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Jason (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 23) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:58:19

"You both look great," J.J. said, hugging Nathaniel and planting a light kiss on his cheek. She turned to me and we hugged. She was five inches taller than me, but she was so tiny through the waist and ribs that she hit my radar as dainty. We pressed cheeks together more than kissed, because though she was wearing her usual neutral lip gloss, I was wearing my usual deep red lipstick and I'd learned that it overwhelmed or looked odd intermingled with other women's lipsticks.

"Nathaniel picked the clothes, so if we look good it's his fault," I said, with a smile.

She smiled a little broader. "Trust me, Anita, it isn't all Nathaniel's clothes choice that makes you look amazing in the outfit."

It took me a moment to think it through and realize that J.J. was saying my body looked good in the clothes, and that was from working out in the gym.

"I wish I could have your curves and be in shape enough to dance."

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Jason hugged her. "I like your curves."

She laughed. "I know you do, but mine are like a drive in the country; Anita's are like a roller coaster."

Jason's eyes sparkled as he looked at me, his face alight with some thought, and just like that I knew that whatever was about to come out of his mouth was something I wasn't going to like, or would be at least teasing.

"Would it piss you off if I said it's a hell of a ride?"

"Yes," I said, and gave him very serious eye contact out of my dark brown eyes. Brown eyes may not look as cold as blue or gray can, but I find that a mean look works just fine.

"Then I won't say it," he said; then he laughed, J.J. joined him, and finally Nathaniel did, too.

I rolled my eyes at all of them.

J.J. didn't have any other luggage. It was a quick two-day trip, and apparently everything she needed was tucked into the huge purse on her shoulder. It was impressively light packing, and I said so.

"After you've been on enough dance tours, you learn to pack light," she said.

It made sense, and she talked about the current production she was practicing for, and the season so far for the dance company. She asked how Nathaniel's and my work was going in the car. I drove, Nathaniel had shotgun, and the two lovebirds got the backseat of my SUV. It was very ordinary small talk except for our jobs being sort of cool, or unusual--a ballerina, a U.S. Marshal with the preternatural branch, a dancer and assistant manager of a strip club, and an exotic dancer at that club.

It felt a little like we were talking around the elephant in the living room. I wanted to point at it and say, "Look, look, an elephant!" I both wanted to talk about the sex and the issues surrounding it, and desperately wanted to ignore it. I think everyone else was actually just talking like friends. I always wanted to either sort of pretend sex and kink issues didn't exist, or take them so head-on that it was jarring to everyone else involved. I seemed to have only two speeds on problems that hit me emotionally, either putting my fingers in my ears and going la-la-la, or picking up an axe and attacking the issue. It wasn't actually a comforting approach for me or the people I loved, but it was what I had for coping mechanisms. I hoped someday to have more middle ground, but right now, I didn't. I was horribly torn between wanting to never bring up the subject of why we were all dressed up to greet J.J. at the airport, and wanting to yell, Is anyone else nervous, or is it just me?

Nathaniel reached over and started to rub lightly on my neck as I drove. "You okay?"

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak without being rude or too abrupt. A lot of people take too much directness as rudeness, especially from a woman. I'd like to say it's not sexist, but it is; people expect a woman to have a softer approach to life than most men do. I was so far in the guy camp on my approach to most things that I often came off as harsh even for a man. I didn't mean to, but it happened a lot. I wasn't trying for harsh, I just wanted to say something, or do something, and I wanted to act, not wait until I had to react. Even if by pushing I made the situation worse. It was almost a compulsion that made me want resolution to all uncertainty even if the resolution was negative, rather than wait patiently for a more positive outcome. My therapist and I were working on it, but right at that moment I gripped the steering wheel and just kept my mouth shut; it was the best I had.

J.J. chimed in from the backseat. "Is it just me, or is anyone else nervous about this?"

"Thank God," I said, "yes, me, I am."

"What are you nervous about, honey?" Jason asked, and I knew he was talking to J.J., since he'd never called me honey, ever.

"I'm in love with you, Jason. It means this is more important than just some kinky group sex. You know I'm game, always have been, but never with important relationships. That's always been more straightlaced."

"Maybe that's why they didn't work out," Nathaniel said, turning in the seat so he could look at her.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"If a person is kinky, and nonstandard sex makes them happy, but they keep putting away the sex they like best every time they're in a serious relationship, then the relationship is doomed, because no matter how much you love your vanilla, you need the other flavors."

"You want the other flavors, you don't need them," she said.

"I used the word deliberately, J.J. I know for myself that if I don't get my bondage and submission needs met I get really unhappy, my energy goes down, and eventually nothing works right. I've accepted that it's a need, not a want, and once I accepted that my life worked better."

"Like me accepting that I liked women, and recently realized that the right man was something I didn't want to live without."

"Like that, yes; you've accepted you're more bisexual than straight lesbian," Nathaniel said.

"Isn't straight lesbian an oxymoron?" she asked.

"I don't think so; I've known gay men and women who were as conservative as any heterosexual. They all try to fit into just one box, and seem to feel that anyone who wants to climb out of that box is wrong, or even evil."

"I don't think Jason needing rough sex is evil."

"But you don't understand why he needs to have it with Anita, right?"

"No offense, Anita, but no, I don't."

"No offense taken; are you saying that you are willing to have rough sex with Jason?" I asked, glancing back in the rearview mirror enough to glimpse her face.

"How rough?" Nathaniel asked.

"No, honey, not by Nathaniel's standards, and not really by Anita's either."

"How rough is rough to them?" she asked.

I concentrated on the road suddenly, just driving, because I didn't know how to answer that. Not without asking them details about the rough sex they'd had that I honestly didn't want to ask.

"It's not just how rough to me and Anita, it's how rough to Jason," Nathaniel said.

"Okay, I'll bite, how rough to all three of you?"

I heard soft movement from the backseat and knew Jason was cuddling her closer in some way. I kept my eye on traffic, but some small sounds you just know.

"I'm not allowed to bite you, remember?"

"I have to perform, Jason, and sometimes my costumes reveal most of my skin."

"And sometimes I can't afford bite marks on me for the same reason."

"So why is it an issue?" she asked.

"You don't want to bite me, and I want to bite you."

"I don't understand," she said.

"I'm hoping you will by the end of the night."

And that was the truth. Some things can't really be explained, they can only be experienced, or at least observed. Tonight was about seeing the truth; I just wasn't sure that I was happy being part of the wildlife being observed.

WE WENT BACK to talking about normal things all the way down the long stairs into the underground area below Circus of the Damned. We acknowledged the guards, said hi to the ones who had crossed the line to being friends, and learned more about practice for

the new ballet in New York. Nathaniel talked about the dance he and Jason were choreographing for Danse Macabre, which was literally a dance club, not a strip club. I didn't join in the work talk, because most of mine was a little too graphic or involved ongoing police cases; either way it was almost guaranteed to be a buzzkill for J.J. The men in my life were okay with me talking shop--most of the time.