"You don't get to come in here and blackmail our asses into an alliance that gains you a hell of a lot more than it gains us. If we put the word out that I'm looking to tie us to a really powerful hyena, there are cities in this country where the hyenas are the major animal power. They're bigger and have a hell of a lot more foot soldiers than you do."
"But they're not here, I am."
"Jean-Claude is king of all of it, from sea to shining sea, which means he could just negotiate them coming here and slaughtering you all, or we could just give you the choice of getting the fuck out of our immediate area, because you are a disruptive influence on the peace and power base we have built."
"And what of your precious Asher?" he asked, and there was no teasing now.
"His death won't hurt our power base; in fact, he's a deficit, not an asset, politically."
"So I can kill him, just like that."
"No," Jean-Claude said finally, "no, you cannot."
I looked at him. "Jean-Claude, we are not going to tie ourselves to Narcissus just because Asher is being a shit again."
"We will not watch him be killed."
"No, but we don't have to bargain like we are still just squabbling over the local territory. Narcissus is powerful here, but outside of here he's nothing. Rafael, even the swan king, they have ties across the country, people across the country to feed on--they are truly fellow kings. Narcissus is not."
"I will kill Kane," he said, still lying there, but now it wasn't sexy, or flirty. He was very serious, eyes watching me carefully.
"And that may kill Asher," I said.
"I will not . . ." Jean-Claude started to say.
I touched his lips with my fingers. "You cannot sell us down the river for Asher's mistake. I love the little shit, too, but that he made Kane his hyena to call without consulting you first says that he has no respect for you as his ruler. He counted on your love and mine, and even Narcissus's love, to keep him and Kane safe."
He took my hand in his, and let me see the pain in his eyes. "I know you are right, ma petite, but I cannot stand by and watch him die, not if I can save him."
I took his hand in both of mine. "Jean-Claude, you did your best for him when the Church took him."
"Not enough, my best was not enough." His eyes held the loss of Julianna, their shared love, who had been burned at the stake as a witch, while the Church fathers tried to burn the devil out of Asher with holy water and had scarred one of the most beautiful men that may have ever lived. He was still beautiful, but sometimes he couldn't see that.
"You bargained your freedom to Belle Morte for a hundred years so she would save Asher's life. A hundred years of pain and torment, and being her bitch, it's enough."
"She tormented Asher, as well."
"Yes, because she tortures everyone around her in one way or another, it's one of her things, but you cannot let the guilt of something that happened hundreds of years ago ruin the empire you are building now."
"Are you telling me to choose power over love? Power and politics over Asher?"
"No, not if it was that clear-cut, but Asher counted on you doing exactly that. He counted on us all valuing him above anything else, and that's not cool."
"There is a reason that master vampires are either killed or forced to leave and find another territory by most Masters of the City," Jean-Claude said.
"Yeah, because they're an arrogant pain in the ass if you don't."
He almost smiled. "Asher has been that for a very long time."
I looked down at Narcissus, still holding Jean-Claude's hands. "You're angry, you're hurt, and you have every right to be, but you also saw this in all its political ramifications as a way to solidify your place as top animal group here in St. Louis."
He gave a little shrug. "If we can get a little revenge and solidify my power base, why not?"
I turned back to Jean-Claude. "Even brokenhearted he's thinking better politically than you are."
"I know about your little plan to get enough soldiers in the other animal groups so that I won't be a power here anymore."
Jean-Claude looked at me.
"He stated it up front before you came into the room."
"I'm a king, did you not think I'd know?"
"You're Oba, not king; there is no king as a title among the hyenas, because they prefer queens."
"You can be a power here, Narcissus," Jean-Claude said, "but you cannot keep using your greater numbers to threaten us. Anita is right, I was thinking like a Master of the City, and I am more than that now."
I said, "Threatening to take all your hyenas and go to another city would have gutted our guards once, but I think you've waited too long, Narcissus. I think we have the numbers to be just fine without your hyenas."
"I'd noticed how few of my men were on your guard duty lately, but that doesn't mean there aren't enough of us to start a war here with all of you. That wouldn't play well in the news, would it? The vampire king of America losing control of his city would undermine a lot of things."
"No, Narcissus," Jean-Claude said, "for if you declare war on the rest of the city I will simply turn you in to the human authorities. I will make it clear that you are the rogue, and that most of your people are innocent. The human authorities will kill you before they allow you to engulf our city in a shapeshifter war."
