Darkness surrounded Julia. It wasn’t a comfortable darkness like that of sleep just before waking. Instead it was a prickly, uncomfortable darkness with lower depths. Depths that there would be no coming back from if she slipped down into them.
She floated in isolation. Was this death? The thought swam up to the surface of her mind, and she pondered it for a while. All her pain was gone. Nothing lingered from the beating McCoy had dished out, nothing at all. There wasn’t even a leftover ache waiting for her to wake up, like an over-eager extra in the wings. Worse. Her heart wasn’t beating. At all. There was no comforting beat filling the darkness around her as it had all her life.
She was dead.
The darkness pressed closer. It was cold. Dark and empty. Devoid of everything.
Apart from her.
So…if she was dead, how was she thinking? How could she think? Dead things were dead. They couldn’t think.
Her eyes opened wide, seeing nothing but seeing everything at the same time. She was dead. But dead didn’t mean dead, not always. Dead could mean SARA. Like Brett. Like Fredericks, and Dom and even bat-shit crazy Kelwood.
Dead could mean deadly.
She was dead, but how did she unlock that state and turn it into un-dead?
How did she level up?
Reaching deep inside, she looked for clues. Her heart was still, but energy vibrated through her muscles. An eager energy, as though it was rooting for her, cheering her on and urging her to work out the puzzle. She went deeper, travelling through every part of herself until she reached a quiet void within. Nothingness emanated out from it in waves. She frowned. What was it? Why had she never noticed it before?
Reaching out, she touched it and everything hit her at once. Pain and the sound of McCoy’s ranting hit her like a freight train.
“You fucking bitch! I’m a god. No one questions a god!” The silk sheets under her were slippery with blood as he continued to rant and hit her. Each blow fell, but the pain ebbed away as though it was nothing. New power surged through her veins, but she held it in check. With the power came something else. Her cells vibrated, surging with energy to heal her from within.
“Captain….” Anderson protested. “She’s gone. There’s no heartbeat. She’s dead.”
Crack. Another blow rocked her head around on her neck and she let it, keeping her eyes almost closed. Through the thin gap she watched as McCoy sat back, and the red faded from his eyes.
“She questioned me. Me! Can you believe that?” He panted, still looking down at her. His heart thundered in his chest, so loud it almost deafened her. “No one questions me. Not me.”
“No, sir. I can’t believe that.” Anderson’s voice was muted, as though he turned away. Listening to her instincts, she cast out her senses to catch all the vibrations in the room. There, behind Anderson, was Kathy creeping up on him. Julia cast wider, quickly. In the corridor were more Bloods, their slow heartbeats giving them away, but deep within the building there were softer vibrations she recognized.
The SARAs had arrived.
The shit was about to hit the fan.
“Well then.” She snapped her bonds and reached out to grab McCoy around the neck in a lightning fast move that took the Blood leader by surprise. “You’re about to be in for a world of disappointment, aren’t you?”
His eyes widened, almost bugging out of his head. She tightened her grip and he made a choking sound. His blood surged through his veins, the soft vibration a sensual caress against her palm. The energy contained within it was an alluring call to her new nature.
Hunger hit her broadside. An overwhelming tide of ravenous need. He wasn’t a person, not anymore. He was prey. He had become food, and her mouth watered. Her claw-tipped fingers dug into the side of his neck. She could rip him apart like a rag doll. Thick lines of black blood ran down the sides like someone had scribbled on his skin with a marker pen.
She grinned, thrilled at the power running through her. Life or death. McCoy’s life or death. She held it in her hands, feeling like a gladiator on the arena sands awaiting a decision from the crowd over whether her victim should live or die. But there was no crowd, just her own conscience and the cold, empty space where her soul had been.
Her grip tightened again and the blood vessels in the corner of McCoy’s eyes started to burst one by one in a scarlet display. She could crush the life out of him. Now. Should. Wanted to. Needed to. The urge to crush his throat into a bloody pulp, then lick it off her fingers like a gooey treat, almost overwhelmed her.
She gasped as her thoughts took her to a dark, scary place. Bile rose in her throat at the images the hunger fed her. She wasn’t an animal. Wasn’t a monster. Was this how Brett felt? Did he have to deal with thoughts and needs like this? Was this why he said he was a monster?
Her grip loosened a little, and her distraction allowed McCoy to break away with a bellow. Her claws left deep furrows in the sides of his throat, black blood coating her fingers. He fell onto the sheets, backpedalling so furiously to get away from her that he fell off the end of the bed with a thud.
