Page 5

Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:53:51

I'm usually phobic of flying, and as I tightened the seat belt in my roomy, cushioned seat, it didn't make me like it any better. The seats were bigger, but the plane was narrower. Did I mention that I'm also claustrophobic? It's the combination that makes flying such fun. But the moment Micah sat down beside me and reached for my hand, I stopped worrying about my fears and worried about him. His face was passive behind the dark sunglasses, but tension sang through his hand, his arm, so I knew his body was thrumming with it. In all the rush to get ready to leave, this was the first time I'd seen him since I had to tell him the bad news.

'Are you all right?' As soon as I heard it out loud I knew it was stupid, but it's what you say.

He smiled, but it was sad, and self-deprecating, and held a little anger. It was the smile he'd first had when he came to me. It was a smile, but so full of other emotions that it was never really happy. I was sad to see it back on his face.

I leaned in and wrapped my arms around him, drew him in to me, and let him wrap his arms around me. My seat belt kept me a little pinned so he had to come to me more, but he didn't seem to mind. My chin tucked over his shoulder, because he was the same height as me. He was the only man I'd ever dated who was five foot three just like me. We could wear each other's T-shirts, and some of our jeans. He was the shortest and most physically delicate-looking man in my life, but the strength as he hugged me wasn't delicate. I knew the body under the designer suit moved with lean muscle ... He ran miles every week, usually outside in all weather. He called it his thinking time.

He spoke with his face buried in my hair. 'I don't know how to do this.'

'See your folks?' I asked.

I kept hugging him but raised one hand to stroke the thick curls of his ponytail. 'I'm so sorry you're having to go home like this.'

He squeezed me so tight that I almost had to tell him, too tight. He loosened his grip before I could do any more than tense. He was a wereleopard, which meant he could crush most metal in his hand, but he was always very aware of his strength.

'I'm sorry,' he said, and drew out of the hug to sit back in his seat, resting his head against it.

I took his hand again and stayed turned toward him. 'It's okay, you're upset.'

'I'll be upset this whole visit probably. How do I see them again, Anita? How do I deal with my dad hurt ... maybe dying?'

He turned his head, still resting against the seat, and spoke directly on a topic that we'd hardly ever talked about. 'I can't imagine losing a parent as early as you did. This feels awful already.'

I nodded. 'It is awful, but I was only eight when my mother died. You grew up with both your parents until you were ready to go off to college. I had just my dad until I was ten, and then a stepmom that I totally didn't get along with and a stepsister my own age, and then they had Josh together. I can't even imagine what my life might have been like if my mom had lived.'

'I've got a stepfather and half-brothers.'

I studied his face, tried to read behind the sunglasses. It wasn't that bright in the plane, but he was used to wearing them in public to hide his leopard eyes. He'd lost his ability to regain full human form because Chimera, the sadistic leader who took over his leopard pard, had punished him by forcing him into animal form so long that his eyes hadn't come back and never would. I loved his green-gold eyes, especially with his summer tan that he got so easily. I had my father's Germanic skin, always pale, never tan.

'You said you had brown eyes originally - whose eyes do you have, colorwise?'

He smiled and this time it was a real smile. 'My father's.'

The smile was full of love, happiness, memories, of a son's pride in having his father's eyes. I knew that Micah had been his father's hunting buddy, as I'd been for mine. We'd both grown up hunting and camping.

'So you look like your dad?'

'He's a little taller, but we're built alike. He knew to put me into gymnastics and martial arts as a kid, not peewee football. He loves watching the games, but he was always too small to play, and he knew I would be, too, so he didn't put me through the frustration of it the way his own dad did.'

'Your grandfather?' I asked.

'Yeah, he's five-eight, built bigger. Dad and I are built like my grandma's side of the family. I don't know why it never occurs to big, burly guys that when they marry the tiny cheerleader some of the kids may look more like her, even the boys. They never think it through.'

'I take it your grandfather isn't your favorite person.'

'My dad and he had issues with my dad not being big enough for regular sports, though Dad went to college on a baseball scholarship. He was good enough for college, but he didn't have the size for the power hitting you need in the majors, and he knew it.'

'Baseball is a manly sport,' I said.

Micah grinned. 'Granddad Callahan played football and wrestled. He also muscled up better than we did. More like Nathaniel.'

