the case files. Unless she could find that one thing that tied every one of them together, all she'd be able to tell him for certain was which crimes were committed by single killers, which by the pair, and which weren't tied to these murders at all. Somehow, she was sure that such an event would leave the man frustrated and disappointed.

Taking her seat once again, Janika set her pastry down and broke a corner off of it. The baked sweet was moist and delicate, hints of cinnamon teasing her taste buds. She used the coffee to wash the bite down, then settled her coffee cup next to the pastry and reached for the next file.

She could tell the moment she picked up the file that it was one of the single killer cases. She got a sense of zealousness from it, along with the lack of coordination she'd come to expect from the solitary killers. It was odd, though, because the zealous feeling was twined with madness. That wasn't especially common with the other killers. It almost felt like the zealousness that came with the pair that was apparently specifically targeting only lycanthropes. But it wasn't the same. It was, and wasn't, personal. It was confusing.

Janika flipped the file open and started with the first page. And frowned. She was unsure why this case file had been included with the others. None of the other cases had been closed. This one appeared to have been closed by the police already. The suspect had been apprehended and sentenced for attempted murder of a vampire. The investigator's notes indicated that the man responsible was homeless and apparently not very sane at all. There were comments about the man speaking gibberish, about him mentioning angels and demons, and about the man claiming that God would lift him up and honor him for fighting in the war against the demons. Even more intriguing was the mention of a witness.

A few pages later, Janika found a typed up statement with a scrawling signature on it that could have been literally anything. There were so many loops and curls that she had a hard time figuring out if she was looking at a letter or just a curling line that was meant to look like a letter. A quick skim of the statement basically confirmed that the homeless man had been responsible and that the person giving the statement had witnessed the man's actions. The whole thing felt... off. Like there was something wrong with the statement.

Shifting her focus to the signature, she ran a finger along the curling lines done in ink in an attempt to decipher what had been written there. Even dragging her finger along the twists and turns, she couldn't make out what it was meant to be. But that line of ink provided her with something else and she only had a moment's warning, a slight tingle in the tip of her finger, before she was plunged headlong into a series of shadowy images that felt old and faint and long cherished.

She saw a pretty face, familiar in a vague kind of way, illuminated by low light. Dark hair cascaded down around her shoulders in riot of big, loose curls. She was smiling at someone, flashing her teeth while she made coy eyes. Laughter tipped her head back, exposing the long line of her throat. She sipped at a drink settled near her elbow, the glass sweating and several ice cubes clattering against the sides of the tumbler. Pale smoke haloed her head, hard to see in the faint light. There were people around her, behind her, giving the impression of a moderate sized crowd. It felt like she was in a bar.

"You must allow me to buy you a drink." His voice is soft and rich, full of power. The woman smiles at him and nods her head, which prompts him to signal the bartender. There is a kind of radiance to her, something he sees as he stares at her face. Something he'd seen the minute he'd stepped through the door. She's special in ways the other one isn't. Beautiful in ways the other one isn't. He feels a hunger he hasn't felt in a long time. He needs to make her his. "What's your name, beautiful?"

The smoke behind the woman's head seemed to thicken until she couldn't see anyone or anything. There was a faintly sickening lurch, then the fog cleared and she could see that the scene had shifted. It was a bedroom this time and the same woman was staring down toward the man who had given her the vision. She was naked, her hair mussed and tumbled about her shoulders as her breasts bounced and jiggled with her every move. It was very apparent the she and her partner were in the middle of an illicit encounter.

"You're so beautiful, darling," he tells her. His words draw forth a blush and a husky laugh, then she leans forward to kiss him. He uses her closeness to tighten his hold on her hips and urge her into a faster rhythm. She moans, wanton and hungry and so passionate, as she sits up once again.

"Harder, baby. Fuck me harder," she begs, sweet and sinful mouth shifting into a delectable pout as she presses down and squeezes her muscles around him. His cock twitches with her teasing and he willingly obliges her request.


A heartbeat later, the images shifted again. There was that lurch that Janika knew meant a good chunk of time had passed, then she found herself staring at the woman again. She looked faintly concerned, mouth pulled down at the corners in a frown. Her eyes were on her knees, where her fingers were curled around her knees so tightly that they were going white. A larger hand reached out to settle on one of hers, which brought her gaze back up to her companion.

