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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:22

"You underestimate my abilities with my animal to call, Richard. Because Jean-Claude is so gentle with you and your wolves, you think that is the only choice."

"Narcissus didn't want to fight your control of him before, Asher, so you thought you were more powerful with your animal to call than Jean-Claude, because I was able to fight his control, but Narcissus couldn't. He'll want to fight now."

"He can try to fight me, but I am still his master."

"No," Jean-Claude said, "no, you are not. Do you not understand yet that if Narcissus fights you he can keep most of his people free of your call? He is more powerful than he has let you see; like a woman who hides how strong she is so as to stroke her man's ego, so Narcissus has been with you."

Asher shook his head.

"Did you, do you still think that you can have control of Narcissus against his full will?" Micah asked.

"He will fight you, mon ami, and he is more powerful than Richard, because he is not conflicted about his ties to his group, or his own leadership; he revels in it. He will keep you out of himself and thus out of everyone else. One on one, you may be able to force your will on them, but as a group you must go through the head to gain the body, and you have insulted and discarded the head. You have forced me to lock him up. Do you think he will forget, or forgive that?"

"I am sorry, Jean-Claude, truly sorry if my decision made things difficult."

"Difficult?" I said. "He bargained my body and my hyena to call to Narcissus, so he wouldn't kill Kane, at least Kane. He wanted to kill both of you."

Jean-Claude hugged me tighter, either willing me to be nicer or for comfort. I could have opened my shields and known what he was feeling, but not if he wanted to keep me out, and I was betting that he didn't want me in his head that far right now. Some things need to be private, and how he actually felt about Asher was probably one of them. Richard was stroking a hand over each of our arms, soothing us both, I think.

"If you had made him your beast, he wouldn't be imprisoned," Asher said.

"The werehyenas are almost not the largest group in St. Louis anymore," Micah said, "but combine the rats, wolves, leopards, and lions, and they aren't even close to having the most soldiers."

"It is unnatural for different kinds of wereanimal to work together like this," Kane said.

"You say that as if there's anything natural about us in the first place," Micah said.

"One last time, why the fuck are you here for this talk, cat?" Asher said, and almost snarled it at him, flashing fangs, which he almost never did.

"He's my other fiance, and one of the two men who may be joining me in a commitment ceremony with Jean-Claude."

"You're marrying Jean-Claude."

"Yes, but hadn't you heard that we were doing a group commitment ceremony, too?"

"I heard rumors of it, but I did not credit it." He looked at us sitting all cozy on our end of the couch. "Now it would seem you would need to add the Ulfric, if you are truly doing a second ceremony."

"Why don't you believe that we are going to do a group commitment ceremony?" Micah asked.

"I would have believed it of the three here on the couch with me, once. I would believe it of you, Nathaniel, and Anita. But I do not believe that you and Jean-Claude would tie yourselves together, and I know you and Richard loathe each other."

"You know that old saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend?" Richard asked.

"Fighting beside someone you hate is one thing, my top. Sharing a bed with them is very different. You loathe Micah, and Nathaniel, so I do not fear you joining them."

"You are quite right, mon ami," Jean-Claude said, and even using the 'my friend' as opposed to his usual nicknames was calculated to make Asher insecure. "We cannot include Richard in the ceremony, because he does not get along with enough of us, that is true. But Micah, Nathaniel, Anita, and I are going to join with others in a commitment ceremony. I had advocated for you to be included in it, but you just couldn't leave well enough alone. You had to alienate, or anger, too many of them."

"You are not allowed to touch Micah; how can you commit to something so empty? Even Nathaniel is only food for you. Nathaniel is my lover, my submissive, but only food to you, Jean-Claude. You do not marry your food."

"Who I marry, who I commit to, who Anita makes her animal to call, who feeds us, who fucks us, none of that is your concern anymore. As you did not see fit to ask my opinion, I shall no longer ask yours."

"No, Asher, no, it is enough."

"Why is the girl always what drives a wedge between you and Asher?" Kane asked.

Jean-Claude sat up, abruptly, and though we were still touching each other it wasn't cuddly anymore. "It's not Anita, it's not the girl, that drives a wedge between Asher and me, it's Asher! It's always Asher that drives the wedge home again and again into a piece of wood until it breaks apart, so he pushes at me and the love we have for him." He lay back against Richard again, taking me back into a suddenly strained cuddle. "You consulted none of us before you took Kane as your animal. Narcissus almost killed him and you. I would have bargained for him to be Anita's hyena to call, and catapulted him back to an even higher perch in our power structure and tied her forever to someone she loathes."

