I wasn't afraid of Gregory, I knew that, but I was afraid, and the fear was formless, but it didn't want to be. When Gregory drew his lips back from his teeth in what was supposed to be a smile, I gasped. The fear coalesced around that flash of fangs, that hungry gleam in those eyes. I was suddenly not just afraid, I was afraid of Gregory. Afraid of the claws, the teeth. I was afraid in a way that I'd never been of him, or any of my leopards. He licked my face, one quick movement.
I yipped, a small, high-pitched, frightened sound.
Gregory growled next to my skin, "Hmm, do it again."
Richard grabbed him and pulled him away from me. "Stop playing with her."
Gregory stayed crouched on the floor, as if he were half-thinking about springing up and turning it all into a fight. But what he said was, "Alright, I won't play with her." He turned and put his face next to Nathaniel's. Gregory snapped his teeth just short of his skin, and Nathaniel screamed. Our fear had found a cause to wrap itself around. There was no logic to it. Anything fearful would have done, we just happened to have a leopardman so conveniently at hand.
Richard jerked him back and dragged him as far away as the bathroom would allow. "I said stop playing with them."
"You said, stop playing with her. I did."
"Leave them all alone," Richard said.
Gregory stood, and in leopardman form he was as tall as Richard. "Don't tell me you don't want to play with them, too?"
"Yes, yes, I want to play, but I'm not going to."
"Why not?" Gregory asked.
"Because you don't torment your friends, Gregory," Micah said from the doorway with Richard's newest girlfriend beside him. She was about my size with dark brunette hair cut just above her shoulders. She was wearing a pale blue skirt and a white blouse with little blue flowers all over it. Sandals and carefully painted toenails completed the outfit. She was clinging to Micah's hand and arm with both her hands. You didn't usually hang on to someone like that unless they were your boyfriend. I realized there was an emotion I could feel through the fear--jealousy. What the hell was she doing hanging on to Micah?
She shivered in the doorway, and her eyes lost focus, as if she was hearing things no one else could hear. She whispered, "What is that?"
"Fear," Gregory said.
"Oh," she said in a small voice, and she pulled away from Micah and walked into the room. She stopped staring down at us, then looked away. She blushed and met Richard's eyes, and blushed harder.
Gregory came to stand beside her, his furred form towering over her. "You want to play, too, don't you?"
She looked down at us again, and this time her eyes weren't human. I'd seen that particular trick a thousand times, but this time I screamed. Screamed like a tourist, and Nathaniel pressed himself against me as if he were trying to push himself out the other side. Damian just lay in my lap, like the fear had already killed him.
"Get Clair out of here," Richard said, and his voice held that first edge of growl. "She's too new, if you bring her beast like this, she'll bleed people."
I made a small sound in my throat, a helpless sound.
Micah took Clair by the arm and started leading her toward the door. She didn't fight him, but she made him pull a little, while her animal eyes in that pretty face stared at us. She wasn't embarrassed anymore, there was nothing human enough left in her to be embarrassed about nudity.
"What's happening to them?" Micah asked.
"Damian's first master is trying to kill them," Richard said.
"How?" I wasn't sure if he were asking how she'd kill us or how it had happened.
"Scare them to death."
Micah almost had Clair to the door. "How can you stop it?"
Richard looked at Micah then. "I let Anita feed on me, and Jean-Claude comes riding to the rescue." The growl had left his voice, and all that remained was tiredness and a sort of world-weariness, as if he'd seen too much, done too much, and didn't want to do it anymore.
Micah and Richard stared at each other for a moment, then Micah gave a small nod. "Keep everybody alive," he said, and he pulled Clair through the doorway.
She grabbed the door frame. "They smell so good."
Micah threw her over his shoulders, and the movement startled her enough that she let go of the door and he carried her out of sight. Her words floated back, "No, I don't want to go."
Richard tried to get his jeans unfastened one-handed, and it wasn't working. "I need some help here Gregory."
The leopardman looked at him. "Going to f**k while you have the chance?"
Richard growled at him, and I made a small sound. Nathaniel whimpered. I knew in the front of my head that this was stupid. That Richard would not hurt me, not in that way, but the fear had a mind of its own. Nathaniel was a wereleopard, but he was terrified, too. No logic, just fear.
"If I shift, the pants will shred, and I don't have extra clothes over here anymore," Richard said.
"I thought your control was better than that, Ulfric," Gregory growled.
Richard turned some of that anger loose and yelled, "I can taste their fear on my tongue, down my throat, as if I've already swallowed them." He balled his good hand into the torn front of his T-shirt and pulled. He was suddenly standing over me na**d from the waist up, with a look in his eyes that would have frightened me even if I'd been myself. It was a wild, fierce look, made up of hatred and lust. Hatred and lust in a man's eyes is a bad combination.
It seemed to take physical effort for him to turn away from me and look at Gregory again. "Did you feel that?"
Gregory's only answer was a low growl that made Nathaniel whimper again.
"God help me, she's afraid to see me nude, and I f**king love it. I love that she's afraid of me, and I hate myself for loving it. The ardeur will rise, but God alone knows what we'll do before it does. With this much fear, with her, I don't trust my control. And whatever happens I want clothes when it's over, because I'm going to want to get the hell out of here."
He undid his belt with one hand and squeezed the top button of his pants. The button popped open, and, still gripping the top of the pants, he made a rolling motion with his hand and the buttons snapped open in a long rolling line. The front of his pants spilled open, and he spilled out. Either he wasn't wearing any underwear, or it couldn't keep him contained.
I'd seen Richard nude enough times to lose track. The sight of him nude had excited me, made me nervous, afraid in that oh-my-god, where-am-I-going-to-put-it-all sort of way, envious when I'd lost my na**d privileges, angry when he was being shitty, or trying to rub my face in the fact that I still found him handsome, but he wasn't mine anymore. All those emotions, and lust, and love, but never fear. Never that feeling that he was physically so much larger than I was, so much stronger, so much... he'd never hurt me physically, and I'd never been afraid of him physically, but I was now. I was afraid the way virgins are supposed to be afraid when white slavers snatch them away. Afraid of being ravished. Afraid of him using that body in mine. Afraid in a way that I'd never been afraid of anyone that I loved.
I put my hands over my eyes like a child. If I couldn't see him, he couldn't hurt me. Stupid, silly, but I couldn't stop the way I felt. Couldn't change the way I felt. I felt a scream growing in my throat. A scream that was waiting to be touched. I knew I was going to do it, and I couldn't stop it.
But it was as if he felt that scream waiting to come out, because he didn't touch me. I felt his face on the other side of my hands like heat, a moment before I felt his breath against the back of my hands. If he'd touched me, the fear would have spilled out my mouth, but he didn't touch me, not with his body.
His breath was hot against my skin, so hot. I felt Damian being lifted out of my lap. I wasn't sure how I knew he hadn't crawled out on his own, but I did.
"Anita, look at me." His voice was very soft, and very close, each word breathing out against my hands. "Please, Anita, please look at me."
His voice floated through the fear, eased the tightness in my throat, relaxed the muscles along my shoulders.
"Anita, look at me, please," he whispered.
I could breathe past my pulse again.
"Please," he whispered, and he touched fingertips to the back of my hand. The lightest of touches, and my hands lowered an inch, two inches, and I could see his face from between my fingers. His eyes were pure chocolate brown, and at that moment, they were gentle. There was no trace of anger, or lust, nothing but patience and gentleness. This was the part of him I'd fallen in love with once.