Chasing the Shadows
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"Okay, got both."
He took a deep breath and looked at her. Undo the makeshift splint. That's certainly a novel use for socks. Though her mind voice held a note of amusement, it was countered by the trembling in her fingers. She didn't want to do this—but then, neither did he. The socks and the bar supporting his arm slipped away and agony threatened. He took a deep breath, fighting the tide.
"Okay, what next?"
I'll set the bone into place using my vampire vision, then you'll have to quickly splint and wrap it. She nodded again. He switched to infrared vision and looked at his arm. His flesh disappeared, became instead a glowing beacon of sinew, veins and bone. The break was fairly clean, despite the fact one end of the bone had punctured skin.
He took another deep breath then grabbed his wrist and pulled. A scream tore up his throat. He swallowed the scream and sucked down air, battling the urge to be ill, fighting the darkness and the pain that made his head swim and threatened to sweep him into unconsciousness. Sweat rolled into his eyes. He blinked furiously, staring at his arm, watching the bone slide back through skin and into place. Now.
She quickly began to splint and bandage his arm. The darkness threatened again, but he forced it away, watching his arm, making sure the bone stayed in place while she worked on it. But once she'd finished, he finally gave in and let unconsciousness sweep him away.
* * * *
Footsteps echoed on the deck above them. Nikki rose and walked quietly to the door. The night air was free from the taint of evil, so it couldn't be Farmer or any of his fledglings. Though how they'd find them so quickly she didn't know. Still, she'd learned the hard way never to underestimate the bad guys. She grabbed the broom handle she'd sharpened to use as a weapon and edged up the ladder. Shoes and jeans came into sight, then a torso. It was Jake.
"You want something to drink?” she said, backing down the ladder again. He shook his head. He looked haggard, old beyond his years, and just about ready to drop with exhaustion. It was his thirst for vengeance getting him through this, nothing more. “I just want this all over with."
Didn't they all. She sat down at the table and wrapped her hands around the coffee cup. “Did the police say anything?"
He shrugged as he dropped down on the bench seat. “The usual. The FBI wanted to know where the hell you were."
She raised an eyebrow. “Why?"
"Because I think they suspect we have every intention of going after this madman and administering our own form of justice."
"Their justice wouldn't stop a man like Farmer."
"No. But they don't see it that way."
Jake leaned back and scrubbed a hand across his bristly chin. It made a sound similar to sandpaper.
Her gaze went to the bedroom door. He hadn't stirred, hadn't even twitched, for the last two hours—not even when she'd stripped him down and bathed him. God, she'd never seen so many bruises on one body before...
"He's in a bad way. I doubt he'll be awake by dawn."
"So it's just you and me?"
You, me and the ghosts, she thought, and tried to ignore the chill that ran down her spine. “Did you bring the weapons?"
He nodded. “Left them up on the deck."
"A couple of stakes, some silver knives, and my gun." Not much considering they were going up against a madman. She glanced at her watch. “Dawn's in an hour. I'd suggest we get there early so we can check out the area."
"Get where early?” Michael said from the doorway.
"So much for not waking for a few hours,” Jake murmured dryly. She twisted around in the seat. He was leaning against the door frame, the sheet wrapped around his waist and his face still white and bruised—though the swelling had at least gone down a little.
"What the hell are you doing up? You should still be asleep so your body can heal."
"I heard voices,” he said, a touch impatiently. “What sort of meeting have you arranged?"
"We've arranged to meet Farmer at dawn.” She threw up her shields even as she replied, knowing his anger would boil down the link at her.
"No. I forbid it."
"You can't forbid me, and you're in no damn shape to stop me."
"He's a vampire. You won't even see him coming."
"No, but I'll feel him coming. Smell him."
"Damn it, Nikki—"
"We've coped with far worse than Farmer,” Jake said softly. “Even if they were human." Michael's gaze flicked briefly to him. “You told me once revenge would kill us all. I think that applies here, too."
"You keep asking Nikki to trust the fact that you can keep yourself safe and alive,” Jake said. “Why are you not willing to offer her the same?"
"Because this is different."
"No, it's not. And you keep forgetting one vital thing."
"I'm not forgetting anything."
"Yeah, you are. Nikki's no longer human. And she has skills that are more than a match for the likes of Farmer."
"She may have a vampire's life span, but like us, she can still die."
"But only if she is decapitated, right? How is Farmer going to know that? How is any villain going to know that?"
Michael took a deep breath, perhaps controlling the anger neither of them could see. Yet. “We don't know all there is to know about thralls. There could be other ways of killing them."
"If you don't know, how the hell would someone like Farmer know?"
"That's not the point.” The impatience was more noticeable this time and edged with anger.
"That's precisely the point. For Christ's sake, you two have something good going here. Don't let stupidity destroy that."
Nikki wrapped a hand around Jake's. “You couldn't have saved Mary, no matter what you did. As she said, it was her time."
"I know. But it's still too fresh, too hard to accept.” Jake's gaze met hers. “At least I had the chance to say good-bye and for that, I thank you."
She nodded and looked back at Michael. “You're the one in no fit state to confront Farmer. You can't even stand up straight."
"Dawn's an hour off yet. I'll be stronger by then."
"But not strong enough. Damn it, Michael, you're always berating me for acting foolishly. What do you call wanting to confront Farmer when your energy levels are so low you couldn't even kill three fledglings?"
He frowned. “What happened to the fledglings?"
"I killed the remaining two. And wasn't it you who told me fledglings were more dangerous than older vamps?"
