"What you operate on, what does that mean?"
"It means that at the heart of me, is this deep, seething, bottomless, pit of pure rage. Maybe I came with it. I know my mother's death helped fill it up. But as far back as I can remember, it's been there."
He shook his head. "You're just saying this to make me feel better."
"Why would I say something that wasn't true just to make you feel better?"
Anger filled his eyes, like magic. One moment trustworthy brown, the next moment serial killer dark. "Thank you, thank you very much, for reminding me that I don't mean shit to you anymore."
I shook my head, and let my hands fall into my lap. "If you meant nothing to me, Richard, nothing at all, we wouldn't be in this room alone."
"You're right, you're right. I'm sorry. I just get so angry, so angry." He tried to rub his arms, but the bloody scrapes hurt.
"You said you wanted to lick the wounds, go ahead. It won't bother me."
"It will bother me," he said.
"No, Richard, licking your wounds would make you feel better. You'd enjoy it, and that's what bothers you. Not the wanting to do it, but how good it feels when you give in to it."
He nodded, staring at his hands. "I tried to embrace my beast, Anita. I really tried."
"I felt you feeding on a deer. I felt how happy you were in wolf form. It felt like you had embraced it."
"When I'm in animal form, yes. But it's being human on the outside, and not human on the inside that gets me confused."
"Does it get you confused, or Clair?"
He gave me a look that wasn't exactly angry. "I thought you didn't hear the fight."
"I got one word when she was screaming at you--animal. Am I wrong? Was she complaining about herself and her beast?"
"No, you got it exactly right." He laid his hands in his own lap, and his eyes were back to being sad, like someone had hit a switch. Angry, sad, angry, sad. It was like some sort of demonic baby hormones. "She accused me of raping her." His voice was soft when he said it.
I gave him very wide eyes and let just how impossible I thought the idea was to show in my face.
He gave a very small smile. "Just the look on your face now is worth something. You don't believe it, just like that, you don't believe I could do that to her."
"I don't believe you would do that to any woman, but that's beside the point."
"No," he said, and his voice sounded more relaxed than it had since he entered the room, "that's not beside the point, not for me. After what a bastard I've been to you, that you still believe in me, that means a lot."
I wasn't sure what to say to that. If I agreed that he'd been a bastard would that start a fight? If he thought I believed in him, was that going to give him the wrong idea? I mean, not believing that Richard would rape someone didn't mean that much to me. He was a decent person, that's all.
"I'm glad it makes you feel better, but remember, I saw the beginning of the lovemaking session. You can't rape the willing, Richard."
His eyes looked haunted, as if there was something I'd missed. "She said that I always make love like it's rape."
That made my eyebrows go up again. "Excuse me? Tell that to me slowly, because it made no sense fast."
He looked up at me, and there was something in his eyes, some demand, something he wanted me to say, or do, but I didn't know what. "Do you mean that?"
"I mean, explain what she meant by it."
"She said, I'm always so rough, that it's like rape. That I don't know how to make love, that I only know how to f**k." His eyes looked raw, as if the pain in them had been skinned na**d to shine out of his face. It hurt me to see it, but I didn't look away. I gave him my eyes and let him see what I thought of what Clair had said.
"Is she still your girlfriend?"
"I don't think so."
"Good, because I'd hate to say she's crazy if you were still going to date her."
"Why is she crazy?" he asked.
"What kind of head job has she done on you, Richard? Rape isn't a word that anyone should use lightly."
"She didn't use it lightly," Richard said, and the small smile was bitter. "She meant it."
He looked at me, and the pain was still raw. "Did I ever hurt you when we were together?"
I started to ask, "emotionally, or physically?" then decided to just ask, "You mean physically?"
"I mean did I hurt you when we made love?" He shook his head. "I'm sorry to ask you this. I don't have a right to ask, but I didn't know who else to ask. I knew you wouldn't lie, because I was your Ulfric, or because you didn't want to hurt my feelings. I knew that if I asked, you would give me a real answer."
I looked at him and hoped I didn't look as amazed as I was feeling. After everything we'd done to each other, all the fights, the hurts, and he still trusted me. He trusted me not to lie, not to make it worse than it was, or better than it was, but to tell the truth. I wasn't sure if I was flattered or insulted. I decided to be flattered, because anything else would have pissed me off. But the amount of trust he was putting in me scared me, not for me personally, because he was right, I'd give him the truth. But a lot of people wouldn't. A lot of people would have used it as an excuse to twist the knife a little deeper. He was damned lucky I wasn't one of those people.
I opened my mouth, closed it, stroked my hands down the silk of the robe, and finally had to look away from those pain-filled eyes while I tried to think how to answer. Not truth or lie, but how to say it.
He stood up, suddenly, abruptly. "That's alright, I shouldn't have asked."
"Sit back down, Richard. I'm just trying to think how to say it, so it doesn't sound stupid."
He stood there, his face all set to be angry, as if he didn't believe me.
"Fine, stay standing, but you asked if you'd ever hurt me when we made love, right?"
"Yes, and no."
The scowl turned into a frown. "What does that mean, 'yes and no'?"
"It means that Mother Nature has made it almost impossible for you to be anything but rough, unless you're very careful."
He frowned harder. "I don't understand."
Of course he didn't, of course he would make this as embarrassing as possible. "Richard, you are aware that you're well-endowed, right?" I felt the blush start creeping up my neck, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. I'd always blushed fairly easily, but I'd seldom hated it as much as I did in that moment.
"Raina said I was. It was one of the reasons she wanted me for the movies."
"You didn't know you were large before Raina?"
It was his turn to blush. "I was a virgin before Raina."
I shivered, and the look on his face was so raw, that I said out loud, "The thought of a virgin with Raina is just frightening. She was one very sick puppy."
He nodded. "I know that, now."
"Did you know it at the beginning with her?" I asked.
"I didn't have anything to compare it to," he said.
I had an idea. Raina had been his first lover, and Raina had been into sadomasochism on a scale that made a joke out of safe, sane, and consensual. She'd done p**n , hell, snuff films. She'd been one of the scariest and most twisted people I'd ever met, and I'd met a lot. Richard had nothing to compare it to, what exactly did that mean?
I tried to lead up to it, obliquely, my version of subtle. I went back to my original point. "You're big, Richard, which means when you're making love, unless you're careful it can hurt."
"I did hurt you," he said, and he sounded desolate.
"I didn't say that."
"Yes, you did."
"Richard, listen to what I'm actually saying, don't editorialize in your own head, okay?" I stood, so I could pace. This was not a conversation for sitting still.
"I'll try," he said.
"Good enough." I came to stand in front of him and tried again. "A lot of women don't like their cervix bumped during sex."
He gave me that puzzled frown again. How did I end up giving my ex-fiancé sex education? How does anyone end up in these kinds of conversations? Just unlucky, I guess.
"If you go too deep, you reach the end of most women. You bump into the end of the vagina, you hit their cervix."