Two things came to me at once. I was lying on cool tile, and that someone had me by the wrist. Their hand on my wrist. I opened my eyes, and found Nathaniel kneeling beside me. His hand on my wrist. The pulse in the palm of his hand beat against the pulse in my wrist. It was as if I could feel the blood running up his arm, smell it, almost taste it.
I rolled closer to him, curled my body around his legs, laid my head upon his thigh. He smelled so warm. I kissed the edge of his thigh, and he opened his legs for me, let my face slip between them, so that the next kiss was against the smooth warmth of his inner thigh. I licked along that warm, warm skin. He shuddered, and his pulse sped against mine. The pulse in the palm of his hand pushing against the pulse in my wrist, as if his heartbeat wanted inside me. But it wasn't his heartbeat that he wanted inside me.
A roll of my eyes, and I could see him swollen and tight against the front of his shorts. I licked up the line of his thigh, licked closer and closer to that thin line of satin that stretched over the front of his body.
I tasted his pulse against my lips, but it wasn't an echo from his hand. My mouth was over the pulse in his inner thigh. He let go of my wrist, as if now we didn't need it, we had another pulse, another, sweeter place to explore. I could smell the blood just under his skin, like some exotic perfume. I pressed my mouth over that quivering heat, kissed the blood just under his skin. Licked the jumping thud of his pulse, just a quick flick of my tongue. It tasted like his skin, sweet and clean, but it also tasted of blood, sweet copper pennies on my tongue.
I bit him, lightly, and he cried out above me. I slid hands over his thigh, held it tight, so that the next bite was harder, deeper. His meat filled my mouth for a second, and I could taste the pulse under his skin. Knew that if I bit down, that blood would pour into my mouth, that his heart would spill itself down my throat as if it wanted to die.
I stayed with my teeth around his pulse, fought with myself not to bite down, not to bring that hot, red, rush. I could not let go, and it was taking everything I had not to finish it. I reached down those metaphysical cords that bound me to Jean-Claude and Richard. I had a confusing image of meat and viscera, and other bodies crowding close. The pack was feeding. I shoved that image away, because it wanted me to bite down. Richard's muzzle was buried deep into the warmth of the body, buried in the sweet things inside. I had to run from those feelings, before I fed on Nathaniel the way they were feeding on the deer.
I found Jason lying pale on Jean-Claude's bed, bleeding on the sheets. Jean-Claude's blood thirst was quenched but there were other hungers. He looked up at me, as if he could see me. His eyes were drowning blue, and I felt it, the ardeur had risen in him. Risen in a wave of heat that left him staring down at Jason's still form with thoughts that had nothing to do with blood.
He spoke, his voice echoing through me, "I must shut you out, ma petite, something is wrong tonight. You will force me to do things I do not wish to do. Feed the ardeur, ma petite, choose its flame, before another hunger comes and carries you away." With that, he was gone. Gone as if a door had slammed shut between us. I had a moment to realize that he'd slammed a door between not just himself and me, but between Richard and me, as well. So that I was suddenly cut adrift.
I was alone with the feel of Nathaniel's pulse in my mouth. His flesh was so warm, so warm, and his pulse beat like something alive inside his skin. I wanted to free that struggling, quivering thing. I wanted to break it free of its cage. To free Nathaniel of this cage of flesh. To set him free.
I fought not to bite down, because some part of me knew that if I once tasted blood that I would feed. I would feed, and Nathaniel might not survive it.
A hand grabbed mine, grabbed mine and held on. I knew who it was before I raised my face from Nathaniel's thigh. Damian knelt beside us. His touch helped me get to my knees, helped me think, at least a little. But the ardeur didn't go away. It pulled back like the ocean drawing back from the shore, but it didn't leave, and I knew it would come back. Another wave was building, and when it crashed over us, we needed a plan.
"Something's wrong," I said, and my voice shook. I held on to Damian's hand like it was the last solid thing in the world.
"I felt the ardeur rise, and I thought, great, just great, left out again. Then it changed."
