Chapter Twelve


The signal had come over the coded strategy network, which Claire had just assumed was dead, considering that Oliver had been the one running it. But Richard had found a use for it, and as she burst in the front door, breathless, she heard Michael and Eve talking in the living room. Claire closed and locked the door, dumped her backpack, and hurried to join them.

"What did I miss?"

"Shhh," they both said. Michael, Eve, and Shane were all seated at the table, staring intently at the small walkie talkie sitting upright in the middle. Michael pulled out a chair for Claire, and she sat, trying to be as quiet as possible.

Richard was talking.

--No telling whether or not this storm will hit us full on, but right now, the Weather Service shows the radar track going right over the top of us. It'll be here in the next few hours, probably right around dark. It's late in the year for tornado activity, but they're telling us there's a strong possibility of some real trouble. On top of all the other things we have going on, this isn't good news. I'm putting all emergency services and citizen patrols on full alert. If we get a tornado, get to your designated shelters.

Designated shelters? Claire mouthed to Michael, who shrugged.

If you're closer to City Hall, come here; we've got a shelter in the basement. Those of you who are Civil Defense wardens, go doortodoor in your area, tell people we've got a storm coming and what to do. We're putting it on TV and radio, and the university's going to get ready as well.

"Richard, this is Hector," said a new voice. "Miller House. You got any news about this takeover people are talking about?"

"We've got rumors, but nothing concrete," Richard said. "We hear there's a lot of talk going around town about taking back City Hall, but we've got no specific word about when these people are meeting, or where, or even who they are. All I can tell you is that we've fortified the building, and the barricades remain up around Founder's Square, for all the good that does. I need everybody in a securitydesignated location to be on the alert today and tonight. Report in if you see any sign of an attack, any sign at all. We'll try to get to you in support."

Michael exchanged a look with the rest of them, and then picked up the radio. He pressed the button. "Michael Glass. You think Bishop's behind this?"

"I think Bishop's willing to let humans do his dirty work for him, and then sweep in to make himself lord and master on the ashes," Richard said. "Seems like his style. Put Shane on."

Michael held out the radio. Shane looked at it like it might bite, then took it and pressed TALK. "Yeah, this is Shane."

"I have two unconfirmed sightings of your father in town. I know this isn't easy for you, but I need to know: is Frank Collins back in Morganville?"

Shane looked into Claire's eyes and said, "If he is, he hasn't talked to me about it."

He lied. Claire's lips parted, and she almost blurted something out, but she just couldn't think what to say. "Shane," she whispered. He shook his head.

"Tell you what, Richard, you catch my dad, you've got my personal endorsement for tossing him in the deepest pit you've got around here," Shane said. "If he's in Morganville, he's got a plan, but he won't be working for or with the vamps. Not that he knows, anyway."

"Fair enough. You hear from him--"

"You're on speed dial. Got it." Shane set the radio back in the center of the table. Claire kept staring at him, willing him to speak, to say something, but he didn't.

"Don't do this," she said. "Don't put me in the middle."

"I'm not," Shane said. "Nothing I said was a lie. My dad told me he was coming, not that he's here. I haven't seen him, and I don't want to. I meant what I said. If he's here, Dick and his brownshirts are welcome to him. I've got nothing to do with him, not anymore."

Claire wasn't sure she believed that, but she didn't think he was intentionally lying now. He probably did mean it. She just thought that no matter how much he thought he was done with his dad, all it would take would be a snap of Frank Collins's fingers to bring him running.

Not good.

Richard was answering questions from others on the radio, but Michael was no longer listening. He was fixed on Shane. "You knew? You knew he was coming back here, and you didn't warn me?"

Shane stirred uneasily. "Look--"

"No, you look. I'm the one who got knifed and decapitated and buried in the backyard, among other things! Good thing I was a ghost!"

Shane looked down. "Who was I supposed to tell? The vamps? Come on."

"You could have told me!"

"You're a vamp," Shane said. "In case you haven't checked the mirror lately."

