He shook his head, grimacing. His upper body folded over his injured arm. He spoke, still bent over. "No, not really, but I also don't want you making that blue-haired freak our Rex."
He stared at me from inches away. His face was beaded with sweat. He was shaky, and hurting, and should have seemed weak, but he didn't. There was a lot of force in that look. "Anita, if you make him your animal to call, or your Rex to your lioness, then he'll share in your power. No way would any dominant lion with that much power be able to leave the local pride alone. Lions aren't like the rest of the big cats. We aren't live and let live. We're very much about who's the biggest cat in the pool. Joseph chose his Regina for love, not power. She's nice, but she's his wife, not a power to be reckoned with. If you give that other guy your power, then he won't be able to leave us alone. The lion in him will be compelled to find us, and conquer us."
I looked back across the room at Auggie. "You agree with his assessment of the situation, Auggie?"
Auggie nodded. "Yes, but I'm not sure that Haven being your Rex is as certain as you and the other cats think. I've bound you with my power, Anita; what if your reaction to my lions is so strong because of that? Not just your beast, but my power helping make my lions more appealing." It was the smartest thing he'd said in a while. It left me wondering which was the real Auggie, thoughtful-guy or sexist-idiot-guy?
I nodded. "Okay, maybe, how do we test this little theory?"
"Anita reacted to your lions before you rolled her," Micah said.
"Shit," I said, "Micah's right. My initial reaction to Pierce and Haven was funky from the beginning, before we had our little power duel."
Auggie nodded. "Then perhaps what your lioness is seeking is a dominant. Either way, the way you react to Pierce, as opposed to these two, will tell you something. Either my power has made it worse, or your power seeks stronger prey. Jean-Claude believes that your ardeur seeks stronger prey; why not your beast?"
I glanced at Jean-Claude. "Getting chatty, are we?"
"I am seeking answers, ma petite. Augustine may not be trustworthy in all things, but when he gives his word, he keeps it."
"So you asked his opinion, after getting his word of honor he wouldn't tell our secrets anywhere."
I didn't like it, but I had to trust that Jean-Claude knew what he was doing. Besides, we did need help figuring some of this out. The list of Masters of the City that he trusted at all was damn small. It might be smaller after this visit, if I could vote on the list.
"Please, Anita," Travis said, "please, give me your beast. Feed on one of us. Don't give that freak power over us."
"I don't need to give my beast up, and I don't want to raise it on purpose. I don't know how to stop it, once it starts."
"Start it, and give it to me."
"Travis, just shift."
He shook his head stubbornly.
"Then feed the ardeur on me," Noel said.
I looked into his face, those eyes behind his wire-framed glasses. He looked so sincere and so young. "You don't know what you're asking, Noel."
"Just mark their necks," Nathaniel said.
I looked at him. Usually, Nathaniel liked to be the only one that I marked up. He shared with Micah, but he didn't like it when I marked anyone who was just food. "Usually you complain about that," I said.
"The jolt of power with Pierce could happen with anyone who was a preternatural. But what happened with Haven when you tried to touch his neck, that was different. Try to do the vampire greeting thing on their necks, and see if you get a similar reaction."
"Beauty and brains," Auggie said. "Lucky you."
I wasn't sure who he was calling lucky--me, Jean-Claude, or Nathaniel. We all ignored him. "All right, Nathaniel, all right. I'll try, but if this doesn't work at all, Travis has to shift and heal that arm." I looked at Travis as I said it.
Travis nodded. "If you try it on both of us, and nothing happens, okay."
Requiem tucked his black cloak closer around him. The movement made me look at him. "You are master here, Jean-Claude, but before she uses the ardeur again, should we not talk?"
That made me look back at Jean-Claude. He nodded. "Yes, but perhaps our young lions could go back to Dr. Lillian for a time."
Travis gave him a look that said, clearly, he wasn't moving. "You're kidding, right?"
"Are you refusing the direct order of the Master of the City?" Auggie asked.
I raised a hand, and said, "Don't start that shit again, Auggie. Not your city, not your call."
"I don't think Travis feels well enough to walk back to Dr. Lillian," Noel said. "What if we give our word that we won't tell anyone what you say?"
"You are young and live in a time where you do not truly understand what it means to give your word," Jean-Claude said.
"Besides," Micah said, "if Joseph ordered you to tell him, you'd have no choice."
Travis let out a long shaking breath, cradling his arm against his body. "Help me up, Noel."
"What can be so private that you're making him move?" I asked.
"We could move," Nathaniel said.
"Yeah," I said, "all the able-bodied, except for Noel, follow me."
"Are you really going to let her make us all move, so the lion won't have to?" Auggie said.
I stopped a few steps beyond the group, because only Nathaniel and Micah were following me. Claudia was looking from Jean-Claude to me, and the rest of the guards were looking to her. We were deep into the pissing contest and Claudia was trying to decide what would help and what would hurt.
I pointed a finger at Auggie. "I'm getting tired of you." I switched the finger to Jean-Claude. "Please, tell me you are not going to grandstand to save face in front of Auggie. It will cost us nothing to move down the hallway."
"He lost a fight," Auggie said, "it should hurt."
I waved a hand at him, as if waving him away. "I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to my master, thank you very much. Jean-Claude?"
It wasn't so much that I could see him think it through, because his face was perfect and unreadable. But I'd been staring at that empty face for years now. It was almost like I could feel him thinking it through.
He gave a small nod. "Very well." He went to me, and I held out my hand to reward this show of common sense.
"I see the local Rex isn't the only one pu**y-whipped around here," Auggie said.
I started to get angry, but Jean-Claude pulled on my hand. He told me with a glance that he'd take care of it. He turned those dark-blue eyes on Auggie, and said, "And if you knew that she would cover you in the ardeur, and love your body, would you stay here, or would you go where she wished you to go?"
Auggie stared at him for a second, then started shaking his head, over and over again. He walked toward us, then kept walking. He walked into the far hallway, and kept walking until he was lost to sight.
"When he faces us again, ma petite, he will have his people at his back. I do not think he will risk himself alone with us again."
I squeezed Jean-Claude's hand. It made him look at me. "I don't think he's afraid of being pu**y-whipped," I said.
Jean-Claude actually managed to look humble. "Perhaps not."
"WHAT DO YOU mean, I was about to bind Requiem to me forever?" We were having our super-secret meeting in the hallway. It was empty, and I didn't want to walk all the way back to Jean-Claude's room.
"I have tried to teach you different ways to feed, ma petite, and you have learned well."
I could have argued that, but I let it go. "Just explain what you said, Jean-Claude. You don't have to protect my ego, just say it."
"You have fed on Requiem, but always before you were holding back, or I was so deeply enmeshed with you when you did it, that I was in some way controlling what happened."
I nodded. "And?"
"It is possible to know the innermost desire of a person. The ardeur can give you a glimpse into his soul."
"I know that, it happens a lot."
He shook his head. "But that is exactly the point, ma petite, it should not happen a lot."
"But it does; that's how the ardeur works when I feed completely."
He shook his head again. "Non, ma petite, it is not necessary to know someone's heart's desire to feed completely."