“Kill her!” He screamed as the door burst inward and Bloods poured into the room. “She’s one of them. Kill her!”
Three Bloods leapt onto the bed, matching snarls on their faces. The first lashed out at her, claws slicing the air where she had been a mere moment before. But she wasn’t there any longer, skittering sideways in a move that made all three Bloods stop in shock.
The one nearest to her blinked as she opened her hand. In it she held a bloody gobbet of flesh that had once been his throat. He wheezed through his ruined windpipe. It might have been a scream. Hard to tell when his voice-box was sitting somewhere amongst the mess in her hand. His hands fluttered around his shoulders, as though he were afraid to touch as prove to himself what he was seeing was reality.
“Shit! She’s a SARA!” the one to the left yelled, then ducked as she threw the bloody lump of throat at him.
She grinned, easily scenting their fear and owning her new state of being. She wasn’t a Blood, not anymore. She was something else entirely.
“Just kill her!” McCoy screamed from somewhere behind the bed, his bellow almost drowned out by Anderson’s shouts as he battled Kathy further down the room.
Julia cast them a glance and nodded in respect. For a short, mostly-playing-with-the-fairies lady, she sure was handing Anderson his ass on a plate. The big sergeant bled from several wounds as the diminutive female danced around him, her claws slashing and stabbing in a frenzy of movement. Perhaps there was something to be said for crazy-fu.
“Kill her!” McCoy’s frenzied screams caught her attention again and she skittered to the back of the bed, then grabbed the gauze drapes around it to haul herself up. She’d expected the thing to rip under her weight, but the energy of the movement sprang her up into the air, flipping her over to land against the wall by one of the massive banners. Cool. Super spider powers as well; could today get any weirder?
Her higher vantage point came with advantages. Namely an over-view of the battlefield. Kathy had finished with Anderson, the sergeant's cooling body hanging wrapped in a blood-soaked banner. It swung gently back and forth as Kathy crept up behind McCoy.
“You’re dead, McCoy,” she shouted to distract him and slashed at a Blood trying to climb the banner. Kathy leapt, wrapping her arms and legs around her tormentor and burying her fangs deep in his throat. She didn’t drink though. Instead, she tore a chunk away from the side. McCoy screamed as she spat it out and struck again, dropping him to his knees. They rolled out of sight by the bed.
“SARAs!” The new Bloods through the door shouted in warning.
“We know!” The ones climbing the walls to get to her shouted back, exasperation in their voices. She traded blows with them, holding her position with ease. Almost like her center of gravity had shifted to the wall. There were four climbing around her, but she was easily holding them off.
“No! Out here. More of them.” The sounds of fighting coming from the doorway intensified, and Julia took a moment to cast a glance that way. The four SARAs had broken through the line of Bloods, leaving mangled victims in their wake.
Brett looked up just at the right moment and caught her eye. “You okay, sweetpea?” he asked, ripping the arm off a Blood trying to get past him as casually as a cruel child would pull the legs off a spider. “Need some help?”
She hammered three blows into the face of her nearest opponent, shattering his nose and driving it back into his brain. His eye popped and leaked all down his cheek in the split second before he dropped like a stone, taking out another Blood on the way down. She grimaced. Leaky eyeballs. That was kind of gross. Real ick factor.
“Nah, thanks. Think I’ve got this,” she shot back, wrapping her arm in the banner and dropping to plant both feet in the chest of another blood. His ribs cracked under the force of the blow. “But check your six.”
Knowing they had the upper hand gave her a new burst of energy, and before long the broken bodies of her enemies lay littered on the floor beneath her. In an almost lazy movement, she used the banner as a zip-wire and landed lightly on the bed. Across the room, the SARAs were also surrounded by bodies, and her senses told her none of them had survived. In fact, she could only pick up two heartbeats in the room. Her own was not among them.
She turned toward them and gasped. McCoy stood halfway down the carpet, Kathy in front of him. McCoy’s black blood covered them both, and the horrendous wound in the side of his throat oozed sluggishly. His eyes burned bright red.
“You thought you could win? Ha!” he barked. “No. I will always win. Always!”
Kathy jerked, a scream on her lips that died down to a horrible rattle. A small black spot appeared on her dress in the center of her chest and rapidly grew. Horror filled Julia as the woman shuddered again, and with a splintering sound, McCoy’s hand burst out of her chest.
In it, he held her heart. It beat once, in his hand, then stilled for good. Her eyes fluttered closed and she slumped. Dead.
Stunned silence reigned for a second, then everything happened at once. McCoy dropped Kathy and disappeared into the darkness as Kelwood screamed. He raced across the distance to gather his stricken wife into his arms. The sobs he made tore at Julia’s heart.