Michael stood up. His chair slid about two feet across the floor and skidded to an uneven stop; he leaned his hands on the table and loomed over Shane. "Oh, I do," he said. "I check it every day. How about you? You taken a good look recently, Shane? Because I'm not so sure I know you anymore."

Shane looked up at that, and there was a flash of pain in his face. "I didn't mean--"

"I could be just about the last vampire around here," Michael interrupted. "Maybe the others are dead. Maybe they will be soon. Between the mobs out there willing to rip our heads off and Bishop waiting to take over, having your dad stalking me is all I need."

"He wouldn't--"

"He killed me once, or tried to. He'd do it again in a second, and he wouldn't blink, and you know that, Shane. You know it! He thinks I'm some kind of a traitor to the human race. He'll come after me in particular."

Shane didn't say anything this time. Michael retrieved the radio from the table and clipped it to the pocket of his jeans. He shone, all blazing gold and hard, white angles, and Shane couldn't meet his stare.

"You decide you want to help your dad kill some vampires, Shane, you know where to find me."

Michael went upstairs. It was as if the room had lost all its air, and Claire found herself breathing very hard, trying not to tremble.

Eve's dark eyes were very wide, and fixed on Shane as well. She slowly got up from the table.

"Eve--" he said, and reached out toward her. She stepped out of reach.

"I can't believe you," she said. "You see me running over to suck up to my mom? No. And she's not even a murderer."

"Morganville needs to change."

"Wake up, Shane, it has! It started months ago. It's been changing right in front of you! Vampires and humans working together. Trusting one another. They're trying. Sure, it's hard, but they've got reason to be afraid of us, good reason. And now you want to throw all that away and help your dad set up a guillotine in Founder's Square or something?" Eve's eyes turned bitter black. "Screw you."

"I didn't--"

She clomped away toward the stairs, leaving Shane and Claire together.

Shane swallowed, then tried to make it a joke. "That could have gone better." Claire slipped out of her chair. "Claire? Oh, come on, not you, too. Don't go. Please."

"You should have told him. I can't believe you didn't. He's your friend, or at least I thought he was."

"Where are you going?"

She pulled in a deep breath. "I'm packing. I've decided to move in with my parents."

She didn't pack, though. She went upstairs, closed the door to her room, and pulled out her pitifully few possessions. Most of it was dirty laundry. She sat there on the bed, staring at it, feeling lost and alone and a little sick, and wondered if she was making a point or just running like a little girl. She felt pretty stupid now that she had everything piled on the floor.

It looked utterly pathetic.

When the knock came on her door, she didn't immediately answer it. She knew it was Shane, even though he didn't speak. Go away, she thought at him, but he still wasn't much of a mind reader. He knocked again.

"It's not locked," she said.

"It's also not open," Shane said quietly, through the wood. "I'm not a complete ass."

"Yes, you are."

"Okay, sometimes I am." He hesitated, and she heard the floor creak as he shifted his weight. "Claire."

Come in."

He froze when he saw the stuff piled in front of her, waiting to be put in bags and her one suitcase. "You're serious."

"Yes."

"You're just going to pick up and leave."

"You know my parents want me to come home."

He didn't say anything for a long moment, then reached into his back pocket and took out a black case, about the size of his hand. "Here, then. I was going to give it to you later, but I guess I'd better do it now, before you take off on us."

His voice sounded offhand and normal, but his fingers felt cold when she touched them in taking the case, and there was an expression on his face she didn't know--fear, maybe; bracing himself for something painful.

It was a hard, leatherwrapped case, on spring hinges. She hesitated for a breath, then pried up one end. It snapped open.

Oh. The cross was beautiful--delicate silver, traceries of leaves wrapped around it. It was on a silver chain so thin it looked like a breath would melt it. When Claire picked up the necklace, it felt like air in her hand.

"I--" She had no idea what to say, what to feel. Her whole body seemed to have gone into shock. "It's beautiful."

"I know it doesn't work against the vamps," Shane said. "Okay, well, I didn't know that when I got it for you. But it's still silver, and silver works, so I hope that's okay."

This wasn't a small present. Shane didn't have a lot of money; he picked up odd jobs here and there, and spent very little. This wasn't some cheap costume jewelry; it was real silver, and really beautiful.

