The first shocking gasp of air brought the smell of plastic and lifted Tracy Vetter up off the gurney she was lying on. The smell was immediately followed by the slap of the stuff on her face, and when she brought her hands up to bat it away, she found that there was plastic all around her. She couldn't see it, though. It was pitch black. Carefully, she slid her hands out and around, following the plastic up until she realized that she was completely enclosed. Panic flared and she struck out, tearing at the stuff with her nails, but she couldn't break through it. It was too heavy, about the gauge of the stuff they used for body bags, and...
Tracy stopped, a flash of memory freezing her muscles. That guy, that crazy guy who'd been shooting at Nick, but the bullets had gone right through him, clean through, and he'd never noticed until he turned and found her sliding down the wall. It hadn't hurt, that had surprised her; it had felt like someone punched her in the stomach, and it took a minute before she realized she'd been shot. What had hurt was seeing Nick's eyes, burning gold, just like Vachon's, and realizing that he had kept it from her all this time, hadn't trusted her. And even worse was the realization that Vachon had kept it from her. Had, in fact, gone out of his way to hide it from her. They must have thought she was galactically stupid...
Wait, Tracy thought, wait, I'm missing something here. Shot. She'd been shot. The realization that Nick was a vampire had obscured that fact for a moment. Her hands flew to her stomach and found only the smooth, flat plane of her belly. There was no blood, no torn flesh --and no sweater. She was naked.
Wait, she thought again, panic flapping and flailing at the edges of her mind like a bird at a window. She'd been shot. She was sure of that, as sure as she was of Nick's eyes blazing gold, as sure as she was of her own name. But there was no bullet wound, there wasn't even a scar. Something is definitely weird here...
She tried to sit up, but the plastic slapped her in the face again and hampered her movements and stuck to her skin. And this time there was the rough scrape of metal. She felt it with her fingers; it was narrow and rough and straight, and there were seams beside it. A zipper.
Oh, my God, she thought, as this final bit of information fell into place. Oh, my God, it is a body bag. They think I'm dead. But I'm not. Why would they put me in a body bag if I'm not dead?
It only took a second for the penny to drop.
What if I was dead when they put me in here? But that was impossible. How could she have been dead then and not dead now?
There was only one explanation that made sense to her. Nick had brought her across. She was a vampire.
She woke to bright light and a strange buzzing hum in her head. A man was bending over her, his hand on the zipper of the body bag, which was open down to her navel. She gasped and grabbed the edges of the bag, pulling them closed over her chest. The man sprang back with a cry of surprise.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't know you were awake." He sounded British, vaguely, and not at all disturbed by the situation. He held out his hand. There was a circular trefoil tattoo on the inside of his wrist. "Adam Pierson," he said.
Tracy stared at him and tried to sit up, but it was a losing proposition--her feet kept sliding on the plastic of the body bag, and she didn't want to let go of her only covering; finally she settled for sending him a withering look.
"Look," Pierson said soothingly, "I know you must have a million questions. I'm here to answer them."
"The first question you can answer is who the hell are you?" Tracy shot back, "Besides Adam Pierson. And after that, you can tell me why I'm in a body bag, and where the hell are my clothes?"
Pierson's eyes widened. "Oh," he said in a faintly embarrassed tone. "Oh, clothes. Er. I've got something here..." He rummaged in a satchel on the bench beside him and pulled out a large, shapeless black sweater and laid it across her stomach. "Here. You can wear that until we can find something better." He looked at her, apparently waiting for her to put the sweater on, and she lifted one eyebrow at him.
It took him a minute. Then he blinked and said, "Oh. Right," and turned his back.
Tracy sat up and pulled the sweater over her head, then scrambled out of the body bag and tugged the loose-knit fabric down over her hips. It felt enormously better than the plastic, but she was still far too exposed. She tucked her legs up inside the sweater, held the bottom of it down with her toes, and wrapped her arms around her legs.
"All right," she said. It came out far too defensive.
Pierson turned to face her again. "You were shot," he said. "Do you remember?"
Tracy nodded. She hadn't been wrong about that. Good. But it still didn't explain the body bag and her clothes.
