Kiss of Death
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While Michael, Shane, and Eve straightened out whatever it was they were going to do to get to Oliver--who was, according to the map and Mrs. Grant, at an old adobe building near the Civic Hall called Halley's Garage--Claire set up a couple of hand-drawn paper targets on pillow-padded chairs, pulled one of the arrows out, and tried to figure out how to put it on the bowstring quickly. That didn't work so well, so she tried again, taking her time, then pulling back the arrow and sighting down the long, straight line. It was surprisingly tough to pull the string back, and hold the arrow in place, and not waver all over the place. She didn't even hit the chair, much less the target, and she winced as the arrow hit the wall at least four feet away. But at least she'd fired it. That was something, right? She picked out another arrow and tried again. Twenty arrows later, she'd managed to hit the pillow--not the target, but the pillow--and she was starting to understand how this whole thing worked. It was easier when she thought of it in terms of physics, of potential and kinetic energy, energy and momentum. As she was working out the calculations in her head, she forgot to really worry about all the physical things that were getting in the way--the balancing of the bow, the aiming, the fear she wasn't going to get it right--and suddenly it all just clicked. She felt it come into sudden, sharp focus, like a spotlight had suddenly focused on her, and she let go of the arrow. That instant, she knew it would hit the target. She let the bow rock gracefully forward on the balance point, watching the arrow, and it smacked into the exact center of her crudely drawn paper circle. Physics. She loved physics. Shane arrived just as she put the arrow into the center, and slowed down, staring from the target to Claire, standing straight and tall, bow still held loosely in one hand and ready to shoot again. "You look so hot right now," he said. "I'm just saying." She grinned at him and went to pick up all the arrows. One or two had suffered a little too much from contact with the wall, but the rest were good to reuse, and she carefully put them back into the bag, fletching end up. "You just like me because I might actually be able to be useful for a change."
"You are always useful," Shane said. "And hot. I mentioned that, right?"
"You're mental. I need a shower, clean clothes, and about a year of sleep."
"Okay, how about a hot mess?"
"Let me be Eve for a minute," she said, and flipped him off. He laughed and kissed her. "Not even close," he said. "Come on, we've got some cranky old vampire to rescue." 13 It was still dark outside, but it felt ... different, as if the world was still dreaming, but dreaming about waking up. The air felt cool and light, and the darkness was just a tiny bit lighter than before. "Not long until dawn," Michael said. "Which is good news and bad news."
"Good news for us," Shane said. "Present company excepted."
"You're such a bro."
"You start smoking, I'll roll you into the shade," Shane said. "Can't ask for more than my being willing to save your bloodsucking ass." They stood outside of the doors of the library for a few seconds, getting their bearings. Mrs. Grant had equipped them with sturdy LED lanterns, but it didn't feel like the light fell very far. There could be anything lurking ten feet away, Claire thought. And there probably was. Michael shut down his lantern and just ... disappeared. It was startling, but they knew he was going to do it, at least; the plan was that he'd get out ahead of the light and look for trouble. Kind of a cross between a scout and bait. Claire's walkie-talkie clicked a moment later--no voice message, just the quiet electronic signal. "Go," she said. "We're okay." The three of them went at a jog, watching their steps as best they could in the confusing jumble of shadows and harsh, flickering light. Blacke looked like a nightmare, or Hollywood's idea of a disaster movie--cars abandoned, buildings closed and dark, windows shattered. The big, Gothic Civic Hall loomed over everything, but there weren't any lights showing inside. The statue of Hiram what's-his-face remained facedown in the thigh-high weeds, which Claire thought really might have been the best place for it. At least it wasn't leaning over and threatening to fall on people. Especially on her, because that would have been the worst Darwin Award-qualifying death ever. They made it to the sidewalk beside the Civic Hall. Shane pointed. "That way," he said. "Should be on that corner, facing the hall." Michael suddenly zipped into view at the edge of the light. "They're coming," he said. "Behind us and to the left. Back of the Civic Hall."
