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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:02

The heat began in his hand, going from warm to hot as if he'd spiked a sudden deadly fever, and then the heat ran through his body so that it radiated even through his clothes as he wrapped himself around me and drew Micah closer by pulling on his hand. I felt Micah hesitate, and then his body relaxed in against me. He let go of some issue that was holding him back and just relaxed into me and Dev, because the other man was holding me so close that he couldn't really get nearer to me without getting closer to us both. I felt Dev's happiness spike, as if he appreciated Micah letting go; whether it was Micah's giving himself to the moment, or Dev's emotion, something spiked the power higher like gasoline thrown on a fire.

That invisible colored fire flared around us, so bright inside my head like a waking dream, but this dream had heat, and the solidness of the two men, so that it was an intermingling of reality and the images inside of my head.

"Do you see the colors?" I asked in a voice that was more breath than anything.

"Smell them," Micah whispered.

"Feel them," Dev said, and he reached a hand out, as if he expected to actually be able to touch the flames. The colors reacted to his hand, brightening as his fingers touched the energy and fading as he ran his hand further through the air.

"It's reacting to your touch," I said.

"Like I said, I can feel the different beasts."

"Pick one, mon ami, let me see your clothes vanish and you slip this mortal skin," Jean-Claude said, in a voice that caressed along my skin even with all the energy that was already there. I had a moment to realize that he was flirting with Dev, either to get him to hurry up and choose a form, or for the reason anyone flirts.

I felt Dev startle, his body reacting to Jean-Claude's voice more than Micah or I did, but then we spent more time with him and had built up our endurance. Dev had been Asher's boyfriend, so Jean-Claude had put him on the "do not touch" list. Maybe Dev wasn't the only one tired of Asher and Kane's tantrums.

"Choose," Micah said. "Choose, or I will."

Dev chose, or tried to, but he made one mistake. He tried to choose by simply letting his beast rise, except now he had nine animals trying to get out all at once. I'd learned they did not share well.

They spilled up into his body like a flood being forced into a narrow passage, except this flood had teeth and claws. Dev screamed and started to fall, the strength of his hands dragging at us, as we fought to keep our feet and tried to hold him up. I could feel the claws and teeth trying to fight through him, but I didn't feel the pain of it the way Dev obviously did.

I glanced at Micah. "Are you protecting us?"

"Yes, can you hold him by yourself?"

I wrapped my arms more firmly around the bigger man's waist and held on. I nodded, and Micah took me at my word like he always did. He stopped trying to hold Dev up, and I was suddenly holding up nearly twice my body weight of a supernaturally strong man whose body was bucking and writhing against itself. It was like holding a muscular bag of huge snakes. Micah put his hands on either side of Dev's face and made him look at him.

"Close it down, Dev, shove them all back just like you do with your tiger. Do it! Do it now!"

Dev screamed again, his eyes tightly closed, seeing nothing but the shapes inside him trying to get out. Micah pressed his hands so hard I could see his fingers imprinting on Dev's face. "Dev, look at me!" He shouted it.

The other man blinked at him. I held on, but I could feel something pushing against my chest where I was pressed tight against him, as if some huge thing were pushing against his stomach from the inside.

"Dev, it's just like your tiger. Control it!"

"Too many," Dev said, and screamed again.

Crispin said, "Stop this."

Dev rolled his eyes at the other weretiger. "No!" It came out as another scream, but Crispin backed up and left us to it.

"Dev," Micah said, "are you a golden tiger?"

"Yes." The word squeezed out between clenched teeth.

"Then do what the golden tigers are meant to do--conquer and rule!"

I felt Dev's body go still in my arms, as if the animals inside him heard the distant sound of hunting horns and froze. The next moment either they would fight harder, or they'd keep still, hoping the "hunt" would pass them by. I tightened my grip around his waist, one hand holding my other wrist, tightening my core, planting my feet. My only job was to keep him upright, that was it; Dev and Micah were doing the complicated part. I just had to hold on; I could do that.

Dev closed his eyes again, but I didn't think it was from pain, more to help him concentrate on things that could only be seen clearly inside his head. I'd noticed that outer vision could interfere with inner vision sometimes.

People talk about flexing muscles, but willpower is a muscle, too. I felt Dev gather himself, felt it in his body, as if he were tensing muscles to do something wholly physical, and then his power, his beast, everything that had first attracted me to him roared back at all the beasts. I had a moment to see the pale gold of his tiger with its white fangs wide and snarling. It tried to come forward and be him, but he pushed it back and reached out with will alone to pull something else out of the snarl of animals.

