HOURS LATER I was sitting in a chair back in the hospital in Asheville. Jason was in the bed, hooked up to machines and drips, but alive. The doctors said he was going to make it. Hed heal. I knew his body would heal, but I knew enough about violence to know that there were things that doctors couldnt see, and IV drips couldnt help. I sat in the chair, having moved it close enough so that I could hold his hand. The doctors said he was going to be all right; I believed them, but when I felt his hand squeeze mine, then Id really believe it. Was that stupid? Maybe. But I was past caring. I sat in the chair and held his hand, and waited for him to wake up enough to hold my hand back.

I was wearing a borrowed pair of surgical scrubs, because theyd taken my clothes for evidence. I guess I was covered in blood. The techs had even combed pieces of brain and bone out of my hair, apparently. Blowback is a bitch.

Theyd taken all the guns at the scene. Because Id used the fact that I was a federal marshal to make the 911 call, actual federal marshals had come with the rest. Theyd come to rescue me. Theyd come even though I was one of the preternatural branch, and not all the marshals liked us very much. I couldnt blame the ones who were leery of us. For some of us it was more like giving a badge to a bunch of bounty hunters with license to kill. We were a real administrative headache for the marshals. But when I put out the SOS they came. People I didnt know, but who just shared the same badge. Maybe I was just feeling all sentimental because of Jason, but it meant something that they came.

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But it also meant that I was on review for the shooting. I hadnt had a warrant of execution for these vampires, let alone for the human servant Id killed. Heck, they had only my word for it thaTHE was a human servant and not simply human. I had invoked the new Preternatural Endangerment Act. It allowed a vampire executioner to act using deadly force if civilian lives were in imminent danger. The act had come into being after a couple of civilians had died while my fellow preternatural marshals waited on warrants. Id thought it was just asking for civil rights violations, but now I was hiding behind it. Hypocrisy at its best. For at least the next couple of weeks I would be badge-less and gun-less. I wouldnt be allowed to take on any warrants until they reviewed the shooting. They took my official duty piece. That was fine; it wasnt like I didnt have others. I even had carry permits for several of my guns, because Id spent so many years being technically a civilian but needing to carry a gun. It was going to be helpful while they looked over the evidence.

It looked like it would be ruled a clean shot. Theyd found drugs still in my system. They were just impressed that I was able to function with that level of animal tranquilizers in me. I left out the bit about Marmee Noir waking me up. They did ask about the claw marks on my chest. I just said I woke up that way. Truth, as far as it went.

Id asked for and been given a morning-after pill. Theyd offered me a SART exam, Sexual Assault Response Team, and I had declined. When asked why I needed the pill, I replied Id had sex before we were taken but not had a chance to take my pill for that day. Again, truth, as far as it went.

We had a uniformed officer on the door. Id have liked to fetch some of my guns from the hotel safe, but wasnt sure how the other marshals would feel about me carrying when I was supposed to be under review. I felt naked without a weapon, but Id flashed the badge and I had to abide by that. It also meant that the other bodyguards Jean-Claude would have sent to me couldnt come in either. None of them had badges, and some of them had records.

The door opened, and I tensed, my free hand going for a gun that wasnt there. Damn. But it wasnt a bad guy, it was a wheelchair being pushed by a nurse. In the wheelchair was Frank Schuyler, Jasons dad. He had tubes up his nose and an oxygen tank on the back of the chair, and two different IV drips, buTHE was here.

The nurse said, I told you he wont wake up until morning, Mr. Schuyler.

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I had to see him, he said in that deep voice that Jason would never have, and then he looked at me with those cavernous dark eyes. It wasnt exactly a friendly look, more intense. Like so many people when they get whittled down by a disease, he was pared down to nerve endings, emotions, demands. It was there in his eyes, angry eyesno, rage-filled. Angry at his body, maybe? Or angry in general. Whatever the cause, I was okay with it. If he thought hed come in here and yell at me, or Jason, then he was wrong. Oh, he could yell, but Id yell back. I was taking no more shit, and I was definitely making sure that Jason took no more, not from anybody.

Apparently the silence and the staring at each other had gone on long enough to make the nurse nervous. Why dont I take you back to your room?

Push me closer to the bed, damn it. I didnt come all this way just to look at him.

The nurse looked at me, as if for permission, or apology.

If you can behave yourself, you can come closer; if you came here to bitch or yell, you can go, I said.

He glared at me, and then his gaze shifted to my hand holding Jasons. You really are Jasons girlfriend, arent you?

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Yes, I am.

And the fact that Im his father doesnt cut me any slack with you, does it?

Not today it doesnt.

Youd really kick me out of the room. His dying father, out of his only sons room.

If you get nasty, in a heartbeat.

And who decides whats nasty? he asked.

Me.

You, he said.

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Yes, I said, and squeezed Jasons hand a little tighter.

He looked back at the nurse. Push me closer, and leave.

She looked at me again. I nodded. She pushed him closer, but not like she thought it was a good idea. I wasnt sure either, but I wasnt sure it was a bad idea either. I didnt move back, and my chair was moved up so I could hold Jasons hand. The wheelchair was close enough that our legs almost touched. It was almost too close for comfort, too much interpersonal space crossed, but I stayed where I was, and he didnt tell the nurse to move him somewhere else.

He laid his hand on Jasons leg under the covers, then said, Get out, Ill buzz you when I need you.

The nurse gave a look like she wasnt sure she should be doing it, but she left. He waited for the door to hush closed behind us before he spoke. Im sorry I didnt believe that you were his girlfriend.

