ladydeathfaerie: (Jean Claude)
[personal profile] ladydeathfaerie posting in [community profile] marysuevirus
Title: The Mary Sue Virus: Beyond Death
Chapter Thirty Six: Hell is For Children
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: not quite a year since the last chapter. if i keep going at this rate, i'll finish it when i'm about sixty or so. also. unbetaed.

The Mary Sue Virus: Beyond Death - Index Link

~

The sharp trill of her cell phone pulled her from sleep. A glance at the clock by her bed told her it was just past three in the afternoon. She'd barely gotten an hour of sleep. This had better be goddamn good or she was going to shoot a bitch. Just on principle. The number on the screen of her phone told her it was Dolph, sending her heart plummeting into her toes. Aedan was already sliding out of bed when she hit the button that would accept the call. "Kinkade."

"Its Dolph. I have a crime scene. I think you'll want to see this." He sounded grim.

"I'm getting dressed right now. Give me an address," she said as she pulled on a pair of black pants. Dolph gave her the address and some brief but precise directions. The location was apparently hard to get to and Dolph wanted to be sure she knew exactly where he was waiting for her. Aedan dutifully wrote it all down, pants left undone in order to pick up a pen. She read everything back to him as she hunted up a shirt to wear, checking to be sure she'd gotten everything right. "I think I know where that is. It'll take me about twenty minutes to get there, though."

"Try to get here faster than that." That was all Dolph said before he ended the call. Aedan muttered a curse under her breath and made quick work of her bra and t-shirt. Then she shrugged into her shoulder holster, checked her weapons, grabbed her keys, and went out the door.

She tried not to let her imagination run away with her as she guided her car through steadily thickening traffic. What could be so bad about a crime scene that Dolph, who was not her biggest fan lately, wanted her there yesterday? And why did he think she wanted to see it? Hadn't he figured out that she didn't want to see this shit anymore than he did? She kind of wished she'd not answered her phone.

Somehow, even with rush hour traffic starting to build, she managed to get to the destination in just under fifteen minutes. There were squads everywhere, lights flashing across a mostly upscale neighborhood. News vans had already gotten there and the cameras were watching the house with wide, unblinking eyes. Dolph must have given orders to the cops holding the perimeter because even before Aedan stepped out of her car, a young kid in a uniform approached it. He waited for her to exit the vehicle before motioning toward the yellow tape with one hand. She nodded and allowed him to escort her onto the scene.

The lawn was lush and green and well kept, the bushes that edged the yard neatly trimmed while bursts of colors from various types of flowers made for a happy, suburban home feel. The house appeared to be in good shape, covered with pale sky blue siding that was complimented by the darker blue doors and window frames. A few toys lay scattered in the front yard, likely left forgotten when the children were called in for a meal. A minivan and a generic sedan were parked in the driveway. It was the home of a young family.

Once inside, it was plain to see that the interior of the home matched the exterior. Modest, comfortable furniture filled the living room. It was a little worn with use, but in good repair. There was a television on one wall and a glance at the video collection showed movies and shows with a more religious tone than one would expect. That included a large, intricately carved wooden cross on the wall above the television. A glance at the photos scattered around showed the home's family in various iterations. Husband and wife. Mom and dad with a small baby. A little girl at a birthday party, party hat sitting askew on her head as she smiled cheekily at the camera. The same little girl, this time older, sitting on a shiny new pink bike. So many others

The officer kept on going, forcing Aedan to follow him, as he made his way through the living room to a set of stairs that was around the corner. Up they went to the second floor. Aedan could hear the soft buzz of conversation coming from the top of the stairwell. She could also smell blood. A lot of it. She had to force her feet to keep going up.

The second level of the home was one giant room. Aedan could see it was divided into sections. One area was dedicated to play, with toys and a child's record player and even a large doll house. Another section was dedicated to learning, with two different shelves filled with books and a child sized desk. Another corner had mats that could be used for either exercise or rest. The final corner gave Aedan chills. It was decorated sparsely, with a painting of Christ on one wall, a small but ornate cross on the other, and a child's bible on a table with a kneeling rail in front of it.

It was this corner where Dolph and his men had gathered, standing over three different white sheets that already showed stains of red on them. One of them was so small... She screwed up her courage and joined the men where they stood. "Kinkade. Glad you could join us," Dolph said, voice low and rough. If she didn't know better, she'd swear he'd been crying.

"I got here as soon as I could," she told him.

"Tell me what you see," the man instructed, stepping back from the covered bodies. Aedan nodded and snapped gloves on, then moved to the body closest to her. A nod from Dolph had one of the unis pulling the sheet back for her. It was the mother. She looked to be in her twenties, hair dark brown with hints of russet highlights in it. Her eyes were wide, a deep blue that stared sightlessly at the ceiling. Her chest had been slashed open and was coated in blood.

"Single blow. Deep. She died quick. Whoever did this did it without emotion. Nothing to influence how they killed her." Aedan knew her voice was distant, that it was obvious she was lost in thought as she studied the woman's corpse. One hand made a motion. "Pull more of the sheet back."

The cop obliged, taking the sheet down to her feet. One shoe was gone. The woman's pantyhose looked undisturbed, as did her skirt. "I'm going to say she wasn't assaulted sexually. Her skirt and hose don't appear to have been moved." Another look showed that the woman's blouse looked... loose. "Roll her over, please."

A second officer joined the first and, together, the two of them rolled the woman until her back was exposed to view. Someone had sliced the back of her blouse open to expose the skin under it. Aedan frowned to find that same heart and dagger symbol carved into the woman's flesh that had been previously seen on murdered shifters. A nod of her head indicated that she was finished with the corpse. The uniforms gently repositioned the woman on her back and covered her with the sheet. Aedan frowned and looked at Dolph. "I don't see any silver on her anywhere."

He made a sound that could have meant anything, his eyes flicking to the next body. Aedan steeled herself, then shot a glance at the uniform. He dutifully moved to the next corpse and pulled the sheet back. This was the father. And where his wife had been slaughtered with quick efficiency, the killer or killers had turned every last ounce of their anger and hatred on him.

