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Daughters of Darkness (Chapter 17)

Well, she wasn't telling humans anything-but she did defy the authority of the Night World," Ash said in

his most lazy, careless voice.

Quinn said succinctly, "How?"

It was late Monday afternoon and the sun was streaming through the western windows of the Burdock

farmhouse. Ash was wearing a brand-new shirt bought at the Briar Creek general store, a turtleneckwith

long sleeves that covered the almost-healedscars on his throat and arms. His jeans werebleached white,

his hair was combed over the scabon the back of his head, and he was playing the scene of his life.

"She knew about a rogue werewolf and didn't tell.anybody about him."

"So she was a traitor. And what did you do?"

Ash shrugged. "Staked her."

Quinn laughed out loud.

"No, really," Ash said earnestly, looking intoQuinn's face with what he knew were wide, guileless

eyes-probably blue. "See?"

Without taking his eyes from Quinn's he whipped a pink-and-green country quilt off the bundle on the

couch.

Quinn's eyebrows flew upward.

He stared for a moment at Aunt Opal, who had been cleaned so that you'd never know she'd ever been

buried, and who had the picket stake carefully replaced in her chest.

Quinn actually swallowed. It was the first time Ash had ever seen him falter.

"You really did it," he said. There was reluctant respect in his voice-and definite shock.

You know, Quinn, I don't think you're quite as tough as you pretend. After all, no matter how you try to

act like an Elder, you're only eighteen. And you'll always be eighteen, and next year maybe I'll be older.

"Well," Quinn said, blinking rapidly. "Well. Well___ I have to hand it to you."

"Yeah, I just decided the best thing to do was cleanup the whole situation. She was getting on,

you know."

Quinn's dark eyes widened fractionally. "I have toadmit -I didn't think you were that ruthless."

"You've gotta do what you've gotta do. For the family honor, of course."

Quinn cleared his throat. "So-what about thewerewolf?"

"Oh, I took care of that, too." Ash meandered over and whipped a brown-and-white quilt off

Exhibit B. The wolf was a charred and contorted corpse. It had given Mary-Lynnette hysterics when Ash

insisted on pulling it out of the car, and Quinn's nostrils quivered when he looked at it.

"Sorry, it does smell like burnt hair, doesn't it? Igot a little sooty myself, keeping him in the fire…."

"You burned himalive?"

"Well, it is one of the traditional methods….""Just put the blanket back, all right?" Ash put the

blanket back.

"So, you see, everything's taken care of. No humans involved, no extermination necessary."

"Yes, all right …" Quinn's eyes were still on the quilt. Ash decided the moment was right.

"And by the way, it turns out the girls had aperfectly legitimate reason for coming. They just

wanted to learn to hunt. Nothing illegal about that,is there?"

"What? Oh. No." Quinn glanced at Aunt Opal, then finally looked back at Ash. "So they're

coming back now that they've learned it."

"Well, eventually. They haven't quite learned it yet… so they're staying."

"They'restaying?"

…………….."Right. Look, I'm the head of the familyon the West Coast, aren't I? And I say they're

staying."

"Ash…………. "

"It's about time there was a Night World outpost in this area, don't you think? You see what's happened

without one. You get families of outlaw werewolves wandering around. Somebody's got to stay here and

hold down the fort."

"Ash … you couldn't payNight People to strand themselves out here. Nothing but animals to feed

on, nobody but humans to associate with …"

"Yeah, it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.Besides, wasn't it you who said it's not good

living your whole life isolated on an island?"

Quinn stared at him, then said, "Well, I don't thinkthis is much better."

"Then it serves my sisters right. Maybe in a few years they'll appreciate the island more. Then

theycan hand the job over to someone else."

"Ash … no one else is going to comehere."

"Well." With the battle won, and Quinn simplylooking dazed and as if he wanted to get back to

LosAngeles as fast as possible, Ash allowed himself a

small measure of truth.

"I might come visit them someday," he said.

"He did a beautiful job," Rowan said that evening.

"We heard it all from the kitchen. You would have loved it."

Mary-Lynnette smiled.

"Quinn can't wait to get away," Jade said, in

tertwining her fingers with Mark's.

Kestrel said to Ash, "I'd just like to be around when you explain all this to Dad."

"That's funny," Ash said. "I feel just the opposite." Everyone laughed-except Mary-Lynnette. The

big farm kitchen was warm and bright, but the windowswere darkening. She couldn't see anything in the

gathering darkness-in the last two days the effects of her blood exchange had faded. Her senses were

ordinary human senses again.

"You're sure you won't get in trouble?" sheasked Ash.

"No. I'll tell our dad the truth-mostly. That anoutlaw werewolf killed Aunt Opal and that I killed

the werewolf. And that the girls are better off here,hunting quietly and watching out for other rogues.

There's sure to be some record of the Lovett fam ily…. Dad can check out the history all he wants."

"A whole family of outlaw werewolves," Kestrel said musingly.

