Anita sat in the passenger seat of the SUV Edward had rented quiet and introspective. If Edward was concerned on account of the prior night's events he didn't broach the subject. He seemed content to drive and let Anita sit and stew with her thoughts. What he didn't - and couldn't - know was that Anita felt pushes at her barriers more intensely the closer they got to St. Louis. It was less than a three hundred mile drive from Chicago to St. Louis, not long enough to have prepared her for this. She shouldn't have let them down last night to share her meal with him, but had felt the need to.
"Can we stop to eat or something," Anita said her voice containing a slight pleading tone to it.
"Well, we're just entering Springfield now, so I guess we can. Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong, just that I can feel him pushing at me. I'm not sure I'm going to be strong enough to keep my blocks in place once we get closer to him, Edward," she admitted hating the thought. "I've worked so hard at getting them up, building a fortress around my mind to keep him out."
"What are you apologizing for?"
"Well, it was working until I called you down to New Mexico and you got hurt, your getting hurt allowed him to get past your barriers. It's my fault."
"Christ, Edward, it's not your fault and please don't apologize to me. I don't regret helping you with the case in the least. If this is the price I have to pay for helping stop that monster, then so be it. It is worth it, Jean-Claude won't hurt me. Many more would have died had I not helped you. This is not your fault, Edward."
"If you say so," he said guiding the SUV off the interstate at an exit that indicated there was food available.
Anita had a penchant for convenience food, but Edward didn't so he stopped where they could at least sit down and eat without having first ordered at a cash register.
Back in the car faster than Anita would have liked, she decided to try and sleep the rest of the way. Perhaps if she were sleeping she wouldn't feel Jean-Claude growing stronger in her mind as Edward drove her closer to him. He knew she was coming back to him and what frightened Anita was that this time she wouldn't be able to escape him. Even more frightening she could hear him laughing in her head when these thoughts crept through her mind. It was like he was there in a far recess despite her blocks, probing selectively and periodically letting her know that he was still there.
"What if I said I didn't want to go back to St. Louis?"
Edward glanced at her sharply, turning his attentions back to the interstate in front of them almost as abruptly as he had diverted his attention from it to look at her. "Out of the question, Anita. If I thought there was another way to keep you safe, don't you think I'd do it? Christ, I don't like the idea of you being under his control any more than you do. I sure as hell don't like the idea of you in his bed again, but if it's what you have to do, do it. It's survival of the fittest time, Babe, you need to survive. It's as simple as that."
"I was afraid you were going to say something like that."
"Yeah," she said softly and went back to staring out the window, watching the miles pass as they drove closer to St. Louis and hopefully further away from Olaf. "Where would he be? Does he know where I live or anything?"
"No, Christ, do you think I'm that stupid, Anita?"
"I was just curious. I mean can I go to my house? I'm not used to living in fear, Edward. I don't do it well and I don't follow the rules well either, you know that."
"Take Jean-Claude or one of his henchmen with you if you must, but stay at the Circus as much as you can, underground where you're safest."
She sighed heavily, her eyes drifting closed as Edward drove getting them closer to St. Louis. It was far easier to escape from this nightmare by sleeping than trying to decipher any of it logically. What would Richard think when she returned and went straight to Jean-Claude? Did she owe him an explanation? She wasn't sure, and the uncertainty of it made her head hurt. She couldn't help but realize the fewer who knew she had returned not just to St. Louis but to Jean-Claude the better off she was. Jason would know as would Asher and the others of Jean-Claude's entourage, but she didn't want everyone knowing that she was staying at the Circus. That sort of defeated the purpose of hiding. Didn't it?
Edward had said he'd call Animators, Inc. and explain to them that Anita needed time to recuperate, with or without pay she was taking the time necessary to heal. She could just imagine Bert's reaction to that! He'd be furious, but she deserved the time off no matter the reason.
