"Have you ever known a vampire bite to become infected?" he asked.
I frowned, and thought about it. It took me nearly a minute to say, "No."
"Why is that, ma petite?"
"Because vampires have a natural antiseptic in their saliva. Vampires actually have fewer types of bacteria in their saliva than the average human."
"You are quoting now," he said.
I nodded, and stopped because the bite was a little tight. It didn't exactly hurt, but it let me know it was there. "Yeah, they had an article in The Animator. Some doctor actually wondered why vampire bites don't get infected like an ordinary human bite, or an animal bite. They've known for a while that you guys have an anticoagulant in your saliva, but this was the first study on other properties of vampire saliva."
"So, I ask again, why are you hiding our mark of favor?"
I thought about it, then shrugged. "Habit." I took the gauze off the bite mark. It had two small round red circles on it, but it had almost stopped bleeding. They usually did unless you were cut up. A violent vamp bite was more like a dog bite; it bled. The two neat holes stopped sooner than you'd think, and rarely re-bled without the wound being reopened. I'd known vampire junkies who tried to hide their habit by having a vampire bite the same wound several times. It didn't really work if you knew enough about vamps to know what a bite should look like, but it fooled the tourists, or the boss at work on Monday. Repeated trauma to an area is still repeated trauma, and that was one of the few times outside of violent attacks when a vamp bite started to bruise and tear.
I handed the used gauze to Remus, who took it gingerly from me as if he didn't want to touch my fingers. "I don't need the bandages. Thanks anyway, Remus."
Jean-Claude came to me, smiling. He touched the bite delicately, coming away with minute drops of blood on his fingertips. He lifted them to his mouth, and I knew what he was going to do before he licked so delicately. I watched him lick my blood off his fingertips, and wasn't sure how I felt about it. I didn't enjoy it. I didn't not enjoy it. I felt neutral about what he'd done, but why had he done it? He usually went out of his way not to spook me, not to be too vampiric.
He leaned over me, put his hands delicately around my face, and tried to raise me up for a kiss. Normally, I would have met him hallway, but I didn't do it this time. I stayed sitting, forcing him to bend down for me. I kept my hand on the robe, holding it in place, and watched him bend lower. He stopped just before he would have kissed me, and drew back enough so I could see his face clearly. "You have kissed me many times with the taste of your sweet blood upon my lips, but now, I see reluctance on your face, feel it in your body. Why?" He searched my face, though I knew he could drop his shields and know exactly what I was thinking. Maybe he was afraid of what he'd find.
Why, he'd asked? Because he'd licked my blood off his fingers? I'd kissed him when he'd come directly off my vein. I'd kissed him when one mouth or the other had gotten nicked on his fangs. I'd learned to think of a little sweet copper taste as almost an aphrodisiac, because I'd begun to associate it with him, and others. Even Richard liked a little taste of blood; he hated that he liked it, but he did.
Jean-Claude drew back, letting my face slide between his hands as he stood. A look of such sadness came over his face. I grabbed his arm. "Don't."
"Don't what, ma petite? Don't stop hiding what I am? I cannot be human, ma petite, not even for you. I thought the worst of playing human for each other, you and I, was the crippling of our power, but that is not what hurts my heart."
I let go of his arm. I didn't want to ask the next question, but I knew I had to, or be branded a coward. I swallowed hard enough that it hurt, and asked, "What hurts your heart?" It was a whisper, but I asked it. Brownie points for me.
"That you turn away from me, for such a small thing. I licked your blood off my fingertips and now you will not kiss me."
"I would have kissed you."
He shook his head. "But you did not wish to."
That I couldn't argue with. Part of me wished I could have, part of me didn't. "What do you want me to say?" I asked.
"I want you and Richard to embrace yourselves, and I am out of time to await this miracle."
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"You promised to feed the ardeur from Requiem, if he fought free of your power. Will you go back on your word?"
I glanced at the other vampire, lying on the mounded pillows, then back to Jean-Claude. "The ardeur hasn't risen for either of us, yet. I think we should use the time we have before it does to plan strategy."
"Strategy for what, ma petite? This is not a battle of guns and knives. This is battle of a softer sort, though no less dangerous in the end."
I was shaking my head, and felt the first little trickle of blood down my throat. It wasn't the shaking that was making me bleed a little more, but the fact that my pulse was speeding up. "We are not going to feed the ardeur before we have to."
"Your power rises, and you are more like Belle Morte," Requiem said, and he sounded sad.
I glanced at him. "What are you talking about?"
Requiem answered, "Belle used to promise to feed the ardeur on us, then say she had not meant right this moment, but later, always later. Later could be very late indeed when she wished to play cruel games."
"I'm not playing," I said, "I'm scared."
"If you feed from him, and he becomes besotted again, then you cannot feed off any of the pomme de sang candidates. We will show them Requiem's state of mind and tell them you have grown too powerful for such games."
"And if he doesn't fall under my spell again?" I asked.
"Then you may taste some of the candidates without sex."
I was shaking my head.
"The ardeur is growing, ma petite, you must accept that. What we have seen today and last night proves that pretending will no longer work."
"I'm not pretending," I said.
"You are pretending."
"Pretending what?" I asked.
"I am sorry, ma petite, so sorry, but we must accept the truth."
I had crawled to the foot of the bed. Blood was trickling down my throat, like tickling fingers. I was so scared I could taste metal on my tongue. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"You are succubus to my incubus, ma petite. You feed as a vampire feeds, but on sex instead of blood."
"I know that," I said, and sounded angry, because I didn't want to sound scared.
"You say you know, but you know here"--and he touched his forehead?not here"--and touched his heart. "You do not truly believe you are vampire."
"I'm not a vampire."
"Not in the traditional sense, non, but only because you have Damian and Nathaniel to draw upon. Without them to draw energy from, when you did not feed the ardeur in a timely fashion, your own body would feel the weakness."
"You went for years without feeding the ardeur for real. The old Master of St. Louis wouldn't let you feed the ardeur, not completely."
"Oui, Nikolaos feared what I would become if she allowed my powers full rein. The Master of the City that traded me to her feared me, as well. He sent me to Nikolaos because he knew that her child's body would not be something I would willingly seduce."
"She looked about twelve or thirteen; that's legal in some places."
He shook his head. "Not for me," he said, then he shivered. "You met her, ma petite; could you ever see me purposefully doing anything to draw her attention to me in that way?"
I shook my head. "No, she was creepy as hell, and not in a fun way."
He nodded. "Oui, creepy will do as an appellation, though there are other words." He shook his head, as if to clear his mind from such thoughts. "If you were a different woman, one of more casual lusts, then your being succubus to my incubus would not be a hardship. You would simply feed from whomever you wished. You are human, so your use of vampire trickery is not illegal."
"Not true," I said, "it is illegal to use magic or psychic ability to induce, or bespell, into sexual acts. It's looked on like a date-rape drug."
He nodded. "I had not realized the law had been broadened to include that."
I shrugged. "I keep track of the new laws, part of my job."