"Run! "Shane said, and they took off, lanterns throwing crazy, bouncing light off broken glass and metal, turning shadows into ink-filled blots. The iron fence around the Civic Hall was leaning outward, into the sidewalk, and Shane had to flinch and duck to avoid a sharp, rusty arrow-point bent low enough to scrape his face. Claire almost tripped over one of the metal bars that had fallen loose from the fence. She kicked it out of the way, then paused and grabbed it, juggling the lantern. "Don't stop!" Eve hissed, and pulled her on. The iron bar, with its sharp arrowhead top, was heavy, but straight, like a spear. Claire managed to hang on to it as they ran, but at the next curb she missed her footing and had to scramble. Her lantern broke free of her fingers and smashed on the ground. It flickered, brightened, then faded and died. Out of nowhere, Michael was next to her, handing her his own switched-off lantern and grabbing the iron bar from her. "Keep going! " he said, and turned with the iron bar to guard their backs. Eve looked back, her face pale in the white LED lights, and her dark eyes looked huge and terrified. "Michael?"
"Don't stop!" He fell behind in the dark after only three or four steps, lost to them. Claire heard something like a snarl behind them, and what sounded like a body hitting the ground. Then came a scream, high and wild. Up ahead, she saw a flash of what looked like faded pink. There was a leaning metal sign flapping and creaking in the predawn wind, and Claire wasn't sure, but she thought the rusty letters might have said GARAGE. It was a square adobe building with some old-fashioned gas pumps off to the side that looked as if they hadn't worked since Claire's mom was a kid. The windows were broken and dark, but they were blocked up with something, so there was no way to see inside. Shane arrived at the door of the building--abigwooden thing, scarred and faded, with massive iron hinges--and banged on it. "Oliver!" he yelled. "Cavalry!" Funny, Claire didn't feel much like the cavalry at the moment. They rode in with guns blazing to save the day, right? She felt more like a hunted rabbit. Her heart was pounding, and even in the cool air she was sweating and shaking. If this is a trap ... The door opened into darkness, and a hand reached out and grabbed Shane by the shirt front, and yanked him inside.
"No!" Claire charged forward, lantern blazing now and held high, and saw Shane being dragged, off balance, out of the way. Not having time or room for the bow, she dropped it, grabbed an arrow out of the bag, and lunged for the vampire who was taking Shane away. Oliver turned, snarling, and knocked the arrow out of her grip so hard her entire hand went numb. She gasped and drew back, shocked, because Oliver looked ... not like Oliver, much. He was dirty, ragged, and he had blood all down his arm and the front of his shirt. There was a raw wound in his throat that was slowly trying to heal. That was his own blood on his clothes, she realized. Something--someone--had bitten him, nearly killing him, it looked like. "Inside," he ordered hoarsely, as Eve hovered in the doorway, peering in. "Michael?" Michael appeared out of the darkness, racing fast. He stopped to grab up Claire's fallen bow, and then practically shoved Eve inside the building as he slammed the door and turned to lock it. There were big, old-fashioned iron bolts, which he slid shut. There was also a thick old board that Oliver pointed toward; Michael tossed Claire her bow and slotted the bar in place, into the racks on either side of the door. As he did, something hit the door hard enough to bend the metal bolts and even the thick wooden bar. But the door held. Outside, something screamed in frustration, and Claire heard claws scratching on the wood. Michael wasn't hurt, at least not that Claire could see; he hugged Eve and kept one arm around her as they came toward Claire, who was still in a standoff with Oliver. And Oliver was still holding Shane with a white, clenched fist twisted in the fabric of his shirt. "Hey," Shane said. "Off! Let go!" Oliver seemed to have forgotten he was even holding him, but as he turned to look at Shane, Claire saw his eyes turn muddy red, then glow hotter when Shane tried to pull away. "Don't," she said softly. "He's lost a lot of blood; he's not himself. Stay still, Shane." Shane took a deep breath and managed to hold himself steady, but Claire could tell it really cost him. Everything in him must have been screaming to fight, rip free, run away from that glowing red hunger in Oliver's eyes. He didn't. And Oliver, after a few eternal seconds, let go of him and stepped back, then suddenly turned and stalked away. Shane looked over at Claire, and she saw the real fear in his eyes, just for a second. Then he pushed it away, and smiled, and held up his thumb and index finger, pushed about an inch apart. "Close," he said. "Maybe you're not his type," Michael said. "Oh, now you're just being insulting." Shane reached out for Claire's hand, and squeezed it, hard. He didn't mind letting her feel the nerves that still trembled in him, but he wasn't going to let Michael see it, obviously. "So what the hell is going on in here?" A vague shape loomed up behind him out of the shadows. Then another one. Then another. Shane and Claire quickly moved to stand back to back. So did Eve and Michael. Among the four of them, they were covering every angle. "Lurking isn't answering," Shane said. "Oliver? Little help?" Instead, one of the shapes stepped forward into the light. Morley. Claire felt relieved, and annoyed. Of course it was Morley. Why had she ever doubted it? He was the champion lurker of all time. "What did you bring?" Morley rasped. "Besides charm and beauty?" Eve said. "Why? What did you need? What are you doing here?"
