THE BOY was young and plain, with sandy hair and a smattering of freckles that hadn’t disappeared although he was more than twenty-one. But in the sunlight of the bedroom, he was beautiful. With reverence he reached out a hand to the inhumanly lovely sidhe next to him, looking as he did so at the over-wide-set eyes the color of new emeralds in shadows, the clean-lined, narrow nose, the strong jaw and sensual mouth. After touching Green with his eyes, the boy used his hand to touch him languorously, his hand on Green’s elongated stomach, his semihard manhood, his flank—smooth as marble—and back again.
Green thought fondly that Owen didn’t really need this anymore—he was seeking Green’s comfort more from habit than from need. But that was okay, Green realized fretfully, because his power as a sidhe was in healing, and so it comforted him to be Owen’s habit. And he didn’t want to look at Cory’s empty room one more time.
“Where are you?” the boy asked, and Green was truthful.
“I miss her,” he said, and there was no translation needed.
“It’s only one weekend, Green.” And in spite of Green’s immortality, Owen was the one who sounded like the exasperated parent.
“It’s more than one weekend,” Green said after a moment, turning on his side and starting a slow, lazy, skilled stroke of his own. “She’s been gone as long as Adrian has… except she comes home. She comes here, she crawls into our bed and shivers, and shivers, and begs me to make her warm.”
“But you do,” Owen said quietly, arching his back, his breathing beginning to quicken. They had lain silently in the big oak-framed bed for a long time. It was a good-bye, Green recognized now. Owen was saying good-bye to this part of them—Owen didn’t need him anymore, not like this. “You… do…,” the boy hissed, and Green moved down, taking his shaft into his mouth. It was a tight fit, a pleasurable chore, a skill Green had always enjoyed.
“Come,” he whispered, his breath tickling the head of Owen’s cock, wanting to see Owen’s face this last time before he let his fledgling out into the world—healed, happy, ready to love on his own.
“Say it first,” Owen insisted, fisting his hand into Green’s hair, pulling it back to expose the pointed ears, the faint green cast to the delicate flesh behind the ears. It was a demand, a surprising one from a lover who’d been so scarred by sadism, by drugs, by a corruption of the sex act, to ask such a thing without causing or receiving pain. He took his own body from Green’s control, stroked it in his fist, running his thumb over the glistening end. Green felt a hunger for the boy then, and enjoyed that.
“Say it,” Owen said again. “Tell me that you make her warm, that she needs you like you need her…. Say… it….” He was close. Agonizingly close. Green almost wept with the wanting of the purple head in his mouth, and the taste, and with the boy’s touching refusal to believe that there was a wound that Green couldn’t heal.
“She needs me,” he said, praying it was true. “She needs me so badly she doesn’t know how to ask….” And Owen pressed the back of Green’s head, and Green devoured him, his prick, his kindness, his seed, because Owen had asked, and Green could only do his best to make his people happy.
LATER THAT night, he met and greeted his people, taking bread with them in the vast hand-carved downstairs dining hall and letting his leaders and captains report to him—Arturo, the second-most powerful sidhe at his hill and his second-in-command, and Grace, acting head of the vampires now that Adrian was gone. While he listened with half an ear, Green reflected on Cory, and Owen’s assumption that Cory would let him heal her.
She was more than wounded; she was bleeding and numb. When she had gone off to college, he had assumed that some distance, some space between herself and the preternatural community that had caused her such joy and such heartbreak, would do her good—it would give her time to grieve and time to come to terms with her new role in the world. Because her life had changed. She had gone from being a gas station clerk with hopes of college to the head vampire’s lover, and his elven lover’s lover, and to being perhaps the most powerful mortal sorceress Green had ever encountered. And then Adrian, the one who had set the whole thing in motion, had gone and gotten himself killed, marking her with a third vampire mark and leaving her the queen of the Foresthill undead as well.
It was a lot to take in, Green had thought at the time, when, after a month, Cory didn’t seem to be any less lost than she had been the morning after Adrian’s blood had covered them both like summer rain. Maybe she needed to be normal. Maybe she needed to be free. So he had packed her into a brand new BMW, shipped her off to the college of her choice, and held her to him only with the solemn promise to visit whenever she could.
She came back every weekend, and it was all Green could do to pull her out of bed when she was there. Not in a good, can-we-make-love-all-afternoon way, either, but in a frantic, stay-here-and-be-inside-of-me-so-I-won’t-feel-empty kind of way. Green’s worry for her sanity was not quite eclipsed by his certainty that the decision to let her leave had been terribly, terribly wrong.