"You were in hospital," Pierson continued, "in a coma." He looked at her intensely, as though trying to tell her something with his eyes, or to gauge what her reaction was going to be. "You died."
Tracy snorted. "Then what am I doing here?" Did you die, really, when a vampire brought you across? Or just...change?
"Tracy..." Pierson began, and she jerked.
"How did you know my name?"
His gaze shifted away, then back. "I've been keeping track of you," he said, "ever since--"
But she knew. "The Raven," she whispered, the hair rising along her forearms and the back of her neck. "That day in The Raven, I saw you there."
It had been months ago. She had come to find Vachon, she couldn't even remember why now, and Pierson had been at one of the back tables, talking to that creepy Lacroix. He had gone still when she walked in the door, that unnatural stillness she had seen in Vachon sometimes, and turned, scanning the room until he came to her, and all the time his posture had screamed that he was expecting trouble. But when he saw her, he relaxed and said something to Lacroix without looking at him, and Lacroix had replied. They had both been looking at her then, and it had given her the galloping creeps. Lacroix, of course, had noticed--he noticed everything--and tilted his head, acknowledging her.
"You were talking to Lacroix," Tracy said, and it came out an accusation.
"Yes," Pierson replied. "We're...old friends." Something about the way he said it gave her that same creepy feeling.
"Did Vachon know?"
Pierson looked puzzled. "Vachon? Oh, you mean the Spaniard? Did he know what?"
Tracy's lip curled. "That you were 'checking up on me.' "
Pierson shook his head, still puzzled. "Why would he? And what the devil has the Spaniard to do with any of this?"
A sudden spike of sorrow made Tracy turn away. "Nothing, now," she whispered, and pulled her knees closer to her chest.
Pierson put his hand over one of hers. "Oh," he said gently, "I didn't realize. I'm sorry. It's hard to watch them die when you love them.”
There was such sadness in his voice that she looked up at him.
“Vachon’s not dead,” she said, pulling her hand away. “He...he left.” Her throat closed around the word, and she hugged her knees closer.
For a second Pierson’s face froze into that unnatural stillness, and then he blinked. “Left. Yes, that’s right. Sorry, I was confused.” But there was something behind the casual tone that set alarms off in her head.
“And how did you know he was gone, anyway?” Tracy straightened her spine, narrowing her eyes at him.
He shrugged. "Checking up."
"Not very well, if you thought he was dead,” she snapped, and Pierson grinned and gave a sheepish shrug.
Tracy set her jaw. This was beginning to tick her off; if the guy was supposed to be giving her answers, when was she going to get any?
“Why,” she said through her teeth, “have you been checking up on me?”
Pierson gave her that intent look again. "Because," he said, "you're one of Us. An Immortal."
"Yes, I know I'm immortal," she said impatiently. "Did Nick send you? Why couldn't he tell me all this stuff himself?"
Pierson rocked back in surprise. "You know?" he said, "But...but...how could you know? No one ever knows, until they die the first time."
The first time? What in hell did that mean?
"Well, it kinda goes with the territory, don't you think?"
"What territory? What on earth are you talking about?" Pierson's voice was painfully loud in the enclosed space, which, Tracy realized belatedly, was a hearse.
"I'm talking about being a vampire," she snapped, and Pierson's face went blank, as though she had spoken to him in Swahili or something.
"Vampire?" he said, and shook his head. "What...oh! Oh, no, you're not a vampire, Tracy, you're..."
Tracy rolled her eyes. "Immortal. I know that."
Pierson shook his head. "No, not just immortal-won't-die, an Immortal. You can still die. But you won't stay dead."
Two hours and three beers later they were sitting in a back booth at a bar on the other side of town. Pierson had produced dark jeans and a pair of running shoes from his satchel; when Tracy had remarked at how well they fit her, he'd only shrugged and said, "Checking up."
Pierson's story had been so bizarre--people running around the countryside, chopping off each other's heads, for heaven's sake--but it was hard not to believe him when he pulled a knife and slashed his hand to the bone and the wound healed within minutes. And it was impossible not to believe when he did the same thing to her, with the same result.
