"It makes a better feeding, more energy, if you know their deepest wish and give it to them."
He nodded. "Oui, but what is the rule for all the gifts of my bloodline?"
I frowned at him. "I don't... oh, that they're two-edged swords. All of Belle's powers cut both ways."
I was still staring at him. "If you have a point to make, please make it, because if that was a hint, I don't get it."
"When you first met Micah, what did you need in your life?"
"Stop trying to make me reason this through, Jean-Claude, just tell me."
"You will not like it," he said.
"I'm getting that impression, but remember I'm a jerk-the-Band-Aid-off kind of girl. Just tell me."
"You needed help with the wereleopards, and with all the other shapeshifters that you were beginning to try to help. It was your willingness to help many kinds of shapeshifters that laid the groundwork for our so-lovely coalition. You yourself said that so much that was wrong with the lycanthrope community could be fixed if they would only talk to each other."
"I remember all this, so what?"
"You needed a man in your life who simply said yes, instead of arguing with you or running his own agenda. You needed someone to put your needs first." He looked at me, as if he'd been very clear. It wasn't clear to me.
"Doesn't everyone?" I said.
"I think I get it," Micah said, softly.
I turned to him. "Then tell me."
"My heart's desire was safety for my people, and a partner powerful enough, passionate enough, to help me save them. We both got what we wanted most, out of each other."
I frowned, trying to think, then said slowly, "Are you saying that I caused Micah to be everything I needed him to be?" I looked at Jean-Claude. "Are you saying that even now, he's like under my power? That that's why he never argues with me? That he's under a spell?" I looked back at Micah, to see if his face was as horrified as mine felt.
He looked the same as ever, calm, ready to do what was needed. So practical, so... so everything I needed in a man. Shit.
He smiled at me. "Don't look so horrified, Anita."
"Do you normally argue more than this?"
He shook his head. "I was always pretty easygoing, and years trapped in Chimera's group took care of most of my rebellion. It was too expensive to the people around me to be a smart-ass."
"Is everything we have just vampire tricks, except I'm the vampire? Is it all a lie?"
"This was the reaction I feared you would have," Jean-Claude said.
"What reaction am I supposed to have?" I asked, and it was almost a yell.
"You missed part of his point," Micah said.
"If the ardeur made me into your perfect mate, then it made you into mine. It's a double-edged sword, remember."
Was I under a spell? My own spell? It was too complicated for me. I turned back to Jean-Claude. "I don't understand this. I mean, if this is true, then how could we not have noticed?"
"But, ma petite, you did notice. Your Nimir-Raj is the first man you have ever had sex with on first meeting. He is the first man you have ever allowed yourself not to push away, is he not?"
I wanted to argue, and I couldn't. Damn it, but I couldn't. "Shit," I said.
I turned, and looked at Nathaniel. He gave me a gentle smile, like you'd give someone in the doctor's office who just got bad news.
"If this is true about Micah and me, then..."
"Oui, ma petite, the same would be true of Nathaniel."
"No, it was different, very different with both of them."
"But they are very different men. One heart's desire is not the same as another's."
"I resisted Nathaniel for months before we had sex."
"Oui, but it was not sex that Nathaniel wanted, not truly; he wanted to be loved and valued for himself, not just for his body. By denying him sex, but loving him, you gave him what he wanted most."
I felt like I was choking. I couldn't breathe. My back hit the wall. I leaned against it, trying to think, and failing.
"The only two men in my life that I haven't seen all the way through are you and Richard."
Jean-Claude nodded. "I knew how to keep you out, and Richard was strong enough, and conflicted enough, not to know his own heart's desire."
"But everyone else," I stared at him. "Asher, Damian, maybe even Jason, hell, I don't know."
Requiem spoke then. "I think that your ardeur holds not just lust, Anita, but love, as Belle's ardeur did. As my Ligeia's ardeur did."
"I've been inside Belle's head. She wouldn't know real love if it bit her on the ass."
He gave a small smile, as if I'd amused him. "She knows the ardeur as a warrior knows his weapon. She knows the art of causing love and devotion, even addiction, in others, without suffering it herself."
"Are you saying I'm doing it wrong?"
He seemed to think about it, then nodded.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"There was a moment when you looked deep into me. I felt you see all the way down into my soul, Anita. I felt you caress the deepest pain I own. Belle Morte would have coaxed that pain to life and used it to torment me. You were going to try to heal it."
"I was supposed to heal you, right?"
"Physically, ma petite, not emotionally." He touched my face, staring at me, as if he were trying to read something from my face. "And certainly not his deepest hurt." He let his hand drop away, but continued to study my face.
"I don't know how to do anything halfway, Jean-Claude. It's all or nothing for me, you should know that by now."
He nodded and looked unhappy. "You are quite right, ma petite. I am your master and this is all my fault. I should have seen it."
"Seen what, exactly?"
"You have been obsessed with learning to control the feedings, ma petite. It has made me obsess with you, but there are other things to learn about controlling it. Things I have neglected to teach you."
"You could not have taught her control of this, not when the ardeur was fresh, Jean-Claude," Requiem said. "I was with Ligeia from the moment she gained the power. The first few months are a wild thing. I thought she would go mad with it." He gripped Jean-Claude's shoulder. "My understanding is the ardeur rose for the first time with Micah. There was no controlling it." He looked at me, and at Micah. "It has actually worked out extremely well for all concerned."
I turned and looked at Micah, and Nathaniel. "I trapped you both. I rolled you."
They exchanged a look, then both looked back at me. "We love you," Micah said.
Nathaniel moved in, as if he'd hug me. I moved farther down the wall, out of reach. "But it's all vampire powers. It's a lie--doesn't that ruin it for you? I trapped you. I trapped you both; it's worse than what Auggie did to us. It's not fake, it's like real love. I made you both fall in love with me, that's like evil."
"If you made us fall in love with you, but didn't love us back, maybe it would be evil," Micah said, "but you do love us back."
"But it's a lie, Micah. It's all a lie."
He gave me a look, that look that said I was being silly. But I wasn't being silly, was I? "I've been in love before, Anita, remember."
"Becky, your high school sweetheart, college fianc?," I said.
He nodded. "That was real, Anita. She was the love of my life, and if she hadn't dumped me, I wouldn't have known that love could get any better than that."
Becky had dumped him when he survived the attack that made him a wereleopard. She just couldn't handle his being furry once a month. Of course, she'd had other problems with him before that. What I thought was a huge bonus, she'd thought was a huge downside.
Micah stepped toward me.
I slid along the wall, my hand out. I didn't want him to touch me, not right then. Mainly because if he did, I'd lose this fight. I'd always wondered at how my body reacted to him. No one had that effect on me, not to that degree. Now I knew it was vampire mind tricks, but I was the vampire who had done it. Fuck.
"I know what true love feels like, Anita. This is it. We are all happier than we've ever been. The only thing that will spoil what we have is if you freak about this."
"How can I not freak about this, Micah?"