"Ofcrazy werewolves," Ash said. "They were as dangerous to the Night World as any vampire

hunters could be. God knows how long they've beenhere-long enough for their land to get named Mad

Dog Creek."

"And for people to mistake them for Sasquatch," Mark said.

Rowan's brown eyes were troubled. "And it wasmy fault that you didn't know," she said to

MaryLynnette. "I told you-he couldn't be the killer. I'm sorry."

Mary-Lynnette captured her gaze and held it. "Rowan, you arenotgoing to feel guilty for this. You

couldn't have realized. He wasn't killing for food like a normal werewolf. He was killing to protect his

territory-and to scare us."

"And it might have worked," Mark said. "Exceptthat you guys didn't have anywhere else to go."

Ash looked at Mark, then at his sisters. "I have a question. Is the territory around here going to be

enough foryou?"

"Of course," Rowan said, with gentle surprise.

"We don't always need tokill the animals," Jade said. "We're getting it down pat now. We can

take a little here and a little there. Heck, we can even trythe goat. "

"I'd rather try Tiggy," Kestrel said, and for a moment her golden eyes glimmered. Mary-Lynnette didn't

say it, but she wondered sometimes about Kestrel. If maybe, someday, Kestrel might need a bigger

territory of her own. She was a lot like Jeremy in some ways.

Beautiful, ruthless, single-minded. A true Night Person.

"And what about you?" Ash said, looking at mark.

"Me? Uh… Well, when you get down to it, I'm kind of a hamburger guy…."

"I tried to take him hunting last night," Jade interpreted. "You know, just to show him. But he threw up."

"I didn't actually-"

"Yes, you did," Jade said calmly and cheerfully.

Mark looked away. Mary-Lynnette noticed they didn't stop holding hands.

"So I take it you're not going to become a vampire," Ash said to Mark.

"Uh, let's just say not any time soon."

Ash turned to Mary-Lynnette. "And what about the human end of things? Do we have that taken care of?"

"Well, I know everything that's going on intown-by which I mean that I talked with BunnyMarten

this morning. I'm so glad she's not a vampire, incidentally

Mark said, "I always knew it"

"Anyway, here's the quick version." MaryLynnette held up a finger. "One, everybody knowsthat Jeremy

is gone-his boss at the gas stationmissed him yesterday and went up to check the trailer. They found a lot

of weird stuff there. But all they know is that he's disappeared."

"Good," Rowan said.

Mary-Lynnette held up another finger. "Two,Dad is sorry but not surprised that the stationwagon blew

up. Claudine has been predicting itwould for a year."

Another finger. "Three, Mr. Kimble doesn't have any ideawhatkilled his horse-but now he thinks it was

an animal instead of a person. Vic Kimble thinks it was maybe Sasquatch. He and Todd are very

spooked and want to get out of Briar Creek forgood

"And let's have a moment of silence to show howwe'll miss them," Mark said solemnly, and blew a raspberry.

"Four," Mary-Lynnette said, holding up a fourthfinger, "you girls are eventually going to have to

mention that your aunt hasn't come back from her 'vacation.' But I thinkyou can wait awhile. Nobody

comes out here so nobody will notice she's gone. And I think we can bury her and Jeremy safely. Even if

somebody finds them, what have they got? A mummy that looks about a thousand years old and a wolf.

They won't be able to connect them to the missing people."

"Poor old Aunt Opal," Jade said, still cheerful."But she helped us in the end, didn't she?"

Mary-Lynnette looked at her. Yes, there it is, shethought. The silver in the eyes when you laugh about

death. Jade is a true Night Person, too.

"She did help. And I'm going to miss her," she said out loud.

Kestrel said, "So everything is taken care of."

"Seems like it." Ash hesitated. "And Quinn is waiting down the road. I_ told him it would only

takea couple hours to finish making arrangements and say goodbye."

There was a silence.

"I'll see you off," Mary-Lynnette said at last.

They went together to the front door. When theywere outside in the twilight Ash shut the door be hind

them.

"You still can come with me, you know."

"With you and Quinn?"

"I'll send him away. Or I'll go and come back tomorrow and get you. Or I'll come back and stay…."

"You need to go tell your father about this. Make everything right with him, so it's safe for your

sisters. You knowthat."

"Well, I'll come back afterthat,"Ash said, with an edge of desperation to his voice.

Mary-Lynnette looked away. The sun was gone. Looking east, the sky was already the darkest purple

imaginable. Almost black. Even as she watched, a starcame out. Or-not a star. Jupiter.

"I'm not ready yet. I wish I were."

"No, you don't," Ash said, and he was right, of course. She'd known ever since she sat there by

theroad, crying while her car burned. And althoughshe'd thought and thought about it since then, sitting in

her darkened room, there was nothing she coulddo to change her own mind.

She would never be a vampire. She just wasn't cutout for it. She couldn't do the things vampires hadto

do-and stay sane. She wasn't like Jade or Kestrelor even Rowan with her pale sinewy feet and her

instinctive love of the hunt. She'd looked into the heart of the Night World . . .and she couldn't join it.

