"Everybody ease down," I said. "It's not worth dying over."
Richard looked at me. "No one's talked about killing anyone, except you."
"Richard, all three of the guards that are looking at you wondered about killing you the moment they hit the door. Ask them, go ahead, ask them."
He glanced at the wererats, still with their guns pointed at the floor. "Is she right?"
The three of them exchanged glances, then Claudia answered, "Yes."
"You thought about killing me, just like that?"
"We didn't know it was you doing the damage, Ulfric. But we are allowed to use any means necessary to do our jobs. We cannot allow you to harm anyone under our care."
"You're not allowed to interfere with me disciplining one of my wolves, either."
She nodded. "You are right. It is not allowed for one animal to interfere in the internal disputes of another. If you can prove that this is pack business, and not personal, we can leave, and you can finish this, but you must prove it is business."
One of the other men, who was small and dark, and looked like he'd spent a little too much time in rat form, said, "Smells like jealousy to me."
"Roberto, you are not helping," Claudia said, her eyes still on Richard.
Jason rolled over and started to sit up. He moved like it hurt.
"He defied me," Richard said, pointing at Jason.
"How?" Claudia asked.
"He refused to get out of my way."
"What would you have done if I'd moved?" Jason said, and his voice held something thicker than normal, as if he was still bleeding inside his mouth. "If you didn't throw me around, who would it have been? Nathaniel, Anita? She doesn't heal like we do, Richard."
"When you hit the door, you were going to hurt someone," Jason said, and let blood trickle from his mouth, because he couldn't spit in wolfish form. "I thought it was better it was me."
Some of that burning power began to fade. Richard's shoulders slumped, and he screamed again. A full-throated, all-out scream, as long and as loud as he had breath for. He dropped to his knees and smashed his hands into the floor. Apparently, he liked doing it, because he kept smashing his hands into the carpeted floor, over and over. Only when the stone floor underneath began to buckle visibly, did he stop.
The sides of his hands were bloody where he'd scrapped them on the carpet, like really bad rug burns. He raised those bloody hands up and just knelt there staring at his hands. He didn't cry, didn't swear, didn't do anything.
We all froze, waiting for him to do or say something. At least a full minute passed, and he hadn't moved. Claudia looked across the room at me. I shrugged. I'd been engaged to him once, and I'd been his lover, but I had no clue what to do. That was one of the problems with Richard and me, we so often didn't know what to do with each other.
I started to walk around the bed, but Jason grabbed my wrist. "Close enough."
I didn't argue. I just stopped and looked down at him. He was still staring at his scraped-up hands. "Richard, Richard, are you in there?"
He laughed then, but it wasn't a good laugh. It was one of those laughs that held more bitterness than humor. Everyone in the room, except me, jumped when he laughed, as if they'd expected anything but that. I'd learned not to try to guess what he'd do.
"I want to lick the blood off my hands," he said in a strangled voice.
"Then do it," I said.
He looked up at me. "What?"
"It's your blood. It's your hands. If you want to lick your own wounds, then do it."
"Won't you be disgusted?"
I sighed. "Richard, it doesn't matter what I think. It matters what you think."
"You'd think it was disgusting," he said.
I sighed, again. "No, Richard, actually, no. The licking will make the scrapes feel better, and you'll enjoy the taste of blood."
He frowned up at me. "You wouldn't have said that a year ago." It was almost a whisper.
"I might not have said it six months ago, but I'm saying it now. Lick your wounds, Richard, just don't live in them."
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, and his anger flared, like a small hot whip against my skin.
"Don't get pissy, Richard. I'm trying to live the life I've got, not some dream of a life that I'm never going to have."
"And you think I am."
"You're Ulfric of the Thronnos Rokke Clan, and you're afraid to lick your bloody hands because someone else might think it's not very human. So, yeah, I think you're still pretending that you're going to get another shot at a life. This is it, Richard. This is who and what we are. This is it. You need to embrace that."
He shook his head, and his eyes glittered in the lights, as if there might be tears in those perfectly brown eyes. His voice when it came was even, no hint of those glittering eyes. "I tried."
I was shielding as hard as I could. I didn't want any more peeks into his and Clair's love life, but I could guess. "With Clair?"
He looked up, and the anger was winning over the tears. I'd never seen him this out of control of his emotions. I'd seen him angry, bitter, sad, but never this see-saw. It was like angry and sad were the only emotions he had left. "You saw it, then."
"I'm shielding like a son of a bitch right now. I saw that you had a fight, a bad one. But that's about all I saw."
He opened his mouth, then glanced behind him. "I won't hurt anyone, but this isn't a conversation for a crowd."
The wererats looked at me. I sighed and wondered if I was being stupid. Maybe, but I was going to do it anyway. "You guys can go."
Claudia gave me a look. "I don't think it's a good idea, Anita."
"Neither do I," I said, "but do it anyway."
She shook her head but motioned the two men through the door. She turned with the door halfway closed. She looked at me, and said, "We'll be right outside. You yell, if you need us."
I nodded. "I will, I promise."
She gave me a look that said she didn't believe me, but she went and closed the door behind her.
"Get out, Jason," Richard said.
"It's his room, Richard," I said.
"He doesn't get to hear this," Richard said.
Jason got off the bed, slowly, like he still hurt. "If I leave and you hurt her, neither you nor I will ever forgive you."
Richard stared up at the tall wolfman. They had a moment of simply staring at each other, and whatever they saw in each other's faces seemed to satisfy them both. Richard said, "You're right. I won't hurt her."
"What about Nathaniel?"
Richard looked past him to the tall, dark form of Nathaniel. "He needs to leave, too."
"Only Anita can order me to leave," Nathaniel said.
Richard looked at me, then down. "Two requests, clothes for you, and everyone leaves. Please."
The clothes were hard, because I was still covered in goop. What few clothes I had, I didn't want to get messy. What I needed was a robe, but I didn't have one in this room. I hesitated too long for Richard's mood, because he said, "Don't make me have this talk with you naked, Anita. Please." He said the please like he had the first time, like it was its own sentence, not an afterthought, but as if the please was more important than normal, and needed to be set apart.
"I'd love to get dressed, Richard, but I'm still covered in that clear goop. I'd rather not get it all over my clothes."
"I've got a robe hanging on the back of the bathroom door," Jason said, "it should fit."
"Since when do you wear a robe?" I asked.
"It was a present."
I looked at him.
"Jean-Claude thought I looked cold." I think he tried to grin at me, but the wolf muzzle just wasn't made for it.
"Let me guess, black silk?"
"Blue, to match my eyes." He started toward the bathroom, not exactly limping, but close.
"I'll get it. Everybody stay put, and be nice, until I get back." I went for the bathroom, though search me if I could remember a robe on the back of the bathroom door. But it was there, hanging exactly where Jason had said. It was a lovely blue, sort of soft and bright all at the same time. I'd been more tired than I'd known to miss it last night.
I put the robe on and caught sight of myself in the mirror. The remnants of yesterday's makeup still outlined my eyes, though it had smeared a little so it looked a little more Goth than my usual. The lipstick was gone. The clear goop had dried one side of my hair into a case of bed head that only a shower would cure. My body was covered in more of the drying goop, so that it was beginning to flake as I moved. If you have sex with condoms, you forget that what goes in eventually comes out, and I took the time to clean up just a little, because it was too embarrassing not to.