Guards I knew took my bags, and I let them. Once I wouldn't have let anyone carry my bags, but I'd learned they weren't doing it because they thought I was weak, but as a sign of respect. The boss doesn't carry shit.
Lisandro and another guard I didn't recognize came out the door in the distance, as we all moved across the parking lot. The new guard was taller than Lisandro by inches, which made him at least six-three or six-four. Lisandro's hair was black, but the new guy's hair was that deep black that had blue highlights in it as the morning sun hit them. The hair had fallen forward, hiding his face, and then I couldn't see either of them past the herd of taller people around me; when the view cleared I saw the black-and-silver T-shirt that I'd picked out for him, the black jeans that fit his hips nicely and clung to his thighs and all that long leg, until the slight flare at the bottom that gave room to go over the black-and-silver tooled cowboy boots that he'd just gotten. I felt silly not realizing it was Cynric from the moment I saw him. I just almost never saw him from a distance except on the football field, or the track, and this was different. Seeing him all rock-star casual for school made me wonder who he was dressing to impress. Technically he could date other people, in fact I was encouraging it, but wondering who he was dressing up for caused a slight flare of jealousy, which was totally ridiculous. He was only nineteen, twelve years younger than me, and I was always trying to get him to meet a nice girl his own age, or to admit he felt neglected being just another man in my life, but seeing him like this, noticing just how tall, how filled out he was from lifting weights and team practice . . . he looked older than nineteen. Maybe it was the height?
He looked up, and the moment he saw me his face lit up in that way you only look at someone that you love. He didn't look much like the kid I'd met in Vegas. The issue was still there, big and ugly and therapy-worthy, but the issue wasn't Cynric. The issue was what had been done to both of us against our will. We were both survivors--no, we'd done more than just survive what Marmee Noir had done to us; we had thrived. Some tightness in my chest eased, and I smiled at him. Maybe it wasn't as good a smile as he gave me, but I would work on that. However we got together, the thought of him dressing up to catch the eye of another woman bothered me, in a way that Domino having full-blown sex with someone else didn't.
My head and my issues had made me doubt, but it was as if admitting the issues out loud had freed me to look at them and begin to work through them. I was happy to see him, so happy it surprised me. Whatever he saw on my face made him look even happier as he hurried toward me.
"Go give Sin his good-morning kiss," Nicky said.
"Docs are here, I got Domino. Go."
I touched his arm, not sure I could get through everyone else for a kiss, and went to one of the other men in my life. I started to hug him, but remembered that I was still covered in drying weretiger goop in time to save his outfit. The kiss turned awkward as I stopped him from hugging me. He looked hurt for a second, then touched my shoulder and said, "What did you do in the cemetery tonight? What's in your hair?" He laughed and shook his head.
"Long story, but you look too nice to ruin the outfit by smearing this stuff all over you."
He looked out and saw Domino. "I felt some of it, before Jean-Claude shielded us all. Is Domino going to be all right?"
"I think so, but I keep forgetting that he's weaker than some of you, so he doesn't heal as well as you, or Nicky."
"Or most of us," he said, and looked worried.
I traced my relatively clean hand down the front of his shirt, where it covered a very nice chest. "What are you all dressed up for?"
"I knew you'd forget, and that's okay, but today they're handing out the senior awards at school. Family is welcome to come watch and there's snacks afterward."
"I did totally forget, but I thought our deal was that I didn't come on parent days, since that's not what I am to you."
"I'm asking Nathaniel to come as my brother, Nicky too, and Micah, but you"--and he touched my face, tilting it up toward him--"you I want to come as my girlfriend."
I got all flustered again. All my new resolutions to not blame my fellow survivor for the evil machinations of the Mother of All Darkness fled, and left me panicking again. "I'm not sure that's a good idea. In fact, I'm sure it's not."
He touched my face again, which made me stop talking, probably for the best. "I know you have issues with me being a senior in high school, and the age difference, but I'm nineteen, legally an adult. We live together, we're lovers; if that doesn't make you at least my girlfriend, I don't know what does."
"I don't know what to say to that."
He smiled, a little less happy, but still a smile. "Say you'll be there wearing some fabulous dress so that all the other guys will be insanely envious that I have you in my life."
"Anita." He said it the way Micah said it sometimes, or Nathaniel, like You can do better than this. Since when had Cynric been able to do that tone?
"What time today?" I asked finally. It didn't hurt to get the time.
"I have to go back to work with the FBI."
His eyes got that cautious look that I'd taught him as I pulled away again and again. I grabbed his hand. "Don't look like that; I don't mean to be a pain in the ass."