That had been about twenty minutes ago, and he'd blamed it on the beer, but he wasn't drunk. He'd only had one the whole time they'd been there.
Tracy shook her head; healing impossibly fast was one thing. Coming back from the dead was another. Although, she thought wistfully, if I'd known about this before... She stopped that thought and took another swallow of her beer.
"So, what if I don't want to fight?" she said.
Pierson sighed. "Someone takes your head," he said tiredly. "And you're Really Most Sincerely Dead." He'd said it before but she hadn't wanted to believe him. Now, though, with the blood drying to rusty brown on the wadded-up paper napkins he'd used to wipe up the table, she was beginning to change her mind.
She sighed. If he was right, she’d better learn to take care of herself. And if he wasn’t... Well, she’d enjoyed that fencing class in college. She wouldn’t mind learning more. She looked up, met Pierson’s eyes, squared her shoulders. "Okay. I guess I'll need a sword, then. And a teacher."
Pierson closed his eyes and slumped back in the booth. "Thank God," he said. "I know a guy, he's in Paris right now, but he's due back here in two weeks. I can protect you until he gets back, I think. There weren't any reports of other Immortals in Toronto right now, at least last time I checked. He's a good swordsman, and..."
"No. I'll teach her."
The voice came from behind Tracy. For a moment her heart seemed to stop, and the bottle slid from her fingers. It landed on the table with a thud, and golden beer spilled out onto the table, foaming a little before it settled. Tracy's heart slammed into a fast, frantic rhythm.
She had never thought to hear that voice again, she had resigned herself to the rest of her life without that voice, and the knowledge had been an ache in her chest every minute of every day since the night he’d left.
She wanted to turn around and look, but she didn't dare. It might be the beer; she might be hallucinating. That would be unbearable. But the look on Pierson's face, and the way he suddenly sat up, his eyes narrowed and his body tensed for quick movement, made her stomach flutter and her mouth go dry. They wouldn't both be hallucinating the same thing.
"Vachon?" she said, barely making any noise. "Javier?"
A cold hand came to rest gently on her shoulder. "Tracy," the voice said, only her name; suddenly, shockingly, memory punched through her like the bullet that had killed her.
Everything came flooding back...
...his face, lost and trusting, when he'd asked her to do the unthinkable.
His eyes, blazing gold when she couldn't bring herself to do it.
Her terror in that moment before he impaled himself on the stake, the horror of what he had done washing over her like his blood, warm as it dripped over her hands; how could someone so cold to the touch have blood that warm?
Holding his cold body, telling him she loved him for the first and only time.
LaCroix, who found her as she was leaving the grave, stopped her, held her still with his ancient yellow eyes, told her lies, made her believe them...
...and she jerked back with a smothered cry, the grief new and tearing again.
“Tracy,” he said again, his voice a whisper, and plucked her from the booth, pulling her out and against him effortlessly.
She pushed against his chest, leaning back so she could see him. One corner of his mouth drew up in a self-mocking smile, and he winked at her.
She lifted a shaking hand to touch his face. Stubble scraped against her fingers. She ran her thumb over his lower lip, felt its cold softness, felt the shift as his fangs descended, watched his eyes flare to gold and fade back to brown. She pulled in a breath that was mostly sob and laid her face against his shoulder. "I buried you," she murmured brokenly, "I buried you, you were dead." Her arms tightened around his ribs, squeezing tight enough to make a human protest, but Vachon didn't.
He cradled her head against him, whispered soothing words in her ear, pressed a kiss into her hair. She curled her fingers, gripping the leather of his jacket, bunching it in her hands, and pressed herself tighter against him. She felt his heart beat, once, underneath her cheek, a slow, deep vibration.
"Javier," she whispered against his throat, feeling his flesh cold and smooth against her lips, like living marble. He was real. She didn't care how; he would tell her that later. But he was here now, he wasn't dead, and his voice, oh, God, his beautiful voice that she had never expected to hear again, his voice was more than she could bear, the relief of it was so great. She shook as the sobs spread out from her chest, and for once didn't care that she sounded like an asthmatic walrus when she cried, or that her face turned all blotchy red and her nose stopped up. As long as he kept talking, the floor could have opened up and the Devil himself could have come for them both, and she wouldn't have cared.
