The Craving (Chapter 20)

The New York Halls of Justice and House of Detention was a slablike stone structure that rose heavily from the street like an old tombstone. The interior was a portrait in gray, with grim-faced policemen and haggard criminals.

And us.

Vampires caught in a human system for a bloody crime we didn't commit. The twistedness of it all was remarkable, but it did nothing to alleviate our current situation.

With our hands tied behind our backs, a young policeman marched Damon and me up several flights of worn wooden stairs and into the chief's office. He commanded a small square of the larger floor. Sketches of wanted men lined his walls, one man's eye struck through with a large nail. The chief himself was a grizzled veteran with a full black beard, except for where a smooth, diagonal scar cut through his skin.

He looked at our rap sheet and let out a low whistle. "The whole Sutherland family? That'll be in the papers tonight."

I flinched at hearing such insensitivity coming from the lips of a normal human. What sort of monsters did he deal with that the death of an entire family was no more than a news item?

"We didn't do it," I said.

"No, of course you didn't," the chief said gruffly, running a finger along his scar. "No one who ends up here has ever done it. But the courts will get it sorted out, and everyone will get what they deserve."

We were unceremoniously dumped into a holding cell that was larger than the entire one-person jail back home, where Jeremiah Black spent many a night sleeping off his drunken stupor. I never expected to see the inside of a cell myself.

"We didn't do it," Damon whined, imitating me and shaking his head, as soon as the guard left. "Could you make us sound any more ridiculous?"

"What, are you afraid of us coming off as sissies?" I asked. "Would you rather I just bared my fangs at him?"

A rasping chuckle came from the corner of the cell, where another prisoner sat slumped against the wall. His hair receded from his forehead in a deep V and he had the arms of a dockworker.

"Nice clothes," he said with malicious growl, eyeing our formal suits and clean-shaven cheeks. "What are you in for, rich boys?"

"Killing a family," Damon answered without pause. "You?"

"Beatin' in the heads of the likes of you," he answered back just as quickly, cracking his knuckles.

He took a swing at Damon, but my brother reached up and, with hands faster than the human eye, deflected the blow, and pushed the man against the wall with a loud crack.

The giant didn't so much topple as just crumple straight down, falling into an unconscious puddle around his own feet. None of the officers came running, and I wondered if fighting in the cells was an ordinary occurrence.

Damon sighed as he stepped around the man. He sat down on the floor in a moment of exhaustion that was almost human, almost like the old brother I used to know. "Why is it we always end up locked behind bars with each other?"

"Well, at least this time you're not being starved," I answered drily.

"Nope. No chance in that," Damon said. His eyes surveyed the police standing on the other side of our bars, taking in each person. Then he leaned his head up against the wall and gave the peeling paint a grudging sniff. "And I think there's more than a chance that there are a couple of rats in here for you, too."

I sighed, sliding down the wall and sitting next to him. I did not understand this new Damon. His shifts in mood were frightening. One moment he was the soulless vampire who killed without remorse, the next he was someone who seemed like my old childhood companion again.

"What's the plan?" I asked.

"You're looking at it," he said, getting up and indicating the dead man at our feet. "Guard! Man down in here."

When the guard approached and saw the body on the ground he seemed annoyed, but not surprised. The guard didn't lean too close – he had survived long enough to know not to. But it was close enough. Damon flared his eyes.

"Forget we were ever here. Forget what we look like. Forget who brought us in, our names, and everything about us."

"Who's us?" the guard asked, hypnotized but slow on the uptake.

"The man I came in with," Damon snapped, pointing at me. The guard nodded faintly. "Forget everything about us. And then – send over the other guard, all right?"

The guard wandered back to his post, somewhat dizzily at first, then cocked his head as if he had just remembered something. He went to one of the guards on patrol and pointed at the jail cell. Not at Damon, through Damon. It was like Damon didn't exist anymore in his reality.

"One down," Damon muttered. He looked tense. Again I wondered how many people he really could control at once.

The second guard approached. He had a scar across his face that twisted one eye shut, and he smacked his billy club as he walked. But before Damon could compel him, he said the absolute last thing we expected.

"Your lawyer is here."

I looked at my brother. He looked back at me in equal surprise. He raised an eyebrow as if to say: Did you arrange this somehow?

I very slightly shook my head. Damon straightened his shoulders as a clang sounded and the door to the stockade opened. The smell of rotten eggs and death filled the room as another man walked in – the lawyer.

He was huge. Larger than the prisoner Damon had knocked out, with long arms and a huge chest. His hands were monstrous, with stubby fingers that gripped a leather portfolio.

He came into the room slowly, with the careful tread of someone or something too large and dangerous for its surroundings, like the pace of a panther around its tiny circus cage.

