"I love the room. I love you. I'm sorry I was shitty."
He spoke with his face still buried against my body, so his words were muffled. "I didn't survive the attack, Anita. The wereleopard that attacked us ate as much of my uncle and Richie as it could hold, and left. Some hunters found us, and they were both doctors. I was dead, Anita. No heartbeat, no pulse. The doctors got my heart started again, got me breathing again. They patched me up as best they could, and they got me to a clearing so a chopper could get me to a hospital. No one expected me to live."
I stroked his hair, still slick and tight in the braid. "But you did," I whispered.
He nodded, rubbing his head against the silk shirt and my br**sts underneath. Not sexual, but comforting.
"The wereleopard was a serial killer. He hit only hunters, and only after they'd killed an animal. The FBI put out a warning to hunters after we were attacked. Fox said they put it together as a serial case only a few hours before we were attacked. The first attack had been on a reservation where he was assigned."
"He solved it," I said.
"He caught the... monster. He was there when they killed it."
He kept saying it and monster. You didn't hear that often from shapeshifters--not about other shifters. "I died, was brought back, survived, and healed. Healed so fast. Incredibly fast. Then a month later I was the monster." His voice was so sad when he said it, so unutterably sad.
"You're not a monster," I said.
He drew away enough to look up at me. "But a lot of us are, Anita. I joined Merle's pard, and he was a good leader, but Chimera came and took us over, and Chimera was crazy and cruel."
Chimera had been the leader I'd killed to save Micah and his people, and a lot of other people. Chimera had been the only panwere that I'd ever heard of, someone who could turn into a variety of animals. Before I'd seen him I'd have said it was impossible, but I'd seen him, and had to destroy him. He'd been real and powerful, and a very creative sexual sadist.
I held his face in my hands. "You are a good person, Micah. You are not a monster."
"I used you when we first met, Anita. I saw you as a way to save my leopards. To rescue us all."
"I know," I said. "We talked about it. You asked me what I would have done to save Nathaniel and all the leopards from Chimera. I agreed that I would have done anything, or at least what you did to get me involved. I couldn't fault you on it."
"From the moment you touched me, the plan changed. You changed it. You changed everything. You never looked at me like I was a monster. You were never afraid of me, not in any way."
"You make it sound like someone else was afraid of you."
He sighed again. "I had a high school sweetheart. We weren't exactly engaged, but we had an understanding that once we got our college degrees, we'd marry."
"Sounds good," I said.
He shook his head. "We waited for sex, a year of waiting. We both wanted to be out of high school first, be eighteen. Her older sister had gotten pregnant in high school, and it had wrecked her life, so Becky was careful. I was okay with that. I planned to spend the rest of my life with her, so what was a year or more?"
He spilled me down into his lap so I was sitting across his legs, very ladylike, thank you. "What happened?" I asked, because he seemed to want me to.
"What made her finally break up completely with me was me being a monster. She couldn't love an animal."
I couldn't keep the shock off my face. "Jesus, Micah, that's--"
He nodded. "It was rough, but me being a shapeshifter was the last straw, not the first one."
I frowned a little. "What was the first straw?"
He looked down, and I realized he was embarrassed.
"What?" I asked.
"I was too big."
I opened my mouth and closed it. "You mean you were too well endowed for her?"
I looked at him and tried to decide what to say. Nothing good came to mind. "She didn't like having sex with you?"
"But--but you're, like, amazing in bed. You're--"
"But you weren't a virgin, and I wasn't eighteen and a virgin, too."
"Oh," I said, and thought about it. Micah was very well endowed. Not just long but wide, which I'd discovered could be a harder problem to deal with than length. There were positions you could do or modify for length. Width you just had to adjust to. I thought about having all that shoved inside for the first time, maybe without enough foreplay. "I guess I can see the problem."
"I hurt her. I didn't mean to, but I did. I got better at it. More foreplay, more--just better."
"There is a learning curve," I said.
He rested his forehead on my shoulder. "But Becky never really enjoyed me inside her. We had sex, but I always had to be so careful of her or she said it hurt."
"You know women have different sizes of vaginas, just like there are different sizes of penises. Maybe she was small inside, and you are not small."
He looked up at me, his cheek resting on my bare arm. "You think so?"
He smiled. "You don't have a problem with me, any of me."
I smiled back. "No, and she was just one person. One negative doesn't make it a problem."
"It wasn't just one vote, Anita."
I raised my eyebrows. "What do you mean?"
"I've had dates in college where everything was fine until they saw me, all of me. Then they picked up their clothes and said no way."
I gave him a look. "You're serious."
Another man, I might have accused of bragging, but Micah wasn't bragging. I had a thought. It was almost insightful. "Becky said you hurt her because you were so big, and then you had girls in college who wouldn't even try it. That must have really messed with you."
"It was either a really big plus or a really big minus with women. But most of them, even the ones who said yes, didn't want a standard diet. I was like a novelty." His voice held unhappiness the way it had held anger earlier. "Becky made me feel like a monster for wanting to hurt her, for wanting to be inside her, for wanting sex so badly I'd hurt her. Most of the women I dated made me feel the same way, or like I should have had a dial on my hip and a battery case, like I was some sort of toy they'd bought in a sex store. Just wind me up."
I looked at him again.
"Trust me, Anita, there are just as many bastards out there who are girls as bastards who are guys. Except when a girl treats you like a sex object, it's supposed to be all right because you're a guy and you only want sex anyway, right?"
"The old double standard," I said.
He nodded and patted me. "Until you."
I thought about it for a second. "Wait a minute. How did you know I wouldn't have a problem with your, um, size?"
"You know how wereanimals are always walking around naked, unless you make us put on clothes?"
I smiled. "Not all of you guys are comfortable nudists, but most, yeah."
"First, I'd seen Richard nude, and I knew he had been your lover. He isn't small either." I fought not to blush again. "Second, you'd seen me nude and you hadn't reacted badly."
"So you saw an ex-lover and he was well endowed. And I hadn't told you to be careful where you point that. It might go off."
He smiled. "Something like that."
"How did you know that I hadn't broken up with Richard because he was too much man for me to handle?"
I must have looked as surprised as I felt.
He laughed. "I didn't ask Richard. I asked around and found out he thought you were too bloodthirsty, and he didn't like the police work. None of that bothered me."
"So you took a chance," I said.
He nodded. "And from the moment we made love, I knew I would do anything, anything, to be in your life."
"You said that. It was one of the first things you ever said to me after we'd had sex. That you were my Nimir-Raj, and I was your Nimir-Ra, and you would do anything, be anything I needed, to be in my life."
"I meant it."
"I know you did." I traced my finger down the side of his face. "Admittedly, it took me a while to realize that you really did mean it. That you would do anything, be anything I needed. What if I'd asked awful things of you, Micah? What would you have done?"