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

"Long story; I'll get some sleep while we wait for the new guy, girl, whatever."

"You do that; I'll call when she gets into town. Now get some sleep while you can."

I fought the urge to say, You're not the boss of me, because sleep sounded amazing. I hung up and said to Dr. Lillian, "You're in luck, I get to take a nap."

She smiled and then went back to tut-tutting at me. "This is going to need stitches unless you get some help to heal it while you sleep."

"I'll find people to sleep between."

"Not Micah, and he's tucked into bed with Nathaniel, so not him either."

"You're ruining all my fun, doc."

"I can stitch you up, and we'll see how much fun that is."

"Point taken; fine, who else is one of my flavors of lycanthropy and available for sleeping in one of the bigger beds?"

"Hold this dressing on your shoulder while I check." I did what she told me to do, because if everything went well I'd heal and not need stitches. I hated stitches, especially now that painkillers were almost useless for me. Getting sewn up when you couldn't have anything to dull the pain sucked, a lot. I promised myself I wouldn't complain no matter who the doc found for me to bunk with if they could help me heal faster.

I LIED; I did complain. Graham, one of our local werewolves and guards, offered to share his bed with me and Clay, his good friend and fellow wolf and guard, but Meng Die was already in the bed. Yes, she was dead to the world and the men wouldn't make me sleep next to her cooling body, but I didn't trust her not to do something unfortunate if she woke before I did. She'd already hinted that she was willing to fuck me. I did not want to wake up with her trying to make that happen. I did not fuck people I hated, or who hated me. It was a rule, because a girl's gotta draw the line somewhere.

Next offer was two of the wereleopards, Elizabeth and Caleb, who had been a couple, though not exclusive, for a while now. I'd once shot Elizabeth full of non-silver bullets, so she'd healed, and she'd feared me after that, but it didn't make us buddies. She was the only one of the local wereleopards who had pushed me that far after I'd taken over their pard. Caleb would have been a bad guy if he'd had the balls to be truly evil; instead he was just sour, and cruel when he could get away with it. It was a shame, because he was cute in a Goth-boy, I've-pierced-too-many-things way, but his attitude stole all his attractiveness. I was glad they were dating each other; it saved anyone else from having to date either of them. They both went under the same rule as Meng Die. I wasn't falling asleep in a bed with people who hated me.

"It doesn't have to be matching animals, doc, they just have to match my internal beasts."

"True, but we've discovered that matching wereanimals from the same group that you are already connected with speeds your healing even more, and with such limited time before you have to go back to the police, it makes sense to use our resources efficiently."

I sighed. "Fine, and you're right, who else is available?"

Magda, the werelion who had been beating the shit out of Kelly, and the other Harlequin lion, Giacomo, were the next ones Doc Lillian offered as a possibility.

"Anita, you are going to use up all your sleeping time being picky. I'm not asking you to have sex with any of these people, just sleep between them and let the group energy help you heal."

"Falling asleep between two people takes a lot more trust for me than fucking them," I said.

She frowned at me. "Anita, we are running out of people who match your animals. We have far more wererats on duty right now, but we are not your animal to call, so we can't help you heal."

"Is that why Micah and I couldn't heal Rafael?"

She nodded. "I'd hoped that Micah's abilities might stretch to more wereanimals, but you seem to only be able to heal people you have some metaphysical tie to, so even if you could call rats, I'm not sure you could have healed Rafael, or any of us."

"I'm sorry, Lillian, I honestly am not trying to be difficult."

"Well, if this is you not trying, I can't wait for more effort on your part," she said, voice dry and unhappy.

I couldn't tell if she'd made a joke or was genuinely upset with me. "Are we really down to the bottom of the barrel on choices?"

"I would recommend not saying it that way to Magda, but yes."

"I'll compromise, then; one of the Harlequin, but not two."

"I can wake Nicky for you."

"No, let him sleep. If I'm too hurt to go to Cynric's school thing, then I want him and Nathaniel to be able to go."

"Very few of the werelions bunk here, Anita." Then I watched a thought cross her face. "How about Travis, he's spending the week here so he can do fight training."

"Travis is my size, and more bookworm than gym rat; he's never going to be that good," I said.

"Bookworm doesn't mean you can't be a great warrior," she said.

"No, but your heart has to be in both your books and the practice field. Travis practices fighting because he knows he has to in order to survive in lion society, but his heart isn't in it."

She smiled. "That may well be true, but he seems to be thriving under Nicky's leadership."

