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

He smiled wider, which made him touch the cut in the corner of his mouth with his tongue again, more exploring to see how deep it was, which meant the wide smile had hurt, at least a little.

"I've still got to dump the ashes in the stream, and then we can get Domino to medical."

"I can put the ashes in the water," Manny said. "You take care of your boy."

I shook my head. "I'll finish my job, and we'll stop on the way home to dump more in the river, because I'm still working."

"You can't mean to make him wait to get medical attention while you do all that," Susannah said, holding Domino a little close and protectively.

"If he wants you to drive him to a hospital, or to the Circus of the Damned, that's fine with me."

"He beats me to shit, and you reward him," he said, and he was coughing a little less.

I went to one knee beside him. "Nicky didn't start this fight; you did. You drew first blood, and you did it while you were supposed to be on duty as my bodyguard, so you didn't just take your attention away from guarding me, you took Nicky's away from the job. If something bad had happened while the two of you were fighting, I'd have had to deal with it, with no help from either of you, because you let something spook you tonight. You let yourself lose sight of the job."

"Heaven help anything that comes between you and your job," he said.

"I'm done, you're done, we're done."

His eyes got worried then. "What do you mean?"

"I think I was pretty clear, Domino." I stood up.

"Anita, don't do this."

"You're the one complaining that I'm not as serious with you as I am with Nicky, that I don't have enough time and attention for you; well, you're right. There are too many of you and not enough of me, so if you don't like the way I run our relationship, then let's be done. Now you're free to find someone else who would think you're the victim here, and not that you just picked a fight that you were too fucking weak to win."

"I lose one fight and I'm weak."

"You knew better than to pick a fight with Nicky. You train with him, Domino. You've seen him spar. Hell, you've sparred with him. You knew what would happen the moment you threw the first punch, and if you didn't that makes you weak and stupid."

"Anita, how can you say that?" Susannah asked, and she seemed genuinely outraged, but I was done discussing it.

I started walking toward the slope that I knew would eventually lead me to the stream. Nicky fell into step beside me. "In case you need bodyguarding between here and there," he said, voice almost neutral.

I smiled and transferred the jar of zombie ash to my right hand, and offered him my left to hold. "What if we have to go for our guns?" he asked.

"As your bodyguard I should refuse."

"It's up to you," I said.

He smiled and took my hand. His knuckles were skinned and bleeding a little. It probably would have bothered Susannah, but it didn't bother me. We walked through the graveyard, me covered in Domino's blood, Nicky skinned up from hitting him, and I was okay with that. I felt relieved to be done with Domino; one tiger down, a few more to go.

DOMINO WAS TRYING to get out of his clothes when we came back from the stream. Susannah seemed confused as he asked for help out of the straps of his holsters and his shirt. She looked up at me. "He's delirious."

"No, he just doesn't want to ruin his leather holsters when he shifts," I said. I squeezed Nicky's hand, knelt in the grass beside them, and started helping him take off the holsters that held both his handguns and the extra ammo clips.

Susannah was still half-cradling him as I started helping him slip his bloody shirt off. He flinched, and it was obviously hurting a lot. Nicky loomed over us. "Shirt's ruined anyway, just let it shred."

"Get away from him!" Susannah said.

"No, he's right. I can lose the shirt," Domino said in that stuffy voice you get when your nose is well and truly fucked up.

"Lose it, how?" she asked.

I helped him pull his shirt back down, trying not to hurt his ribs. "He's going to shapeshift and that will help heal some of the damage."

"Shift into what?" she asked, but she let him lean back without any sign of flinching.

"Pants aren't bloody," I said. "You like them enough to save them?"

"I'll do tiger, not half, pants . . ." He swallowed hard, as if something hurt when he talked. He coughed again, spat more blood, and curled his shoulders down like he was wanting to cradle an injury in his torso.