Fingers had been snapped and broken, each damaged digit swollen and an ugly purple even in death. The man's clothing was in shreds, suggesting that the murderer had slashed at the victim repeatedly with their knife. He wore no shoes, allowing her to see that one foot had been crushed until it was a pulpy mass. His clothes were so caked in blood that it took Aedan a while to see the worst of the damage. "The murderer paid particular attention to his genitals. There is... a lot of rage in this man's death."

She made a spinning motion with her finger and the same two cops rolled the body to expose the back. She'd already seen that the shirt wasn't on properly so there was no shock in finding that symbol carved into the flesh on the man's back. It had been done so very deeply. She sighed and signaled that she was done with this corpse. The uniforms dutifully returned him to his previous position and covered him with the sheet.

"There are no signs that either of them were restrained so either there was no need or they used a different method to keep the adults in line." Everyone in the room glanced at the last body, hidden behind its white sheet, with those words. Aedan could only imagine what she'd find there. Not that she wanted to look. She hadn't wanted to look since she'd first seen the sheet. But there was no getting out of it, no going back now that she was this committed. No one said a word while she stared at that small shape, the room silent as death as everyone else waited. Finally, after some time had passed, she took a deep breath and nodded her head.

The girl looked so much like her mother. Dark hair with auburn highlights lay spread on the floor around her head like a halo. She had the same nose and the same shape to her eyes. Aedan knew from the pictures downstairs that the girl's eye color was a vibrant blue. The girl's face was relaxed, lips parted a tiny bit, as if she was merely sleeping. If not for the blood stain on her clothes, Aedan could have believed she was sleeping.

Someone had taken the time to clasp the girl's hands together and lay them on her chest. Odd, because they hadn't bothered to do the same for her parents. That was curious. Aedan moved closer, stared at the girl's hands in confusion. Why would they clasp the child's hands together but ignore the adults' hands? That's when she saw it. A tiny bit of white that protruded from under the girl's fingers. Carefully, so very carefully, Aedan reached for the scrap of paper. It came out easily enough.

The paper had been folded up before being tucked beneath the child's hands. Aedan could feel a spike of tension in the room as she carefully unfolded the clue. It seemed like everyone was holding their breath. She wasn't sure how an entire team of cops had missed such a clue before now, unless they'd seen it and left it intentionally to see if she'd notice it.

There was nothing remarkable about the paper she held in her hands. It was plain, solid white without any lines on it at all. Probably printer or copier paper. It had been ripped in half, the bottom edge neat frayed. That suggested that whoever had put the paper under the girl's hands had taken the time to fold it so that they could rip it on the crease. Only one thing had been written on the paper, printed neatly in block letters in bloody red ink. Revelation 21:8

"Bible verse," Aedan told Dolph, holding the paper up so he could see it. She kept her voice steady and even. Plain. And she hoped like hell her face didn't show anything of what she was feeling. Because there was a lot and she wasn't about to answer questions. Not his. Not anyone's. She let a tech take the slip of paper when she came to retrieve it, the message going into an evidence bag as soon as it was free of Aedan's hold.

"Someone get me the exact verse that thing is quoting," Dolph ordered. Three uniforms went scrambling to do as they'd been told. Aedan avoided any looks by squatting down to study the girl further. She didn't want to do it, but she had to. To be sure.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart. I'm sorry about all of this." The words came out on a whisper even as Aedan was gently rolling the child up on her side. Unlike with her parents, the murderer hadn't sliced the back of the shirt apart. This time, they'd simply cut a hole in the girl's t-shirt in order to expose her back. A smaller version of that symbol was there. Aedan just as gently rolled the girl back into her original position, then stood and looked at Dolph. "Is there anything else?"

"Yes. Come with me." Dolph turned for the stairs, leaving Aedan to follow him back down to the first floor. They headed back through the living room and into a room that appeared to be some kind of study. It had been torn apart, books pulled from the many shelves on the walls and papers scattered across the floor. It looked like a strong wind had come and blown everything around. Even the desk had been cleared of everything. Except for a thick book that lay perfectly center of the flat surface. She didn't need to get any closer to know that it was a bible.

She also didn't need to get close to know that there was blood smeared on the cover and the pages. "Why attack a minister and his family?" Dolph asked her.

Aedan blinked and let her gaze take the room in a second time. "He was a minister?" she asked, voice careful and empty.

"Yes. Bryson Harris, Emily Harris, and Katie Harris. Short for Katherine. Why attack a minister and his family? Why the Revelation quote? Is this the same work as our lycanthrope killers? And,if so, why this family? Are these killings religiously motivated? Are all the killings religiously motivated?"

It took her a few moments to find the words to answer his questions. So many things were swirling around her head. So many emotions were battling for control. It took everything Aedan had to remain calm. Look stoic. "I don't know, Dolph. I don't think so. None of the others had a feel of religious motivation to them. The only things that tied them all together was the fact that the victims were lycanthropes and the killers used silver. As to whether or not this was done by the same killers..." she trailed off intentionally.

Aedan stopped and took a breath. She had been ready to say she wasn't so sure. But that single deep breath changed her mind. There, under the tang of blood and the scent of paper, was that same musty smell she'd found at one of the other crime scenes. Wolves. "I think it was." She glanced up at Dolph and motioned around. "Whoever our killers are, they were in this room. For some time. Long enough for the musty scent of wolves to creep into the corners and linger on the air. Have the coroner test for lycanthropy on Bryson Harris."

"Why Bryson? Why not the whole family?"

"Because chances are, if anyone in the family is a shapeshifter, its the man. Female shapeshifters have a hard time staying pregnant. Their metabolisms run extremely fast. And the change is too hard on them. Most of the time, female shifters end up miscarrying because of it. Its possible they're both lycanthropes and that the girl is adopted..." Aedan trailed off. Now that she'd said it, the thought wouldn't leave her head and it made her feel sick to her stomach.

"We'll go through the Harris' financials. Everything. See what we can discover. I'll have the M.E. run a test on both of them, just to be sure," Dolph told her. Aedan nodded. Fuck. She had to get out of this place.