“Look after them,” Fredericks ordered Brett, including Julia in the wave of his hand before he and Dom took off into the darkness after the Blood.
“Shit,” Brett’s voice was low as Kelwood rocked the body of his wife. Julia caught Brett’s eye and he nodded, confirming what she already knew. Kathy was gone, all the life energy leeching from her body as they watched.
“I’m so sorry, my love.” Kelwood’s voice was broken, thick with tears as he held his wife’s body close to his chest. “I should have gotten here sooner.”
Julia knelt beside him, reaching out to put a hand on his shoulder. He flinched, evidence of how distraught he was. “She was a hero, Jared,” she said, keeping her voice soft. “She wasn’t one of them. She was fighting against them.”
He nodded, head bowed. Tears dripped from his concealed face and landed on Kathy’s arm, running down the cooling skin.
“The conversion, it had done something to her, to all of them apparently. But she was fighting it. The madness, I mean.”
“You’re not mad.” Jared looked up, and speared her with a hard look. The heartbreak in his eyes was hard to bear.
She swallowed, hard, past the thickness in her own throat. Brett’s hands dropped onto her shoulders, squeezing in a reassurance she appreciated. “No, I’m not. But I wasn’t fed on their blood, I was fed SARA blood instead.”
“Perhaps that made the difference,” Brett broke in. “If they converted them with BD infected blood, that would be like interbreeding, surely?”
“Whatever it was…she was fighting it.” Julia searched Jared’s face, hoping to provide even a little reassurance. “She was fighting them, from the inside. Helping us. Possibly helping other women like me to escape. She wasn’t a Blood, Jared, she was something else. Something better.…”
She let her words trail off. Jared didn’t need her opinion. He needed his wife, and thanks to McCoy, that wasn’t going to happen. Not ever again.
“She was better. Better than a Blood.”
Slowly Jared got to his feet, his wife still in his arms. When he looked at them, it was like something had died in his eyes. Julia drew closer to Jared, real fear dancing a delicate two-step down her spine. She’d thought McCoy in his madness was scary, but the lack of expression, emotion…lack of anything, in Jared’s eyes was far worse.
“I need to take care of her.” He looked at Brett. “Tell Evan not to come looking for me. I’ll find you when I’m ready.” He looked down at Kathy, her face soft as though she were sleeping, and his features twisted. “If I’m ready.”
Julia and Brett stood back, letting Jared walk past them with a respectful silence. There was nothing further they could do for him, so they didn’t try and get in his way. Just watched him as he picked his way through the bodies and disappeared through the door.
“Poor guy,” Brett murmured as Julia turned to him. Their eyes met and it was like the floodgates opened. Within half a second she was in his arms. Within another, his lips crashed down on hers in a hot, hard and almost bruising kiss.
“God, Julia,” he gasped as he broke away. His hands brushed her hair away from her face, then buried themselves in the loose locks. His gaze bored into hers. Pain, worry, fear…they were all there and then some. “I thought I’d lost you. Don’t you ever do that to me again…. Do you hear me?”
She couldn’t help it. Despite the seriousness of the situation, and the bodies littering the floor around them, her lips quirked. “What, you mean get kidnapped by homicidal vampires? Then kick their asses?”
He blinked, then grinned a little. “Yeah, you did kick ass there. I’m proud of you.” His smile broadened, his eyes twinkling for a second before he dropped serious. “Are you hurt? Did they…do anything to you?”
Reaching up, she smoothed away the worry lines that were trying to form on his face. “He tried. Then I pissed him off and he killed me.”
Brett nodded, then frowned. “Wait. What? He killed you?”
She nodded, hiding her smile at his confusion. It was understandable. She hadn’t been able to work it out herself at first. Taking his hand she placed it over her heart. His eyes widened.
“No heartbeat. At all.” Turning her around to the light, he looked deep into her eyes. “Fuck me. You’re a hybrid. Thank fuck…. If you’d been just a Blood, he’d have killed you like…like Kathy.”
The mention of the dead woman chilled the mood for the moment, but nothing could chill her relief at being in his arms again.
“I am?” She crowded closer and grazed her lips over his. Relief that he’d found her, that they’d survived the battle suddenly hit her, and she needed to touch him. Needed to know he was okay. “Tell me about that later. Right now, just kiss me.”
He pulled her closer, his lips whispering against hers. “Your wish is my command, sweetpea. Forever. If you’ll have me.”