Her decision to stay in San Francisco for a party had actually been a relief—he longed to see her again, but he also longed for her to feel happy, complete, and confident once more. That confidence was a part of her, and he missed it. It was a good sign, the desire to meet other people. He almost hoped she’d take a lover that night. He’d asked her if she would want to. He could not afford to be monogamous—too much of his preternatural power lay in being worshipped in bed, and too many of the people who fed that power depended on him for safety. He had no right to ask it of her. But Cory had begun to cry when he’d mentioned it, saying that he was never unfaithful to her or Adrian in spirit, which was true, and that she didn’t think her heart could bear another lover after Adrian, which, unfortunately, was also true. So he could hope she spent her night sweating, demanding, getting fucked beyond her wildest dreams, so that when she came to him it would be for companionship as well as for a mate, but mostly he could hope that she had a good time.
At 2:39 a.m. she cried out for his help, and he was one hundred and fifty miles away.
GREEN WAS out the door and down the long, mazed hall before the cry in his head had faded. He crashed into Arturo’s room to find his second—and Grace, his other second—naked and sweaty, and both facing the door.
“Holy fuck…,” Grace choked, separating from Arturo and covering her lanky, broad-hipped form with a blanket. The red-haired vampire and Green had made love before, it was true, but until she’d died, she’d had only one lover, and that had been her husband. She was not quite as casual as Arturo, who sat back on his heels, panting, looking at his large erection in frustration and then glowering at Green. He cleared his throat in the shocked moment of silence, but Green stepped into it first.
“Cory’s hurt… worse…,” he said, closing his eyes, thinking about her. “Something preternatural….” He opened his eyes, looked frantically at them, not seeing their nakedness or their shock, only seeing his lieutenants, whom he needed. “I’m leaving in ten minutes.”
“Take the Suburban,” Grace choked out as she tumbled to the floor in a bundle of plaid sheets. “I’ll come with you and put Phillip and Marcus in charge.” Phillip had been a stockbroker when he was alive—he’d love to be in charge. Marcus had been a schoolteacher—he’d hate it. Between the two of them, they’d be both fair enough not to stir up trouble and autocratic enough to keep any of the vampires—already lost and puzzled from the loss of their leader—from going on a blood rampage. Adrian had been the only vampire in his kiss old enough and powerful enough to turn a living human into a walking receptacle for the Goddess, and without him, the others couldn’t channel enough power or sheer, stinking will to bring the dead back to life. Of course, with Adrian gone and Cory carrying three of his psychic marks on her neck, Cory should have led the vampires. But she’d been Adrian’s girl for less than two months before he’d died, and as powerful as their love had been, her connection to his world had been tenuous. The vampires loved her. They were dying to follow her. But many of them had been dead for decades, and they could wait patiently for their beloved living queen.
“I’ll wake Bracken,” Arturo said decisively. “He’ll want to go too.” He looked at Green calmly. “Don’t worry, leader, we’ll all be here when you get back. We always are.”
“I’m always grateful,” Green said before he turned to walk out the door. Without bothering to get dressed, Arturo followed him, moving down the hall and up the stairs to wake Cory’s self-appointed big brother, her other favorite elf.
GRACE MIGHT have been five feet ten of mama vampire, but Bracken was six feet six inches of freaked-out elf. As they shouldered their way through the late night hum of the city hospital, both looking grim in sunglasses (at night!) and trench coats, it was no wonder that patients, nurses, and doctors dodged out of their way. Green, emanating a glow of calm and forgetfulness to counter the terror the other two were instilling, trailed after them like the reigning monarch he was. The admitting nurse would have protested the invasion, but Grace removed her glasses and rolled the little girl’s mind. In less than two minutes, they were through the waiting room and in the elevator, headed for the trauma ward. Oddly enough, no one wanted to board the elevator behind them.
They continued to sweep through the scored taupe corridors, Grace following the directions unerringly as she saw them through the nurse’s memories. Anybody who thought to stop them simply forgot that they were there. Green would have told Bracken to tamp down the glamour, if he hadn’t been responsible for at least half of it himself. And a left, and a right, and around a cart of linens and past a darkened room shadowed with sobbing, and another right into another room, and abruptly there she was.
