He walked out, tears glittering in his green eyes. He passed Nathaniel in the doorway. Nathaniel gave me neutral eyes, a careful face. "Micah had to go."
I nodded, because I didn't trust my voice. I hadn't let myself get this angry in so long. It had felt good for a few moments, but I was already beginning to regret how I'd treated Damian. He hadn't asked to be my servant. The fact that I'd done it accidentally didn't make it any more right. He was an adult person, and I'd just ordered him to bed like he was a naughty child. He deserved better than that. Anyone did.
The anger pulled back, and even my skin felt cooler. The term hot with anger was very real. I was ashamed of what I'd just done. I understood why, in part. I so did not need another man tied to me by metaphysics that demanded a piece of my bed, or at least my body. I didn't need that. I especially didn't need a man who might not even be capable of feeding the ardeur. Because even in the middle of the worst of the ardeur, Damian's touch could cool that fire. With him holding my hand, the ardeur could not rise, or at least it could be put away for hours. So why didn't I paste Damian to my body? Because of how much more he wanted from me than I was comfortable with giving. I could not use him to help me fight the ardeur if I wasn't willing to give in to that skin hunger we both felt for each other.
Nathaniel padded into the room, wearing nothing but a pair of silky jogging shorts. They were his version of jammies. He'd taken his braid out, so that his thick hair spilled around him like some kind of cape. "Are you alright?"
I started to say, I owe Damian an apology, but I didn't say it, because in that one breath, the ardeur rose. No, not rose, engulfed, drowned, suffocated. I suddenly couldn't breathe past the pulse in my throat. My skin felt thick and heavy with it. I don't know what showed in my eyes, but whatever it was, it stopped Nathaniel where he stood, froze him like a rabbit in the grass that knows the fox is near.
The ardeur spilled outward, like invisible water, hot, wet, and suffocating. I knew when the power hit Nathaniel, because he shivered. Goose bumps broke on his body, as his very skin reacted to the power.
I'd shoved the ardeur down once tonight, and that had a price. I'd refused the touch of my servant, and that had a price. I'd embraced my anger, and let it spill out onto someone I cared about. That had a price, too. I didn't want Nathaniel to be the one who paid that price.
I didn't remember crossing the room, but I must have, because I was standing in front of him. His eyes were wide, so wide, his lips half-parted. I was close enough to see the pulse in his throat beating against the skin of his neck like a trapped thing. I leaned in toward him, leaned just my face until I could smell the warm vanilla scent of his neck. Close enough to taste his pulse on my tongue like candy. And I knew this candy would be red and soft and hot. I had to close my eyes so that I didn't lean my mouth down to that point, didn't lick over his skin, didn't bite down and free that quivering piece of him. I had to close my eyes so I wouldn't keep staring at that pulsing, jumping... My own pulse was too fast, as if I would choke on it. I'd thought that feeding the ardeur on Nathaniel was the worst I could do, but the thoughts in my head weren't about sex. They were about food. Thanks to my ties with Jean-Claude and Richard, I had darker things inside me than the ardeur. Dangerous things. Deadly things.
I stayed perfectly still, trying to master my own pulse, my own heartbeat. But even with my eyes closed, I could still smell Nathaniel's skin. Sweet and warm and... close.
I felt his breath on my face, before I opened my eyes.
He had moved in so close that his face filled my vision. My voice came soft, half-strangled with the needs I was fighting. "Nathaniel..."
"Please." He whispered it as he leaned in, whispered it again as his mouth hovered above mine, he sighed. "Please," against my lips. His breath felt hot against my mouth, as if it would burn when we kissed.