"Do you need me for anything else? If not, I'd like to get moving, I have a pretty heavy client list tonight and there's some prep work I need to do before hand?" She was proud of how normal her voice sounded, like she wasn't falling to pieces on the inside. Just another day and another grisly murder. Happened all the time. No big deal.

Dolph stared at her, hard, for just a moment. Then his gaze softened and he nodded his head once. He'd obviously seen through the casualness of her tone. But it looked like he thought it was because of the child's death. That was part of the reason she needed to get out of there. But not the entire reason. She wasn't about to explain it all to him. "I'll call you with the M.E.'s results and whatever information we find on the Harris family."

"Thanks, Dolph." Aedan made sure her steps were normal. She didn't want him to see her hurrying to leave the crime scene. She didn't want him to know how hard this was.

Zerbrowski was in the living area, chatting with one of the uniforms from upstairs. He ended the conversation the moment he saw her, letting her know he'd been waiting for her. She did her best to swallow down her anxiousness and slowed her pace so that he didn't have to chase her. "You okay?" he asked the moment he stood next to her, voice low.

"I'm fine. Why do you ask?"

Zerbrowski shot her a look that told her he knew she was lying. She let her gaze slide around the room before flicking it toward the exit. Zerbrowski took her meaning and followed her outside. Cameras flashed the moment they stepped out the door, the noise increasing ten-fold as reporters started shouting questions at them. He turned and motioned for a uniform. "I want you to escort Miss Kinkade to her car when she's ready to go. Keep the press away from her."

"Yes, sir," the cop answered, then moved back to give them privacy when Zerbrowski signaled him to. Aedan turned to stare up at the man.

"Don't even try to read me the riot act, Aedan. You may not realize this because of my amazing disguise, but I am a trained detective. I know how to observe and detect things. All of the scenes you've been to have hit you hard. But not like this. Why? What's so different about this one?"

For a moment, just a second or two, Aedan wanted to spill it. Zerbrowski looked so sincere and earnest. He looked like he cared. He must have looked at Anita like that a time or two. She imagined that the other woman might have wanted to tell him everything. Once or twice. Zerbrowski looked like he had strong, broad shoulders to help carry the weight of someone's troubles. He reminded her so much of the father she'd always dreamed of having.

But he was still a cop. And he was friends with Dolph. And she was fairly certain anything that she told him would go right to the other man. As much as she wanted to let someone else share the burden, she couldn't let it be him. Her secrets were her own and they'd stay that way. "Nothing I can put into words," she finally told him. It wasn't entirely a lie. "Just a feeling. There's something about this murder that doesn't fit the pattern of the others. Even though it still fits the pattern of the others. Once I figure out what it is, I'll be sure to tell you."

"Aedan." There was a world of emotion in Zerbrowski's voice. She gave him a smile and patted his arm gently.

"I have to go. I have a lot to do today. I'm fine," she told him.

She felt Zerbrowski's gaze on the back as she headed for her car. Felt it as she pulled away from the curb and left the crime scene. He knew. Knew she'd lied. She wasn't fine

She'd never be fine again.

~*~

"I'm quite certain I'll be able to raise your mother-in-law, Mr. Sinclair. But that isn't the issue," Aedan began patiently, stomping down on the urge to sigh and to tell the man he was a fucking fool for wanting to attempt this. She was going to have to try explaining it to him. Again. She took a breath, prepared herself for once more laying out all the reasons she wouldn't raise his dead in-law. He was lucky she had any patience left after the day she'd had. "The issue is your mother-in-law's mental state when she passed. Death-"

Cold power filled the office with all the familiarity of a lover's touch, throwing Aedan out of her thoughts for a short period of time. It was long enough for her client, Jared Sinclair, to notice. "Death, what, Miss Kinkade? Why won't you raise my mother-in-law? Isn't my money good enough?"

The power grew closer to her door. Well, shit. Why was he here? Did he know about the crime scene earlier? Had he felt her unease? She sure as hell did not want to talk to him about any of it. Aedan managed a smile. "No, Mr. Sinclair. It has nothing to do with your money."

There was a knock on the door, purely for show, then it opened to allow Bert and Jean Claude into the room. Sinclair turned to stare at the intruders while Aedan silently begged for a hole to open under her and swallow her up. This was the last thing she needed tonight. "Excuse me. This is a private consultation. I paid good money for this."

"Pardon our intrusion, Mr. Sinclair," Bert said. He even managed to make it sound like he meant it. Any other time, Aedan would be completely put out by said intrusion. She disliked it when certain individuals dropped by unannounced. She was only mostly put out by it this time. Having Jean Claude show up would mean putting Jared Sinclair and his 'good money' on the back burner for the night. Possibly even permanently. She could forgive the undead Casanova for showing up without calling first. Just this once. Assuming he didn't start asking her about her day.

Jared Sinclair, the man with good money who was absolutely not going to be her client, was now staring at Jean Claude with a mixture of awe and ill-disguised horror. Aedan supposed she could understand that. Most mundane people didn't mingle with the vampires. That was why the Circus and all the other vampire businesses were so popular. And if most people didn't mingle with the vampires, they sure as hell didn't mingle with a vampire who was also Master of the City. No doubt Jared Sinclair was both fascinated by the presence of the Master of the City and frightened as to what it might mean. Aedan rose to her feet, hands absently smoothing the wrinkles from her skirt as she did so. "Mr. Vaughn, I don't think I understand..."

"The Master of the City is here to see me, Mr. Sinclair," Aedan said smoothly. "I'm afraid we're going to have to continue our discussion at a later time."

For a moment, just a brief moment, she thought that Sinclair would argue. That he'd whip out the 'I paid good money' line in an attempt to put off the end of their chat. No doubt he knew that her 'at a later time' translated to 'when Hell fucking froze over and Satan crowned me his consort.' But the man took one last look at Jean Claude, who was smiling without fang, and edged for the door. He tried to stay as far from Bert and his companion as he could and still be in the same room, which Aedan found hilarious. Jean Claude wasn't the one he should be worried about.

