2,597
22.12.2018

FORTY-FIVE

"Aw, dammit! That bitch got the last word!"

I sat up, shivering, then realized why I was cold all over. That heartless ice-bitch twat had dumped me in the snow in my own front yard … practically the same path I'd walked when I left to bury Giselle and this whole weird thing started. (Note to self: get the dead cat away from Marc and properly inter the thing.)

Okay, I was cold, but I was home, and whole, even! And the devil was dead, and Sinclair was safe. Probably. Ooh, but he was gonna be pissed. I'd have to figure out how to spin this.

It's not so much that I manipulated the devil into bringing me to hell so I could kill her while keeping you out of danger, sweetie, it's more like we were playing a life-or-death session of Truth or Dare. Naw, he'd never buy it. I had no idea when I practically forced her to leave our bedroom and bring me to hell that things would get even more violent! Honest! Nope. Um…

I squinted at the mansion … the sun was starting to set behind it, so it had to be around 4:30 in the afternoon. How long had I been in hell? And why hadn't any of my eighteen roomies noticed I'd been tossed ass over teakettle on the front lawn? Where was-

"Betsy! Hey!" Marc the Zombie had thrown open the front door. "Jeez, where've you been? We've been looking all over, we've all been freaking ou-"

Then he was shoved aside and went sprawling almost all the way to the edge of the porch, and Sinclair was galloping down the porch steps, suit jacket flapping as he raced to me.

"Oh, Elizabeth." My normally graceful husband slipped and skidded to his knees, then seized my hand in a grip that made it go instantly numb. I could feel the little bones in my hand grinding together and gritted my teeth; from the expression on his face, he had no idea he was hurting me. "Oh, my dearest queen."

"What? I'm fine. Are you okay? I'm okay. Would you believe it was all sort of my plan? Sort of? Don't be mad, okay?"

"How did you do it? How?"

Okay, he was being lovier and dovier than usual. "What are you doing? Are you sick? Is there a huge pain in your left arm radiating to your black, black heart?"

His shoulders were shaking. He was shaking … trembling all over. Could vampires suddenly develop epilepsy? Was he cracking up from extreme horniness since we hadn't had sex in almost a week?

"Yeesh, it's not like we'll never have sex again, it's only been a few days. Get ahold of yourself. Man up."

"How did you ever do it?" He was still on his knees as I climbed out of the snow and to my feet, looking up at me and not letting go of my other hand. "And how will I ever be able to show the depths of my joy and love and admiration?"

"Try Hallmark. Will you get up? You're ruining those slacks." This was all very alarming. I didn't like it at all. What the hell was wrong? Things should be fine, what was wrong?

His dark gaze was boring into me, his eyes suddenly enormous in his pale face. His hands shook and he was staring up at me from his knees in a way that both touched and frightened me. "Please, Sink Lair, you're scaring the shit out of me. I'm kind of missing my way-too-arrogant annoying husband who I occasionally feel like kicking in the balls. Please get up."

"I loved you before you did this. I would have thought it an impossibility to love you more."

"Eric, you're-"

"Shut up, darling."

I shut up.

"I would have died for you before this," he told me while kneeling on our lawn. "Now I want to die for you, and would right now, just so I could show even the smallest measure of my gratitude. And you, my love, my own, you don't think you did anything spectacular. You never think you've done anything spectacular." He laughed, a deep rolling laugh that didn't go at all with the on-his-knees all-hail-the-queen thing. "It's one of the few things you are truly stupid about."

"Well, thanks tons, jerk. Can I list a few of the things you're truly stupid about? Thing number one: not knowing that crouching in snow will wreck your suit. Thing number two: the way you sneak into the kitchen and hog the last of the strawberries for an emergency four a.m. smoothie and think I don't hear your furtive rustling. Thing number-wait."

I finally caught on, and couldn't believe it had taken me all these seconds to put it together. (Don't judge. I had a lot on my mind. Also, I'd nearly been beaten to death an hour ago. Or a day ago.) The sun was setting, not set. It was late afternoon. It was not full dark.

In other words, the sun was shining on my favorite vampire! Even better, he wasn't bursting into flames. My husband hadn't been able to truly see and feel sunshine for decades; he had said good-bye to the big blazing ball of gas for good when he let Tina kill him. Before I loved him, he had allowed himself to be burned alive for love of me. And he had always indicated to me that he felt it was a fair trade.

No. This was a fair trade.

