"Yes, Jean-Claude had me keep an eye on Nathaniel, so that if he started to get weak, I could call for help."
I shook my head. "I endangered him, all of you." I felt numb again, even the self-recrimination felt like just words. Later, when there was more of me, I'd feel bad, but right now, I'd felt about as bad as I was able. There just wasn't enough of me left to worry about it.
"Anita." Micah was in front of me and I hadn't seen him move. "Anita, are you alright?"
I shook my head. The answer was no, but out loud I said, "I want to be cleaned up before the ardeur comes back. I want to get this shit off of me." I started for the bathroom. Micah trailed after me.
Nathaniel was bending over the bath tub, his pony tail trailing around his na**d upper body. He'd stripped down to silk boxers.
The sight of him like that should have moved me, but it didn't. Cold, I felt so cold inside.
He gave me worried eyes as he moved toward me. "What can I do to help?"
I flung myself on him hard enough he staggered. He held me against the warmth of his body. He held me tight and hard, responding to my desperation. I wanted to bury myself in his flesh, wrap him up around me, but I couldn't. I'd endangered him, risked his life, by simply not paying attention to the ardeur. If Jean-Claude had not helped out...
I tried to push the thought away, but Jonah Cooper's body flashed in my head. His body on the ground, my foot on his shoulder and grass showing through his chest. "You feel the draw of them, I know you do," he'd said.
I was on my knees and only Nathaniel's hands had kept me from hurting myself on the edge of the tub. "Anita..."
I pulled away from Nathaniel and reached for Micah. He took my hand and said, "Go, Nathaniel, go, before the ardeur comes."
"I don't think..." he started to say.
I screamed, "Go, please go! God, go!"
I didn't see Nathaniel go, or stay, because Jean-Claude dropped his shielding. I don't know what I'd expected. He'd made it sound like he borrowed my favorite coat, or book, and now he'd give it back, but a coat doesn't want to come back to you, a book doesn't care who reads it. He didn't hand it back to me, his shields dropped, and it roared home like a train that he had fought to hold back, to keep still, but it had strained against his hold. It had hungered to come home. It was like being caught on the tracks at night, and the first hint you have that disaster is here, is a bright light, and the tracks vibrating under your feet, then the world becomes noise, light, as if thunder and lightning could be forged into metal, and it's all coming straight through you, and you can't get off the tracks. You can't run. You can't hide, because your body is the tracks, and the train is a piece of yourself that wants to come home.
The ardeur fell on us, and we fell into the water. It took us almost a minute to remember we couldn't breathe under water. We came up, gasping for air, laughing almost as soon as we could breathe enough for it. Clothes had vanished in the first rush. We were na**d in the water. How had we managed to get out of the jeans that fast? A piece of jean cloth floated by me. Oh, that's how.
"No missionary position, we'll both drown," I said.
His curls were plastered to his head, and his hair looked black in the candlelight. The laughter died from his face, his eyes, and left something darker, more basic, behind. A look that made me shiver. All he said was, "Okay." He moved us to the edge of the tub, pressing my back against the smooth side of it. He pressed himself up against me, pinning me between the tub and his body. The feel of him hard and firm against the front of my na**d body made me close my eyes for a moment. I had some vague memory of clothes being ripped away, but I wasn't sure when, or even which of us had done it. I was getting better at thinking when the ardeur rose, but there were moments when thinking was not what I did.
He moved back from my body so he could caress the front of himself. Just watching his hand play over that thick, firm flesh made me shiver. He angled himself downward so he could push between my thighs. He felt incredibly large sliding between my legs. He didn't try to angle upward, or enter me. He simply pushed himself between my thighs, so that the thickness of him brushed against all of me. He rubbed himself back and forth, using his body like another hand, to caress and play between my legs. But it was a thick, hard rubbing, with none of the delicacy of fingers. You'd think water would help everything be slippery, but water makes some parts less wet, less slick, so that though it felt good, it also was rougher than it would have been if I'd been wet with something other than water.
"Not wet enough," he said, and his voice was thick and strangely hoarse, strangled with desire.
I would have liked to argue, because the ardeur wanted to argue, wanted to say, take me, take me now. If I'd been with almost any other man in my life, we could have done just that without hurting me, or him, but Micah was the exception to a lot of rules in my life. It wasn't the length that was the problem, it was the width. We'd found this out the hard way, and had had the rubby spots to prove it.
I managed to say, "No, not wet enough."
He leaned his forehead against mine and said a heartfelt, "Shit."
I nodded my head against his, wordless assent, because I didn't trust my voice. Micah wasn't the only one strangling on need. He drew his body from between my legs, and even that drew a small sound from me. His hands went to my waist and he just suddenly lifted me up, up so that I was perched on the edge of the tub. If his hand hadn't been on my leg I would have overbalanced and fallen back into the water, but he steadied me. One hand stayed on my leg, but the other hand moved up the line of my thigh. I thought he was going to do me by hand, but his finger slid inside me. It was unexpected, and even one finger felt tight and good. So good that I lay back along the raised tile around the tub. I felt the heat before I actually lay down on the candles, but the heat of it pressed against my skin. I sat up so abruptly that he had to move his hands and spill me back into the water.
"Did you get burned?" he asked.
I shook my head. "No, not this time." I'd caught my hair on fire once. I laughed, sort of shakily. "Stupid."
Micah looked at me, and there was something in that look.
"What?" I asked.
"The ardeur is gone."
I thought about it, felt around for it, and found no, no, not gone, but receded. Not receded like when I fought it, but more like me getting almost burned had helped me think again. Or maybe even the ardeur bows to physical survival. But I could feel it like a storm that had moved offshore, but was still coming.
"I thought I'd caught myself on fire."
"Again," he said.
I frowned at him. "Yes, again. Is it my fault that you're so amazing that you make me forget everything, even physical safety?"
He shook his head. "Not me, the ardeur. The ardeur makes everything better, Anita."
There was something about the way he said it, something serious and a little sad, that made me say, "What's wrong?"
He kissed me on the tip of the nose. "Later."
I might have argued with him, but the ardeur decided that it had given us enough time. It hit me like a train and threw me into his arms, made my hands move over his body as if I was hungry to touch him, as if no touch, no caress, nothing would be enough. We kissed the same way, as if we were hungry for each other. It was as if we could have we would have climbed into each other's skins, wrapped ourselves through each other, closer than skin or flesh could survive.
One minute my mouth was trying to climb inside Micah's, the next my beast rose, swimming up, up through my body, coming out of that metaphysical place, and climbing up my body. Micah drew back from my mouth enough to say, "Anita..."
I used hands and body to press his mouth back to mine. His beast began to spill up through his body in a line of breath-stealing heat. It rose fast and faster as if it had to catch up with mine. They raced up our bodies, raced through that dark water, raced, and raced, faster and faster until they hit the surface. It wasn't about changing shape, it was about changing bodies. It was about that need to wrap as much of him around as much of me, as tight, and close as I could. It was as if the very essence of our bodies had responded to that desire. Our beasts spilled out of our mouths, and brushed metaphysical furred sides down each other, as we spilled inside each other's bodies. It was closer than sex. Closer than anything I'd ever felt. It was as if for a blinding, shattering moment, we were in each other's bodies. Not in our minds, not merely our thoughts, or feelings, not even memories, but for a breath or two, a part of me slipped inside him, and a part of him slipped inside me. They weren't parts that could think and feel like a human being. There was none of that, wow, so this is how it feels to be Micah. There was only a sense of burrowing down, down deep inside him, of finding that metaphysical hiding place where the beast lay and having my beast curl up, for a moment, inside his most secret space, while his beast did the same in me.