"They've been helping us," whispered someone out of the dark. Eve turned up the power on her lantern to max, and the dim, cold light finally penetrated the shadows enough to show the people lying crumpled on the dirty floor of the garage. Well, people might have been a little bit misleading, because Claire realized they were all vampires; their eyes caught the light and reflected it back. She didn't recognize them. And then it finally occurred to her why she wouldn't. These were the vampires of Blacke. The sick ones. And there must have been at least ten of them, in addition to another ten or fifteen of Morley's crew, crammed into the small adobe building. "We went after them one by one," Morley said. "We've been at it for hours now. Some of them were a damn nuisance to bring here, let alone dose. But your witch potion does seem to work, little Claire. If we can get some of the crystals in them, they become rational enough to accept the cure." Claire was stunned. Somehow, having seen how far gone things were, she'd never really expected them to be able to save people--but here they were, lying exhausted on the floor, shaking and confused. Unlike the vampires Claire had dealt with in Morganville, these were newbies, like Michael; people who'd been turned against their will in the first place, and made sick at the same time. For some reason, they'd been more susceptible to getting on the crazy train than Michael; maybe that was because he was originally from Morganville, and had some kind of better resistance. But they'd certainly gotten sick a lot faster, and a lot worse, than any vampires she'd ever seen. Consequently, they were healing a whole lot more slowly. It hadn't taken Myrnin and Amelie and Oliver long to recover after taking their doses when Bishop was safely out of the way, but then, they were far older, and had already coped with being vampires. Claire focused on a boy about her own age. He looked scared, devastated, and alone. He looked guilty, as if he couldn't forget how he'd been surviving these past few weeks or what he'd done. "They're coming around," Morley continued. "But the more we get of them, the more vulnerable we are; they can't get up and fight yet, even if we'd trust them to do so. And the others over there, they've tracked us here. Oliver did a gallant job, but they're no doubt on their way here now."
"Uh, I think we might have pretty much led them straight over," Eve said. "Sorry. Nobody specified stealthy in the message."
"I was hoping one would take it as implied," Oliver snapped. "I should have known better."
"And where the hell is my brother, you jerk?"
"He has orders," Oliver said. "That's all you need to know."
"Children, children, this anger gets us nowhere," Morley said, in a mocking, motherly tone. "There are about fifteen of them left we haven't been able to catch and give the cure, and sadly, we have very little left at this point. The ones we can't cure, we must confine, until we can get the drugs from Morganville." Funny, Claire had never really thought of him as being a humanitarian--vampiritarian? Anyway, someone who put the best interests of others first. But getting out of Morganville-- and away from Amelie--seemed to have done something good for Morley. He seemed to almost care. Almost. "Confine, not kill," Oliver said, and turned to come back toward them. His eyes had gone safely dark again, although Claire could see how tired and hungry he was in the sharp moves he made, and the tense set of his muscles. "And how precisely do you think we should do that, Morley? It's been difficult enough to trap these creatures singly and pacify them. Morning isn't far away, and in case you have failed to notice, you're down quite a few followers on your side." Morley shrugged. "Some stayed near the library. Some simply wanted to go, so I let them. The whole purpose of this exercise was to earn our freedom, Oliver. Even if you don't understand the concept of freedom in the slightest--"
"Freedom?" Oliver barked out a laugh. "Anarchy is what you want, Morley. It's what you always wanted. Don't dare to--"
"Hey!" Claire said, and stepped away from Shane, facing both vampires. "Politics later! Focus! What are we going to do, if they're coming? Can we hold them off?"