Jean-Claude stood, not fighting free of us, but needing to stand, so we let him. I was suddenly left with only Richard to cuddle and it felt awkward, but my moving away now would undercut the show the two men had put on, so I let him hold me against his body while we watched Jean-Claude pace in front of us.

"Richard has been your dominant for over a year. You top Anita and you like being with them both very much. Nathaniel has been your submissive for almost two years, along with Anita as your bottom, and both are your lovers. You have told me how much this means to you, and yet you talked to none of us before you mortally insulted Narcissus and threw all our careful plans to ruin!"

"I am sorry, Jean-Claude. I am sorry to all of you; I do not regret making Kane my animal to call, but I regret not discussing it with all of you first."

"I would have urged you to make Narcissus your moitie bete, your animal half. You could have married Kane, but to share power it needed to be Narcissus; do you not see that?" He was almost pleading with Asher, wanting him to at least understand what he had done wrong.

"Marriages can end. Asher wanted to show me he loved me forever and meant it," Kane said, cuddling into all that golden hair while his gaze stayed on Jean-Claude the whole time. It was a defiant, or maybe triumphant, look.

"Oh, my God," I said. "You let Kane manipulate you into this, didn't you? It's his attempt to isolate you from all your other lovers, and it's a damn good attempt."

Asher looked at me, letting me see all that beauty like a weapon aimed straight for my heart, or at least my libido.

"Kane isn't that smart." Nathaniel said it. We all looked at him, because it was snarky for him, more like me.

Kane started to stand up, but again Asher held him in place on the couch. I think at least the vampire had realized that they were in hostile territory with us tonight, and none of us liked Kane.

"Nathaniel is right, that's far too devious for Kane," Micah said.

Asher pointed a finger at him. "The others are in our beds, or guarding our safety, but you are nothing to Jean-Claude, or to me."

"I was the one who talked Jean-Claude into not allowing you any hyena guards," Richard said, "not Micah."

"I do not believe it," Asher said.

"You are not a king. You are not even a master of your own territory. You do less and less business as Anita and Micah take on more responsibilities, especially Micah. He has become Jean-Claude's right hand, which I should have been, or you, but we both failed him, and Micah didn't. Because Jean-Claude loves you, because so many of us are intimate with you, that makes you think you have more power than you do, Asher. I wasn't here the last time you tried to throw the hyenas in everyone's face, but people ended up injured. People could

have died, so we treated you like what you are, a master vampire who is fourth in command in a territory. That earns you nothing, nothing! No guards, no honors; nothing. You used hyenas to hurt Anita, Sin, and Nicky last time, so you get nothing."

Richard was still holding me, but the tension of his emotions sang through his body, so it wasn't exactly restful. I was petting my hands down his arms, trying to soothe him a little, because it was either that or I had to get up off this couch.

"You almost had a kingdom in your hands," Micah said, "but without Narcissus the only thing you have in your hands is the hand you're holding now. You have Kane, and that's all."

"That is a great deal," Asher said, and kissed the man he loved to prove that point.

"If you're talking love, then I'll take your word for it that Kane is worth that to you, but if you're talking power, then he is weak, Asher, you know that."

"You know nothing, cat, nothing about me, or Kane, or Jean-Claude."

"Why do you keep picking on Micah?" I asked.

"He doesn't like Micah, because Micah doesn't find him attractive, at all, and Asher can't stand that," Dev said. He was looking across the room at his lover, the only person he'd ever proposed marriage to, as if he'd never seen him before. People say liquor makes everyone pretty, but sobering up is a bitch--well, being in love makes people beautiful, and falling out of love makes you see the truth. It may set you free, but it's going to fuck you up before it does.

"You are not a part of this, Dev," Kane said.

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Asher ignored Dev. "I do not like Micah because he keeps you at arm's length, Jean-Claude. I know how it ate at me to see you closer to others, before you recommitted to me as your lover. I dislike Micah because he offers such pain to someone I love."

"Micah is the only one who doesn't want you, Asher, and that eats at you," Dev said.

Nicky raised his hand. "I'm not attracted to Asher either, just saying."

"Me, either," Domino said.

"Asher doesn't care about either of you, not seriously. He'd fuck you once if he thought he could seduce you. He has a real thing about being a straight guy's first, or even only, male lover. That totally does it for him," Dev said.

"So not happening," Domino said.

"He wouldn't be my first," Nicky said.