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At Graves End, Page 4

Jeaniene Frost

Chapter Four


  THE OTHER VAMPIRE GOT AWAY. DAVE BLAMED himself for not being the one to strap him in the capsule, but he'd been so distracted after Belinda attacked Zachary, which was what she'd intended, of course. Zachary bled to death before Bones finished with the last vampire, so he hadn't gotten to him in time to heal him. Zachary had had the team's version of a living will, too. One that stated he didn't want to be brought back as anything inhuman if he were killed on a job. So, all of us somber, we honored his wishes and buried him.

  Ethan turned out to be an orphan, which explained why his parents hadn't strongly opposed the part he'd played as my son. I made Don promise never to use him or any other child again for something so dangerous, and to find him a good foster home. If Don could run a secret branch of the government to fight the undead, finding a foster home for an orphan shouldn't be too hard.

  At last, V-day for Tate arrived. Everyone was at the compound. We were only short one person, and that's because her flight had been delayed due to mechanical difficulties. Annette, the first vampire Bones ever created, was coming in to help with Tate.

  That had been my idea. Bones had barely spoken to Annette since her attempt to scare me off with sordid details of his past, but I knew their estrangement bothered him. So I suggested Annette could trade off shifts in the cell Tate would be locked in after his change. It could take up to a week before Tate would be able to control his hunger without ripping open the first vein he saw, so no one with a pulse could help Tate those first several days. Dave had already volunteered, but with a third person, it would free up some of Bones's time. And give Annette a chance to mend fences. Wasn't I just the little peacemaker?

  Now, however, I was nervous. In half an hour, Bones would kill Tate, only to bring him back again. The time from bite to rebirth could last one hour, or several. We'd scheduled this for eight p. m. , right after sundown, when Bones would be at his strongest. It took a lot out of a vampire to change someone over, or so I'd been told. This was my first experience with it.

  True to form, Don had videos set up. He even had electrodes stuck to Tate's chest and head to monitor the exact moment of death as well as brainwave activity. Bones shook his head upon seeing all the high-tech setup, acidly inquiring if it was being broadcast over the Internet as well. Don didn't care. He intended to glean all available information he could for study. In that, he was shameless.

  Tate was in a room reinforced with a series of titanium locks. Hell, they even had a macabre-looking operating table outfitted with clamps made of the same metal. Bones told Don all these precautions were overkill, pun intended, but Don was worried about Tate busting out and running amok. Tate was strapped to that table now, wearing only a pair of shorts to allow for easier electrode access. I slipped in to see him as a human one last time.

  Numerous bags of blood sat in a cooler nearby for Tate's first few meals. My gaze met his indigo one as I stood next to the inclined slab, maneuvering it until he was upright.

  "God, Tate. " My voice wavered. "Are you sure about this?"

  He attempted a smile, but it lacked its usual depth. "Don't look so spooked, Cat. You'd think you were the one about to die, not me. "

  I laid my hand on his cheek. His skin felt as warm as mine. This was the last time it would be that way. Tate sighed and inclined his head closer.

  "It's been a strange ride, hasn't it?" he murmured. "I remember when I didn't believe in vampires. Now I'm about to join their ranks, led by a son of a bitch I despise. Ironic, huh?"

  "You don't have to do this, Tate. You can change your mind and we'll call the whole thing off. "

  He took another deep breath. "As a vampire, I'll be stronger, faster, and harder to kill. The team needs that. . . and so do you. "

  "Don't you dare do this for me, Tate. " My voice trembled with vehemence. "If this is for me, then get off that table right now. "

  "I'm doing this," he repeated, his tone equally vehement. "You can't talk me out of it, Cat. "

  Bones saved me from a response by coming up behind me. "It's time, Kitten. "

  I went to the small observatory one level up, where the video from that room fed into. My uncle was already seated, watching the screen. Juan, Cooper, and Dave came into our room. I couldn't look away as on the screen, Bones walked over to Tate with the slow grace of a true predator. Tate's breathing and heartbeat began to accelerate.

  Bones studied him without emotion. "You won't gain what you're hoping for, mate, but you will have to live with this decision the rest of your days. So, one last time, do you want this?"

  Tate took a long breath. "You've wanted to kill me for months. Here's your chance. Just do it. "

  In the next second, Bones's fangs were sunk deep into Tate's neck. The machines picked up Tate's skyrocketing pulse as he gasped, stiffening. Dave gripped my hand and I clenched back, watching as Bones drank the life from my friend with deep, long pulls of his mouth. That pale throat worked over and over as he swallowed. The sounds from the EKG monitor slowed, decreased, and then made only intermittent, brief bleeps when Bones lifted his head.

  He licked the spare drops of blood around his mouth before pulling out a blade and making a gouge in his own neck. Then Bones pressed Tate's lolling head to the wound, keeping the tip of the knife in his neck so it didn't close.