"Then stop being one," he said, and he sounded so reasonable.
"It's not that simple," I said.
"Anita, I've been a good sport about not being the tiger that you put a ring on for the commitment ceremony, haven't I?"
He had; he really had. "I'm sorry," I said.
"Don't apologize, just bring us home a cute girl tiger to share and all is forgiven." He grinned at me and waggled his eyebrows.
It made me smile. "I can't promise a girl, but I can promise to look for one."
"That's all we're asking."
I looked up at him and said what I was thinking. "When did you grow up and how did I not notice?"
"You've been too busy trying to shove me in the kid box to let me grow out of it," he said, voice soft.
"That's fair," I said.
"I don't care if you're fair, Anita, just say you'll let Nathaniel help you dress and you'll be with me today."
"Try to get away from the FBI in time for it, or try to be comfortable enough to take my hand in front of everyone at school?"
I thought about it, and tried to tell the sinking feeling in my gut to stop it. "How about both?"
He smiled. "Both is good." He leaned down and I went up on careful tiptoes, balancing with my hands on his chest so I didn't fall against him and ruin his shirt. We couldn't touch like normal, but this kiss wasn't awkward. He whispered, voice low and deep, "I wish I could stay and help you clean up in the shower."
It tightened things low in my body and made me stumble back to stand flat-footed. The fact that he could have that effect on me still bothered me, but not as much. I mumbled, "Me, too," but couldn't quite look at him as I said it.
He laughed, and it was a very masculine laugh. "Later tonight, I'll help you get all messy again; Nathaniel and I have been working on something."
"Working on what?" I asked, suddenly suspicious.
"You'll see, and you'll like it, I promise; I mean I think you'll like it." He looked like he was thinking too hard, then laughed more at himself than me, I think. "I've got to run or I'm going to be late for class." He gave me one more quick kiss and headed for his car. It was a brand-new Corvette Stingray, a deep, rich blue that was somewhere between the color of his eyes and Jean-Claude's. It had been an early graduation present from Jean-Claude. He slipped into the car like he'd been built to match it, sleek, pretty, and purringly muscular. It was a pretty car, and he looked great in it, and drove it well after a few lessons at using a stick. I still thought it was a ridiculous present for high school graduation and set the bar too high. I mean, what the hell were the rest of us going to get him for gr
aduation? Technically, the car was from a bunch of us, but Cynric wasn't stupid. The sleek sports car had Jean-Claude's taste written all over it. Micah and I would both have picked something far more practical. Nathaniel loved the car.
Nicky came to stand beside me. "First, I'm glad that you're working your issues with Sin."
I turned and looked at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know exactly what I mean," he said, and gave me a look out of his one blue eye that said, clearly, I did know what he meant, and I did.
I shrugged and looked away.
"Second, I'm sorry about Domino. I didn't mean to kill him."
"You didn't," I said, looking at him.
"I almost did, and it would have been an accident; if I kill people, it should be on purpose."
I studied his profile, because he was the one looking away now. "So, you're not apologizing for almost killing him, really; you're apologizing for accidentally almost killing him."
"Because if you kill anyone it should be on purpose, is that it?"
I laughed, started to hug him, and settled for patting his arm. "That is one of the weirdest apologies I've ever had, but I'll take it; thank you."
He nodded. "You're welcome."
My phone gave Micah's text tone, which was how I knew to look at it. The little word balloon read, "Can you meet me down in Rafael's room in medical?"
I texted back with one finger, much slower than Nicky, Nathaniel, or Cynric. "Is Rafael all right? Is he worse? Not healing?" I sent the message and realized it was awkward as hell, but hey, at least I texted instead of just calling back. It was a start.
"He's healing, but not healed. Won't be healed by tonight's meeting."
I started to text back and finally just called. "Micah, I tried texting, I did, but I'd still rather hear your voice."
He laughed. "I don't mind, I'd rather hear your voice, too."
I smiled and said, "Good, now what's up, short, dark, and handsome?"
He gave another chuckle, and then said, "Well short, pale, and beautiful, I'd rather discuss it in person."
"Okay, that sounds serious."
"It is, but not in the way you think."
"Okay, mysterious then."
"Now I am worried, you almost never curse."
"Rafael is healing, but not as fast as we'd hoped when we scheduled the big meeting for tonight."
"Everyone here in St. Louis is friendly, so it shouldn't be a big deal," I said.
"We're including people via Skype that aren't so friendly, including the rat group that was behind the assassination attempt."