Me, too.

We sat there in our chairs, me holding Jasons hand, him with his big hand on his sons leg. The room was very quiet, only the whirrs and hush of the monitors on Jason, the faint drip of the various IVs, his and Jasons. It was the kind of quiet that stretches out and makes your hair itch, because you know you need to say something, but nothing comes to mind. This wasnt my father. This wasnt my mess, but somehow I was the one sitting inches away from a dying man while he looked at his injured son.

Youre not like most women, he said.

I actually jumped a little, just from him breaking the silence. What do you mean? I asked. There, that was a good question, make him talk again.

Most women need to talk. They hate silences.

Sometimes, yes, but Im okay with quiet, especially when I dont know what to say.

You dont know what to say to me? he asked, giving me the full weight of those deep-set eyes.

Not really, I said.

He smiled, and squeezed Jasons leg at the same time. But you admit it, most people wouldnt.

I shrugged. Im not most people.

I heard you killed three men to save Jason, he said, and this time he looked at Jason, not at me.

Two vampires and one man, yes.

He looked back at me, when he asked, Does it matter to you that two of them were vampires?

Vampires are harder to kill; it makes the story more impressive.

He almost smiled. You are a strange woman.

Would any other kind be able to keep up with your son?

He looked at Jason then, and a look more tender than anything Id expected to see filled that harsh face. Weve always been too different to get along. I blamed, well, you know what I blamed.

I had no idea whaTHE blamed, but I kept it to myself. I had the sense that I might learn something if I kept quiet.

Why did they do this to Jason? he asked.

He took another beating for Keith Summerland, just like in school.

They did this because they thought Jason was Keith?

Yes.

Why did they want to do this to the Summerland boy?

Apparently, Keith was messing with someone elses wife, and the husband took exception.

Something crossed Frank Schuylers face, some pain that flitted through those dark, hooded eyes. You know, dont you?

I know a lot of things, I said. Youll have to be more specific.

He reached up to Jasons hand, which was still in mine. He hesitated, as if he might put that large hand over both our hands. That seemed disturbing, so I moved my hand. I left Jasons hand empty, and Frank Schuyler wrapped his big hand around Jasons. He held his hand as if they were any father and son. It was a shame that Jason wasnt awake to see it.

Iris and I had separated. My fault, Ive always had a temper. We dated while we were separated like most couples do, and when she got pregnant with Jason, we got back together. He was our reconciliation baby. He held Jasons smaller hand in his large one, and stared down at his son.

A lot of people get back together that way, I said. I wasnt sure where the story was going, but I wanted to hear it.

I thought I finally had a son of my own. I thought thaTHE just looked like Iris, until I saw the Summerland twins. Then I knew, I knew shed been with Summerland.

Have you seen the kids in this town, Mr. Schuyler, most of Jasons friends look like they were chipped off the Summerland block.

He gave me an unfriendly look. I asked Iris, and she didnt deny that shed dated him. The Summerlands were separated at the same time we were. It was a rough year in the town, tempers short. We all got back together because we thought we were going to have children. He rubbed Jasons hand with his fingers.

I realized then that Id been slow. Jason had hinted at it, and there had been other things, but so many of the girls in the wedding had looked just as much like Jason. His mother looked like the Summerlands, for Gods sake.

Jason said you were always mad at him, no matter whaTHE did.

He nodded. Thats fair. It wasnt just thaTHE looked like the twins. He didnt do sports. He danced. He was just so

Not the son you wanted, I finished for him.

He gave me an unfriendly look again; this one had some real anger back in those dark eyes. You have no right to say that.

Maybe it was because I was tired, or because I loved Jason and couldnt understand why his own father didnt love him, but I said what I was thinking, I said it because its true.

He glared at me, and I gave him empty cop eyes back. I was too tired to be angry. Finally, he looked away. Maybe, all right, yes. Every man dreams of what his son will be like. I guess I wanted someone to carry on, and he seemed to be carrying on the Summerland values, not mine. He kept holding Jasons hand while he said it, though.

Jasons values are just fine, I said.

Ive half-hated him all his life, blamed him for not being what I wanted him to be. When I heard heI made them bring me down when he came into emergency. I saw him hurt. He held on to Jasons hand, tight. I didnt think, Theres that Summerland bastard. I thought, Theres my boy, dying. I remembered his first Christmas, and how happy I was. It was before I knew. But when I saw him like that, I thought about him when he was little. I thought about him in the plays and musicals in school. I realized that Ive missed a lifetime with my son. I missed it and he was right here.

I stared at him. It was a Hallmark moment. I didnt trust Hallmark moments; they were usually fake. I watched the first tear glitter down Frank Schuylers face, and had to believe thaTHE meant it. I guess sometimes miracles really do happen.

Then we got our second miracle. Jason said, Dad, in a voice that sounded so weak, so un-Jasonlike, but his eyes were open, and he repeated it. Dad.

Mr. Schuyler held his hand tight and said, Jason, Im here.

I got up to leave them alone. Men need privacy when they finally break down. Jason said, in that weak voice, Anita.

I turned and looked at him. Ill be back.

He managed a very weak smile, then said, Love you.

I smiled. Love you, too. I wasnt sure if the love was for his fathers benefit, to prove his heterosexuality, or if it was simply true. Wed never be each others one and only, but I think we might always be each others now and then. I was okay with that, and so was Jason. What more did we need?

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