His lips this close to mine had done one thing. I wasn't thinking about ripping his throat out anymore. I understood then that we could feed on sex, or we could feed on meat and blood. I knew that one hunger could be turned into another, but until that moment, where I could almost taste his lips on mine, I hadn't realized that there would come a point where something must be fed. I did not feed Jean-Claude's blood lust, though there was a shadow of it in me. I did not feed Richard's beast, with its hunger for meat, but that lived in me, too. I held so many hungers in me, and fed none of them, except the ardeur. That I could feed. That I did feed. But it was in that heartbeat, as Nathaniel kissed me, that I understood why I hadn't been able to control the ardeur better. All the hungers channeled into that one hunger. Jean-Claude's fascination with the blood that ran just under the skin. Richard's desire for fresh, bloody meat. I had pretended I didn't carry their hungers inside me, not really. But I did. The ardeur had risen to give me a way to feed, a way that didn't tear people's throats out, a way that didn't fill my mouth with fresh blood.
Nathaniel kissed me. He kissed me, and I let him, because if I drew back from it, fought it, there were other ways to feed, other ways that would leave him bleeding and dying on the floor. His lips were like heat against my skin, but part of me wanted something hotter. Part of me knew that blood would be like a scalding wave in my mouth.
I had a sudden image so strong that it made me stumble back from him. Made me push away from that warm, firm flesh.
I felt my teeth sinking into flesh, through hair that was rough and choking on my tongue. But I could feel the pulse underneath that skin, feel it like a frantic thing, the pulse running from me, like the deer had run through the forest. The deer was caught, but that sweet, beating thing lay just out of reach. I bit harder, shearing through the skin with teeth that were made for tearing. Blood gushed into my mouth, hot, scalding, because the deer's blood ran hotter than mine. Their warmth helped lead me to them. Helped me hunt them. The heat of their blood called me to them, made their scent run rich on every leaf they passed, every blade of grass that brushed them, carried that warmth away, betrayed them to me. My teeth closed around the throat, tore the front of it free. Blood sprayed out, over me and the leaves, a sound like rain. I swallowed the blood first, scalding from the chase, and then the meat that still held the last flickering of pulse, a last beat of life. The meat moved in my mouth as it went down, as if it were struggling, even now, to live.
I came back to the kitchen, on my knees, screaming.
Nathaniel reached out toward me, and I slapped at his hands, because I didn't trust myself to touch him. I could still taste the meat, the blood, feel it going down Richard's throat. It wasn't horror that made me slap at Nathaniel. It was that I had liked it. Gloried in the feel of blood raining down on me. The struggles of the animal had excited me, made the kill all the sweeter. Always when I touched Richard, there had been hesitation, regret, revulsion about what he was, but there had been no hesitation in that shared vision. He had been the wolf, and he had brought the deer down, taken its life, and there had been no regret. His beast had fed, and for this one moment, the man in him had not cared.
I shut down every shield I had between him and me, and it was only then that I felt him look up, felt him raise his bloody muzzle, and look as if he could see me watching him. He licked his bloody lips, and the only thought I had from him was good. It was good, and there was more, and he would feed.
I couldn't seem to cut myself off from him. Couldn't shut it down. I did not want to feel him sink teeth into the deer again. I did not want to be in his head for the next bite. I reached out to Jean-Claude. Reached out for help, and found... blood.
His mouth was locked on a throat, fangs buried into that flesh. I smelled that flesh, knew that scent, knew it was Jason, his pomme de sang, that he held clasped in his arms, clasped tighter than you hold a lover, because a lover does not struggle, a lover does not feel their death in your kiss.
The blood was so sweet, sweeter than the deer's had been. Sweeter, cleaner, better. And part of that better was the feel of his arms locked around us, holding us as tight as we held him. Part of what made this more was the embrace. The feel of Jason's heart beating inside his chest, beating against the front of our bodies, so that we could feel the franticness of it, as the heart began to realize something was wrong, and the more frightened it got, the more blood it pumped, the more of that sweet warmth poured down our throats.
All I could taste was blood. All I could smell was blood. It spilled down my throat, and I couldn't breathe. I was drowning. Drowning in Jason's blood. The world had run red, and I was lost. A pulse, a pulse in that red darkness. A pulse, a heartbeat, that found me, that brought me out.