I hadn't known we were pretending, but I didn't say it out loud. "I don't know what you mean by that, Richard."
"It means we both want to be able to touch each other again. You f**ked Byron for God's sake. Why are you okay with doing him, and not about this--us?" He motioned as if taking in the whole bed. I didn't think the "us" meant him and me. For the first time from Richard, I was pretty sure that he was talking about him and Jean-Claude.
I clutched the cold towel and tried to say out loud something that made sense. "I'm not"--change that--"Byron was emergency food. Once upon a time, I thought you and I were going to be it for each other. When you dumped me, it broke me up. Touching you is still not like touching other people for me."
"I feel the same way. You know I do," he said.
"I know you want me, but I also know that you'll be ashamed later. When Jean-Claude isn't there to calm your fears, you'll start to drown in them again." I laughed. "God, for the first time I understand what Asher was saying about me and the ardeur. I don't want this to be a good time now, then we go back to cutting each other up. I couldn't bear it." There, that was the truth. I had a glimmer for the first time why some people do casual sex with people they don't care about. If you don't care, and it goes horribly wrong, it's not that important.
"I don't want us to keep cutting each other up, either, Anita. I really don't." He rolled to the edge of the bed and stood up. The dozen or more candles painted his upper body in shadow and light. I missed the thick fall of his hair around his shoulders, but it was still Richard. Still the man who had come closest to making me try for the picket fence, and the two-point-five kids. "You still need at least one more daytime feed."
The topic change was too quick for me. I pressed myself against the door, so that the doorknob was in reach. If I had to run for it, I wanted to hit the door, not the wall. "Yes, though I found out that I can feed on human form, then feed again on the animal form, and it's like two different feeds."
Jean-Claude crawled closer to the end of the bed, the robe more framing his body like lingerie than hiding anything. "So in effect, you now have four daytime feeds, yes?"
"Sort of, right now Nathaniel and I are estimating I need to feed the ardeur about every six hours, or I start draining Damian's life energy. Since I can't feed on the same person every day, that still leaves me short."
"It may leave us, as you say, short, at night even. You'd fought to push your feedings to every twelve hours."
"I don't know, Jean-Claude, but I seem to need to feed more often."
"You are the energy for your new triumvirate. It takes energy to maintain it."
Richard turned and looked at the other man. "Are you saying that Anita and I drain energy from you?" He turned back to me before he got his answer, and the look on his face said he wasn't happy with the show Jean-Claude was putting on.
"Not precisely, but in a way, oui. All power comes with a price, Richard, and that price can be high."
"I think until I understand how to distribute the power among the three of us, that it's every six hours. I hadn't thought about the fact that only you and Asher feed me at night. Shit." I said the last with feeling.
"You have Damian now," Richard said. "Won't three be enough?"
I looked at him, tried to see jealousy, or anger, but he seemed to have offered it as simply a fact. "I don't know, maybe."
"I trust ma petite to control what she can," Jean-Claude said, nearly from the end of the bed, the robe sliding over his upper body until almost everything above the still-tied sash was na**d to light. There was something about the way his body caught the flames, shining and pale, almost unreal, as if he were some kind of living work of art, that you would touch and he would fade, too beautiful to be real.
Richard snapped his fingers, and the sharp noise brought my attention back to him. He was frowning. "Are you actually turning me down?"
This was too hard a question for me. I closed my eyes so I couldn't see either of them. "Not exactly, but I need to know what to expect, Richard. I need to know what this changes."
"Every third day or so, I come to your house, and you feed the ardeur."
I opened my eyes then. "Just a little sex, and that's it."
"What do you want from me, Anita?"
I pushed away from the door, because now I was getting angry. "Not dating, just f**k-buddies, is that it?"
"You're living with two men now, I don't think there's room for me in your life."
What I wanted to say was, if you can just f**k me and nothing else, then we were never really in love. What I said out loud was, "It's not just the sex I miss, Richard. I miss weekend movie marathons. I miss going places with you. I miss you, not just your body, Richard." I almost kept the next part to myself, but I had to know. It was time. "Do you miss me, Richard, or just my body?"
I managed to make it neutral, very neutral. Brownie points for me.
He looked down, and emotions fought across his face. His power flared like a warm wind, then died down. When he looked at me, there was pain and anger in his eyes. "You're the one who said it first, Anita. We don't work as each other's one and only. I'm working hard to accept my life as it is, but I can't live like you do. I still want one woman to be my forever person. I still want marriage, and maybe kids. I want a life, Anita. I know now that I can't have what I want with you." He reached out toward me, then his hands curled into fists. "But I miss you. Not just the sex. I miss the smell of you on my pillow, on my skin. I owe you an apology. When everything happened in Tennessee, I blamed my beast first, then I blamed you. It took six weeks of therapy to get me to see that I was pissed at you for saving my mother and brother when I couldn't do it."
"You would have given your life to save them," I said.
"Yes, but then we'd all be dead." It wasn't just pain in his eyes, it was anguish. The kind of emotion that eats you up and spits you back out. "You did horrible things, Anita, horrible things to find out where they were in time. You tortured a man, cut him up to get the information. I couldn't have done that. I wouldn't have let anyone do it in front of me. It wasn't just that you saved them and I didn't, it was when I heard all that happened, I realized that even if I'd been there with you, they would have died. My mother and Daniel would have died because I wouldn't have let you do what was necessary to save them."
I just looked at him, because I couldn't think of anything good to say. I wasn't proud of what I'd done in Tennessee, not all of it anyway, but I didn't regret any of it, because to save Charlotte and Daniel, I would have done worse. My only true regret had been that I didn't get there before they were raped and tortured. I would go to my grave regretting that part, because I'd seen Charlotte break into tears in her kitchen. She would say, "I don't know why I'm crying. So silly." It wasn't silly, and I'd recommended a good therapist I knew. The one I usually recommended to people wanting to join the Church of Eternal life, as a forever member.
"You're the Bolverk for my pack. The evildoer, the one who does what the Ulfric won't, or can't do. Raina was Bolverk for Marcus."
"Yeah," I said. See, I could still talk, but I still didn't have anything good to say.
"I want the white picket fence, Anita, and I know you don't."
"It's not that I don't want it, Richard, it's that it's too late for me. My life won't fit in that picture."
He nodded. "I know, and maybe mine won't either, but I still want to try. There are Ulfrics that have a wife and family separate from the pack. I've been trying to find a new lupa for the pack, and no one measures up. No one is you."
I was back to not knowing what to say, so I said nothing. I rarely got in trouble keeping my mouth shut.
"I think the reason your beast got out of control today is that you've been spending too much time with just one animal. I think if you have personal contact with something besides leopards that your beast will go back to being just amorphous, more metaphysics than physical. I want your permission to send some of the wolves over to bunk with you."
"I don't mean f**k them, but sleep with them. Or take some wererats home, pick an animal, but if your power only touches leopards, it's going to think it's a leopard."