She pulled back for a moment to look into his eyes. “Well, that depends. I’m a commitment sort of girl. Are you asking me to marry you?”
His eyes didn’t leave hers, his expression didn’t flicker. “Sweetpea, if a church would have us, I’d marry you in a heartbeat. Today. Tomorrow. Now. Just say the word and I’m yours.”
She reached up on tiptoes and pressed her lips against his, giving him her answer in the most definite way she knew how. He made a small growl in the back of his throat and hauled her closer, turning the soft brush into something harder and heavier. The heavy slam of his heart starting gave her a second’s warning before his cock pressed insistently against her stomach.
“Oh, for fucks sake. Here? Seriously? There’s freaking blood and everything on the floor.”
Dom’s voice broke through their sensual haze and she broke away to look over her shoulder. Dom grinned back at her. Which would have been a reassuring sight if his face and shoulder hadn’t been splattered in fresh, black blood.
“Yeah, and bodies. We should have a word with housekeeping.” Brett chuckled, then his voice hardened. “McCoy?”
“Evan went after him. Last I saw, the sneaky bastard had jumped out the window. Evan followed him. I went after a couple more, found the women.”
The sudden flat tone made Julia still.
“The women?” Brett asked.
Dom gave a small shake of his head. “Got there too late. They had an exit plan. Think they took a couple, but the rest….” He trailed off, and suddenly Julia didn’t want to ask where the new blood had come from. “Damage was too great. Couldn’t save them.”
“Fuck!” Brett reared back, letting go of her to run his hands through his close-cropped hair. His distress vibrated through the room. “What kind of fucking animals are they?”
“They’re Bloods,” Dom said flatly, then flicked a glance at Julia. “No offense meant.”
“None taken.” She shrugged. “Apparently I’m not a Blood anymore. Which suits me just fine. They’re all assholes anyway.”
In that lightning fast movement they were all capable of, Dom was suddenly in front of her, but this time she could track his movement. He reached up to put a finger under her chin, but Brett’s low growl warned him off.
“Okay, man.” Dom held his hands up and out in surrender. “Not touching, honest.”
She lifted her head to meet his gaze, letting him look into her eyes. His quick intake of breath and the look of surprise that filtered over his features matched Brett’s earlier.
She arched her eyebrow. “Is someone going to explain what a hybrid is and why it’s so bad?”
“It’s not bad at all,” Fredericks said, moving out of the darkness further down the room. He was alone and bore new wounds. McCoy, or his body, was notably absent. He walked to stand next to Dom and studied her features. “You have a pale circle within the black of your eyes. It’s specific to a person infected with two types of virus. Doesn’t happen often; mostly being infected twice has no effect or kills the subject. If it doesn’t, then a hybrid is created.”
Dom nodded. “Only ever seen Lycan/Blood crosses, and they’re scary enough. Never seen a SARA/Blood cross.” He nodded to the carnage around the bed. “But I’d say that makes you the scariest of them all.”
Her lips quirked. “Mirror, mirror and all that.”
Dom snorted in amusement, but his gaze strayed to Evan. “McCoy?”
The SARA leader shook his head, irritation sparkling in his eyes. “Fucker got away. Car was there to pick him up. They’re definitely still with the Project.”
“Still?” Brett moved to her side, tucking her protectively under his arm. Not that she needed the protection, not after what they’d just been through, but the little gesture warmed her heart.
“So what was this? A backup plan if the base got hit?”
Fredericks nodded, holding out the laptop he was carrying to Dom. “Looks like it. I managed to get this off McCoy before the cavalry arrived. Given he was hugging it like it was his first-born, I’d say there’s something in there we can use to track them down.”
Dom took the laptop, turning it over in his big hands and opening it. His expression was serious, professional. “Not a problem. If there’s anything on here, I’ll find it.”
“Good. I presume Jared already left?” Evan asked quietly.
“Yes.” This time it was Julia who spoke. “He needed time to look after Kathy. He’ll be back when he’s ready.”
“Very good. I’m sure he will.” Evan didn’t argue with her, instead looking around their small group. “Well, gentlemen, and lady. How about we get our asses out of here. Places to see, Bloods to track down and all that. Shall we?”
As they walked out, Julia looked around the room with its gore and sighed in… happiness? No, contentment. This was her world now, and she felt a sense of rightness, of fitting in, that she’d never felt anywhere else. She snuck a glance up at Brett. Her life had definitely not been a fairy-story, but it had been hers and it was unique.
She’d been kidnapped. Turned into a vampire. Then something else.
Figured her Prince Charming would be a zombie.
And she wouldn’t have it any other way.