Ashes of Midnight (Chapter Nineteen)

It took him the better part of an hour before he was able to rein in the worst of his pyrokinetic heat. He was still angry with Claire by the time he returned to the house, but at least he couldn't hurt her further. Not that she wasn't still feeling some pain, he acknowledged as he walked up the driveway and found her standing outside with the warrior who'd been sent from Boston to pick them up. "Ah, you see?" Rio said when he spotted Reichen. "I told you he would come back." The Breed male's rich voice rolled with his Spanish accent, and when he flashed a welcoming grin and thrust out his hand to Reichen in greeting, the scars that marred the left side of his face practically vanished. "Good to see you, my friend." "And you, as well," Reichen said as he briefly clasped the warrior's hand. Rio's pretty auburn-haired Breedmate, Dylan, was with him tonight. She strode up and gave Reichen a casual kiss on the cheek. "You had us all a bit worried here." "My apologies," he murmured, slanting a look at Claire. She would hardly look at him, and he could see that she was cradling her singed fingers close to her chest. Reichen felt sick that his curse had wounded her, even a little. He wanted to tell her as much, but it was a conversation best done privately.

She didn't seem eager to talk to him anyway. Nor did she seem inclined to argue anymore about going with him to the Order's headquarters. She followed Dylan to the vehicle and started to climb into the backseat. "Everything good?" Rio asked when the females were out of earshot. "You don't look so well, amigo." "I'll feel better once she's safe in the compound," he said. In truth, he'd feel better once he had a chance to hunt and slake the thirst that was still riding him from the pyro. The last thing he needed was to be cooped up with Claire for the next hour or more on the drive back to Boston. Bad enough he craved blood to cool the final few embers that still burned inside him. It would be pure torture having to curb his need if he was seated mere inches away from the woman he thirsted for above all others. Rio seemed to clue in on that as they walked together toward the SUV "Dylan won't mind if you ride shotgun," he said. "She and Claire can ride together in back and get acquainted. Dylan's far better company than either one of us." Reichen wasn't about to argue.

He took the front passenger side and sat back as Rio wheeled the Rover down the driveway and headed for the road that would take them to the interstate. He was right about the trip being one long exercise in patience and control. While Claire and Dylan chatted softly behind him about the things they loved most about New England, and where they'd each grown up, and a hundred other harmless pleasantries, Reichen stared out the dark-tinted glass of the window and tried not to think about his hunger. It was a losing battle. By the time they exited the tollway and reached the inner city limits of Boston, his feverish hunger was demanding to be fed. "I need to walk for a while," he told Rio as the warrior came to a stop at a traffic light. He didn't wait for permission, just opened the door and jumped out. "I'll meet up with you at the compound shortly I know how to find you." From the backseat, he caught Claire's look of concern. He felt her worry rattle in his own blood, too. She thought he might be going after Roth on his own. He might have been tempted, if not for the clamoring of his thirst. Instead, once the SUV rolled away into the darkness, Reichen skulked through the thickly settled, working-class neighborhoods. He was careful to keep to the back-alley shadows, where it was easier to conceal his presence and his dark intentions. It was a blustery, rainy night in Boston, which meant far fewer loiterers on the sidewalks or standing outside the pubs sucking on cigarettes. Only a handful of the roughest and most desperate inpiduals had any reason to be outdoors tonight–Reichen among them. He searched the city's offerings with a cool eye, knowing that when he was like this, riding the far outer edge of his power, he was a predator in the meanest sense of the word. His mouth was parched, his fangs digging into his tongue. Like this, he was as deadly as the Ancient in Dragos's hidden lair.

A thirsting, savage monster. As Reichen prowled the back of a narrow neighborhood street, the bang of a storm door drew his head sharply up. A human male in a ball cap and baggy sweats stomped down a rickety wooden porch, screaming obscenities at the older woman who appeared backlit by lights from inside the house. "Getcha ass back here, Daniel! Do you hear me?" she shouted, loud enough for the surrounding four blocks to hear. The young male flipped her off and kept walking while he hollered back at her. "Yeah, yeah, fuck you too, Ma! Go back to ya bottle and stay the hell outta my weed, why don't ya! You owe me twenty bucks for the shit you stole from me!" Reichen cocked his head, watching the human cut down a dark side road. With his head down and his mouth working absently on all the things he still wanted to say to the drunk who spawned him, the kid didn't even notice that he wasn't alone in the narrow alley. He didn't see Reichen moving in from behind; probably only sensed him as a rush of cold air at the back of his tattooed neck. Before the human had a chance to utter a single startled gasp, Reichen sprang on him. He swiftly took him down to the cracked asphalt. Pushed the human's chin up and to the side, baring the hammering pulse at the side of his neck. He bit in deep, and sucked in a mouthful of warm, nourishing blood. He fed hungrily, greedily, ignoring the feeble struggles of his Host. Every gulp was bitter on his tongue, and did little to quench the desert dryness of his throat. His hunger persisted, even when the human's resistance had ended. Reichen kept feeding. He couldn't stop. He wasn't even sure he knew how–one of the terrible consequences of summoning his talent. He might have killed the man if not for the sudden awareness of cold hard steel pressing tight against the side of his head.

