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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:01

Dev answered, "A lot of straight guys will share a woman with you, but they put rules in place about how much touching of each other you can do, and for Micah that's no touching. We use Anita like a bridge, or a shield between us."

"I'm not that into men, it's nothing personal."

Dev nodded again, then looked at Micah. "You've liked me less since you realized that Nathaniel and I would do things together that you won't do with him."

Micah's face darkened and I felt the first prickle of his beast, which meant what Dev had said was true and had pissed him off.

I stared at one of my other halves. How had I missed this whole thing? I had to have been in the bed when things were happening, because Dev and Micah were never in the same bed without me, but then I realized that Nathaniel mentioning Dev earlier as a potential shared husband might have had more behind it than just their shared bisexuality. Had he and Dev had more alone time than I knew?

"Okay, I'm just going to say it, I've missed something big. I'm sorry to everyone, but we need to step back and fill me in."

"We don't need to be here for this," Domino said, and stood up.

"But you do need to be here for the power question," Micah said. He turned to Dev. "Can we discuss the magic first, and then we can let Crispin and Domino out of the personal business."

Micah turned to the other tigers. "I want to see if the power jumps between Anita, Dev, and me again. If it does, then I'll have us try it with Crispin. If it happens between the three of us, we'll try with Domino, and I think that may be a big enough sampling that we'll just assume it would happen with all the tigers."

"What if it only happens with Dev?" Crispin asked.

"Then the two of you can go, and we'll discuss the metaphysics and the personal stuff in private."

The two of them exchanged a look, then looked back at Micah. "Metaphysics first and then we'll discuss the personal stuff and whether we want to leave Dev on his own."

Dev looked at them. "You don't have to stay for me."

"It's not for you," Crispin said, "it's for all of us. Anita was supposed to look at all the tigers tonight and here we are in an isolated group, caught up in some new magic. It keeps distracting us from what we say is our goal."

"And what goal is that?" I asked, and knew my voice wasn't entirely friendly.

Crispin gave me a look that wasn't entirely friendly either. "To make sure the Mother of All Darkness does not rise again. It should be everyone's goal, Anita, not just the clan tigers, and everyone should be dedicated to making certain the prophecy is fulfilled as completely as possible."

"You don't really believe you need to marry one of us to finish the prophecy, Anita. You've made that clear."

I sighed, and would have let go of Micah's hand, but he held on. Jean-Claude was just still under my hand so I stopped touching him. If he wanted to "go away" while he was still sitting beside me, fine.

"Jean-Claude and I are willing to let Anita add another man or woman to our commitment ceremony, and bring them into our bed. I think we're taking the prophecy pretty seriously," Micah said.

I looked at him. "You're the one who brought up the whole marrying-a-weretiger thing, not me."

"I think it's necessary, but am I thrilled with sharing you with another person, especially another man? Not entirely. I see it as necessary, and that's not the same thing as wanting it."

"I'm not going to be forced to marry anyone that I don't want to marry."

"See, none of you believe," Crispin said, voice low.

"We believe enough for Anita to interview more weretigers."

"Why don't you just marry Cynric? He's the one who's already in the house with you," Domino asked.

I looked down, fighting not to make eye contact, or to lower any shields between me and the tigers in the room. I didn't want to share my revelation with anyone, and definitely not with any other tigers besides Cynric, though I wasn't sure it was a really good idea to even tell him. I was still too confused about it myself.

"Cynric was happy to entertain the idea of another woman added to our household," Jean-Claude said in his most pleasant and emptiest voice.

Crispin shook his head. "But you didn't interview anyone, did you? You had a metaphysical crisis and it's all back-burner again."

"They couldn't have planned my fight with Thorn," Dev said.

"No, but there is always something that can be used as a legitimate excuse to postpone things that Anita, or Micah, or Jean-Claude doesn't want to address, and there always will be something."

Domino was looking uncomfortable, as if he wanted to push his chair farther away so it was clear that either he didn't agree with everything Crispin was saying, or he didn't want to get included if we got angry.

