"You are the master," Damian repeated.
"Maybe it's over, whatever it was, maybe it's finished." He gave me a look that was so like one of Jean-Claude's that it was unnerving. "What's with the look?" I asked.
"I can still feel it," Nathaniel said, and his voice was hushed, thick with fear.
"If you would stop arguing and start paying attention to what's happening, you'd feel it, too," Damian said, and he wasn't talking to Nathaniel.
I shut my mouth, it was the best I could do for not arguing, but even silence was enough. Into that brief silence I felt power like something large had pushed against a door in my head. A door that would not hold for long.
"How did you break us free of it this much?"
"I'm not a master, but I am over a thousand years old. I've learned some skills over the years, just to stay sane."
"Alright, Mr. Smartie-Vampire, what's happening to us?"
He squeezed my hand, and something in his eyes said plainly that he didn't want to say it out loud. I realized that I couldn't feel his emotions.
"You're shielding us all, aren't you?"
He nodded. "But it won't hold."
"What is it? What's happening to us? Why are we sharing memories?"
"It's a mark."
I frowned at him. "What?" Marks were metaphysical connections. I shared them with both Jean-Claude and Richard.
"I don't know what number, but it's a mark. It's not the first, maybe not even the second. Maybe the third? I've never had a human servant, or an animal to call. I've never been part of a triumvirate. You have, so you tell me."
"Us," Nathaniel said, in that breathy, scared voice.
I looked into those wide lavender eyes. He was waiting for me to make this better. The problem was, I didn't know how. I didn't know how it had begun, so how could I end it? I turned away from the utter trust in his face, because I couldn't think looking into his eyes. I tried to think back to the third mark. There had been a sharing of memories, but it had been benign. Glimpses of Jean-Claude feeding on perfumed wrists, sex with women wearing way too many undergarments; Richard running in wolf form in the forest, the rich world of scent that he had in that form. They had all been sensual, but safe memories. It had never occurred to me to ask either of them what memories they'd gotten from me. I probably didn't want to know.
"Third mark, I think. Though with Jean-Claude in charge it was just flashes of memory; mostly sensual, nothing too serious. Why are we trapped in therapy hell?"
"What did you think of just before the memories began?" Damian asked.
"Death," I said, "I was thinking about death, I don't know why."
"Then think of something else, quickly." His voice held a hint of panic, and I could feel why. I could feel that door in my head beginning to bow outward as if it were melting. I knew that when it went, we better have a plan.
"I didn't try to mark anybody," I said.
"Do you know how to stop it?" he asked.
"No," I said.
"Then think of something else, something better."
"Think happy thoughts," Nathaniel said.
I gave him a look. "Who do I look like--Peter Pan?"
"What?" Damian asked.
"Yes, I mean no, but think," Nathaniel said. "Think happy thoughts. Think like you need to fly. I survived what happened after... after Nicholas died. But I do not want to live through it twice. Please, Anita, think happy thoughts."
"Why don't one of you think happy thoughts?" I asked.
"Because you're the master, not us," Damian said, "your mind, your attitudes, your desires, are what will rule how this goes, not ours. But for God's sake, stop thinking about the worst things that ever happened to you, because I don't want to see the worst that I remember. Nathaniel's right, think happy thoughts."
"Happy thoughts," Nathaniel said, and he wrapped both his hands around one of mine. "Please, Anita, happy thoughts."
"I am fresh out of pixie dust," I said.
"Pixie dust?" Damian said, but he shook his head. "I don't know what you are talking about. Just think of something pleasant, happy, anything, anything at all."
I tried to think happy. I thought about my dog Jenny, who had died when I was fourteen, and crawled out of the grave a week after she died. Crawled out of the grave and into bed with me. I remembered the weight of her, the smell of fresh turned earth, and ripe flesh.
"No!" Damian screamed. He jerked me to face him, his eyes wild. "No, I will not see what comes next in my story. I will not!" He grabbed my upper arms and turned me to face him, shaking me. Nathaniel wrapped himself around my waist, huddling around my body. Damian said, "Don't you have any good memories?"
It was like one of those games where they tell you not to think of something or to think of something. I was supposed to think of good things, and for the life of me, everything ended badly. My mother had been wonderful, but she'd died. I'd loved my dog, but she'd died. I'd loved Richard, but he'd dumped me. I thought I'd loved someone once in college, but he'd dumped me. I thought about the feel of Micah's body, but I was waiting for him to dump me, too. Nathaniel hugged me tighter, his face buried against my back. "Please, Anita, please, happy thoughts, fly for me, Anita, please, God, fly for me."
I touched his arm, his hand, and thought of the vanilla scent of his hair. Thought of his face alive and listening as Micah read to us. I still thought Micah would go from Prince Charming to the Big Bad Wolf (no anthropomorphic bias intended), but Nathaniel would never dump me. There were moments when the thought of having Nathaniel with me forever panicked the hell out of me, but I forced that worry down. Pushed it away. I concentrated on the feel of him, and as if he felt my thoughts, he began to relax against me. He came to his knees behind me, his arms still around my waist, spooning our bodies together. He leaned his face over my shoulder, and I caught the sweet scent of his skin. I had my happy thought. I wouldn't fly because Nathaniel had asked me to, I would fly because of Nathaniel.
I laid a kiss against his cheek, and he wound himself around the back of my body, rubbing his cheek against the side of my face, my neck.
Damian still held my arms in his hands, but loosely now. He stared down at both of us. "I take it you found a happy thought?"
I breathed in that clean vanilla scent and gazed up at Damian. "Yes." My voice was already thick with the scent of skin and the sensation of Nathaniel's body against mine. I thought, It's like he's a living comfort object, like a teddy bear or a penguin, but even as I thought that, I knew it was only partial truth. My stuffed toy penguin, Sigmund, had never kissed my neck, and never would. It was one of Sigmund's charms. He didn't make many demands on me.
That door in my mind was melting, like a block of ice left in the sun. Panic fluttered in my chest, and I knew that panic would be a bad emotion to take behind that melting door. I pulled Damian down to us and whispered, "Kiss me."
His lips touched mine, and the door vanished. But we didn't get memories this time, we got the ardeur. For the first time, I embraced it, called it pet names, and did the metaphysical equivalent of saying, come and get me. Come and get us.
I'd never embraced the ardeur before. I'd been overwhelmed by it, conquered by it, given in to it, but never lowered my flag and surrendered to it, not without at least a fight. Jean-Claude had told me that if I could only stop fighting it wouldn't be so terrible. That once a little control was gained, you needed to "make friends" with the power. I'd given him a look, and he'd dropped the subject, but, he was right, and he was wrong. For him I think it would have been a seduction, but it was me, and the fact that I could still think while it was happening was a problem more than a blessing.
I was okay with my tuxedo jacket going bye-bye. I was okay with Damian's green coat sliding to the floor, even if it did leave his upper body pale and naked, with the fine muscles gliding under skin the color of fresh, white sheets. Nathaniel was the problem, or rather my confusion about him. I ran my hands up the unbelievable warmth of his skin, but the look in his lavender eyes was too much. I did not love Nathaniel, not the way I needed to, but the look in his eyes left no doubt how he felt about me. This was wrong. I could not take this from him, if he were in love with me, and I was not in love with him. I could not do it.