"I didn't mean..."
"Now!" Micah's voice held that edge of growl to it. Enough that it sparked his beast awake inside him, and I felt it curl inside his body, like brushing up against a cat in the dark. A cat that you've shared a bed with, until the feel of that fur, that small body is like your pillows, or your sheets, just a part of a safe night's sleep. Comfort, companionship, warmth, and the knowledge that there are claws in the dark in case things go wrong. His beast flared mine, and it felt so warm, so comfortable, as those two invisible bodies rubbed against each other. The feel of his neck against my face, his skin wet with my tears, our beasts resting against each other, his arms around me, and I had one of those moments, where I understood that if I let him close enough, his arms could be home.
Nathaniel kissed me, very lightly on the shoulder. "Don't be sad, Anita, please don't be sad." I turned my head enough to see his face. There were tears on his cheeks. I opened one arm so that I could wrap it around his waist and hug them both. I let myself sink in against them, let them hold me, let myself cling to them both. What is love? Sometimes it's just letting yourself be who and what you are, and letting the person you're supposed to love be who and what he is, too. Or maybe, what and who they are.
When I finished having hysterics and everyone had rinsed enough blood off them to be presentable, or at least not make my neighbors call the police, I got dressed. Micah had pointed out that we'd probably all be going to bed, so why bother getting dressed, but I needed clothes. Black everything from the skin out, including the shoulder holster, Browning Hi-Power, and hidden under my hair the hilt of a really big knife. It sat in a custom-made sheath along my spine that attached to the shoulder holster, though it could be worn without, but not as comfortably. Micah tried to point out that I probably didn't need that much weaponry to go into my own kitchen. I looked at him, and he stopped. No one else complained.
Have you ever tried to get dressed with three men watching you? I wanted Micah, and it seemed shitty to kick Nathaniel out, and Damian... we were all afraid what might happen if the vampire was separated from me by a room and a door. He and I had had sex, and he'd seen me very naked, and even walked behind me into the bedroom, but I still made him turn and face the wall while I dressed. Maybe the wereanimals were finally affecting my view of nudity. It just seemed, strangely, more intimate to dress in front of someone than to be naked. Or maybe my modesty had just had all the shocks it could handle for one day.
Speaking of which, if I hadn't thought it was cowardly and childish, I'd have hidden in the bedroom until Richard left, but it was cowardly, and it was childish. Damn it. Besides, Nathaniel promised he'd make coffee. I hated eating before ten o'clock, but coffee before ten was a necessity.
Damian had done one thing that made me feel better, he'd asked for a robe. His request made me realize something. None of the vampires I knew did casual nudity. They'd be na**d for a good cause, but wouldn't just walk around nude like the shapeshifters did. Funny, I'd never thought about it before.
Nathaniel had fetched Damian's very own robe from the basement and had taken a side trip to put on a pair of jeans himself. He got brownie points for dressing without me having to ask.
Damian's robe looked like something straight out of Victorian England, and maybe it was. It was a dark, rich blue velvet, and heavy, almost more like a coat than a robe. There were worn places at the elbows, and the cuffs and hem were beginning to fray. But the whole robe screamed expensive. Damian wrapped it around himself like it was his favorite teddy bear. Once he belted it in place it covered him from neck to ankle, only his hands peeking out.
"That's not a robe, is it?" I asked.
He shook his head, as he pulled his hair free of the collar, so it spilled like a surprised red splash against all that blue. "It's a dressing gown," he said.
I nodded as if I understood exactly what that meant, then I offered him my hand. Not because I wanted to touch him, though that was there, but because of the lost look in his eyes and the way his hands kept rubbing the thinning velvet, as if touching it made him feel safer. He took my hand and gave me the first smile I'd seen since she-who-made-him had reared her vicious head. The smile was shaky 'round the edges, but it firmed up when he touched my hand.
I'd been afraid that when I touched him again that it would change. That there'd be lust, or love, or something else I couldn't deal with, but that wasn't what came through the touch of his hand. What came through was a sense of safety. Relief that I'd reached out to touch him first. If I touched him first, I couldn't be that angry.
"I'm not mad," I said.
His eyes widened just a little. "You know what I'm thinking?"
"Don't you know what I'm thinking?"
"Ask him if he knows what you're feeling," Nathaniel said.
"I just asked that."
"No, you didn't."
I thought about it for a second. He was right. "Okay, what am I feeling?"
"Nothing," Damian said, "you are very carefully feeling nothing."
I thought about that, too, and just nodded. He was right. I felt numb, at most relieved that Damian's need for safety overrode other complications, but really, truly, I felt nothing. I felt like one of those shells that washed up on the sand, so pretty, so clean, so white and pink, and so empty. That place inside me where Richard had been meant to fit, to fill, was empty, but not empty like a wound. Empty like that seashell, all slick and wet and waiting. Waiting for someone else to come along and slip inside and make that emptiness into their protection, their shield, their armor, their home.
Even thinking it that clearly, I still felt almost nothing. I realized it was close to that static emptiness where I went when I had to kill, but it wasn't staticky. It was a peaceful emptiness, like gazing out to a horizon of just water and sky. Peace, quiet, but not empty, just waiting. Waiting for what?
Damian squeezed my hand. I smiled at him but knew it didn't reach my eyes. I smiled because he smiled at me, more reflex than emotion. Inside was nothing. It was a little like being in shock. Shock is nature's insulation, the thing that shuts you down so you can heal, or sometimes so you can die without hurting, or being afraid.
Well, I wasn't going to die. You didn't die of a broken heart, it just felt like you were going to. I knew from personal experience that if you just kept moving, acting as if you weren't bleeding inside, you didn't die, and eventually you stopped wanting to.
Micah came to stand in front of me. Once it had seemed odd to have such serious intelligence out of kitty-cat eyes. Now, they were just Micah's eyes. He touched my face, and his hand was so warm that I wanted to rub my cheek against it, but I didn't. I don't know why, but I didn't. I just stood there with Micah touching my face and Damian clinging to my hand. I could feel that my face was as empty as I felt inside.
"You don't have to go in there," Micah said.
"Yes," I said, "I do."
He put his other hand up, so that he framed my face between his warm, warm hands. "No, Anita, you don't have to."
Damian was rubbing his fingers across my knuckles the way he did when he was worried that I would be angry with someone. I wasn't angry, or maybe he was worried about another emotion all together. Damian could help me be calmer, help me control my temper, and be less ruthless, or less quick to kill, but your servant can only give you what they have to share. Damian could not help me fight fear, or loneliness, or sorrow, because he carried too much of it inside himself. Today, the only real comfort he could offer was the touch of a friendly hand. But there are worse things to offer.
I closed my eyes, not to hide from Micah's serious face, but to bask in the warmth of his hands. I had to close my eyes so I could feel his hands and not be distracted by the color of his eyes. I let myself do what I'd wanted to do since he touched my face. I rubbed my cheek against first one of his hands, then the other. His hands moved with me, so that it was like a dance, his hands against my face, my hair, and me rubbing against him cat-like.
He kissed me somewhere in all that movement, with my face writhing between his hands. His lips were soft and full, and he pressed them against mine, firm but gentle. I opened my eyes to his face so close I couldn't focus on his eyes.
He drew back enough so we could see each other, but kept my face between his hands. "I would spare you this, if you'd let me."