"But Nathaniel needed me. You got drafted."
Noel pushed himself up on his arms, which meant I was able to get to my gun, not that it would help, but it was still a thought. His lower body was pressed a little closer to my lower body, but for once it wasn't erotic. It wasn't anything. "Our lion group, our pride, works, Anita, it's our home. I felt blue-boy's power, just walking down a hallway. You can feel it now, coming off him in waves." Noel licked his lips. "Joseph is powerful, but I'm not a hundred percent certain he's more powerful than what's behind us."
"Let me sit up, Noel."
Noel glanced at Travis, and the other man gave a small nod, then hunched over his arm again. Noel moved back so I could sit up, but he stayed kneeling between my knees, I think so he was close enough to grab me if I tried to go to Haven, again.
Richard and Haven were fighting now. Fighting with a capital F, if you're not planning to kill each other. It was a kind of fighting that I would never be able to do. Pounding the shit out of each other, and being able to take the damage. It was guy fighting, for the sake of a point, yes. I'd asked for help to move Haven and protect the other men. Haven's fist got past Richard's arms, and Richard staggered back two steps, but hunched his body, so that the blows Haven tried to rain on him hit only shoulders and arms. Richard, on the other hand, landed two solid body blows that doubled Haven over. Richard followed with a fist to his chin, and only Haven throwing himself backward kept the next blow from hitting. Richard didn't give him time to recover. He came at him with a flurry of blinding kicks that put the other man into a defensive crouch against the far wall. Richard was winning. I realized in that moment that I hadn't thought he would.
Noel touched my face, turned my gaze back to his scared face. "Anita, please don't touch him, not until you've at least tried one of us."
I checked Richard's progress one more time. Haven was against the wall, simply trying to keep the kicks from hitting him, not even trying to fight back now.
I looked at Travis and his wounds. Noel's eyes so scared. The lions' pride worked; they were one of the few wereanimal groups in town that let their people lead nearly ordinary lives. No power struggles, no hiring bodyguards. Joseph's people were people first, animals second. If Haven stayed in town, hooked up to the power that I had through Jean-Claude's marks, would the lions' world go up in flames?
"You don't think Joseph would win the fight?" I asked.
"He is not the fighter that your Ulfric is," Travis said. Travis said it like it was just true, and no big deal. That was the biggest difference between wolf and lion culture; all the big cat shapeshifters seemed to be less about combat, and more about what was best for the group. The wolf culture was much more about strong is right, weak is just dead. Someone had suggested that it was because the werewolf culture passed through the Vikings' culture, more than any other shapeshifter society. Maybe. Real wolves certainly weren't more vicious than lions, or leopards.
"Wait a minute," I said. "Joseph won his fight with Haven."
"Joseph got lucky," Travis said. He motioned at the fight. "He got real lucky."
Richard had the other man in a defensive ball against the wall. Haven had given up fighting back, and was just trying to keep the damage down. Richard did a very Richard thing. He backed up. The fight was over, as far as he was concerned. Since he wasn't going to kill Haven, the fight should have been over. But Haven's day job was mob enforcer; it's a different mentality.
Richard's voice sounded tired, but not strained, "Stay down."
Haven got to his knees, shaking his head. "I can't."
"You can't win," Richard said.
"Doesn't matter," Haven said, "still have to get up."
"Stay down," Richard said.
"No," Haven said, and he used the wall to push to his feet. He fell back to his knees, one hand holding him swaying against the wall.
I said, "Stay down, Haven."
"Can't," was all he said, and he gathered himself for a rush. He came up off the floor in a blur of speed, still dangerous, for all the damage he'd taken. Richard sidestepped him, let his own momentum send him crashing to the floor.
"This fight is over," Richard said, and he made the mistake. He offered Haven a hand up.
I had time to yell, "No!" I wasn't even sure who I was yelling it at.
Haven kicked out with everything he had left; he tried to dislocate Richard's knee. Richard had time to avoid some of it, but not all of it. His knee collapsed and he went down.
My gun was out and pointed. I got to my feet. If Haven had pushed the attack I'd have shot him, but he didn't. He lay back on the floor as if that last kick had taken all the fight out of him. "The fight is over," I said, just in case.
"Yeah," Haven said, and his voice held pain, "now, it is."
I stared down the barrel of the gun at him, and he didn't even seem to see the gun. He certainly didn't react to it. Most people don't like having guns pointed at them; if he didn't like it, it didn't show. "I'm thinking you need to go back to Chicago."
"Why? Because I hurt your boyfriend?"
"No, because you hurt two people who couldn't fight back. And, the fight was over; you gained nothing from that last kick."
"He's hurt, I gained that."
I shook my head. "That's not how we play here."
He lay on his back, covered in blood, and too tired, or too hurt, to sit up. He was still breathing hard. "Tell me the rules here, and I'll follow them. Ask Augustine--I follow the rules, once you make 'em clear to me."
I called out, without looking away from Haven. "Is that true, Auggie? Does he follow the rules, once he knows them?"
"It's true, but you have to make damn sure that he knows the rules, and the consequences if he breaks them."
That one statement let me know that I should pack his ass home to Chicago, but I couldn't do it. Standing there while he bled, knowing what he'd just done to Richard and the two young werelions, knowing all that, I still wanted to drop down and spill my body over his. Fuck.
I stilled my breath, and sighted the gun in the middle of that face. The eyes had bled back to blue; they looked almost artificial with the blood all around them. I swallowed hard, and let my body go very still. My voice was soft, but strangely carried through the room, as if everyone had gone quiet. "The rules are, you don't harm the weak. I've got no use for bullies. If you get into another fight like tonight, when you know you've lost, you've lost. You don't try for one last bit of damage. That's street fighting, and that's not what we do here."
"You won't shoot me," he said, and he sounded sure of that.
I felt myself smile, and knew it was the smile that creeped me out when I saw it in a mirror. It was a cruel smile, a smile that said Not only would I kill you, but I'd enjoy it.
His eyes went a little uncertain at that smile. Good.
"I will shoot you. I'll kill you, if I have to."
"Do you want to touch me?" he asked, his voice less breathy now.
"Yes," I said, "I want to strip off and roll on top of you like a dog scent-marking." I gave a very small nod. "I feel the call of your power, Haven."
"If you kill me that all goes away."
"Then it goes away. I don't compromise my rules, Haven, not for lust, or power, or love." I was going to have to either shoot him soon, or lower the gun. Important safety tip: if you're going to do the big threatening speech, be in a comfortable shooting stance when you do it. My hands hadn't started to waver, but they would soon. "Ask the men in my life, I don't compromise."
I watched him think about it. Think about coming off the floor and trying me. "Don't, Haven."
"Don't what?" he asked, all innocent, but innocent just didn't work on him.
"Don't try me right now. If you do, I'll pull the trigger."
"Why? I won't hurt you. I'll just try to take the gun away."
"I'll shoot you, because this is our moment of understanding. You will either live by my rules, or you will die by them."
"I don't believe you," he said.
I let all the air out of my body, and the two-handed shooting stance didn't seem hard to maintain at all. I was suddenly focused, and ready. I felt myself sinking away into that white, staticky place, where I killed. I don't know what my eyes look like when I'm like this, but whatever was on my face, Haven saw it. I watched his face change, and stop being sure of itself. Tension ran out of his body, his muscles, and he lay quiet on the floor, and very still, as if he were a little afraid to move suddenly. Good.