Sinclair slipped out of the room without another word, leaving Aedan with Bert and Jean Claude. She let her gaze shift from the door to where Bert stood and merely stared at him until he cleared his throat. "I guess I'll leave you to whatever business you have with each other."

"Thank you, Bert," Aedan replied. She remained silent until he'd gone and pulled the door closed behind him. Then she motioned toward one of the chairs with her hand. Jean Claude inclined his head and took the chair that Jared Sinclair had not used. Aedan returned to her seat behind the desk and leaned back, pinning him with a look that let him know she was curious as to his sudden appearance.

"I apologize for disturbing you at work. I know you do not like it when I do so," he began.

"I'll make an exception just this once. Any longer in Jared Sinclair's presence and I might have shot him," she replied. Jean Claude arched a brow at her, silently questioning why she would do such a thing. "He was trying to convince me to raise his dead mother-in-law. To find out where she hid her money. Except she was not mentally sound at the time of her death. Which means that its likely her brain would not function the way he wants it to now that she's been dead a while. And nothing I could say seemed to get through to him."

"He simply did not care," Jean Claude said in return. Aedan sighed. She'd really hoped that he wasn't intentionally being obtuse.

"Whatever. He isn't stepping foot in my office again," she replied, then screwed up her courage and asked him why he'd come. "What do you need to speak to me about that's so important, you felt you had to show up here instead of calling me. Or just using our link."

"I have been in communication with members of the council." Just that one sentence put Aedan right back on edge. The same one she'd been on earlier and had fought hard to draw back from. The crime scene from that afternoon had been bad enough. But this... Anything having to do with the vampire council couldn't be anything good. Aedan stifled a shudder and tried hard to find her happy place.

Oh, shit! What if they were sending members of the council to St. Louis again? She really did not need that. Not now. Please, which ever deity was listening, please keep them from visiting St. Louis again. She did not need a repeat performance with Padma and Belle Morte. She'd end up shooting them this time in order to save her sanity. She would and she just knew it.

"They're not coming again, are they? I thought we proved to them that your power base is as solid as it ever was. Stronger, even." She hoped that she sounded normal. Almost uninterested. As if they were doing nothing more than discussing the weather.

He smiled at her. "They are not coming again, no." Well, that was a relief. "But they are... concerned."

"Concerned? About what?" Crap. This didn't bode well. It never boded well when vampires started getting 'concerned' about things. Especially not when Aedan was involved in said things.

"Anita's death has made waves within the vampire community. Both here and overseas. They desire a show of power to calm those waves." She could tell he'd chosen his words carefully, as if afraid he would set her off if chose the wrong ones.

"Their visit here wasn't enough to prove that you still have your power base? What more do they want from you? Am I supposed to shoot them all or something?" They weren't even five minutes into their conversation and already it was ruining her evening. She still had three different cemeteries she had to go to before she could seek out her own bed. Man, this night was starting to look like it would suck ass in a spectacular way. As if the events of earlier hadn't been bad enough.

"Nothing so enjoyable, ma poupette," he informed her with a look that was absolutely blank. She supposed she couldn't blame him. It wouldn't do for people to find out he harbored secret fantasies about his human servant turning all of the vampire elders into dust. "We are to host an event to which several Masters will be invited. They will see you and I together, with all of our friends, and they will taste our power. It is as simple as that."

There was something more to this. Something he had yet to mention. She frowned at him and considered everything he'd said thus far. And everything he hadn't said. She had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as to what this was really all about. "Wait a minute. You and I together? As in, you and I as a couple in front of a sea of undead who want to possibly rip your throat out and take your city from you?"

He gave her an indulgent look. "You have such a dark imagination, Aedan."

She gave him a frown. "Of course I have a dark imagination. Look at what I do for a living. What I am. And you're deflecting." The more she considered it, the more she was sure she knew what this 'event' was all about. "You've got to out me as your human servant, don't you? That's why you came here to talk to me in person. The council wants all of the vampires to know that you've replaced Anita."

And she'd thought things couldn't get worse after her visit to that crime scene.

She did not like the idea of announcing their newly formed union just yet. She still wasn't entirely comfortable with things herself. She didn't think it was the time to just up and tell the world that she was Anita Blake's replacement. Not when she and Jean Claude hadn't even really... discussed their relationship yet. She didn't know what it was. What she was to him beyond just a simple replacement.

And then there was that odd twinge somewhere near her heart when she thought about the fact that she was the replacement. She would have liked more time to come to terms with the notion that she was second fiddle before they had to tell the entire universe that she was second fiddle. Apparently, the universe didn't give a shit about her or her feelings because she could sense that there would be nothing in the world she could say to Jean Claude to convince him that they didn't need to do what the council wanted.

"Aedan." To his credit, Jean Claude didn't try to use any tricks to soothe her. His voice was as normal as it could be and he'd pulled his power in around him so that she could barely feel it. Didn't matter. She shook her head at him. "Ma poupette, please."

"Don't call me that," she shot at him, little heat in her voice. He knew she hated that term of endearment. It took her a moment to calm herself enough to trust being able to speak without anything leaking out in her voice. "Just go. Do what you need to do. Not like we can deny the fucking council their whims or anything. Not like I'm still struggling with everything that's happened and maybe, just maybe, I need time to get my head straight. Not like that shit matters to them. Just... Please. Go."

They stared at each other over the expanse of her desk. Jean Claude looked like he was about to speak. For a moment, she held on to the crazy notion that he'd tell her he'd call them back and inform them that there would be no show. But the notion came and went with a single beat of her heart. There was no avoiding the council's wishes. Not where this was concerned. Jean Claude was already treading thin ice with the council simply by virtue of what he and Anita had accomplished together. He needed to stay in their good graces. And Aedan needed to help him stay there.

Finally, after the tension between them stretched until Aedan's nerves were on the verge of snapping, Jean Claude tipped his head and rose from his seat. "I will begin making arrangements. Do you trust me in this?"

Did she trust him? Not a snowball's chance in hell. Not in this matter. Not where her heart was concerned. Not with anything. "Does it matter?"