"It is true that there will always be a crisis to attend to," Jean-Claude said.

I frowned at him. "We don't do it on purpose."

"No, but you admit that there is always something, right?" Crispin asked.

Micah finally said, "I can't disagree."

"Good, then test the magic, or whatever it is with Dev, and if it works again try it with me; if it only works with Dev we'll see what comes next."

"We haven't agreed to you staying for the personal talk, but let's just do the power test and we'll go from there," Micah said.

"Just let me say that the next time you have serious reservations about sharing me with more people, don't be the one who brings the subject up," I said.

He let go of my hand, and I didn't try to keep holding on. "You don't like Envy well enough to be in the bed with her when she's with Jean-Claude, or Richard."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Just pointing out that I compromise a lot better with your male lovers than you do with the only other woman who's crossed the line to becoming a regular lover for any of us."

"Are you trying to pick a fight?" I asked.

He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face as if scrubbing something away. "I don't know, maybe."

"It is very rare for you not to be the diplomat, mon chat," Jean-Claude said.

"It's just Cynric is like my little brother. Nathaniel calls him a brother-husband and I understand that. There's no weirdness between Cynric and anyone else in our inner circle, but Dev is truly bisexual, as much as Nathaniel is, which means that there are expectations from him that there won't be from others."

"Bisexual and male doesn't mean I want to fuck you, Micah," Dev said, and he was finally getting angry, too.

"I didn't mean it that way."

"How did you mean it, then?" Dev's energy was starting to radiate out like a stove being slowly turned up.

"I'm as happy as I've ever been in my life, Dev. I don't want that screwed up because of some ancient prophecy, or anything else. I've got two people that I love and that love me; we all want to marry each other, and I'm being forced to include another person that we're not in love with, and it scares the shit out of me. What would you do if things were perfect between you, Asher, and Kane, but you were being forced to add a fourth person?"

Dev opened his mouth, closed it, and finally said, "I'd be pissed."

"Exactly," Micah said.

"But you're the one who brought it up earlier," I said.

"I did, because what if by refusing to risk screwing up my own happily-ever-after, I cause the Great Evil to rise again and destroy not only you, Nathaniel, and Jean-Claude, but everyone and everything? The destruction of civilization as we know it seems a high price to pay for not wanting to add another person to our commitment ceremony."

Crispin pointed a thumb in Micah's direction. "What he said."

Dev's energy had quieted. "I'm sorry, Micah, I didn't understand it like that. I think if I were in love I might let the whole world go to hell rather than risk my own happiness."

"I've seen you risk your life to save the day," I said.

Dev gave me a smile that mana

ged to be more sad than anything else. "But that was before I saw Asher after months apart from him and realized just how much I loved him. It was before I thought I had a chance at what you, Micah, and Jean-Claude have. I was raised being told my life was at the disposal of the Master of Tigers once he, or she, appeared, but no one ever explained what to do about love. I mean, they covered lust, because if one of the vamps from Belle Morte's bloodline was our master, then sex would be a given, but love . . . No one ever talked to us about that."

Crispin said, "So you'd lay down your life, but not your heart, for Anita?"

Dev shrugged those big shoulders. "I'll do my duty, but if I had the level of commitment from Asher that Micah has from the people in his life, I'd make that my priority."

"Love can unman you," Jean-Claude said.

We all looked at him.

He gave that graceful almost-shrug that meant everything, nothing, or some emotion in between depending on his facial expression, or the timing. "I have loved people more than I loved my duty. It can be wonderful, and terrible."

"How is it terrible?" Crispin asked.

"Because, mon ami, sometimes if you do not do your duty, then a kingdom can be lost, and you must weigh your love, or even your lover, against the lives of many more. It is a terrible choice."

"That sounds like personal experience," I said.

He looked at me with a pleasant but unreadable face. The shielding between us was as tight as he could make it. Whatever memory was behind his words, he didn't want to share it. I had my own share of things that I'd rather not share, so I'd learned not to pry. Sometimes you really did want the sleeping dogs to keep napping, because once they woke up they tried to tear your throat out.