His clothing was of a foreign cut, comfortable, rich linen and silk that allowed his massive body to move easily beneath its folds.

And his eyes…

They were small and blue, but not the clear blue of my brother's. They were mottled, milky almost, and too ancient for the rest of his body, moving quickly but incorrectly, like a bird's or a lizard's gaze, but with a powerful intelligence behind it.

This man was not human.

He didn't feel like a vampire, not exactly. But there was something just below his surface waiting for a chance to explode. The Power radiating from him was greater than anything I had experienced. And my instincts told me that even though he had come under the auspices of being our lawyer, this man was not here to help us.

He surveyed us in the jail cell and smiled slightly.

"You may go," he said to the guard behind him. His voice didn't even rise, but quietly reverberated in a way that carried to the far end of the empty holding cells. And yet they went. Quickly, and with something like relief on their faces.

We were left alone with this beast.

"Good evening, gentlemen," he said, smiling in a way that made me sick.

"Who are you?" Damon asked, clearly trying to sound bored. But I could hear the fear in his voice.

"Who am I?" the man repeated in a heavy accent. "Does it help to know the name of the one who will kill you? It didn't seem any comfort to your wives."

The words fell like stones to the floor, heavy and final. The man casually put a giant hand up to rest on a bar.

"You killed the Sutherlands," I whispered.

"Yes." He smiled and pursed his lips. "It was fun."

"You tore them apart like paper dolls," I said, even though I knew he could tear me apart, too, could scatter my limbs like the petals that had lined my wedding altar. "You… broke them."

"Young vampire, you must know the hunger of the beast," he said with a smile that wasn't at all amused. "There are other hungers, for other things, that once awoken cannot rest until they are satisfied."

The whites of the man's eyes glowed red, and there was a hush in the air, like great Power was being summoned. I could practically smell the fear coiling off Damon in large strips.

But I began to grow angry.

Rage boiled in my stomach and shot out through my body. This man had butchered an innocent family and enjoyed it. This was what my new life as a vampire meant – layers and layers of evil, and even more horror and destruction, just when I felt I had reached the very bottom.

"Why?" I demanded, coming forward as far as the bars would let me. "What did they ever do to you?"

"Why?" the beast asked. He leaned forward, mocking my bravado. As he neared, mere centimeters from my face, a sickening stench of old blood and decay swept over me. It was like a thousand years of death and dismemberment followed him around, a trophy from each corpse he was responsible for.

"Recompense." He said each syllable carefully.

"Recompense?" I echoed.

He bared his teeth. "Yes, recompense. For taking Katherine. And destroying any chance to break the curse."

Katherine? What did she have to do with all of this, with this abomination in front of us? With the Sutherlands? And what curse?

I looked over at Damon. She had always shared more details of her life, of being a vampire, with him. But my brother was wide-eyed and gaping like a fish, even more stunned by hearing her name than I was.

I thought about the blissful, ignorant weeks I spent as her slave and lover, never imagining that she would lead me straight into hell.

The man backed up a few steps, including Damon in his foul stare.

"Yes, you understand now," he said, nodding. But we didn't.

"I – " Damon began to speak.

"SILENCE!" the man roared. Suddenly he was pressed up against the bars, a blackened fingernail inches from Damon's throat. "Do you dare deny it?"

With a chilling deliberateness, he pushed an iron bar aside like it was a curtain. The metal screamed in agony. In a flash of darkness he had stepped through, and wrapped a giant hand around each of our throats.

"You took Katherine. I take your new life from you. An eye for an eye, as you people are fond of saying. Right?"

"I… don't know what you're talking about," I said, choking.

The monster threw back his head and laughed.

"Of course you don't." He snapped his head back, suddenly fixing me with his eyes and a sneer on his lips. He didn't believe me. "Katherine never mentioned Klaus?"

Even after her death, Katherine continued to haunt us. I looked over at Damon. There was a pained, heartbroken look on his face. It was gone in an instant, but for that one moment I thought I saw through to my old brother. He was shocked by the fact that Katherine, the love of his life, had been involved with a creature as heartless as the one that stood before us. I felt for him.

Unbidden, half a dozen images of Katherine came to my mind. Her amber eyes that commanded attention. Her long black hair hanging in waves around her neck, as if she had just done something that might have disheveled it. Her tiny waist and mischievous smile. She had been irresistible. And Damon and I weren't the only ones to have felt her pull.

The man tightened his grip on my throat, and I could hear the groaning of vertebrae. In a moment we would be on the floor, our necks snapped as easily as that of the prisoner Damon had killed.

Then suddenly I was free. Damon fell to the ground beside me, also released from the stony grip that held him.

From outside the cell, the monster smiled viciously.

"I will see you two later," he promised.

And then, almost as an afterthought, he used a delicate finger to push the jail bars back into place.

"And remember, I am always watching."