"Sex or power," I said, "that's what works for you. You prefer both together, if you can get it."
"Are you offering me sex?" She purred at me, and the sound made me shudder and push myself harder against Jean-Claude. I didn't want to play with Belle, not in any way.
"No," I said, in almost a whisper.
She reached out towards me, that slender white hand with its dark copper nails, and that afterimage of Musette's hand underneath, as if Belle's graceful hand were a strange metaphysical glove.
Jean-Claude moved us back again, a fraction of a fraction of an inch, so that those long-nailed fingers missed my cheek by a breath.
Belle looked at him, her long black hair beginning to move around her body like there was a wind blowing around her. There was no wind, only Belle's power.
"Are you afraid that one touch and I will take her from you?"
"No," Jean-Claude said, "but I know more of what your touch can do, Belle Morte, and I am not sure that Anita would care for it."
He'd used my real name, he almost never did that. Perhaps because Belle was using my nickname, he didn't want to.
Her anger burned the air in front of us, like a real fire, stealing the oxygen from the lungs, making it impossible to breathe, unless you took that heat into your lungs. Then they would sear, and you would die.
The heat filled her words, so that I half expected them to be burned into the very air. "Did I ask if she would care to be touched?"
"No," Jean-Claude said, his voice was very still, and I felt him sinking away, even with his arms wrapped around me, he was sinking away, folding into that quietness that he went to when he hid from everything. I had a glimpse of that quiet place, and it was quieter than the place I went when I killed. There wasn't even static there, only complete silence.
The emptiness filled with the smell of roses, sweet, so sweet, cloying, choking. I gasped, and all I could taste was roses. Jean-Claude caught me, or I would have fallen. The perfume of roses filled my nose, my mouth, my throat. I couldn't swallow past it, couldn't breathe anything but perfume. I would have screamed, but I had no air.
I heard Jean-Claude yelling, "Stop this!"
Belle laughed, and even choking to death, the sound rode through my body like a knowledgeable hand.
A hand grabbed mine, and a breath of air clawed its way down my throat, fighting its way through Belle's power. Again if I'd had enough air, I'd have screamed. Micah's face hovered over mine. Micah's hand in mine.
"Non, mon chat,you are mine, as is she." Belle knelt beside us, reaching out to touch Micah's face.
Jean-Claude moved us all backwards, so that we collapsed on the floor at her knees, but we were out of reach again, barely. But barely was good right then.
Belle's eyes burned with honey fire, and the nails of her hand bled copper flames on the air, as she reached for Micah. Jean-Claude tried to help us crawl away, but we'd fallen in a heap of long skirts, long coats. Death by fashion.
Belle touched Micah's face, trailed those glowing claws down his cheek. The smell of roses closed over my head like sweet poisoned water, and I was drowning again.
Another hand on me, and this touch had nothing warm in it, it didn't call the ardeur,it didn't call my beast, it called something colder and more certain of itself. My necromancy came welling up and it burst over my skin, my body, and I stared up into Belle's burning eyes, and I could breathe. My throat was sore as hell, but I could breathe.
I moved my eyes enough to see Damian holding my other hand. His eyes were wide, and I could feel his fear, but he was there, kneeling beside me, facing the power that was Belle Morte.
Belle drew Micah's face towards hers. Her skin seemed to be made up of white light, black flame hair, the glittering molten metal of fingertips and eyes. Her lips glowed like a slash of fresh blood.
Micah's hand convulsed in mine, so strong it hurt, and the pain helped, made my thoughts clearer, harder-edged. He made a small sound in his throat as Belle pressed her mouth to his. I knew he didn't want to touch her, and I also knew he couldn't refuse her.
But he was mine. Micah was mine, not hers. Mine. I sat up with Micah on one hand and Damian on the other, the warm and the cold, the live and the dead, the passion and the logic. Jean-Claude's hands were still on my nearly bare shoulders. He strengthened me, as I strengthened him, but this power was mine, not his. The leopards weren't his to call. They were mine.
I called that part of me that the leopards touched and realized for the first time that it wasn't tied to Richard, or even really Jean-Claude. The leopards were mine, and Belle's.
I sat up with my face so close to hers that the glow of her fire caressed my face, and the pleasure of that light touch sent a wave of shivers over my skin. It wasn't that I was immune to Belle's touch. It was that I had my own.
I usually fought my beast, whatever flavor it was, but not tonight. Tonight I welcomed it, embraced it, and maybe that was why it poured through me like a scalding flood of power. If I'd been a lycanthrope in truth, my beast would have burst from my skin in a flood of warm fluids, but I wasn't a lycanthrope. But the beast rode under my skin, screamed out my mouth, and hit Micah's body like a train, a huge, liquid muscled train. It tore his mouth from Belle Morte's, and brought a scream to echo mine. My beast roared through his body, and his beast answered it. His beast rushed up from the depths to meet mine, like two leviathans racing for the surface.
We hit that metaphorical surface together, and our beasts wound in and out of our bodies, rolling like huge cats, luxuriating in the feel of fur and muscle. There was nothing to see with the eyes, but there were things to feel.
Belle brushed her glowing hands just above us, caressing that energy. "Tres de bon gout," She touched Micah's skin, and that energy leaped to her, bringing a gasp from her throat. Micah turned, and I think would have gone to her again, but I caught his face in my hands. We kissed.
The kiss began as a brush of lips, an exploration of tongues, a nibbling of teeth, a pressing of mouths. Then our beasts rolled through our mouths, like two souls changing places. The rush of energy slammed our bodies together, sliced my nails through Damian's hand, convulsed Jean-Claude's hands on my shoulders. I felt both his body and Damian's bow backwards, a second before the power tore through them, and ripped sounds from both their throats that had more to do with pleasure than pain.
Micah and I rode each other, mouths locked in an endless kiss, as if our beasts had merged into one. Then slowly, the entwined energies began to roll apart and slide into their separate houses of flesh.
I came completely to myself on the floor with Micah collapsed on top of me, Damian lying on the floor with only my hand holding him. Jean-Claude was still sitting upright, but he was swaying softly in place, almost like he was dancing to music I couldn't hear. I think he was simply fighting not to fall down, but even that he made seem graceful.
Belle was staring down at us with a look close to rapture on her face. "Oh, Jean-Claude, Jean-Claude, what toys you have wrought for yourself."
Jean-Claude found his voice while I was still fighting to breathe over my pulse, and Micah's heart was thudding so hard against my chest it felt like it would burst. The pulse in Damian's palm beat like a second heartbeat against my skin. None of the rest of us had found a voice that could override the pulse of our bodies.
"Not toys, Belle, never toys."
"They are all toys, Jean-Claude, some are merely harder to use than others. But they are all toys." She stroked her glowing hand down the back of Micah's carefully styled hair.
Her energy played along his body, brought a sigh from all of us, but it was faint, almost a knee-jerk reaction, that you couldn't quite prevent. We lay quiet under her touch.
Belle looked down at us, and it was hard to see through the glowing mask, but I think she frowned. She ran her fingertips down the side of Micah's face, and there was no reaction. She called to his beast, but his beast was well fed, sleepy, and content.
My voice came, hollow, as if I hadn't quite filled back up. "The leopards are mine, Belle."
"The leopard was my first animal to call Anita, and call them I shall."
I lay on the floor, feeling languorous, content. Micah rolled his face so his cheek rested on the soft pillow of my br**sts. We watched her with lazy eyes, the way that only cats can. I should have been afraid, but I wasn't. The rush of power seemed to have taken all my fear along with it. I felt clearheaded and safe.