I was on my knees in front of Caleb, and all I could see was the pulse in his neck, thudding, thudding, against the skin, trying to break free. I wanted to help it.
I could suddenly smell forest, trees, and the scent of wolf fur that wasn't Jason. Richard breathed through my mind like a sweet-scented cloud. I saw him in my bathtub all those miles away. An arm darker than the tan Richard carried most of the year was across his chest, propping him up in the water, holding him. Jamil being a good Hati, making sure his Ulfric didn't drown. It was what Jason had done for me earlier, minus the sex. Richard was a little homophobic. He didn't like men who reminded him they liked men, especially if that man was himself. I couldn't throw stones on that one; I was pretty much the same way around women. No matter how sophisticated I was supposed to be, I kept forgetting that another woman could find me attractive. Always caught me by surprise.
Jamil's face hovered on the edge of Richard's, but it was as if in this dream vision all that was truly clear was Richard. I caught glimpses of his body through the water and the faint candlelight. Lycanthropes sometimes had light sensitivity problems, so there were no bright overheads, but the candles made the water dark, and hid more of Richard from view than I wanted. I felt like a metaphysical Peeping Tom. But the hunger was so easily turned to a different kind of hunger, it always had been.
Richard looked up at me, and the sight of his face, shorn of hair, caught at my throat. I wanted to ask, why?but he spoke first. It was the first time we'd spoken mind-to-mind like this, and it startled me. I'd known Jean-Claude and I could do it, but not Richard and me.
"The hunger's mine, Anita, I'm sorry. Something that creature did to me stripped most of my control." For a second I thought he meant the Mother of All Darkness, then realized he meant Belle.
I gazed down at Caleb's frightened eyes, and my eyes were drawn again to his neck, then down the line of his chest to his stomach. He was breathing hard enough, scared enough that there was a pulse low in his belly, vibrating through that line of hair that led down into his pants. The stomach was soft and tender, lots of flesh there.
"Anita," Richard said, "Anita, hear me."
I had to blink the image of Caleb's quivering flesh away, and I was suddenly seeing Richard's image more clearly than what actually lay in front of me. "What?" I knew that one word wasn't said out loud, only in my head.
"You can turn the hunger to sex, Anita."
I shook my head. "I think I'd rather eat Caleb than f**k him."
"You've never eaten anyone, or you wouldn't say that," Richard said.
I couldn't really argue with that. "Are you seriously saying you'd be okay with me f**king Caleb?"
He hesitated, the water flickering in the flame light, as his body moved restlessly. I caught a glimpse of knee, and thigh. "If it's a choice between eating him, or screwing him, yes."
"You didn't even like sharing me with Jean-Claude."
"We're not dating, Anita."
Ouch. "Sorry, forgot that for a moment," I said. The momentary flare of pain like a half-healed wound helped me think a little more clearly. "Jason is in wolf form Richard. I don't do furry."
"That I can do something about." I saw his beast like some golden shadow leap out of him and into me. It was like being on the receiving end of a metaphysical knife, until that power stabbed through me and into Jason, and I was suddenly in the middle of all that power, all that pain, all that rage. The beast feeds on pain and rage, sort of the ultimate id. I was left kneeling, gasping, too breathless to scream.
Jason screamed for me, and I felt his beast slide away from him, no, into him, like stuffing something impossibly huge into a suitcase that was already full. But this suitcase was Jason's body, and it hurt. I felt the bones twist, the muscles pop and reattach. Fuck, it hurt. I caught a distant thought from Richard that it was hurting so much because it was forced. When you fight the change it hurts more.
It was as if the fur was absorbed back into the pale flesh that rose through it, like something caught in ice, melting back to the surface. Jason's body melted back, and the fur sank into him, the longer bones, the muscles. It just all sank into him until he lay pale and shivering on a bed of clear liquid. The fluid had soaked my jeans from the knees down. Jason had changed, but not fed, now he'd been forced to change again less than a half-hour later. Maybe if he'd been allowed to feed he'd have been alright, but now, he lay, shivering, curling into a ball to hold himself and to keep in what warmth he had left and to take up as little space as possible. I think Jason, like Caleb, knew touching me would be bad.
Jason wasn't a danger to Caleb anymore. Until he rested, he wasn't a danger to anyone. In fact . . . I stared down at the curve of his butt, so smooth, so firm, so tender. I gazed on him nude, and didn't think about sex at all. All Richard had done was give me a choice of meals.
I looked at Richard down that vision that held him crystalline, and everything else hazy. "All I can think about is sinking teeth into his flesh. You've made him helpless, and I still need to feed, because you still need to feed."
"I'll find something here to eat. I will feed, but you don't have anything safe to hunt, Anita. You don't want to hurt either of them."
I screamed, loud and long, letting the frustration fill the Jeep, pour out of my mouth, scald up my throat, ball my hands into fists, and lash out, smashing the side of the Jeep. I heard the metal groan, and that made me blink, look at what I'd done. I'd dented the metal. A rounded dimple the size of my fist. Fuck.
Caleb made a small sound, and I looked down at him, and all I could see was the soft flesh of his stomach, I could almost feel it under my teeth. I was crouched over Caleb, my face sniffing along his stomach. I didn't remember getting this close.
Richard called to me, "Anita!"
I looked up, as if he were really in front of me. He pushed Jamil's arm away and leaned back against the side of the tub. He ran his hands over his chest, fingers tracing his ni**les, one hand trailing lower, as he pushed himself out of the water. It cascaded down his body in silver flame shot lines, and that hand traced lower, lower. Over his stomach, down the line of hair, and finally to cup himself, play with himself. I watched him grow larger, and the hunger changed like turning a switch. But the moment the hunger became sex, the ardeurflared to life. It came from the center of my being like a flame, spreading, spreading, and Richard's hand, Richard's body fanned the heat, brought it in a roaring sheet over my skin.
But Jean-Claude wasn't here to help us, this time, and Richard couldn't shield today. The ardeurran down that metaphysical cord and hit Richard like a truck at full speed. It bowed his back, convulsed his hand where it gripped his body, made him fall back on the edge of the tub, his legs trailing into the water.
I looked into those big brown eyes, that face so empty without its mane of hair, and watched terror fight with desire. I don't think he'd ever felt the full force of the ardeurbefore. It overwhelmed him, left him breathless, immobile, but that wouldn't last. I knew it wouldn't last.
I told him what he'd told me, "You can turn the ardeurto hunger, but we're going to have to feed on something, or someone, Richard. It's too late for anything else."
Even his voice in my head seemed strangled, "I feel better and worse. I think I can hunt now. I couldn't have moved that much before."
"Everything has its upside, Richard, and it's down." I was angry with Richard, a fine hot rage that helped keep me treading the water of the ardeurthat was trying so hard to engulf me, drown me in desire. But I held my anger to my chest and treaded water for all I was worth.
I felt his hunger change, felt his belly tighten with need for flesh and blood and tearing, and only distant, very distant was the thrill of sex. "I'll hunt an animal, and I'll be fine, I think."
"That won't help me much, Richard," and I let the anger trail down the binding between us.
"I am sorry, Anita, I didn't understand."
I knew in that moment that I could force his hunger back into the ardeur.That just as he forced Jason to change form, I could force Richard's hunger to be the form of my choosing. I knew I could run magic down his skin and force him to feed the way I was going to have to feed. But I didn't. He'd done what he'd done in innocence; I couldn't return the favor, not deliberately.
"Go hunt your animal, Richard."
"Anita . . . I am sorry."