Divine Misdemeanors (Page 16)

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Chapter Fourty-six

We were twenty minutes early when Rhys pulled into the small gravel parking area. What do you do when you arrive early at the kidnappers' rendezvous? Do you get out? Do you wait? What would Miss Manners say about it? I was betting it wasn't in any of her books.

Rhys got out first, then Barinthus. He got the door for me and gave me his hand as I stepped out. I had a little jacket on over the skirt and summer blouse to hide the Lady Smith at the small of my back. Rhys and Barinthus were both in lightweight trench coats to hide their guns, knives, swords, and for Rhys a small axe at his back. Some of the weapons were even magical holy items. I had left mine at home, because the sword that had come to my hand had only one purpose and that was to kill and kill messily. We would at least pretend we were here for something else. If the police did get called we had to be able to at least fake the thought that we'd come to rescue Julian and not to kill Steve and his little girlfriend. I was betting we'd get to all the above, but we needed wiggle room in case one of the neighbors called the cops.

We went to the door as if we were visiting. It felt almost wrong to ring the doorbell and wait for them to answer. Doyle had called us in the car and they hadn't risked the wards for fear of getting Julian killed before they could rescue him. So when we went through the door Barinthus would throw off enough magic to set off every ward they had. If we timed it right they would get in at the same time. I trusted Doyle to time it right.

Rhys rang the doorbell. They had put me between the two of them. I'd been given my orders to not show myself until Rhys said differently. I couldn't see anything but that the door opened.

Rhys's matter-of-fact voice was my first hint that … “The barrel of a gun isn't a very friendly way to start a visit.”

“Where is the princess?”

“Wave to the man, Merry.”

I waved above his wide shoulders.

“Fine, come inside, but if you try any magic your friend will be dead before you can get to him. Bittersweet is with him now.”

I didn't like the sound of that, but I followed Rhys back through the door. The moment I passed it the wards flared along my skin so powerfully magic that they took my breath for a moment. I'd never felt anything like it, not even in faerie itself.

Barinthus came through last and did what we'd planned. He flared his magic like throwing wide a cloak to make certain you tripped the alarm. But it wasn't noise that these alarms made, it was magic.

Rhys kept me behind him, shielded by his body. “You've got your wards set too sensitive for Barinthus. Easy, he was Mannan Mac Lir. That's a lot of magic to get inside these wards.”

If Barinthus hadn't been so bloody spectacular in physical appearance it might not have worked, but it was hard to stare up at a seven-foot-tall man with hair every shade of blue of the world's oceans and elliptical pupils in his blue eyes like some deep-sea creature and not understand just how much magic was standing in front of you.

Bittersweet came whirring down from the balcony that looked out over the huge open living room. It was one of the biggest great rooms I'd ever seen. I saw her past Rhys's shoulder as he and Barinthus tried to talk Steve Patterson into lowering the gun.

She had a bloody knife in her hand almost as big as she was, and just from the look on her face I knew she was Bitter, and not Sweet. We were about to meet her Hyde face-to-face.

“She's coming at our backs, Rhys,” I said quietly.

“I'm worried about the gun,” he said between smiling lips as he tried to calm Patterson down.

I turned to face her, and yelled out, “I'm here to help you be able to make love to Steve.” It was the only thing I could think of that might get through the bloodlust I saw on her face.

It did make her hover in the air on her furiously beating wings. Blood dripped heavily and thickly off the tip of the improbably long knife. It had to have a wooden or ceramic handle around all that metal or she wouldn't have been able to hold it.

“They're here to help us, Bitter. They'll help you be big enough for everything we want.”

She blinked again as if she heard him but couldn't understand. I wondered if we were too late for reason. Had her mental illness eaten her to the point where bloodlust was more important to her than love?

“Bittersweet,” he said, “please, honey, can you hear me?” I wasn't the only one worried about her.

“Bittersweet,” I said, “do you want to be with Steve?”

Her tiny face screwed up with concentration and then finally she nodded.

“Good,” I said. “I'm here to help you be with Steve the way you want to be with him.”

Her face was emptying out or filling up. The rage was leaking away, but more personality was coming into her eyes, her face. The knife fell from her hands to clang on the floor and spatter blood so that some droplets hit my skirt. I did my best not to flinch. It wasn't the blood; it was the thought of it being Julian's.

Bittersweet looked at her hands and the fallen knife and wailed. That was the only word for it. It was one of the worst sounds I'd ever heard come from someone. It held despair and torment and utter hopelessness. If the Christian Hell exists, then people should make that sound there.

“Steve, Steve, what did I do now? What did you let me do? I told you not to let me hurt him.”