She looked small, Green thought. All people looked small on hospital beds—they were wide and white, and rumpled because the sheets were thick and had no elastic to keep them in place. But Cory was five feet two on a good day—and this wasn’t a good day. She’d lost more weight, too. She had been plump once. That night Green had first seen her, hosing off her parking lot to cover for the death of one of his people, she’d been plump and substantial. Experience—stress—had honed her, and by the time of Adrian’s death she was still substantial but leaner, more muscular—powerful. Now she was tiny. Delicate. The bones of her face stood out, and her chin pointed where it hadn’t pointed before. Her nose was not small, but now it looked knife-edged, and her cheekbones—peasant low, but charmingly placed—made her face look stretched, pinched, unhappy even when lax with drugs. Green closed his eyes against her there in the hospital bed, trying to summon an image of Cory as vital, vibrant, strong, and sexual, to fight the tearing sensation in his chest. With his eyes closed, things were worse.
Brack saw it too, and made a swooshing sound in his throat, and Green could not stand in the doorway anymore. He moved, so quickly the curtain around the vacant bed in the front of the room blew back, spewing little metal clips that hit the floor long after Green had taken her in his arms.
Grief poured from him. Grief, and love, and his own particular magic of sex and healing and need that stirred a spark on her skin, moved the blood quicker in her veins, and had her back arching and her thighs clenching even under the murkiness of morphine. Within the circle of his arms, she convulsed gently, whispered rawly, and went limp against him. When her breathing recovered, it wasn’t the shallow breathing of the drugged sleeper, but the deeper, more animated breathing of the waking lover. Her bruises faded, the pinched look between her eyes eased, and her body, which had been taped and bandaged, relaxed against the sheets. Some wounds are easier to heal than others.
She took one look at Green, her moss green eyes moving over his face, and her own face broke out into a smile, weak but full of sunshine.
“I knew you’d come.” She smiled, and Bracken and Grace, because they were awake and had sat in the Suburban with him during the fraught trip to the city, could smell remorse that rolled off of Green and through the room like sweet perfume.
“I SHOULD have been here,” Green told me, sometime after the three of them burst into my hospital room like angels of vengeance. Grace was holed up in the windowless shower of the hospital room, and Bracken was sprawled on the vacant bed in the next cubicle. Green had just spent a good hour pulling tape and gauze off my body, now that I didn’t need it anymore. The sun had barely risen, and it beamed a weak, fuzzy gray light through the Bay-area fog.
“Bullshit,” I said against his chest. I breathed in again, lightly, smelling him. He smelled like earth, and mustard flowers, and long dry grasses and oak trees and lime trees and roses. He smelled like home, and I could taste my yearning for home like I could taste the blood that had exploded in my mouth when that fucker Nicky had hit me. My first lover was a vampire—the taste of blood was sweet, life affirming, and noxious all at the same time. My homesickness was a swelling, aching balloon of misery in the pit of my stomach.
“You’re right,” Green agreed, burrowing underneath my hospital gown to touch me more. Green healed with his touch, and I craved it now, maybe more than ever, but I wondered if there was enough touch in him to cure us both. “You’re right,” he said again, after passing his hands along my stomach and my breasts and my thighs. “I shouldn’t have been here—you should have been home, with me, where you belong.”
I couldn’t argue with him. Oh Goddess, I wanted to—I wanted to tell him that I was strong enough, and smart enough, and that I should be able to exist in the big bad city on my own without a babysitter, but I couldn’t. All I could do was burrow my face against his flesh and let the salt tears make a soggy, face-stinging mess of his shirt.
“Yes,” I whimpered against him, shaking with the effort not to sob. “Take me home…. Please, Green, take me home….”
“Oh, yes…,” he said softly into my hair, and I was suddenly happy, as I had not been happy since that one giddy night when Adrian had taken me on a ride on the back of his motorcycle into the Placer County night, or that one, heart-stopping night when… when…. When what…?
“Green….” Don’t panic. Cory, don’t panic. I got socked in the face and thrown into a concrete pole, and anything is possible….
How could I ask this? “Green, is there something missing in me?”
“Explain,” he said flatly, as though he was not entirely surprised.
“There’s something I can’t… think…. It’s like, you know when you’re really tired, and driving somewhere, and suddenly you’re home, but you can’t remember because you drive there all the time, and two weeks or a month later you realize they put a stoplight in when you weren’t paying attention and you can’t tell for sure if you’ve been braking, looking both ways, and just blowing off the light because that time was just gone….” I was babbling. I was panicking. There was a hole in my mind somewhere… a big, important hole, and I couldn’t even place where the hole was because it had been stolen so seamlessly from the fabric of my mind….