"This is the most defensible position in town, other than the library," Morley said, suddenly all business. "We can hold it with the men we have, even against the local talent."
"I'm sensing a but coming up soon," Shane said. "But," Morley said, "we failed to bring much in the way of supplies. In fact, most of ours ended up stuck between the teeth of our friends across the way. And those who are recovering will need to feed, quickly." There was a short, deadly silence. Oliver said nothing, but he looked drawn and weary. "Wait," Eve said slowly. "What are you saying?" More silence. Claire felt cold trickle down her spine. "You're saying we just volunteered to be blood donors."
"You are not serious," Shane said. "You are not snacking on us."
"Not all of you, obviously," Morley said. "The girl's exempt; she's Amelie's toy, and I wouldn't harm her for the world. Michael, of course, isn't the appropriate meat for our table. But you and our lovely living dead girl--"
"No," Claire said. "Never going to happen. Back off."
"My dear, do you think I'm actually offering you a choice? It's an explanation. An apology, of sorts. Oliver didn't send you the message. I held him down, took his telephonic device, and used it myself. Why do you think he's so badly mussed?" It was weird, Claire thought, to feel so clear at this moment. So calm. "You're telling me you're going to take Eve and Shane and drain them."
"I could make them vampires when we're done, if you just can't face losing them. I'm terribly progressive that way. Then you would be the only breather in your little pack, Claire. How long do you imagine you'd last, especially if your boyfriend there declared his undying love?" Morley fluttered his eyelashes like a cartoon character and put both hands over his heart. "If I were you, I'd volunteer to join them. Being human is not precisely a clever plan."
"Yeah? How's this?" Claire, in one smooth, fast motion, pulled an arrow from the bag on her shoulder, slotted it home on the string, and pulled the compound bow back to full extension. She was aiming the arrow straight at Morley's crossed hands, over his heart. He laughed. "You aren't serious--" She fired. The arrow went through both of Morley's hands, pinning them to his chest with the fletching at the end. He stared down in shock at the wood piercing his chest, stumbled, and went down to his knees. Then just down, face forward. The arrow stuck up out of his back, like an exclamation point. "I will," Claire said softly, and let the bow rock forward as she reached one-handed for another arrow and notched it home. "I'm not a really good shot, but this is a really small room, so let me make this very clear: the first vampire who tries to lay a hand on either of my friends gets a new piercing, just like Morley. Now, if you need food, I will figure it out. But you don't get to use my friends like vending machines. Are we clear?" Around the room, vampires nodded, casting disbelieving looks at Morley. Even Oliver was staring at her as if he'd never really seen her before. She didn't know why; he'd known she could do it--hadn't he? Or was she different, somehow? "Shane?" Claire asked. He stepped up to her side. "Use Eve's phone. Call Mrs. Grant at the library. We need to organize something."
"A blood drive," she said. "Hang on--"
"Shane." Claire tilted her head up to look at him, and didn't smile. "They'll do it. These are their friends and family. They'll do it to save them. I'd do it to save you." He touched her cheek gently. "I think you would," he said. "Crazy girl."
"Ask Morley how crazy I am," she said. "Oh, wait. You'll have to take the arrow out, first."
"Maybe later. Facedown is a good look for him." Shane gave her a quick, beautiful smile, and turned away to make the call. Michael was shaking his head. Claire, without loosening her draw on the bow, gave him a quick, nervous look. "What?" He laughed. "You," he said. "Jeez, Claire. If I didn't love you, you'd scare me."
"I don't love her," Oliver said acidly. "And if you ever point that arrow anywhere near me, Amelie's pet or no, I will take it away from you and introduce you to the sharp end, with great pleasure. Are we clear, girl?"
