They exchanged another look, but with a nod from Micah, Nathaniel went for the bathroom. I looked at Micah's face. The only man in my life I didn't have to look up to to meet his eyes. "What's happened? What have I missed?"
He smiled, but it wasn't a happy smile. It was the smile he'd had when I first met him. A smile that held sadness, self-deprecation, mocking, and something else, something that sadness was too light a word for. I'd almost broken him from that smile.
I grabbed his arms, almost shook him. "What happened?"
"Nothing, I swear, everything's fine, but Jean-Claude warned us not to let you get in the shower. He said, and I quote, 'not between glass walls.'"
I frowned at him. "What are you talking about? Why should Jean-Claude care about how I clean up?"
The phone rang. I jumped like I'd been stabbed. I said what I was thinking. "If it's another murder scene tonight, I can't do it." Even saying it, I knew I'd do it. If they needed me, I'd go. But what I'd said was true, I'd go, but I wasn't sure I could handle it tonight. Admitting that even to myself scared me. It was my job. I had to be able to do it.
Micah went for the phone, while I stood in the darkened living room and prayed for it not to be the police. He called, "It's Jean-Claude."
"Why is he calling on the phone?"
"Come and find out," Micah said.
I walked to the lights of the kitchen. It was only the lights over the sink, not that much light, but I blinked like a deer in headlights. I took the receiver from Micah, while he tried not to give me worried eyes. "What's up?" I asked.
"Ma petite, how do you feel?"
His voice was the joy for me it usually was, but tonight even that voice left me flat and empty. "Like shit, why?"
"How long has it been since you fed?"
I leaned my forehead against the wall and closed my eyes. "I ate some peanuts and chips in the last day, why?" Nathaniel had put some munchies in my glove compartment.
"I am not referring to food, ma petite."
Suddenly the emptiness spilled away, replaced by panic. "Jesus, Damian."
"He is well. I have seen to it."
"How can he be well, he started to die if I went just a few hours over six. I've gone almost twenty-four hours. God, I cannot believe this, so stupid."
"And when in the last twenty-four hours could you have fed the ardeur, and who on?"
The question stopped the self-recriminations and helped me think. I guess there were worse things than forgetting about the ardeur during a police investigation. Like maybe, not forgetting the ardeur during a police investigation. Several horrible scenarios went through my head, like the ardeur rising in the van with Mobile Reserve, or Zerbrowski in his car. I was suddenly cold, and it had nothing to do with my earlier pangs of conscience.
"Ma petite, I can hear your sweet breath, but I need to hear your sweet voice."
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, how did you keep it from getting me?"
"By shielding in every way between us, and Richard, and helping the others do so, as well."
"That's why you're calling me on the phone, not mind-to-mind."
"How did you keep me from draining Damian and Nathaniel?"
"I fed the ardeur at the club, as we discussed, and I shared with Damian. It is only when he is drained that your triumvirate would begin to pull upon our bad kitty."
"One feeding through you took care of it, for this long?"
He sighed, and he sounded tired, because he was still shielding too hard for me to feel it. "Non, non, ma petite. We have done your six-hour feedings for you."
"Richard and Damian, and myself. Nathaniel had fed you last, and I was not a hundred-percent certain that I could control the feeding, so I did not use him."
"Richard got a taste of the ardeur from the other side?"
"What'd he think of it?"
"He has new respect for our ability to not go mad."
I wanted to ask who Richard had fed on, but it was none of my business. I wasn't monogamous, and neither was he. I was still leaning against the wall, but my eyes were open. "Damian fed the ardeur not as the eatee, but as the eater?"
"It was not hard to raise it in him."
"Is this permanent? I mean do Richard and Damian need to feed now, too?"
"Non, ma petite. Desperate measures, but not permanent ones."
"How can you be sure?" I asked.
"Because I can feel it growing in me again, not just my need, but yours. I parceled it out, shared it among those I could, but it is time again, ma petite."
I turned around and stared blindly out into the kitchen. "Are you saying you borrowed my ardeur for the last few hours?"
He seemed to think about that. "That will do for an explanation. Oui."
"So I could hunt bad guys and not lose control in the middle of it all."
I didn't know what to say, so I said what I could, "Thank you."
"You are most welcome, ma petite, but dawn is near, and when I sleep, the ardeur will return home. I would prefer to give it back to you before then, so I might feel how tempestuous that return will be."
"You asked me how I felt, why?"
"The ardeur comes with a price, as all the hungers do, but they have their rewards, as well. I do not speak of the pleasure, but of the strengths that they give us. In effect, by stealing away your ardeur, I weakened you tonight. If I hadn't feared contacting you mind-to-mind, I would have asked your permission first, or warned you."
"I didn't feel weak." Then I thought about it. "I'm really bugged by the vampires I killed tonight. I mean, more than normal. I'm sort of shaky, and wondering if I'm the good guy after all."
"Such self-doubt is not like you."
"I do have some self-doubt," I said.
"But not too much, you could not be who you are if you doubted too much."
"Are you saying that I draw some of my bravery, or my coldness, from the ardeur?"
"I am saying that the ardeur may feed that part of you that keeps you safe in your own mind, your own heart."
I shook my head. "This is too complicated for me, Jean-Claude. Just let me have it back, and we'll see if I feel any better."
"I would rather you be alone with Micah when that happens. We have very carefully left him untouched while we sought to feed, so that you might feed on him yourself."
I didn't feel the least bit sexy. I just wanted a quick shower and to sleep. "I'm too tired for sex, Jean-Claude. Too tired for much of anything."
"As I feared, I took too much, or the ardeur has become attached to your own natural drives."
"What are you talking about?"
"Long before the ardeur found you, ma petite, I found that you were seldom too tired for sex."
I thought about blushing, but found that even that seemed like too much effort. "What do you want me to do?" What little excitement had crept back into my voice had vanished. Nothing seemed quite real, as if I was already asleep. Asleep on my feet.
"If you intend to clean up..."
"I've got other people's blood in my hair, so yeah."
"Fine, go to the bathroom then, but take Micah with you. Hang up the phone, go to the bathroom, take Micah with you, and sometime before you have filled the bathtub with water, I will give back to you that which is yours."
"Nathaniel is filling the tub now. Micah said you warned us not to use the shower. Something about glass."
"The return may be more violent than I would like, ma petite. I would feel better if you and Micah were not surrounded by glass walls."
"Do you know this is going to be bad, or are you just worried?"
"Let us say, that I have not lived so long, or courted you successfully, without thinking worst-case scenarios."
"Courting, is that what you call it nowadays?"
"I am hanging up now, ma petite. I suggest you do as I have bid." He hung up.
I put the receiver back in its cradle and started walking out of the kitchen. Micah was standing by the table, watching with careful kitty-cat eyes. I understood now how much he held back behind that careful face. But tonight I didn't pry. I had enough horrors of my own without borrowing. "You know about what Jean-Claude's been doing with the ardeur?" I asked.