I reached out for Cookie. He grabbed my hand, almost by reflex. I dragged him down to me, and he didn't fight me. He could have, but he came to me. He laid his body on top of mine while the lion tried to come out. She stretched, stretched, impossibly huge, trying to thrust claws out through my fingers and toes. She couldn't come out, but those metaphysical claws cut through my skin. I screamed. I raised my hands up to hold him to me, and there was blood flowing down my fingers. Sweet Jesus, help me.
From far away I heard Cookie say, "What do I do?"
"Kiss her," someone said.
He kissed me. The moment his mouth touched mine, I let the lion go. I let it plow into him. With Nathaniel I'd tried to be a little controlled, but I was all out of control today.
It hurt for it to leave me, like someone had thrust a shovel down my throat and was digging out my internal organs in one ripping, burning line. I screamed into his mouth, and he screamed back. He kept his mouth on mine, even while his body began to writhe in pain. His hands dug into the bed on either side of me, holding on, holding on, while that line of tearing, ripping, burning power ripped him open. There was no moment of bones sliding, or reshaping. One minute he was human, the next his skin had exploded outward, raining on the room in thick wet globs. The body under my hands was dry and furred, and the cheek I touched had a fringe of thick, golden mane. I had to wipe thick goo out of my eyes to be able to see. I wiped off bits of him that were thicker than clear liquid. The power had literally blown him apart. I had a moment to wonder if his tattoos would survive; then I could see his face.
His eyes were golden, in a face that was a pale gold, with a mane around his head like a furry halo. The face was that strangely graceful mix of human and cat. His shoulders were broader than the leopards', everything more muscular. His suddenly nude body was pressed between my legs, but not happy to be there. I had a glimpse of his tail flicking behind him, then he collapsed, partially on me and partially beside me.
Where his weight hit, my body hurt. I made a small sound, and he rolled off me and lay there on the liquid-soaked sheets. He looked like some primitive golden god hunted to death. I lay where I was, covered in something I didn't even want to see. It felt too thick, too... just too. I tried not to look at it, or think about it. I lay there covered in bits of his body, and knew I'd hurt him, badly.
"I'm sorry," I said, and my voice was an abused whisper.
He rolled golden eyes up to look at me. "That f**king hurt."
Micah came to the edge of the bed. He took one of my hands in his, and looked at my fingers. "You were bleeding from under your nails. If he hadn't taken your beast when he did," he shrugged, "it might have been too late."
That scared me. It tightened my stomach, and even that hurt, as if I'd abused muscles that I didn't know I had.
"Thank you, Cookie, more than you'll know."
The lionman said, "Did you just call me Cookie?"
"Sorry, it's the hair, Cookie Monster blue, and the tat."
"Haven. My name's Haven." I think he smiled, but it was hard to tell on the lionish face, from the angle I had. "Though Cookie Monster works just fine."
"I said Cookie, not Monster."
"You haven't seen me at my best, yet" he said, and smiled for sure.
I did not understand the comment. Micah did. "He's implying he's big."
"Oh," I said, then had to smile up at Micah. "He shouldn't brag until he's seen the competition."
The lionman rolled his face to look at Micah. He wasn't looking at his face. Micah said, "You aren't seeing me at my best either."
Even through the lion's face I could see the arrogance as he looked up at me, not at Micah. "Trust me, I'll measure up. Auggie was shopping for size, not just talent."
I wasn't sure if I was supposed to say Oh, really, Oh, goody, or Oh, boy. Under normal circumstances his assumption that he was going to get to f**k me would have pissed me off. But one, I didn't have energy left to get pissy; two, he'd saved me. Saved us. Micah, Nathaniel, and me. I could ask for our local pride to give me some lions to follow me around, but this morning, right this moment, Haven had been the only rescue I had. I owed him. Also I'd ripped his body apart, and caused him massive amounts of pain. Oops didn't really cover that one.
"When you can walk," Nathaniel said, "I'll take you to the feeding area." Nathaniel's fur glistened under the lights, wetter from being so close to Haven's violent shift than from his own. He slipped off the end of the bed and padded around to join Micah, who was still holding my hand.
Micah pressed my hand to his face, and it left a wet glistening stain on his cheek. I was so going to need another bath.
"I can walk." Haven slipped off the side of the bed, and went straight to his knees. "Shit."
Nathaniel reached down to help him stand.
Haven asked, "Did you take her beast, too?"
"It didn't hit you this hard, did it?"
"No." Nathaniel didn't bother to explain that it hadn't been as violent, and no one else did either. I wasn't sure we were keeping Haven, but if we were then Nathaniel would need to establish some sort of dominance with the other man. That Nathaniel could take that much pain and keep on ticking would help.
Haven leaned against the bed, Nathaniel still holding his arm. Those golden lion eyes looked at me. "Don't take this personally or anything, but the fringe benefits better be f**king amazing."
"They are," Nathaniel said.
"Depends on what fringe benefits you're talking about," I said.
"Sex," he said, straightening up slowly, obviously still in pain. "You're Belle Morte's line, there is no other fringe benefit for you guys."
I couldn't argue with the last part, but I could with the first. "Don't assume you're getting sex, Haven."
He gave me a look. "All this and you don't think I've proved myself enough for sex? Damn, girl, what does a man have to do to meet your standards?"
"When you figure it out, let me know." This from Richard. He stopped near the bed, and looked at me. "You could have been my lupa for real, but you didn't want to be. You chose him, them, over me."
"If I'd been lupa for real, you wouldn't have wanted me. I saw it in your head."
He shook his head. "You could have been my lupa at the lupanar, with the pack."
"But I would have lost the baby."
He wouldn't meet my gaze.
"You can't stand the thought that this isn't your baby."
"No, I can't."
"I'm already your lupa," I said, "I'm already Bolverk. Nothing would have changed for you and me if I'd become wolf for real. My being wolf would have meant you looked harder for that human Ms. Right."
He stared down at me. "You won't even let me have the illusion of it, will you?"
I tried to sit up, and Micah had to help me. So stiff, so sore. "What illusion, Richard?"
"That we could be together as a couple, at least with the wolves."
"And what happens to my life when the moon isn't full?"
"Would it be so bad to be with me for real, without the others?"
I looked up into his face, and maybe I was tired, physically, mentally, emotionally. After everything I'd been through tonight, and this morning, all he could think of was himself, his problems, his pain. "Is everything about your pain, Richard, is that all you think about?"
"Answer me, Anita, answer me. Would it be so bad to have been with me for real? Just the two of us, would that be so bad?"
I tried one more time not to answer. "You don't want me to answer that question, Richard." I leaned in against Micah, let him hold me.
"Mon ami," Jean-Claude said, "let it go."
He shook his head again. "No, not this time. I had this idea that if he"?nd he pointed at Jean-Claude--"hadn't interfered we'd be a couple, we'd have been happy. But I see you with him"--he pointed at Micah--"and him"--he pointed at Nathaniel--"and I have to know. Tell me the truth, Anita. Tell me the truth. I won't break the triumvirate. I won't run away. But tell me the truth, so I know where I stand. I need to know how hard I need to look for Ms. Right. Tell me the truth, and maybe I can move on. I know I can't stand watching you take another lover. That, I know I can't stand." He sat down on the messy edge of the bed. He gave me a solemn face. "If you'd become wolf for real, and had to live with me, give up Micah and Nathaniel, would that have been so bad?"