“Bittersweet, is that you?”

“For now,” she said, and she looked at me. There was weariness in her face. “You can't make me big, can you?”

“I might be able to, but the Goddess would have to bless us.”

“There is no blessing here,” she said. “The Goddess doesn't talk to me anymore.” She landed on the floor and looked up at me. She was nude, but there was so much blood I hadn't been able to tell until she got close. What had she done to Julian? Were Doyle and the others inside the house? Were they rescuing Julian?

She held her hand out to me. I knelt down. Rhys said, “Merry, I'm not sure that's a good idea.”

“Put the gun down,” Barinthus said.

The men danced their three-way gun dance, but for me the world had narrowed down to the small blood-drenched figure on the carpet. I offered her my hand and she wrapped a small hand around one finger. She tried to call her glamour and roll me as she could some humans, but she truly didn't have enough power. It was as if she'd gotten the appearance of her demi-fey father, but her magic was brownie. It was so unfair.

“You can't save us,” she said.

“Bittersweet, she'll make you big. We can be together.”

“I know there's something terribly wrong with me,” she said, and she was calm as she said it.

“Yes,” I said. “I think you'd get an insanity plea pretty easily from any jury.”

She smiled, patting my finger, but it wasn't a happy smile. “I can see into that other part of my mind now. It wants to do such terrible things. I'm not sure what I've done and what I just dreamed of doing.” She patted me again. “That other in me wants you to make her big, but once you do she's going to cut the babies out of you and dance in your blood. I can't stop her, do you understand?”

I stared at her, trying to swallow past my pulse. “I think so.”

“Good. Steve doesn't understand. Doesn't want to believe.”

“Believe what?” I asked.

“That it's too late.” She smiled that sad, weary smile and then it was a totally different smile. She bit my finger and I reacted by jerking my hand, sending her flying skyward with my blood on her mouth. She went for the knife on the floor and a lot of things happened at once.

Steve yelled something and the gun went off. It was thunderous in the enclosed room and I was partially deaf as I watched her pick up the blade and come straight at me with that evil smile on her face. I didn't try to draw the gun and shoot a target so small and so fast. I called my hands of power, my hand of flesh and my hand of blood. She slashed at me and I gave her my left arm to cut while I touched her legs with my other hand, the hand of flesh. A knife came from above and spitted her through the back, pinning her to the floor in front of my knees.

I turned toward Rhys and Barinthus and found Barinthus on the ground bleeding. Rhys had his gun out and pointed. The other man was on his back on the floor.

Doyle leapt from the balcony where he'd thrown the knife from, and landed in a crouch on the balls of his feet and his hands. He came to me, taking off his shirt to wrap my bleeding arm. It didn't hurt yet, which meant it was probably going to be deep.

Bittersweet's body was dead before my magic began to roll her flesh inside out. She ended as a ball of unrecognizable flesh curled around the bisecting blade. The full hand of flesh could melt a body into a mass and the worst thing was that it didn't kill the immortal. You could stop them, but for death you needed a blade. I was glad she'd died first.

“I'll live. See to Barinthus,” I said.

Doyle hesitated, then did what I asked. Rhys was checking for a pulse on Patterson. He made sure the gun was kicked away from his hand, but when he turned and saw me looking, he shook his head. Patterson was dead.

I heard sirens. The neighbors had called because of the gunshots. Of all the times for someone in L.A. to call the cops.

Doyle helped Barinthus sit up. The big man winced and said, “I'd forgotten how much it hurts to get shot.”

“It's not fatal,” Doyle said.

“It still hurts.”

“I thought you gave me the lecture about how the sea can't be hurt,” I said.

He smiled at me. “If I hadn't said it, would you have let me come?”

I thought about it. “I don't know.”

He nodded. “It's time I pulled my weight,” he said.

Cathbodua flew from the balcony, her raven-feather cloak looking more like wings than ever before. She knelt by me. “How bad is it?”

“Not sure,” I said. “Is Julian …?”

“He'll live and he'll heal, but he is hurt. Usna is with him now.” She held pressure on the makeshift bandage. Doyle was applying pressure on Barinthus's side, and Rhys had put his gun out of sight and had his detective's license out in plain sight when the police hit the door.

They didn't shoot us, and they didn't arrest us. It helped that we had so many wounded and that I was Princess Meredith Nic Essus. Every once in a while it doesn't suck to be the celebrity.

Chapter Fourty-seven

I had to have stitches in my arm, but they were the kind that dissolved into the wound because the other kind of stitches would be grown over by the body before the doctor could get them out. I wasn't sure I healed that fast but I was glad the doctor knew enough about the fey to take the precaution.