"Whatever it is, you can tell me. Please, darling. I hate to see you so upset." He makes sure his voice is soft and patient, with just a hint of a push behind it. She blinks a few times, trying to keep her tears from falling. He gives her a gentle smile. Promises her that she'll find no judgement here.

She nods, swallows so hard that he can hear it. Then she gets up and heads toward the bathroom. When she comes back out, he can see that her hands are clutched around something. A faint warning trills through his head. When she settles in her chair again, she uncurls her hands enough to lay the item in them down on the coffee table before him. It is a pregnancy test. He can see by the window that the test is positive. A child. They've made a child. For a moment, he thinks that this is the end, that they can go no further. But then he realizes that she will give him a perfect child. A child as beautiful and as passionate as its mother. A biddable, easily controlled child. A smile spreads over his face. He keeps his thoughts hidden from her and reaches out to squeeze her hand. "A baby! A wonderful gift, darling. Wonderful news. You're going to be such a wonderful mother."

Much better than the other one. Much, much better.


The vision cleared away, leaving Janika gasping for breath and wondering just what in the hell the woman had to do with the crimes. More than that, what did the man have to do with them? Why was she seeing this and just what did it mean?

~*~*~*~*~

A glance up told Minette that it had grown dark since the last time she'd pulled her nose out of coalition business. The Lunatic Café was crowded with customers and the waitress who had come over to refill their beverages recently had given them a moderately dirty look. A glance at her watch told her that they'd been there for a good long while. She nudged Micah with her elbow, drawing him out of his conversation with Isis, then gave a pointed look toward their irritated server. She watched as he glanced over, then nodded and heaved a sigh. "You're right. We have been here way too long."

They'd come for a late working lunch, the three of them getting together to discuss the rights of the city's lycanthrope community and what could be done to protect them from the serial killer that had been targeting the wolves. Apparently they'd gotten so lost in business that they'd stayed right on through dinner. Isis glanced at her watch and frowned. "Damn. I have a meeting with a client in half an hour. I need to go home and change. If I hurry, I can just make it," she told them as she started gathering up her things. "I can't believe I wasn't paying closer attention."

Minette offered her an understanding smile. "You're passionate about your job, Isis. We all understand that."

"Well, yes. I'm very passionate about my job. But I'm also passionate about the coalition and what it is we do here. We have something unique, something really special, that no one else has. And we can use this thing of ours to affect change for the lycanthropes in the city. Maybe even in this country."

"That's going to take some time, Isis. People aren't ready to accept us yet," Micah reminded her gently.

"They accept the vampires," she returned.

"The vampires can make themselves appear beautiful and harmless. We don't have that luxury. Not yet," he reminded her. Isis snorted her opinion of that statement. Sadly, Micah was right. For the moment, anyone who could shift their shape into that of an animal was eyed with suspicion because they were painted as wild, maddened, frothing beasts who would just as soon kill you as look at you. Minette had seen plenty of that shitty propaganda at school. She'd always worried that one of those redneck hunter types would find out her secret and come for her. When she'd confessed that fear to Aedan, the other woman's remark had been very uncomplimentary about such people and it had involved pimples and asses. But she'd come up with a plan that had kept Minette safe. And if rumors surrounding their relationship got exaggerated, that wasn't a bad thing at all.

"Then we have to work harder at changing their minds," Isis said, already out of her seat. Minette watched as Isis collected her things, tucking files and notes into her leather briefcase. Micah dropped several bills on the table. A quick glance told Minette he'd added a hefty tip to make up for their occupying the table for such a long while. Her hands were already busy with gathering up the things they'd brought with them, tucking them away into the bag they'd brought them in.

"We will. That's why this coalition is so important." Micah offered Minette his hand to help her from their booth. She flashed him a smile and let him be a gentleman, despite the fact that they both knew she didn't need the help. "But we need to be cautious. And patient. Because for every one of us who isn't violent, there's one out there who is."

Isis muttered some very uncomplimentary things under her breath in reply. Minette pretended she couldn't hear any of it and made sure to hide her smile.