"Yeah," she said, and kept the arrow pointed away from him. "You got your butt kicked by Morley, and you're threatening me because I actually solved your problem for you. I think we're very clear. But don't worry. I won't hurt you, Oliver." For a brief, deadly second, there was utter silence. Then Oliver laughed. It wasn't the bitter, angry, terrible laugh she expected. Oliver actually sounded almost human. He sagged back against the wall, still laughing, and sank down to a crouch, hands loosely braced on his knees. It sounded as if he hadn't laughed that much, or that deeply, for a very long time. It was weirdly infectious; Eve giggled in little hiccups, trying not to; Michael started laughing at her struggle not to laugh. Before too long, even Claire was fighting to keep her aim steady on the arrow. "Ease up," Michael said, and touched her arm, which was trembling with effort. "You made your point. Nobody's coming after us. Not in here." She sighed, finally, and loosened the draw on the bow. Her shoulders were aching, and her arms felt like raw meat. She hadn't even felt the strain until it was gone. "Claire," Oliver said. She looked over at him, suddenly alarmed and wondering if she had the strength to try to draw the bow again, but he was smiling. It gave his sharp face a relaxed look she wasn't really used to seeing, and his eyes held what looked like genuine warmth. "It's too bad you're not a vampire."
"I guess that was a compliment, so thanks, but no thanks." He shrugged and left it at that. Still, Claire had a second's flash of temptation. All those years. All those things to learn, to feel, to know ... Myrnin lived for the excitement of knowledge; she knew that. The only difference between the two of them, really, was that he could go on forever learning. But despite all of that, despite all the shiny immortality and the fact that there were a few vamps she didn't actually hate--even Oliver now--Claire knew she was meant to be human. Just plain Claire. And that was really okay. As if to prove it, Shane slid his arm around her waist and kissed her cheek. "You rock, you know that?"
"I'm a rock star," she said, straight-faced. "I'm probably the saddest little rock star ever, though. What did Mrs. Grant say?"
"She says they'll set up a donation center there and bring it over in bottles. She's not risking her people to bring it over. Somebody has to go pick up and deliver."
"Does she believe us?"
"She wants to," Shane said. "Her husband's in here, somewhere. So's her son." And that, Claire thought, was why Morley had been right about this, even if he was a complete vampire about it. You had to save what you could. Amelie had understood that all along, Claire realized. That was why Morganville existed. Because you had to try. Oliver ended up doing the blood pickup himself, maybe as a kind of offhand apology for putting Eve and Shane at risk in the first place, though that of course went unsaid. As the stuff was being passed around--one small plastic cup per vampire, to start--Claire knelt beside Morley's still body, rolled him on his side, and snapped the arrow off just below the point. Then she pulled it out of his chest and hands with one sharp tug, dropping it to the concrete. Morley took in a huge gasp of air and let it out in a frustrated shout. He held up his hands and stared at the holes punched through them until the flesh and bone started to knit itself again. He rolled over on his back, staring up at nothing, and said, "I was going to say you aren't a killer. And I still stand by that statement, because evidently I'm not dead. Only very upset."
"Here." Claire handed him a cup of blood. "You're right. I'm not a killer. I hope you're not, either." Morley sat up and sipped, eyes narrowed and fixed on her. "Of course I'm a killer, girl," he said. "Don't be stupid. It's my nature. We're predators, no matter what Amelie likes to pretend in her little artificial hothouse of Morganville. We kill to survive."
"But you don't have to," Claire pointed out. "Right now, you're drinking blood someone gave you. So it doesn't have to be kill-or-be-killed. It can be different. All you have to do is decide to be something else." He smiled, but not with fangs this time. "You think it's so simple?"
"No." She got up, dusting her knees. "But I know you're not as simple as you like people to think you are." Morley's eyebrows went up. "You know nothing of me."
"I know you're smart, people follow you, and you can make something good happen for the people who trust you. People like Patience and Jacob, who've got good instincts. Don't betray them."
"I wouldn't--" He stopped, and looked away. "It doesn't matter. I promised to get them all out. They're out. What they do now is up to them."
"No, it's not," Oliver said. He was standing near them, leaning on a stack of old tires as he sipped from his own plastic cup. "You made yourself responsible for them when you left Morganville, Morley. Like it or not, you're now the patriarch of the Blacke vampires. The question is, what are you going to do with them?"
"Do?" Morley looked almost panicked. "Nothing!"