Lucy was as mad as I'd ever seen her. “You could have been killed.”

“He worked for the police, Lucy. I was afraid if we called you guys in it would get back to him.”

“None of our people would have talked to that serial-killing son of a bitch.”

“I couldn't risk Julian, especially since it was my fault that they took him.”

“How was it your fault?” she asked.

“I put myself out as bait and we protected ourselves and our demi-fey, our fey, but we didn't think to guard Julian and the others.”

“Why did they take him?” she asked.

“He comes over and gets a little skin-hunger fix now and then.”

“Is that code for sex?”

“No, it's exactly what it sounds like. He comes over to get cuddled and we send him back home with his virtue intact. He slept over the other night for the first time and apparently the bad guys saw him leave in the morning. They assumed he was another lover.”

“Don't you have enough already?”

I nodded. “Some days too many.”

“They didn't find out that Julian is gay?”

“Doyle said that when someone is heterosexual they think that first.”

She nodded as if that made sense to her. “You know that Lieutenant Peterson is screaming for us to arrest someone.”

“On what charges? Forensics can look at the blood patterns, but she attacked me. If Doyle hadn't used his knife when he did it would be a lot worse than this.” I motioned at the bandaged arm.

“And I've seen Barinthus down the hallway. The doctors say that he'll live, but that if he'd been human he wouldn't have.”

“It's hard to kill an ex-god,” I said.

She patted my shoulder. “You know we do know our job, Merry. We could have backed you on this.”

“Your boss's boss doesn't even like me at a crime scene for fear I'm going to get hurt by some overzealous reporter. Do you really think he'd have agreed to me walking in there to save Julian?”

She looked around the room, then leaned in and spoke quietly. “I'll deny this if asked in public, but no. They'd have never let you go in.”

“I couldn't let my friend die because we screwed up and didn't put a guard on all my friends.” That made me think. “How is Julian doing?”

“He's still in surgery. It looks like he's going to pull through but he was cut up some. You don't want to see the picture the little psycho bitch was using this time. It was a medical text on anatomy.” Lucy shuddered. “She hadn't gotten too far when you got to him, but it would have been the worst of the lot, and they weren't going to kill him first.”

“She wasn't pretending that she was killing to gain power or magic. She'd admitted to herself that she liked the pain and the killing.”

“How do you know all that?”

“She told me some of it before she died.”

“What, she did a villain speech?”

“Something like that.”

“Patterson is the one who made Gilda's wand. She knows everyone who bought items from him and she's agreed to help us track all of them down for leniency.”

“Is she going to see jail?”

“One of the serial killers was a police employee, Merry. We're having enough bad PR with the fey community without jailing the Fairy Godmother of L.A.”

“How are the fey reacting to Gilda ratting them out for the magical items?”

“She says it's for their own good. The items are a danger to the community and she had no idea that her wand was evil.” Lucy made air quotes as she said evil.

“To hear Gilda, she's crusading to destroy the work of the evil serial killer personally.”

“I trust Gilda to land on her feet in the public eye,” I said.

“Jeremy and the gang are out in the waiting room. Adam, Julian's life partner, went all to pieces.”

“He hasn't really recovered from his brother's death yet.”

Lucy looked solemn. “I remember that one. You're having a hell of a year, Merry.”

What could I say to that? I agreed with her.

There was a knock at the door and Doyle, Frost, and Galen came in. “I think that's my cue to give you some alone time.” She said hi to all of them and left us to it.

Doyle took my good hand in his. “I almost let her kill you.”

“We almost let her kill you,” Rhys said and put a hand on my thigh under the sheet.

Galen just stood there looking down at me.

“You going to say 'I told you so'?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I saw what she did to Julian, and I saw the picture she was trying to copy. We couldn't let someone do that to Julian.”

“But if we hadn't baited them in the first place he wouldn't have been a target.”

“Or if we'd thought to put guards on our human friends and coworkers it wouldn't have happened,” Rhys said.

Doyle nodded. “I thought of 'us' as only the sidhe and fey in the house with us. I forgot that our family is larger than that. It's Jeremy and everyone at the agency. It's Lucy and some of the other police officers. It's the soldiers whom you saved and whom Goddess seems to have such an interest in. I have to stop thinking like a god who only had a small section of land and start thinking bigger.”

I winced a little at the wording. “All Steve wanted was for Bittersweet to be big enough to be his lover for real.”

“But what did Bittersweet really want?” Rhys asked.

“Death,” Doyle said.

“What?” I asked.

“She saw me, Merry. She saw me on the balcony, I know she did, and she still went for the knife. She still attacked you and gave me her back.”