As if just saying his name had conjured him, our other sweetie walked up the little steps and into the jet. His shoulders were broader than Micah's, and at five foot seven he carried the extra muscle well. He'd actually had to stop lifting as much in the gym because he was bulking up too much to keep the flexibility he needed as a dancer. Micah fought for every bit of muscle in the gym. Nathaniel's dark auburn hair must have been pulled back into a tight braid because it gave the illusion that his hair was short. He was still wearing his sunglasses, not to hide his eyes, but because it was bright outside. With his eyes hidden and his hair back and a charcoal-gray suit hiding all his body, there was just the line of his face, with nothing to distract the gaze from the near-perfect line that ran from his temple to the cheekbones, the chin that managed to be both masculine and soft. It was the lips that did it, I think, wide, curved lines, just full enough to soften what might have been handsome to make it beautiful. It was his face unadorned, but that was like saying Michelangelo's David was unadorned marble.

Micah's hand tightened in mine, and it wasn't sorrow now. Had his pulse sped up, too, just watching our other third walk into the plane? His hand tightened a little more and we turned and looked at each other at the same time. I had a moment of looking at the delicate triangle of his face with his fuller lips that dominated more of his face, and then he burst out laughing, and I joined him. It was as if some horrible tension had just floated away.

Nathaniel smiled and then said, 'Did I do something funny?'

'No,' Micah said, 'just God, you are ... so ...'

Nathaniel blushed and gave us one of those big, bright, utterly happy smiles. It made his whole face glow with it, but the blush, that was the rarest of all.

'I've never seen you blush,' I said.

He actually ducked his head as if embarrassed, which I'd never seen either. It was Micah who got up first and went to him. I tried to stand up and the seat belt jerked me back to my seat, reminding me that I'd been a little too safety conscious. It meant I got to sit there and watch them hug each other. It started out as the good-friend guy hug, only upper bodies touching, that distinct hip distance kept, and then Micah moved back enough to look up at the taller man and I had a moment to watch them look at each other. With both of them in sunglasses, suits, hair back, I was treated to their faces in profile in a way I almost never got to see. If Nathaniel was carved marble, then Micah was something more delicate, like carved ivory, if ivory could tan dark and have an edge of curls framing its face even with the ponytail. His hair, like mine, was too curly to behave like Nathaniel's.

They kissed, and I held my breath, watching their lips move, their arms tighten around each other, Nathaniel's hands tensing against the back of Micah's suit jacket so he could feel the muscles underneath the elegant conservative cloth.

They broke from the kiss and looked at me, both of their faces full front, nearly side by side, so that I got the full impact of those clean, sculpted lines, the half-parted lips, their arms still loosely around each other.

I'd like to say I said something profound, or poetic, but what I actually said was, 'Wow.'

Nathaniel grinned. 'I think she liked watching.'

Micah smiled and held one hand out to me, an invitation to join them.

I tried to get up and forgot my seat belt again, and then it was as if I'd forgotten how it worked. I had to fight with it, and the men were laughing as I said, 'You have kissed me stupid and I wasn't even part of the kiss.'

'Do you need help?' Micah asked, his voice full of laughter.

I got free and went to them. They opened up the circle of their arms to bring me in to them. I was suddenly in the circle of their bodies with their deeper masculine laughter, the warmth and weight of them around me, and it was better than almost anything I had ever imagined having. Once I'd thought I could only be in love with one person at a time, but I loved Jean-Claude, and I loved the two men in my arms. I loved them together; as a unit, we were three. Jean-Claude was his own entity, and he and I, even with all the other bed partners, were more a couple. I was in love with him, too.

I stood there in their arms and loving them, and their loving me, didn't take away from Jean-Claude and me; it added to it. All of the relationships added to one another, until we were all happier than we'd ever been. I didn't believe in happily-ever-after, but I did believe in happier-than-we'd-ever-been, because I was living it.

I raised my face and Nathaniel leaned down to kiss me, while Micah held us both, or we held him, and I knew once this kiss was done there would be another one from Micah. Life was great. We could get through this, whatever came when we landed in Micah's old hometown; we could do this, because we loved one another. Love doesn't conquer all, but it can help you conquer everything else.