I rubbed my face along the smooth outline of his cross-shaped burn scar. Jean-Claude didn't see the scar as an imperfection, and neither did I. It was something extra to play with when I kissed his chest.
His arms held me tight, and he whispered, "I felt your fear flare to life, ma petite. What has happened?"
I spoke with my face still buried against his chest. "I'm trying not to make Haven my animal to call."
Jean-Claude stroked my hair, trying to soothe me, like a child who's woken from a bad dream, but this bad dream wasn't going to end with me waking up. It wasn't going to be all right.
"You are drawn to Haven, and he to you, ma petite. You have broken his link to Augustine."
I nodded my forehead against his chest. "Yeah, but he's not Auggie's animal to call, he's just one of his lions."
I felt Jean-Claude look behind him.
"That's right," and that was Auggie. He'd come to stand near us. "He's bound to me, but not as an animal to call."
I nodded again, my face still buried against Jean-Claude. I didn't want to see Auggie's na**d chest. I didn't want to be distracted by yet another metaphysical problem; one at a time was plenty. "What did I do with the leopards before I got an animal to call, Jean-Claude?"
"I do not understand, ma petite, what..." Then he went very still. He was still holding me. I was still clinging to him, breathing in the scent of his skin, but his heart had stopped beating, his breathing stilled. He was doing that be very still that the old vampires could do, but this time I was pressed against him while he did it. I'd never been this close to him when he went this still. Until it stopped, I hadn't even been aware his heart was beating. It made me look up at him. Made me meet that beautiful, flawless face, and see it look unreal, masklike, as he stared, not at me, but behind me.
I turned and looked where he was looking. Micah stood there, staring at us. The look on his face was enough; he'd had the same awful thought I'd had.
I licked my lips and whispered, "Do the lions have a name for their queen?"
He said it out loud. "I felt it, when you saw him coming down the hallway. He won't be your animal to call. He'll be Rex to your Regina."
RICHARD ENDED UP back in Jason's room. Dr. Lillian pumped him full of painkillers, so he'd sleep and heal. I had to promise him guards I trusted at his door to make sure none of our "guests" visited him while he was drugged and helpless. Seemed like a reasonable request to me. In fact it was so practical that it gave me hope that he was finally beginning to realize that life wasn't a Boy Scout jamboree.
Lillian said if Richard had been human, he'd have been on his way to the emergency room, and on crutches for weeks afterward. But he wasn't human and two hours of sleep would heal a lot of the damage. Why not try to heal him with metaphysics? Because Richard had never let me heal him with magic. It was his choice, and I was okay with it. He'd done so much right in the last hour that I'd cut him slack. Acres of slack.
Haven was unconscious in the guest room he'd started the day in, with additional guards. He wouldn't be going anywhere for at least forty-eight hours, so said the doc. Fine with me; out of sight was just dandy for the Cookie Monster and me.
I'd started to get upset again, like pace-the-room upset, but Jean-Claude had touched me, and Auggie had joined him. I ended up on the couch cuddled between them and feeling strangely calm. "You've rolled my mind, haven't you?"
"You have the ability to keep me out, ma petite. Merely decide to push me out, and I will be forced to go. I think you need the calm."
I couldn't argue with that. I turned with my head in Jean-Claude's lap, and looked at Auggie, who had my legs across his lap. "But he's helping you."
"A very little bit," Auggie said, and did that face that was supposed to be humble, but never made it.
"You should really stop trying for the humble head dunk thing," I said, "it doesn't work for you."
He gave me wide eyes--innocent, I think he was going for. He didn't pull that off either. "Are you saying I am not humble?" He grinned, spoiling any attempt at innocence. That smile said he was thinking nefarious things--fun things, but nefarious nonetheless.
"You wouldn't know humble if it bit you on the ass."
He laughed, mouth wide, flashing fangs. If you hadn't seen the fangs you'd have said it was a very human laugh. Jean-Claude had once explained to me that vampires learn to control their faces, voices, every reaction, to hide from their masters. Because any strong emotion can be used against you. After a few centuries you could lose the knack of true laughter, of smiling just because you were happy, not because you thought it would get you something. Facial expressions for the very old vamps become more like flirting: something you do on purpose, for a purpose. Auggie just seemed to laugh.
