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"Yeah, he did. But intelligence and goodness don't always go together. Just ask any of my friends," Betsy added with a smile.
"You are too modest, my own."
"He's really got that tall, dark, and mysterious thing down, huh?" Jonas commented. Fred was amazed; it hardly ever took him that long to rejoin a conversation.
"Hey." Betsy pointed at him. "If you're going to be into anyone I know, you're gonna be into my zombie friend. We've talked about this, Jonas!"
"Having found such utter bliss in her own marriage, my queen tirelessly seeks to foist marital bonds on others."
"Do not." Betsy took in the carnage again. "What are we supposed to do with this mess? Tell me nobody could hear the shots from outside."
"No chance." Fred shook her head. "The place is as good as soundproofed. But we should talk about calling a cop. Or something."
"Not at all. Of course my queen and I will attend to this; why should you and yours be further inconvenienced?" Sinclair said it so smoothly, it was obvious he was used to hiding commands inside questions. "The police will be of little help but will inconvenience and/or incarcerate everyone in this room." Another sliver of a smile. "We have schedules to keep. All of you do, I'm sure."
Jonas and Fred looked at each other. "We're breaking the law if we don't," she warned.
"Yep. But Tall, Dark, and Terrifying has a point. What can the cops do except make it more complicated and awful? It won't be the first time we've all agreed to keep something quiet."
Jonas had her there; he was referring to her murdering her father, and a few other things he was too tactful to bring up in front of strangers.
"You have people who can take care of this?"
"You've heard of cleaners? Our cleaners have cleaners. They do great work; they'll treat the NEA right."
"Then . . . I guess we're done." Was it possible? It was too much to hope for.
"Perhaps not quite. Come here, dear." He crooked a finger at Madison and she took a slow step forward. "I cannot pretend to understand the ordeal you have endured, but I can promise-"
"Don't! Please don't spell me." Madison had thrown her arms over her face and backed off. Alarmed, Fred started to go to her but stopped when Jonas grabbed her arm and shook his head. Wait, he mouthed, and she did, but if she had to get between Madison and the guy capable of stealing her mind, she would. The thought of enduring another brain invasion left her cold and shaking, but the thought of standing by and letting Madison endure one was unthinkable.
"Child, I meant no-"
"Of course I want to forget," Madison said to her arms. "I'd give almost anything to forget, and people died! And people I rilly care about almost died because I'm stupid. I'm gonna have bad dreams about tonight forever. About Betsy getting shot and dumped in the tank, and Dr. Ran, and Fred squishing me in the dark so she'd get hurt but not me, and being squished knowing you were all in danger and that it was my fault. And I'll dream about Betsy drinking Ran's blood, too, and you, too, sir, I'm sorry, but I will, I'll have nightmares about you. You're scary." She slowly lowered her arms and gazed up at him. "But I earned those nightmares. We lived through this and it was terrible and those memories are mine. It's-it's not for you to decide it's too much for me."
Whoa. Fred's own eyes were wide; never had she respected Madison so much, nor been so ashamed of her own petty snobbery. Again: Who's the actual idiot, Fredrika?
Sinclair took a courteous step back. He was probably unaware, but it had seemed as if he'd been looming over Madison. "My apologies, child, I only meant to reassure. Of course they're your memories and your dreams; I am not a thief. Pass that on to your lady mother, if you will."
Madison kept darting quick looks at him, then glancing away, then back. Fred realized she'd probably learned Vamp Etiquette 101 from the cradle. "Th-thank you. I didn't mean to say you were a thief. I'm . . . not handling this well. Dr. Bimm will tell you I'm not very-"
Fred shook her head. "Not true, Madison. Not even a little bit true. You're handling this better than me, that's for sure. And it's Fred, dammit."
The younger woman beamed, all fright forgotten. "I'll never forget that you helped me, Dr. Bimm. You would have taken a bullet for me. You squashed me to save me!"
"Sounds awful; don't ever save me, Fred," Jonas said with fervent relief. "Isn't she both heavy and weirdly bony?"
"It's almost like we're rilly, rilly sisters!"
"We are not! Just knowing you is awful. We're friends, and I am horrible to my friends, just so you know."