It was pale and golden, too, but not the yellow of his tiger, and there were no stripes on this furred body. Modern lions didn't have stripes. I wasn't sure if I heard Micah, or just his thoughts were loud in my head: "Lion, of course, it would be a lion." He was almost unhappy with the choice. I didn't have time to ask him why, because Dev's body began to shift. His human skin went from fever-warm to almost too hot to hold, and then all that smooth skin began to give way to fur. Thick, clear liquid ran hot as blood as his body re-formed itself. I was too close not to feel the bones migrate under his skin, the ligaments shift. I'd had lycanthropes shift on top of me before, but never when I was holding them as tight as I could. It was as if I could feel things move that I'd only heard, or guessed at, as his tall body remade itself in my arms. I closed my eyes as the hot liquid spilled over me, and his body grew taller than his human size. He was a big man, but he was a much bigger werelion.

I blinked my eyes clean of the liquid that I had all over me, but Dev rose above me with his fur dry except where it touched me. His thick mane was a pale yellow-blond, close to his own hair color, though I knew it didn't have to match anything on the human body of the shapeshifter. He blinked large orange-gold eyes at me from a face that was a graceful mix of human and cat.

He was so tall in this form that his head almost touched the ceiling, which meant he was over seven feet tall. Half-man form for most wereanimals gained them between a few inches and over a foot in extra height when they were wolfmen, or lionmen, or whatever-men.

Like I'd said, Dev was a big guy, and the werelion was fucking massive.

"Holy shit," Domino said from somewhere behind us.

"This isn't possible," Crispin said.

I felt Micah draw himself in, a second before he ran with heat and power. His change was neater, cleaner, faster, but then he was one of the best at shifting from one form to another I'd ever seen. He stood over me, black-furred as usual, but taller than ever, and just as the spots of his leopard were visible when the light hit them just right, so now the stripes showed in the overhead light, and for the first time he gazed down at me with different eyes. Golden eyes with a line of red around the pupil like an echo of his own gold-green. He loomed over me, but nothing to equal the lionman. The two of them together seemed to fill the room, as if there weren't enough square footage for anyone or anything else. The table had been pushed back, the chairs lay on their sides, and I couldn't remember when it happened, or if we had done it, or the others had done it to save the furniture.

Dev's voice came out in a growling deep bass even deeper than his tiger form. "I thought you liked your clothes."

"I had to try," Micah growled back.

I started to step back from both of them, but they each grabbed one of my arms.

t know what happens if we stop touching each other."

I stayed put with their massive hands wrapped completely around my arms. Dev was almost able to wrap his fingers around my bicep twice. My bicep isn't that small; he was just that big.

Jean-Claude stepped around them, pressed to the wall to move around Dev's tawny side. "Impressive, ma petite, mon chat, mon tigre. Very impressive."

Dev shook that thick mane. "I'm not a tiger now."

"Am I your lion, Jean-Claude?" The question seemed to mean more than it should have.

"All that is here is mine, Mephistopheles." Hearing him use Dev's full name was almost startling. I heard it so seldom that I sometimes forgot he had another name.

The big lion nodded, his shoulders pressed against the ceiling, back bowed for lack of space as he held my arm, and held hands with Micah. Their tawny and black fur looked like yin and yang curved around each other.

"You are the king, all that you desire is yours to take," he said, and again I knew there was more meaning there than I was certain of. I would ask Jean-Claude later.

"Fur is not to my liking, mon lionne."

"We can fix the fur part; the implications beyond that, we'll discuss," Micah said. "Feel what I'm about to do, Dev. You have the power to do the same, most of the clan tigers do."

"With more than your eyes?"

"Of course," Dev said, as if you always looked with more than your eyes.

The black fur seemed to shrink, as did his body, and his skin rose through it all like a figure trapped in melting ice that just rose to the surface as the spring thaw freed it. Micah stood there nude and beautiful, with his dark brown curls cascading around his shoulders. His hair tie had gone with the rest of his clothes that were scattered ripped around the room. He blinked his yellow-green eyes at me, and I was relieved; for just a moment I'd worried that he'd keep his tiger eyes.

"God, you make it look easy," Dev growled, and then I felt his body run with heat. The fur didn't retreat as effortlessly as it had for Micah, but it was cleaner and faster than any change I'd ever seen from Dev. He swayed on his human feet, because rapid shifting between forms takes energy. Micah and I both steadied the bigger man.