"The buffet is closed, asshole." Reichen grunted, only the dimmest flicker of recognition burning into his brain. He kept drinking, starving for more. The hammer on the large pistol cocked with a loud metallic warning. "Back the fuck off, or you're gonna be eating lead." He growled now, pissed off by the interruption and still too fevered to let up on his Host. Blood gushed over his tongue and down his throat, but the fire in his gut still burned, impossible to extinguish. He slid a feral gaze to the side to gauge the Breed male with the gun locked and loaded at his head. "Holy hell," the huge vampire muttered. The icy nose of the pistol fell away from his temple. "Reichen? What the fuck." Reichen knew this immense male with the wild tawny hair and stark green eyes. Instinct called him warrior–friend, even though his stance and tone a moment ago had conveyed deadly serious murder. It was that instinctive awareness that kept Reichen from turning on the vampire as a strong hand came down on his shoulder and physically peeled him off his prey. He was shoved back hard, and the other male grabbed the human to seal the punctures with an efficient sweep of his tongue. Reichen watched, ass planted on the concrete, as the big Breed male palmed the human's forehead and erased his memory of the attack. "Now get the hell out of here." The stunned man stood up and wandered dazedly toward the other end of the alley. "Tegan," Reichen murmured thickly, voicing the name that finally sprang into his consciousness. The warrior stalked over to him. "What are you doing down here? Last I heard, Lucan had sent Rio out to Newport to chauffeur your sorry ass into the compound." Reichen shrugged.

"I had the sudden urge for takeout along the way." Tegan didn't laugh. He kept that fierce gaze trained on Reichen, watching him as he might an armed grenade. "You look like shit." "I'm better now," Reichen replied, feeling the new blood quenching his organs and cells. But it hadn't been enough. His thirst was still gnawing at him, greedy for more. "I am fine." Tegan scoffed. "You've got the shakes and you can't keep your eyes focused on a damn thing." "It will pass." This time a raw curse. "Give me your hand. Doesn't look like you can get up on your own motor." Reichen took the offered help, clasping Tegan's hand and letting himself be pulled to his feet. No sooner had he risen than Tegan drew in a sharp hiss. His fangs punched into view behind his lip, and the green of his eyes was suddenly shot with flecks of glowing amber. Reichen recalled the warrior's ability to read emotion with a touch, and he could only guess at the torrent of disturbing things he'd just picked up from that brief contact. "What the fuck is going on with you, man?" he demanded.

"It's the pyro… does this to me afterward. No big deal." Even as he said it, Reichen wondered if it was true. Summoning his power was getting easier all the time; coming out of its wake was another thing. Maybe Claire was right when she challenged him about his fury. How many more times could he do this and hope to emerge from it in one piece? How soon before he reached the tipping point and the fires ate away the very last scrap of his humanity? And if the fires didn't do it, he had the sickening feeling that the nearly insatiable thirst left in their wake surely would. "Shit," Tegan exhaled, holding him in a narrowed, assessing look. He pulled a cell phone out of his jacket pocket and pressed a key. "Yeah, it's me. I'm down in Jamaica Plain. I've got Reichen here with me, I'm bringing him in to the compound."

The women of the Order made Claire feel as welcome as she ever had by her contemporaries in the Darkhavens. Three of the warriors' Breedmates, Savannah, Gabrielle, and Elise, had prepared her a lovely dinner of creamy soup and homemade biscuits, and Dylan had shown her to a private apartment down the maze of marbled corridors that Claire was offered for her own while she was at the compound. They had told her to make herself at home, and she couldn't resist spending a few minutes nosing around the massive headquarters that spread out seemingly endlessly. It was fascinating–and a bit unsettling–to realize that an organization like the Order not only existed but needed to exist.

She felt so naive, reflecting on how Wilhelm Roth and his Enforcement Agency cronies strutted around, professing to be the protectors of the Breed, when they had been as corrupt as a cancer, slowly chewing away at the foundation of what was truly good and just. Wilhelm Roth had been a villain all along, and Claire had been too blind to see it. But what hurt much worse than that was the fact that she'd been in love with Andreas Reichen for most of her life, and now that she had been given a miraculous second chance with him, it might be Wilhelm Roth who tore them apart once more. She could only hope that good would win out over evil like him and Dragos. She could only pray that once the worst was over, she and Andreas could begin to smooth over the fear and anger that stood between them now. The drive from Newport to Boston seemed to take years instead of an hour. She'd hated that she and Andreas hadn't been able to talk before Rio and Dylan had arrived to bring them to the compound.