"I don't want you to be like that," Ash said. "Iwant you to be likeyou. "

Without looking at him, Mary-Lynnette said, "Butwe're not kids. We can't be like Jade and Mark, and

just hold hands and giggle and never think about the future."

"No, we're only soulmates, that's all. We're onlydestined to be together forever…."

"If we've got forever, then you can give me time," Mary-Lynnette said. "Go back and' wander a

little. Take a look at the Night World and make sure youwant to give it up "I know that already."

"Take a look at humans and make sure you wantto be tied to one of them."

"And think about the things I've done to humans, maybe?"

Mary-Lynnette looked at him directly. "Yes."

He looked away. "All right. I admit it. I've got a lot to make up for…."

Mary-Lynnette knew it. He'd thought of humansas vermin-and food. The things she'd seen in hismind

made her not want to picture more.

"Then make up for what you can," she said, although she didn't dare really hope that he would.

"Take time to do that. And giveme time to finish growing up. I'm still in high school, Ash."

"You'll be out in a year. I'll come back then."

"It may be too soon."

"I know. I'll come back anyway." He smiled ironically. "And in the meantime I'll fight dragons,

just like any knight for his lady. I'll prove myself. You'll be proud of me."

Mary-Lynnette's throat hurt. Ash's smile disappeared. They just stood looking at each other.

It was the obvious time for a kiss. Instead, they just stood staring like hurt kids, and then one ofthem

moved and they were holding on to each other. Mary-Lynnette held on tighter and tighter, her face

buried in Ash's shoulder. Ash, who seemed to have lost it altogether, was raining kisses on the back of

her neck, saying, "I wish I were a human. I wishI were."

"No, you don't," Mary-Lynnette said, seriously unsteady because of the kisses.

"I do. I do."

But it wouldn't help, and Mary-Lynnette knew he knew it. The problem wasn't simply what he was, it

was what he'd done-and what he was going to do. He'd seen too much of the dark side of life to be a

normal person. His nature was already formed, and she wasn't sure he could fight it.

"Believe in me," he said, as if he could hear her.

Mary-Lynnette couldn't say yes or no. So she did the only thing she could do-she lifted her head. Hislips

were in the right place to meet hers. The electric sparks weren't painful anymore, she discovered? and the

pink haze could be quite wonderful. For a time everything was warm and sweet and strangelypeaceful.

And then, behind them, somebody knocked on thedoor. Mary-Lynnette and Ash jumped and

separated.They looked at each other, startled, emotions still tooraw, and then Mary-Lynnette realized

where she was. She laughed and so did Ash.

"Come out," they said simultaneously.

Mark and Jade came out. Rowan and Kestrel werebehind them. They all stood on the porch-avoiding

the hole. They all smiled at Ash and Mary-Lynnette in a way that made Mary-Lynnette blush.

"Goodbye," she said firmly to Ash.

He looked at her for a long moment, then looked at the road behind him. Then he turned to go.

Mary-Lynnette watched him, blinking away tears.She still couldn't let herself believe in him. But there

was no harm in hoping, was there? In wishing. Evenif wishes almost never came true….

Jade gasped. "Look!"

They all saw it, and Mary-Lynnette felt her heartjump violently. A bolt of light was streaking acrossthe

darkness in the northeast. Not a little wimpyshooting star-a brilliant green meteor that crossedhalf the

sky, showering sparks. It was right above Ash's path, as if lighting his way.

A late Perseid. The last of the summer meteors. But it seemed like a blessing.

"Quick, quick, wish," Mark was telling Jade eagerly. "A wish on that star you gotta get."

Mary-Lynnette glanced at his excited face, at theway his eyes shone with excitement. Beside him, Jade

was clapping, her own eyes wide with delight.

I'm so glad you're happy, Mary-Lynnette thought. My wish for you came true. So now maybe I can wish for myself.

I wish … I wish …

Ash turned around and smiled at her. "See you next year," he said. "With slain dragons!"

He started down the weed-strewn path to the road. For a moment, in the deep violet twilight, he didlook

to Mary-Lynnette like a knight walking off ona quest. A knight-errant with shining blond hair and no

weapons, going off into a very dark and dangerous wilderness. Then he turned around and walked

backward, waving, which ruined the effect.

Everyone shouted goodbyes.

Mary-Lynnette could feel them around her, her brother and her three blood-sisters, all radiating warmth

and support. Playful Jade. Fierce Kestrel. Wise and gentle Rowan. And Mark, who wasn't sullen and

solitary anymore. Tiggy wound himselfaround her ankles, purring amiably.

"Even when we're apart, we'll be looking at the same sky!" Ash yelled.

"What a line," Mary-Lynnette called back. But hewas right. The sky would be there for both of

them.She'd alwaysknow hewas out there somewhere,looking up at it in wonder. Just knowing that was

important. And she was clear on who she was at last. Shewas Mary-Lynnette, and someday she'd discover a

supernova or a comet or a black hole, but she'd doit as a human. And Ash would come back next year.

And she would always love the night.

[The End]

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