"I remember," he said.
"I think it's too dangerous to feed the ardeur on you."
"You swore that you would feed from me, if I broke free. I have broken free."
"I broke you free."
"Are you certain of that? Are you certain that my will did not help you some little bit?"
I started to say no, then hesitated. "I don't... know."
"Then I choose for you to feed."
I was shaking my head.
"Feed, Anita, feed upon my flesh, drink deep of my will until it doth spill upon your body like blood."
"You're not thinking clearly." I started to get off the bed.
He grabbed my arm, in one of those too-quick-to-see movements. He winced, showed that it had cost him. "I have not made the choice you would make, if our places were reversed. I have not said what you wished me to say, but I have chosen."
"Let go of me, Requiem."
He looked at me, and smiled. "I do not wish to, and I am free not to obey. I fought to come back because you said only if I did, only then would you feed from me. Would you deny me now that I have fought the battle and won?"
"What if one feeding undoes it? What if the ardeur consumes you again?"
"If I am never again to be consumed by love, then what better than to be consumed by the ardeur?"
"You sound like a junkie who's had another taste after a long dry spell."
"My heart has died twice. Once when my mortal life ceased and the second when Ligeia was taken from me. I have felt nothing for so very long, Anita. You make me feel again." He sat up, drew me in toward him.
I put a hand on his chest, missing the knife wound by fractions. "The ardeur makes you feel again."
He touched my face with his wounded hand. "No, there is something about you that has awakened my heart."
I had a panicked feeling he was about to profess undying love. Maybe Jean-Claude did, too, because he moved forward and laid a hand on my arm.
Requiem kept his wounded hand against my cheek, but let go of my arm. He reached out to Jean-Claude, laid his hand against the other man's waist. I knew he couldn't feel much through the thick robe, but it was still the most intimate gesture I'd ever seen him make toward Jean-Claude.
"Always before your ardeur tasted of hers, Jean-Claude."
He wasn't talking about me. He meant Belle Morte, because her without appellation always meant Belle for them. "Last night, Jean-Claude, you did not taste of her. You tasted of no one's power but your own. I knew you were a sourdre de sang, but until last night you were still a planet circling the sun of Belle Morte's power. Last night you became the sun and she the moon."
"Belle was the moon," I said.
He looked at me, smiling. "No, Anita, you were the moon. 'The moon's an arrant thief, And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.' "
"You're quoting something," I said.
"Shakespeare, ma petite. He's quoting Timon of Athens."
"Haven't read that one," I said. My pulse was in my throat, and it was making blood trickle from the wounds he'd made in my neck. "I don't need to feed the ardeur right now, Requiem, and with everything going all weird, I think I'll wait until I have to feed."
"That is sense, Requiem," London said.
Requiem gazed at the other vampire. "Would you wait?"
"With permission," London said, "I would like to leave the room."
"Go," Jean-Claude said.
London didn't run for the door, but he didn't stroll either. Hell, if I could have run from it, I would have. But you can't run from yourself.
"Any who wish to go, go," Jean-Claude said.
"The test will not work if we are not here," Elinore said.
"The test is over. We are too dangerous, and we know it."
Elinore didn't argue, she just walked out. Wicked took his brother by the arm, and led him out. Truth seemed to be weeping.
"What do you want us to do?" Remus asked.
"Guard us, if you can."
"We can guard you," he said, sounding slightly offended that Jean-Claude doubted it.
"Can you guard us from ourselves?" Jean-Claude asked.
"I don't understand," Remus said.
Cisco had the gauze and tape. He stood by the bed, as if unsure what to do with the bandages. I touched my neck and came away with a little blood, but it had been a clean bite. It wouldn't bleed all that much, not if it had been done right, and knowing Requiem it had been.
"Do you need antiseptic?" Cisco asked.
Remus came to the bed, impatient. "You treat Anita like another shapeshifter."
"Oh," Cisco said. He started to set the first-aid supplies on the bed, then hesitated as if he didn't want to put them between Requiem and me. He was still wearing a gun, but the confident guard had vanished, replaced by an awkward eighteen-year-old.
"Give her some gauze so she can hold it against the wound," Remus said. "The bandage is mostly to keep the cleanup to a minimum, not really for the wound."
Cisco nodded like he understood, but he held the gauze out to me with his eyes nowhere near my face. In fact, he was sort of studiously trying not to look at me. I finally realized part of his problem. More of my chest was showing than when I'd started. Requiem's feeding had moved the front of the robe around, so that a lot of breast was showing. Not all, not more than a really low neckline would show, but it was distracting him. He was both trying not to stare at my chest, and staring at it, as he warred with himself.
I pressed the gauze to the bite, and closed my robe up with the other hand. I'd need two hands to retie, so all I could do was hold the robe closed. That let Cisco know I'd noticed what he'd been doing. He suddenly met my eyes, and he was embarrassed. It showed in the almost panic in his own eyes, and the dark blush that crawled up his neck. The panic turned to anger, and he looked away, as if I'd seen too far into his soul.
Remus took the first-aid stuff from him. "Go to the coffin room and tell Nazareth to send someone to take your place on this detail."
Cisco protested, "Why?"
"You're staring at her chest. She's not a piece of ass, kid. When you're on the job, you're on the f**king job. You can notice she's pretty, but you don't stare, you don't get distracted."
"I'm sorry, Remus, it won't happen again."
"No, it won't," Remus said. "Go to the coffin room."
"I gave you an order, Cisco, follow it."
Cisco lowered his head, not a bow, but dejection. The gesture itself, at something so small, said how young he was. But he didn't argue again. He went for the door.
When it closed behind him, Remus turned to me. "Are you still bleeding?"
I let go of the gauze; it stayed in place, pasted there by blood. "Hard to tell," I said.
He started to touch the gauze, then stopped, letting his hand drop to his side. I actually looked down to make sure my chest was completely covered. Nothing was showing. So why did Remus seem as reluctant as Cisco to touch me?
"Can you take the gauze away?" he asked.
I didn't argue, just pulled it off. It didn't hurt to move it, so I wasn't bleeding that badly. Good.
"Turn your head to the side so I can see." He added, "Please."
I did what he asked, which put me watching Jean-Claude. He looked way too solemn for comfort. "What's wrong now?" I asked.
"Are you so ashamed of us that you would hide our mark of favor under bandages and tape?"
I frowned at him. "What are you talking about?"
Remus touched more gauze to my neck. "Can you hold it in place while I get tape?"
I put my hand up to the gauze, automatically.
Jean-Claude motioned at my hand, at Remus, who had his back mostly to the other man.
Remus moved in to tape the gauze in place. I stopped him with a hand on his arm. He stepped back immediately, out of reach, the tape still in his fingers. I glanced up at his face, but he wouldn't give me a direct look, so I didn't know what was in his eyes. He'd stepped back like I'd hurt him. I hadn't.
I turned away from the guard, to Jean-Claude. Remus's problems were Remus's problem, not mine. I had enough problems. "You mean why am I bandaging the bite?"
"I always bandage the bites."
"Pourquoi?" he asked. Why?
I opened my mouth, closed it, and thought about it. "It's a wound. It usually pierces a vein or artery. You smear antiseptic on it, and slap a bandage on it to keep it from getting infected."