And she still weathered the knot of cold anxiety that had settled in her heart in that instant when he'd leapt out of the vehicle once they reached the city. She didn't know where he'd gone, but she'd taken some small comfort in the fact that Elise had informed her that he was with Tegan now, both of them presumably on their way back to the compound. At least he was safe. At least she would still have the opportunity to try to make things right between them. Claire turned down one of the winding white hallways and followed the pattern of black glyphs inlaid in the floor. The marks were mesmerizing, especially when she was already lost in her thoughts. She caught a faint whiff of chlorine an instant before a door swung open in front of her in the corridor. A young girl with wet blond hair came to an abrupt stop directly in her path. She had a towel wrapped around her tiny frame, the straps of a pink swimsuit tank peeking over the top of the white terry cloth. "Oh!" Claire exclaimed, startled and surprised to see the child in the compound.

"I'm sorry. I didn't see you coming out of…" Her voice trailed off as she found herself staring into a pair of wide, luminescent eyes the color of polished silver. They were the oddest color–not really a color at all, but nearly white. Smooth as glass … hypnotic. "I was just…" Claire murmured, uncertain what she meant to say next because in that instant the girl's eyes began to change. The surface of her irises warbled, like a pond suddenly sent quaking by the drop of a pebble into the water. Her pupils began to shrink to tiny pinpoints, drawing Claire deeper into the peculiar spell of the girl's eyes. Then she saw something move within the mirrorlike depths. It was an image taking shape swiftly, coming into focus as Claire peered in total rapt fascination. It was a woman, running in darkness. Screaming, grief-stricken. It was herself. Claire watched as the vision played out like a clip from a movie. But this was no movie; it was her life. Her personal anguish. She knew it instinctively, as she watched herself tearing through a thicket of trees and bramble, desperate to reach something–or someone–yet knowing from the ache in her soul that what she sought was lost to her already. There was a blinding glow of fire ahead of her, a deep pit of rubble that roared with flames and smoke, throwing off heat so intense it seared her like she was walking into a furnace. Someone shouted for her to get back. Still, she ran toward it. She couldn't turn away from it. Even though she knew in her heart that he was gone, she couldn't turn away from him. "Andre," she murmured aloud. The door swung open again and a woman came out this time. "Oh, God… Mira," she exclaimed, and hastily turned the little girl away from Claire, burying the child's face in the generous swell of her pregnant belly. Claire came out of her daze as if she'd been slapped. "What just happened?"

The other woman was kneeling down in front of the child now, smoothing a gentle palm over her cheeks and murmuring reassuring words to her. She offered Claire an apologetic look. "Hi, I'm Tess. You must be Claire. This is Mira. We were just having a swim. Are you all right?" Claire nodded. "Her eyes…" "Yes," Tess said. "Mira is a seer. She usually wears special contact lenses to mute her talent, but she took them out because she was afraid to lose them in the pool." "Hi, Claire," Mira said, careful to keep her gaze down now. "I didn't mean to scare you." "That's okay." Claire smiled and ran her hand over the top of the girl's damp head, even though she was still very rattled by what she'd witnessed. Tess seemed to pick up on her unease. The pregnant Breedmate's aquamarine eyes were tender, compassionate. "Mira, why don't you run along now. I'll be right there to read you a story while we wait for Renata and Niko to come in from their patrol." "Okay." The little girl pivoted toward Claire and murmured to her feet, "Nice to meet you." "You, too, Mira." After she was gone, Tess gave Claire a sympathetic smile. "Was it awful, the thing she showed you?" "Yes," she answered, too stricken to explain what she saw. Tess winced. "I'm sorry. I wish I could tell you that Mira's visions don't always come true. Her gift is mercilessly honest. She can't help it. She can't even control it, which is why she has the special lenses now. Each time she uses her talent, she loses some of her own sight." "How awful." And now Claire felt worse for having inadvertently taken something away from her. "I had no idea–" "You couldn't have, so please don't feel bad,"

Tess said, kindly absolving her of her guilt. "The vampire who had Mira before she came here to the compound used her talent constantly. Niko and Renata took her out of that bad situation just a few weeks ago. It's our hope that her sight can be restored in time." "I hope so, too," Claire murmured, feeling sorry for the girl, but her own thoughts were miles away. She had to tell Andreas what she'd seen. She didn't kid herself that he would listen to anything more she had to say, or even that he would want to see her after the way they'd left things between them in Newport. But she had to try to get through to him, if only so that he had the knowledge and could decide on his own what to do about it. Claire felt the other Breedmate watching her closely as if she understood the weight of her thoughts. "When I walked past the weapons room a short while ago, he was in there with Tegan and Rio. I believe they'd just come in. Would you like me to walk you down there?" "Thank you," Claire said, then fell in step beside Tess, her heart squeezed tightly in her chest.