Jean-Claude's voice. "Non, ma petite, mon ami, enough, enough." His voice was soft, coaxing. I was lying on the bed, with him holding my hand. He was rubbing my hand the way people do when they're trying to warm you.
"I'm here," I said, but my voice sounded echoing, tinny.
The bed moved violently. Richard had collapsed on it. His breathing was ragged, his eyes showing too much white. He grabbed my other hand. He felt frightened, shocky, and I realized that he'd taken over some of my reaction. He'd sucked it away like metaphysical poison.
I licked dry lips and said, "I'm sorry."
"You asked for help," he said, in a strained voice. "I gave it."
He usually cut himself out of the memories I got from Jean-Claude; of all the times to not shy away, he picked these memories.
"I would have preferred other memories to share, ma petite, but when you breached your unnatural shields, I did not dare restrict your access to me. I did not dare shut the marks down again." He stroked my hair like I was still sick, but he cast a worried look at Richard.
"I won't run," Richard said, "I knew what you were, what you both were." He glanced at Asher, who still stood near the bed.
Asher put his hand on Jean-Claude's shoulder, and it was too soon after the memories to see them touching. Except this time they weren't Jean-Claude's memories, I just had to wade through the fact that some of that flood of memories had stayed with me.
Richard flinched as if he'd been slapped, and I knew that I wasn't the only one who had kept some of it.
Micah yelled, "Nathaniel!"
I looked around the room for Nathaniel, and couldn't see him. Micah was on the floor. I fought to sit up, and Richard helped me. Jean-Claude was already around the bed, and kneeling with Micah, beside Nathaniel. He was human again, all that lovely hair spread around his body. He wasn't moving.
I screamed his name, and reached out to him not with hands but with power. I felt him breathe, but his heart hesitated, as if it was forgetting how to beat.
I screamed, "Nathaniel!"
Jean-Claude just suddenly appeared beside the bed. "Nathaniel is trying to keep Damian alive, but he does not know how. You must feed them energy, now, ma petite, right now."
"Or what?" I asked, and I leaned into the death grip I had on Richard's arm.
"Or they will die," Jean-Claude said.
I STARED AT him, because I believed him, but feeding the ardeur meant sex, and in that moment I'd never felt less like sex in my life.
Richard said, "Feed, Anita, you have to feed."
I looked at him. "You going to help?"
He shook his head. "Not me, my concentration isn't this good."
Jean-Claude's voice cut across the panic. "Requiem, your moment has come." He looked at me. "If you fight him, they will die. Drop your shields, and let his power take you. Let him awake the ardeur, and feed."
I was suddenly staring at a chest decorated with stab wounds. I looked up into Requiem's eyes, clear blue, an almost painful brightness. He'd raised his power, and I felt nothing. He'd crawled across the bed and I hadn't noticed. Shock had set in again, but for different reasons. Minutes ago I'd wanted to be alone, just me again, but I hadn't meant it. I prayed, I didn't mean it, as if somehow my thought was responsible for this new disaster.
Richard's body still cradled me. Requiem had to wrap his hands around my upper arms and pull me out of Richard's arms. Richard's fingers slid over my skin, and I felt the loss of his touch like a blow. I felt like some small animal torn out of its nest and thrown into the heart of the storm. That storm was made of flesh and bone, and eyes that glowed as if you could set the ocean afire.
Jean-Claude's voice whispered through me. "Let go, ma petite, let go, or all is lost."
I did what he asked. I let go. Let go, and fell into eyes the color of sea water where it runs deep and clear and cold, and the blue dark glows with the cold light of phosphorescence, shining off the backs of creatures that never saw the light of day.
I floated in that cold emptiness, with the dim light, and a voice whispered through me, but it wasn't Jean-Claude's. It was Nathaniel's voice in my head. He didn't ask for help, or chastise me. He whispered, "Love you." Those words echoed through the emptiness, and I followed them, up through the cold dark. Cold wasn't what we needed, it wouldn't keep him alive. We needed heat.
I hit the surface of Requiem's gaze, fell out of the power I'd let him try. I fell out of his eyes, and was left panting, struggling to breathe. I would not let Nathaniel go, even if it meant going with him. I reached out to him, felt his heart slowing. My chest ached with the need to draw a good breath.
