I'd learned a long time ago that if something sounds too good to be true, it is. If someone promises you everything your heart desires, they lie.
He drew me into the circle of his arms, so that the front of my body was pressed against his. He buried his face against my chest, still covered by silk, but the weight of his face against me made me close my eyes, and when I opened them, I was looking at Jean-Claude. He looked not at Richard's bare back, but at me, at my face. I watched him be afraid. Be afraid that I'd say, no.
Richard rubbed his face against the silk, and his breath came through the cloth like something that should have burned, but it didn't. It made me shiver as if I were cold, but held in the circle of his arms with his breath hot on my skin, I felt as if I would never be cold again. I couldn't stop my hands from stroking his hair. Still woefully short, but thick and heavy, and just... Richard's.
Jean-Claude was on his knees. He didn't raise his hands, but he put the word please into his face, those eyes. His voice whispered through my head, "Ma petite, we endanger everyone that depends on us by this hesitation. Everything we have worked so hard to build hangs upon the next challenge to my power, or to Richard's. If we do not embrace our power as a triumvirate, there will come a night when someone sweeps over us and we will not prevail. The worst that could happen is not that Richard may come to your bed, then come no more, or that you may grow discontent with Micah and Nathaniel. The worst is that we are dead, and our people will be at the mercy of others that do not love them." He held his hand out to me. "Come to us, ma petite, come to us, and let us build a fortress behind which our people, all of our people, may be safe." That last he said out loud.
Richard raised his face enough to gaze up the line of my body. "Please, Anita, don't punish everyone because I've been a bastard."
Jean-Claude was close enough that I could have taken his hand, while Richard still held me in his arms. "Please, ma petite, if there is word or deed that would move you, I would say it, or do it. Tell me only what to say, or what to do, and it is yours."
I took in a lot of air, and let it out slow. I reached out and let his fingers brush mine. He came that fraction closer so he could take my hand, and that was the deed. He took my hand, and I knew that nothing he'd whispered in my head had been a lie. What would I do to keep my leopards safe? Anything. What would I do to undo the damage that Richard had done to his wolves? Almost anything. What would I do to keep Jean-Claude's vampires from being at the mercy of masters like Belle Morte? Anything.
A night of metaphysical, or not so metaphysical, sex, with one man that I loved and another man that kept breaking my heart, so I must love him, too, or he couldn't keep doing that, seemed a small enough price. Or maybe I just wanted to be with them both in a bed for the first time. Yes, the first time, contrary to all the rumors. Maybe I feared the chance would never come again, and I simply didn't want to be the one who said no. Maybe.
We stayed on the corner of the bed, as if there was no more bed to use. I was still not sure it was a good idea. I think Richard was uncomfortable with Jean-Claude being in the bed. Jean-Claude was just being patient, biding his time, because he knew if he pushed, one of us would bolt. When Richard's mouth first found mine, and I drank in the taste of him like some almost forgotten addiction, I thought I'd be the one to run screaming for the hills. But the third time Richard winced when Jean-Claude brushed his bare back, I began to think it wouldn't be me that screwed this up.
He cursed in French, then said in English, "I put my hand on your shoulder to steady myself, nothing more. You are acting as if I am after your virtue. I assure you that I am after ma petite's virtue, not yours."
Richard sighed and looked down so that even sitting in his lap I couldn't see his face. "You keep touching me."
Jean-Claude made a sound low in his throat. "How am I to touch her, if she is in your lap, your arms, kissing you, without at the very least brushing your body with mine? I am not such a magician that I can share a woman with another man and never once touch the other man's body."
"Trust me, he hasn't been doing much more than holding me," I said. I touched Richard's chin, and he let me raise his face up to me. I looked into those solid brown eyes, and all I saw was pain, confusion. "What's wrong? You were the one who was all hot for this. You talked me into it, remember?"
"I'm sorry," he said. He pressed his forehead to my shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said again.
Jean-Claude and I stared at each other over his bent head. I asked the question with my expression, what the hell is going on? "Tell us what is wrong, mon ami, and we will try to help."
"The last time I was in a bed with another man and a woman, it was Raina and Gabriel."
I'd known that Raina had been his first lover, but that he'd ever let Gabriel touch him, that I had not known. I was so astounded that I was glad he couldn't see my face. Raina had been bad enough, but both of them, at the same time. Uckies, uckies, uckies.
Raina's munin was usually quiet behind its metaphysical cage bars, but my reaction gave her a tiny opening. Raina had behaved herself for so long, that it caught me off guard. Made me a little less quick to squash her back down, and protect us all. Or maybe it was the fact that I was touching one of her pack, one that she knew in every way.
I saw Gabriel like a technicolor ghost, with his black curls just long enough to touch his pale gray leopard eyes. The silver ring through his nipple glinted in the lamplight. I was lying back in the middle of a big bed, and Gabriel crawled from one side, and Richard crawled from the other, both moving in that graceful stalk as if they had muscles in places that humans did not. It was a younger Richard, less muscled, face a little less sure of itself, his hair cut neat and clean. Richard when he was twenty, before I ever met him. His face so open, eager, laughing. We'd told him it was a game. Raina wanted to have two men ravage her. A little rape fantasy among friends.
He pinned my wrists, her wrists, and as requested, there was no foreplay. It was supposed to be rough. I could see through her eyes, as she watched Gabriel come in behind Richard's back. It was a rape fantasy, alright, but Raina wasn't the victim.
Richard screamed, and stood up, dumping me to the floor. He took two shaking steps, and collapsed to his knees. Something about what Raina's munin had done, had torn down his shields. I wasn't getting the memory, just his reaction to it. Shame, anger, rage. I got glimpses of Gabriel and him fighting. Not struggling, but beating the hell out of each other. Both of them nude, slick with each other's blood. Raina watching from the bed, her mouth wet, her tongue playing along her lips, enjoying the show.
Richard tried to shield, but he couldn't. It was as if the emotions had stripped him of his shields. It was Jean-Claude's cool touch in my head that shut it down. He shielded Richard from me, and I think from himself. He gave him back his metaphysical clothes, so that he wasn't raw before us.
"I, too, have my memory of Gabriel," Jean-Claude said, his voice was soft.
We both looked at him. Richard said, "You, and Gabriel?" The look on his face showed his disgust.
"Not by choice. It was her price for convincing Marcus that he should continue to ally with me."
"A night with both of them?" I asked.
"Did you know?" Richard asked, "before, did you know what they wanted you for?"
He nodded again. "I negotiated that night as completely as any night I have ever bargained for."
Richard was still on his knees on the floor. He looked back at Jean-Claude. "And you knew, you knew that she wanted to watch Gabriel... have you?"
"She wanted many things, but that was one she was most adamant about."
"How could you let him do that to you?" A strange look came over Richard's face. "Oh, but you don't mind. You like men."
Jean-Claude's face went blank, him hiding away. "Actually, yes, I did mind. I minded very much, but it was one of the points that Raina would not give up. She wanted certain things, and that was one of them." He raised his robe around his shoulders as if he was cold, and would not look at either of us. "I talked her out of a great many things that would have hurt a great deal more."
"You didn't enjoy it," Richard said.
Jean-Claude gave him a look, such a look. It sent the vampire's power like cool water through the room. "Rape is rape, Richard. Is a woman less raped because she likes men? That's a question, Richard."