My throat hurt, but it wasn't from what the beasts had done. My throat was thick and tight; my eyes burned. Why did Richard always make me want to cry? "Don't make me do this," I whispered.
"Just say it, Anita, just say it."
I had to swallow twice, and the tears spilled over as I said, "Yes, it would have been bad."
"Why? Why would the two of us living together, raising our child be so bad? If it is mine I want a place in his life."
That was it, he'd brought the baby up, and suddenly in all the tears was the anger, never far behind for me. "You don't see me, Richard. You see this ideal of me, but it's not me. I don't think it was ever me."
"What does that mean, I don't see you? I see you, you're right there."
"What do you see, Richard, tell me?"
"I see you."
"I'm na**d on a bed being held by a na**d man, with two other na**d men in the room who are also my lovers. You've just said you can't stand to watch me take another lover, when you know I'm supposed to be looking for a new pomme de sang to feed the ardeur."
"I thought you weren't really going to look, just pretend."
That should not have been said in front of our company. "I'm not sure I have a choice right now, Richard."
"The next time the wolf comes, just don't fight it, and you can be my lupa. We can be together, because you won't be able to be with anyone else."
That was it; I told him the truth. "I don't want to be just with you, Richard. I don't want to lose Micah and Nathaniel, or Jean-Claude."
"So, if I said, choose, I'd lose."
I thought, you've already lost me. Out loud, I said, "I can't be with just one person, Richard, you know that."
"Even if the ardeur cools, you're never going to choose just one of us, are you?"
We stared at each other, and the weight of his gaze was so heavy, so heavy. In his own way, he was just as stubborn as I was, and this was one of those moments when it was about to destroy us. "No, Richard, I don't think I am."
He took in a lot of air, and let it out slow. He nodded, as if to himself, stood, and said, without looking at me, "That's what I needed to hear. Not this weekend, we'll be busy, but next weekend I'll still want you to go to church with me, if you want to."
I wasn't sure what to say, so I said, "Okay."
"Family dinner afterward, like always," he said as he headed for the door. He hesitated at the door, turned with his hand touching it. "I will find someone who wants the life I want."
"I hope you do," I whispered.
"I love you," he said.
"I love you, too," I said, and meant it.
"I hate you, Anita," he said, with almost no change in his voice.
"I hate you, too, Richard," I said, and I meant it.
ANOTHER MESS, ANOTHER bath. Thanks to the violence of Haven's change I wasn't the only one with gobs of him in my hair, and other places. If a forensics team had come on the scene; God knows what they would have made of it. Jean-Claude and Micah got in the tub with me. Nathaniel had taken Haven to the feeding area, where they kept livestock, or I assumed it was livestock. Truthfully, I'd never seen the "feeding," but Nathaniel and Jason had both told me that it was legal food, and that meant animals. Though I loved several shapeshifters, I did not want to see them eat. Some visuals I did not need.
Octavius and Pierce had tried to go back to their rooms, but Claudia had stopped them. She'd asked where the guards on their door were. Pierce said, "They tried to stop Haven and me from leaving the room."
"That was their job," Claudia said.
"Then they aren't that good at their job," he said.
"Did you kill them?"
He looked down at the floor, then back up. "They were breathing when we left them."
That had prompted her to send Lisandro and Clay to check. She'd kept Graham with her, and made Octavius and Pierce wait for the news. Both of the wererats were alive, but hurt. Badly hurt.
Thanks to the problems we'd had with the masters of both Cape Cod and Chicago, we had extra guards. They had actually put guards on the coffin room, which was fortunate; Meng Die had cracked her coffin when she got the power rush that all of Jean-Claude's people got from our sex with Augustine. Meng Die, more powerful, not a good thought.
Now the extra guards came in handy. Claudia put four guards on Octavius and Pierce. She sent Lisandro to supervise them, with orders to check in with Fredo, who turned out to be in charge of the coffin room detail. Claudia stayed with us, and kept Clay with her. The two of them were outside in the bedroom now, while we cleaned up. Claudia and Clay were messy, too, but would wait to clean up.
Jean-Claude drew me through the warm water, until my body rested against his. I laid my head back against his shoulder and said, "Didn't we just do this?"
"Not precisely, ma petite," he whispered against my wet hair.
Micah moved through the water until he knelt beside us. His hair was plastered to his head, looking straight and black. His chartreuse eyes were startling in his tanned face without the hair to distract from them. He moved in close enough that a strand of his hair touched mine, and the illusion of blackness faded, because even wet his hair was not as dark as mine, or Jean-Claude's. Impossibly rich, dark brown, but not black.
I whispered against Micah's cheek, "No, not precisely."
Micah kissed me, then leaned back enough to see us clearly. "Now that we're clean, why couldn't we wake you and Jean-Claude?"
"I thought Jean-Claude was awake the whole time," I said.
"Not at first; at first he was as out of it as you were."
"How did you know he wasn't just dead to the world like normal?"
"He was breathing."
I felt Jean-Claude stir against me, as if that fact had startled him. "Breathing. How... interesting." His voice was very careful.
"Shouldn't you have been breathing?" I asked.
"No," he said.
I turned around in his arms until I could study his face. That face showed me nothing. It was as beautiful and unreadable as a painting, as if instead of a face with movement and breath, it were just a moment caught in time, a single lovely expression. He was at his most careful, hiding, when he was like that.
"Why is your breathing more surprising than your not dying at dawn?" I asked.
"I also dreamed," he said.
I frowned at him. "You were asleep. You dream when you're asleep."
"I have not dreamed in almost six hundred years."
"What did you dream?" Micah asked.
"A very practical question, mon chat.'"
I looked from one to the other of them. "Am I missing something?"
Jean-Claude looked at me. "What did you dream, ma petite? Who did you dream of?" His voice never changed from that friendly lilt.
"You ask like you already know," I said.
"You must say it, ma petite."
"The Mother of All Darkness," I said, softly, and just saying it seemed to make the room not quite bright enough.
"Marmee Noir," he said, nodding.
"Yes," I said. I tried to read past that pleasant exterior, and failed. "You dreamed of her, too?"
"You both dreamed of the head of the vampire council?"
"She is much more than that," Jean-Claude said. "She is the creator of our civilization. Our laws are her laws. Some say she was the first vampire, and that she truly is the mother of us all."
I cuddled in closer to him, and he tucked me under his arm, so I could wrap my arms around his waist. Somehow, close wasn't close enough when talking about the Mother of All Darkness.
"What did you dream, exactly?" Micah asked.
"She tried to play human for me, but, God, she was bad at it."
"I saw her bend over you, ma petite. I saw her begin to take you away from me. But I could not reach you, the darkness held me as her figure bent over you." He shuddered, and held me right against his body. "I could not reach you, and her voice taunted me for my carelessness." He kissed the top of my head. "But she also told me that if I had given you the fourth mark, that she would have killed you, for if she could not control you, then she would destroy you."
Micah came to us, tucked himself against me, pressing Jean-Claude's arm between us, his own arm going across Jean-Claude's shoulders. Micah was on his knees beside me, because their heads came together over mine, and Micah wasn't tall enough for that without some help. "But you woke before Anita," Micah said. "Why?"