"I can't--it's too expensive." Claire's heart was pounding again, and she wished she could think. She wished she knew what she was supposed to feel, supposed to do. On impulse, she put the necklace back in the box and snapped it shut, and held it out to him. "Shane, I can't."

He gave her a broken sort of smile. "It's not a ring or anything. Keep it. Besides, it doesn't match my eyes."

He stuck his hands in his pockets, rounded his shoulders, and walked out of the room.

Claire clutched the leather box in one sweaty hand, eyes wide, and then opened it again. The cross gleamed on black velvet, clean and beautiful and shining, and it blurred as her eyes filled with tears.

Now she felt something, something big and overwhelming and far too much to fit inside her small, fragile body.

"Oh," she whispered. "Oh God." This hadn't been just any gift. He'd put a lot of time and effort into getting it. There was love in it, real love.

She took the cross, put it around her neck, and fastened the clasp with shaking fingers. It took her two tries. Then she went down the hall and, without knocking, opened Shane's door. He was standing at the window, staring outside. He looked different to her. Older. Sadder.

He turned toward her, and his gaze fixed on the silver cross in the hollow of her throat.

"You're an idiot," Claire said.

Shane considered that, and nodded. "I really am, mostly."

"And then you have to go and do these awesome things--"

"I know. I did say I was mostly an idiot."

"You kind of have your good moments."

He didn't quite smile. "So you like it?"

She put her hand up to stroke the cross's warm silver lines. "I'm wearing it, aren't I?"

"Not that it means we're--"

"You said you loved me," Claire said. "You did say that."

He shut his mouth and studied her, then nodded. There was a flush building high in his cheeks.

"Well, I love you, too, and you're still an idiot. Mostly."

"No argument." He folded his arms across his chest, and she tried not to notice the way his muscles tensed, or the vulnerable light in his eyes. "So, you moving out?"

"I should," she said softly. "The other night--"

"Claire. Please be straight with me. Are you moving out?"

She was holding the cross now, cradling it, and it felt warm as the sun against her fingers. "I can't," she said. "I have to do laundry first, and that might take a month. You saw the pile."

He laughed, and it was as if all the strength went out of him. He sat down on his unmade bed, hard, and after a moment, she walked around the end and sat next to him. He put his arm around her.

"Life is a work in progress," Shane said. "My mom used to say that. I'm kind of a fixerupper. I know that."

Claire sighed and allowed herself to relax against his warmth. "Good thing I like highmaintenance guys."

He was about to kiss her--finally--when they both heard a sound from overhead.

Only there was nothing overhead. Nothing but the attic.

"Did you hear that?" Shane asked.

"Yeah. It sounded like footsteps."

"Oh, well, that's fantastic. I thought it was supposed to be exitonly or something." Shane reached under his bed and came up with a stake. "Go get Michael and Eve. Here." He handed her another stake. This one had a silver tip. "It's the Cadillac of vampire killers. Don't dent it."

"You are so weird." But she took it, and then dashed to her room to grab the thin silver knife Amelie had given her. No place to put it, but she poked a hole in the pocket of her jeans just big enough for the blade. The jeans were tight enough to keep the blade in place against her leg, but not so much it looked obvious, and besides, it was pretty flexible.

She hurried down the hall, listening for any other movement. Eve's room was empty, but when she knocked on Michael's door, she heard a startled yelp that sounded very Evelike. "What?" Michael asked.

"Trouble," Claire said. "Um, maybe? Attic. Now."

Michael didn't sound any happier about it than Shane had been. "Great. Be there in a second."

Muffled conversation, and the sound of fabric moving. Claire wondered if he was getting dressed, and quickly tried to reject that image, not because it wasn't awesomely hot, but because, well, it was Michael, and besides, there were other things to think about.

Such as what was upstairs in the attic.

Or who.

The door banged open, and Eve rushed out, flushed and mussed and still buttoning her shirt. "It's not what you think," she said. "It was just--oh, okay, whatever, it was exactly what you think. Now, what?"