"She speaks the truth," Jonas added.
Madison beamed. "I know you're exaggerating, just like a real sister would."
"A real sister couldn't be worse, now shush."
"Sisters are worse," Betsy muttered, and Sinclair chuckled. "Don't get me started."
"Yes, I'm sure yours is the embodiment of all evil and despair." Did the vampire queen have to try and one-up her on every little thing?
"Well . . ."
"Shush." Fred was gratified to see Betsy hush. She held out a hand for Betsy to shake. "I'm grateful for what you did. What you both did. We are all, I'm sure." She glanced around; saw Jonas and Madison nod. "Yes, you're terrifying and spend far too much time talking about shoes, and you tend to appear out of nowhere like death in a designer suit, but it's all worth tolerating."
"Awww. I feel all soft and mushy inside now."
"I myself less so. Still, your sentiments are appreciated. Perhaps we could meet again in a more official capacity?"
"You mean an official meeting of Undersea Folk and vampires? Stranger things have happened. Especially tonight. Look, I just want to get home and draw myself a nice bleach bath and scrub myself bloody and then get drunk and have the first of many nightmares about tonight."
"That sounds good to me, too," Jonas announced. "Madison, come home and crash with me. We'll get to whatever's left to square away tomorrow. Barb won't mind."
"Really?" Madison was shyly thrilled. "That'd be-you won't mind?"
"'Course not. After what we've endured? Vampires and Fred and doomsday devices and Fred and Ran and Fred and Skittles attacks and Fred?"
"I hate you both," Fred announced, and saw at once they were unmoved by her pronouncement. "And I'll get back to the hotel and take my bleach bath. But Betsy . . . a personal question? Please?" Even after what she had seen that night, she still couldn't fathom how such a thing could have happened. "How exactly did you get to be queen of the vampires?"
"Aw, it's boring."
"It's a long story, and I come off shrill and bitchy in it."
"So? Pleeeease? I never wheedle. You've got to tell."
"Bottom line, the vamps were ready for a change. And the change was me. Took me a while to see it, though. Anyhoo, they were talkin' 'bout a revolution-"
Fred groaned. "Is that Tracy Chapman? Or The Who? And it's generation, not revolution. If it's The Who."
"Hey, you asked for the gory details; don't cry about it when you get them. So like I was telling you, we-"
"Sinclair; he wasn't insane then, he didn't go insane until a few months ago."
"Responsible pet ownership is not insanity," the king announced in a tone that scared everyone but Betsy, who flicked her hand like what he said was a fly. "Anyway, we decided the old king sucked, got a bunch of rabid vampires to eat him alive, and then had sex in the deep end of a pool and emerged victorious fanged monarchs. To sum up: the king is dead. Long live . . . me."
"Oh," Fred said in a small voice.
That nice smile again and there was the midwestern easy-going blonde who said bar-er instead of bar and hey there, then! for hello and such a deal! for that's a good price. "You asked," the nice blonde killer reminded her.
"Only the really bad guys died."
"Then I guess it worked out."
"Oh, it did. Aren't you glad for me, Fred?"
"You don't look glad," she teased.
"You're a little terrifying sometimes."
Betsy laughed. "You'd be amazed how often I hear that these days!"
"I wouldn't, actually."
"We just . . . left them."
"Yeah," Jonas said.
"We knew what they would do. They're vampires, for God's sake. And we just left them there. To be eaten-the two still alive." Fred took a breath, forced it out. "To be killed."
"It's bad that I don't mind more," Fred worried. "I know I should feel shitty. I should be wringing my hands and wishing we'd put a stop to it. But I can't make myself get upset over it. They shot Betsy-they had no idea she'd get up again. They were going to kill all of us. And then all the Undersea Folk. I'm-I'm glad they're getting eaten!"
"So we're on the same page."
"We're going to hell," Fred predicted with a sigh.
Jonas slung an arm across her shoulders. His other arm was around Madison, who was so tired she was almost sleepwalking. Occasionally he'd steer her around a post or street light. "At least you'll be burning for eternity with people you know," he teased. "And at least you've seen the last of the vampire queen. Unless you decide it's time to bridge the gap between the Folk and the undead."
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