  Tate's mouth moved, at first feebly lapping at the blood, and then sucking with more vigor. The EEG monitor began to make alarming noises. Bones dropped the knife as Tate, eyes closed, clamped his teeth around his neck and tore at it. Bones held Tate's head, not flinching as he chomped at him for more. Tate gnashed and sucked as the minutes ticked on, his heartbeat skipping longer and longer in between blips until at last there was. . . silence.

  Bones tore Tate's mouth free, wrenching it loose and staggering back. The EEG went haywire while the EKG showed a straight flat line on its monitor. A great tremor wracked Tate's body, rattling the clamps holding him. Then he slumped in his restraints, motionless. Dead, but waiting to rise.

  The hours dragged by with painful slowness. Bones sat on the floor of the cell, looking like he was resting, but I knew he wasn't asleep. Every so often, his gaze would flick over to Tate's still form. I wondered if he could feel changes in the energy around Tate. Lord knew the EEG could. It hadn't shut up the whole time. Bones must have wanted to smash it more than once by now, with all the bleeps and squawks it made.

  Bones had helped himself to two of the blood bags after Tate-died? Passed out? What was the term for the state Tate was in now, anyway?-even though Bones hated bagged plasma. He'd likened the taste to rotten milk, for an analogy I'd understand when I'd once asked him why he didn't just eat that instead of biting people. But with what he'd drained into Tate, Bones needed a refill, taste preferences notwithstanding.

  Juan yawned. It was after midnight, and so far, we'd done nothing but watch Tate lie there. Still, no one seemed to want to tear their eyes from the screen.

  "You can all get some sleep, I'll buzz you when there's any change," I suggested. I was used to being awake late. Being half vampire had its quirks.

  Don gave me a tired but firm look. "I think I speak for everyone when I say hell no, I'm staying. "

  There were grunts of agreement. I shrugged, defeated, and turned my attention back to the screen.

  The only warning I had was Bones standing up. Then, suddenly, Tate's supine body was a seething mass of motion. His eyes were open, every muscle strained against the clamps, and a howl so unearthly feral it rocked me back in my seat came from the speakers.

  "Jesus Christ," Don muttered, his former slump gone.

  Tate's scream grew impossibly louder. Through the blur from the frenzied scissoring of Tate's head as he fought against his restraints, I saw his mouth was open. . . and fangs were clearly visible as he continued to howl like he'd just come straight from hell.

  Bones had said new vampires woke up with a burning, mindless thirst. Th
at reality was playing out before my eyes. Tate didn't seem to be aware of where he was, or evenwho he was. There was nothing left of him in the gaze that scoured the small room he was trapped in.

  Bones had none of my inner panic at seeing my friend in such a condition. He went over to the cooler, drew out a few blood bags, and walked over to Tate.

  I couldn't hear what he said, because Tate's screams drowned it out, but I saw Bones's lips move as he dropped one of the bags right onto Tate's gaping mouth. Nummy, nummy? my frozen mind supplied. Or,Bottoms up?

  It didn't matter. Tate didn't drink from the bag-he tore at it until his face was covered in red and his snapping jaws made him look more like a great white shark than a man. Bones, unperturbed, plucked the plastic remains from Tate's face, nimbly avoiding his fingers getting chomped, and then dropped another bag onto Tate's mouth. It met the same garbage-disposal fate as the first one.

  I glanced away, disturbed. That made no sense, because I'd known what to expect, but hearing it and seeing it were two different things. To my right, I also noticed Juan looking away from the screen. He rubbed his temple.

  "It's still him. "

  Dave's voice seemed very soft in the sudden break from Tate's screams as he slurped. Dave nodded once at the monitor.

  "I know it's hard to believe from what you're looking at, but Tate's still in there. This is only temporary. He'll be himself soon. "

  God, I wanted to believe that. I knew there was no reason I shouldn't, except that now, Tate looked more frightening than the most homicidal vampire I'd ever come across. I guess I truly hadn't been prepared to see my friend this way, even though I'd thought I was.

  It took five bags before the demented gleam left Tate's eyes. Of course, most of the first two had spilled around his face and shoulders, not in his mouth, since he'd sawed at them so crazily. Now, covered in blood, he finally looked at Bones and seemed to recognize him.

  "It hurts," were Tate's first words.

  Tears came to my eyes at the bleak rawness of his voice. There was so much despair leaking out of that short sentence.

  Bones nodded. "It gets better, mate. You'll have to trust me on that. "

  Tate looked down at himself, licking at the blood he could get. Then he stopped-and stared straight into the camera.

  "Cat. "

  I leaned forward, pressing the button on the monitor that allowed them to hear me.

  "I'm here, Tate. We all are. "

  Tate closed his eyes. "Don't want you to see me like this," he mumbled.

  Shame over my initial reaction made my voice raspy. "It's okay, Tate. You're-"

  "I don't want youseeing me like this! " he snarled, jerking against his clamps once again.