The next thing Anita knew Edward was calling her name and the SUV was no longer moving. She opened her eyes and without moving her head looked out the passenger side window knew at once they were in the Circus' parking lot. She had slept for almost three hours, she had no memory of anything past Springfield, which perhaps was best.
"We're here, it's time to talk to Jean Claude."
"You go talk to him," she muttered defiantly, knowing Edward wasn't going to let her sit in the car by herself.
"Come on, Anita. Don't be difficult."
She laughed, a bitter laugh clearly depicting her mood. She wasn't amused and she damned well wanted to be difficult. Edward was delivering her to the lion's den and offering her up as a sacrifice. One of the things that had kept her safely out of Jean-Claude's bed the past few months was distance, she quite simply stayed away from him. Resisting Richard wasn't as difficult, she wasn't sure why, perhaps their connection wasn't as strong. She wasn't Richard's human servant, she was Jean-Claude's whether she liked the fact or not she couldn't deny what she was.
Knowing there was no use delaying the inevitable, she sat up straight in the seat for a moment pushing the sleep from her brain testing her barriers. Assured they were still in place, she opened the car door and stepped out, struck by the overwhelming feeling of being home. She didn't want to consider this place, Jean-Claude's club, her home. She had a house, her own place with no neighbors and yet her mind reacted to standing here in front of the Circus as if she belonged here.
She went to the secondary entrance, rapped on the door and was let in followed closely by Edward. Edward parted with his weapons hesitantly, but he knew there was no descending the Circus's stairs into Jean-Claude's lair without giving them up. And he needed to talk to him more than Anita did, Edward knew Olaf better than anyone, not that that was saying much. He needed to impart on Jean-Claude the imminent danger he felt Anita was in, the threat Olaf presented.
On top of all that Edward felt he owed Jean-Claude an apology. He had endangered Anita and if he understood this connection the two of them had by endangering Anita he had endangered Jean-Claude as well. Edward wasn't a man to ask forgiveness from anyone and his apology would not be an outright one. But he was capable of imparting his feelings to Jean-Claude without lowering himself to apologize to one of the monsters. It was necessary to keep the peace for now.
If Anita didn't care for the man, Edward wouldn't do it but she did and he knew Jean-Claude would move heaven and earth if necessary to help them. He wouldn't like to have been unintentionally responsible for Jean-Claude's death. Aside from the fact that it wouldn't have been as much fun as killing the vampire himself, Edward didn't particularly feel like being hunted by his minions. That could prove inconvenient and distract him from his work. And Anita hating him was not something Edward wanted right now, and despite what she might say Edward knew Anita still loved the master vampire.
Their weapons unloaded and left with the doorman they proceeded downstairs to where Jean-Claude waited for them. He stood, though the movement was too fluid and graceful to be called merely that and walked straight to Anita. Edward may just as well not have been there for all the attention Jean-Claude paid him. Jean-Claude took both of Anita's hands in his and kissed the backs of each one, whispering something in French that Edward could not decipher.
If Edward had any doubts as to Jean-Claude's genuinely feeling something for Anita the look of concern and relief evident in Jean-Claude's normally carefully guarded blue eyes was enough to make him believe he did at least care. Edward knew little about love, at least the love that marriages and other long-term relationships were based on, but he could swear that was visible in Jean-Claude's eyes. He had never noticed it before now and he had looked trying to read just what this creature wanted with his Anita. But it was there now, fleetingly because he masked it quickly, but Edward had seen it. Perhaps he was meant to.
"You are really all right, ma petite," he said releasing her hands and placing his well-manicured hands on either shoulder.
"Yes, I'm fine. I'll be even better once this guy is found and I don't have to be afraid of my own shadow or the boogeyman anymore."
"Ah yes, the boogeyman I am to protect you from. He must be something to reckon with if your scary yet capable friend has brought you to me for protection."