Something changed. She felt it in the way the air around them thickened. But he said nothing, simply rose from the chair and glided toward the door. "I will see you when you return home," he said, careful not to give away where home was. Aedan nodded dismissively, already reaching for the file on the top of the stack on her desk. "Have a good evening."

He was gone before she could reply. Have a good evening. Yeah. That would happen. At least it sure as hell couldn't get any worse.

~*~*~*~*~

He stood in the parking lot and stared, eyes taking in the building dispassionately. There was nothing to mark the place as particularly special. A small sign with the establishment's name on it. The Church of Eternal Life. There was no cross upon the building's exterior wall or erected on top of the roof. No bell tower. No organ music or hymns sneaked out into the night air when the door opened. There was nothing that explicitly marked it as a church beyond that sign. Anyone could erect a sign and call a building a church. That didn't mean that God lived there.

It was obvious that God didn't live in this building.

Who had ever heard of a church for vampires? Vampires were demons, evil and soulless. They were without redemption. They had been cast out of the kingdom of Heaven, cast away from God's warmth and love. This was no church. It didn't deserve to call itself such. And it didn't deserve to stand.

Peter stayed in the shadows, watching as people came to fill up the demon's false church. He'd considered this act for a long while now. Maybe not what he planned on doing here, exactly, but he'd given a great deal of thought toward what he could do to convince the man that he was as committed as he'd said he was. He hated that his loyalty to the cause had been questioned. He hated that he was found lacking. After days of thought, he'd found exactly the way to prove to the man that he had given himself wholly to God's plan.

It had been a small article on the paper that had decided him, some small bit talking about a 'congregation of vampires' attending their version of church. Seeing those words in print had been the thing he needed. It would be through this congregation of demons that he would show the man that he was serious about the cause, that he was committed to it. Anyone could go out and destroy one of the demons. But a man of commitment and conviction would kill a hundred of them at a time.

He'd done his research. He knew that the church would be at its fullest once the ten o'clock service began. And he knew, from literature and other sources, that these demons were particularly susceptible to fire. Once the demons were inside, he would chain the doors and fire bomb the place. Then he could watch it go up in flames, watch the hellspawn inside burn in his holy fire. And he would be able to tell the man that this was his doing. That he was so committed to the cause that he had extinguished a hundred of the demons in one blow. The man would have to take him seriously after this.

Time ticked by at a painfully slow pace. He knew it was simply because he was eager to enact his plan. That was always the way with these things. He lingered and watched, taking note of the demons who entered and the occasional humans who accompanied them. Sheep. They were little more than lambs being led to the slaughter. He was going to save them tonight, save them from a fate worse than death. So Peter waited, anticipation rushing through him each time he thought of the cleansing fire that would sweep through the building and end the lives of so many unholy creatures. Each time he thought about the man telling him he was proud of the work he'd done in God's name.

Ten o'clock came. Peter let it slide by, watching as the new arrivals trickled down into nothing. He waited until a quarter past the hour before he put his plan into motion. He ambled slowly toward the front doors, a duffel bag in one hand and a cooler in the other, doing his best to look as if he belonged here in this poisoned place. He set his burdens down a few feet from the door and unzipped the duffel. The first thing he took out of it was a length of chain and a padlock.

It took him longer than he liked to chain the doors shut, handling the chain with care to keep it from rattling while he wound it around the handles. The last thing he wanted to do was alert the group inside that he was going to bring them to their end. Not before he could properly set the building on fire.

Doors chained, Peter moved on to the next part of his plan. The next item to come out of the bag was a gas can. Not a very big one. Just big enough to hold a couple gallons of gas in it. He popped the stopper from the nozzle and began pouring the liquid out. On the doors, then on the wall on either side of the doors. Can empty, he tossed it aside and emptied the cooler of its contents. He'd prepped three molotov cocktails for the evening. A lighter came out of his pocket and he flicked it open, wound the wheel with his thumb and created a spark. Produced a flame. He set one cocktail on fire, tossed it at the wall. Then the second. And the third. Each one hit its target and exploded, fire and alcohol mixing with gasoline to bring hungry flames to life on the walls of the building. On the doors.

Peter stood and watched the fire consume the building.

It didn't take long for the screaming to start. He imagined that those who were inside were panicking, that they were running in circles and unsure as to what they should do. A sense of accomplishment rose up in him, saw laughter bubbling up his throat. This was it. This was his great act of commitment. This would prove once and for all that he believe in the cause just as much as the man did. This would secure his place at the man's side and, eventually, at God's side.

He was so caught up in watching the flames eat at the building that he missed the movement around him until it was much too late. He found his arms being held by two of the demons, their inhuman strength evident in the tightness of their grip on him. He was surrounded by a group of them. Beyond their line, he could see others working to contain the flames. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear sirens wailing.

"Unhand me, vile demon!" he ordered, trying to pull his arms from their hold. It was no use. Their strength was absolute. And it didn't seem as if any of them were paying attention to him. Everyone's attention was focused on another man, one who was walking toward them. He had the air of someone in charge, someone with power.

"What do we do with him, Malcolm?" one of the demons holding him asked.

"We do nothing with him. We leave that to the Master of the City. I have already spoken with him. He and some of his people are on their way here now," the one called Malcolm said evenly. Peter wanted to demand that they let him go, tell them that they couldn't give him over to the city's lead demon. He almost told Malcolm that he couldn't do something so horrible to his own kind. But Malcolm smiled at him, showing just the slightest hint of fang. "I'm certain that he can find a uniquely qualifying punishment for daring to attack our humble church."

Somehow, that sentence said in such a calm voice was more frightening than having a ravening beast bellow in his face. Peter was suddenly very acutely aware of just how vulnerable he really was. He had opened himself up to the demon's punishment. And he was far more frightened about that than he wanted to be.

~*~*~*~*~

"Sorry to call on you twice in one day, Kinkade. You look like shit." Dolph sounded much like Aedan felt. She gave him a look that said everything she wouldn't, then followed him through the house to the newest crime scene. It was a small house, in decent condition in a not very nice neighborhood. The yard was obviously cared for, the grass kept short and neat and still green despite the lateness of the season. Perfectly trimmed bushes ran across the front of the yard, as well as the front of the house. There were a few flowers here and there and two trees that had been perfectly placed in the yard.

