"It was the one thing he fought against most strongly."
"Yes," Elinore said, "he was always most adamant that he did not do men."
"Belle punished him for his refusal to service men," Jean-Claude said. He stared down at Requiem with a solemn, lost look.
"Then he shouldn't be offering to do it for us," I said.
"No, he should not." Jean-Claude looked at me, and showed for an instant what he was feeling. I felt it like a stab through my heart. Anguish, anguish that he had brought Requiem here to keep him safe, and instead had enslaved him more thoroughly than Belle ever managed.
I felt the bed move a moment before a hand touched my back through the robe. I turned, but I knew whose hand was on me. Requiem had sat up, with all the damage to his chest and stomach, and he'd sat up so he could touch me. I searched his face for something familiar. I finally said, "Requiem, are you in there?"
He touched my face. "I am here," but he spoke the words with such emotion that they seemed to mean a great deal more than they should have.
I moved his hand away from my face, held it in mine, so maybe he would stop touching me. I looked at Jean-Claude. "This is awful. How do we fix this? Isn't there some faster way than finding his true love?"
Requiem's thumb began to make little circles on my hand, as if just being held wasn't enough.
"It's almost as if she's bespelled him," Elinore said, "as if she were the vampire and he the human."
"Fine, treat it like it's vampire mind tricks; how do I undo it?"
"A vampire's master can sometimes break such enchantments," Elinore said.
I looked at Jean-Claude. "Help him."
London stepped back to the edge of the light. "But it is not Anita's ardeur, but Jean-Claude's ardeur through her. He cannot fix his own ardeur, can he?"
"I do not know," Elinore said. She looked around the room and spoke toward the wall farthest from the door. "Wicked, Truth, you have been very silent through this discussion. Do you have any suggestions?"
The two brothers came forward into the stronger light near the bed. At first glance they didn't look that alike. They were both tall and broad-shouldered, but beyond that they were opposites. Wicked's hair was sleek and very blond, cut long so it framed a face that was all high, sculpted cheekbones, complete with a dimple in his chin deep enough that I could never decide if it looked adorable or painful. His eyes were a clear steady blue, and if I hadn't had Jean-Claude's and Requiem's eyes to compare him to, I'd have said his eyes were striking. He wore a modern tailored suit of tans and creams that made him look halfway between the college professor of your dreams and an executive gigolo. Then there was Truth.
Truth had obviously slept in his clothes. The clothes were made up of bits of leather, but not fashionable club wear, no, more like boiled leather worn smooth and soft with use and wear. His pants were tucked into boots so battered that Jean-Claude had offered to replace them, but Truth wouldn't give them up. He could have been dressed for any century from thirteenth to fifteenth. His straight brown hair was shoulder length, but stringy, as if it needed a good brushing. He didn't exactly have a beard, just stubble, as if he hadn't shaved for a while. But under all that disarray was the same bone structure, the same cleft chin, and the same blue eyes. Wicked's eyes always seemed to hold a cynical joy, but Truth's looked tired and wary, as if he was just waiting for us to disappoint him.
"What do you want from us?" Truth asked, and his voice was already defensive, as if he was ready for an argument.
Elinore uncurled from her chair and moved to stand on the other side of Jean-Claude, not quite to where London was standing, but so she could see the brothers more clearly. "You have been masterless for longer than any other master vampire. Surely, in all those centuries, some powerful vampire tried to capture the great warriors Wicked and Truth. Have you been bespelled as Requiem is?"
Wicked laughed. "Save the flattery, Elinore; we'll help if we can, if Anita tells us plainly what she wants from us." He turned those laughing eyes to me. Truth's somber eyes followed his brother's gaze.
I met their eyes. Wicked looked like it was all a big joke, which I'd finally realized was his blank face. Truth looked calmer, blanker, but he was ready to be disappointed in me. Certainty that I would not live up to his expectations was clear on his face.
"Isn't it Jean-Claude's order you need?" Elinore asked.
Truth shook his head. Wicked said, "No."
"No," Jean-Claude said.
"No," Wicked repeated, and he allowed himself a small, tasteful smirk of satisfaction.
"Who is your master?" Elinore asked.
"They are," and Truth motioned at both Jean-Claude and me.
"Then why is Jean-Claude's order not good enough?" she asked.
"He hasn't bespelled Requiem; she has," Truth said.
"You do not agree with London that it is Jean-Claude's ardeur flowing through Anita."
They both shook their heads, and the movement was so well-timed that you could suddenly see how identical they almost were.
Wicked spoke for them. "Anita's will, her intent, is what we need." He stared at me. "What is your will, Anita?"
"To have him free of me."
"Would you undo the blood oath and cast him back to Belle Morte?" Wicked asked.
Requiem clutched at my hand. "Please, mistress, not that."
I patted his shoulder. "No, Requiem, you're not going back to Belle. We would never let that happen." He calmed almost instantly, and he shouldn't have. That much panic shouldn't have just vanished. It was just another sign of how far gone he was.
"Be careful with your words," said Truth, "for they are dangerous things."
I thought before I spoke the next time. "I want him to have choices. I don't want all his free will sucked away like this."
"Why?" Wicked asked. "Why is bespelling him so terrible to you?"
I looked into Requiem's face where he sat beside me. He gave me a look of absolute adoration. My stomach clenched tight. The thought of anyone being bound to anyone else like that was wrong; that I'd done it by accident made me vaguely nauseous.
"I like Requiem. He's a good guy, especially for a vampire. I don't want him like this, some sort of slave, it's just creepy."
"Is he better off dead?" Wicked asked.
"No," I said, quickly, "no."
"Then what would you have us do?" Truth asked.
Requiem said, "Do I not please you?"
I grabbed his good shoulder and said, "I know you're in there, Requiem. Come back to us. Hear me, Requiem, hear my voice, and break free of this."
"I don't wish to be free," he said, simply.
I pulled away from him, and he tried to hold on. I actually slapped his hands away from me. He looked so hurt.
"Please, Anita, how have I displeased you so? I will do anything. Anything that you ask, if you will only feed the ardeur from me."
"Anything," I said.
"Anything, you have but to speak it, and I will do it."
"Break free of this," I said.
"I do not understand," he said, and he looked as puzzled as his words.
"That's what I want, Requiem. I want you to break free of what I've done to you." The moment I said it, I knew it was true, that was what I wanted. "You're a master vampire. You could be a Master of the City, if you were a little more ambitious. You can fight this." I searched his face, to see if he understood what I was saying. "Come back to yourself, or I won't feed the ardeur on you."
"Anita, I... I don't..."
"You said you'd do anything I asked. This is an anything, and it's what I want you to do."
"You may be asking something he cannot do," Wicked said.
"I've felt his own version of the ardeur. Or whatever you call the other gifts of Belle's line that aren't exactly ardeur. He is powerful." I looked into his face and tried to show him how much I knew he could do this. "I want to see Requiem staring at me out of these eyes, not some besotted fool. Be the strong man I know you can be. Fight free of this, enough to talk to me. I won't touch you, ever again, unless you can give consent." He looked so stricken, so wounded, that I went up on my knees and cradled his face between my hands. "You told me once that you considered your power rape, because it affected only the body and not the mind. Do you remember saying that, Requiem?"