"Not an answer. I suggest you devote some thought to it." Oliver smiled, eyes unfocused as he drank with evident pleasure. "Blacke could be an ideal location, you know. Remote, isolated, little traffic in or out. The humans remaining have a vested interest in keeping your secrets, since their own have been turned. It could be the start of something quite ... interesting." Morley laughed. "You're trying to make me Amelie."
"Goodness, no. You'd look terrible in a skirt." Claire shook her head and left them arguing. Dawn was rolling over the town's sky in waves of gold, pink, and soft oranges; it was beautiful, and it felt ... new, somehow. The destruction was still there; Hiram's statue was still facedown in the weeds; there were still a dozen feral vampires hiding out somewhere in the shadows. But it felt as if the town had just come alive again. Maybe that was because across the square, the Blacke library doors were wide-open, and people were coming outside into the cool morning air. Coming across the square to see those they'd thought they'd lost forever. Shane was sitting on the curb next to the old, cracked gas pumps, eating a candy bar. Claire plopped down next to him. "Half?" she asked. "And now I know you're my girlfriend, since you're not afraid to demand community property," he said, and pulled off the uneaten half to hand it over. "Look. We're alive."
"And we have chocolate."
"It's not just a miracle; it's a miracle with chocolate. Best kind." Eve emerged from the garage doorway and settled down next to Claire, leaning her chin on her fists. "I am so tired, I could throw up," she said. "What's for breakfast ? Please don't say blood." Claire separated her half of the candy bar into two pieces and gave Eve one. "Snickers," she said. "Breakfast of--"
"Champions?" Eve mumbled around a mouthful of sticky goodness. "Not unless it's competitive eating," Shane said. "So, Morley's staying? He's becoming King of Blacke?"
"I think it's more like Undead Mayor, but yeah. Probably."
"So can we ditch Oliver now?"
"Don't think so," Claire said. "He says we leave soon."
"How are we planning to do that, exactly?"
"No idea--" She heard the engine first as a faint buzz, like a stray but persistent mosquito; then it built into a roar. A big, black hearse slewed around the corner from the highway and skidded to a stop in front of the garage. The window rolled down, and Jason Rosser looked out. He grinned. "Anybody need a ride? I figured I'd head back to Durram and grab yours, sis. Since it's officially legal and all. Oh, and I got your cell phones, too."
"Bro, you rock." Eve lunged up to her feet and ran possessive hands over the paint job. "Okay, creep, out of my driver's seat. Now." Jason held the door open for her. As she started to get in, she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him, hard, even with the door between them. He looked surprised. And so relieved, it hurt Claire a little to see it. "Come on," Eve said. "We have to lightproof the back."
"Give me a sec," Jason said. "I need a bathroom."
"There's one in the library," Shane said. "Hey, how'd you get out of town?"
"I stole a tractor," Jason said. "What?"
"A tractor. It took me all night to get to Durram. Wasn't sure if I'd ever make it, either. I ran out of gas two miles from where they'd towed the car."
"Huh." Claire could tell Shane was grudgingly impressed. "So you walked?"
"No, I flew on angel wings."
"How'd you get it out of impound?"
"Trade secret," Jason said. "But it involves not actually asking. Same with the phones. Speaking of which ..." He dug in the pocket of his hoodie and came up with them, which he handed over to Shane. They didn't tap fists or high-five or anything, but Shane nodded, and Jason nodded back. "No signal," Claire said, checking hers. "Man, the Morganville provider network sucks."
"It works when Amelie wants it to work," Shane said. "Apparently, she doesn't want it working right now."
"Michael needs to call the guy in Dallas. You know, let him know we're on the way."
"Let him know we got trapped in a vampire town and fought off a vampire zombie army, you mean?"
"I was thinking maybe car problems."