Micah nodded his head to the staff as they headed for the door, a silent thank you for their patience. It wasn't long before they were stepping out into the night, Isis at the front. The lot was filled with cars and even more were arriving. The vehicle Micah had driven was parked right beside Isis' Jeep. The three of them started across the lot toward their cars in silence.

Halfway across the lot, Minette stopped and tilted her head. Listening. A second later, Micah mirrored her actions. Isis stilled, her head turning back and forth as she searched their surroundings. Something was out there. Watching them. Minette was sure of it. She couldn't pinpoint where whatever it was had hidden, but she could feel it.

"We're being watched," Isis rumbled quietly.

"I know. I can't figure out where," Minette whispered. "Micah?"

"No. There are too many lycanthropes here. Too much energy to pinpoint anyone." His voice was low, in it a faint touch of the cat lurking beneath his skin. Minette could feel the energy boiling around him, suggesting he was ready to shift his hands at a moment's notice. It was a sign that things were as serious as she thought them to be. The tension climbed higher, pulling her shoulders tight. The feel of claws pressed against the inside of her fingertips. Something had to happen, and soon.

It felt as if the world had stopped turning, as if the three of them and whatever threat lingered in the darkness, were the only things left. A flick of her gaze toward the brightly lit windows of the café told her that the patrons were seemingly unaware of their situation. Not that Minette was going to complain about that. Some of the people in there were not strong enough to fight off whatever she felt hiding out there. Not everyone could be a fighter.

Time hung and stretched, pulling tight in the same way the muscles in her back pulled tight. She could feel the intent to act, to strike at them, building in the night air around them. Whatever was out there planned to attack. She was as sure of it as she was of her name. She didn't know why it hadn't done so yet. Why it simply hid and waited. Waiting for it to make a move was agony.

Just when Minette thought she was at the end of her wits, a pair of headlights swept the parking lot. The tension shattered like an old pane of brittle glass. Minette couldn't stop the sigh that rolled up her throat when she recognized Aedan's car. It came to a stop right beside them and had barely stopped rolling when Aedan spilled from the vehicle, gun in hand and pointed into the shadows on the other side of the road. Her bodyguard, a rat that Minette hadn't met before, took up position on the other side of the car, gun pointed in the opposite direction.

"What is it?" she asked, never once glancing away from her invisible target.

"I don't know," Micah admitted. "We all just felt something and reacted. None of us were comfortable with leaving."

"Whatever it is, its evil," the rat said. His gun was making a slow sweep of the area as he searched for any signs of the thing that had them all on edge.

"Has anything moved in the shadows since you felt it?" Aedan asked, still staring across the way.

"No," Micah announced.

"Then it likely isn't going to," she replied and lowered the muzzle of her weapon toward the ground. Minette saw the rat do the same. "You guys get in your cars. Go. I'll follow you out."

"You're sure, Aedan?" Isis asked, her gaze shifting from the darkness to where Aedan stood, then to her car.

Aedan nodded. "Go. I've got this."

"Thanks, Aedan. I am so late for a meeting with a client," Isis replied. Minette watched her take a step toward her car, then stop and hesitate a moment before backtracking until she could tug Aedan into a quick embrace. "We'll do lunch one day this week."

Minette was surprised when Aedan returned the quick hug, giving Isis a brief smile before turning her attention back to the shadows. It wasn't like her to give hugs to readily. Maybe it was a sign she was starting to relax a little bit. The four of them stood in the parking lot while Isis hurried to her Jeep, let herself into the vehicle, turned the engine over, then pulled out of the lot. Minette watched Aedan watch Isis go.

"Why are you even here? I thought you were working tonight?" Minette asked. For a few seconds, she got not answer as her best friend continued to stare off into the night as if she would find in it the answers to whatever questions she had. Then Aedan shook her head and slowly holstered her weapon. Minette had no doubt that she could have it drawn in the blink of an eye if the need arose. The rat left his gun out for one and all to see.

"I came to see if you had plans. I thought we could catch a movie. There's been so much going on with all of us lately that we haven't had time to hang out." There was a hopeful note in Aedan's voice that sent Minette's mind scurrying back into memory in an attempt to recall the last time they'd had any time to themselves. It had been more than a month ago.

"Micah?" Minette turned to him, a question in her eyes. His gaze shifted from her face to Aedan's. It rested there a few seconds before coming back to rest on Minette. The smile he gave her was reassuring.

