"And the men. Do not forget, Anita, she made certain we knew how to pleasure men, as well."
I nodded, and stopped, because the bandages pinched. "I've grasped that concept, thanks."
"But you are not happy with it."
"More puzzled by it."
He smoothed the sheets where he'd dampened them. I think he was looking for anything to fuss over, rather than what we were doing. I'd never seen him this uncomfortable.
I did what I'd wanted to do since he walked into the room. I laid my hand on his. He went very, very still under my touch. That awful, unnatural stillness, where it feels like you're not touching anything alive. He went away from my touch, but I kept my hand on his. If he thought a little weird vampire shit would make me move, he was wrong.
"Anita," and his voice tried to be as empty as his body, but failed.
"I'm not afraid because you almost killed me. I'm afraid because you almost killed me, and I still want to touch you."
He drew his hand out of mine. He sat down, but he would at least look at me now. "I have rolled your mind, completely and utterly. I have done what you feared that I would do."
"And don't you want to touch me?"
"Yes." He whispered it.
"You were the first one to realize that just biting me helps me gain control over a vamp. I don't think it's just you who's rolled me."
"Are you saying you have gained control of me?"
"I'm not sure what I'm saying. I just know that I don't want you gone. I don't want you to never touch me again. I want us to be together. Beyond that, I don't know."
"Together in what way, Anita?"
"We'll just need a spotter," I said.
"A spotter, what are you talking about?"
"A spotter, like you have in gymnastics. Sex with you is so good we need spotters."
"So dangerous, you mean," he said, and he stared at his hands where they lay loose in his lap.
"I'd do it again, Asher."
He looked up then, and it wasn't a happy look. "Do you really mean that?"
"That should frighten you, and me."
"It does scare me, but it doesn't really scare you, does it?"
"I'm terrified for your safety, but..."
"You've been a very good boy, haven't you?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
I had one of those moments of seeing so deep into another person that it makes the rest of the world seem unsteady for a moment. It wasn't vampire powers, or necromancy, it was just a moment of insight so bright and painful that I couldn't look away. "Look me in the eye, Asher, and tell me that you've never done what you did with me before, and had the woman not survive it?"
He looked away then, those pale eyes hiding from me.
"Asher," I said.
He met my eyes with that blank perfect face, peering through the mess of his hair. "I have done what you accuse me of."
"It's not an accusation," I said, "it was more a statement."
"Do you not think me a monster for it?"
I thought about it. Did I think him a monster? "Did you do it on purpose?"
"Did I go into the lovemaking planning the death of my lover?" he asked.
"Yeah, that's what I mean?"
"No, save once."
"There was a lord from whom Belle desired money and land. He had been diagnosed with a cancer. He was a strong, proud man. He did not wish to die in pain and sickness. He requested I kill him. He wished to die by pleasure, instead of pain. He also felt that if I took his life, it was not suicide, so his soul was strangely safe."
He told the story in an empty voice, as if it meant nothing to him. It was the kind of voice that people use about trauma or tragedy when they haven't dealt with it yet.
"You liked him," I said.
"He was a decent man."
"I don't think you're a monster."
"Why am I not a monster for killing someone to give myself pleasure?"
"Put that way, you would be, but that's not what you did. It's a loop of pleasure, Asher. It's not your pleasure, but hers, mine. I could have said no. There was a point where I knew it was too much, that we should stop."
"I had rolled your mind. You had no free will."
"You can roll me, but I don't stay rolled if I don't want to, not anymore. I didn't want to stop, Asher. Do you think I'm a monster for saying it was one of the most amazing orgasmic experiences that I've ever had?"
"No, not a monster."
"We can have intercourse together alone sometimes, but no biting while we're alone."
"You do not trust me."
"I don't trust either of us," I said.
He almost smiled. "I nearly killed you. I nearly spilled all that precious blood. The sofa had to be destroyed, the carpet taken up. I almost killed you, Anita, not for food, but for pleasure."
"You were in the middle of a major power-up, Asher. An animal to call, at long last."
He glanced behind at the waiting guards. "Hyenas, yes."
"Jean-Claude says that the first time any power kicks in, it's always hard to control."
Asher took my hand. "I would not trade your love for a thousand powers. I would not trade a single strand of your hair for any territory." His eyes were glittery, not with power, but tears.
"I believe you."
"Your new laws say we are citizens, but we are monsters, Anita. If I had killed you with the birth of this new power, I would have followed you soon after."
"You're saying you would have killed yourself?"
He nodded. "I could not have borne it."
"I don't want you dead."
"Nor I you." He knelt and laid his head on my hand. "It was not blood that brought my power, Anita. It was you, you wanting me more than anyone else. In that moment I could feel it. You wanted me, not Jean-Claude, not Richard, not Micah, not Nathaniel, me. You wanted me, my body, my touch, more than anyone else's. I could see into your heart, and I saw only me there." He rose up, tears staining his face faintly pink. "You truly do love me, just me. Not because of memories you share with Jean-Claude. Not out of pity. You love me."
"Yes," I said, "otherwise I'd be wicked pissed about the whole almost-killing-me thing."
"I will never forgive myself for that. Jean-Claude would have been within his rights to slay me for such carelessness."
"He loves you."
He nodded. "Yes, he does. I doubted that, until I realized he was not going to kill me for almost killing you. I doubted everyone's love for me, Anita, but no longer. He loves me, or he would have killed me when he walked into that room and saw what I had done."
So that was it. I almost died. Asher had an animal to call. Jean-Claude didn't kill him for almost killing me. I didn't kill Asher for almost killing me. Jean-Claude has forbidden Asher and me to have feeding sex by ourselves. We didn't argue, because Asher and I both know the darkest secret of all between us. It felt so good, so incredibly good, that we didn't trust each other not to do it again.
I am a succubus. I am a vampire. Maybe not a bloodsucker, but I feed off sex. It isn't just Damian's life that can get drained away if I don't feed. Nathaniel will die. I will die. I think Jean-Claude can protect himself and Richard from me, but I could kill us all if I don't learn to manage my own personal triumvirate of power. London is the front-runner for my new pomme de sang. I wish I liked him better. I don't dislike him, but I'm afraid to bring him home. He doesn't strike me as the domestic type. Requiem is part of the food chain, but he is so not just food. He craves true love. I can't blame him, but I can't help him either. The sex is great, but he scares me. For centuries-old vampires, they all seem so easy to hurt emotionally. Weird.
I wrapped a cross in silk, put that in a velvet bag, and that inside a pillowcase. It seems to be working. No more bad dreams of Marmee Noir. No accidents for my vampire lovers, or me. I'd send Merlin a thank-you note if I had an address.
Sampson is staying in town so I can fulfill my promise to try to bring his powers over. He's letting me recover my strength, and my nerve for it. Nice of him. I made Auggie take Haven home to Chicago. My hands ached to touch him. So dangerous. The local werelions are trying to find me someone else, but I miss Haven. He's a dangerous thug, but I miss him. My lioness misses him. He would be such a bad idea to keep.