"Anita." Micah's voice. He was at the end of the island looking at me with his serious kitty-cat eyes.
I couldn't seem to get a deep enough breath. It was as if the room was getting smaller. Nathaniel was in front of me, and either side of the island was blocked by the other two. I felt cornered, trapped in so many ways.
"Boys," Dr. Lillian said, "I think Anita needs a little air."
"I can't leave Damian alone," I said, but my voice sounded choked.
She came and moved them all away from me, shooing them back. "Come on, a little fresh air and some open spaces, doctor's orders." She held out her hand to me, but was careful not to touch me, as if she knew what I was feeling better than I did. She eased me to the drapes and pushed me through them onto the open deck.
The light was dazzling, and I was blind with it for a moment. When I could see again, she was as far away as the wraparound deck would allow her to be and still be on it. She didn't say anything, just looked out at the view.
I started to say something, then thought, Fuck it, she's right. I went to the rail and looked out at the trees. The trees were a kaleidoscope of color. The wind stirred all that gold and orange, and a cascade of leaves like an upturned bag of gold showered down around me. The sky was that flawless blue that only happens here in October, as if the sky were closer, fresher, newly minted blue, as if all the clear skies until now had been practice for these few weeks of blue, blue sky. I breathed in the heavy gold of the sun, like pale syrup on the leaves. It smelled like autumn, that crisp, clean, sharp smell, that is made up of dying leaves, chill nights, and the warm breath of the day before night falls. You could taste fall on your tongue like some kind of bread or cake, something thick and nutty and sweet. I took in as much air as I could and let it out slow, as if my body didn't want to let it go.
I stood there leaning on the railing, drinking in the sunlight, the colors, and the rich scent of autumn woods. I was smiling and calm all on my own by the time Dr. Lillian spoke. She stayed on her end of the deck, as if she wasn't sure how much room I needed. "Feel better?"
"Yes," and I smiled at her, though I felt a little embarrassed. "Sorry that I lost it in there."
"You've had some big changes in a very short space of time, Anita."
"How much do you know?"
"That you've somehow tied yourself to Damian and Nathaniel, somewhat the way that Jean-Claude tied you and Richard to him. That you did it by accident. That it's a miracle no one's dead."
I sighed, and the smile was gone. "Yeah, I could have handled it better."
"No one could handle all that you handle, Anita, better or worse. You keep surprising all of us."
"Us, who?" I asked.
She smiled. "All of us, the shapeshifters, the vampires, all of us. I can't really speak for everybody, but I know you are a constant amazement to the wererats. We never know what you're going to do next." She leaned against the rail with her arms crossed over her clean white shirt.
"Neither do I, not anymore."
"That loss of control issue again, isn't it?"
"You know, I really don't want to psychoanalyze myself right now."
"Fine," she raised her hands as if to show she was unarmed, "but the next time you start getting claustrophobic, and you need some air, get some air, okay?"
"It was that obvious?" I asked.
"If I say yes, you won't like it, because you hate for anyone to be able to read you. If I say no, I'd be lying, and you hate that, too."
"I'm just impossible to get along with, aren't I?"
"Not impossible, but not exactly easy either." She gave a small laugh to soften it, and said, "Do you feel up to going back inside?"
I took another deep breath and nodded. "Sure."
She nodded, too. "Good, be careful when you move the drapes. Don't want to flash too much of this beautiful sun onto Damian."
I nodded and felt the good air leaving me. Before I stepped back through the sliding glass doors, I was wondering, what was I going to do with him? I couldn't keep touching him all day. Could I? I was willing to do it up to a point, but all day would drive me mad. Especially if it was not just today, but every day. I suddenly saw an endless stream of days with Damian permanently attached to me. It was claustrophobic.
I half expected him to leech onto me when I came through the door, but he didn't. I stood there in the sudden dimness of the curtained kitchen, letting my eyes adjust. My eyes automatically turned to where Richard had been, but I forced myself to look for Fredo first. He'd moved closer like a good bodyguard, leaning against the small two-seater table in the breakfast nook. The white roses that Jean-Claude sent every week framed Fredo's darkness. His fingers were tracing the edges of his jacket again. I'd never seen Fredo use his knives, but something told me that he'd get to his blades faster than I'd get to my gun, not to mention my knife. The back sheath was really an emergency backup, not a main weapon. If I'd wanted a blade as a main weapon, I'd have put on the wrist sheaths.
I eased into the room away from Fredo, not because he meant me harm, but simply on principle. I wasn't at my best, and he was the only professional bad guy in the room, so I treated him with the caution he deserved. Besides, I had to redeem my earlier stupidity somehow, and the days when I would have picked a fight just to reassure myself I was still tough were long ago and far away. Being a girl, that phase had been shorter anyway. We are much more practical creatures than men, as a general rule.
Richard was still at the table. Clair was beside him now. She had a hand on his good shoulder, her small hand very pale against the darkness of his skin. She was watching me. Her eyes were blue, a dark sort of gray blue, but blue nonetheless.
Micah stood at the side of the island closest to the table. He seemed tense, but it was a flicker of his eyes that helped me find Damian and Nathaniel.
The vampire had wedged himself into the corner between the cabinets and the sink. He was holding his knees tight to his chest, his face resting on them, so that he could hide his eyes. He'd managed to hide almost all of himself in the blue velvet dressing gown and the fall of his own hair. Nathaniel was beside him on the floor. He was touching Damian's hands, but that was all.
Nathaniel looked up at me, and there was something in his violet eyes, pain, helplessness, something. I wasn't mad anymore, and I didn't feel claustrophobic as I crossed the kitchen to them. I knelt on the other side of Damian and looked a question at Nathaniel. "I thought my touch might help him until you got back inside."
I nodded. It sounded logical.
"He didn't want me to touch him much." He wasn't hurt when he said it, it was just a fact.
I touched Damian's bowed head. His hand suddenly wrapped around my wrist. The movement had been too fast to see, which didn't happen often to me with vamps, and shouldn't have happened with this one. The speed of it, and the strength in his hand made me gasp.
He raised up and gave me the full look of those emerald eyes. I was suddenly struck by the sheer beauty of him. It was almost a physical force. As if beauty were a hammer and I'd taken a hit directly between the eyes.
"My God," Nathaniel whispered.
It took more effort than was pretty for me to tear my glance away from Damian. Once I saw Nathaniel's face it was easier, and I could breathe again. "Do you see it, too?" I asked.
He nodded. "It's like a really good face-lift, not much change, but the changes are just right."
"What are the two of you talking about?" Damian asked.
His talking made me look at him again, and I was held spellbound. He'd always been handsome, but not like this. "It's vampire powers, somehow. I thought as my servant he'd be less able to do that, not more."
"I don't think it's mind games, Anita," Nathaniel said. He reached out to touch Damian's face.
Damian pulled back. "What? What's wrong with my face?"
"Absolutely nothing," I said, "Richard beat the shit out of you, but there's not a mark left."
He raised his own hand up and touched his mouth. "It's healed," he said.
I nodded, and it was as if I was mesmerized by him. Was it mind tricks, or had more than just the damage healed? I couldn't tell, and I wasn't sure whether Nathaniel was a better judge than I was. "Micah, can you look at him?"
Micah came to stand at the end of the island closest to us. The look on his face was enough, before he said, "Wow."