  "Kitten. " Bones glanced up at the screen. "It's upsetting him. That'll make it harder for him to control the blood craze. Best do as he wants. "

  My guilt deepened. Was this a coincidence, or could Tate somehow tell that I'd been repelled by watching him before? What a crappy leader I was, let alone a bad friend.

  "I'm going," I said, managing to keep my voice steady. "I'll. . . I'll see you when you're better, Tate. "

  Then I walked out of the room, not looking back as I heard Tate's screams start up once again.

  I was sitting at my desk, staring off into space, when my cell phone rang. A glance at it showed my mother's number, and I hesitated. I so wasn't in the mood to deal with her. But it was unusual for her to be up this late, so I answered.

  "Hi Mom. "

  "Catherine. " She paused. I waited, tapping my finger on my desk. Then she spoke words that had me almost falling out of my chair. "I've decided to come to your wedding. "

  I actually glanced at my phone again to see if I'd been mistaken and it was someone else who'd called me.

  "Are you drunk?" I got out when I could speak.

  She sighed. "I wish you wouldn't marry that vampire, but I'm tired of him coming between us. "

  Aliens replaced her with a pod person, I found myself thinking. That's the only explanation.

  "So. . . you're coming to my wedding?" I couldn't help but repeat.

  "That's what I said, isn't it?" she replied with some of her usual annoyance.

  "Um. Great. " Hell if I knew what to say. I was floored.

  "I don't suppose you'd want any of my help planning it?" my mother asked, sounding both defiant and uncertain.

  If my jaw hung any lower, it would fall off. "I'd love some," I managed.

  "Good. Can you make it for dinner later?"

  I was about to say,Sorry, there was no way, when I paused. Tate didn't even want me watching the video of him dealing with his bloodlust. Bones was leaving this afternoon to pick Annette up from the airport. I could swing by my mom's when he went to get Annette, and then meet him back here afterward.

  "How about a late lunch instead of dinner? Say, around four o'clock?"

  "That's fine, Catherine. " She paused again, seeming to want to say something more. I half expected her to yell,April Fool's! but it was November, so that would be way early. "I'll see you at four. "

  When Bones came into my office at dawn, since Dave was taking the next twelve-hour shift with Tate, I was still dumbfounded. First Tate turning into a vampire, then my mother softening over my marrying one. Today really was a day to remember.

  Bones offered to drop me off on his way to the airport, then pick me up on his way back to the compound, but I declined. I didn't want to be without a car if my mother's mood turned foul-always a possibility-or risk ruining our first decent mother-daughter chat by Bones showing up with a strange vampire. There were only so many sets of fangs I thought my mother could handle at the same time, and Annette got on my nerves even on the best of days.

  Besides, I could just see me explaining who Annette was to my mother. Mom, this is Annette. Back in the seventeen hundreds when Bones was a gigolo, she used to pay him to fuck her, but after more than two hundred years of banging him, now they're just good friends.

  Yeah, I'd introduce Annette to my mother-right after I performed a lobotomy on myself.

  "I still can't believe she wants to talk about the wedding," I marveled to Bones as I climbed into my car.

  He gave me a serious look. "She'll never abandon her relationship with you. You could marry Satan himself and that still wouldn't get rid of her. She loves you, Kitten, though she does a right poor job of showing it most days. " Then he gave me a wicked grin. "Shall I ring your cell in an hour, so you can pretend there's an emergency if she gets natty with you?"

  "What if thereis an emergency with Tate?" I wondered. "Maybe I shouldn't leave. "

  "Your bloke's fine. Nothing can harm him now short of a silver stake through the heart. Go see your mum. Ring me if you need me to come bite her. "

  There really was nothing for me to do at the compound. Tate would be a few more days at least in lockdown, and we didn't have any jobs scheduled, for obvious reasons. This was as good a time as any to see if my mom meant what she said about wanting to end our estrangement.

  "Keep your cell handy," I joked to Bones. Then I pulled away.

  My mother lived thirty minutes from the compound. She was still in Richmond, but in a more rural area. Her quaint neighborhood was reminiscent of where we grew up in Ohio, without being too far away from Don if things got hairy. I pulled up to her house, parked, and noticed that her shutters needed a fresh coat of paint. Did they look like that the last time I was here? God, how longhad it been since I'd come to see her?

  As soon as I got out of the car, however, I froze. Shock crept up my spine, and it had nothing to do with the realization that I hadn't been here since Bones came back into my life months ago.

  From the feel of the energy leaking off the house, my mother wasn't alone inside, but whoever was with her didn't have a heartbeat. I started to slide my hand toward my purse, where I always had some silver knives tucked away, when a cold laugh made me

  "I wouldn't do that if I were you, little girl," a voice I hated said from behind me.

  My mother's front door opened. She was framed in it, with a dark-haired vampire who looked vaguely familiar cradling her neck almost lovingly in his hands.

  And I didn't need to turn around to know the vampire at my back was my father.