“Hush…,” Green soothed. To my horror, as I reached for him and that well of sweetness that he’d given to me so often with his touch, he cringed, just for a second, from my touch. Oh, Goddess, had I sucked so terribly at him in my mortal grief these last months that he would need to brace himself against me? My own body started to thrum, in stress and panic and pain, and he murmured, “Hush,” this time with authority, and cocooned me again with his flesh, blanketing me with his skin and his spirit, and I forgot my resolve not to suck him like some emotional vampire and gave a baby’s whimper of contentment. Green could heal me. Together, we would be well….
“We saw it,” Brack said from the next bed, and I flushed uncomfortably, heating Green’s skin and my own with embarrassment. I had thought he was asleep. I didn’t even mind that he had heard us moving our flesh together—I’d had a concussion, bruised ribs, a bruised kidney, and a split lip, but even that crippled coupling had relieved me of those major pains. My first sight of Bracken had been buck naked, and yes indeed, he had a fabulous ass, among other things. But he was an elf. He’d been around for Goddess knows how many years—God didn’t pay attention. So it was not the sex that was embarrassing, but he had seen me cry, whimper like an infant, when I had taken such pains to be brave for Bracken and all his kin. I had told them that I could live with what I had done to protect them… to protect us, all of us… and I couldn’t let that knowledge destroy me now.
Green nodded, his chin rubbing in my hair. It was a mess, a curly red-blonde disaster that went below my ears. Green’s fairy sprites had trimmed it in June, and I needed their services again. “I had no idea what it could be,” Green murmured. Then he tilted my chin up to him and gazed kindly into my eyes. It was that kindness that had sent me spiraling into his eyes from the beginning, putting me into the odd and erotic position of being truly in love with two men who also loved each other. The kindness was no less powerful now, when I was huddled in his arms on a hospital bed, than it had been in June when I was comfortable and sated by Adrian. Adrian’s eyes had not been kind, but they had been beautiful, silver-spangled blue. They had pulled me in from the very beginning, but I hadn’t really fallen into them until… when? I was getting lost, I realized dreamily. Lost in Green’s eyes, drawn back to that brief moment in time when the three of us had snuck off at odd hours in the night like horny teenagers. Well, I was barely twenty, but Green was only a hundred years or so short of the memory of Christ, and Adrian had come over the oceans during the California gold rush.
It should have made them patient, slow, and even bored with love, but we had been urgent, and giddy, and drunk on what our bodies and magic could do. And what could we not do? A garden flashed before my eyes, with oak and lime trees and thornless rose bushes contorted into lovely, sinuous, sensual bodies, bodies I had been in the midst of… bodies I had been…. But I couldn’t remember when… had it been me? Had I been the model for those trees? I could see Green in the lime trees, could remember the stroke of his body on other occasions, but I couldn’t remember that moment…. And Adrian—I could remember Adrian in my bed—I could remember him in my body… but not this moment in time… not when the three of us had done that….
I whimpered a little, thrashed against the pull of those eyes, and saw Green nod a little, as though I had done well.
“Well enough, luv,” he said, but there was something choked in his voice, as though he were holding back tears. “Are you well enough to tell us how you got here?”
Now that should have been easy enough. “Kestrel,” I said, thinking harder than I should have. “His name was Nicky Kestrel—he was in my….” Think, think, think…. “European History 42—The Victorians…. No… no… after that class….” Green’s eyebrows rose. He hadn’t known I’d been taking Victorian history. That was Adrian’s time. The thought of Adrian made Kestrel stronger in my head—the contrast between the two of them had been so great… especially since Nicky had been trying unsuccessfully all semester to fill Adrian’s shoes. But Nicky was small, five feet six or so, where Adrian had been over six feet, and Nicky was pretty. Not that Adrian wasn’t beautiful—Adrian had all those planes and angles in his face that made every woman for a five-mile radius sniff the wind if he so much as blinked in their direction. Nicky, on the other hand, was an average, everyday sort of delicate pretty, and….
