I hung my head. Damian laid his lips against my knuckles, not quite a kiss. I only had to open my eyes to stare down into his face, where he lay on the bed. He gazed up at me, and his eyes held not sympathy, but strength, control. You can do this, his eyes seemed to say, you can do this, because you must. He was right.
I looked up at Richard. I thought about raising the sheet and hiding my br**sts, but everyone left in the room had seen them before. Modesty wouldn't get me out of Richard's reaction to my newest conquest.
"Who was it?" he asked.
I turned to Asher, and said, "You told me earlier today that you were sorry, that you were putting your hurt feelings ahead of my disaster. You apologized, and tried to make amends. Is that all your apology is worth, Asher? An hour of remorse, and you go back to being a bastard?"
His eyes flashed with anger, and his power trailed over my body like a cold wind. Then he swallowed it, the power, the anger. He turned a mild, if empty, face to me. "I can only apologize once more, ma cherie, you are absolutely right. I am throwing a fit." He stepped away from the bed, and did a low, sweeping bow that trailed the edge of his hair on the floor. He rose up with a flourish, as if he were moving a cape with one hand.
"Why are you throwing a fit?" I asked.
"Truth?" He made it a question.
I nodded, not truly certain I wanted this particular truth.
"Because he will never be my lover. He will be your lover, but never ours together."
For a moment I wasn't sure which he he was talking about it. The confusion must have shown on my face, because he said, "You see, ma cherie, that is it, that is it, exactement. My statement could refer to so many of your men that you do not even know to whom I refer."
Damian's hand squeezed mine again. I wasn't certain whether it was to comfort me, or to comfort him. Damian was a touch homophobic, and Asher was not a comforting presence if that was your particular phobia.
"Are you saying you're pissed because I keep picking men who aren't bisexual?"
Asher seemed to think about it for a moment, then nodded. "I believe I am. I don't think I knew until you asked so point-blank, but yes, I believe that is why I am angry." He looked past me to Jean-Claude. "As he will not turn to me for fear you would leave him, so I do not turn to others for fear that he will use it as an excuse to pull even further away from me."
"We agreed that we would have this discussion at a later time," Jean-Claude said, in a voice that was as empty as any I'd ever heard from him.
Asher nodded. "I thought I could wait, but I am choking on things unsaid, Jean-Claude." He pointed to Richard. "But we must be careful in front of him, too. It would not do to frighten him away. We wouldn't want him to know that we find him beautiful, would we?"
"Asher," I started to say, but Micah finished it for me. "After the visiting masters leave town, and we know what we're doing about the baby, then we'll all sit down and talk about your... grievances."
"No, we will not," Asher said, "for there will be another crisis, another reason to put it off."
"I give you my word that Nathaniel, Anita, and I will sit down and talk to you about it. I can't promise for anyone else."
Asher turned that winter-blue gaze on me. "Does he speak for you?"
I nodded. "He does."
Asher turned to Jean-Claude. "And you, master?" There was a lot of sarcasm to the master.
"I will not be bound by Micah's word in all things, but on this, I will agree. We will discuss it in detail, if you but leave it alone for a little longer."
"Your word," Asher said.
Jean-Claude nodded. "You have it."
Some tension went out of Asher, almost like an energy release. The room felt lighter, the air easier to breathe. "I will behave myself." He looked at Micah. "I thank you, Micah."
"Don't thank me, Asher, you're part of Anita's life. If we're going to make this work, then we have to talk to each other."
"Always perfect, aren't you?" Richard said, and his own anger raised the heat in the room.
"No," I said, "no, no more fights. Until after I've seen the doctor this afternoon, I want every one of you to behave like a f**king adult, okay?"
Richard had the grace to look embarrassed. He nodded. "I'll try. Inheriting your temper makes it so hard not to be pissed all the time." He gave a small laugh. "If this is just a shadow of how angry you feel all the time, I'm amazed you don't just start killing things. God, such rage." He looked at me, his brown eyes full of so many emotions. "You told me once that your rage was like my beast, and I belittled you. I told you that your anger couldn't compare to my beast, that you didn't know what you were talking about. I was wrong. God, Anita, God, you are so full of rage."
"Everyone needs a hobby," I said.
He smiled and shook his head. "You have to learn to control the rage, Anita. If you're really going to shift, you have to get a handle on the rage first." His face sobered, and he stepped close enough that he could touch my face. The moment he did, our energy jumped to him, both offering energy, and asking for it. Richard and I jerked back at the same time, because it had almost hurt, a slap of electricity.
He rubbed his hand. "Jesus, Anita."
I used my free hand to touch my face. The skin tingled where he'd touched. "I've got the shields wide open between the three of us here."
"Could you piggyback the energy of Anita's two triumvirates?" Micah asked.
"Piggyback?" Jean-Claude made it a question.
"Double the energy," I said.
"Since no one has ever before forged two triumvirates at the same time, I have no answer. The energy did respond to Richard's touch."
I rubbed my cheek. "You could say that again."
"Are you hurt?" Richard asked.
I shook my head. "Just tingling."
He nodded. "Yeah." He rubbed his hand along the side of his jeans, as if he were trying to rub off the lingering sensation.
The bathroom door opened. London walked out, fully clothed now, adjusting his black-on-black tie. Except that his eyes were still drowning black with power, he looked like he always did. He stopped and looked at us all, because we were looking at him. His face was arrogant, his version of blank. I stared at him, and it didn't seem quite real that we'd had sex. He'd never really been on my guy radar, and now he was food. Funny damn world.
"Where is everyone?" His voice was coldly arrogant, and didn't match the words at all.
"The guards asked to leave," I said, "and truthfully, I don't remember when everyone else left."
London walked along the edge of the bed without looking at me. He was back to his cold, isolated self, as if the sex had never happened. He almost made it around the bed, but his foot tangled in the covers on the floor, and down he went. His arm caught at the bed, and he brought himself up to his knees. He peered at us over the bed, like a cat that's just fallen off something, and is trying to pretend it meant to do that.
He got to his feet, leaning on the bed. He jerked the fallen coverlet to one side, then kicked at it repeatedly, hands on the bed to steady himself. He kicked at the coverlet as if it were some kind of enemy that he had to vanquish. When the floor was clear enough for him, he smoothed his clothes again, then started walking carefully around the bed. His shoulder clipped the bedpost, and he fell into the bed again. This time he managed to sit on it, and not end up on the floor, but he didn't try to get up again either. He sat there on the bed, his black-suited back very straight. He kept looking at the far wall.
"You're drunk," I said.
He nodded without turning around. "Not precisely, but drunk will do as a description."
Jean-Claude walked around the bed until he was standing in front of the other man. He stared down at him, and I couldn't tell if London met his gaze, or not. "How do you feel?" he asked him at last.
Someone giggled, a high, almost hysterical sound. It was a moment before I realized it was London. He fell back on the bed with his arms wide, and his legs hanging off the edge. He lay there all black and stark against the pale sheets, giggling. The giggling turned into laughter. He gave himself to the laughter, as he'd given himself to the ardeur. The laughter was a good clean laugh, a good sound, but none of us joined him, because London did not laugh. This was not the Dark Knight with his love of shadows and dislike of everything else. This laughing, pleasant man on the bed was someone we'd never seen before.