I stared up into Requiem's glowing eyes, and whispered, "Help us."
He turned to Jean-Claude. "I cannot break her. I cannot get through!"
The last time he'd used his powers on me it had taken a while. We didn't have a while. He couldn't roll me, but I had rolled him before. Could I bring his powers on line? I prayed, prayed for help. I whispered, "Requiem." His voice echoed through the room, and he turned glowing eyes to me.
I didn't have enough air to say what I wanted out loud. I fell back toward the bed, and only his arms caught me. I knew what I wanted, what I needed. I willed it, I commanded it, and I shoved that command into him. I was losing my words, and it was a wordless longing that I filled him with. That longing flared like heat across my skin, threw me off the bed, gasping. My body was suddenly swollen with need, wetness dripping between my legs. My br**sts ached with the need to be touched. The ardeur rose to that ache, and I welcomed it, embraced it. I threw the door of my self-control open wide, and didn't care where it landed.
It was Jean-Claude's mouth that found mine first. I knew the taste of him with my eyes closed tight. He gave himself up to the ardeur, and I fed through his kiss, fed in a rush that flowed through my body, in a tingling rush of energy. I'd fed the ardeur a hundred times, and it had never been like this.
He drew back from the kiss, eyes filled with midnight fire. "How do you feel?"
I tried to think past the pulse of my own body. I'd fed the ardeur, but the swollen longing in my body wasn't gone. I felt for Nathaniel's energy, and found him still there, still alive. Distant as a dream, Damian's spark like a match flame in a wind.
"More," I whispered, "I need more."
He nodded. "I gave you enough to bring you back to us." He moved back from me, and I tried to hold him against me. "Non, ma petite, you need food." I kept my arms locked around his neck, and he reached out, and brought Requiem into view. "When you helped him raise need in yourself, you raised it in him, as well. Would you deny him?"
I frowned at him. I couldn't think. I whispered, "No," but wasn't entirely sure what I was saying no to: no, I wouldn't deny him, or no, to other things?
Requiem's hand slid over my bare arm. That one touch threw my head back, fluttered my eyes shut. I knew where my need had come from, I could taste it on my tongue, taste his need.
Jean-Claude slid away, and Requiem was above me. So lonely, so heart-wrenchingly lonely. Lonely for so long. You feed the ardeur on sex, but its gifts are more than that. Sometimes you can see into people, see what they most desire, most need, and you can offer it to them. You can offer them their heart's desire, and sometimes you can even give them exactly what you promise.
I had an instant of seeing so far into Requiem that I started to cry. Weeping not my tears, but his. He wanted the ardeur again, yes, but more than that, he wanted a place of refuge. A place where he could stop being afraid; he'd been afraid for so very long. Afraid that Belle would drag him back, and make him suffer for all eternity for falling in love with someone else. I felt his fear, his loneliness, his loss, like blows to my heart, and in the end, I did the only thing that would keep him well and truly safe. I made him mine.
MOST OF THE clothes vanished in a blur of hands and bodies, but it was when he wrapped his hands around my belt, and tore it in two, jerking my body up off the bed, that I remembered. I had just enough presence of mind to make sure he didn't destroy the shoulder rig, but it fell to the floor with the pieces of the jeans and T-shirt. Requiem, with his poetry, his gentlemanly restraint, vanished under the crash of the ardeur, and the power of his own magic.
I fed on the touch of his hands, the brush of his lips, the sensation of his na**d skin brushing along mine, the weight of him above me. Requiem and I had never been nude together, and that first time was shared with Nathaniel and Damian. They knew what I was doing, they could feel it, because I'd opened that mark between us, so that each touch, each kiss, each movement, fed energy to them. Nathaniel's heart began to beat sure and strong, but Damian's spark still flickered, hesitating between life and death. Nathaniel could make his own heart beat, but Damian couldn't. Damian needed more than these small touches of ardeur. I'd gotten to where I could feed the ardeur in small ways from less touching, but I needed orgasm for a full feeding. Okay, for a really, truly, full feeding you needed orgasms from everybody involved, but one was enough to get you through. We needed to get through.