I raised my head so I could look at Jean-Claude's face. I asked, "Is that real, that laugh, or is it part of Auggie's game plan?"
"Ask him, ma petite."
I looked at the other vampire. "Well?" I said.
"Well, what?" he asked.
"Is the laugh real, or a performance?"
He shrugged those massive shoulders, sending the black shawl sliding down a little lower. At the rate it was slipping, he'd be na**d from the waist up again. I wasn't sure if I wanted the shawl to fall faster, or make him tuck it back over himself. Seeing him nude sounded good, and the wanting of it made me not want it at all. Crazy, I know, but true. I seldom trusted anything that I wanted too badly.
I smelled vanilla, warm vanilla. Nathaniel was coming. I heard bare feet running, and the next moment he was airborne above me. He caught himself with hands and toes on the couch, just before he would have landed on me. He'd done it before, but it always startled me, and made me make that girly eep sound. I hated that I even had that sound inside me somewhere. Nathaniel laughed, his face alight with it. I tried to be grumpy about him startling me, but failed. The grumpiness rolled away under the delight of being this close to him, and the soothing touch of vampire.
"Not pregnant," he said.
I shook my head, and laughed, too. Suddenly, I remembered how gloriously relieved I had been. He brought back the rush of joy that I'd had before Haven misbehaved.
Nathaniel let his body fall those few inches, so he pressed his weight against me. He kissed me, and I kissed him back. My hands slid over the muscled heat of his skin, and the silken warmth of his hair, unbound and sliding over us all. His body started to react to the closeness, and the kiss grew.
"If they actually have sex on our laps, do we get to join in?" Auggie asked.
I drew back from the kiss, and Nathaniel stopped, but he didn't move. I had to actually move some of the thick auburn hair to one side so I could see Auggie's face. "No," I said.
"Then I am at a loss as to where to put my hands."
I gazed past Nathaniel's shoulder to realize that the most natural resting place for Auggie's hands was probably Nathaniel's ass, where it peeked from between the fall of his own hair.
Auggie lifted a strand of that hair. "I have not seen hair like this for a century." He rubbed the hair along his cheek. "It brings back memories, though the body would be female." He gazed down at Nathaniel. "It's the longest hair I've ever seen on a man."
I didn't like the way he was looking at Nathaniel, not that we could really blame him. It wasn't Auggie who had jumped na**d into our laps. I pushed at Nathaniel's chest. "Move, okay?"
He gave me a look that managed to be both innocent, and not, then he rolled to the floor. Yeah, he'd wanted to surprise me, but he was an exhibitionist, and loved to flirt. It didn't mean he wanted sex, just that he enjoyed the way people reacted to his body. Or at least that's what Micah and I thought. It was entirely possible that Nathaniel didn't know why he did it.
Micah came up behind the couch. "Your leopard didn't try to rise when Nathaniel touched you," Micah said from behind the couch.
"No, it didn't." I looked at him, and found that Jean-Claude's hair blocked my view. Micah moved so he was standing more between the two vampires, so I didn't have to strain.
"You touched a lot less of me, and it did rise."
"Try again," I said, and held out my hand to him.
He hesitated, as if he were a little afraid of what might happen, but he took my hand. I waited for my beast to rise, but it didn't. It was just Micah's hand in mine. I squeezed his hand, and gave him a smile. Some tension in him eased, as if he'd been holding his breath about something. He still seemed so serious, almost sad. Was he jealous? Was the man who shared me best suddenly jealous? There was no anxiety with the thought, it was just a thought. Jean-Claude's power let it just be a thought, without emotional baggage attached to it. Was this how well-adjusted people reasoned? If so, damn it was peaceful. I wanted to reassure him and take that worry from his eyes. There was no thought to it, no reasoning. I wanted to reassure Micah, so I sat up, and used our clasped hands to draw him downward. We kissed, but he pulled back from it. Those chartreuse eyes still held a shadow of worry. I wanted that shadow gone. I wanted him to know how much he meant to me.