Nicky finished for him. "If he shifts into his full tiger form the pants may not rip; we'll just have to help him out of them once he changes."

"You're not touching him," Susannah said.

"You think we're enemies now, don't you?"

"You beat him senseless, so yes." She seemed outraged that he'd even mention it.

"We enemies now, Domino?" he asked.

"No, help me out of these pants, I'm not sure I can control what form I take, just got these tac pants."

Nicky took a knee on the other side of Domino. Susannah put an arm around Domino's shoulder and leaned them both back away from him. Domino made a pain sound, because bending that way obviously hurt.

"You're hurting me," Domino managed to say.

"You're bending him the wrong way," I said.

Susannah said, "How can you be so calm?"

I wasn't sure if she was talking to Domino or me, but I answered. "Because it's over."

"He's still bleeding and hurt; it's not over."

"The fight is," Nicky said, and reached for Domino's belt.

"What are you doing?" She sounded outraged, but she didn't bend him away from Nicky this time.

"He asked Nicky to help get his pants off, remember?" I said.

Nicky unbuckled the other man's pants with the same sure, deft movements he used when he got me undressed. I wore almost the exact same kind of belt these days; it was sturdy enough to hold up to gun holsters without buckling or getting too damaged, too fast.

It was when Nicky started easing Domino's pants down from his waist that she said, "How can you let him touch you like that?"

"It's going to take Anita and Nicky to get my pants off with minimum pain," Domino said.

I joined Nicky in helping to work the pants down around Domino's hips. I got to see that he'd worn black underwear today, a Brazilian, or Rio cut, so that it was high on the sides. I knew he was wearing it for Jade. It was one of the few strong preferences she'd expressed for men to wear around her.

"He tried to kill you!" Susannah said.

"If he'd meant to kill me, he would have," Domino said. He made a face as we got his pants down to midhip, and he tried to raise himself up to help us. He started coughing again, and a fresh gout of bloo

d came up very bright red in the morning light.

"If that's your lung, then we need to get you to a hospital, or you could die."

When Domino could speak without coughing blood he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and said, "I'll heal, and Nicky knows it."

"I don't understand any of this," she said.

"You seem nice, but no, you don't understand."

"Then explain it to me, because this makes no sense."

Domino looked at her, and it was as if she hadn't really seen the yellow and red fire color of his eyes, and maybe she hadn't in the dark. She stared at his eyes and whispered, "Oh, my God, your eyes."

"Beautiful, aren't they?" I said.

She just stared into the fire of his eyes, like a mouse hypnotized by a snake.

Domino said, "You think I'm nice, because Nicky is less nice, but I was raised to be muscle for an old-school mobster; that is not a nice business. It is not gentle, or kind, and for me to stand as a guard beside the boss, neither was I. Nicky is a better bad guy than I am, but that doesn't make me a good guy, or not the kind of good guy you think I am."

"I don't understand any of this."

He turned and looked at me. "I think Susannah needs to go somewhere else."

I nodded. "Eddie, can you take Susannah to the truck? Domino would like a little privacy for his clothes coming off."

Domino looked at me. He knew, and I knew, that he didn't give a damn if she saw him naked. He just didn't want someone who was this much of an outsider making him feel like a freak, or maybe just continuously pointing out how very alien we all were from the "ordinary" folks.

Eddie came and helped his daughter stand up, which meant Domino had to support all his weight, using one hand and leaning to the side. He couldn't hide the fact that it hurt, and that he'd rather have it hurt that much than take the comfort of a pretty woman said just how much her attitude had bothered him. It's one thing to know you're a freak; it's another to have people's attitudes drive it home with an axe.

Zerbrowski said, "You need any help, just yell," and then he went to join the others, who had taken my request for privacy to undress Domino very seriously. The three of us were alone in the filtered sunlight playing through the trees.

We eased Domino's pants down his ass; the black undies stayed put. They were stretched a little tight across the front, but not as tight as they could get.