I didn't tell her that the only reason Travis was still alive was that Nicky protected him and made it clear that all challenges to Travis were met with a double team of both men. Why did Nicky do it? Travis knew that being smart and being gentle were his strengths, neither of which did him much good with the werelions. He'd come to me, asked me to help him talk to Nicky about an idea he'd had. Real male lions, and some lionesses, worked in groups. There were prides in the wild that were ruled not by one male, but coalitions of two to six. Some were brothers, or cousins, but genetic testing had revealed that a lot of them were just battle buddies that had met along the nomadic wanderings that young males are forced to do when their fathers kick them out of the home territory when they get old enough to challenge their dad and uncles. Almost anything that the natural version of the animal did was fair game to be part of the wereanimal's culture.

Travis proposed that he and Nicky do that; when we'd asked what Nicky got out of it, okay Nicky asked, but Travis had said this: "Nicky feels emotions through you, but on his own he's pretty much a sociopath, which means he's not understanding the emotional dynamics of the pride, and especially with the lionesses he needs that. I'll explain the emotional stuff in private to him, and do any research he needs on wereanimal culture, or anything else he needs."

Nicky had said, "The research is pretty useless, but I know I'm missing stuff in the pride dynamics. Is it that obvious that I'm not getting the emotional stuff?"

"My emotional intelligence is really high."

"What does that mean, emotional intelligence?" Nicky asked.

"It means he's as smart about emotions as he is about book stuff," I said.

"Like Anita's social/communication intelligence is really high when she doesn't get in her own way, and your physical intelligence is amazing. There's a lot of ways to be smart; the kind that gets you straight A's in school is only one way."

Nicky had agreed to try it for a month as an experiment, and then made it permanent. Travis helped make Nicky a better Rex, and understanding the emotional stuff helped head off problems before they snowballed into fights. It was like being the kind of bouncer who knew when to step in, before something got out of hand, rather than the kind who had to wait for the fists to fly to know how to fix the problem. Preventive maintenance wasn't just for your car.

Nicky had insisted that the first time off Travis had, he had to come and spend it training to fight here with our guards, because Nicky couldn't be with Travis all the time. Also, Nicky had confided in me that Travis sucked at fighting, like seriously sucked. I'd actually forgotten that last night was the start of a long weekend of training for our scholarly lion.

I said yes to Travis and Magda for bunkmates. Travis I liked as a friend, and a chance to talk to Magda about her treatment of Kelly would be

a good thing. I wouldn't bring up the topic, but I needed a better feel for Magda if I was going to understand why she was challenging Kelly to a fight that would gain her nothing in the pride except a token title of head lioness. Maybe that was enough for her to do it; if it was, then I didn't know how to stop it, but I was hoping for more of a clue. If I had a chance to talk with Travis alone, I'd ask him for his take on Magda. But I was suddenly exhausted, as if everything were catching up with me all at once.

I'd rinsed off wereanimal goop again, and blood, in the shower. Doc Lillian had to bandage me again, because I couldn't keep the dressing clean. She'd been quite cranky about it, as if I'd done it on purpose. I sat on the edge of the bed with bandages running across the top of my left shoulder and a little down my arm. I still had the towel from the shower wrapped around me. I couldn't decide if I just didn't want to walk back through the underground naked again, or if I'd simply been so tired I forgot to take it off. At least my hair hadn't gotten messy, so it wasn't wet this time. It would make sleeping on a pillow more comfortable and I wouldn't wake up with my hair dried in odd positions like some curly Rorschach test.

I heard voices and knew someone was talking their way past the two guards outside my door. Bram had tattled on me to Fredo, so now I had bodyguards everywhere I went, at least for today. There was a soft knock, and that alone let me know it wasn't Magda. She knocked like a cop with a knock-and-announce warrant--loud, authoritative, and about to knock your door down. This was a knock you could say no to, and they'd just go away. It had to be Travis.

Travis peeked around the door. His short curls looked dark brown, instead of their usual brownish blond. It also looked like his hair had grown out a little, and it was only when he'd walked into the room and shut the door behind him that I realized his hair was wet, which made it darker and, with the curls relaxed, longer. My hair wet and heavy was nearly four inches longer in back. He was also wearing nothing but a towel around him, just like me. In fact, the towel covered him from armpit to nearly ankle like it did for me, because we were almost the same height. The extra-big towels were like dresses on both of us, but on Claudia they barely covered the essentials.

"Sorry you're hurt," he said.