"You have no proof that I've said any such thing."
"Have you forgotten what my day job is?" I asked.
I watched his face, and he had.
"Don't let the fact that you woke up naked in a bed with me make you forget what I am, Narcissus."
"You're Jean-Claude's human servant, his pet necromancer." But I watched his eyes as he said it, and he had remembered.
"I am a U.S. Marshal and a legal executioner of all the bad little vampires and shapeshifters. All I have to do is tell them I heard these threats and I think it's credible. To save the city from a bloodbath, they will put out a warrant of execution so fast it'll make your head swim."
"My hyenas will fight to save me."
"Your hyenas follow you, but most do not love you or feel the loyalty that Rafael's rats feel for him," Jean-Claude said.
"And I've talked to them, Narcissus," I said. "They aren't so happy with you as leader."
"I know, you've become all buddy-buddy with them in the gym." He made it sound disdainful, as if he couldn't be bothered.
"And you're more a yoga kind of guy, I get that, but I talk to them and to the other guards, and they talk to me," I said.
He gave me unfriendly eyes, arms crossed over his chest, and I realized that one side of his chest had a little more breast than the other, as if he were almost an A-cup on one side. "Are you looking at my boobie?"
"Sorry, guess I was," and I went back to giving him eye contact.
"I know the people I brought in after Chimera aren't my kind of people for the most part. They do seem more your type of he-man." The disdain dripped from his voice.
"I've seen the kind of man you usually date, Narcissus; you like muscles more than I do. Asher is your exception, not your rule."
"Do you even have a point to make, cupcake?"
"Yeah, angel cakes, I do. The men left over from the slaughter that Chimera did, well, they think you let your lust lead you astray with him. That's how he got into your inner sanctum and captured you all, because you, like Asher, will let your dick override your brain if the sex is good enough."
"Your Ulfric let his sense of fair play hurt his wolf pack much more than my little peccadilloes."
"Richard undercuts himself as Ulfric pretty constantly, but he's never fucked up as badly as you did with Chimera," I said.
"Chimera loved me at first, thought I was the answer to his dreams, because he could fuck me like a woman and still get boy parts to fuck, too."
"I know part of his personality was deeply conflicted about being gay," I said.
"He wasn't gay, he was bisexual, but he was
from a generation that thought you had to choose. He was less gay than I was, and liked women a hell of a lot more."
"Yeah, I think he offered to rape me in front of Micah, while Micah died from being gutted."
"It was the rape and gutting part that got his rocks off more." Narcissus was quieter as he said that.
"He didn't do straight sex of any kind. I thought I wasn't vanilla, but he was farther out than even I wanted to swim."
"He was a serial killer, Narcissus; you're not. That puts him in a category not just of rough sex, but death sex. It's beyond even risk-aware kink."
"When he found out I was pregnant he was happy, and then he decided if I were a woman then he could marry me and we could be happy, it would fix everything. He was going to cut off all the boy parts and just leave the hole, and then you rode to the rescue and killed him for me."
I looked at him and all the pain, raw in his face and in the way he held himself on the bed, pale and vulnerable. I touched his shoulder, and he smiled at me, sadly.
"Oh, that was well done, mon ami, that was very well done," Jean-Claude said.
It startled me, and Narcissus and I both looked at him uncomprehending.
"You were making a point, before Narcissus distracted you with his painful story." He raised a hand as if to stop both of us from saying anything. "I know you are telling the truth, Narcissus. Chimera was an awful man and deserved death, but you trotted out your story at just the right time to distract ma petite. You counted on her sympathy so she would not say what needs saying."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You do not like her, or me, really. We are not your friends, and yet you confide in us these painful truths from your capture. You do very little that is not thought out, except for letting your lust override your head, but you do not feel that much attraction to either of us. You liked having me as your victim, but our idea of sex outside of that does not match."
"I don't like girls."
"You also prefer to give rather than receive with men, and I am the same, so who would top whom?"
"You received plenty from me when Nikolaos gave you to me."
"Yes, the old Master of the City gave me to you to seal her bargain with your hyenas. She also saw it as a punishment for me. She gave me to you with no hope of a safeword. You are not the serial killer that Chimera was, but you are a true sadist and you enjoy doing things to people that you know they don't want you to do."