"I don't have problems with it. Just make sure to keep your bodyguard with you at all times." His eyes moved meaningfully to the darkness around them. Aedan nodded and headed back around the front of her car to the driver's side door. "You guys get in and go. I'll be right behind you."

Micah nodded, one hand reaching out to settle on Minette's back. He nudged her forward and, together, they made for the car. Whatever it was that had put them on alert was still out there in the dark, watching and waiting. She knew because she could feel it staring at her.

The old Minette wanted to cower and hide. But the weight of Aedan's stare was heavier than the thing in the shadows. Heavier and wanted. And it reminded Minette that she was no longer the person she had once been. She was strong and capable now. There was nothing for her to fear.

So why couldn't she shake the feeling that something horrible was going to happen?

~*~*~*~*~

"Its her, isn't it? That's her." Her voice was annoying, somewhere in the vicinity of disbelief mixed with high pitched whine. One trembling hand pointed toward the group standing in the parking lot not so far away from where they hid. Light haloed each of their heads, brightening hair of red and gold and brown. Conversation flowed between the group, talk of whatever lurked in the shadows. Damn it, they weren't supposed to know. They weren't supposed to realize they were being watched. They weren't supposed to know.

"Shut up. We don't want them to figure out where we are," he hissed softly. She turned wide eyes his way and jabbed a finger in the direction of the group standing under the lights.

"Its her!" she shot back, voice a faint whisper.

"So what if it is? That doesn't change our mission," he retorted.

"But he..."

"Doesn't know! And won't! This will not change our mission. Now shut your filthy whore mouth and let me think."

There was no way he was going to share this information. Not now. Not ever. Not with him. Not if he could help it. He knew what would happen if he ever got hold of this information. None of it would be good. So it was up to him to keep it to himself. Keep it all under wraps. Maybe later, when he'd done to her what he wanted to, he'd tell him. Maybe.

But there was so much he wanted to do. So much he had dreamt of doing for so long. He turned his attention back to the parking lot. Back to her.

Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death's construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning


There were five of them standing in the parking lot. But he knew it could just as easily be more. The small café was packed full of beasts in their human skins, pretending they were normal people. Talking and laughing and eating and acting like there was nothing wrong with them. So far, none of the beasts had taken note of the group in the lot. Two of them held guns. The other three were on the edge, vibrating with otherworldly energy. He had seen first hand what happened to the beasts when that energy got to be too much and it boiled over. He knew they were ready to rip their human selves away and become the ravening animals he knew them to be. They would have to be careful so as not to draw any further attention. There was no way they could defend themselves against such great numbers.

He glanced at his sister to ensure she wasn't going to do anything to fuck this up. For once, she was behaving herself, her hands clasped together in front of her as she stared at the group in the parking lot. "I can't believe we found her. I can't believe we found her."

"She isn't important right now. Shut up and focus," he ordered softly.

She turned big eyes his way, one hand reaching out to curl over his arm. "Do you think he'll let us come home if we bring her with? Do you think things will be the way they used to be then?"

"Stop talking." His voice was a little more forceful this time. "If we go back home to him, do you think he'll let us continue doing what we've been doing. You know how he is. You know what will happen if we go home. And you know what'll happen if we take her to him. You know."

He saw her shiver and knew she understood. She remembered. He gave her a grim smile and turned back to the parking lot. That wasn't a place where he wanted his mind to go. He'd done a good job of blocking all of that out of his memories, kept it stuffed away in the shadows and darkness. Kept it hidden.

Forcing himself to step away from those thoughts, he once more shifted his attention to the group in the lot. They'd been so close. They could have moved on to the next part of their plan, if not for untimely interruptions. Now he'd have to figure out a new way to achieve their latest goal. He didn't like being thwarted like this. Didn't like having to readjusted and create new plans. He had a mission to complete. He had sinners to punish. He didn't like this new wrinkle. Not at all.

Sinners. That was one of his favorite words. Once upon a time, he'd called him a sinner. To his face. Called him a sinner and a whore. Even though he'd never asked for it. He'd never instigated it. He'd never wanted it. He'd been so young and he hadn't really understood. Oh, he'd known it was wrong, but he hadn't known how to put it into words. Hadn't known how to tell someone about the horrible things that had happened.