It was Pierson who finally interrupted. He cleared his throat and said, somewhat apologetically, "Look, I really hate to break this up, but I think it would be a good idea if we talked about this somewhere more private."
Somewhere private sounded perfect to Tracy. But she couldn't seem to let go of Vachon. She tried, in the interest of not making any more of a scene than she was already, but her arms, instead of falling away from him, tightened. "Querido," she whispered, and then buried her face in his neck, appalled. It was the way she thought of him now, the way she addressed him in the mental conversations that had become more and more frequent since that awful night when he’d vanished from her life--Spanish endearments that she’d sought out and learned without telling him. But standing in the circle of his arms, feeling his skin cold against her face, the word seemed both too much and too little.
"Shh," Vachon murmured, "Shh, mi linda, mi dorada," and stroked her hair. "It's all right, Tracy, it's all right now." He lifted her into his arms as though she weighed nothing--she supposed her 130 pounds was nothing to his vampire strength--and turned to Pierson. "Where?" he said.
"Come with me," Pierson replied, and Tracy heard his footsteps, going away. Vachon followed. She kept her face hidden, and thanked God that there was no one here who knew her to see her carried out of the bar like a child.
They ended up back in the hearse. Pierson got in the driver's seat and Vachon set Tracy beside him, then got in next to her. She couldn't stop looking at him, couldn't let go of him, and he took both her hands in his cold ones and held onto them while Pierson started the motor and pulled out of the bar’s parking lot. He didn't let go of them even when Pierson pulled up in front of a shabby motel room six blocks away and stopped the car.
"Well," Pierson said, "here we are, home sweet home." He sounded cheerful, and Tracy wanted to scream. Didn't he know how crazy all this was? For a moment, she wished she could just wake up and it would all turn out to be a nightmare, but it occurred to her that if she did, Vachon would still be dead. Scratch that, then.
Pierson got out of the car, but ducked his head back inside when neither Tracy nor Vachon moved.
"So, are you coming in?" he asked, eyeing Vachon a little warily. "I think we still have things to talk about."
Vachon opened the door and stepped out, but didn't let go of Tracy's hands. She wondered, briefly, how he'd kept his balance that way. Probably some vampire thing she hadn't had a chance to find out about.
"No," he said, lifting Tracy out of the car and into his arms. "I think you've talked enough for one night. Now it's my turn."
Pierson straightened up. "But..." he sputtered, "...but I'm not finished, there's more she needs to know."
"Yes, you are finished," Vachon said, and Tracy could tell from the sound of his voice that he was using what she privately called The Whammy. She hid her face in Vachon's collar and tried not to giggle.
"In fact," Vachon continued, "you're very tired. Go to your room and go to sleep."
Pierson yawned. "Yeah," he said, "I'm exhausted. We can talk in the morning, Tracy, all right?" He yawned again and started walking toward a door to the right of where he'd parked the car. "G'nite." He fumbled in his pocket for the key, finally found it, and let himself in.
When the door closed behind him, Tracy exploded into laughter.
"Vachon," she said, trying for a chiding tone that was ruined by her gasps for air, "that was cheating."
He grinned at her. "I know," he said. "But he's had you for hours. It's my turn." He waggled his eyebrows like Groucho Marx, and something caught
in Tracy's chest. Suddenly she didn't feel like laughing. She reached up and brushed her fingers across Vachon's face.
"Hours," she whispered. "I like the sound of that..."
His eyes shimmered to gold. "Tracy..." he began, but she put her fingers over his mouth. The feel of his fangs behind the soft, cold flesh sent sparks along every nerve. Out of habit, she tried to quash them, but then she remembered; Immortal.
"Wait," she said. "Not here. Somewhere more private."
Vachon smiled. It looked...odd... with the tips of the fangs showing, but Tracy found that she rather liked it.
"Right," he said, and the next second they were in the air. Flying.
From below she heard a door opening, and then Pierson's outraged voice came up to them.
"Hey! That was cheating!"
Tracy laughed. "I told you," she said to Vachon, who laughed too. And then the wind of their flight made talking impossible.