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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:12

"Fine, I'm getting that, so what the fuck has got you so upset that you're sharing personal details with Zerbrowski?"

"Oh, hell, I don't know."

"That is not an answer," I said, glaring up at him.

"Well, it's the only answer I have, right now."

"It's not Anita and the relationship stuff you're upset about," Nicky said.

"You can say that because you have the kind of relationship the rest of us want and don't have with her."

"I can say that because I smelled how scared you were with the zombie tonight."

"We were all scared," I said.

"He was more scared than he should have been."

"She left me beside the grave like bait, not you," Domino said, pointing a finger at Nicky's chest.

"I didn't leave you as bait, Domino. It just happened to be where you were standing. I put myself at the edge of the grave at the end, too, and Nicky."

"But it was me that thing was staring at and saying Hungry, over and over again." His eyes were a little wide and his breathing was speeding up just talking about it.

"I didn't know the zombie would fixate on anyone. I didn't put you in harm's way on purpose."

"I wish I believed that."

"What does that even mean? I don't endanger any of you on purpose."

"We're her bodyguards; it's our job to put ourselves in danger," Nicky said.

"You stay out of it, lion."

"I'll stay out of it when you stop whining," he said.

Domino went very still, but it wasn't the stillness of the dead; it was more the quiet before the storm when the world holds its breath, just before all hell breaks loose. His arm was a blur, so fast I couldn't follow it, and only knew it impacted because Nicky rocked back a half-step. But the next blow landed on the arm Nicky raised to guard his face, and then he hit back. Domino blocked one fist, but the second got through his guard, taking him in the ribs. Domino flinched a little to that side and when Nicky feinted with his right for the ribs again he blocked, but Nicky's left hit him in the mouth and rocked him back. It rattled him, but he was able to keep moving. He backed up and avoided the next three blows altogether, but the knee that Nicky threw connected with Domino's hip, which doubled him a little, so the next knee was all ribs. I thought I heard something break, which meant I was probably too close, but they were so fast it was like there wasn't time to move. Domino tried to cover his face and ribs, so Nicky kicked him on the thighs, hips, and shins with legs, feet, and knees, over and over again in a blur of movement. Domino blocked some of it, but more and more of it was getting through his guard, so the barrage of knees, shins, and feet was punishing. Domino got in one more hit at Nicky's midsection, but he batted it away and the whole right side of Domino's face was open. Nicky closed with a hard left hook and then followed with a right uppercut that rolled Domino's eyes back and made him drop his hands enough for another left hook. Nicky used the momentum of the hook to send him spinning through with a kick to the side of Domino's face, and it was over.

Domino fell to the ground heavy. I knew by how he fell that he was completely out, even before I knelt beside him and checked for a pulse. It was there and a tightness in my gut went away; as long as everyone lived, it was all just good, painful fun.

"He's not dead," Nicky said; his voice was only slightly breathy, as if the fight had been a good warm-up. He was still in a fighting stance, slightly up on the balls of his feet, arms still half-raised as if Domino was going to get up again, or as if there might be someone else to fight.

Zerbrowski, Manny, and the grave diggers were all standing at a little distance, as if they'd run toward us to stop the fight but it was over before they could get here. It had been like most fights, over incredibly quickly. It probably hadn't lasted more than two, three minutes tops. It just seemed much longer when you were in it.

"Shit, he's fast," the tall blond grave digger said into the sudden quiet.

"Anita, do we need an ambulance?" Zerbrowski asked.

"No, I don't think so."

"This guy so needs an ambulance," the short, dark-haired grave digger said.

I couldn't really blame him for saying it. The lower half of Domino's face was covered in blood, his skin was pale, and there were cuts on the side of his face higher up. He lay utterly still as if he'd never wake up, and if he'd been human he might not have, but he wasn't human. One rattling breath came, and then he tried to sit up, but that seemed to hurt too much, so he fell back to the ground coughing blood, or maybe it was coming out of his broken nose, it was hard to tell. I helped him sit up enough so he didn't choke on his own blood.

Susannah was near enough now that she could comment. "That was brutal."

"He's not dead. If I'd been brutal, he would be," Nicky said; he was easing out of the fighting stance, but it was as if once put on alert he was having trouble letting it go.

Domino coughed more blood up and there was no way not to get some of it on me. Susannah came to kneel beside me, to help. "He's a lycanthrope," I said.

"I don't have any cuts for the blood to get into." She started trying to help hold pressure on his nose, but that made it harder for him to breathe. It was still a point for her that she was willing to touch a shapeshifter that was bleeding; a lot of humans wouldn't have.

"Don't press on the nose, you'll make it harder for him to breathe," Nicky said.

"Like you give a damn," she said, glaring up at Nicky, but she stopped trying to press so hard on Domino's face.

"Is this where you call me a brute and feel sorry for him?"

"You are a brute and a bully! It was vicious!" she said, and sounded totally indignant.

Nicky looked at me. "How about you, Anita? You think I'm a brute and a bully? That I'm vicious?"

"I think we just saw a serious cultural misunderstanding."

"What?" Susannah asked.

"They aren't the same kind of wereanimal. Domino comes from a culture where a fight like that would go so far and then stop; Nicky's culture finishes every fight pretty much like that." I didn't want to say what kind of animal each of them was, because it was like telling people what gun you carried; if they got spooked or wanted to make trouble for you, they could give details that made their bullshit seem more real to the police. I didn't think Susannah would do that, but it was just a rule when dealing with this many outsiders. I didn't know the grave diggers at all.

"You're not making any sense," she said.

"Can you sit up?" I asked Domino. He nodded, still coughing or wheezing out blood. Susannah came behind him and let him rest against her shiny fire suit. I wondered if it was dry clean only, or if the blood would even be able to soak in. One arm of my jacket and the side of my hip and thigh were bright with his blood. I tipped my dry cleaner generously and often.

"He threw the first punch," I said.

"But he didn't have to beat him senseless!" Susannah said as she cradled Domino.

"Well, that is true," I said.

"Yeah, that is true," Nicky said. He was standing more normally now, most of the tension of the fight drained away.

I stood in front of him, gazing at the tiny spot of blood on the corner of his mouth. "Did he actually make contact, or is that his blood spattered on your face?"

He licked the corner of his mouth. "Mine."

I smiled. "Once he drew blood it was all over."

Nicky made a little hands-out gesture, as if to say, Of course.

"You broke my damn ribs," Domino said in a voice thick with blood and the damage to his nose.

"The way you're coughing blood, one of them might have nicked your lung," Nicky said, but he didn't sound sorry.

"Does he need an ambulance?" I asked.

"A doctor, but not an ambulance, unless he wants to pussy out and says differently."

"Fuck you," Domino said; he coughed more blood, then bent over something that hurt.

"No ambulance, I guess," I said.

"He needs a hospital," Susan

nah said, "and you should be in handcuffs." She looked at Zerbrowski. He spread his hands wide and said, "Just because he lost the fight doesn't mean he didn't throw the first blow and start the fight."

"That's insane," she said.

"No, it's just the truth," I said.

"You're not going to call me a bully?" he asked.

"Are you going to be mad at me?" he asked.

I thought about it and shook my head. "No."

He smiled. "Does this mean the winner gets the girl?"