* * * * *
A single light burned on the house's ground floor, and as he approached, he extended his senses through the night air. He detected just one presence within, but his control kept him from grimacing with displeasure. Only the human. His primary target was not there, which meant that he would have to find out where he had gone or wait for him to return. Not an unforeseen problem, but one that would take time.
He mounted the porch steps without a betraying creak of board. The front door was locked, of course, but a few seconds with his picks remedied the situation. He pushed the door open and stalked silently inside.
The old woman sat in a pool of dim light; her back was straight in the battered armchair, but her eyes were closed and her hands were limp on the book in her lap. If she had heard him picking her lock, she had apparently paid no attention.
He halted a few feet away from her, keeping his handgun in sight but not aimed. This one was not to be trifled with, he'd been warned. Human or not, she was clever.
"Where's Jon?" he asked, voice cold. The woman did not startle, nor did she open her eyes.
"Jon?" she said, in a quiet, dreamy tone. "He's gone."
For a moment he was puzzled; then he caught the pulse of emotion from her, and understood. Raw grief, its edges only slightly blunted by time; a gaping, essential loneliness. No fear.
"How long ago?"
Her eyes opened at last, cloudy with age and sleep, making her weathered face look even older. "Three months, now." Her hands trembled a moment, then stilled.
She had not focused on him, and he shifted, impatient. "I have business with you too."
The agate eyes slid shut. "Do you?" She sounded as though she were drifting off to sleep.
"We do. Or did you think we had forgotten about you, Lenore Maria Toussaint?"
She opened her eyes again; now they were sharp and clear and filled with a dry humor that he found slightly disturbing. "Never for one moment did I think that, youngling."
He knew what she saw when she looked at him--a young, slender man with hair the color of snow and piercing, icy eyes. She looked him over slowly, taking her time, gaze sliding over the gun without a trace of alarm. Then she sat back a little in the chair. "What is your business with Jon, or with me?"
"I came to eliminate him."
He hoped the stark words would shake her, loosen her strange hold on him. For all his experience, he was beginning to feel at a distinct disadvantage.
"You took your time about it." She shut the book and placed it on the table next to her chair. "We expected you years ago." A low chuckle broke from her, half humor, half sadness. "Jon always said that his kind never die in bed."
"Did he?" he asked involuntarily.
"Actually he was mowing the lawn at the time." She curved her hands over the ends of the armrests and regarded him coolly, for a moment a queen on a throne. He shifted, uncomfortable. He had been raised to respect and obey his elders, and while his hair was silver to her dark-spattered grey, she was decades his senior. He breathed out and reminded himself that she was only human, and doomed.
"I'm surprised, in fact," she went on. "Your intelligence is obviously behind. It's not as though his death were a secret."
He chose not to rise to the bait, instead taking a moment to indulge his curiosity, and searched her face and her feelings for whatever it was that had drawn the deceased Jon from his life's purpose. She returned his gaze without flinching, one corner of her mouth twitching with amusement. Finally he shook his head.
"What were you looking for?" she asked, arching a brow.
"The reason Jon betrayed his species."
She laughed, the sound almost harsh after her rich voice, but without irony. If he had been human, he would have flushed with anger and embarrassment; as it was, his hand tightened on the gun.
The old woman shook her head. "Put your hackles down, youngling. Jon would have laughed at that himself. He changed his mind long before we knew each other. I had nothing to do with it."
He raised a brow in conscious imitation. "Unflattering."
She snorted. "It made no difference to me. But you should have a word with your superiors. They obviously sent you on this task with inadequate data."
"What do you know of my superiors?" he demanded.
"Nothing up-to-date," she returned coolly. "But Jon did tell me a few things, from time to time. I know what you are, and your purpose, and some of the methods you use to achieve your goals."
She offered him the words as though she did not know that they were a death sentence, or as though it didn't matter.
"Who have you told?" he asked, mentally preparing for a longer stay than he had originally planned. Breaking her would call for a real test of his skills, but on the other hand it could also be used as a lesson.
"No one." Her gaze was steady on his. "Who would believe me?"
With a small shock, he realized that she was telling the truth. He almost didn't want to believe it would be that easy, but he had spent years learning to recognize that finality.
"Why did he turn on us, then?"
Her mouth tightened in annoyance. "Oh, give over, boy. Jon didn't betray anyone, he simply stopped participating in your little scheme. He objected to your methods."
He took a step closer, and knew she noticed, though she did nothing. "And you? Do you...object?"
"Don't be stupid. Of course I do." Her eyes flashed at the question.
"Then why have you done nothing to stop us?" The weight of the gun was dragging at his arm.
"What, don't you believe in your own inevitability?" the old woman asked sardonically. Then she sobered.
"All things come to an end," she said, quietly. "If you're the new day then I feel sorry for your children; but there's no fighting time itself, not for long."
Again he felt her sorrow, the mourning for the Other that was gone. But no hint of it showed on her face.
"So. Jon is no longer your problem," she said crisply. "I, however, am. What do you intend to do about me?"
He regarded her for a long moment, an odd reluctance weighing at him. Disgusted, he shook it off.
"I was sent for you too," he told her finally.
There was no surprise in her face, but she chuckled briefly. "You're the unlikeliest angel I'd ever think to see." She gestured at the gun. "Kind of you, to use a silencer. The noise would alarm my neighbors, and they're nice folk."
He stepped up next to the chair, and though she was tall, he felt as though he were looming over her. Age seemed to press her down in her seat, and persistent weariness leaked from her.
She looked up at him, agate eyes still bright. "Answer me a question first."
He paused. "What?"
"What will you do when we are gone? When there's no one left to fight?"
He frowned. "That's not my concern."
The old woman sighed. "No, of course not." She settled back in the chair, closing her eyes.
Once again, her reaction was outside his experience. But it did not keep him from doing what he had come to do.
He left the light burning, and closed the front door gently behind him. The car parked in front of the house had a small form curled up in the front seat, but the boy was not asleep. Light eyes followed him as he swung into the driver's seat.
"That was fast," the child said as he started the engine.
"It's better that way," he replied, and set his foot on the accelerator. "More efficient."
The boy nodded, and the car pulled off into the night.