"Boring, but effective," Shane said. "I'll go see if we can make it work. Maybe cell phone wastage doesn't apply to vampires." As they were talking, Jason walked across to the library, head down, looking like a thin stick in blue jeans. Claire wondered if maybe, just maybe, there was a chance for Eve's brother. Not much of one, but ... maybe. EPILOGUE "It's you," Eve said, and gave the wig a final tug on Claire's head, setting it just right. All of a sudden, it looked right-not just some random collection of plastic threads stuck on top of her scalp, but ... hair. Pretend hair, sure, but, it looked ... Claire couldn't decide how it looked. She cocked her head first one way, then the other. Tried a pose. "Is it cool? I think it's cool. Maybe?" The girl looking back at her wasn't just a mousy, skinny girl anymore. The new, improved Claire Danvers was taller, a little more filled out, and she was wearing a new hot pink shirt layered over black, a pair of low-rise jeans with skulls on the pockets, and pink and white hair. She was rocking the streaked wig. It flowed down over her shoulders in careless waves, and made her look mysterious and fragile and smoky, and Claire just knew she had never been smoky or mysterious in her entire life. "That is absolutely so you," Eve said with a happy sigh, and jumped around in hoppy circles in her new patent leather black shoes with red skull imprints. "You have got to get it. And wear it. Trust me, Shane will go nuts. You look so dangerous!"
"Shane's already nuts." Claire laughed. "Did you see him in the T-shirt aisle? I thought he was going to cry. So many sarcastic sayings; so few days of the week to wear them. And I'm not sure I really feel comfortable looking, y'know, dangerous. " Eve gave her a long, serious look. "You are, you know. Dangerous."
"It's not the hair. You just--you're something else, Claire. It's like when all the rest of us don't know where to go, you ... just go. You're not afraid."
"That is so not true," Claire said with a sigh. "I'm scared all the time. Down to my bones. I'm lucky I don't run away like a little screaming girl." Eve smiled. "That's my job. You're the heroic one."
"Oh, just shut up and get the wig already," Eve said. "No."
"Get it get it get it!"
"Okay! Jeez, you're scaring the other freaks!" They both broke into manic giggles, because it was true; a couple of very Gothy Goths were edging away, casting them both odd, apprehensive little looks. Being from Morganville gave you an attitude, Claire guessed. And that wasn't a bad thing, especially when you were in a scary-big city like Dallas, where everything seemed to move ten times faster than she was used to, including the traffic. She didn't know how Eve had managed to get them to the hotel, or get Michael to his studio appointment after dark, but she had, and it was fabulous. The hotel rooms had free soaps and shampoos and robes. It was amazing. And they were all modern, with flat-screen, high-definition TVs, and beds so soft that sleeping on them was like sleeping on angel wings. It was so not like the life she was used to living, which was, she supposed, what made it extra special cool. "I am a rock star," Claire said to her reflection. Her reflection seemed to agree, although it still made her laugh inside to think it. She remembered Morley's surprise when she'd actually shot him, and Oliver's laughter, his genuine approval. Maybe she was, a little tiny bit. She flipped the hair over her shoulders and thought about makeup. "What do you think about heavy eyeliner?" Claire asked, which was totally redundant, because Eve never went anywhere without heavy eyeliner. It was her number one fashion tool. Instantly, Eve whipped out her Mac tools and began doing Claire's eyes for her. When she checked again, Claire looked ... really mysterious. Her face had taken on depth, shadows, secrets. Wow. It was amazing what a little change could do. And a little sleep, Claire thought. She felt better than she had in months, knowing there was nobody lurking around the corner to kidnap her, munch her neck, or otherwise present a serious danger. "You look absolutely fantastic," Eve said. "Drop-dead gorgeous."
"Not literally, hopefully."
"The idea is to knock other people dead, sweetie. I didn't think I really had to explain that part." Shane rounded the corner of the aisle with a double armload of T-shirts, every one of them bound to offend someone in Morganville, and skidded to a stop at the sight of the two of them. His mouth opened and closed. Eve stepped away, but Shane didn't notice; his eyes were fixed on Claire, and he looked as if he'd been hit in the forehead with a two-by-four. "How do I look?" she asked, which was a completely ridiculous question, given how he was staring at her. He dropped the T-shirts and kissed her, long and sweet and hard, and she felt a fierce kind of joy blow into a storm inside, wild and crazy and free. The Gothy McGoth twins, in their leather and spikes and dyed hair, sniffed and walked off, clearly offended by the sight of so much happiness in one place. When Shane let her up for air, Claire said, "Maybe we should actually buy the stuff before we celebrate?"
"Why wait?" And he kissed her again.