Even now, so many years later, he could still recall curling up under the covers. Could still recall the way his heart had pounded in his chest and the way his breath had come in raw, panicked panting. Could still recall the soft creak of the hinges on his door. Could still recall the shadow moving through the shadows. Could still recall...

He shuddered and forced the memories away. All of them. All but one.

He could still recall the vow he'd made to himself, that one day he'd find the monster and he'd kill it for what it had done to him. He would kill the monster with his own two hands. God hated sinners. And God had given him a mission. He was going to kill all the sinners. Every last one of them.

On the scene a priest appears
Sinners falling at his knees
Satan sends out funeral pyre
Casts the priest into the fire


"She's replaced us," his sister's voice was quiet. That of a child's, lost and sad and confused. "She has a new family."

His eyes went back to the parking lot, went back to watching his plans go up in smoke. The five of them had relaxed their guard, though he wasn't under any illusions as to their ability to leap back into fight mode. There were smiles and gestures of affection. Normal conversation. No mention of the danger that lurked just beyond the shadows. How dare they brush he and his sister aside! How dare they not treat the danger they were in with the right amount of fear and reverence!

"She isn't allowed to have a new family! No family but us! How can she think she can replace us?" His sister's voice was changing, deepening with her growing anger. He knew that she would lose control if he didn't calm her now.

"She can't replace us. You know that. Now stop it before you give us away! Do you think we'll get away from them or the beasts inside if you give our position away now? How can we get revenge on her for taking a new family if we give ourselves away?"

Her eyes flashed and a wicked grin spread across her face. "We're going to punish her?"

"Of course we are. We'll punish her. And then we'll take away her family."

The promise of violence shifted her focus. Brought her back under control. Her anger shifted and changed, finding a home in a different emotion. He didn't react to the hand the traced the curve of his thigh, didn't make a sound when her fingers found his groin. Didn't stop her when she stroked his cock through his jeans. Huffed a soft breath when he felt himself harden under her knowing touch.

He kept his attention on the group in the parking lot, watched them as they continued to talk. Tried to figure out what all of this meant. Obviously God was trying to tell him something, trying to give him an opportunity to do what he had never been able to do. He was going to do as God wanted him to do. He was going to destroy her new family. He was going to make her pay for her crimes. He was going to show her who was boss.

His zipper was a soft rasp in the quiet of the night. No one in the parking lot seemed to notice it. Maybe it wasn't loud enough to reach them there. Maybe they didn't care about it. He wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Her hands were warm and eager as they tugged his cock free from its denim prison. They stroked up and down a couple times before her mouth closed over him, hot as the fires of Hell and eager. She sucked him down her throat and held him there, slid her hands behind him to grab his ass. He didn't bother chastising her, let her have her fun while he watched the group.

They were breaking up finally, each of them moving to their vehicle. The first one got into her car, turned the engine over and drove away. The others split up into twos, each pair climbing into their own automobile. The car that was parked in a space came rumbling to life, then pulled out of the space and exited the lot. Finally, the last one followed it out. The lot was empty and they were alone in the shadows. Already, his mind was turning over ways to adjust their plans. They had to succeed. They had to make people understand.

His sister moved then, pulled back until the head of his cock was caught between her lips. Drove forward to swallow him down again. He let go a breath and dropped one hand to curl his fingers into her hair. Tightened them down so that he had a handful of her tresses caught in his grasp. "That's my good little whore. Do what you were born to do. Suck my cock. Suck it hard and don't stop until I tell you."

She gave a rumbling sound of approval before applying herself to her task with gusto.

He stared into the darkness, mind awhirl with plots and plans even while thick pools of pleasure bubbled up inside of him. God, his whore sister was amazing. She sucked and fucked on command. She was all his. Only his. She knew he'd kill her if she let someone else fuck her.

He knew what he had to do now. He knew how he had to do it. He hadn't expected to find her here. But it was all part of God's plan. He was going to go what he was supposed to. He was going to show the world what kind of beasts the beasts really were. He was going to make examples of them. And, in the process, he would destroy her family.

Once he was done with that, he'd do the same to her that he'd done to his whore sister. And he'd destroy her, too.

Begging mercy for their sins
Satan laughing spreads his wings
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