His expression was as dark as she'd ever seen it. Except perhaps that one time in the warehouse when she'd forbidden him to decapitate Monica Trevgard to stop her becoming a vampire. He might have been right then, but he wasn't now. And he knew it, even if he hadn't yet admitted it.
"If you come with us, Farmer will sense you and disappear back into the sewers. And it'll be a whole lot more dangerous for us to try to corner him there."
"So where is he meeting you?"
"In a park. He offered me a choice—Mary's life or yours. But by then, he'd already killed Mary, and I knew it."
"Farmer knows I've escaped."
"But he doesn't know I know. He'll be there."
"And he'll try to destroy you both."
"Undoubtedly. But we won't be alone. We'll have the dead to help us." He hesitated. “What are you talking about?"
"I'm reliably informed by a blind old ghost that when you pulled me back from death, one small part of me was left behind. That part allows me to walk death's plane—to see ghosts, and bring them into being."
He frowned. “I've never heard of anything like that happening before."
"How many times have you made a thrall before?"
He didn't answer. Didn't need to.
"That same old woman tells me that in giving me part of your life force, you connected our energies together. So, when I'm walking that plane, I suck energy from you. And when you're seriously hurt, you suck energy from me."
"So that's how—"
"You kept going,” she finished. “You were siphoning my energy."
"Did you feel it?"
No, she hadn't—beyond that brief time when everything had swirled. “Did you? I was walking death's plane when you were in that restaurant with Farmer. It's probably why he was able to get the better of you."
He shook his head. “He was wearing a glove with some sort of narcotic on it. It transferred when we shook hands, but I didn't realize it until it was far too late." Relief swam through her. At least she wasn't wholly responsible for him getting so badly beaten. “My point is, the minute I bring the ghosts into being, I'm going to start sucking your energy. You probably won't be able to stand, let alone walk."
He studied her for several seconds, then crossed his arms. “You asked me a couple of days ago to compromise. I'll offer one now. You and Jake go to that meeting. I'll remain in the limo—far enough away to stop Farmer sensing me, but close enough to help should things go wrong. Fair enough?" She nodded. It was certainly more than she'd expected—and offered her hope for the future.
"Now that that's finally settled,” Jake said. “Let's go get the bastard."
Nikki flexed her fingers and tried to ignore the chill creeping down her spine. It was one thing telling Michael she and Jake were capable of taking care of Farmer, quite another to try to do it. Jake stood beside her, his breathing a harsh rasp, his gaze never still. Not that he'd ever see Farmer approaching—not unless the vampire wished it. The slight bulge in his left sleeve gave away the presence of the charm he now wore. Nikki had taken it off, not only because Farmer needed to know she was here, but because she had a feeling Jake would need its protection far more than she. Farmer wasn't averse to taking over minds, and the last thing she wanted was to have to knock Jake unconscious to stop him from attacking her. While she had no real idea whether the charm would actually help, surely if it had stopped Farmer entering her mind, it would stop him entering Jake's. She checked to make sure the silver knives were still in place. Michael had helped her make a couple of wrist sheathes, so the blades would slip easily into her hands. They were nowhere near balanced enough and certainly wouldn't throw very well, but they were only meant as a last defense. The gun in Jake's jacket pocket would hopefully do the job—if they could distract Farmer enough to get a clear shot of his head.
The predawn air held an almost icy chill. Beyond the park, the city was beginning to stir, but the sounds were muted, as if heard through a thick pane of glass. A strange hush seemed to dominate the natural amphitheater, as if even the redwoods and eucalyptus lining the meadow held their breath in expectation. Fragile slithers of mist moved among their leaves. Ghosts, waiting for their chance of revenge. She glanced at her watch. It was nearly six. Dawn wasn't that far off—surely Farmer would need to be well underground before the sun warmed the fog from the sky.
"He anywhere close yet?” Jake murmured, shifting his weight from one foot to another.
"Wish he'd hurry."
She looked up at him. Sweat beaded his forehead. “Are you nervous?"
"Petrified. But that won't stop me from killing the bastard."
"Just remember not to move or take a shot before the ghosts have his attention."
"I know, I know.” He hesitated, then added, “What are the chances of this really working?" Who knew? It was a chance they had to take. If it failed ... Well, they could always run and wait for Michael to get strong again—even if that enforced his belief she was not capable of doing this type of work. “Probably small. Farmer's a born and bred killer. I'm not really sure if being confronted by his victims will make any difference."
"Chances are it won't."
"It's not every day a killer is confronted by those he killed. Maybe the shock of it will hold him long enough."
Jake snorted. “He's a vampire. Why would ghosts scare him?"
"Why wouldn't they? Just because he became a vampire doesn't mean he lost all his human fears. I think you'll find deep inside that bully exterior is the scared little boy who cowered under the taunts of a dozen women."
"I sure hope you're right. This could get extremely messy otherwise." It probably would anyway. Nothing had gone right for them so far. Why would it start happening now?
A prickle of warning ran across her skin. Evil stirred the night. Farmer was circling the park, perhaps checking they were here alone. She hoped he didn't sense Michael, who was waiting in the limo a block away.
"Heads up,” she said. “He's coming in from the left." Jake nodded once and shoved his hand into his pocket. Nikki stepped slightly in front of him—half to keep Farmer's attention primarily on her, half to protect Jake. She didn't trust Farmer one ounce and wouldn't put it past him to try to kill Jake first.
But when he arrived, killing seemed to be the last thing on his mind. Or so anyone who couldn't taste his evil would have thought. He walked up the incline toward them at a leisurely pace, an amused smile playing across his thin lips. He obviously thought the game was already his. She hoped he wasn't right.