“He wasn’t human,” I said, “but he didn’t know I knew that. He’d been hitting on me all semester, and I was curious enough about… you know, if he was one of us… and I let him take me to….” Where? “To eat?” We’d eaten…. Why was this so hard to remember? “But there were other people there….” A thought—“It felt like Green’s hall,” I said abruptly, still looking into Green’s eyes. “People were there, and they were happy and laughing, and they all knew each other… and there was someone….” Who? I’d met him. He’d bent and kissed my hand and sent a look to Nicky, but his face was all in shadows, and only his eyes glinted tawny and orange in the dim light of the room. “He was dark—not like a black man, but like… like black wood, or feathers, or a lacquered car….” And he was like Green, for all Green was tall and pale and gold and lovely…. “Leader… and… he was a leader.” But… but Nicky hadn’t wanted to follow him, because he had looked sad when we left. Sorrow. Regret. I knew those two emotions so well I could practically smell them on another person, like a familiar cologne. “I know we were down in the parking lot, and he looked at me like he was sad… like he was sorry for something… and he tried to kiss me….”
Green smiled then, happy, I guess, because he’d been asking me to take a lover if I could. I couldn’t. It would be like trying to bandage a severed limb with sandpaper—but Nicky had been charming, and although I still didn’t know what he was, I had thought there would be nothing wrong with letting him steal one little kiss. I could see, and I let Green see, Nicky’s delicate features, the slight hook to the nose, the pointed chin, little, childlike ears, and the spiky, downy, rust-colored hair that jutted out from a cowlick at the back, swirling a little to the side. But there was a pain to his features as he lowered his head, a regret that he let me see.
Then I felt it. I’d had my eyes open, a pleasant smile on my face, a willingness to kiss and walk away, but something pulled at me—in a bad way. As though all my memories of all my kisses ever were pulled to the surface of my lips, rushing to my face like blood. I fought against it, hard, and Nicky had looked at me then, surprised, angry, as I put my hands on his shoulders and fought to keep my memories to myself. He used force then. I knew that until Green had healed me, I’d still sported Nicky’s fingerprints on my shoulders where he had bent his fingers like talons and pulled me against him, his body hard as a weapon when he mashed his mouth against mine. And that was when I’d felt my mad coming on.
I’d opened my mouth then and let the lethal sunshine that sex, anger, or any strong emotion could conjure up inside of me spin him back into the car behind him. He flew to the back of the garage and into a minivan, where his body broke the window and dented the door; then he rushed at me again. I opened my mouth again—to scream, to punish—and sunshine poured out. But it was a clumsy weapon, great for devastating small armies or terraforming, lousy for taking out one stupid asshole who had betrayed my trust and was trying to mind-fuck me—especially when I was trying to direct it across a parking garage. I almost stamped my foot when he ducked as my power came pouring out—and the Honda behind him melted instantly into goo on the blackened, scorched concrete. Nicky took advantage of my bad aim and stepped to the side before he rushed in as I recharged. He backhanded me physically, with a little bit of supernatural strength in the blow. I’d gone flying back into the wall of the garage and bounced forward into the concrete pole a little to my right, and all was darkness. When I came to, I’d been on a gurney having my clothes cut off and my ribs taped. My next memory after that had been of Green.
And there he was now, gazing into my eyes. I blinked, and then he blinked, and I saw silent tears slipping down his face. How had I missed them? I was drained, sweating, feeling as though I’d been wrung out like a wet towel and snapped against a wall. “Wha—” I tried to speak, but he shhed me again, and I felt his hands on me, stripping me out of my sopping hospital gown and sponging me off from a basin that smelled of herbs and clean water. Bracken must have brought it, I thought fuzzily, but not for long, because suddenly I was in clean sweats—too big—and a T-shirt, with Brack’s favorite Sacramento Kings sweatshirt over the whole thing.
“Where we goin’?” I asked groggily. How long had I been lost in Green’s eyes? I wondered. How long had I been back?
“To the apartment,” Green said briefly. “I called Renny—she’s ready for us.”
“What about Grace?” Hadn’t she been asleep in the shower? I remembered that. I’d made Bracken put an aura—and a sign—in front of it to make people go find the one down the hall.
“I’m right here, sweetie,” she said from beside me, and I looked out the window. Wherever I had been, pulled into Green’s eyes and into my own green pool of memories, it had taken me the day. It was full winter dark in the pink-lit fog outside.
“We can’t leave,” I said, trying hard to be here in the moment. “What will the cops say?”
Green chuckled weakly and looked at Grace. “I’m done in, lovey—would you do the honors here?”
Grace took my face in her hands and kissed my forehead, and suddenly I was six again, and my mother was giving me medicine for a fever, and I was safe and warm even though her hands were as cold as November, and I was asleep.