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Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:54:08

The elevator opened and spilled firemen in full gear out into the hallway, while I was still comforting him. I was pretty sure they'd be pissed about the fire that water didn't put out, so I concentrated the hell out of holding Dev and being all girly and comforting, and after we assured them that neither of us was physically hurt, they left us alone.

I smoothed his wet hair, and he buried his face against my chest, which was less sexy than it sounded because of the body armor, but it was the desperate strength of his hands, his arms, as he held me so tight that eased my anger and even my disappointment with him. If I hadn't used him as a beard to keep the firefighters from bitching at me about the fire, I'd have hugged him and been up and on to something else, but I couldn't hold him in that moment and not be moved. I would still never take him to work with me again, or let him bodyguard me outside normal St Louis events, but something hard and unpleasant that had been trying to take root against him eased.

Maybe what I saw as a weakness wasn't, and maybe the rest of us, in our strength, had lost something that this man would never lose. If I had ever been the kind of person who would have fallen apart in front of the other men like this, it was long gone. Pride would have kept me more together than this, or maybe stubbornness; whatever it was, or wasn't, I held our Devil, our Mephistopheles, and murmured, 'It's okay, it's okay. I've got you.'

He raised up his face and looked at me with his blue-on-blue tiger eyes so sad. 'I'm supposed to help you, supposed to protect you. I'm sorry.'

'You stood at our side and fought all the way through. You didn't run, didn't flinch, you did the job. A lot of people couldn't have done that, Dev.'

'But I'm a mess now.'

'Once the fighting is over, the danger past, it's okay. You stayed in there until it was over.'

'But you think less of me for falling apart, I know you do.'

I smiled at him, and with me on my knees and him sitting flat, I was barely taller than him. 'I won't take you vampire hunting again, but you're brave enough to admit you're in love with another man, and I know a lot of people who wouldn't do that. They'd hide from themselves. I still haven't gone out in public with Jade on my arm even though she's been in my bed for over a year. There are all different kinds of bravery, Mephistopheles; this just isn't your kind.'

The moment I said it, I promised myself I'd talk to Jade when I got home and see about going out with her and maybe Nathaniel for a dinner out. Why not just the two of us? Because Jade puzzled me; she was more than a thousand years old, originally from ancient China, and there were cultural differences that went beyond her being the first girlfriend/lover I'd ever had. I needed a wingman to date Jade in so many ways.

The firefighters were yelling at Edward about the phosphorus. I caught one loud male voice saying, 'What the hell is this stuff?'

Firefighters do not like saying that about burning things; they're used to knowing what and why things burn. I caught the comforting tone of Edward's Ted voice, though not what he was saying. We were too far away for that, and my hearing wasn't a hundred percent yet.

'I think if I could shower and get the blowback off me, I'd feel less freaked,' Dev said.

I remembered the first time I'd gone home and realized I had a piece of a vampire's brain in my hair. I'd stared at myself in the mirror and started to shake and ended up on the floor of the bathroom a lot like Dev was sitting now, but there'd been no one to comfort me. I'd been so alone for so many years that maybe I'd have reached out for someone, too, if there'd been anyone to reach out to.

Would I be less hard now if I'd had someone to turn to, or would I still be me? Maybe I'd just have been a lot happier, a lot earlier? There was no going back, but looking down into Dev's earnest face, I wondered. I wasn't sure I'd ever wondered before, not about that.

'I need to make sure the rotting vampires that were reported on other floors are all executed, and check on Micah and Nathaniel, and then we can go clean up.'

'Can you help me make sure I get all of it off me?' he asked, and his eyes looked uncertain again.

'Are you asking me to join you in the shower?' I smiled when I said it, made it teasing.

He smiled back, and the change in his eyes from uncertain to happy anticipatory lust was worth it. Would I normally have maybe moved Dev off the list of lovers after this? Maybe, but for the gloom to lift from his face and eyes, sex in the shower with him was not a hardship.

'Yes, I am,' he said, and this time when his arms went around me it wasn't a desperate grip, but a caress with a promise of more to come. Sex may not be the answer to everything, but it's also not the worst answer to a lot of things. It beat the hell out of anger and killing things.