JASON SPOKE SLOWLY, carefully, in that voice you use for people on ledges, when theyre far, far above the ground. Richard, Anita, whats happening?
Leave us alone, Jason, Richard said. He tried to pull me in closer to his body.
I braced with my other arm and my knees, the way I did sometimes in judo. Not when you think you can win the fight, but when youve simply decided that youll make them hurt you before they win. I wasnt strong enough to keep Richard from drawing me into his body, if thats whaTHE wanted, but I was strong enough to make him hurt me to do it. It was the best I could do. The Browning was on the bed, and truthfully, I wouldnt shoot Richard. He knew it, and I knew it. Oh, there had been moments when I might have, and a knife I might have used, but not a gun. I wouldnt have risked killing him. Once you give up the idea of killing someone bigger and stronger than you are, you are, to an extent, at their mercy. You better hope that theyre merciful.
I would have looked at Richards face to try to see if there was any mercy there, but I was afraid to meet his eyes again. It was hard enough to fight his power with just his hand on my arm. I couldnt afford to fall into his eyes again. I wasnt sure I would be able to crawl back out. There was something different to his version of the ardeur. For lack of a better word, there was more life to it. My strongest powers lay with the dead, not the living. Richard was so very much alive.
Its the ardeur, Jason said, but it doesnt make me want to touch you, Anita.
Go back into the bathroom, Jason, Richard said; there was a faint edge of growl to his voice now.
Jason gripped the doorjamb tight enough that his fingers mottled. Its so strong, I cant breathe past it, but its all directed at you, Anita. I can feel it, like a thought in the air. He wants you to want him, and only him. God, its so strong.
I said, Help me.
Richard said, Get out.
Richard, Ulfric, youre doing the very same thing you accused Jean-Claude of doing, Jason said.
Richards head jerked up, and he looked at Jason. Jason looked away from that gaze. Your eyes are glowing as if you were a vampire, Richard. I know not to look a vampire in the eyes when they look like that. Jason let the fear sound in his voice. It sounded real, and it was one of the first times Id realized thaTHE was afraid of the vampires.
I kept my arm braced on the floor as Richard tried to draw me to him. But it wasnt the strength in his hand that was hard to resist. It was the warm, crushing embrace of his power. It was like something alive, warm, and wanting. Something that pulled at me, as surely as his hand. It wasnt just about lust, but the promise that if I would just let go, he would wrap me in the warm safety of his love, and there would be no more pain, no more uncertainty. But Id felt something like this before. Auggie, Master of Chicago, could make you love him. But even Auggie had never made it feel like this. This felt real. But of course, it was real, or had been. Auggie had been a stranger, the logic in my head had known it was a trick, but what Richard offered felt real, because once it almost had been. Once, the belief that his love would heal all the old wounds, and finally make me feel safe, had been true. True, and a lie. Love is real, and false, even true love. Because love alone cannot keep you safe, if there is still a trembling fear inside you. Still a knowledge of what it was like to love and believe and have it all taken away. It wasnt my fianc in college that haunted me. It was, as always, my mothers death. If that truth couldnt hold, then what chance did any man have?
It was that thought that helped me push against the warmth of Richards power. It was that thought that helped me swim against the current of his love. Just as his hands had been too rough and caused me pain, this loss was the biggest pain I had. It was the gaping black hole inside of me that had filled up with rage so long ago. It was the place that my anger came from, and went back to, like the tides of some bloody ocean. Pain always helped you push back vampire powers.
I let myself feel that loss, that I spent most of my time not thinking about. I let the rage and loss fill me, and there was no lust, no desire, no love, that could win against such sorrow.
People talk of sorrow as if it is soft, a thing of water and tears. But true sorrow is not soft. True sorrow is a thing of fire, and rock. It burns your heart, crushes your soul under the weight of mountains. It destroys, and even if you keep breathing, keep going, you die. The person you were moments ago dies, dies in the sound of screaming metal and the impact of one bad driver. Gone. Everything solid, everything real, is gone. It doesnt come back. The world is forever fractured, so that you walk on the crust of an earth where you can always feel the heat under you, the press of lava, that is so hot it can burn flesh, melt bone, and the very air is poisonous. To survive, you swallow the heat. To keep from falling through and dying for real, you swallow all that hate. You push it down inside you, into that fresh grave that is all that is left of what you thought the world would be.
I was not foolish enough to look into his eyes, but my voice was solid, and sure of itself, as I said, Let go of me, Richard. You cant make me feel safe. You cant fix whats wrong with me.
I love you, he said, and his voice was full of everything those words meant for him.
You love me so much that you would use vampire wiles to force me into your arms.
He stopped trying to pull me to him and came to me. He closed that small distance and wrapped his arms around me. Minutes before, held in his arms like this, I would have done anything he wanted. But it was too late. He held my body, but my heart was cold. It was the way I had lived for years. Cold and hot, sorrow and rage; it had been the world to me until Jean-Claude found a way inside the walls Id built.
I understood in that moment why it had been Jean-Claude and not Richard who had broken down those walls. Jean-Claude had had his own sorrow and rage when I met him. He had known what it was to have everything he wanted, real love, real security, and to lose it all. Richard hadnt understood. He had believed in the goodness of the universe. I hadnt believed in that since I was eight. Jean-Claude hadnt believed in words like goodness for centuries.
Sometimes its not the light in a person that you fall in love with, but the dark. Sometimes its not the optimist you need, but another pessimist to walk beside you and know, absolutely know, that the sound in the dark is a monster, and it really is as bad as you think.
Did that sound hopeless? It didnt feel hopeless. It felt reassuring. It feltreal.
Richard held my chin in his hand. It began as a gentle gesture, but when I didnt meet his eyes, his hand squeezed. He tried to force me to look into his eyes. I couldnt stop him, but I could make him hurt me to do it. The pain helped me distance myself from him. He held me so close that it was like being wrapped in a warm blanket of energy, but whaTHE meant to be comforting felt as if I were too hot. It was a choking, close heat, as if the air were too thick to breathe.
His hand on my jaw was painful, just this side of breaking bones. I kept my eyes closed, but even through closed lids I could feel the press of his gaze.
Look at me!
No, I said.
Jason said, This is the first time youve felt the ardeur yourself, Richard. Youre power-drunk.
Anita, look at me!
He kissed me then, and it didnt matter that I didnt look at him. For the ardeur, a kiss was as good as a glance. Maybe better.
He kissed me, and all the lies flowed over my anger, cooled the rage, and filled me with a sweet certainty that nothing could ever hurt me while I was in Richards arms.