"The wish! It worked!" Damn! She'd pulled it off. I was impressed. And terrified. God, she'd had so much power, what would I have done if she hadn't wanted to finally die? "Okay. I can explain. The thing is, Satan owed me a favor, and this is what I came up with." Good-bye forever, Christian Louboutin Volpi Leather Knotted Peep-Toes. Sinclair must never know what I had to give up. Some things were too terrible to tell. "Okay, but wait … how did you know you could run out here in the snow and the sun? Did you-aw, man." I shook my head. My husband disliked being on fire. But he disliked worrying about me even more. It wasn't the first time he'd charged, heedless, into sunshine to save me. To think he needed to charge into sunlight to save me. "Say it with me, Sinclair: don't go into the light. Do not. Except now you can. Okay, but that doesn't mean those times you did and got fricasseed were a good idea." Wait. Fricasseed was when chunks of meat were cut up and cooked in gravy. (Thank you, Food Network!) "Roasted. It doesn't mean those times you got roasted were a good idea, is what I meant." Like Jim Gaffigan, the Food Network was now my porn. My wonderful fricassee-filled porn. In life I had never once been sexually aroused watching Ina Garten whip up turkey lasagna.

With an effort, I tried to focus on the here and now. Sinclair wasn't on fire. That was huge! And all I had to do was not wish for Louboutin's parents to conceive him. All I had to do was say so long to his Rodarte shoes, his peep-toe pumps, his signature red soles … oh, Christian … forgive me…

But still and all: more than fair. A bargain, I figured.

"A favor? From the devil?" He sobered instantly. "And what will it cost, my queen?"

I smiled at him. I was ankle-deep in snow, and only a couple of inches away from yellow snow (stupid roaming neighborhood dogs who don't respect my territory!). My sister was either going to kill me or … no, she was probably going to try to kill me. My good friend was a zombie. My best friend was growing another person to love. The devil was dead; long live the devil.

All those things … and I couldn't stop grinning like a chimp. That was something else I was truly stupid about, I figured … I tended to ignore the big problems in favor of individual victories.

"Oh, Elizabeth." He was shaking his head, and a small breeze kicked up and ruffled his dark hair, and some of it fell into his eyes. I reached out to straighten it, when he grasped my wrist and planted a kiss in the middle of my palm. "What did you give up to bring this about? What might you still have to do to repay?"

I shrugged, still smiling. "This is the part where you ask me if I give a tin shit."

"Elizabeth. Tell me truly: What have you done?"

"Exactly what I had to. Every step of the way."

Sinclair narrowed his eyes at me. No, wait, he was squinting in the late sunshine. No … he was definitely narrowing his eyes at me. "That wouldn't be another quote from that awful Sin City movie, would it?"

"Frank Miller is a living god! It isn't awful!" I tried to calm myself. We were never going to see eye to eye on the purely awesome graphic novels of Frank "Living God" Miller. "Okay, well, I killed the devil. But it's okay; she was pretty sick of still being alive and always in charge of hell. Oh, and Decrepit Me helped by keeping Laura out of it until it was too late. Also, Laura's mega-pissed at me now. That could be a problem for us later."

Sinclair shook his head, not in denial, I knew, but because it was a lot to take in. "I do not-all right, beloved, you can take me through it-and that explains what happened to the Book of the Dead."

"Oh, man." It had started talking? It had started walking? It had applied for several credit cards in my name to wreck my credit rating? The horror. "Tell me."

"Nothing bad," he was quick to assure, "only mysterious. I went to the library to look at it. I was willing to risk a little insanity if it meant I could help you-"

I restrained myself from punching him in the nose. "Are you insane, Sink Lair? Oh. Wait…"

"It was gone," he finished, which startled me into shutting up. "I assumed your sister … except if you have slain the devil … which I will insist you elaborate on some time later…"

"Right, Satan's dead now." I was figuring this out even as I said it. My vague plan formed in the eleventh hour in a panicked moment of extreme stress was sounding more and more … what? Why couldn't I put my finger on the right word? What was the opposite of disaster? "So she won't ever help Ancient Me in a hundred little ways over the next few hundred years. So the BoD won't ever be. Right? That's probably right." Although…

Laura would be the new and improved Satan. I was pretty sure God wasn't going to like that job slot staying open, and she was the only person on the planet qualified to take over. But no matter how pissed the Antichrist was, I couldn't see her grabbing Sinclair, keeping him in hell for decades and ultimately skinning him so I could write my frigging memoirs on him. "But why do you remember it? Right? That's right, isn't it … that you shouldn't remember there even was the BoD because the timeline changed again." Ow. Thinking this hard made my frontal lobe throb.

"Future Elizabeth's timeline changed," he pointed out. "We are in our present, remember. It makes sense that we would remember something that no longer exists."

"You hear yourself, right? 'It makes sense'? 'No longer exists'?"

He tilted his head to the side in acknowledgment. "A good point. As much as any of this insanity makes sense, I should say. But your older self, she will return-has returned?-to an entirely different future, I suspect. I imagine that is why she lingered here at all."

"I don't want to talk about that withered skank. And also, I don't get it," I admitted. "Not any of it." Hate time travel. Hate it. "But the BoD being gone, that's the best news I've heard in days." Now if only America would cancel Thanksgiving, my life would be perfect. As perfect a life without Louboutin shoes could be.