Something dropped and rolled across the attic floor directly above their heads. Claire silently pointed up, and Eve followed the motion, staring as if she could see through the wood and plaster. She jumped when Michael, who'd thrown on an unbuttoned shirt, put a hand on her shoulder. He put a finger to his lips.

Shane stepped out of his room, holding a stake in either hand. He pitched one underhand to Michael.

Where's mine? Eve mouthed.

Get your own, Shane mouthed back. Eve rolled her eyes and dashed into her own room, coming back with a black bag slung across her chest, bandolierstyle. It was, Claire assumed, full of weapons. Eve fished around in it and came up with a stake of her very own. It even had her initials carved in it.

"Shop class," she whispered. "See? I did learn something in school."

Michael pressed the button to release the hidden door, and it opened without a sound. There were no lights upstairs that Claire could see. The stairs were pitchblack.

Michael, by common consent, went first, vampire eyes, and all. Shane followed, then Eve; Claire brought up the rear, and tried to move as silently as possible, although not really all that silently, because the stairs creaked beneath the weight of four people. At the top, Claire ran into Eve's back, and whispered, "What?"

Eve, in answer, reached back to grip her hand. "Michael smells blood," she whispered. "Hush."

Michael flicked on a light at the other end of the small, silent room. There was nothing unusual, just the furniture that was always here. There were no signs anybody had been here since the Goldmans and Myrnin had departed.

"How do we get into the attic?" Shane asked. Michael pressed hidden studs, and another door, barely visible at that end of the room, clicked open. Claire remembered it well; Myrnin had shown it to her, when they'd been getting stuff together to go to Bishop's welcome feast.

"Stay here," Michael said, and stepped through into the dim, open space.

"Yeah, sure," Shane said, and followed. He popped his head back in to say, "No, not you two. Stay here."

"Does he just not get how unfair and sexist that is?" Eve asked. "Men."

"You really want to go first?"

"Of course not. But I'd like the chance to refuse to go first."

They waited tensely, listening for any sign of trouble. Claire heard Shane's footsteps moving through the attic, but nothing else for a long time.

Then she heard him say, "Michael. Oh man . . . over here." There was tension in his voice, but it didn't sound like he was about to jump into handtohand combat.

Eve and Claire exchanged looks, and Eve said, "Oh, screw it," and dived into the attic after them.

Claire followed, gripping the Cadillac of stakes and hoping she wasn't going to be forced to try to use it.

Shane was crouched down behind some stacked, dusty suitcases, and Michael was there, too. Eve pulled in a sharp breath when she saw what it was they were bending over, and put out a hand to stop Claire in her tracks.

Not that Claire stopped, until she saw who was lying on the wooden floor. She hardly recognized him, really. If it hadn't been for the gray ponytail and the leather coat . . .

"It's Oliver," she whispered. Eve was biting her lip until it was almost white, staring at her former boss. "What happened?"

"Silver," Michael said. "Lots of it. It eats vampire skin like acid, but he shouldn't be this bad. Not unless--" He stopped as the pale, burned eyelids fluttered. "He's still alive."

"Vampires are hard to kill," Oliver whispered. His voice was barely a creak of sound, and it broke at the end on what sounded almost like a sob. "Jesu. Hurts."

Michael exchanged a look with Shane, then said, "Let's get him downstairs. Claire. Go get some blood from the fridge. There should be some."

"No," Oliver grated, and sat up. There was blood leaking through his white shirt, as if all his skin were gone underneath. "No time. Attack on City Hall, coming tonight--Bishop. Using it as a--diversion--to--" His eyes opened wider, and went blank, then rolled up into his head.

He collapsed. Michael caught him under the shoulders.

He and Shane carried Oliver out to the couch, while Eve anxiously followed along, making little shooing motions.

Claire started to follow, then heard something scrape across the wood behind her, in the shadows.

Oliver hadn't come here alone.

A black shadow lunged out, grabbed her, and something hard hit her head.

She must have made some sound, knocked something over, because she heard Shane call her name sharply, and saw his shadow in the doorway before darkness took all of it away.

Then she was falling away.

Then she was gone.

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