The interior of the house was as well kept as the exterior, filled with pictures and knick-knacks and much used, overstuffed furniture. There were hand crocheted and knitted afghans here and there, as well as fluffy pillows with embroidered covers. Signs that the place was lived in and loved. They went through to a back room, this one obviously the room where crafts were done. Piles of yarn were everywhere, a single chair was set near a window, and there was a sewing machine in one corner. That was all she had time to see before Dolph was going through a doorway. Aedan found herself at the top of a set of stairs. Shit. Why did it have to be a basement?

There was no missing the claw marks on the steps, deep furrows dug into concrete that marked the passing of the demon. Great. It was going to be another one of those crime scenes. Please, whoever was listening, let there not be any children here.

The basement was split into three rooms. One was used for storage. The second held a washing machine and dryer. There were fresh piles of clean clothes on a folding table near the dryer. The third room was the one they stepped into and even before they got to the open door, Aedan could tell it was an entirely different kind of craft room. She could practically taste the spent magic on the air.

A set of brass inlays had been embedded into the floor and the ceiling on this side of the door. They ran the length of the wall, obviously meant to form a barrier between the craft room and the outside world. Anyone who looked at them would think they were some kind of ornate decoration. But Aedan could see sigils etched into them, could feel the shredded remains of magic clinging to them. Wards. And strong ones. How the hell was the demon getting past them?

There was a second set of inlays in the room into which Dolph led her, this time set in a familiar circular pattern. Aedan could feel the magic here, too. Stronger than it had been outside. It shouldn't have been there, should have faded. The crime scene wasn't fresh based on the stench hanging on the air. Yet the magic persisted, clung to the room and its single occupant as if it had only been cast moments before. Impossible.

Unlike the other crime scenes, this one wasn't coated in the blood of the victim. There was a large pool under what remained of the body, but it wasn't splattered on the walls or the ceiling. Said body was positioned dead center of the room, inside the circle of inlays. Even without getting closer, Aedan could see that the demon hadn't ravaged the body the way it had the three college students. For one thing, the head was still attached.

The victim was a woman, older than the previous victims. Her hair, what hadn't been drenched in blood, was steel grey. Closer examination showed that she still had her eyes and her tongue. Vital organs had been removed from her chest. There were bits of flesh here and there that said the demon had indulged in some senior citizen. But it was nothing at all like the previous crime scene. Aedan frowned. "Why didn't it take her eyes or her tongue?" she asked, mostly to herself.

"What was that?" Dolph asked. Of course he'd have heard her.

"This isn't like the last demon murder. Her head is still attached to her neck. She still has her eyes and her tongue." Aedan motioned to the woman's head to punctuate her words. "There isn't as much blood here as there was at the last two crime scenes. There isn't as much carnage to the body at all. Her magic is still on the air, for Christ's sake. That shouldn't be happening. I don't understand why the magic is still there. Nor do I understand the drastic shift in the look of the crime scenes. The first one was bloody, but the victims were mostly all in tact. The second one... Their heads had been removed, along with their eyes and tongues. Then we have this one. Bloody, but not terribly violent." Aedan couldn't believe she was using a term like 'not terribly violent' to describe a murder.

"There is a distinct difference in the level of violence at each scene," Dolph agreed. Aedan thought he sounded like he hadn't considered it before, but that didn't mean anything. Anita's memories told her that time and again, Dolph had waited to hear Anita's take on things before telling her what he thought. "I know nothing about demons. Are they this inconsistent?"

"They're as consistent as the person who summons and commands them," Aedan replied, brain already chasing a trail Dolph's question had shown her.

"What are you thinking, Kinkade?" he asked. There was a note of curiousness in his voice that saw all other noise in the room ceasing. Everyone was waiting for her answer.

Aedan traced a circle around the woman's body, her eyes seeking out the things that weren't immediately obvious. There was no look of horror on the corpse's face. In fact, it almost looked like she had died with a bit of a smile on her mouth. One hand was outstretched, not quite touching where the circle of energy would have been, one finger straightened out more than the others. Curious. Her other hand was resting next to her body, the blood around it undisturbed and smooth.

And that's when Aedan saw it. A disturbance in the blood beside the woman's head. Aedan crouched, careful to ensure her balance wouldn't shift on her, and stared hard at that spot next to the woman's head. "Dolph. She turned her head before she died."

"You think that's important?"

"Her eyes are rolled to the right. And look at her right hand," Aedan said, already rising so she could turn to look at the wall beyond the circle.

"She was pointing at something?" Aedan didn't have to look up to know that Dolph was staring at the same section of wall she was.

"I think so. I think our victim left us a clue." Aedan started toward the far wall, her steps careful as she swept her gaze back and forth along the ground. Whatever the victim had left for them, she'd made sure it would be out of the demon's way. Possibly hidden. Aedan hoped it would give them their first solid lead in the case.

The area the dead woman was pointing to was nothing special. An old, ratty chair that had seen much use had been put there. Aedan glanced at Dolph for permission to move said chair and see if there was anything to see. He nodded, once, and watched as she tested the weight before shoving the chair over. The legs scraped across the wooden slats that covered the floor. She didn't see anything behind the chair that might lead to a clue. Even knocking against the wall and the floor got her a lot of nothing. Both echoed back with solid sounds that said there were no secret compartments to be found behind or beneath them.

Damn. She'd been so sure. Everything about this crime scene was so unusual against the others. There was some reason for that. And every instinct she had in her said that the deceased had left them a clue. Where else to leave said clue than in the wall or the floor. No one would think to look behind a chair? No one would think to look under a chair. Especially since there was other furniture in the room. Though, to be fair, it was in far better condition than the woman's ratty old arm chair.