"Then I heard you in the yard and-and-" Bemused, he shook his head. "I just ran for the door. I did not consider the fact that it was still daylight."

"Awww. That was so stupid. Sweet! I meant to say 'sweet'."

He arched an eyebrow at me as the corners of his mouth turned up in a wry smile. "Yes, perhaps. It would not be the first time I acted before thought where you were involved, and as long as you are running around in the universe, it will not be the last."

"Don't blame me for your poor impulse control."

"I was worried you had done something more destructive than usual. And then I…" He tilted his head back to look at the sky. He spread his arms like a dark angel in a slick black suit. "… and then I did not burn. And here you were. And Lucifer is dead by your hand." He smiled at me, which warmed me (good thing, too; we were having this long long conversation in a snow bank), but his face had an expression I was beginning to see more and more. A big helping of pride, mixed with astonishment and a dash of fear. Bake in the fires of hell until done. "I am relieved you are safe. And astonished that you have done all this and lived to walk away from it."

"Is this the part where you talk a long time about how awesome I am?"

"No. This is the part where we make love in a snowbank."

Yeesh … one of those things that sounded good on paper but was hideous in actual execution (like communism). I couldn't get frostbite or slowly freeze to death (like poor Kurt Russell in The Thing), but I could get cold(er) and my clothes could get clammy and damp and my hair could get a ton of (yellow) snow in it and I could wreck my boots, my awesome leather pointy boots that had gouged chunks of flesh out of Satan's shins before she let me kill her.

"Can't we just make a couple of snow angels and then find a hot tub to bang in and call it a day?"

"Your powers of persuasion are as potent as ever," he replied, straight-faced, and then let loose with another one of those long deep laughs I loved loved loved. "I shall accede to your demands."

"Have I told you, you've really got a way with the syrupy love talk. My knees went weak the moment you said 'accede to your demands.' You had me at 'accede'! 'Accede to your demands,' cripes, what are you, a strike negotiator?"

From experience he knew to ignore my shrill bitching, and hugged me hard enough to make my ribs groan (no, wait-that was me groaning), while he lifted me a good half foot off the snow. "My love. My love. My love." His mouth covered mine, his teeth gently nibbled at my lower lip, and then I wasn't cold anymore. If anything, it felt like I was coming down with a fever. A sex fever!

Note to me: never say "sex fever" out loud, because it will sound even lamer than it did in my head just now.

"Er … what was that? I didn't quite catch that one."

"Never mind."

"Oh, Elizabeth. I love you and I'm frightened for you and awed by you and I cannot believe you let a tactical advantage like that go by, that you squandered a favor, a wish, as if the devil were a genie you conjured, wasted it on-"

"Unless you want to spend the day finding a divorce lawyer, never finish that sentence. Sink Lair, get it through your head already: I'd do anything for you. I'd squander anything for you. And again with the seductive wordplay: squander."

"Darling?"

"Don't set me down unless you move me half a foot to my right! I don't want to go in the yellow snow."

"Darling, shut the fuck up and kiss me back."

So I did. I knew I shouldn't reward his ordering me around by giving him kisses and probably a blowjob (if we went inside … there are some things a girl shouldn't do on her front lawn), but I did, anyway.

It's not my fault! When I wasn't squashing the urge to kick him in the shins, I thought he was irresistible. Sometimes I wanted to kick him and I found him irresistible; how was that for a mixed signal?

It was amazing to me; it had always been amazing that he thought I was, too. I prayed I never got so jaded that I could shrug off the depth of his feeling, the astonishing scope of his fierce devotion.

It seemed to me that if I ever started taking the love of a king for granted, it would be like losing my grip on basic humanity. If I couldn't be surprised and touched and overwhelmed by love, what was the point of any of this?

He scooped me up in his arms and tramped through the snow toward our front door. "What? No snow angels? Right to the hot-tub banging, huh?"

"Oh, there are angels, all right," he replied soberly. "And I am fortunate to be married to one."

"Oh, boy! Comments like that will not get you laid, they will get you laughed at. Except for today, when they get you both. Let that be a lesson to you."

That made him laugh again, and that got me laughing, and then he was staggering through the snow and I was clinging to his neck and we didn't see the porch railing until he'd run into it hard enough to rattle my teeth and send us both sprawling like a couple of bowling pins.

We were still rolling around on the porch and roaring and holding our stomachs when Jessica opened the door and stared down at us. From our vantage, all we could see was the curving bulge of her enormous stomach and then, far, far above the curve, her small face, creased with surprise. (Marc, I assume, had figured I was fine and limped back inside. Mental note: Apologize on Sinclair's behalf. Explain everything. Beg pregnant/zombie friends for forgiveness. Rinse. Repeat.) She didn't say a thing for a few seconds, which we found even more hilarious.

"Hi, guys. Marc's sulking with a huge bump on his forehead and says you can both get frostbite on your 'nethers' for all he cares. So … do you want me to let you back in when you're finished?"