He hadn't even so much as glanced at Edward; his eyes had been focused solely on Anita. It was as if he didn't believe she was really there. Anita saw hurt there too, hurt that it took this to get her to come back to him. He was dressed casually in a pair of jeans sized just perfectly and a white shirt that may have well not been a shirt for the sheerness and scant material it offered.
Edward cleared his throat, he decided it was time for him to start. He realized he might have been interrupting an intimate, private conversation between the two via whatever path they could communicate without the use of words, but he frankly didn't care. Jean-Claude stood there looking as if he wanted to devour her, not in the scary, vampire, monster meaning of the word devour either, and Edward would just as soon not be here to witness it.
"As you know, a man I've worked with in the past who had I known I was going to call Anita into help me I would never have enlisted the help of has decided he wants Anita. I believe I can find and catch him, but until I do I believe she needs protection. He's former Army Special Forces, a sniper and assassin, and he's very good at what he does. He's good at being the wind," Edward said simply.
Jean-Claude nodded his head, his hand resting possessively at the small of Anita's back. She had tried to pull away, to put some distance between them but he wouldn't allow her to get out of arm's reach of him. He reached to the back of his head with his other hand and freed his hair from the leather thong holding it in place, letting it fall freely over his shoulders, framing his face. "I will see that she's cared for, Monsieur. You can be assured she will be protected. You've been here before both for friendly purposes and not so friendly purposes, you know the security measures I have in place."
"And while you're," Edward paused his lips curling up into a cynical smile, "resting?"
"I have the wolves to call, Monsieur. They will protect ma petite as if she were their own. In addition to the wolves, there are the leopards that are loyal to her. She will not lack for protection no matter the time of day."
"Would you two stop talking about me as if I'm the little woman who can't defend herself? Why not go out and thump your chests, skin a rabbit and make me a dress out of deer hide while you're at it?"
Jean-Claude turned to her, the back of his hand moving to stroke her cheek. Ma petite, let the two men who care for and are concerned for you sniff one another out and ensure we are on the same page. You've seen how two dominates in a pack act.
I am not part of a pack, Jean-Claude. She wasn't happy, but she'd let them talk around her if it made them feel better.
Edward stifled a laugh barely, knowing the two had exchanged thoughts somehow and then felt Jean-Claude's gaze move back to him. "Unless you hear from me that this problem is solved, it's not solved." He glanced sharply at Anita. "Stay safe, Anita. This isn't me, the thrill for him will be the stalking, the hunt, the game."
"I know," she said somberly.
He gave a slight salute and turned to leave, knowing without even having to look behind him one of the wolves was following him out.
"Ma petite, you worried me, day and night I called to you and you did not respond. I did not know if you were alive or dead."
"I'm fine, Jean-Claude. A little sore, I itch a little bit where the stitches are, but otherwise I'm fine."
"Stitches," he said, one brow rose as emphasis to his question.
"Yes, stitches. I very nearly died. I'm sure you knew that, felt it."
"I knew you were close yes, I had to feed more than usual for a while there."
"Did that help me? Can you share blood with me the way I can share food with you?"
He nodded simply.
"Damn it, Jean-Claude."
"Ah, ma petite, I did not want you to die. Forgive me this transgression please, I did not want to lose you."
"I did not come here to sleep with you, Jean-Claude."
"As you wish."
"I do wish."
"I sensed a but coming after the ‘I do wish'," Jean-Claude said with a light, lyrical laugh.
"Obsidian told me something."
"What did she tell you?"
"That by cutting you off I'm somehow weakening you."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Would it have changed your mind?"
"I don't know. I don't like the thought of being the reason you're weaker, that someone could do something to you."
"I could have gone elsewhere, Anita."
"I know you could have, but you knew that I'd just use that against you to distance myself further from you."
He nodded his head simply in agreement, the fingertips of one hand resting in the front pocket of his jeans as he leaned against the wall.
"I don't want you weak, Jean-Claude. You should have told me."
