"Micah, I still have feelings for Richard, but he dumped me. He dumped me because I'm more comfortable with the monsters than he is. He dumped me because I'm too bloodthirsty for him. He dumped me because I'm not the person he wants me to be. I will never be the person he wants me to be."
"Richard will never be the person he wants himself to be," Micah said, softly.
I sighed. It was true. Richard wanted, more than anything else, to be human. He didn't want to be a monster. He wanted to be a junior high science teacher, marry a nice girl, settle down, have 2.5 children, and maybe a dog. He was a science teacher, but the rest . . . Richard was like me, he would never have a normal life. I had accepted that, but he was still fighting. Fighting to be human, fighting to be ordinary, fighting not to love me. He'd succeeded on that last.
"If Richard comes back to me, it won't be for good. He'll come back because he can't help himself, but he hates himself too much to love anyone else."
"That's harsh," he said.
"But true," I said.
Micah didn't argue with me. He didn't when he knew he was wrong, or knew I was right. Richard would have argued. Richard always argued. Richard seemed to believe that if he pretended the world was a nicer place than it really was, that that would change the world. It didn't. The world was what it was. And no amount of anger, or hatred, or self-loathing, or stubborn blindness would change it.
Maybe Richard would learn to accept himself, but I was beginning to believe that he would learn that lesson without me in his life.
I hugged Micah's arms around me like a warm coat, but I was tired now, achingly tired. If Richard knocked on the door today, and asked to come back, what would I do? Truthfully, I didn't know. But one thing I knew, Richard wouldn't let me feed the ardeuroff of him. He thought it was monstrous. And he wouldn't share me physically with anyone but Jean-Claude. Even if he wanted to come back, unless he'd let me feed the ardeuroff of others, it wouldn't work. Pure practicality. The ardeurhad to be fed. Richard wouldn't feed it. Richard wouldn't let me feed it off of anyone but Jean-Claude. Jean-Claude alone couldn't sustain my appetite. Hell, Micah, Jean-Claude, and Nathaniel together weren't sustaining it. If Richard came back today, what would I do, offer him one-third of my bed, on the other side from Micah?
Richard had consented to dating me at the same time I dated Jean-Claude, but never to sharing a bed with him and me at the same time. Richard would try to go back to what we had. I couldn't do that.
What would I do if Richard knocked on the door right now? Offer to let him join us in the bathtub, watch his face show all the hurt and rage, watch him stomp out again. What would I do if Richard wanted to come back? The only thing I could do, say no. The question was, was I strong enough to say it? Probably not.
I didn't so much wake, as come to the surface of sleep, enough to hear voices. Micah's voice first, "What did Gregory say?"
"That his father tried to contact him," Cherry's voice.
"Why is that bad?"
"His father is the one that pimped him and Stephen out when they were children."
"Every time I think I've heard the worst of people, I'm wrong," Micah said.
I fought to open my eyes, and it was as if my eyelids weighed a hundred pounds apiece. I blinked and found Micah still curled against me, but propped up on one elbow. Cherry was standing beside the bed. She was tall, slender, long-waisted, with blond hair cut boyishly short. She wasn't wearing any makeup which meant she was in a hurry, and she was actually wearing clothes which was unusual for one of the wereleopards. They usually only got dressed if I insisted. Either she was going out, or something was wrong. But of course, something was wrong.
I fought to wake up enough to say something, and it took more effort than was pretty. My voice came out thick, "What'd you say, 'bout Gregory?"
Cherry bent closer, and it took almost everything I had to keep her in focus as she moved in towards me. "You knew that Gregory and Stephen had been abused as children?" she made it half question.
I managed to say, "Yeah." I frowned up at her. "Did you say their father pimped them out as children?" Maybe I was dreaming? Either that, or I'd misunderstood.
"You didn't know," Cherry said. Her face was so serious.
I was suddenly more awake. "No."
Zane came through the bedroom door with Nathaniel in his arms. Zane was six feet tall, stretched a little too thin for my tastes, but since he and Cherry were living together, it wasn't my tastes that counted. His very short hair was white-blond now. It was the first color occurring in nature that I'd ever seen him dye his hair. I had no idea what his true hair color was.
Zane carried Nathaniel tucked in against his chest, like he was a sleeping child. Nathaniel's nearly ankle-length auburn hair, in its heavy braid, was clutched in one of Zane's hands. If you tried carrying Nathaniel without controlling all that hair, you had a tendency to trip on it. On either side of the braid his body was bare.
"He's wearing underwear," Zane said, "we know the rules. No sleeping na**d with you." He moved the hair enough to flash a pair of the satiny jogging shorts that Nathaniel was fond of wearing for jammies.
I tried to prop myself up on my elbows, but that seemed too hard. I settled for lying on my back with both eyes solidly open. "How's he doing?"
"He's fine," Micah said.
I looked at him. I tried to make the look skeptical, but I failed, so I had to say out loud, "He looks comatose."
"Say something to her, you lazy cat," Zane said.
Nathaniel turned his head slowly, almost painfully slow, as Zane carried him around to the other side of the bed. He blinked lavender eyes at me, and gave me a lazy smile. He looked almost as tired as I felt. And why not? Hadn't he collapsed for the same reason I had--because some vampire had been feeding off of him? The ardeurdidn't take blood, but it was still a type of vampirism.
Micah crawled out from the covers, flashing the perfectly tanned line of his body. Mercifully, he kept most of his assets hidden from my view. I think I was too tired to be tempted, but I knew I was too tired to want to be tempted. He pulled clothes on with his back to me, but when he turned around, pants safely zipped, the look on his face said plainly that he knew I'd been watching him.
His dark, dark, brown hair curled around his shoulders. One movement of his head sent all that heavy hair sliding to one side of his face. The dark hair framed those extraordinary eyes, gleaming yellow and green at the same time now.
"If you don't move out of her line of sight, we'll be here all bloody day," Zane said.
"You sound jealous," Cherry chided him.
"Well," he said, "you don't watch me like that."
"I don't watch anybody like that," Cherry said.
Zane grinned at her. "I know."
They had one of those laughs that is a couple laugh, and you know that you are on the outside of an inside joke. Zane was right about one thing, I was delaying. It wasn't until I tried getting out of bed that I realized I was still naked. I'd sort of known that, but in a distant, floaty kind of way.
"I need clothes," I said.
Micah had pulled a polo shirt out of the communal drawer. It was one I'd bought with him in mind, a deep rich forest green. It brought out the green in his eyes. But the shirt fit both of us, as most of our shirts did. Our casual clothes had become common property--only the dress-up clothes were strictly his and hers.
Micah didn't so much make me lie back down, as touch my shoulder so I'd stop trying to sit up. I didn't seem to be coordinated enough to sit up in bed, keep the sheet over my br**sts, and chew gum at the same time. It was as if my body just wasn't listening to me yet.
"Anita, if you don't rest you're not going to be any good to anyone."
"Gregory's my leopard, I'm his Nimir-Ra."
Micah smoothed his hand down the side of my face. "And I'm his Nimir-Raj. Go back to sleep. I'll take care of it, that's what you hired me for, right?"
I had to smile at him, but I didn't like not going to Gregory's rescue. It must have shown on my face, because he knelt beside the bed, taking my hand in his. "Gregory is having hysterics because his father's in town. I'm going to go and see how he's doing, maybe bring him back here so his father can't find him through the phone book."
I was having trouble focusing on Micah's face. I'd crawled out of sleep, but it was sucking at me again. "Yes," I said, voice starting to sound distant, even to me, "bring him back here."