"It felt wonderful," Nathaniel's voice came distant and dreamy, as if all he'd been having was good foreplay.
"Didn't you feel it change?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Weren't you afraid?"
"No," he said, "I knew you wouldn't hurt me."
"I'm glad one of us was so sure."
He raised up onto his knees, from where he'd half swooned. "Trust yourself. Trust what you feel. It changed when you tried to fight it. Stop fighting it." He leaned in toward me. "Let me be your food."
I shook my head, and clung to Damian's hand, but it was as if I could feel the tide rushing back toward the shore. Feel the wave building, building, and when it came, it would sweep us away. I didn't want to be swept away.
"If Jean-Claude told you to feed the ardeur, then feed it," Damian said. "What I felt from you just now was closer to blood lust." His face was very serious, sorrowful even. "You don't want to know what blood lust can make you do, Anita. You don't want that."
"Why is it different tonight?" It was a child asking someone to explain why the monster under the bed has grown a new and scarier head.
"I don't know, but I do know that for the first time when you touch me, I feel it. A dim echo, but I feel it. Always before, Anita, when you touched me, it went away." He made a movement with his fingers like putting out a candle, "snuffed out. Tonight..." He leaned over my hand, and I knew he was going to lay his lips across my knuckles. One of the gifts of the ardeur is that it lets you look inside someone's heart. It lets you see what they truly feel. When his lips touched my skin, I felt what Damian was feeling. Satisfaction. Eagerness. Worry, but that was fast fading under the feel of his lips on my skin. He wanted. He wanted me. He wanted to feed the hunger of his skin. The hunger of his body not so much for orgasm but for that need to be held close and tight, that need we all have to press our nakedness against someone else's. I felt his loneliness, and his need, even if it was only for one night, not to be lonely, not to be exiled down in the dark, alone. I saw how he felt about his coffin down in the basement. It was not his room. It was not his in any way. It was just the place he went to die every dawn. The place where he went to die, alone, knowing that he would rise as he had died, alone. I saw the endless stream of women that he had fed on, like pages in a book, a blonde, a brunette, the one with a tattoo on her neck, dark skin, pale skin, the one with blue hair, an endless stream of necks and wrists, and their eager eyes, and grasping hands, and nearly every night, it was in public view, as part of the floor show at Danse Macabre. So that even his feedings were not private. Even that was not special. It was eating so you wouldn't die, with no meaning to it.
In the center of his being was a great emptiness.
I was supposed to be his master. I was supposed to take care of him, and I hadn't known. I hadn't asked, and I'd been so busy trying not to be tied to another man through some weird metaphysical shit, that I hadn't noticed that Damian's life sucked.
"I'm sorry, Damian, I..." I don't know what I would have said, because his fingers touched my lips, and I couldn't think. His fingers held heat and weight that they'd never had before.
His eyes widened, surprised, I think, as surprised as I was at the sensation. Or did my lips give heat to his skin, too? Did my lips suddenly feel swollen and eager as his fingertips did to me, as if both mouth and fingers were suddenly more?
I moved my lips against his touch, barely a movement, just enough to press my mouth against the ripeness of his fingers; barely enough to call it a kiss, but it wasn't his skin I tasted, or not the skin I was touching. It was as if I laid my mouth against the most intimate parts of him. There was the hard, solid press of his fingers, but the taste, the smell of him, was the perfume of lower things, as if I were a dog on the scent of where I wanted to be.
He drew his breath in with a shaking gasp, and when I rolled my eyes up to see his face, the look in his eyes was one of drowning, as if I already touched what I could taste. His eyes filled with emerald fire, and just like that there was a line of desire carved from my mouth down his fingers, his hand, his arm, his chest, his hips, to the center of his body. I could feel him thick and rich and full of blood. Could taste the warmth of him as if my mouth were nestled against his groin. I could taste him, feel him, and when I slipped my mouth over the tips of his fingers, slid something so much smaller, harder into my mouth; his green eyes rolled back into his head, ginger lashes fluttering downward. His breath sighed out in one word, "Master."