I didn't know what to say. Why was I left so often this night with a dozen things to say and nothing I wanted to share out loud? I decided for partial truth, better than a lie, I guess. "I'm wondering when you're going to spoil everything."
He drew away enough to see my face clearly. He let his puzzlement show. "What have I done now?"
I shook my head. "That's the problem, you haven't done anything, nothing wrong anyway."
I looked at him and wanted to see his eyes. I finally reached up and moved his dark glasses just enough to glimpse his chartreuse eyes. But, of course, that was a mistake, because I found myself gazing into those eyes, marveling at how green they looked tonight. I shook my head again. "Damn it."
"What is wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing, and that's what's wrong." Even to me it made no sense, but it was still true. Still how I felt.
He gave me that smile that was part puzzlement, part irony, part self-deprecation, and part something else. Nothing about that smile was happy. He'd come with that smile, and I still didn't understand it, but I knew that he used it less and less, and usually only when I was being silly. Even I knew I was being silly, but I couldn't seem to help it. He was too perfect, so I had to poke at it. Our relationship worked too well, so I had to see if I could break it. Not really break it, but see how far it would bend. I had to test it, because what good was something that couldn't be tested? Oh, hell, that wasn't it. The truth was that if I let myself I could be happy with Micah, and it was beginning to get on my nerves.
I leaned my forehead against his chest. "I'm sorry, Micah, I'm just tired and feeling grumpy."
He walked me a little to one side, off the dance floor, not that we'd been dancing. "What is wrong?"
I tried to think what was wrong. I was taking something out on him, but what? Then, part of it hit me. "It didn't bother me to see the dead woman. I felt nothing."
"You have to divorce yourself from your emotions, or you can't do your job."
I nodded. "Yeah, but once I had to work at it. Now I don't."
He frowned down at me, his eyes still peeking over his partially lowered glasses. "And that bothers you, why?"
"Only sociopaths and crazy people can look at the violently dead and feel absolutely nothing, Micah."
He hugged me to him, suddenly, fiercely, but was careful to keep part of his body away. It was the kind of hug you'd give a friend in need. Maybe a little tighter, a little more intimate, but not much. He always seemed to know just what I needed, just when I needed it. If we weren't in love, then how did he do that? Hell, I'd been in love with people that didn't even come close to meeting this many of my needs.
"You are not a sociopath, Anita. You have given up pieces of yourself so you can do your job. You told me once, it's the price you pay."
I wrapped my arms around him, held him tight, rested my forehead in the bend of his neck, rubbed my face against the incredible smoothness of his skin. "I'm trying not to lose more pieces of myself, but it's like I can't stop. I felt nothing tonight, except guilt that I felt nothing. How crazy is that?"
He kept hugging me. "It's only crazy if you think it's crazy, Anita."
That made me draw back enough to see his face. "What's that mean?"
He touched my face, gently. "It means that if your life works, and you work in it, then it's okay, whatever is happening is okay."
I frowned, then laughed, then frowned again. "I'm not sure a therapist would agree with that."
"All I know is that since I met you, I've felt safer, happier, and better than I have in years."
"You said safer; funny, I'd think that would be how Nathaniel would order it, safer, then happy."
"I may be your Nimir-Raj and a dominant, but, Anita, I spent years at the mercy of Chimera. He was crazy and a sociopath. I've seen the real thing, Anita, and you are neither of those things." He smiled when he said it and gave a little duck of his head, almost like an old gesture that he'd nearly outgrown. It showed his profile for a moment, and because I was in the mood to pick, I asked something I'd been debating on for weeks.
I traced the bridge of his nose. "When I first met you, your nose looked like it had been badly broken. I assumed that meant it had happened when you were human, but your nose is getting straighter, isn't it?"
"Yes," and his voice was soft when he said it. There was no smile now, not even the confusing one. His face had closed down. I'd begun to realize that this was how he looked when he was sad. I'd met Chimera, hell, I'd killed him. He'd been one of the most insane beings I'd ever met. This from a list that included self-deluded would-be gods and millenia-old master vampires, not to mention wereanimals that were both sexual sadists and sexual predators, in the truest sense of the word. So, that I would put Chimera near the top of my crazy-bad-guy list said just how awful he had been. I could not imagine being at his mercy for any length of time. I hadn't enjoyed a few hours. Micah and his pard had been with Chimera for years. I'd avoided this topic, because it was so obviously painful for all of them, but especially for Micah. But tonight, for so many reasons, I needed to know. I needed, almost, to cause him some pain. Ugly, but true.
Sometimes you fight what you are, and sometimes you give in to it. And some nights you just don't want to fight yourself anymore, so you pick someone else to fight.
We ended up standing at the far side of the parking lot, where trees grew in a tall, thin line. Fast-growing maples, with their yellow leaves, dancing in the October wind. My hair was so tight in its French braid that the wind could do little with it, but Micah's hair streamed around his face, like a thick, dark cloud. He'd taken off his glasses, and the streetlights made his eyes very yellow, even with the green shirt on, as if they reflected the light differently than they should have, or would have, if they'd been human eyes.
The wind was cool and held that crisp autumn scent. What I wanted to do was take his hand and walk out into the night until we found some woods. I wanted to go walking out into the darkness and let the wind take us where it wanted us to go. My bad mood seemed to have faded on the cool night wind, or maybe it was the sight of him, his face nearly lost in a cloud of his own hair. Whatever it was, I didn't want to fight anymore.
"You're right, my nose is healing." His voice held that hint of bitter laughter to it. That tone that matched that confusing smile.
I touched his arm. "If this is hard, you don't have to."
He shook his head and put a hand up at his hair, impatient, angry, as if he was mad at the hair for getting in his face. I thought he was probably angry at me, but I didn't ask. I didn't really want to know if the answer was yes.
"No, you asked, I'll answer."
I took back my hand and let him talk, let him open the bag that I'd wanted opened, so badly, only minutes ago. Now, I'd have let it go to wipe that look off his face.
"Do you know why my hair's long?"
It was such an odd question, that I answered it. "No, I guess I thought you liked it that way."
He shook his head, one hand caught in the hair near his face, so he could keep the wind from chasing it across his face. "When Chimera took over a group of shapeshifters, he used torture, or the threat of torture, to control us. If the head of the group could withstand the torture, then he'd torment weaker members. Use their harm as a way to control the alphas in the group."
He was quiet for so long that I had to say something. "I know he was a sadistic bastard. I remember what he did to Gina and Violet, to keep you and Merle under control."
"You only know part of it," he said, and his eyes had a distant look, so far away. He was remembering, and it wasn't pretty.
I hadn't meant to bring this on. I hadn't. "Micah, I didn't mean..."
"No, you wanted to know. You can know." He took in a breath so deep it made him shudder. "One of his favorite torments was gang rape. Those of us who wouldn't participate, he made us grow our hair long. Said, if we wanted to act like women, we should look like women."
I thought about that for a second. "You and Merle are the only men in your pard that have long hair."
He nodded. "I think Caleb enjoyed it, and Noah, well," he shrugged. "We all did things that we didn't like, just to stay alive. To stay whole."
I couldn't think much less of Caleb, but it made me think less of Noah. I didn't know what to say out loud. But Micah didn't need me to talk anymore. The story was started, and he would tell it now, whether I wanted to hear it or not. It was my own damn fault, so I listened and gave him the only thing I could at this point--my attention. Not horror, not pity, just my attention. Horror was redundant, and pity--no one likes pity.