"I did not want that as the reason you came back to my bed, ma petite. I wanted you there because it's where you belong, because you desired to be there with me, under me, on top of me, with me inside of you."
She actually felt herself blush and hated herself for it, hated that his bold and suggestive words could affect her so easily. His comments were right on target. She had no complaints about Richard in that aspect, but there were times she couldn't get Marcus out of her mind.
Times that, like him accepting her monster, Anita knew she would never accept Richard's monster completely. Why she could accept Jean-Claude's better or with more ease she didn't know. Something about knowing Jean-Claude didn't devour his victims made a difference. Jean-Claude would never get carried away and eat her, she could never be totally assured of that with Richard, not until he'd learned to control his beast fully at any rate.
"Can you deny you've missed it? Being with me, and I don't mean merely sexually either."
"You know I can't."
"Then why are you so glum about being here? It's been months since I've had the pleasure of your company, ma petite. Aside from last night's brief access to you I've been cut off from you completely."
"I'd rather the choice to be here be my own not out of necessity, Jean-Claude. I don't particularly like knowing there's a lunatic serial killer out there who wants me to partner up with him."
"You do attract the most interesting kinds, Anita."
"I am uncertain if that is a question or a statement, ma petite, but I will answer it anyhow. Yes, I suppose myself included."
"It was really more rhetorical."
"I figured that, but thought I would at least acknowledge that I am one of the interesting kinds who is attracted to you."
"Did I hurt you?"
"Hurt me," he queried his voice laced with amusement.
"When I was hurt and you were able to connect with me, did I hurt you, weaken you?"
"Some, but I was more concerned with getting you well. They would not allow calls to be put through to your room, I did not know you were with Edward, and even if I had I am unsure whether he would have provided me information or not."
"I don't know if he would have or not either."
"As I did not know where you were or in what capacity you were where you were, I did not call and interrogate the doctor."
"I appreciate that, he was not too happy with me as it was I'm not sure how he would have reacted to your questions."
"I can imagine he was not, you are not a very good patient, Anita."
She glanced at him sharply and he returned her look with a polite one of his own, complete with widened smile the whites of his teeth gleaming. "I can cooperate when I have to, but there was something that had to be caught."
"Anita saves the world again," he said, a hint of pride in his voice. "No matter the cost to herself, or to the others whose lives are bound to hers."
"That was not foremost in my mind, no."
"I know, and honestly I would have it no other way, ma petite." He regarded her for a moment and Anita was not sure what to say to that. She believed him that he would not want her any other way, always putting others before herself, even he and Richard now. "Are you hungry then? It's been some time since we've shared dinner, I thought we could start our evening off that way."
"I shared with you last night."
"But ‘twas not the same as sitting across from you, ma petite, watching you as you eat what I can only taste through you."
Anita watched as he closed the distance between them. He touched her shoulders and skimmed his hands along the length of each arm to her hands. "I am glad you are all right, Anita. The threat to my life withstanding."
She did not want to believe him, wanted to believe that only the selfish part of him was glad she had lived. That part of him that was not ready to relinquish his place in the world just yet. But at the same time she could sense he was telling the truth. "I know and thanks."
"There is no need to thank me for worrying about you, ma petite. But as I know how difficult it is for you to say these things I will graciously accept and say you are most welcome."
Anita saw his head dip towards hers and despite her efforts to stay away from Jean-Claude she had no desire to stop him from kissing her. After the brief intimacy shared with Edward the prior night, she almost felt as though she needed it. Needed him. His lips found hers, bold and yet hesitant as if despite his confidence in his ability he was unsure if his advance would be welcome.
She felt the wall at her back and for the briefest of moments the stitches there were forgotten as she slid her arms up along the wall that was in front of her, his chest. She groaned softly, not out of arousal but from the rude reminder of her stitches when her arms had exceeded the limits of how far they would allow her to stretch without revolting from the activity.