There were a couple tables here and there. A bookshelf on one wall. Spice racks on the wall. All of those items were new, made of smooth woods and sleek metals. They showed very little wear. But the chair... The upholstery was old and worn thin in many places. Patches of dirt clung to it, making it difficult to determine exactly what color it was supposed to be. Stuffing was poking through several small holes. It looked lumpy and ugly and out of place next to all of the elegant, flowing lines of the rest of the furniture. Aedan blinked. It wasn't possible, was it? Seriously. If it was, the old woman was a genius. Because no one would think to look in a chair.

Two steps was all she needed to cross the floor to the chair. The seat cushion was pulled from its spot and tossed to the floor. Then she started poking at the material. The back and arms yielded nothing beyond a near miss between her finger and a spring. But the seat. That's where she hit pay dirt. There was something under the material stretched across the seat. Said material wasn't loose, so Aedan went on hands and knees to look under the chair. Someone had slit the thin material covering the bottom of the chair from one edge of the frame to the other. "There's something in here," she told Dolph, even as she was coming to her feet. Together, the two of them turned the chair on its side to make it easier to access whatever was hidden inside of it.

What Aedan pulled from that ancient piece of abused furniture was a manilla envelope. Someone had worked it up into the base, maneuvering it through the springs until they could get it to lay flat. A thick stack of papers came out of the envelope, each one written in tiny, neat, precise script. She saw names and dates on the pages, along with a good deal more information. The one word that really caught her attention, though, was the word 'coven' and a few things started to click.

"You've got this look on your face, Aedan. Tell me it means something good." Dolph sounded almost hopeful.

"I think this list will help us find our killer. I think he's on it. If he's not, he might be mentioned in these papers somewhere. I also think that his victims are on this list. The deceased made sure we would find this." Aedan rattled the envelope in her hand.

"You really think we'll find our killer in here somewhere?"

"I do. Have your people go over it until their eyes bleed. And if they don't find anything, give it to your FBI profiler. The killer is in there. Somewhere."

Dolph nodded, took the papers and the envelope from her. Slid the papers back into the envelope. Someone from the crime scene unit came and put the whole thing into an evidence bag. Aedan watched him go until her eyes finally drifted down to the woman's corpse. She'd died sending a message to the police. She'd died knowing who was responsible. When the papers gave them the killer and they put an end to his killing spree, she was going to raise that woman from the grave and thank her properly. Maybe that would help give her closure.

"Do you need me for anything else, Dolph? If not, I really want to go sleep."

"No. I think we've got everything we need. Go get some rest, Kinkade." Maybe she was tired, but she imagined he sounded almost a little paternal. His head swung around. "Zerbrowski, make sure Kinkade gets to her car safely."

"You got it, boss," Zerbrowski nodded, then handed off whatever he'd been doing to the cop standing next to him. Aedan joined him and, together, the two of them returned to the upper floor. The silence was companionable and Aedan was grateful for it. Especially with the zoo that was awaiting them when they stepped outside the house.

"They're like vultures," Aedan grumbled.

"They definitely are. Today, especially," Zerbrowski agreed, then motioned one of the plain clothes over to deal with the press while he walked Aedan to her car. "They were already on edge with the discovery of that family this morning. Then there's this mess. To top it off, some jackass tried to firebomb The Church of Eternal Life. Humans are scared, lycanthropes are scared, and the vampires are pissed. Its been a red letter day."

She never missed a beat but the news about the firebombing was just that. News. This was the first she'd heard of it. Someone had intentionally kept it from her. That meant it was time for a discussion. And, boy. Did they have some shit to discuss.

~*~*~*~*~

"The Regional Preternatural Investigation Team was on the scene twice yesterday at what unnamed sources are calling gruesome and horrific crimes." The reporter on the screen, a young and attractive thirty-something with big brown eyes and dark brown hair, looked appropriately upset and concerned about the story she was delivering. Beside her face was an inset of a generic looking crime scene photo. "The first attack occurred at the house of Pastor Bryson Harris, where we're told Pastor Harris, his wife, and his young daughter were all murdered violently."

As the woman spoke, the crime scene photo changed to recorded footage of the actual crime scene from earlier in the day. He smiled to see all the flashing lights and the people scurrying back and forth. Groups of neighbors were clustered together beyond the yellow tape, talking and staring and crying. There were cops in their uniforms, holding the gawkers and the press back. And there were cops in suits who stood talking to one another or kept going in and out of the house. His smile widened as he recognized one particular face in the crowd.

You belong to me
Can't you see you're part of me
We are one you are mine
Baby, til the end of time


"Police have given no apparent motive for the family's deaths, but our sources say that they appear to be similar to a string of other deaths being investigated by RPIT at the present time. Our sources were unable to tell us who, or what, is responsible for the Harris family murders."

The scene switched then, going from daylight to nighttime shots. This time, he was staring at a small house illuminated by strobing police lights and spotlights. Again there was yellow tape and uniformed officers holding the gawking crowd at bay. And, again, there were men in suits going in and out of the house.

"RPIT was also called to the scene of a single homicide shortly after one am. The home belonged to Ellie Wilson, who had lived there for more than fifty years. Our sources tell us that Miss Wilson was found dead in her basement by a neighbor who noticed that her back door had been left open."

The reporter went on, talking about what the cops did and didn't know based on what the station's sources had told them. He watched the video shot at the crime scene flicker across his screen absently, mind focused intently on how to implement his plans. That was proving harder than he'd anticipated. He couldn't catch his targets alone, didn't know how to draw them out. If he didn't know better, he'd swear that someone had started tying the murders together, had figured out that the shapeshifting beasts were in danger. He wasn't sure that was the case, though, since cops were notoriously territorial and stupid.

The sight of a familiar face stopped that thought dead in its tracks. Hmmm. Maybe the cops weren't so stupid after all. Maybe they were well aware of his targets and had spread the word that they shouldn't be caught alone. If that was the case, it just meant he had to try harder. Find ways to lure his targets out and away from their friends.

It also meant that his secondary plan needed to be put into action sooner rather than later. That one, however, was proving even trickier than the first one. How was he going to destroy her new family? How was he going to prove to her that she could never get away from blood? He'd never be able to break her spirit and show her just where she belonged if he couldn't destroy her adopted family.