“Maybe she just didn't think you could hit a target that small from that distance at that angle with a blade,” Rhys said. “Most of us couldn't have risked that throw so close to Merry.”

“I do not miss,” he said.

“But maybe the demi-fey didn't know that, Doyle,” Rhys said.

“But why attack Merry then, why not attack you? She saw you draw your gun, and her lover was there to be saved. Why didn't she try to save him? Why did she attack Merry and give me her back if she didn't want to die?”

“I think part of her wanted to die,” I said, “but I think part of her just enjoyed causing pain. Bittersweet told me just before that other part rose and went crazy. She said that part of her wanted to be made big and then it would cut the babies out of my body and dance in my blood. She said she couldn't control it.”

“So you think she wanted to die and it was suicide by Doyle,” Galen said.

I shook my head. “No, I think she knew we would kill them both and she wanted to do the most harm, to cause the most pain to all of us that she could. I think she felt that killing me and the babies would hurt you all worse than anything else she could have done.”

We were all quiet, hearing the rush and hush of the hospital around us. “I'm glad they're dead,” Galen said.

I let go of Doyle's hand to reach out to him. His eyes were shiny with unshed tears. He leaned over my hand and kissed it. “I'm sorry we fought.”

“Me, too.”

“I'll never like you taking chances but I promise not to unman you before battle again.”

I smiled and Rhys patted him on the shoulder. Doyle leaned over and laid a kiss on my lips. “We will have at least two of us in the room all night.”

“The killers are dead, Doyle.”

He smiled, and smoothed my hair back from my face. “There are always more killers, my Merry, and when I saw her strike you with the blade twice before I could get my aim certain I thought my heart would stop.”

“I'd already touched her with my hand of flesh.”

“But I did not know that.” He kissed me again and said, “Frost is letting Adam cry on his shoulder about Julian. It seems that the near-death experience has helped Adam see the errors of his way. I think Julian will not have to come to us for cuddling when he gets out of the hospital.”

“How did Frost end up holding Adam's hand?”

“I saw him coming,” Doyle said with a smile.

“Me, too,” Rhys said.

“Me, three,” Galen said. “I'll hold Julian's hand if he needs it but Adam's treated him badly and I'm mad at him for it.”

As if on cue Frost came through the door. Doyle moved back to give him room to do his own kissing. “Adam wants to thank you for risking everything to save the man he loves.”

“He loves him now,” Galen said.

“Don't leave me alone with Adam again. I saw at least two of you duck back around the corner.”

“We'll take first watch,” Doyle said. Frost nodded. And they did. And when their four hours were up Galen and Rhys were there, and then Amatheon and Adair, Usna and Cathbodua, Saraid and Dogmaela, Ivi and Brii, until I woke with light streaming around the curtains and it was Doyle and Frost again. “The doctor says you can go home today,” Doyle said.

“You're here. I'm already home.” They both kissed me and we were touching when the doctor came in to finally let me get up and go home.

Some nights I sleep between my Darkness and my Killing Frost. Some nights it's Rhys and Galen, and Mistral has finally agreed to share my bed with Barinthus. Barinthus is helping Mistral get more comfortable with the world outside of Maeve Reed's house and grounds, and Mistral seems willing to share me with Barinthus though we haven't crossed that barrier yet. I'm not sure what Mannan Mac Lir would do if sex with me gave him back as much power as it's given Rhys and Doyle.

Some nights Royal joins us, some nights Adam and Julian come for dinner. Jeremy and his new human girlfriend have come a few times, too. She's a little uncomfortable with all the touching, so we don't touch Jeremy on the nights he's with her. Uther and Saraid are making friends, and if it turns into more, well, that's up to them.

Brennan and his unit are coming back to the States soon. They want to visit and that seems right, too. I haven't had any more dreams where I visit the desert, but something tells me the Goddess isn't done with that, or me. The government flagged the dirt sample at the lab. They want to know where we got it. They don't believe the truth. I'm finally showing, and strangers keep trying to touch my tummy like I'm some kind of lucky Buddha statue. I'm told they do that to all pregnant women, but I've seen women walk away smiling, and men shake Galen's hand as if they were friends. Maeve Reed says she's coming back from Europe soon. We need more money, more jobs for more of us. Even in the midst of such magic and so many blessings the real world calls and I think that's the message that Goddess was trying to get out. The sidhe in Europe were forced to be little more than just another ethnic group. The sidhe in the United States hid themselves away in their hollow hills and remained apart from the humans. I think we're supposed to be of the world, not apart from it, but we're still supposed to be sidhe. We're still supposed to be magic, and help the people around us see that they're magic, too; it's just a different kind of magic.