"He needs to appear strong in front of them, not weak," I said.
"Rafael needs a little help to make that happen tonight."
"To appear strong, you mean?"
"We're here to help him."
"It's more your help he needs right now, Anita."
"He needs to be healed more by tonight, if possible."
"Will you help me heal him?"
"Sure, how do I help you do that?"
"I can call flesh like I did for you the first time we met, and you've healed using more than one method."
"I thought calling flesh only worked on wereleopards for you."
"I've managed to use it on werelions out of town."
"You never mentioned that." I could feel that first spurt of resentment, or anger. His reaction to Dev's power-up with us had let me know just how much danger he'd been putting himself in to help out-of-town animal groups, or consolidate our power base with them.
"I think we both keep a lot of our out-of-town work private from each other, Anita." And just like that I had to swallow whatever pissiness I'd planned on dishing out, because he was absolutely right. I did a lot of dangerous stuff on vampire hunts, and rogue lycanthrope hunts for that matter, though my out-of-town work was usually vamps. I'd woken up in the hospital more than once far from home and the people I loved.
"You're really good at that," I said.
"If I said You know what, would that be too passive aggressive?"
He gave a small laugh. "Oh, Anita, there's usually nothing passive about your aggression."
I debated on whether to be grumpy and then finally had to smile and shake my head. "Fair enough."
"I feel awkward asking you to have what may end up as sex with Rafael, after I made a big deal out of not wanting to share you with more men."
"Unless it's for a good cause, and then you see sex as just another tool in our arsenal, whether it's you having sex with other people, or me."
"That sounds cold-blooded."
"A little, but you and I both decided a long time ago that sex isn't a fate worse than death."
"True, but it still makes me feel inconsistent and I hate that."
"You are one of the most consistent people I've ever met, Micah."
"And you still adapt to change, or let your plan adapt to battle conditions, better than almost anyone I know."
"So I'm both consistent and adaptable?"
"You are very leopard. Did you know that motion-sensor cameras have caught them living in major cities in India and no one knew they were there until the images showed up?"
"The smallest of the big cats is also the most adaptable, and the one most likely to turn the tables and hunt the hunter, back in the day."
"I did know that part. Are you delaying coming down here?" he asked.
"What does that mean?"
"Rafael is pretty private about sex; I think he'll be cool if we can do something short of healing with sex, but once a line is crossed I think it will bother him. And does he know that calling flesh for you is done by biting and licking the wound?"
"I've explained the mechanics."
"I feel the doubt in your words."
"I know how you told him, Micah. It was very clinical, very business, but I've been on the receiving end of you calling flesh and it wasn't business once your mouth was on my arm."
"You were my Nimir-Ra, Anita; the connection was there from the beginning. It made things very different between us."
"So you're saying that when you've called flesh on other people, it's not been sexual at all?"
He was quiet on his end of the phone.
"You've made your point, but I'm not attracted to Rafael in that way, so I think I'll be fine."
"But he's one of my regular lovers, so I do have that kind of connection to him. I'm just concerned that might change how your healing works if we're double-teaming him."
Nicky came back the few steps of privacy he'd given us. "I heard that last part, and I agree with Anita. You should warn Rafael of the possibilities."
I started to ask Micah if he'd heard him, but he said, "Once Anita is down here, then we'll explain it more completely to him."
"Unless Rafael is well enough to get naked in the shower, I'm going to have to clean up before I join you."
"Blood might not be a problem."
"Some blood, but mostly shifter goop."
I told him some details about what had happened with Domino in the cemetery. "So Richard helped you, that's good."
"It surprised the hell out of me," I said.
"Richard has been working with the other leaders in town in a very real way, Anita."
"Let's hear it for good therapy," I said.
"He has mentioned that, even encouraged other leaders to try it."
"He's like a born-again, you want to evangelize for what saved you," I said.
"Something like that, but whatever the cause, he has really stepped up to his responsibil
ities as Ulfric of the wolves, and the other third of Jean-Claude's triumvirate of power. That he helped you with Domino proves that he's working his issues about the metaphysics, too, and that is very good news.
"Clean up and join us, Anita."
"Did you remember that Cynric has his senior thingie today?"
"It's on my calendar, and you've got the same app on your phone. It's on the group to-do list for today."
"I don't know how to use the app yet." It sounded whiny even to me.
"Pretend it's a weapon, you'll figure it out."
"Guns are simple; technology is hard."
"I love you, please hurry."
"I love you mostest," I said; we hung up, and Nicky walked me in and down to the showers with the waiting guards carrying my equipment bags. Nicky was the local Rex, which meant when there was other muscle around he didn't carry shit either.
I PUT MOST of my equipment away and was down to minimum dangerous toys when I headed to the group shower area for the second time in less than twenty-four hours. I'd sent Nicky to bed, because one of us needed to get some sleep before we went to Cynric's senior awards banquet today, and it wasn't going to be me or Micah. It was as I headed down the hallway after kissing Nicky good-bye that I heard the rumble of male voices--a lot of male voices.
I'd totally forgotten that now was one of the busiest times for the showers, because it was either people who came in early to make sure they got the required gym workout done before work, or those who finished their shift and then headed to the gym before bed. I'd done it both ways. Honestly I preferred to work out in the early or late afternoon and then head in to work, but some weeks I just struggled to get the exercise in like most people did. The difference was, if I wasn't in good shape I might lose the next fight with the bad guys, or not be able to outrun them or chase them down; either way exercise wasn't a luxury for me, it was a serious necessity.
Hearing all those voices, feeling the energy of them even from a distance, made me slow down. I so did not want to deal with having to either walk through the group shower and all the naked men to one of the covered shower stalls, or throw the boss card down and make them all get out and wait while I showered. Either way it was awkward. I almost turned back for the room I shared with Micah and Nathaniel when we slept at the Circus, but two things stopped me. One, Nathaniel was probably asleep and I'd wake him. Two, I was being all cowardly about the group showers and I hated being that uncomfortable about anything. I'd found it was just better to face it head-on and keep going. It wasn't a perfect plan, but it worked for me--most of the time.