Every breath you take
and every move you make
every bond you break
every step you take
I'll be watching you


The camera switched from one anchor to the next, from the fresh faced woman to a serious looking young man with a sharp haircut and intense eyes. Next to him was a picture of St. Louis' head blood sucker, obviously taken at some function or another. He was dressed in some frilly, lacy thing. And velvet. There was a dark headed woman next to him, much shorter than he was and not pleased to have the cameras in her face if her expression was anything to go by. It was plain to see the women in the background didn't care that he was with someone. They were staring at him the undead creature with lust in their eyes. Just what he didn't need to complete his day. He hated the vampires.

"Police still have no leads in the murder of Anita Blake. Ms. Blake, who was dating the Master of the City at the time of her death, was murdered on her way back from a business trip to a neighboring community. What we do know is that..."

He tuned the reporter out. He didn't care about the dead whore. Served her right for becoming involved with the vampires. They were just as bad as the lycanthropes. Every last one of them was an abomination before God. They all needed to die. As did the people foolish enough to think that they were harmless. They were risking their immortal souls by consorting with such foul creatures.

"In related news." The camera panned back to the other reporter. A box with an image of that same blood sucker, this time alone, was next to her head on the screen. "Sources have revealed exclusively to Fox 2 that the Master of the City will be hosting a private party sometime within the next two weeks. Invitations have apparently already been issued and the hunt for the perfect venue is rumored to be underway. Fox 2 news made calls to the PR firm employed by the Master of the City, but they have gone unanswered."

He rolled his eyes. Great. More vampires in the city. Just what he didn't want. Why was he listening to this drivel? This kind of thing was only interesting to vampire groupies. He picked up the remote, finger on the button to power the television off.

"We do know that members of the entire preternatural community will be present at this event, including the leaders of The Coalition for Better Understanding Between Human and Lycanthrope Communities."

Well, that got his attention. If the loud mouth lycanthropes were going to be there... It could be an opportunity to achieve his goals. Several of his targets were likely to be at this party or whatever it was. If he could find a way to attend, he might be able to continue his mission. And there would be something sweet about doing so amidst so many unnatural creatures.

He thought back to that night, outside the diner where all of the beasts had sat eating and acting like they were normal humans. He thought back to her and something tightened inside of him. Maybe, if he was lucky, he could start whittling down her 'family' and show her just where she belonged.

I will be your father figure. Put your tiny hand in mine
I will be your preacher teacher — anything you have in mind
I will be your father figure. I have had enough of crime.
I will be the one who loves you till the end of time


That party was the key to all his plans. He just had to find a way to crash the damn thing. But how? Logic said to try and get a job with a catering company or a music group and hope like hell whichever one he got into would be hired to attend this affair. After all, it was a party. They'd need music to dance to. And there would likely be humans attending with the vampires and the beasts. So there would be a need for food. But there were probably countless catering companies. And musical groups that could be chosen to perform or serve at this thing. Getting a job wasn't going to be any good. He was going to have to put his ears to the ground. Listen. See if he could pick up any chatter that would be of any use.

He wanted to see the looks on their faces when he brought some righteous fury down on their heads. He wanted to see them all suffer. He wanted to make them all pay.

~*~*~*~*~

It was well into the morning hours before everyone under the Circus had settled down enough to consider sleep. Well, those who weren't bound by the sun to sleep when it rose. There had been so much activity over the course of the evening. First had been Jean Claude's chat with the vampire council. Even though he hadn't shown it, everyone had known that he wasn't pleased with the demands they'd put forth. And so he'd gone to visit Aedan. By all accounts, Aedan hadn't taken the news well. Jean Claude had come back from that meeting frustrated.

Then there had been the fire bombing at The Church of Eternal Life. Because Malcolm and all of his followers had sworn an oath to Jean Claude in return for his protection, he had been the first person Malcolm had called when some radical religious zealot had tried to set the church, and everyone in it, on fire. And so he, as well as a few others from the kiss, had gone off to deal with that. They had returned with a mortal man who had done nothing but sprout scripture at them the entire time. Word was he was locked away in some stone chamber somewhere under the Circus with strict orders given that no one was to go near him until Jean Claude had considered his punishment.

And as if that hadn't been enough excitement for one evening, someone had called to let them know that there had been two separate crime scenes that day. Two different murders that had required Aedan's expertise. Thus far, no one had heard from her and not even Minette had gotten Aedan to pick up her cell phone when she'd called. No one was sure where Aedan was at. Speculation kept suggesting she'd gone to a bar somewhere to drink the vivid images away.

So it was no wonder that it was well past sun up and Jean Claude was still up. Despite his outward appearance, Rhiannon could tell that he was on edge. He tried to act like he wasn't worried about the human that had threatened the church goers. He tried to pretend that he didn't wonder where Aedan was, that he wasn't worried the same people who had orchestrated Anita's death weren't out there right now, trying to end Aedan's life, too.

Everyone was on edge, tension high among those who were still awake. Rhiannon sat next to Nathaniel on the big white couch, tired but unable to sleep. Everything kept turning round and round her head, leaving her dizzy and without answers. She really hoped that Aedan was okay. Her worry made her glad that she was at Nathaniel's side. He had the ability to help keep her calm.

Like right now. He had his arm around her. And though she could feel his own tension in the limb, his touch was light and gentle. Soothing. Maybe, if he held her tight enough and long enough, the world would stop being crazy and start making sense.

"Nathaniel." She hadn't heard Jean Claude come in. He stood only a few feet from the couch, face a beautiful mask. He held one hand out toward the man at her side, a silent command and request. Nathaniel pulled away from Rhiannon and stood up. She followed after him. Jean Claude was going to feed. She thought it was something he normally did upon waking so the day must have been far more difficult than she'd believed.

"Can I watch?" The question was out before she could even think about it. She couldn't even say why she'd asked it. And Rhiannon might have been embarrassed by it, but Jean Claude turned those impossibly blue eyes her way, considered her request a moment, then offered her his other hand.

"Of course, Rhiannon. Come."
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