Jean-Claude drew away from her, smiling slightly as two of her fingertips toyed with the tie at his shirt. Anita wondered if he had worn it purposely knowing she would be here tonight. It was almost sheer and a good portion of his chest was visible because the tie that was supposed to be fastened was undone.
"It is not me making you sound as if you are in pain I hope?"
She lifted her head to look him in the eyes, something she was accustomed to doing given their difference in height. A finger strayed from the piece of fabric that was the shirt's lace and grazed his bare chest underneath the lacing. "No. It's my back."
"This man who is after you, did he hurt you?"
"No, in fact it was what he witnessed me doing that has endeared him to me. He thinks we are alike, that I am a cold blooded killer with no remorse who would kill anyone for sport." Her hand dropped from his chest, she raised her head slightly higher to meet his gaze dead on. "Is that how people see me, Jean-Claude? Once upon a time I would have scoffed at him and told him he was crazy for thinking that way about me. But now," she sighed softly.
Gratefully, she walked into Jean-Claude's offered embrace and allowed him to guide her through the doorway into his sleeping chambers. She did not have it in her to offer a fight just now, in fact if she wanted to face facts she welcomed his comfort.
"Now," she continued sitting herself on the edge of the bed. She smiled, bowing her head as Jean-Claude proceeded to undress her, the act more paternal than romantic and she was glad that he seemed to understand what she needed right now. And what she didn't as well.
"But now, I have come so far from the woman you first knew. She was really only a girl in a woman's body. And I don't know whether or not I like myself and what I have become."
"Ah, ma petite, I love what you have become. All of it, and would not have it any other way. Gone is the young woman who would not have given me a second look."
"I always looked twice, Jean-Claude. It was never a question of not looking at you, or not seeing you to be more specific."
"And yet you did what no other has done."
"Continually said no."
"I wonder if I would have been so easy as the others to give into your charms if we would be sitting here right now."
"Perhaps you are right, ma petite, perhaps you are right." He guided her to lie back on the bed once he had unlaced her shoes and slid them and her socks off. Next came her black jeans, jeans he had helped her out of more than once for entirely different purposes. Anita's breath caught when she felt his thumb graze her hip where the fabric of her panties stopped.
"I do have the strength to undress myself, but I kind of like that you are doing it."
"If your back is that sore, ma petite, that you cannot place your arms around my neck where they belong then I have no qualms about playing servant to you for the evening and undressing you. Turn over and let me look at your back. Perhaps I have some salve I can put on the wounds to help the healing and stop the pain."
"What are you an herbologist?"
He laughed and Anita could not help but laugh, too. "Nay, ma petite, but I have had reason on occasion to see to the comfort of others."
"I'm sure you have," she replied wryly not liking the idea at all of him seeing to anyone else's comfort. Of course, when one was dealing with a man who was over four hundred years old one had to accept the fact that he would have plenty of opportunity to see to another's comfort.
Jean-Claude returned to her side with some salve to put on her back as well as a covering for her back that would enable her to lie without having clothes completely on. "Oui, ma petite, but none were you, so there is a difference."
"I hope so," she murmured sighing at his administrations. He was tender with her, his fingertip gentle as he applied the salve. She could feel, yes feel, the anger and fury boiling up in him with each application of the salve to a new and more tender part of her back. She had not bothered to look in a mirror since leaving the hospital, but she was quite sure his reaction was a pretty honest and accurate one. Her back looked like hell and Jean-Claude was pissed as hell that someone had caused it, inadvertently or not.
Anita didn't pray much, but she prayed like hell that Edward found Olaf before Jean-Claude did. Edward would try to reason with the man, get him to see that Anita wasn't suited for him the way Olaf believed she was. If that did not work, Anita had no false impressions about it, Edward would kill him. But Jean-Claude would kill without inquisition, without hesitation, without reason just because he knew Olaf's name and that Olaf was after Anita.
Story ©Susan Matthews/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com